Colombia has entered its second month of political crisis with ongoing social protests that have resulted in 60 deaths so far. The security situation is not good.
To demonstrate this point, two weeks ago, while flying in a military helicopter, President Iván Duque escaped an attempt to bring down the aircraft in the region of Norte de Santander bordering with Venezuela. Officials are currently investigating the attack which is believed to have been carried out by FARC dissidents and the National Liberation Army (“ELN”).
A national security expert with 20 years experience operating in Colombia explained the local context, “Armed conflict in Colombia didn’t stop with the peace process and many of the previous problems persist: elements of the FARC are still active and the ELN, who didn’t even participate in the peace process, are still running drug trafficking operations and illegal mines. The latest incident involving Duque is concerning but the real problem is that the entire Colombian theatre remains complex.”
US President Joe Biden offered his support to Duque and the FBI is collaborating with the investigation and is providing a team of 150 professionals, 84 of which are experts in crime investigations. A few days prior to the incident a car bomb in front of a military headquarters in Cúcuta, capital of Norte de Santander, wounded 36 people, evidencing a rise in tensions in the region.
Both FARC and the ELN control vast swathes of territory along the border with Venezuela, one of the main drug trafficking routes in the region. Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, affirmed on 2 July that the visit of William Burns, Director of the CIA, to Colombia was part of a larger plan to topple him.
The local security expert confirmed, “The Santander area in Catatumbo, Cúcuta, where the attack occurred, is a crossing area for many elements of instability: it is one of the main areas of coca production and there are operations from a variety of criminal gangs, guerrilla groups and dissidents from Colombia and Venezuela.”
“The Santander area in Catatumbo, Cúcuta, where the attack occurred, is a crossing area for many elements of instability.”
Security expert, Colombia
Meanwhile, the security situation in the streets of Colombia’s largest cities continues to deteriorate, particularly in Cali. According to Insight Crime, an investigative journalism organisation, Cali registered 177 homicides in May 2021, the deadliest monthly tally since 2016.
While officials blame drug trafficking and guerrilla groups, protesters claim that police brutality is mostly responsible for the surge in violence throughout the country. At least three police officers are facing murder charges and international human rights organisations and governments are demanding independent investigations.
The security expert believed the problem is rooted in policy, “There is a lack of strategic vision. Just read the Security and Defence Policy or the Government Framework for Coexistence and Citizen Security, they are very general documents with no specific objectives. Beyond the security concerns of a President, a Minister of Defence or a Police or Military commander, criticism must be made about the structuring of the entire security landscape.”
While the investigations continue it is difficult to say if this was a targeted strike against the President or a fortuitous coincidence for the attackers. Regardless, there are two main concerns: there is a willingness and capacity to attack the President and the President’s security did not anticipate either the risk or the fact.
“It is a call for the Government, for the military forces and for the next President to protect the borders, control the territory and dismantle the criminal economies.”
Security expert, Colombia
Regarding the repercussions of the attack on Colombia the security expert believed it might serve to focus minds on the security situation, “An attack on the President is always serious and really questions the credibility of the security forces. This will demand an urgent review of the failures and may lead to a transformation of the military and police forces. It is a call for the Government, for the military forces and for the next President to protect the borders, control the territory and dismantle the criminal economies.”