Southern Partnership Station
The U.S. Navy amphibious ship USS Gunston Hall will wrap up its deployment to the Caribbean this month. The ship — embarked with sailors, Seabees and Marines — left Little Creek, Virginia in January for a tour of Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize and Jamaica: part of the Navy’s cornerstone “soft power” strategy. Last month, Marines trained with their Colombian counterparts in jungle warfare, drones, amphibious assaults and explosive ordinance disposal (IEDs being a serious threat in Colombia’s rural areas). In El Salvador, a Navy medical team visited the remote eastern island of Zacatillo to observe water filtration problems, and their logistics counterparts repaired several school buildings on the nearby mainland.
Also joining Gunston Hall was the leased U.S. Navy catamaran Swift, a “mini sea base,” which had been anchored off El Salvador for much of February. Previously, Gunston Hall served as an early responder to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe approved “clandestine cross-border operations” against FARC troops operating in Venezuela, according to U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. A Uribe adviser cited in the cables said, “We are the perfect hypocrites.” A key part of Uribe’s strategy, it seems, was to develop an “outwardly conciliatory approach” with Venezuela “to permit the political space” for counter-narcotics and anti-FARC operations within Venezeulan territory.
Relatedly, news link Pulsamérica rounded up cables regarding Colombian efforts to demobilize paramilitary groups. A publicized 2006 demobilization of 70 members of the Cacica la Gaitana, a virtual FARC “front,” was apparently a hoax staged by a former government minister and several military commanders to create the appearance of “a mass defection in the ranks of the FARC,” reports Colombian newspaper El Espectador. The former minister, Luis Carlos Restrepo, has denied the claims. Another cable from 2006 reveals skepticism from Organization of American States representative Sergio Caramagna to then incoming U.S. ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield regarding efforts to demobilize the far right United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Caramagna expressed concern that inefficiencies in the security services indicated the state was ill-prepared to deal with the AUC’s surrender; and were incapable of preventing the spread of newer, more disorganized but still deadly gangs in its wake.
Caramagna seems to have be correct. According to reports cited by El Tiempo, the AUC essentially split into seven different groups, for a total near 5,000 men — about the same as the united AUC. And the breakup has been deadly. In 2010, these gangs accounted for the first time more attacks against civilians than the FARC and ELN combined. The gangs also control about half of Colombia’s cocaine production and all major trafficking routes.