Voice of America (VOA) Interview with Neil Currie, June 4, 2002
HOST: Daniel Lindley is a fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for
International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University in South Bend,
Indiana. He says it is difficult to see how life in Colombia can improve
until the civil war is ended. Businessman Alvaro Uribe, who won election
as Colombia's president last month in a landslide, appears to agree. The
Harvard-educated Uribe, who takes office in August, campaigned on a
promise to get rid of the rebels. To do so, he has proposed a sharp
increase in the size of Colombia's army, presently numbering about a
quarter million men. But Notre Dame's Daniel Lindley tells VOA's Neil
Currie he doubts that simply doubling the size of the army will actually
end Colombia's civil war:
LINDLEY: I'm a little skeptical that it's going to work. As it is,
security forces outnumber the rebels by about 10 to 1. The real thing
that should be improved is the quality of the individual
soldier...spending more per soldier rather than just buying more
soldiers. In fact, if you spend what they're spending now and double the
size of the forces you'd be spending less per soldier on average. That's
a very bad move. Take a look at an anecdote from a recent battle: the
Colombian military had 18 of their own soldiers killed and claimed to
have killed 50 FARC. That's a ratio of maybe 3 to 1 bad guys to good
guys. Compare that to our soldiers, among the best in the world, in
Afghanistan: we rarely get anybody killed by the bad guys and wipe them
out by the dozens. So it's really a quality of soldier issue.
CURRIE: I assume there's a role for the United States in that
LINDLEY: There's a large role for the United States. We're trying to
train a special brigade to guard the oil pipeline, which is crucial for
Colombia's economy. So we're trying to train them. We're trying to
provide better advisors who can go further into the jungles claiming
that's not going to be combat roles but more along the lines of the
Philippino role, teaching them as we go into the jungles.
CURRIE: The leftist insurgency in Colombia has been going on for 40
years. Its founders must be getting a little old for that sort of thing.
LINDLEY: Well, oddly enough, the person who started the movement has
been fighting for 50 of his 71 years and he's still at it. The founder
of the FARC is still its leader. So it's a funny situation He's still
got his spunk apparently.
CURRIE: Has there been any change in their goals over those 40 or 50
LINDLEY: Well, I think it started as a legitimate leftist insurgency
when there were certainly complaints about the right and colonial types
of pressures but now it's strictly a battle to take over the government
and FARC still thinks that it can take the government by force.
CURRIE: Mr. Uribe won Colombia's presidency with a convincing majority.
What does that say about the mood of the people and how they regard the
LINDLEY: They want to get rid of the FARC and they want to get rid of
the FARC decisively. The FARC controls about 40% of the country and only
polls about 5% in public opinion polls so they really have very little
support. All they do is hurt the economy, extort people, kidnap people
and generally cause a lot of trouble.
CURRIE: Should they all get around a big table what is there to
negotiate? Colombia is a democracy and the people just said, in effect,
"get rid of the rebels." Doesn't that leave some rather stark choices
and very little gray area?
LINDLEY: Well, as you know, Uribe has proposed that everybody sit down
and negotiate. I think it's largely a smokescreen. The negotiations
probably will not happen. What's to negotiate with the FARC? "Please
disband your movement and go away?" They've been very poor negotiators
in the past, very insincere, and one of the reasons Pastrana was not
elected was the fact the FARC supported Pastrana, a very ironic
situation. Pastrana, of course, gave a large sanctuary to the FARC and
all it did was strengthen them. So a gesture of goodwill turned into
something of a bitter pill for the Colombian government. So Uribe has a
large mandate to essentially wipe out the FARC.
CURRIE: Of course all the attention is on the military situation but
Colombia also has some fairly serious economic problems.
LINDLEY: Unemployment right now is about 17% and, in fact, that's a
driver for some of the increased support for the FARC in certain
quarters. Their size has actually been growing in recent years
outstripping their ability to fund new fighters who would want to fight
with them. Also the economy and its problems helps fuel the drug
war...there was a record coca crop last year...
CURRIE: What options are open to Mr. Uribe to turn the economy around?
LINDLEY: He has to win this war primarily. Investment occurs in places
that are stable. Investment needs stability and the economy is tanking
because the rebels are kidnapping, blowing things up...the oil pipeline
alone was bombed some 140 to 170 times last year. Who would invest in a
country like that?
HOST: Daniel Lindley is a specialist on Latin American Affairs and a
Fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at
Indiana's Notre Dame University. He spoke with VOA's Neil Currie as we
focused on the challenges facing Colombia's newly-elected president.
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