Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos vowed on Sunday to develop better strategies in the war on Marxist guerrillas who still manage regular small attacks despite being at their weakest in decades.
The conservative leader and US ally marked his first year in office on the weekend with high popularity levels and economic advances that have won Colombia investment grade status from the three leading rating agencies.
Those accomplishments have been tarnished, however, by a recent increase in violence by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), such as an attack last week that killed an oil worker and injured six people.
“I’ve asked the defense ministry to revise the way the [army] controls territory, including our borders, so our forces are more efficient and effective,” Santos said in a speech.
He became president of the Andean nation, which is one of Washington’s main allies in Latin America, vowing to deepen the security successes of his predecessor, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.
Uribe’s crackdown on the FARC led to rebel desertions, high-profile arrests and the killing of top commanders.
The overall decline in violence has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment to Colombia’s mining and oil sectors over the past five years, which has allowed the country to boost crude and coal output to historic highs.
Yet the rebels remain strong in some remote areas of the nation of 46 million people, aided in part by involvement in the cocaine trade and alliances with other armed groups.
In June, they kidnapped three Chinese oil workers in the southern Caqueta region. Later that month, FARC hit a checkpoint in the west, wounding two soldiers, and they are blamed for a recent explosion that killed two people and injured eight more.
Santos, who was Uribe’s defense minister, vowed to improve intelligence and said troops should break into smaller units for greater versatility in fighting the FARC.
“As the government, we’ve got to be humble and fix whatever needs fixing, and that’s precisely what we’re doing,” Santos said.
Given greater pressure from the army, the rebels are more likely to pose as civilians and tend to carry out small-scale attacks with big media impact, but lower risk, Santos said.
“We’ve got to adapt our doctrine, our operations ... to the way in which they’re operating,” he said.
Latin America’s longest-running rebel insurgency, the FARC was established in 1964 as a communist-inspired peasant army fighting to reduce a poverty-wealth gap that remains huge in the resource-rich South American state.