It’s a good idea to visit the Colombian Defense Ministry’s website every once in a while to view their latest “Operational Results” report (PDF). You get a long powerpoint presentation with the official versions of statistics about the country’s security situation.
You also find some really shocking numbers. Take combat deaths, for instance.
Between 2002 and the end of March 2010:
- 13,653 members of “subversive groups” have been killed.
- 1,611 members of “illegal self-defense groups” were killed between 2002 and 2006 (source is an older version of the same report – PDF).
- 1,080 members of “criminal gangs” have been killed since 2007.
- 4,571 members of the security forces were killed in acts of service.
That’s a total of 20,915 people. Most of them young Colombians — many under 18 years of age — serving as foot-soldiers or low-level recruits in the armed forces, the FARC, the ELN or the paramilitaries.
And that’s combat deaths only. This horrifying statistic does not include civilians killed or disappeared in conflict-related violence, which the Colombian Commission of Jurists estimates (PDF) at 14,028 people between mid-2002 and mid-2008. It does not count people wounded, whether by combat, terror attacks or landmines. It does not include the 2.4 million people that CODHES (PDF) estimates were displaced since 2002. (It may, unfortunately, include thousands of civilians falsely presented as armed-group members killed in combat.)
Had the FARC and the Colombian government successfully concluded good-faith negotiations between 1998 and 2002, these 20,915 people would be alive today. That is the cost of the failed peace process of the Pastrana years. It is also the cost of the “successful” security policies of the Uribe years.
Perhaps the most important task Colombia’s next president will face is how to avoid the combat deaths of another 20,915 Colombians over the next eight years. (Plus the civilian dead, disappeared, wounded and displaced.) How to break with a war of attrition which — with as many as 20,000 guerrillas and “new” paramilitaries still active in Colombia — promises to drag on for many more years.
Proposing and pursuing a policy other than continued war will take great political courage. But if a Colombian leader chooses this path, the Obama administration must support him or her unequivocally. The numbers alone demand it.