Colombian Defence minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said that the guerrilla group FARC make anywhere from 2.4 to 3.5 billion dollars per annum from the drug trade and estimated they have an army of 8.147 members.
“Of the 350 tons of cocaine produced in Colombia, 200 are linked to FARC”, said Pinzón during the Colombia-USA forum organized by the Colombia-America Chamber of Commerce and the Centre for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.
He added those are the figures with which the Colombian government works, referred to the first half of the year, and collected by multiple intelligence sources. He added that FARC currently has the lowest number of men and women in arms, 8.147, compared to their peak of 20.000 guerrillas back in 2000.
“It’s a very different organization” than before, having lost several top commanders in recent years among which four members of the political bureau; five or six from its military bureau and an estimated fifty field commanders and heads of columns.
Nevertheless Pinzón underlined the capacity of these armed organizations and criminal gangs to adapt, and warned of significant changes in their operations at crucial moments, such as the beginning or end of presidential mandates.
“FARC have mutated their tactics and forms of attack against the Colombian armed forces with snipers and improvised explosive devices, as well as an increase in the attacks against energy infrastructure and renewed contacts with social movements”, said the minister.
“Currently they operate with small units in ten different specific areas using tactics to create insecurity more than military results”, he added.
Since the end of August when the beginning of the peace process was announced, Pinzón states that “70 FARC members have been killed, among which three commanders; another thirty have turned in and another twenty have surrendered in combat”, but pressure in the jungle on the guerrillas “will continue” pledged the minister.
Other targets include the National Liberation Army, ELN, the most important guerrilla group after FARC and which according to the Minister of Defence has 1.300 men in arms but contrary to the larger group don’t operate from camps or bases but rather mingle with the population.
An operational system similar to that of the six criminal gangs which the Colombian government estimates currently exists in the country. Their presence makes the military task and deployment more complicated since the army can only practice fiscal surveying and territory control, no shootouts.
But Pinzón insisted that “if they don’t understand that this is their last chance, we will continue to fight in the whole of Colombian territory and bring to justice all those who have violated our Constitution”.
The Army will see its numbers increased by 25.000 in the next two years plus 20 new helicopters, thirty river patrol boars, state of the art intelligence equipment and a greater investment in defence “to ensure the welfare and moral of the armed forces” with improved education, health and legal support.
“The only thing that is going to happen with the guerrillas and criminal gangs is that they are going to end up in irrelevance”, sentenced Minister Pinzón.
However private estimates of the FARC budget have been challenged by private organizations based on estimates from the Colombian Attorney General’s Office which puts total turnover at around 1.1bn dollars. This is also higher than the UN Development Program estimate from 2003, which at the time listed FARC annual income at 342 million dollars of which 200 million from the drug trade.