Post-Cold War counterinsurgency (COIN) in Latin America has gone through a subtle, yet significant transformation. To understand this transformation, a short discussion of COIN in the region during the Cold War era is necessary. In general, counterinsurgency went through three stages. An initial phase occurred during the 1960s when the United States provided relatively unconditional military aid to countries pursuing counterinsurgency campaigns against Cuban inspired focos. The emphasis was largely military and tactical. This was followed by a stage of general US disengagement as a consequence of the overthrow of democratic regimes by Latin American militaries and subsequent brutal campaigns in the 1970s against urban guerrilla movements. The continuing focus on the military and tactical aspects of counterinsurgency, combined with the perception of the insurgents as agents of foreign powers, led to strategies focused on the physical elimination of the enemy combat force as the strategic condition for victory. Because insurgents did not wear uniforms, civilian supporters of the insurgents were considered fair game, and many were killed, tortured and or imprisoned as a result. Both the US government and Latin American militaries suffered considerable loss of legitimacy due to this approach. This actually opened up political space for insurgents in some countries, particularly in Central America. After the revolutionary triumph in Nicaragua in 1979, and the emergence of much stronger insurgencies following variants of Mao’s prolonged war, the United States re-engaged. While much of the focus continued to be on the military aspects of the campaign, there was recognition that local conditions, such as political exclusion, were creating fertile ground for the recruitment of people to insurgent causes. This time the United States provided significant political and economic assistance in addition to military aid conditioned on significant political reform to include democratization and respect for human rights. All of the insurgencies after Nicaragua failed to take power. However by the end of the Cold War, every country in Latin America, with the exception of Cuba, had adopted democratic government. Despite this, insurgency refused to disappear. The end of the Cold War terminated outside intervention and support for insurgency, and democratization supposedly ended political motives for insurgency, but there were still a number of groups that continued to hold out, despite the changes: in Guatemala, Chile, Colombia and Peru. The former two were impossible to sustain as their existence responded to Cold War dynamics that no longer existed. Mostly the groups prolonged their existence to get better terms for themselves in the process of negotiations, demobilization and

reconciliation. Colombia and Peru were different, marking the boundary between the transition from insurgencies of the Cold War to those of the post-Cold War era. Never part of the mainstream, and thus not supported by Cuba, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), to a lesser degree Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) in Colombia, and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru had to find alternative means to sustain their organizations. Between 1982 and 1995 they all turned to drugs trafficking as a major source of finances, and this breathed life into the movements. It allowed them to acquire weapons, recruit people and suborn government officials on unprecedented scales. One of the myths is that these insurgencies transformed into drug traffickers and lost their ideology. This is simply not true. The strategic goal of these insurgencies remained to take power through Marxist revolution, but drug trafficking did transform them. Money and the acquisition of money became elevated in importance to the detriment of political mobilization of the mass base. The money made the groups less dependent on the people for their sustenance, and viewed more as potential business rivals, so population control rather than population mobilization became pre-eminent. Also, since most of the activity of the illegal economies in the region, with some exceptions, took place in remote, depopulated or underpopulated areas of the country, the control of these empty or ‘ungoverned’ spaces became of strategic importance to the insurgent movements. These ungoverned spaces could be turned into true base areas from which strategic power could be generated. This meant that the strength of an insurgency in the post-Cold War era was often a function of government weakness and lack of will or capacity to control ungoverned spaces, rather than the ability of the insurgency to mobilize people against the government. In Latin America, political control has been traditionally maintained by controlling major centres of the population and the legal economy. Other areas could be ignored or controlled with economy of force. It was Che Guevara’s foco theory of the 1960s that first tried to take advantage of this fact by creating insurgent movements in the remote countryside where the government was not present. The idea was that the insurgent movement would become strong enough before the government could realize what was happening and concentrate enough force to destroy it. In practice this never worked because the ungoverned regions could never generate enough recruits and resources for the movement to consolidate before the government, particularly with US assistance, could react. In the post-Cold War era, the resources generated by the illegal economies made Guevara’s idea possible. Counterinsurgency then became a function of recovering empty space, filling the vacuums left by traditional methods of political and economic control that were no longer relevant in the post-Cold War world. However, post-Cold War governments were slow to realize this or develop sufficient capability to perform this task. As of this writing, many have still not. There were several reasons for this. First, although virtually all were now democracies, institutions were weak. Providing effective services outside of major urban centres like health, education, justice or infrastructure like electricity, water and paved roads has been difficult for some countries due to a variety of factors. Another very important issue was that in general the new democratic governments mistrusted the military and deliberately kept them weak to prevent them from launching coups as in the past. In many countries militaries were constitutionally prohibited from carrying out internal defence missions. The internal defence mission was given to the police, but police forces were not sufficiently strengthened under the misguided notion that the resolution of the political tensions through democratization meant that there would be a decreased need for security overall. In some countries the result was immediate. In others it took several years. Crime in general and violent crime specifically jumped to unprecedented levels. Over the years the combination of weak police forces and huge profits from illegal markets would result in the rise of gangs and mafia organizations with insurgent-like characteristics. They armed themselves with military weapons: automatic rifles, machine guns and grenades. The more advanced groups acquired grenade launchers, light mortars,

rocket launchers, and even improvised mines. Using increasingly sophisticated irregular warfare tactics they dominated terrain, co-opted or expelled government representatives, dominated and mobilized populations, established varying degrees of a counter-state, and otherwise subverted the sovereignty of the state in the areas they came to dominate. For criminal insurgent-like groups these areas were, in many cases, urban space rather than rural areas, mostly among the unplanned slums and poor areas that ring most Latin American cities. Long neglected by security forces, they became perfect breeding grounds for the violent gangs and mafias. The groups were not insurgents in the sense that their strategic purpose was to overthrow the state, but they did seek to weaken the state so they could grow and do business. They are included here because the most successful solutions to date have, even if the governments have not used the term, employed classic counterinsurgency approaches. Remarkably, both the post-Cold War counterinsurgencies and post-Cold War anti-criminal campaigns have followed similar paths, making the same mistakes and subsequently adopting similar solutions to both the political and the criminal problems. While there are other cases, this chapter will look at four cases: Peru’s current campaign against the new generation of Sendero Luminoso, Colombia’s struggle against FARC, the struggle against the drug trafficking gangs of Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico’s ongoing struggle against the narcotrafficking mafias. In all cases initial approaches were a combination of denial and mis-analysis. In Colombia, despite public availability of FARC strategic documents stating that their final goal was to take power, politicians and academics wasted a lot of time and effort debating over what their strategic goal really was, denying that in the post-Cold War world a Communist insurgency could seriously think about taking power. All signs that they were systematically following their publicly available strategic plan were completely ignored, except by the military. This was because the military, and to a slightly lesser degree the police, were assigned the mission to fight them. The military had a role because the fighting was fairly intense, and constantly increasing, beyond the ability of the police to confront them. However, Colombia’s government spent less of its budget on the military, which was at war, than several neighbouring Latin American governments did on their armies, which were at peace. The political establishment generally tried to avoid the war, except to criticize the security forces when they failed. As far as they were concerned, the military was only temporarily involved, dealing with a public order mission. What few wanted to recognize was that this temporary mission had been ongoing for over 30 years and showed no signs of abating. Effectiveness was measured by how many guerrillas were killed or captured compared to how many military and police were killed. During the mid 1990s the numbers of killed/captured insurgents were increasing, causing some to claim that the military was winning the war, when in fact FARC was making significant organizational advances inevitably increasing the intensity of the fighting. Counter-guerrilla operations largely consisted of forays against FARC-dominated areas. These settled into a pattern of temporarily driving FARC forces out of the zone, skirmishes with FARC security rings, the capture of abandoned equipment, and subsequent withdrawal of the military from the area of operations. As a result, the bulk of FARC forces would wait out the foray in well-established alternative camps and then return to occupy their normal camps once the military had withdrawn. The guerrillas in turn would make forays against towns, attacking the police station, robbing the banks and destroying the local government centre. They would occupy the town and harangue the people until rescuing army units would drive them out. These attacks occurred very frequently and some towns were hit multiple times over the years. Although major military encounters were rare, the intensity and frequency of these encounters was systematically increasing. The military were rudely shaken in mid 1996 when FARC launched a nationwide offensive of 22 separate attacks, including overrunning an isolated company outpost at Las Delicias, Caquetá. It took an additional 18 months of a string of defeats culminating in the decimation of an understrength elite battalion at El Billar for the military to get serious about making significant changes in its approach to the war.