For Colombia’s military elite, a future in advising international security

posted by Elyssa Pachico
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After helping negotiate an end to a Paraguayan hostage crisis, Colombia’s military and police forces hope to play an increasingly active role in advising other countries on security matters.

A kidnapping in Paraguay became a national sensation after Fidel Zavala, a prominent cattle rancher, was taken by a left-wing guerrilla group on October 15. In response to requests from Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, President Uribe sent a group of agents from Colombia’s elite military squad to advise Paraguayan security forces.

According to Paraguayan media, the Colombians were instrumental in determining that it was too risky to undertake a high level rescue operation, and that the left-wing group had neither the provisions nor the support to keep their hostage captive longer than three months. After a series of negotiations, Zavala was released on January 18.

President Lugo later repeatedly thanked President Uribe and the military for their role in ending the crisis. “Colombia’s experience has been of great value to us,” he said. “We are novices when it comes to negotiations. We didn’t have the slightest idea how to proceed. But due to Colombia’s assistance we were truly able to come to a happy ending.”

Zavala added that his rescue would not have been possible if it had not been for Colombia’s help.

Paraguay is the latest in a series of countries that have requested advice and training from Colombia’s security forces. A week after Zavala’s release, the Colombian director of the police force met with representatives of six West African countries to discuss cracking down on narco-trafficking between the two regions. In 2009, security officers from 23 countries (including Chile, the United Kingdom and Spain) receiving training in Colombia on intercepting drug traffickers and battling kidnapping and extortion schemes.

Colombia has also promised to train 11,500 Mexico police officers between now and 2011. Another 1,800 security officers from Central American nations, including Panama, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Trinidad y Tobago, have also received training from Colombian forces.

“We have a big future,” Vice Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo told El Espectador. “Both our military and the police can rely on abilities that other countries lack.”

Colombia also hopes to send 87 members of its elite military squad to Afghanistan, where they would work alongside Spanish troops in the NATO coalition. However, the agreement has not yet been finalized. Colombia’s foreign minister has previously said that Colombia’s security gains provide a model for the Afghan conflict.

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