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Blog Post

Bombing in Bogotá reveals Colombia’s stubborn security challenges


On January 17th, the Colombian capital of Bogotá was hit by a deadly bombing that claimed the lives of 21 people and revealed the ongoing security challenges the country faces more than two years after the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Colombian government identified the Marxist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), as being behind the attack.

Police help people to evacuate the nearby area where a car bomb exploded, according to authorities, in Bogota, Colombia January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez.

The signing of the peace accord with the FARC led many to hope and expect that events such as last week’s bombing would be relegated to Colombia’s past. While the agreement was historic and laudable, the attack is a stark reminder that Colombia must maintain its guard as it faces evolving threats from transnational organized crime.

While the attack in Bogotá generated headlines around the world, transnational criminal organizations  like the ELN and the Clan del Golfo have continued to carry out deadly attacks throughout Colombia and even expanded to fill the vacuum left by demobilized FARC guerrillas.

Almost exactly a year ago, ELN guerrillas bombed a police station in the coastal city of Barranquilla, killing 5 officers. In April 2018, the Clan del Golfo ambushed and killed eight police officers in Antioquia. Unfortunately, there are dozens of other examples of deadly attacks by transnational criminal groups since the signing of the peace accord with the FARC.

Other symptoms of Colombia’s ongoing struggles are a wave of killings of social leaders and the dramatic expansion of coca crops to historic numbers. All of this means that, while Colombia has made great strides in escaping the violence of the past, the country continues to face serious challenges to its security and to the rule of law. Combatting these threats will require an appropriate expansion of the state’s capacity to provide security and other public goods.

This should be combined with robust policies promoting inclusive growth and economic opportunity in the regions of Colombia that are struggling to escape the violence of criminal groups.

Colombia’s government understands the need to expand its presence and maintain the rule of law. In fact, President Iván Duque is already taking a series of actions to address these issues. However, Colombia faces dramatic hurdles and its efforts are complicated by the need to address the Venezuelan migrant crisis that has led over one million refugees to settle in Colombia in recent years. In addition, Colombian guerrilla groups have found support and refuge, thanks to the government in neighboring Venezuela. There, the ELN has grown its forces through recruitment and illicit enrichment from illegal mining and drug trafficking.

These stubborn challenges highlight the need for the United States to maintain economic and security aid to Colombia and continue to work with its allies to confront these transnational threats to regional security and stability. The US should also offer assistance to Colombia in securing its border with Venezuela against the crossing of criminal groups. These actions will enable Colombia to consolidate a genuine and lasting peace.

Andrés Martínez-Fernández is a Research Analyst working on Latin America at the American Enterprise Institute. He has previous experience as a consultant and is completing his graduate degree in Latin American Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.