The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) is a Marxist-Leninist "guerrilla group" that was founded in 1964 and became operational in Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico throughout the year. The organization was established to represent the interests of the rural population following the Colombian civil war that lasted from 1948 to 1958. In addition, the National Liberation Army (ELN) was founded in 1964 as a Marxist-Leninist “guerrilla group”, which posed a threat throughout the year only in Colombia. According to Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP), from January 1 to November 1, 2021, a total of fifty-nine terrorist attacks took place in Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. In the coming periods, the possibility of the border conflicts, which took place intensely this year, spreading to the surrounding countries should be taken into consideration.
Map 1: Distribution of Attacks by Organizations (Claret Red Areas: ELN, Purple Areas: FARC-EP Attacks)
In general, terrorist organizations in Venezuela and Puerto Rico do not pose a high threat due to the low number of recorded terrorist attacks and the low casualties. Although the low temperature of the conflicts in these countries in the first months of 2021 was accepted as a positive development, the frequency of the attacks in March and April attracted attention. The main reason for this can be shown as the efforts of the terrorist organizations FARC-EP and ELN’s pulling their camps closer to the cities. Due to this shift in the camp areas initiated by the two terrorist organizations in March to intensify the attacks against civilians, a decrease was observed in the conflicts until the summer period whereas an increase was recorded as of July.
From January 1 to November 1, 2021, a total of fifty-nine terrorist attacks took place in Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Fifty-seven of these attacks were carried out on Colombian soil, followed by Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The FARC-EP terrorist organization, which carries out activities throughout the year in Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, is a Marxist-Leninist “guerrilla group” founded in 1964. The organization was established to represent the interests of the rural population following the Colombian civil war that lasted from 1948 to 1958. The FARC-EP initially aims to overthrow the government and finance its actions through drug dealing, kidnapping and extortion. The ELN was founded in 1964 as a Marxist-Leninist “guerrilla group”, which has been threatening the region only in Colombia throughout the year. The main motivation of the terrorist organization is to “defend Colombians, whom they believe are victims of social, political and economic injustices” perpetrated by the Colombian state.
Graphic 1: Number of Attacks by Organizations / FARC-EP and ELN Attacks in Comparison
Only the terrorist activities of the ELN and the FARC, both radical left organizations, have been recorded in this region. While 64.4% of the attacks in October were carried out by the ELN, the FARC is responsible for the remaining attacks (Graphic 1). Although the clashes, especially at the beginning and throughout the year, were low in terms of casualties and progressed steadily, the peak was experienced with nineteen attacks in March and April.
84.3% of the attacks took place in rural areas. The majority of urban attacks were observed in the southern regions of Colombia (Graphic 2).
Graphic 2: Security Environments by Attacks / Distribution of FARC-EP and ELN Attacks by Security Environment
Since the FARC is an organization active in rural areas, conflicts in Colombia are mostly concentrated on the Venezuelan border and in the south of the country. In contrast to the FARC, the ELN was active in the north of the capital Bogotá and around the city of Cali (Map 1).
Graphic 3: Types of Attacks / Typology of Attacks in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Venezuela
While the ELN only operates in Colombia; the FARC has also been involved in conflicts in Venezuela and Puerto Rico. In the conflict in Venezuela, only military units were engaged. The rural structure of the region accelerates the intensification of the attacks in Colombia in cities such as Arauca, Saravena, Arauguita, and Juan Frio on the Venezuelan border. Another reason is the intense presence of Colombian military units in this region, apart from the FARC and ELN groups.
Nine different types of targets were observed in the field and military units had the most casualties with a rate of 50.4%. Due to the destructive nature of the attacks, 22% of civilians were affected. The fact that the conflicts take place not only against government soldiers but also between non-state armed organizations proves the versatility of the conflicts in the region. The rate of militias damaged in clashes between organizations is 6.8% (Graphic 4). It has been observed that both sides suffered equally in the clashes between the FARC and the ELN. The FARC is made up of militant Communists and peasant self-defense groups, while the ranks of the ELN are dominated by students, Catholic radicals, and left-wing intellectuals who hope to repeat Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution. In addition, power struggles are experienced between the two organizations high likely related to their establishment in the same region in the same period.
Graphic 4: Attack Target Types / Target Typology of FARC-EP and ELN Attacks
Attack targets vary according to the organization. The most obvious reason for this is that the constituencies of the two organizations are different from each other, as mentioned above. The ELN targeted civilians at a rate of 33.3% in 2021, while 23.8% of attacks were against legitimate government soldiers. However, the data is read differently for FARC. Military units were the main target of the FARC attacks at a rate of 65.8%, followed by civilian casualties with 15.8% (Graphic 4).
Police and military units became the common target of the attacks since the attacks are mostly carried out at the borders of the regions where terrorist organizations and legitimate governments operate. The most common types of attacks are armed attacks, raids, and ambushes.
Graphic 5: Casualty Analysis / Casualties of FARC-EP and ELN Attacks
As a result of the attacks, the highest number of casualties was recorded in April, and the highest number of deaths was recorded in January, April, July, and October, depending on the increase in attacks (Graphic 5).
As a result, there was not a high threat due to the low number of terrorist attacks and casualties recorded in Venezuela and Puerto Rico in 2021. However, in the coming periods, the possibility of the border conflicts (Map 1), which took place intensely this year, spreading to the surrounding countries should be taken into consideration.
|REGION||THE IMMINENCE OF CONFLICT||MOST LETHAL TERRORIST GROUP||COMMON TARGET||THE STATE MOST IMPACTED||FACTORS CREATING INSECURITY||CRITICAL DYNAMICS TO WATCH|
|SOUTH AMERICA||Accelerating||FARC-EP||Tactical and Operational Military Units||Columbia||Ideological and Political Division||Possible spread of Communist violence|
|Ineffective strategies of decision makers||Revival of guerrilla tactics by volunteer militias|
Compiled by the author.
 “La frontera del terror: Maduro protege a Iván Márquez y bombardea a Gentil Duarte, ¿por qué?”, Semana, March 27, 2021, https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/la-frontera-del-terror-maduro-protege-a-ivan-marquez-y-bombardea-a-gentil-duarte-por-que/202153/
 Terrorism Analysis Platform, www.tap-data.com
 “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)”, CISAC, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/revolutionary-armed-forces-colombiafarc#text_block_17686
 “National Liberation Army (ELN)”, CISAC, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/national-liberation-army-eln#highlight_text_15728
 “Colombia’s Civil Conflict”, CFR, January 2017, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/colombias-civil-conflict
*The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Terrorism Analysis Platform.