February 21, 2012: In South America, Colombia is changing its strategy against its leftist FARC rebels. In the last decade the government was able to finally cripple FARC's military power, reducing its armed by half to about 8,000 gunmen. Now, to completely destroy FARC Colombia is creating twelve task forces trained and equipped to go after FARC finances and logistics. This has been made possible by the large amount of information acquired on FARC leadership and operations. The "finance and logistics" approach has worked recently in Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan as a way to cripple terrorist organizations.
The damage done to FARC over the last decade has made the government much stronger and more popular. Crime is way down. Murders have declined by over 60 percent and kidnappings by over 90 percent. Massacres, long a common event in Colombia, are down by over 80 percent and internal refugees are now returning to their homes.
But Colombia remains a violent place. All this violence is part of a trend that began in the late 1940s ("La Violencia") and has left over half a million dead and millions injured or displaced. Millions more simply fled the country, either into neighboring states or distant destinations like the U.S. or Europe.
"La Violencia" (The Violence) was basically a bloody battle between leftists and conservatives. There was a lull in the late 1950s and early 60s, when moderate leftists and conservatives worked out a compromise. But the worldwide upsurge in leftist activism in the 1960s reignited "La Violencia". The leftist rebels got another boost in the 1970s when cocaine became a big business and the leftists used their muscle to protect the drug gangs from the government. Now, half a century after the peacemaking compromises that ended the first round of La Violencia, the current conservative government is trying to cut a similar deal with the leftist rebels. But FARC, weakened as it is, does not want to negotiate. The smaller ELN is a little more willing but both leftist groups are encouraged by leftist governments in Venezuela and Ecuador to keep fighting. Both Venezuela and Ecuador are offering sanctuary for FARC, although they have to do it quietly because FARC is officially recognized (by international agreements) as a terrorist and drug dealing organization. Politics makes strange bedfellows but Ecuador and Venezuela are deep into fantasy if they believe the cocaine financed FARC is going to reverse its fortunes and take control of Colombia. The big lesson in all this is that terrorism doesn't work long term. The Colombian government made their big comeback by concentrating on protecting the population, which made it possible to revive the economy. FARC's guns and slogans could not compete with this.
The starkest sign of the decline of the drug gangs in Colombia is the percentage of the GDP the cocaine operations represent. Back in the late 1980s, it was about six percent of GDP. But now it is less than one percent. Much of that is because, with the decline of violence and leftist rebels (FARC), the economy has boomed in the last decade (from $94 billion in 2000 to $288 billion last year). The leftist rebels and drug gangs don't have as much political or military clout and are very much on the defensive. Thus FARC has come to depend more on terrorism (bombings and kidnappings) to try and maintain itself. But this is the strategy of someone on the decline and only increases popular hatred of the leftist groups.
The huge number of FARC and drug gang documents (mainly electronic) captured in the last few years has exposed an extensive foreign support network for the leftist rebels and their drug gang allies. Most of these foreigners appear to be political activists who were attracted to FARC's use of violence to support a leftist revolution. This often led to helping FARC raise money and buy weapons and equipment. The government is trying to build criminal cases against the foreigners and get local authorities to prosecute. The host nations are often reluctant to do this because local leftist politicians block prosecution efforts. But there are other ways to interrupt this support, and that's what the new task forces will be concentrating on.
The drug gangs are leaving Colombia but FARC does not want to go with them. FARC still pretends it is a leftist political movement. But the truth is that FARC is a large federation of criminal gangs. The new government strategy aims to break the leadership, financial, and logistical bonds that unit all the FARC factions then extinguish each of those factions. Only then will "La Violencia" finally sputter to an end.