The Gangster Blues
September 2, 2006: With over 20,000 AUC gunmen demobilized, some patterns are emerging. As many police and local officials, expected, many of the former AUC members didn't take to "civilian" life at all. Mainly, it's a matter of money and lifestyle. The demobilization deal left the former gunmen with $200 a month, while job training took place. That's less money, and more work, than these guys are used to. As with most government programs everywhere, the job training was often useless, and many of the former bad guys missed the gangster life. Being an AUC man meant a relatively low workload, and lots of respect from civilians. While there was some risk of violent death, in retrospect is seemed like a pretty sweet deal.
So a third or more of the demobilized AUC members are slipping back into the criminal life. Few are joining up with other rebel groups (because FARC and ELN are leftist, and very hostile to AUC), but many are signing on with the many drug production and smuggling operations. The demise of the AUC meant that the drug gangs no longer had to suffer extortion from AUC groups in areas controlled by the AUC. But now the other rebels groups, especially FARC, are trying to move in and take over the territory abandoned by the demobilized AUC gangs. The police are trying to keep FARC out, and the drug gangs are hiring in the hope that they can prevent domination by FARC. All this is taking place in an environment where the government is more powerful than in the past. It's now very much a three way struggle in many former AUC strongholds, between the FARC, drug gangs and government security forces.
September 1, 2006: A few undisciplined FARC commanders have screwed up big time, by working both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border. FARC strategy has been to raid and plunder on the Colombian side, while using camps in Venezuela, where they would behave. But enough FARC gunmen misbehaved on both sides of the border, that Colombia and Venezuela have agreed to jointly go after cross-border Colombian rebels. Actually, the deal is meant to clamp down on all manner of cross border mischief. This includes smuggling of drugs, and other goods, as well as the ability to chase criminals across the border (up to a point.) The details are still being worked out, and well-behaved FARC groups will probably still have a safe home in Venezuela, but the border area will become more dangerous for outlaws.
August 29, 2006: An increasing number of parents are reporting that their teenage sons (and some daughters) are being kidnapped by FARC, and brainwashed into becoming gunmen for the rebels. This is a scam long practiced in Asia and Africa, but not much encountered in South America. Until recently, drug gangs and rebel groups could depend on volunteers for their manpower needs. But an improving economy, and much more effective security forces, has caused a sharp fall off in recruits for the gangster life. So now, groups like FARC increasingly kidnap teenagers and make them an offer they can't refuse. Those that do say no, are simply killed.
August 28, 2006: Over the weekend, battles with FARC along the Venezuelan border left at least fifteen rebels dead. The FARC has been losing territory over the last few years, and is increasingly moving to border areas, where it can establish safe havens across the borders (where they have to behave, in order not to stir up the local authorities.)