Ancient Enemy Returns
October 12, 2006: Negotiations with FARC, over beginning negotiations, are stalled. FARC insists on a 800 square kilometer "free zone" in the south, where the negotiations will be held. The government will only provide a 280 square kilometer area. In the past, the rebels have used such free zones more for resting their gunmen, than for negotiations. Another point of contention is the FARC demand that two rebels, who have been extradited to the U.S., be included in the 500 prisoners to be handed over in exchange for the 58 FARC kidnap victims. Many government officials doubt that FARC is even serious about these negotiations. FARC has been taking a beating for over two years now, and is split by factionalism. Some factions are determined to fight on, no matter what. Those factions that want to negotiate, apparently do not control all of the 58 kidnap victims being offered.
October 11, 2006: Corruption, the bane of governments throughout South America, is getting worse in Colombia. During his first term, president Uribe reduced corruption, as enthusiastic Colombians sought to bring peace and prosperity back to the country. But now that this has been accomplished in many areas, the old custom of buying officials is coming back as well. This is especially troublesome in the army and police. Not only do criminals and rebels bribe security troops, but so do civilians, police and soldiers engaged in criminal scams.
October 10, 2006: One reason FARC wants a large "free zone" in the south is because the rebels have a lot of camps in that area, and the army is finding and destroying them. FARC is also losing control of remote villages, which have long served as rest and recruiting areas for the rebels. Southern Colombia remains a dangerous place. Even American economic officials are staying away, and preventing reconstruction money from being spent. FARC wants to keep farmers in the south growing coca (the source of cocaine), and many of the farmers want to go along. Coca pays a lot more than legit crops. The U.S. reconstruction money is to help farmers switch crops, but unless the army can permanently drive FARC out of an area, it's safer, and more lucrative, to grow coca.
October 7, 2006: The ELN and the government agreed to another round of peace negotiations. A week of talks will be held in Cuba beginning October 20th. ELN has fewer than 4,000 gunmen in service. Like FARC, ELN has been getting the worst of it for the last two years, and many of its members are tired of the years of fighting, with little to show for it.