2008: The government amnesty program has
aimed at the senior leadership of FARC, and connected with its target audience.
So far this year, over 300 FARC veterans (with at least ten years experience)
have surrendered. The most senior ones can get close to half a million dollars
and sanctuary in Europe (to escape vengeful kin of their many victims). This
loss has left the FARC adrift, unable to effectively oppose more aggressive operations
by army and police. The loss of leadership also made FARC less useful to the
drug gangs, who are now a major source of income for many FARC units (unable to
get by on extortion and kidnapping anymore). The drug gangs have found it
easier to just hire the more competent FARC people, leaving the others to
desert or get rounded up by the police. Many FARC units, normally composed of
several hundred gunmen, have simply dissolved, largely because of captured or
deserting leadership leaving the organization with no glue.
toll from the operations against FARC and the drug gangs is expected to be
higher this year. In 2007, nearly 1,500 civilians were killed in the war
between FARC and the army. About 20 percent of the civilians were killed by
soldiers. The violence caused over 300,000 civilians to flee their homes. The
deaths and refugees were 50 percent higher in 2007 compared to 2006, and a
similar increase is expected this year. The current "murder for promotion" scandal in the army may have
accounted for ten percent of civilian deaths over the last year or so.
scandal in the army is the result of a struggle within the military between U.S.
trained, and influenced officers, and the more traditional minded. U.S. Army Special
Forces trainers and instructors in U.S. military schools have, for decades,
stressed to their Colombian students the importance of winning the trust and loyalty of the civilian
population. The more traditional Colombian approach, fostered by over a century
of civil conflict, is to ruthlessly apply terror and intimidation to any
population that does not support you enthusiastically. This included a lot of
casual murders, killing any civilian who gave you a hard time. The struggle
between the reformers and traditionalists has largely been kept out of public
view, but now it is out in the open. The government has been forced to take
sides, and is promoting reformist officers to replace the traditionalist
officers caught up in the "murder for promotion" scandal.
2008: The head of the army was forced to resign, after it was admitted that the
army policy of favoring the promotion of commanders who kill the most FARC
rebels, led to some commanders kidnapping poor, or homeless, young men, killing
them and making it look like the victims were FARC members. Based on missing
persons reports, several hundred men were believed to have been victims of the
ruthless army commanders.
2008: Venezuela has increased pressure on NGOs to keep quiet about the
increasingly police state atmosphere in the country, or else. Venezuelan secret
police are watching foreign activists, even leftist ones, and expelling those
who prove too troublesome to the governments reputation.
2008: The army dismissed 29 officers
(including a general) and enlisted personnel as a result of an investigation
into illegal activities. The troops were accused of kidnapping young men from
poor neighborhoods, then killing them elsewhere and accusing the victims of
being FARC or from other criminal organizations. It is believed that reform minded
officers tipped off the media about these practices.
2008: FARC has offered to resume
negotiations to exchange 150 high profile kidnapping victims, for 500 imprisoned
senior FARC officials. FARC wants to negotiate with a committee of civilian
intellectuals and journalists, to keep the talks high profile, and enhance
their chances of forcing the government to take the deal and release a large
number of FARC's most able leaders.
2008: In the west, an army patrol came
upon a FARC hostage of eight years, who had escaped with a FARC commander (of
the unit that was holding him) who was defecting. Oscar Tulio Lizcano, a
politician (member of Congress), was kidnapped eight years ago. Both reported
that FARC morale was bad and desertions and defections were increasing. The
army and police