January 14, 2012: The growth of peace and prosperity in the last decade is largely a result of crippling the cocaine trade in Colombia. In the last decade, cocaine operations have gone from 1.4 percent of GDP to .3 percent. This has meant a lot less money to hire gunmen and bribe officials. There were several reasons for the collapse of the criminal cocaine culture in Colombia. There was the reduction in coca crops (from which cocaine is derived) by more than half and concentrating on the finances and money laundering activities of the drug gangs. All this actually began with a popular movement in Colombia to stop the decades of violence and suppress the drug gangs and leftist rebels that caused it all. Another, more minor, factor was a shift in cocaine markets over the last two decades. Cocaine use in the United States, long the major market, has declined by over two-thirds since the late 1980s. Meanwhile, demand has grown in Europe, the Middle East, and South America (in nations with booming economies). The shifting markets made drug gangs more vulnerable as they had to develop new drug smuggling routes. In the last two decades, annual cocaine production has not declined but much of it has left Colombia and gone to neighboring countries. This has caused a surge in corruption in these states, along with more drug-related violence. But in Colombia, it's been a decade of more peace and prosperity.
FARC is trying to reposition itself as a God-fearing (or at least respecting), public-spirited, patriotic organization. This is what a recent peace proposal from FARC indicated. For decades, FARC was your usual radical-left organization demanding the establishment of a communist dictatorship. Extreme and extensive violence was justified in this pursuit. This did not work and FARC has lost over 70 percent of its armed personnel in the last decade. In the last few years the senior leadership has also suffered heavy losses. The current FARC leader (since last November), Timoleón Jiménez (or Timochenko) has shaken things up and his recent peace proposal indicated a respect for religion and democracy. But the government will not talk until FARC accepts the amnesty and disarms. That worked five years ago with 30,000 men belonging to anti-FARC militias. FARC ignored this and fought on, and still has about 8,000 armed men out there. But public opinion is very much against FARC and it will take more than talking nice to rehabilitate this leftist drug gang.
January 7, 2012: Venezuela named general Henry Rangel Silva Minister of Defense (head of the armed forces). This was disturbing because the U.S. and Colombia had identified Silva as in the pay of drug gangs. Silva had formerly been in charge of military intelligence, and concentrated on keeping tabs on political groups opposed to the leftist government in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has long been accused of allowing drug operations in his country and this appointment seems to confirm it. Mismanagement of the economy and corruption has put Chavez in danger of losing power. The Silva appointment is supposed to help deal with that danger.
January 5, 2012: A drug gang (Los Urabeños) in the north (mainly along the coast near the Panamanian border) has shut down many towns for the last two days in retaliation for the death of the Los Urabeños leader on the 1st (in a shootout with police). In addition to the two day shutdown of commerce, the gang handed out leaflets detailing how to collect bounties from the gang for killing policemen ($1,000 for a counter-drug policeman, half that for any other kind of cop). Groups like Los Urabeños have appeared in the last few years because many of the more than 50,000 gunmen who have accepted amnesty in the last decade have gone back to their outlaw ways. The security forces have responded, going after the new or revived gangs just as they did FARC and the older drug gangs.
December 31, 2011: Economic and political problems in Venezuela have caused a 30 month extension of Venezuela importing Colombian natural gas. Venezuela has plenty of natural gas, but mismanagement of the state-owned oil and gas companies has delayed production.
In the south, there were two bomb attacks against police stations in the south in the last two days. Two people were killed in one of the attacks. FARC was believed responsible.