Colombia: FARC Runs With Extortion


February 29, 2008: President Hugo Chavez would like to see FARC win its decades long war to take over Colombia, despite the fact that FARC has mutated into a drug gang, and criminal enterprise that is responsible for many of the murders and kidnapping that occur each year. This support for FARC makes Chavez less popular in his own country, where most people know exactly what FARC is.

It's becoming more difficult to keep kidnapping victims, what with increased police and army activity in rural areas long considered FARC controlled territory. So some of the kidnapping gangs have switched to extortion. A likely kidnapping target is contacted, and convinced that if they don't make "protection payments", they will be grabbed. But this exposes the extortionists as well, and recently five FARC were killed by police when they came to pick up their payment.

FARC is also having a hard time with its leftist allies abroad, because of continued use of landmines. So far this year, 29 civilians and soldiers have been killed or injured by FARC landmines. FARC refuses to stop using the mines, as they are a highly effective way to protect their rural facilities, and terrorize nearby civilians into not working for the police.

February 27, 2008: FARC released four of its high profile hostages (three men and a woman, all Colombian politicians), after holding them for six years. The four were picked up by a Venezuelan Red Cross helicopter on the Colombian side of the border, and flown to Venezuela. FARC is trying to make leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez look good, in order to improve the chances that Colombia will free dozens of jailed FARC leaders, in exchange for 40 more high profile FARC kidnapping victims. Colombia is reluctant to make the swap, as it would make FARC stronger, and would still leave about 700 less famous Colombians as captives of FARC. Kidnapping is still a big business for FARC, although it is a lot more dangerous to pull off these days. The police and the public are better prepared to deal with kidnappers, and the number of successful snatches is way down from a few years ago, when several hundred people a month were taken. FARC wants to get rid of these high profile hostages, and they are becoming increasingly difficult to hide from the police and army. Moreover, falling FARC morale needs the boost, that it would get if many jailed FARC leaders were freed in a hostage exchange. FARC cannot survive too many more mistakes or disappointments.

February 18, 2008: Fourteen soldiers were convicted of murdering ten troops of the counter-narcotics police. The soldiers had sold out to a local drug lord, and were guarding drug facilities when the police showed up two years ago. All the police were killed. Getting a conviction was not a sure thing, as an attorney from the prosecutor's office was caught trying to extort a $400,000 bribe from the defense team (which was believed to be bankrolled by drug money.) While FARC gets more headlines, it's the drug gangs that are doing the most damage to the fabric of Colombian culture.




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