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.