Colombia: Death By Prosperity


September 30, 2009: The eight year offensive against leftist rebels and drug gangs has been a success, and this can be seen in economic performance. In the last ten years, GDP has gone from $90 billion to over $250 billion. Investments by  foreigners went from $1.5 billion to over $10 billion. In the 1980s and 90s, foreign investors stayed away, and many Colombian entrepreneurs and investors fled the country. The economic changes of the last decade have improved the lives of most Colombians, and, along with a sharp reduction in violence and kidnapping, led to many exiles, and their talents, returning home. The growing tyranny in neighboring Venezuela, has brought thousands of Venezuelan professionals and investors to Colombia. After three quarters of GDP  contraction (about two percent overall) because of the global recession, GDP growth has resumed.

The government is disbanding the domestic intelligence agency (DAS). What precipitated this was yet another wiretapping scandal. DAS and the national police (and a few smaller agencies) have the authority to wiretap, and every few years there's a scandal when it is discovered that bribes (from criminals or businesses) or orders from some government official, have led to illegal wiretaps (of government officials, business rivals or whatever). There are resignations, promises not-to-let-it-happen-again, and the cycle repeats itself. The problem is the high level of corruption in the country. Wiretapping is a commodity that a lot of people will pay for, and the government employees who carry out the taps are not adverse to taking a bribe for an illegal tap. The 6,000 employees of DAS will be transferred to police organizations, where some may be dismissed. A new intelligence, and counterintelligence, agency will be built from scratch. This will probably not eliminate the bribery scandals, but may delay the next one.

Since the drug profits are what pays for most of the political violence, government efforts have concentrated on the money, and the bulk shipments of cocaine being exported. This has involved a lot more than just more troops and police. For example, at ports favored by the drug gangs, the slums near the water, which housed a lot of the leftist and drug gang gunmen, were destroyed, and the people given new housing further inland. The construction, and reduction of crime, created more economic activity, and jobs. With better security around the port, as at  Buenaventura, the largest port on the Pacific coast, it was possible to more thoroughly search all cargo coming and going. So far this month, police have seized $26 million in drug gang cash (profits from sales in North America), being smuggled in through Buenaventura. So far this year, over 30 tons of cocaine was seized as the gangs tried to smuggle it out.  Buenaventura is still one of the most violent places in Colombia, but the murder rate has been cut by a third in the last two years.  Buenaventura is one of the main battlegrounds in the war against the drug gangs.

As the number of FARC and drug gang members surrendering, or being arrested, increases, so does the amount of information on the inner workings of these organizations, and past crimes. Most of this information is kept secret, until it can be used to find and destroy important rebel/drug gang targets. But when the information concerns dead bodies (of kidnapping victims, or rebels/gang members killed by their own organizations), the information is released, and bodies returned to families. In the last five years, over 3,000 bodies of the "missing" have been revealed.

September 28, 2009: British and American warships, patrolling the Pacific coast of Colombia, seized 5.5 tons of cocaine being smuggled north aboard a 125 foot long fishing boat.


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