Colombia: The Hellhole Next Door


August 28, 2010: Venezuela is using a new Colombian president coming into power as an excuse to restore normal diplomatic and economic relations. Venezuela is also more willing to do something about the growing FARC presence on their side of the border. Colombian intel believes there are nearly 2,000 FARC gunmen in Venezuela, in about 90 camps. This is more than the combined total of FARC camped out in Ecuador, Brazil and Panama. FARC appear to be in Venezuela to stay, and most Venezuelans don't like it. Responding to this, and the growling lawlessness on the border, Venezuela has agreed to cooperate with Colombia to arrest criminals operating along the common border. This joint effort is driven largely by popular uproar on both sides of the border, and the possibility that border populations will organize their own vigilante militias. That sort of thing is easier to start than stop, as Colombia found when the anti-FARC AUC militias eventually went to work with drug gangs (to fund anti-FARC activities).

Due to high unemployment and a rising crime rate, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has seen his popularity rating hit record lows (36 percent of voters approve of his performance). There are elections, for the national legislature, on September 26. Chavez apparently will risk becoming more unpopular by using the police and street gangs of supporters to disrupt the campaigns of opposition politicians.

Chavez's disastrous economic policies have ruined the economy, despite his early promises to create prosperity for all. The poor were the chief supporters of Chavez, and they have not taken their continued unemployment quietly. So the crime rate has more than quadrupled since Chavez came to power in 1998. The most striking result of this is the murder rate of Caracas, the capital and largest city in Venezuela. It is 200 killed per year per 100,000 population. That's eight times the 24 rate in the capital of neighboring Colombia. This makes Caracas more violent than the worst hit (by drug gang violence) Mexican border city (Ciudad Juárez) where the murder rate is 193. The national rate for Venezuela is 67, that's four times the current rate in Iraq, and more than ten times the rate in the U.S. (5.4). It's also higher than the rate in Afghanistan, which has been running at about 24 dead per 100,000 population over the last few years. Compare that to the Western hemisphere in general, where the rate is about 8 per 100,000 people a year. That in turn is much higher than in Europe, where it is about 3-4. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5-10. Two years ago, the rate in Iraq was 26. That's not a lot higher than it was under Saddam (10-20 a year), but less than a third of what it was the year before.

In Africa, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa, you find similar murder rates. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep accurate track of the murder rate, mostly from crime, but it's over 50 per 100,000. It's worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers. In southern Thailand, a terror campaign by Islamic radicals has caused a death rate of over 80 per 100,000. But what hurts Chavez the most is his lost credibility with Venezuelans. The country has become an economic wreck, and the most dangerous place in the region. The government has refused to crack down on the criminal activity, as this would mean a lot more cops in the poor neighborhoods where most Chavez supporters live. But that no longer works, because the middle and upper classes have increased the security in their neighborhoods to the point that the criminals prey mostly on the poor areas.

August 27, 2010: There are over 100,000 Colombians in Ecuador as refugees, it being more convenient to flee across the border, than to the wilderness behind them on the Colombian side. Some of the refugees provide aid for FARC, sometimes for the money, often because of intimidation (which is what drove people out their Colombian homes in the first place.) The Ecuadoran Army has been increasingly active in the refugee camps, making life uncomfortable for the refugees.

August 23, 2010: FARC offered to join peace talks, but only if done in cooperation with other South American countries. Since many of these nations are led by leftists who support FARC, this is believed to give the rebels an edge. The Colombian government won't negotiate with FARC unless the rebels dial back their terrorist violence, which is a big issue in light of the August 12 bombing.

August 19, 2010: In the southwest, a soldier was killed by a FARC roadside bomb, near a remote communications facility guarded by the military. Meanwhile, near the Venezuelan border, police arrested Walid Makled, the head of a Venezuelan drug smuggling operation. Makled was wanted by the United States and will be extradited.

August 14, 2010: Police arrested a FARC member, suspected of having a role in the August 12 car bombing in the capital. Rewards of over $250,000 for information about the bombers helped, but so did popular anger at FARC's terror campaign (using roadside and car bombs, as well as anti-vehicle and personnel landmines).

August 12, 2010: A car bomb went off in the capital, in front of a radio station located in the financial district downtown. Thirteen people were injured.





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