Colombia: We Don't Talk About That


August 25, 2011: Although the crime rate is way down over the last decade, it is now increasing again in areas where leftist rebels (mainly FARC) are still active. This is particularly true in the eastern jungles, where thousands of oil workers have shown up in the last few years, to explore for oil, and build wells to pump what is found. FARC sees this as an opportunity to raise some badly needed cash. Kidnapping and extortion are big problems once more. So far this year, at least 40 oil workers have been kidnapped Oil companies are under increasing pressure to pay FARC to not attack their facilities. Countrywide, 116 people have been kidnapped so far this year, compared to 282 for all of last year. A decade ago, thousands were kidnapped annually.

Over half a decade of savage leftist rebellions have created deep divisions in Colombian society. The leftists (primarily FARC) were never able to muster enough support to establish their socialist dictatorship, and their eventual merger with cocaine cartels (in order to pay the bills) led to their downfall. Even before the cocaine connection, FARC was becoming a criminal gang (via lots of kidnapping and extortion) rather than a thriving radical political organization. Military commanders believe that the FARC and the smaller ELN are in a death spiral, which is accelerated by a leadership that refuses to acknowledge defeat. Most senior FARC leaders are still true believers in their original leftist goal of establishing a communist dictatorship. But further down the chain of command, FARC had turned into mercenaries, working for drug gangs, or turning into divisions of cocaine cartels. The drug operations, with more pragmatic leadership, are leaving Colombia, and most FARC groups are not going with them. The combination of increased military and police pressure, and less income from the drug cartels, has FARC shrinking each year for more than a decade. In another decade, FARC will be a bad memory in most of Colombia.

FARC has come to accept increasingly savage practices (torture and summary execution of suspected traitors). Many police and military organizations adopted similar methods, even though they are illegal. But there aren’t many lawyers out in the bush, and self-preservation tends to warp your moral compass. Gangster morality tends to be widely accepted, even though most everyone condemns it.

The recently passed a victims compensation law, that will aid some four million people who suffered from the decades of leftist violence and drug gang depredations, is causing another outbreak in lawlessness. The program will cost up to $20 billion and take ten years or more. Cash compensation will be paid to families of those who were most seriously affected (killed or kidnapped). Most importantly, some two million hectares (5 million acres) of land stolen (through fraud, intimidation or outright theft) will be returned, along with buildings and other property, to some 430,000 families. But many of those who stole the land, are willing to use lots of lawyers, and hired guns, to avoid having to return what they took by force (or bought from those who did).

This all began five years ago, as FARC and drug gangs were driven from large areas along the borders (that being the best place to grow coca, and export the refined cocaine to overseas markets). The government inherited a lot of old social and economic problems. These were suspended by the decades of FARC and drug gang rule, and that in turn created some new problems. Now the newly liberated populations are free to vote, demonstrate and protest, and many have legitimate reasons to do so. A lot of the problems have to do with real estate. Indian tribes want their land rights back, farmers want title to the land they have long worked, business owners want their property (which owners had to leave behind when they fled to escape getting killed by the rebels or gangs) back. The government is having a hard time sorting all this out, especially while under pressure to get legitimate economic activity going in what was long lawless "bandit territory." Thus the new compensation law, this is supposed to make everything (or at least a lot of it) right.

Next door, Peru has to deal with the growing presence of cocaine gangs. These have fled from Colombia, and are becoming the de-facto rulers of many rural areas. The government has responded by studying how Colombia defeated the drug gangs and their leftist muscle (FARC). Peru has a similar situation, with the leftist Shining Path revived by the presence of cocaine gangs in need of armed protection.

August 19, 2011: Three oil workers were kidnapped in the east. It’s unclear if they were taken by ordinary criminals or political ones (FARC).

August 17, 2011:  In the southwest, four policemen were killed in an ambush. FARC was believed responsible.

August 9, 2011: Dolly Cifuentes, in charge of money laundering for the Mexican Sinola cartel, was arrested in Medellin. This came after an 18 month investigation of Mexican gangster activities in Colombia.





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