Colombia: Blocking The Beans, Bullets And Bucks

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February 23, 2012:  FARC is trying to reorganize amidst its continued defeat at the hands of revitalized police and soldiers. In the last decade FARC has lost half its armed strength. FARC now has about 8,000 armed men. In the last ten years some 17,000 FARC gunmen deserted or surrendered and accepted amnesty. Thousands more were killed or captured. A decade ago FARC was in 34 percent of the country's 1,119 municipalities. Today, FARC is active in only 13 percent and these are mostly in backcountry areas, away from cities and main roads. The remaining FARC are the hard core and not interested in ending the nearly half century of violence and terrorism. Their main source of income, drug gangs in need of hired guns, is leaving the country. The government offensive has been against FARC and the drug gangs. While the drug gangs can produce their cocaine in neighboring countries, the leftist FARC ideology is all about establishing a communist dictatorship in Colombia, not somewhere else. So FARC has turned to robbery, extortion, and kidnapping. FARC has gone back to guerilla warfare, resisting the army and police with ambushes, snipers, landmines, and roadside bombs. FARC was responsible for some 2,100 such incidents last year. These left about 220 soldiers a month dead or wounded. FARC suffers higher casualties. But there are still enough unemployed young guys out in the countryside who are willing to try the gangster life. Most of these new recruits run away after a few months. Only the strong survive, until they meet the army in combat. That only happens 30-40 times a month and it usually goes badly for FARC. This is wearing down FARC but not fast enough for the government.

The army has now changed its tactics and is concentrating on FARC's new criminal organizations. The army is deploying a dozen task forces, which have financial and other specialists, in addition to the infantry to go after FARC finances and suppliers (of weapons, equipment, and everything else). This may mean the end of FARC.

FARC's extortion efforts are often on a grand scale. For example, the nation's second largest oil pipeline (in the northeast) has been bombed at least a dozen times this year, halting movement of most of the normal 220,000 barrels a day. That's over $22 million worth of oil a day. All the oil company has to do is give FARC a share of that and the bombings stop. The government forbids these deals, as they would only make FARC much stronger. But unless the army can stop the bombings, the oil company threatens to shut down operations until it is safe. This is a high risk operation by FARC. With so much at stake the army and police are moving more resources to the northeast and going after the FARC unit behind the bombing campaign. This is a fight to the death for the FARC forces, which have to be able to survive a major army effort against them. Defeat means that the FARC survivors have to flee the area, and FARC recruiters through the northeast will have a much harder time getting new recruits.

Several security officials who worked for former president Uribe are being investigated for fraud and other misconduct. Corruption and official misconduct is still a problem.

February 22, 2012: Venezuelan president Higo Chavez announced that he had to return to Cuba for another cancer surgery. This is bad news because it means that the surgery and chemotherapy last year did not work. The cancer has continued to spread and Chavez's followers have to cope with the possibility that their charismatic leader will not be able to stand for reelection in October.  If Chavez is no longer president Colombia has much less to worry about from Venezuela (which supports Colombian rebels and drug gangs).

February 20, 2012: The smaller of the two leftist rebel groups, the ELN, has offered to open peace talks if the government will agree to halt attacks against the ELN. The government has been speaking with ELN negotiators, mainly in Cuba, for several years now.  Four years ago ELN and FARC were openly discussing more cooperation. The two in the past were more likely to fight each other than cooperate. FARC is a hardline communist group while ELN was founded by radical priests seeking social justice. But ELN has collapsed more quickly than FARC and appears to exist only because of sanctuaries it has established in Venezuela. ELN has a few thousand or so armed followers at most and many of these are rebels in name only. Too often ELN members are now gangsters trying to pass themselves off as leftist rebels. Public opinion has turned against these rebels, who were once hailed by many Colombians as a viable alternative to the traditional politicians. No more, and the rebels have had to use more terror just to try and prevent local civilians from turning them in. A merger between the FARC and ELN did not happen, and ELN leaders see a grim future out in the bush.

February 11, 2012: On the Pacific Coast (Valle del Cauca province) three policemen were killed by a FARC grenade. Further inland FARC deserters led soldiers and police to a major FARC camp. While the rebels fled they left behind over three tons of explosives, other munitions, and a bomb workshop.

February 7, 2012:  The last of the anti-FARC militia leaders has been arrested in Venezuela. These militias joined together and got an amnesty deal six years ago. Not all the militia leaders agreed and some have been fugitives ever since. As FARC became more violent in the 1970s and 80s, they also found themselves attacked by the people they lived off. By the 1980s, the locals began to form militias to defend themselves from the extortion and kidnapping activities of FARC and ELN. The government disbanded the largest of these self-defense forces, the AUC, six years ago because the cure had become as bad as the disease. The AUC had gotten into the drug business, just like FARC had. But the AUC had roots in the community and could justify disbanding when the government restored order in the countryside. Some 30,000 AUC men accepted amnesty, although many went back to being gangsters.

 

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