Colombia: Negotiating Revenge


September 17, 2013: In Venezuela annual inflation hit 45 percent, the highest it has been in 5 years. This sort of thing is making the country increasingly unstable. Venezuela is supposed to be a socialist paradise by now. But like every other attempt at this use of centralized economic planning and control, it has only resulted in more poverty and growing shortages of basics. Some newspapers have had to stop publishing, or go with much smaller papers, because of a widespread shortage of newsprint. Some states in Venezuela are introducing rationing and more aggressively going after hoarders (and blaming the shortages on them although, if you do the math, hording is obviously a result of the shortages not the cause). Unemployment is climbing because the attempts at centralized economic control make it very difficult to run a business and create new jobs. Businessmen and entrepreneurs continue to flee the country, many going to neighboring Colombia where the economy is booming. About a third of Venezuelans still believe in the Chavez dream of a socialist paradise and blame the continuing failure of the plan on internal enemies and plots by the United States. But as the economic problems get worse and neighboring nations (like Colombia and Brazil) prosper under free market policies, more and more Venezuelans reluctantly change their minds. The hard core Chavez followers are another matter, and they are arming themselves to defend the Chavez ideology with force if need be. That may be difficult, because the new government has started deploying the army into the areas with the worst crime rates or the most anti-government sentiment. This has worked to reduce the crime rate in some areas but there are too few troops to do this everywhere. The troops are needed for this sort of thing because a decade of Chavez rule has given Venezuela the highest crime rate in the Americas. A growing number of unemployed Venezuelans turn to crime. The murder rate in Venezuela is 72 per 100,000 people a year, one of the highest on the planet and more than ten times the rate in the United States. Since 1999, the government has implemented 19 different plans to deal with the crime and none have had a lasting impact. The fundamental cause of the crime is a lack of economic opportunity, which the Venezuelan government made worse and worse with its enthusiasm for central planning.

In addition to the inflation, shortages, and unemployment, there is also the problems created by growing corruption in Venezuela. This hurts the economy because bureaucrats are more interested in bribes than in allowing businesses to operate. Corruption in the oil industry has led to lower production and corruption plays a large part in the growing electricity shortages. Corruption also leads to foreign suppliers not getting paid, which in turn leads to regular suppliers refusing to ship to Venezuela. This has played a role in the growing food shortages. Finding new suppliers is not easy once you have a reputation for not paying. The best source of bribes are the drug gangs, and the U.S. accuses Venezuela of pretending to crack down on the cocaine trade (by arresting dealers and smugglers who don’t pay enough bribes to the right people) while allowing the drug activity to continue and increase.

The ten months of peace talks with FARC are stalled again, this time over the FARC leaders refusing to sign a peace deal if they were subject to punishment for past crimes. While some immunity will be part of the peace deal, popular sentiment is very much against complete immunity for all FARC members. Too many have died (over 200,000 in the last half century) or lost property (to violence or ransom demands) to allow the most notorious FARC men to get off with no admission of guilt or punishment. FARC also wants many of its members in prison (and already convicted) to be freed.

The damage FARC, and other criminal gangs, have taken in the past year has caused substantial shifts, to other countries, of criminal activities that long prospered in Colombia. Peru now produces more cocaine and counterfeit currency than Colombia. Euros, not dollars, are the preferred currency by counterfeiters these days because the biggest denomination is worth 500 Euros ($800), while the largest American denomination is the $100 bill. Both notes are now produced more frequently in Peru than in Colombia.

September 10, 2013: The government has agreed to start peace negotiations with ELN. This is partly because ELN recently released some of the foreigners it was holding for ransom. While the smaller (1,500 armed personnel compared to 8,000 for FARC) ELN has resisted negotiations so far, the increasing pressure from the security forces is changing that. ELN is having a hard time and more and more ELN members are surrendering, often with their weapons.

September 8, 2013: The government reached an agreement with farmer groups in the south and southwest, bringing to an end three weeks of large scale demonstrations and road blockages. The farmers wanted more government subsidies and a curb on cheaper foreign imports. But this would result in Colombian exports being blocked as the countries barred from selling to Colombia strike back. This would put a lot of Colombians out of work, but the farmers are not concerned about that. Teachers are also demanding more pay and benefits. The demonstrations spread to the capital, but that was halted when the government moved 50,000 troops into the capital to patrol the streets and break up demonstrations.

September 2, 2013: The army has arrested 6 FARC gunmen and accused them of participating in an August 24th ambush that killed 14 soldiers. 4 of the 6 arrested were 14-16 years old and recent FARC recruits.

August 28, 2013: The 13th round of peace talks with FARC ended, with many details still unresolved. The big stumbling blocks are FARC demands for constitutional changes and more immunity for past crimes.

August 27, 2013: ELN freed a Canadian geologist they had held for 7 months. The government demanded this as a precondition for peace talks.





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