Colombia: The Danger Below


March 15, 2009: FARC uses a lot of landmines, and civilians are the more frequent victims. Last year, FARC and drug gang landmines killed 149 and wounded 563, In the last 18 years, since the rebels and drug gangs adopted land mines on a large scale, these weapons have killed over 7,500. Nearly ten percent of the victims were children.

The army and police move around a lot more now that they are chasing the rebels and drug gangs out of rural areas, and use a lot of foot patrols moving cross country in unpredictable ways. Against that threat, FARC and ELN have had some success with landmines. There are lots of new Chinese and old Russian landmines on the black market, and manufacturing landmines is easy enough that local artisans sometimes do it for special orders from leftist rebels or drug gangs.  There are a lot of dirt roads in the rural areas where the drug gangs and FARC operate, and larger anti-vehicle mines are a danger to government forces and civilians, or even bad guys who didn't get the memo on where they were planted.

Civilians are the most frequent victims of landmines. Nearly three million people have been displaced by the war with the leftist rebels during the last two decades, often fleeing areas made uninhabitable by FARC mines.  Most of the displacements have occurred in the last five years. Landmines were outlawed by an international treaty ten years ago, but this mainly applies to nations that don't have landmines, or don't have any reason to use them. FARC and the cocaine gangs have not signed the international agreement, and find the mines a cheap way to control civilian populations, and slow down the army advance.

The war is actually a series of battles fought when the army and police locate drug gang assets (coca crops, chemical labs for turning the coca into cocaine and coastal areas where the drugs are smuggled out). The gangs inevitably lose the turf battles, but retain sufficient cash to move to another area and start the cycle all over again. But the gangs are being driven into more remote, and more difficult areas to operate in. The quality of people attracted to the leftist rebels and drug gangs is declining, because both the leftist politics and drug gangster life have lost a lot of their glamour. The new generation of rebels and gangsters are more brutal and desperate. They are more openly using neighboring nations (mainly Ecuador and Venezuela) for bases. Local officials in those countries are bribed and intimidated into allowing this. Ecuador and Venezuela are both run by leftists who feel a political kinship for FARC, and try to play down the fact that FARC is mainly a drug gang these days. In practice, the larger number of FARC and drug gang members in Ecuador and Venezuela has led to clashes with local inhabitants and police. The bad guys from Colombia are not accustomed to behaving well among civilians or with police, and often cannot quickly enough, or at all, change their habits. Leaders in Ecuador and Venezuela find that they have a conundrum with the leftists and drug gangs, and are increasingly leaning towards treating these invaders as hostile. Ecuador recently sent 3,000 more troops to the Colombian border, to join the 13,000 that are already there. Colombia has also increased its border security forces on the Ecuador frontier, but the area is rural, with few roads. It's too easy to sneak around.

March 10, 2009: Police in Ecuador arrested a FARC leader, Sixto Cabañas, for drug activity. Both Ecuador and Venezuela continue to support FARCs political activities (which are mainly media related these days), while fighting FARCs major activity (cocaine).

March 6, 2009: Police seized a drug lab, and 5 tons of cocaine. The lab could produce five tons a week (although the lab only runs at full capacity when a coca crops comes in). The lab was in a major base for the Black Eagles, one of the drug gangs that was formed by former members of the anti-leftist AUS. The gangs are constantly being destroyed and reformed, there being a lot of competition, plus the pressure from the police and army. Disbanding the AUS put thousands of experienced drug gangsters out there looking for new opportunities. Many went right back to crime, without the anti-FARC mission. In fact, some of the post-AUS drug gangs teamed up with FARC to manufacture and sell (smuggle) cocaine.

Elsewhere, five soldiers were killed by a FARC booby trap.  

March 3, 2009: The army killed another FARC leader, Jesús Gúzman, who was in charge of a major extortion effort, against supermarkets and other large businesses, backed up by several bombings. Gúzman operated in the capital.


Article Archive

Colombia: Current 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close