Colombia: Gimme Shelter


May 30, 2009:  With FARC in retreat and ELN negotiating a peace deal, the military is turning more of its attention to the militias formed by drug gangs. This month, the army and navy spent weeks taking apart a militia belonging to the Norte del Valle drug cartel, near the Panama border. The operation led to the surrender of 112 militiamen, and over a hundred killed, deserting or getting away.

The war against the leftist rebels (FARC and ELN) is often more expensive after the rebels are driven out of an area. The FARC administered rural areas primarily to support the production of cocaine. Farmers were encouraged, or forced (via threats, kidnapping and murder) to grow coca. The rebels controlled the local economy. When the government moves back in, they have to bring administrators and cash to rebuild the economy and build infrastructure (which the leftist rebels largely ignored for decades). Farmers need a lot of help to switch to new (legal) crops. As the leftists and drug gangs lost control of most of their territory in the last five years, they have had to force more farmers, in areas they still operate in, to grow more coca. Living in a rebel controlled area is a lot worse than in a government controlled one.

ELN is the smaller of the leftist rebel groups that began fighting in the 1960s. Now with less than 2,000 armed members, the ELN is falling apart because of growing violence with FARC, and ELN commanders ignoring its revolutionary activities, in favor of business with the drug gangs. ELN leaders have called for a truce with FARC, but the FARC leadership is too distracted by their own problems to be bothered.

The constant military and police pressure on the leftist rebel groups, and the loss of so much territory, has forced most of the FARC leadership to move outside the country. Most FARC political and military leaders now live in Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba. These three nations are run by leftist governments that support FARC, despite FARC being tagged as a terrorist organization by the international community. Leftists, both governments and political parties, in Europe and the Americas tend to overlook the drug activities and terrorism of leftist rebels, and provide moral and tangible support to show "solidarity". This support is helping keep FARC in business by providing sanctuary, and positive spin in the media (or negative spin on the Colombian government and security forces). This support often backfires. Ecuador and Venezuela has found that allowing FARC to set up camps on their side of the border leads to more crime against the locals, and an increase in drug activity and corruption. Thus Venezuela recently arrested a former local police commander and extradited him to Colombia for drug trafficking. The foreign supporters of FARC are frustrated trying to get the leftist rebels to give up the drug business.

Panama and Brazil are not cooperative with FARC, but the leftist rebels and drug runners try to move in anyway. Tiny Panama gets more attention, since it's a way station to the major cocaine markets in North America, and has weak security forces. Brazil, the largest nation in South America, has made its border unfriendly for FARC and the drug gangs. As a result, the violent activity goes elsewhere (Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama.)




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