Colombia: Cocaine Cartels Collapsing


July 2, 2009: Last year, cocaine production fell by 28 percent in Colombia. In addition, security forces seized and destroyed a record 200 tons of the stuff. The main causes for this decline are a drop in demand from the 17 million cocaine users world-wide. Another side effect of the global recession. But the cocaine gangs are also being driven out of business by the security forces. Many are moving operations to Peru (where production was up 4 percent last year, to 302 tons) and Bolivia (up 9 percent to 113 tons). Last year, Peru and Bolivia together produced about as much cocaine as Colombia. The president of Bolivia is a former coca farmer (although he only backs the traditional chewing of the coca leaves, which has a mild narcotic effect). In Peru, the most productive coca growing areas are controlled by Shining Path, a vicious leftist movement that was almost wiped out in the 1990s, but is now making a comeback via cocaine profits.  As more Colombian cocaine operations move to Peru and Bolivia, the ones remaining in Colombia come under greater pressure from the security forces, and a population glad to see the drug trade move somewhere else, or just disappear.

The reason for the many recent defeats of the drug gangs and leftist rebels has been better trained and equipped military and police units. The navy has bought 60 patrol boats from European builders, and 25 Super Tucano counterinsurgency aircraft from Brazil. Over a hundred other aircraft (including helicopters) have also been obtained in the last six years. The security forces are now better fighters, with much better mobility, than the gangsters and rebels they face.

The collapse of the cocaine industry in Colombia is causing more fighting between the cocaine gangs, and even within leftist rebel groups like FARC (sometimes for ideological reasons, but more often over money and personality issues.) FARC's leftist allies in the United States and Europe have tried to paint the government as the bad guys in all this, but that has had no effect on Colombians, who are safer, and more prosperous, than they have been in decades. Violent deaths have declined sharply in the last six years, and the economy is booming. The global recession caused a less than one percent dip in GDP during the first quarter of the year, and that's apparently as bad as it's going to get.

As the army goes deeper into areas long controlled by FARC, the more surprises they encounter. So far this year, for example, troops have come upon a small oil refinery, that produced about 250 gallons (1,000 liters) a day. The raw material is a nearby oil pipeline, that had a tap built into it. Troops have also come upon small factories for making landmines and booby traps, as well as workshops for repairing weapons.

July 1, 2009:  A Palestinian businessman was sentenced to 25 years in jail, after his trial in the United States. The convicted man, Tareq al Ghazi, was arrested two years ago in Rumania, after a yearlong U.S. investigation. FARC was trying to buy 12,000 firearms from al Ghazi, and two million rounds of ammunition. Police operations like this have hurt FARC, which has a shortage of weapons and ammo.

June 21, 2009: In the southwest, police chased down and killed a FARC leader (El Enano) and 24 of his men. Their base camp was also found and destroyed. The police lost seven men.


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