Colombia: Nowhere To Run


October 12, 2009: As FARC is pushed out of areas they have long controlled, the rebels have increasingly fled to border areas, where they can easily flee to camps in another country. The most common refuges are Ecuador and Venezuela. Both these nations are run by leftists who sympathize with FARC efforts to impose a leftist dictatorship on Colombia. The FARC operations on the Ecuador border are also bringing much trouble and death to the Indian tribes living there. The Indians are hostile to the FARC, although the rebels have been able to recruit some of the young men (most of them kids, 14 or younger). There aren't many jobs in the border region, and FARC pays well. But joining FARC means the possibility of having kill fellow Indians. Meanwhile, the presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela say they will not tolerate FARC camps on their side of the border. But in practice, little is done to remove these camps, despite complaints from Ecuadorians and Venezuelans living in the border area.

FARC only has about 8,000 armed members (less than half what it had a decade ago), while ELN has about 3,000. Both groups are heavily dependent on criminal activity (mostly the cocaine trade) to keep going. But the relentless attacks by the police and special army counter-terror battalions, plus the increased police and army security throughout the country, have made it much more difficult for the leftist rebels to operate. Worst of all, public opinion has turned against the 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.

As bad as the politicians were, the leftist rebels evolved into murderous gangsters, and the politicians cleaned up their act. Both sides used murder and threats, but the government shed a lot of its gangster allies, while the leftist rebels became more amoral and murderous. The leftists are on a downward spiral and desperate for a solution to their problem. So far, the best they can come up with is a strategy of hugging the borders (of Ecuador and Venezuela) and continuing to move the cocaine. The leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela are more tolerant of the cocaine trade, although neither country is particularly good for the cultivation of coca (the plant that supplies the raw material for cocaine). Peru, Bolivia and Colombia are best suited for coca cultivation, and the drug gangs are trying to move more of their production to Peru and Bolivia. This is difficult, for the coca plant in those countries grows at a higher altitude, and the political and cultural conditions are very different in those two nations. So for the moment, the drug gangs and leftist rebels hang on as best they can.

October 7, 2009: An imprisoned leader (Gustavo Anibal Giraldo) of leftist rebel group ELN, was freed by three men on motorcycles, as Giraldo was being transported to a base near the Venezuelan border, guarded by eight armed men. Police investigators concluded that some of the guards had been bribed. One of the police guards was killed, and one wounded. The government offered an $830,000 reward for the recapture of Giraldo, and Interpol issued a global alert for the fugitives arrest. Trackers followed vehicles apparently used by the ELN men, and believe Giraldo fled across the border into Venezuela.

October 5, 2009: Police arrested three men, one of them a FARC member, for the murder of three Awa Indians last August. The motive appears to have been murder, and one of those arrested was a local gangster who knew that the Awa men had some cash ($1,500) with them. FARC often works with criminal gangs.

October 1, 2009: The air force spotted and bombed an occupied an occupied FARC camp in western Colombia, killing up to 40 rebels when the attack triggered a landslide. When ground troops arrived later, only six bodies were still above ground.


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