The latest Transparency International corruption survey found Venezuela the most corrupt nation in the Americas. Venezuela has also crippled press freedoms, putting increasing restrictions on independent media. President Hugo Chavez makes it clear that he wants to establish a socialist dictatorship for the region. Chavez can't do this militarily, because he has crippled his armed forces by replacing most of the key officers with men selected for their loyalty to Chavez, rather than their military abilities. Chavez has ruined the economy with similar interference, especially in the national oil business, which represents the major export and largest source of government revenue. To further harm the economy, Chavez keeps closing the border with Colombia, disrupting trade that is vital to people on both sides of the border. The Venezuelans living along the border have become increasingly anti-Chavez because of all this economic damage, and lawlessness. This has just made Chavez more paranoid, and certain that those Venezuelans are secretly siding with Colombia.
In a time honored move, Chavez is trying to increase popular fear of neighboring Colombia by claiming that the U.S. is using Colombia as a base for a campaign to take over South America. The new treaty between the U.S. and Colombia, which allows American anti-drug air patrols to move their base from Ecuador to Colombia, is being used as evidence of an American plot. Ecuador, like Venezuela, has elected a leftist president who promises prosperity and reform. One of the first thing the new Ecuadoran government did was shut down U.S. anti-drug air patrols. As with Venezuela, the leftist policies have crippled the Ecuadoran economy, as well as press freedom. So both countries have been able to push the "an American invasion is coming" line. This has embarrassed other nations in the region, but they are reluctant to speak up. That's because anti-American rhetoric is very popular, and few politicians are willing to oppose these myths.
Venezuela has become a major supporter of FARC. But at the same time, FARC, and the smaller ELN, are immensely unpopular inside Colombia. Not because they are politically left, but because they have been using violence and crime for decades to try and overthrow the government, and have consistently failed to achieve power. As a result, all Colombian leftists have suffered in the popularity polls. The Venezuelan support for the leftist Colombian gangs has not helped Colombian leftists either. This left-right violence has been a feature of Colombian politics for over half a century, and now it threatens to spread to neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador.
So far this year, the Colombian Navy has seized 90 tons of cocaine. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard work with Colombian naval forces to detect and seize the drug smuggling ships being used to move most of the cocaine north. Radar equipped American air patrols and ships have made it difficult to fly the drugs out. This is changing somewhat as more of the cocaine is smuggled out via Venezuela. But this requires moving the cocaine from western Colombia, where it is produced, to Venezuela. Growing government control of the countryside has made this very difficult.
November 9, 2009: In the southwest, some 200 FARC fighters attacked a small army post, killing nine soldiers before being driven off (losing about 30 dead.) Attacks like this are increasingly rare, as growing air force capabilities make it dangerous to bring that many fighters together. The military campaign against the leftist rebels, and their drug gang allies, continues to grind down the opposition. The economy continues to revive as a result of this. It's not a media-friendly war, but it has been changing Colombia over the last six years.
November 7, 2009: Venezuela, as part of its anti-American treaty (with Colombia) campaign, has ordered an additional 15,000 troops to the Colombian border. This is not appreciated by the people on the border, because they know the troops will just sit somewhere for a while, to make the propaganda point, then return to their interior bases. The border population wants more cops and border guards to deal with the increasing number of drug gangs and FARC units that are setting up shop on the Venezuelan side of the border. These guys are all gangsters, used to abusing local civilians, and have the backing of the Venezuelan government.