Colombia: Fighting For Scraps


: Defense Security Cooperation Agency

July 11, 2010: The war grinds on, with hundreds of raids, roadblocks and patrols each day, further restricting the mobility of the leftist rebels and the drug gangs. These operations are also finding and destroying camps, bases and facilities (labs, storage) used for the drug trade. The gangsters and rebels avoid fighting the security forces, which have air power, trained troops and commandos. The bad guys have learned that they are likely to get hurt bad if they stand and fight. There are still occasional ambushes. But even when these are successful, the police and army have better communications and transportation, and can usually chase after the attackers quickly and effectively, catching them and turning the tables. Most of the "combat" seen by leftist rebels and drug gang gunmen consists of bullying civilians into cooperating, or not letting the police know what's going on. This worked much better a decade ago, before the security forces were re-equipped and re-trained, and most Colombians decided they really didn't want to continue living in fear.

In the last two weeks,  about twenty people have died in spectacular gun battles between gangsters, who are increasingly fighting over shrinking resources. There are fewer and fewer areas where the gangs can operate with impunity. Many gangsters prefer to fight each other for territorial control, rather than seek non-criminal employment.

Reluctantly, drug gangs are moving to neighboring countries, mainly Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. All three of these are currently run by leftist governments which are hospitable to FARC and other Colombian leftists, but not so much to the drug gangs. However, the drug gangs have found these leftist politicians easier to bribe than the current bunch in Colombia. Leftists are generally hostile to the current government in Colombia because of its economic and political success, and hostility to leftist rebels and economic policies.

The battle against the Colombian drug gangs is worldwide, as the United States unravels the money laundering operation that seeks to make billions of dollars in drug profits clean enough (not obviously drug profits) to be spent openly. This effort, which rarely makes the headlines, is becoming a major headache for the gang leadership, who now face prosecution for economic crimes (misusing the  banking system and not paying taxes).

The drug gangs also find themselves in more trouble because they hired al Qaeda groups in Africa to guard cocaine shipments moving overland from Guinea-Bissau (where the gangs have bought the cooperation of the government to land drug shipments at local airports) to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The al Qaeda connection brings with it the enormous American counter-terrorism effort, which is a separate, and larger, operation than the counter-narcotic organizations.

Venezuela's economic embargo of Colombia is backfiring. Venezuela's economy is a mess, because of the irrational policies of leftist president Hugo Chavez. By cutting off billions of dollars in trade with neighboring Colombia, the thriving Colombian economy has more opportunities to develop new industries to supply the goods no longer available from Venezuela.

July 5, 2010: Ecuador declared that it would, if given the opportunity, arrest newly elected Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos because, as defense minister, he organized the 2008 attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador (which resulted in captured documents and videos which made it clear that the Ecuadoran government was supporting FARC.) The documents also indicated that senior officials in Panama had also been bribed.

July 2, 2010: It was two years ago today that the  army pulled off a spectacular commando operation that liberated  fifteen prominent hostages (including three Americans and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt) and capture of several mid-level FARC leaders. The operation was planned  using captured documents, and interrogations of recently captured or surrendered FARC members, to successfully send a false order, allegedly from the new FARC commander, for the FARC unit holding the fifteen hostages, to march them to a nearby NGO (non-governmental organization) base, and board helicopters that would carry the hostages to the new location. Once in the air, the FARC guards were disarmed by the commandos (posing as FARC operatives) and arrested. The shocked hostages were then told that they had been rescued. This became one of the textbook examples of how to carry out a high-risk, big payoff type operations. Just before  the anniversary celebrations for the operation, Ingrid Betancourt and her family sued the Colombian government for $7 million, claiming that the government did not do enough to prevent her from being kidnapped. But it's widely known that she was repeatedly warned not to travel through FARC controlled territory to a town run by a political ally. Before the army would let her convoy roll, she had to sign a document admitting she knew the risks and was ignoring warnings not to go. The public reaction to this in Colombia was generally hostile. Ingrid Betancourt belongs to one of the old, wealthy families (although her branch was not super rich, but they were smart and well educated), and she was educated mainly in France (where she married a Frenchman in 1983). At the urgings of her politically active mother, she returned to Colombia in the 1990s, and using her looks, personality and family connections, got elected to the legislature. This led to her running for president, and while doing that she was kidnapped in February, 2002. She had already sent her two teenage kids to New Zealand (where her ex-husband lived) because of the security risks. Many members of her family were living in exile for similar reasons. She returned from France, where she is living now, to attend the anniversary celebrations and file her lawsuit. This legal move trashed her public image and seemed to indicate that she was through as a Colombian political figure. She is still very popular in France, where she has dual citizenship because of her former husband.

Just across the border in Ecuador, police found a small (33 meter/100 foot long) submarine, that could submerge to about 20 meters/66 feet, and travel to North America with up to ten tons of cocaine. It cost about $4 million to construct. It was nearly complete, and the fifty workers building it fled their riverside camp as the police approached. Only one man was arrested. This sub costs more than five times as much as the semi-submersible craft the drug gangs have been using for a decade. But the semi-submersibles are being detected by American sensors more frequently, and destroyed at sea. It was also American intelligence that tipped off Ecuadoran police to the existence of the drug carrying submarine.

June 30, 2010: Police detected FARC preparations for an attack on the inauguration ceremony for the new president. Several arrests were made. Weapons and planning documents were seized. The FARC team planned to use mortars and machine-guns for their attack.




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