Colombia: Payback


June 13, 2011: Colombia has passed a victims compensation law, that will aid some four million people who suffered from the decades of leftist violence and drug gang depredations. The program will cost up to $20 billion and take ten years or more. Cash compensation will be paid to families of those who were most seriously affected (killed or kidnapped). Most importantly, some six million hectares (15 million acres) of land stolen (through fraud, intimidation or outright theft) will be returned, along with buildings and other property.

FARC has been suffering heavy losses among its thirty or so top commanders. Ten of these have been killed or captured in the last year. This has disrupted the FARC ability to plan and carry out large scale operations. This includes the movement of drug operations to neighboring countries and adapting to the constant pressure of police and troops.

In areas where FARC still has a substantial armed presence, intimidation of political candidates is on the rise. Fifteen candidates for local office (usually of towns in areas where FARC operates) were killed so far this year, and many more resisted, or, more often, submitted to the intimidation.

Despite all the economic and political problems in Venezuela, leftist president Hugo Chavez still has a 49 percent approval rating. But 46 percent disapprove of Chavez's work, and 61 percent believe Chavez should not seek reelection. Chavez's economic policies have included a lot of goodies for the poorest, and restrictions on businesses (causing many to close or leave the country). Falling tax revenues (because of the damage to the economy) has been made up by higher borrowing and taxes. Chavez has also made himself unpopular by spending so much on foreign aid (usually to fellow leftists) and buying weapons (over $5 billion worth so far.) Venezuela has also been an enthusiastic ally of Iran, and has helped Iran defy UN sanctions. Because of this, last month the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state oil company. Because of mismanagement under Chavez, Venezuelan oil exports are declining (up seven percent a month.) Electrical power is out more frequently throughout the country. Nearly a third of imports are paid for by the government, to provide free or subsidized goods to Chavez's dwindling supporters.  Venezuela is also suffering a crime wave, most exemplified by kidnapping. There were about 17,000 people taken last year, and in about 80 percent of the cases, corrupt cops were involved. Caracas, the capital, is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world because of the crime. Chavez is blamed for allowing the crime rate to rise sharply, and for being unable to do anything about it.

June 10, 2011: Colombian police arrested the FARC leader in the south (Caquetá), the area where four Chinese oil workers were recently kidnapped. Last year, there was a 32 percent increase in kidnappings (mostly by cash starved leftist rebels) to 282 (less than 10 percent of what it was eight years ago).

June 8, 2011: Four Chinese oil workers were kidnapped by FARC. Security forces promptly began a search. Three months ago, 23 oil workers were taken, and all but one were soon freed by troops. But there are rumors that a multi-million dollar ransom was paid anyway. Paying ransom or protection money is illegal in Colombia.

June 6, 2011: In the south, a grenade was thrown at a police station, killing four policemen and wounding 16 policemen and civilians. FARC was believed responsible.

June 3, 2011: The security chief for the supreme leader of FARC  was killed in central Colombia, along with the FARC propaganda chief.

June 1, 2011: A senior FARC commander (Guillermo Torres) was captured just across the border in Venezuela, in cooperation with Venezuelan police.  Torres was one of the top ten in the FARC leadership, and the highest ranking FARC commanders taken alive since 2004. While Venezuela tolerates FARC units on its side of the border, it punishes FARC for not keeping its gunmen under control. Thus continuing crime against local Venezuelans by FARC members results in Venezuela arresting one of the senior FARC people hiding out in Venezuela. This gets the attention of the FARC leadership more than just chasing FARC gunmen around in the bush. The Venezuelan government is mostly interested in doing business with the Colombian drug gangs, who pay well for that cooperation. But the drug gangs still use FARC gunmen for local protection. The FARC tend to take what they want from local civilians. That has caused problems on both sides of the border.

May 23, 2011: Police seized 12 tons of cocaine, hidden in shipping containers headed for Mexico. This is the largest single seizure since 2008, when a shipment of 10.5 tons was taken.

May 22, 2011: Israel has cancelled its warning about travelling to Colombia, which had been in force since 2007. Most nations now advise their citizens that it is safe to travel to Colombia, although some parts of the country are still dangerous (because of drug gangs and leftist rebels.)

May 21, 2011: In the southwest, 11 policemen and civilians were wounded in a FARC ambush.





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