Colombia: No Longer Cocaine Central


July 1, 2011: Peru has passed Colombia as the major source of cocaine. FARC has adapted in some parts of Colombia by encouraging farmers to grow genetically modified strains of marijuana (with up to 17 percent THC, the active ingredient). Farmers make much more from this than from food crops. Cocaine production has been falling sharply in Colombia over the last three years, as anti-drug and anti-FARC operations grew more and more successful. The drug gangs and, to a lesser extent, FARC, moved their operations to Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. FARC is (in theory) a political group dedicated to establishing a communist dictatorship in Colombia. You can't really export this, so many FARC members have simply become full time gangsters. That is easier to export.

FARC appears to have shifted some of its resources to attacking economic targets, particularly electricity transmission. By blowing up electricity transmission lines, the leftist rebels embarrass the government, but make themselves even more unpopular. This does not bother FARC as much as it used to, as their popularity has been declining annually for over a decade. FARC also raises more and more of its cash from criminal activities (kidnapping, robbery and, perhaps with electrical transmission, extortion), and this works better if people fear them. FARC also likes to commit crimes that are more likely to get a lot of media attention. This gives the illusion that crime is rising again. This is not the case, as murders are down ten percent compared to last year. FARC is apparently using an elite unit for the high-profile attacks, which require careful planning and expert execution to succeed. The security forces have added this unit to their list of priority targets (which normally consists of senior drug gang and rebel leaders.) As the drug gangs and leftist rebels have declined, more diversified criminal gangs have become a larger problem. These outfits are concentrated in urban areas, and this is where the security forces have reassigned more and more personnel.

Peruvian cocaine production has been rising for five years, largely because the government has legalized the growing of coca plants, from which cocaine is refined. Cocaine is still illegal in Peru (where inhabitants have been chewing coca leaves, to get a buzz, for thousands of years), but the government does not want a war with powerful drug gangs.

Brazil and Colombia are cooperating to increase security along their mutual border. The goal is to prevent Brazil from becoming a major destination, and transit point (for shipments to West Africa and thence Europe) for cocaine.

June 29, 2011: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez appeared on TV and announced, from his hospital bed in Cuba, that he was operated on for cancer and continues to receive treatment. For the last two weeks Chavez was supposed to be on a visit to Cuba, but has been out of sight since June 8th. Gradually it became known that he was in a hospital and had some kind of surgery. Chavez runs a one-man show in Venezuela, with no designated successor. His economic policies have ruined the economy, and his efforts to create a leftist dictatorship have made him increasingly unpopular. He has armed his followers, and it is feared that eventually this would lead to a civil war. This would be especially true if Chavez were dead or incapacitated.

June 26, 2011: In the southwest, gunmen shot up a night club, killing eight and wounding four. The leftist (not the one in Spain) ETA was suspected. Like their fellow leftist rebels, the ETA has turned into gangsters to survive.

In neighboring Ecuador, police arrested FARC leader Fabio Ramirez Artunduaga for being in the country illegally. Three days later, at the request of Colombia, Artunduaga was sent to Colombia, where he was wanted for running cocaine export operations and working with the Mexican drug cartels. While the leftist government of Ecuador has many political disagreements with Colombia, both agree that the drug cartels are bad for any kind of government.

June 25, 2011: In the south, a dozen armed men entered a town on the Ecuador border, killed eight people, and left. FARC was suspected.

June 23, 2011: For the third time in three months, Colombia has had the ratings of its government bonds increased. All three major rating agencies now consider Colombian government debt investment grade. This means that more foreign countries will buy it, thus lowering interest rates on that debt (and making it cheaper for Colombia to borrow.)

June 19, 2011:  In the southwestern city of Popayan, police prevented a terror attack by detecting a car bomb, and preventing it from reaching the city center (where a timer was being used to set it off). Still, over twenty people were injured when the 20 kg (154 pounds) of explosives in the car went off near a police checkpoint.

June 16, 2011: In the capital, a two kg (4.4 pound) bomb went off, outside the home of a family pressing an investigation of who killed one of their number in the 1990s. Leftists were probably responsible, but want the investigation halted.

June 14, 2011: Colombia has resumed electricity exports to Venezuela, which had been halted since 2008 (when Venezuelan leader Chavez was feuding with Colombia and cut off trade in general). In the last few years, drought and general mismanagement has caused a major electricity shortage in Venezuela. This has further crippled the economy, and became a major political issue. Chavez blames the United States, and other enemies of socialism, for all this.



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