Colombia: Ghosts Of The Past Return To Kill

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August 9, 2011: Colombia has become recognized as the expert in dealing with large-scale drug gangs. Colombian success in crippling its own drug gangs has led Mexico and Peru to seek help in dealing with similar problems. Much of the South American (still largely Colombian) cocaine ends up in Mexico, for movement into the main market; the United States. This has led to growing violence between competing Mexican gangs, as well as the gangsters fighting the police. Colombia has moved to share techniques with Mexico, which has included over 5,000 Mexican police receiving counter-gang training in Colombia. Peru is seeking similar help because the Colombian drug gangs are being driven across the border to Peru.

The government is also having success is getting Venezuela to extradite Colombian drug gang leaders known to be operating there. But there is still a lot of corruption in Venezuela, and cooperation with drug gangs and Colombian leftist rebel groups. Then again, Colombia uses the growing corruption in Venezuela to obtain information about what drug gangs and leftist rebels are doing across the border. But the government has to be careful with the sensibilities of Venezuelan officials, who like to maintain the fiction that there is no corruption (or Colombian rebels and drug gangs) in Venezuela. But corruption is booming in Venezuela. A recent example can be seen in the arrest of an Indonesian government official, fleeing corruption charges in his home country. The man was travelling on a false passport, on his way to refuge in Venezuela. But when he passed through Colombia, his deception was detected by a Colombian policeman, who refused a bribe. While Colombian corruption has declined considerably in the past decade, it is making a comeback with the rapid growth of the economy.

While leftist rebels have been defeated, they have not been destroyed. The rebels, especially FARC and ELN, no longer control large parts of the rural interior and their roster of paid gunmen is much reduced. But there are still over 5,000 armed leftist rebels out there, and they have fallen back to terror tactics and supporting themselves with criminal activities. Add to that nearly 10,000 full-time members of criminal (cocaine related and otherwise) gangs and you have a huge problem. Organized crime has become the major security issue, so the government is revamping its security forces, and their tactics. This means making more use of the courts. Not just for prosecuting criminals, but for unscrambling legal problems brought about by decades of large-scale violence. A growing problem is restoring stolen (usually by leftist rebels and drug gangs) land. The gangsters are using their remaining firepower, and lawyers, to hold onto to the stolen real estate. Sometimes the stolen land was sold on to legitimate corporations, which are now fighting the restorations (or demanding compensation). It’s all a big mess that involves tens of thousands of families and lots of past crimes that demand justice. The land restorations resonate with most Colombians, and the government cannot ignore it.

Much of the violence is now directed at intimidating officials and police to cooperate with criminals. Corruption is also growing, as criminals still prefer to buy cooperation, and an increasing number of officials are for sale. Another old problem, members of the national legislature “owned” by criminal gangs, is returning. In rural areas, the military is facing years of dealing with the thousands of landmines FARC has planted, and forgotten about.

August 2, 2011: Police arrested two leaders of an illegal operation that built submarines and semi-submersible boats that were used to smuggle 20 tons of cocaine a year to North America. Police have spent years searching for those in charge of these submarine building yards, hidden in the jungle along rivers leading to the Pacific. Now all that work is paying off, and the submarine builders are on the run. They are still in business, as there are several different sub building operations. But they all use the same special materials, and the government has learned to track where this stuff goes.

August 1, 2011: In the northeast, prompt and energetic military response to the kidnapping of five oil workers, led to the release of the captives by FARC. The troops quickly picked up the trail of the kidnappers and were closing in. It became clear to the FARC gunmen that their best chance of escaping was to let the oil workers go. Killing the captives would only increase the number of troops and police assigned to the search. But freeing the captives would allow the FARC men to disperse and move faster.

July 30, 2011: Five oil workers were kidnapped by FARC in the northeast.

 

 

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