November 24, 2011:
The death of the FARC leader on the 4th
did not cause much disruption within the leftist organization. And a new leader was quickly selected, without much internal strife. The recently killed leader, Alfonso Cano, was one of the last of the real communists in the senior FARC leadership. The new leader, only the third one FARC has had in its 47 year history, is Rodrigo Londoño. Despite being only a few years younger than his predecessor, he is more from the new generation of FARC bosses, who are more concerned with the cocaine business and gangster activities in general. Cano was trying to bring back education in communist ideology and make FARC more of a political movement. But over the last two decades, FARC has evolved into a gangster operation, more concerned with making money from cocaine, kidnapping, robbery and extortion. Many of the remaining FARC members know nothing else. Seeing this, Cano was pushing for peace talks with the government, to get some kind of deal before FARC became hopelessly trapped on the dark side. But the new FARC leader is very much from the gangster side of the organization, and wants to increase the use of terror tactics to keep people in line and the security forces away.
Over half a century of savage leftist rebellions has created deep divisions in Colombian society. The leftists (primarily FARC) were never able to muster enough support to establish their socialist dictatorship, and their eventual merger with cocaine cartels (in order to pay the bills) led to their downfall. Even before the cocaine connection, FARC was becoming a criminal gang (via lots of kidnapping and extortion) rather than a thriving radical political organization. Military commanders believe that the FARC and the smaller ELN are in a death spiral, which is accelerated by a leadership that refuses to acknowledge defeat. Many senior FARC leaders are still true believers in their original leftist goal of establishing a communist dictatorship. But further down the chain of command, FARC has turned into mercenaries, working for drug gangs, or turning into divisions of cocaine cartels. The drug operations, with more pragmatic leadership, are leaving Colombia, and most FARC groups are not going with them. The combination of increased military and police pressure, and less income from the drug cartels, has FARC shrinking each year for more than a decade. In another decade, FARC may be a bad memory in most of Colombia. But FARC will not completely disappear. For example, what came to be known as the Italian Mafia (which still exists in the United States, Italy and elsewhere) began as a rebel group over a century ago. But like many other rebel groups whose rebellions never succeeded, the organizations kept going, and devolving into gangsters. FARC is now on track to end up like that.
In neighboring Venezuela, inflation and crime continue to climb. Inflation is now at a rate of nearly 30 percent a year. The latest effort to fix this is the introduction of price controls. But this always leads to shortages. No matter. President Chavez blames the inflation on a capitalist plot by transnational corporations. Meanwhile Venezuela suffers from rising unemployment in addition to the rising crime rates and inflation, all caused by government efforts to run the economy from the top. Chavez is obsessed with establishing a socialist empire in the region, and is not discouraged by the fact that his economic theories don't work (they never have, anywhere, but Chavez refuses to believe that.) Most Venezuelans now believe that Chavez and his economic theories are a failure. Chavez considers this treason, and is spending more of his dwindling resources on building a police state, complete with an armed militia loyal to him, not Venezuela. Chavez is trapped by his own impractical ideas and megalomania. It is feared that he will seek to go out in a blaze of glory, making war on Colombia, or on real or imagined internal enemies.
Many Venezuelans fear that Chavez is on his way to establishing a full blown police state and taking control of everything. This could trigger a civil war. Chavez has wrecked his armed forces, replacing trained officers with men selected primarily for their loyalty to Chavez. These commanders have been ordered to forget about traditional military thinking and adopt bizarre doctrines invented by Chavez. Even many of the officers promoted for their loyalty to Chavez, are having second thoughts about all this. To deal with this, Chavez is forming a large civilian militia, led by politicians loyal to him.
Chavez maintains some popularity by giving away jobs and goods to the poor and close allies. To finance this he is printing money and that is causing the inflation. By eliminating an independent press, most Venezuelans only hear the Chevez version of things. His economic policies (which include confiscations and imprisonment for those who oppose him) have caused more and more of the middle class to flee. This leaves less competent managers and technical personnel to run the economy. It's a bit of a Ponzi scheme, but Chavez hopes that oil income, and borrowing against future oil income, will keep him going until a miracle, or something, happens.
November 5, 2011: After very little internal debate, FARC selected a new leader; Rodrigo Londoño. He is a hard liner and was opposed to any peace talks with the government. The name of the new leader was not announced for another ten days.
November 4, 2011: FARC leader Alfonso Cano was killed during an army raid. It was later reported that dissident FARC members had assisted the army in locating their leader. Cano took control of FARC three years ago when his 77 year old predecessor died of a heart attack. Last year, the army found and captured Cano's headquarters, and the FARC leader was pursued by the military ever since.