Colombia: Dreaming The Improbable Dream


July 29, 2012: The government is still trying to achieve a peace deal with FARC. The major stumbling block is amnesty for decades of crimes, especially more than 200,000 dead civilians and security personnel. FARC leaders won't negotiate without amnesty but many, if not most, Colombians have a friend or family member who was killed or injured by FARC. While most Colombians want an end to the leftist rebellion, many are not willing to let the chief architects of this mayhem go unpunished and even be able to run for political office. To make matters worse, FARC is demanding the right to maintain an armed militia after a peace deal. Many in FARC still seek to establish a leftist dictatorship in Colombia or parts of Colombia. The war against FARC has been going on since the early 1980s, and was not always just political. That's a major problem with FARC, which eventually became the security arm for many drug gangs and in the last two decades spent most of its time being gangsters, not leftist rebels.

Leftist rebels have increased their attacks on oil operations in the last year. As a result, after hitting a peak of 963,000 barrels a day last November, production has declined three percent. This is the result of FARC and ELN attacks on oil companies in an effort (sometimes successful) to extort money (in the form of pure extortion or as "revolutionary taxes"). The leftist violence includes kidnapping of oil company personnel and destruction of equipment or blowing holes in pipelines. The security forces have increased the number of troops and police in oil regions in the north but the leftist rebels have been reduced to their hard core, and these guys will take chances to raise money to stay in business. There are similar attacks against coal mining operations but these companies are already in trouble because of worldwide oversupply (because of growing supplies of cleaner and cheaper natural gas).

FARC has been rejuvenated by Venezuelan collaboration with the cocaine gangs. Although the Venezuelan government denies it, and occasionally sends troops to the Colombian border (where FARC camps tend to be avoided) and arrest a wanted drug gang leader from time to time (as a way to keep the others in line), over a fifth of the cocaine produced in South America is apparently being exported via Venezuela.

The government has reduced coca crops (the raw material for cocaine) 35 percent in the last five years. Because of this a lot of coca farming has moved to Bolivia and Peru. Ecuador has resisted the coca farming and Venezuela will not allow it, but about a quarter of Colombia's production is near the borders of Ecuador and Venezuela. FARC also has camps across the border in Ecuador but the Venezuelan border is where the money is. About five percent of the Colombian population is involved in the drug business, mostly as small farmers producing the coca. The farmers often don't have much choice (grow the stuff or die, or try to flee). The security forces still fight a low level war out in the backcountry, seeking to end FARC and drug gang control of isolated farming communities that produce coca.

July 25, 2012: Columbia has ordered another five American UH-60 helicopters. Colombia has 85 of these helicopters (in army and police service), the largest fleet in the world.




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