Colombia: Venezuela Seeks A Future


January 24, 2015: While Colombia enjoys a growing economy and declining violence neighboring Venezuela is going in the opposite direction. Venezuela’s experiment in establishing a socialist paradise has been undone by corruption, incompetence and the rapidly declining price of oil. GDP declined at least four percent in 2014 and inflation is now over 60 percent. This has led to high unemployment (or underemployment) and an unprecedented crime wave, with Venezuela now the murder capital of the world. A growing number of poor Venezuelans turned to crime. The murder rate in Venezuela is over 60 per 100,000 people a year; one of the highest on the planet and more than ten times the rate in the United States. Since 1999 the government has implemented at least twenty different plans to deal with the crime and none have had a lasting impact. The fundamental cause of the crime is a lack of economic opportunity, which the Venezuelan government made worse and worse with its enthusiasm for central planning and incompetent implementation of those efforts. The result is growing food shortages, which have gotten so bad that gangs are now concentrating on stealing trucks carrying food. This has led to armed escorts for some food trucks, and even this is sometimes insufficient. President Maduro is criticized for spending so much time out of the country, but he is on these trips to beg for more loans or better terms for existing ones. He also called on major oil producers to try and get everyone to cut production to increase the world price. Maduro had no success overseas. Currently only 22 percent of voters approve of Maduro and another poll shows over 80 percent of Venezuelans blame Maduro for the economic mess. Some politicians are calling for him to resign, or be forcibly removed. For the second year in a row an international survey determined that Venezuela was the most miserable nation on the planet. Maduro blames all his problems on foreign interference and economic sabotage. The United States is seen as the main villain here but no one can produce any evidence. Colombia fears that all of this will end in civil war that will drive many Venezuelans, like more than a million, across the border as refugees. The Venezuelan border is already a danger zone because corrupt Venezuelan officers and officials have allowed Colombian drug gangs and leftist rebels to operate just across the border. The United States accuses Venezuela of becoming a major transit point for illegal drugs coming out of Colombia and then onto world markets (especially the U.S. and Europe). Everyone wants Venezuela fixed but no one has a practical plan for how to do it.

Five air force Kfir jet fighters have crashed during training since Colombia bought 24 of these second-hand jets in 2008. This was the second batch as in the late 1980s, Colombia bought 12 Kfirs, and 11 were still flying when the second batch was obtained. The air force wants money to buy some replacement aircraft. In the meantime the air force has hired another firm to maintain the engines in its Kfirs as it has been engine trouble that has caused most of the Kfir losses.

The army has sent 32 armored transport vehicles to the Venezuelan border to protect troops from ambush while on patrol.

January 22, 2015: The military announced the results of its investigation into unauthorized spying efforts (the Andromeda ring) by government intelligence agencies. This came up a year ago when it was found that a number of military personnel were spying on the peace talks with FARC and passing data on to journalists and politicians unauthorized to receive this stuff. The military identified 25 officers and troops responsible and has punished them. Five were dismissed from the military and the others were reassigned. The investigation concluded that the information involved was legally collected but was not distributed properly.

January 21, 2015: In the capital a shooting inside police headquarters turned out to be a crime of passion between a male and female police officer. The woman died while two male officers were wounded.

January 20, 2015: A government official confirmed that FARC has so far complied with its unilateral ceasefire. This began on December 20th and is indefinite. There have been three clashes with FARC since December 20th but all these were initiated by the security forces. FARC protested these military operations but the government refused to halt operations as they would enable FARC to rebuild its strength. While FARC has issued three official protests over continued security forces efforts against them, they have not abandoned their ceasefire.

In the southeast (Nariño province) two policemen were killed when ambushed by ELN rebels.

January 9, 2015: In the south (Caquet) a soldier was killed in an operation against FARC.                                                    

January 7, 2015: The ELN announced it was willing to start peace talks, but was to continue fighting in the meantime. While FARC is believed to have about 8,000 armed members the smaller ELN has about 2,000, ELN has so far refused to discuss peace. Despite all the drug income, ransoms and proceeds from other criminal activities ELN, along with FARC continues to lose personnel and territory. ELN, like FARC is a leftist rebel group that has been at it for decades but most of the older members have lost hope in being able to eventually retire in the socialist paradise leftist rebels had long promised to establish. Instead they note that most of the guys they were with when they joined years (or decades) ago are now dead, in prison or deserted. Thus the government has already won a psychological victory and even a majority of leftist rebels want a peace deal. But a large (over ten percent) of these rebels are not so sure a peace deal is possible or advisable and that fanatic and violent minority has always been an obstacle to peace.

December 31, 2014: In the southwest (Huila province) an army patrol clashed with a group of armed FARC men and wounded two of the rebels.

December 26, 2014:  In the southwest (Cauca) FARC released a soldier they had captured a week earlier. Termed a good will gesture, it also halted strenuous army efforts to find and free the soldier.



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