FARC is back on the attack because the government refused to join the ceasefire FARC announced last December 18th. The government tried to reciprocate and on March 12 announced that the air force would cease “non-emergency” air raids against FARC for 30 days. The government made clear that the air force would still conduct air attacks if ground troops got into trouble with FARC gunmen. Ground patrols continued. In early April the government extended for another month its suspension of air attacks against FARC. Aerial surveillance and ground operations continued. FARC was disappointed with the government response to their ceasefire (less aggressive operations) rather than a government ceasefire. Without a complete ceasefire FARC operations were being restricted by the security forces and FARC seemed to accept that in order to keep the peace negotiations going. In mid-April FARC said it would ignore recent clashes with soldiers and continue its ceasefire. But in return it demanded that the army to not attack FARC bases and personnel. The government responded that there have been nearly twenty clashes involving FARC so far this year and it was believed that FARC was using all the ceasefire talk as cover for illegal activities. Because of that and the continued clashes the military resumed its air attacks on FARC camps in late April. FARC insists that all these ceasefire violations were either accidents or FARC personnel defending themselves. Meanwhile ELN, the smaller version of FARC, is not observing a ceasefire and still active. Some 80 percent of the violence so far this year has been because of ELN activity.
What FARC leaders really wanted was a ceasefire by the army so FARC could rebuild its depleted forces and run its drug operations more efficiently. FARC would also like a safe haven for the duration of the peace talks. Both the total ceasefire and safe haven have been used before and government officials know what these “gestures” really mean. The military and FARC agree on one thing, FARC is losing militarily and the continued attempts (during the two years of peace negotiations) to get a ceasefire and safe haven were a tacit admission of that. FARC abandoning the ceasefire is a desperation move because the security forces quickly responded by doing a lot more damage to FARC than the other way around.
The main issue preventing a final peace deal is the stalemate over the amnesty issue. Public opinion demands that the most notorious FARC killers and kidnappers be prosecuted and punished. FARC leadership refuses to accept this, despite the risk that the government could offer amnesty to FARC men who will accept it and continue attacking the holdouts. This would weaken FARC and make it more likely that the holdouts would die violently, rather than serve some time in jail before going free. Noting this, the smaller ELN (about a third the size of FARC) has said it will only begin peace talks if they have assurances that there will be amnesty for all. Meanwhile ELN is still quite violent and is concentrating its attacks (and extortion efforts) on the oil industry and electricity producers.
While Colombia prospers and enjoys lower and lower levels of violence Venezuela is going in the opposite direction and in a bog way. Since 2009 Venezuela has been rated (by the Transparency International corruption survey) as the most corrupt nation in the Americas. While many individuals, in and outside, the Venezuelan government have been calling for more efforts to curb the corruption the government has concentrated on crippling press freedoms by putting increasing restrictions on independent media (to stifle criticism of the government). This has eliminated the most efficient way to getting widespread news of exactly who is corrupt and how. Most key people in the Venezuelan government now accept that they have a problem with corruption but there is deadlock over how to deal with it. Many senior officials fear that if they lose power they will be prosecuted for crimes (especially corruption and drug smuggling) committed while in power. This has caused gridlock when it comes to solving the crippling problems caused by corruption. That leaves revolution, which most Venezuelans don’t want but if the privation gets too bad that will be the only option.
Inability to deal with corruption (especially among government officials and their subordinates) means the government has not been able to deal with the growing smuggling problem. Corrupt officials allied with criminal gangs divert imported food so it can be smuggled into Colombia or Brazil and sold there. Price controls in Venezuela make food and other items much cheaper to buy than the market prices prevailing in neighboring countries. Smugglers point out that is often more profitable to smuggle Venezuelan food into Colombia than to move Colombian cocaine into Venezuela. Government officials have also taken the lead ion plundering government reserves of foreign currency. The biggest offenders in exploiting the official (far below the black market) exchange rate between dollars and the local currency are government officials. The shortages created by all this and the increased printing of Venezuelan currency have pushed inflation up to more than 500 percent a year. Thus in the last month the Venezuelan currency (the bolivar) has collapsed in value against the dollar (the most common foreign currency used in Venezuela). The black market rate for a dollar is now about 400 bolivars, way up from two years ago when it was under 30 bolivars. Before the socialist revolution of the 1999 inflation was about 20 percent and you could buy a dollar for six bolivars. The average inflation in neighboring countries in 1999 was under 15 percent.
The opposition is growing and is increasingly united in its efforts to replace the current government. The opposition is still relying on elections to do that. Elections at the end of the year promise real change and polls indicate the unpopular government will lose. Recent opinion surveys show that only 30 percent of voters are willing to keep the current socialist government and that 80 percent disapprove of how the government is handling the economy. Public protests are getting more violent and if the government tries to rig the elections there could be open rebellion. The government is trying to suppress criticism via the Internet, arresting and prosecuting those who do so and can be identified. There is a lot more criticism on the Internet, especially about the corruption. The theft by government employees and their cronies (businesses and gangsters) has always been there, but has gotten worse and more noticeable as the economy crumbles. Many of the biggest offenders are government officials and they control the security forces and judges. The government continues to speak ominously about opponents (which is now the majority of Venezuelans) scheming to stage a coup. This justifies still more arrests and prosecutions. If the government tries to stay in power despite losing the elections that might be enough to trigger a civil war. Even radical supporters of the government, especially those with government jobs, agree that civil war benefits no one and are pressuring the government to do something effective against the corruption. But those leftist officials calling for an end to corruption are a outnumbered by the officials who are involved in schemes that has made thousands of them very rich (over $200 billion “missing” so far). Much, if not most, of this money ends up outside for the day when the thieves will have to flee.
June 2, 2015: In the southwest (Putumayo) troops found a major drug lab run by FARC and a local drug cartel. The facility employed thirty people and could produce over three tons of cocaine and synthetic (“designer”) drugs a month. The latter are increasingly popular and cheaper to produce than cocaine.
May 31, 2015: In the southwest (outside Buenaventura) FARC destroyed an electricity transmission tower, cutting power to over 350,000 people. The leftist rebels also planted landmines, which delayed repairs for several days as the mines were searched for and disabled.
May 30, 2015: Despite FARC ending their ceasefire they are going ahead with a March 9 agreement to work with the army to clear landmines. This came after much government pressure on FARC to be more helpful in getting rid of all the landmines it has planted since the early 1990s the leftist rebels finally agreed to cooperate with the government to make Colombia “landmine free” by 2025. These mines have killed or wounded over 11,000 people, most of them civilians, since then, are very unpopular and FARC is blamed for them. Such mines are still believed to be present in about two thirds of rural areas. For a long time the problem was that FARC no longer had a record of where all the mines were placed and was reluctant to admit this. Now FARC officials will share what records they do have, including consulting FARC men involved in planting mines in areas where no records were kept. Some FARC factions refuse to give up using landmines.
May 23, 2015: In the southwest (Nariño province) a policeman was killed and two wounded when a grenade was thrown at their vehicle, apparently by a FARC gunman.
May 22, 2015: FARC broke their five month ceasefire by again launching attacks. This is in response to the air force attack on a FARC base yesterday. In response to the FARC resumption of attacks the army raided three more FARC camps by the end of the month, causing over a hundred FARC casualties.
May 21, 2015: In the southwest (Cauca province) an air force attack on a FARC base left 27 leftist rebels dead including a senior official who had been involved with the peace negotiations.
May 20, 2015: In the northeast a twin-engine business jet that had just taken off from Venezuela crashed off the Colombian coast and when the coast guard got there they found that the Hawker 800 jet, which can normally carry up to 13 passengers, was hauling over a ton of cocaine. Only one body was found on the aircraft, a Mexican pilot who was apparently headed for somewhere in Central America. Initial investigations indicate the aircraft was lost due to equipment failure. The growing lawlessness in Venezuela has made that country a more convenient base for international cocaine distribution than Colombia or any other country in the region.