Colombia: More Violent Than Iraq


March 2, 2009: The government amnesty program is running into legal problems. When FARC rebels surrender, they are supposed to confess all their crimes, and be liable to spend some time in jail. But most of the bad guys aren't reading the fine print. One of them, Pedro Pablo Montoya, killed one the eight most senior leaders last year, brought in the victims head and claimed a $320,000 reward. But Montoya is stuck in jail because he refuses to confess to any of the many crimes he committed during 16 years in FARC. The government could not offer a complete amnesty because, as a democracy, the many victims and their supporters would not allow it. The victims want justice, even if it means giving senior rebels less incentive to surrender.

Two years ago, the murder rate hit a twenty year low, at 43 per 100,000 population. Now it has fallen further, to 36 per 100,000 population. The murder rate in the United States is 4.8. Two years ago, the rate in Iraq was 51, which was at the height of the violence there. That rate has since declined to not much more than the U.S. rate.

The violence in Colombia is worse in some areas, and not always because of FARC or drug gang activity. The interior has always been a more dangerous place, with a much higher murder rate. But most of the drug gang violence is in a few areas along the Venezuelan and Ecuadoran border, and the Pacific coast. Most of the country doesn't see any drug gang or FARC activity, but in much of the interior, it's a heavily armed and frontier violence kind of vibe.

March 1, 2009: After five years of searching, the army has finally found the FARC cave complex outside the capital, that served as a headquarters for the most senior FARC commander in the area. The caves also contained several tons of munitions, a bomb making workshop, medical facilities and so on. The caves were large enough to hold 500 people, and provided protection from air raids. A FARC deserter provided the exact location, although FARC sentries alerted those in the caves that the troops were coming, and fled. The caves were not heavily used of late, apparently because FARC feared a visit from the army.

February 28, 2009:  The government has captured one of the major FARC kidnapping gang leaders. " El Negro Antonio" has organized most of FARC kidnappings in and around the capital for years. During the operation, ten FARC rebels were killed, eight arrested, and a recent kidnapping victim freed.

February 25, 2009: The head of the domestic intelligence agency (DAS) and several of his deputies, have been forced to resign. The cause is another wiretapping scandal. DAS and the national police (and a few smaller agencies) have the authority to wiretap, and every few years there's a scandal when it is discovered that bribes (from criminals or businesses) or orders from some government official, have led to illegal wiretaps (of government officials, business rivals or whatever). There are resignations, promises not-to-let-it-happen-again, and the cycle repeats itself. The problem is the high level of corruption in the country. Wiretapping is a commodity that a lot of people will pay for, and the government employees who carry out the taps are not adverse to taking a bribe for an illegal tap.


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