Colombia: The Politics Of Fear


April 28, 2010: The security forces continue to take apart FARC, especially in the south, where safe bases in Venezuela are not available. The drug gangs and leftist rebels are a plague on the countryside, where they behave like bandits, plundering civilians and using terror to coerce the civilians into not supporting the army and police. As in the rest of Colombia, most people have had it with the drug gangs and leftist gunmen, but these armed groups are more difficult to eliminate since they have been allowed to set up safe bases in Ecuador and Venezuela. Both nations deny it, but a visit to the border area makes it pretty obvious that the Colombian drug gangs and leftist rebels are there, often in uniform.

In the last decade, both the leftist rebels and the drug gangs have shrunk. From its peak (in 1987) of 6.3 percent of the economy, the illegal drug trade now accounts for about one percent. Much of the cocaine production has moved to other countries. Most of the decline in Colombia has come in the last decade. Same with leftist and anti-leftist rebels, who had over 50,000 armed men on the payroll a decade ago, now it's less than 10,000.

Venezuela caused more anger in Colombia when a government sponsored monument in a town on the Colombian border featured busts of great Venezuelan heroes. These included president Hugo Chavez, Simon Bolivar (19th century rebel leader), Che Guevara (communist terrorist of the 1960s), Fidel Castro and Manuel Marulanda (the founder of FARC).

The government decision last year, to disband the domestic intelligence agency (DAS) has been uncovering more illegal wiretapping and misuse of the agency for domestic political advantage. What precipitated this  was yet 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. But this time the decision was made to dismantle DAS and create new intel organizations. The 6,000 employees of DAS are being transferred to police organizations, some are being fired, and others are going to new, smaller (1,500 people altogether)  intelligence, and counterintelligence, agencies, that are being built from scratch. This will probably not eliminate the bribery scandals, but may delay the next one. Meanwhile, the U.S. has suspended aid to DAS until the reorganization is complete.

Venezuela is arresting foreigners, mainly Colombians, along the Colombian border and charging them with espionage. Even a visiting Canadian doctor has been picked up. All those arrested had digital cameras on them, and this was considered sufficient evidence of espionage, especially if there were any pictures on the camera showing "economic targets" (electrical or other utilities). The Colombian and Canadian governments have protested, but so far the Venezuelan government seems determined to hold trials, to show the threat from foreign nations. Venezuela is undergoing an economic crises (brought on by a drought, and government mismanagement), but the government is blaming it on hostile foreign nations (especially Colombia and the United States). There is no proof, so Venezuela invents ever more imaginative accusations. Arresting innocent foreigners, and threatening to imprison them for a long time, is an escalation. The Venezuelan leadership, using an ancient ploy, is trying to create a foreign "threat" to divert popular attention from those really responsible for the problems inside Venezuela. Colombia has warned its citizens to avoid visiting Venezuela until things calm down.

April 27, 2010: The leftist government in Ecuador is trying to interfere in the upcoming Colombian elections by issuing an arrest warrant for presidential candidate general Juan Manuel Santos, who is expected to continue the successful polices of current president Uribe (who cannot run because of term limits) if elected. General Santos was in charge of the 2008 operation that attacked a FARC camp just across the border in Ecuador. Colombian troops seized documents showing how the leftist governments of Ecuador and Venezuela were allies of FARC. Ecuador does not want any more of that, or people like Santos.

April 12, 2010:  A Venezuelan military helicopter flew into Colombia. This has happened several times recently. Venezuela simply denies it.

The government is buying another nine U.S. UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. These aircraft have been a key element in the success in dismantling the drug gangs and leftist rebels.



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