Colombia: Venezuela Has A Proposal


January 16, 2008: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has offered to negotiate a peace deal with FARC, as long as Colombia allowed him to meet with FARC leaders in Colombia. This is unlikely to happen. Chavez is having FARC problems of his own. He denies that FARC has kidnapped any Venezuelans, while Venezuelans living along the border say otherwise. Chavez insists the kidnappers are just common criminals, but family and friends of the victims insist the "bandits" work for FARC. Chavez wants to turn Venezuela, and the rest of South America, into a socialist dictatorship (like Cuba), but is encountering resistance from many of the people he is trying to help.

January 15, 2008: The U.S. government identified several financial institutions that were moving money for FARC, and froze those activities. This will make life difficult for FARC, and reminds the rebels that this sort of thing will only get worse, as the U.S. increases its counter-terrorism operations via the international banking system.

January 14, 2008: The Colombian tourism business is reviving, with 1.05 million arriving last year, more than double what it was a few years ago. Previously, the peak year for tourism was 1980, when 1.12 million visitors came. After that, the numbers went down, as leftist rebel violence and kidnapping increased. The government is now increasing tourist promotion overseas, and hopes to boost tourist visits to four million in a few years. This would put Colombia close to where it should be, based on what other tourist destinations in the region have done since 1980. That would bring in over $10 billion a year, providing employment for over a million Colombians. The leftist rebels don't want this to happen. Prosperity hastens the end of the outfits like FARC. So today, a group of FARC rebels robbed a boatload of 19 tourists who were visiting a beach on the Pacific coast. The rebels then kidnapped six of the tourists (five Colombian and one Norwegian). The police and military are in pursuit of these kidnappers, and given the intensity of recent counter-terror operations along the Pacific coast, may succeed.

January 11, 2008: In the wake of FARC releasing two of its 40-50 high profile kidnapping victims (some 700 others are held as well), Venezuela has called on the international community to remove FARC from the list of "international terrorist organizations." France responded by saying this would not happen until FARC released all of its kidnapping victims. That would be a business decision FARC would have to make. To release hostages held, and take no more, would cost the rebels several million dollars in ransoms, and much more in the future. Although new army and police tactics have made kidnapping more difficult, it is still a major source of income for FARC. Without kidnapping, over a thousand gunmen would be off the payroll. But if that got FARC off the "international terrorism" list, fund raising in Europe could resume, and FARC leaders could freely travel to more countries (without worrying about all those arrest warrants). It's unlikely that FARC will give up kidnapping, because it could be a year or more between the time they free all their hostages, and when they get off the terrorism list. Moreover, there's a large chance they wouldn't get off the list, as the U.S. would not agree to this no matter what FARC does.

January 10, 2008: In cooperation with the Venezuelan government, FARC released two female kidnap victims, who have been held for several years. FARC wants two of its leaders, convicted of drug trafficking and imprisoned in the United States, released in exchange. This is unlikely to happen, at least until after this year's presidential elections in the U.S.

January 8, 2008: Police captured ELN leader Carlos Marin outside the capital. Marin controls about half the ELN, and is the most senior leader opposed to peace talks. The government has been trying to get peace negotiations going with the ELN for three years. Carlos Marin has been the primary obstacle to that. With Marin out of the way, talks will probably proceed. Five years ago, there were nearly 40,000 armed rebels out in the back country, in three rebel organizations. Now, AUC has disarmed and accepted amnesty, FARC is being picked apart, and ELN is suffering desertions by disillusioned members, and having trouble meeting the payroll. There are less than 20,000 armed rebels out there now, and that number shrinks each day.


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