Colombia: Cost of Doing Business


October 26,2008:  For over half a century, Colombia has been trying to rid itself of warlords and their private armies. Throughout this period, the violence was also driven by politics, with many warlords establishing themselves as leftist rebels trying to take over the government and turning the country into a communist dictatorship. This led to the rural landowners and businessmen backing an anti-left militia that just increased the violence. Most of these warlords also got into the cocaine business, because it was there and the money was good. After 2002, the new reform government sought to change all that. The new president, Alvaro Uribe, mobilized the majority of Colombians, who were fed up with the decades of violence. Uribe reformed the government and security forces and began taking apart the leftist rebel groups and the drug gangs. This led the anti-left militias to accept an amnesty and surrender (although many of these guys went back to a life of crime.)

All this has resulted in a sharp drop in violence. Nine years ago, there were 400 mass killings (leaving 1,863 killed) and 2,787 kidnappings. This year, it appears there will be 25 mass killings and 130 dead. This has put more pressure on the security forces to be purged of those who used the same terror tactics as their opponents. That's because it appears that about 80 deaths this year can be traced to police and soldiers kidnapping and killing terrorist suspects (or just someone they don't like.) This was tolerated for a long time, because there seemed no other way to deal with the gangsters and rebels. But now there is, and the old school security force types are being forced to change.

October 25, 2008: Police made their largest drug seizure of the year, when they found ten tons of cocaine hidden in two shipping containers. The drugs were hidden in blocks of children's modeling clay, and the containers were about to be placed on a ship headed to Mexico. The drugs belonged to the "Madman" gang, which is currently headquartered in Venezuela. The seized drugs were worth about $20 million inside Colombia, and 10-20 times that if moved to the United States. The actual cost to the Madman gang, of this seizure, is probably $5-10 million. With the seizure, the gang lost potential profits of over $50 million. These losses are considered a cost of doing business, but some years, they do cause the retail price of cocaine to rise in the consuming countries.

October 24, 2008: The army dismissed three colonels because of their involvement in illegal operations. In this case the kidnapping and murder of eleven suspected terrorists last month. Currently, the army has over 800 of their officers and enlisted men under investigation for similar offenses. For decades, the army used such tactics to fight leftist rebels, drug gangs and criminals in general. But with the sharp reduction in crime and violence in the last few years, has come a campaign to halt the use of such tactics in the security forces.

October 23, 2008: In wealthy neighborhoods of the capital, six small bombs went off. Each had half a pound or a pound of explosives, and were placed in trash containers. At least sixteen people were injured. A similar type of attack took place in the south least week. FARC is suspected, although their ability to carry out bombing operations in urban areas has been declining, along with their overall strength, over the last few years.

The head of the national intelligence service (DAS) resigned, when it was revealed that the organization was spying on leftist politicians. This has been going on for a long time, fueled by fears that leftist politicians would cut a deal with the leftist rebels to overthrow the government from within and establish a communist dictatorship. This never happened, but the paranoia remains. DAS also supplied anti-leftist groups with information, for use against the common foe.

October 22, 2008: Police arrested over a hundred members of a drug smuggling and money laundering ring, after a long investigation. Nothing unusual about this, except that several of the gang members had been sending lots of cash to Hezbollah, a large,  Iranian backed, Islamic terrorist group in Lebanon.

October 21, 2008: The head of the Chinese army has paid a visit, and is offering military aid. China has expanding economic interests in the region, and likes to offer help is solving security problems. Law and order is good for business.

October 15, 2008: In the south, hundreds of Indian demonstrators clashed with police, leaving two dead and over a hundred injured. The Indian tribes are upset because they are caught in the middle of continued fighting between troops and FARC rebels and their drug gang allies. This has led to at least a thousand Indians dying in the past six years, usually at the hands of FARC or drug gang killers. The government has promised the tribes economic and other aid, but many tribal leaders are angry at the speed with which the aid is being delivered and is trying to embarrass the government into moving more quickly. There are also political activists who have convinced some of the Indians that their economic problems are the result of a worldwide business conspiracy. The big problem has been the displacement of civilians (currently nearly three million, and over 200,000 a year for the last few years) by the fighting. The leftist rebels and drug gangs are brutal with civilians, especially those they suspect of being disloyal, and this has caused most of the displacement. Many of the refugees are not happy, as one would expect.


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