December 8, 2012: The peace talks with FARC in Cuba are being conducted in great secrecy, which is making the peace effort less popular back in Colombia. Some 77 percent of Colombians were optimistic about the peace talks in September, but only about 56 percent remain so now. The only public statements have been FARC asking for some of their senior leaders to be released from Colombian and U.S. prisons. That is apparently not going to happen, but many Colombians wonder what kind of amnesty deals will be worked out for FARC killers who are still free. The government insists that the peace talks won’t last beyond late 2013. In addition to amnesty, the two sides have to work out details of how FARC will become a political party and what kind of economic reforms will be part of the peace package. All this depends on the ability of the government to get needed changes passed by the legislature. So public opinion is important in all this. FARC has been losing its half century long war for over a decade now but still has 9,000 armed followers. FARC reasons that a lot of money would be saved and economic growth enabled by a peace deal and the peace talks are mostly about how to carve up that pie. The rebels are less concerned with the public anger they have earned from decades of mayhem, murder and kidnapping. Most Colombians want justice, and sorting that out may be the most difficult part of the negotiations. FARC sees itself as the champion of the people while most Colombians see the leftist rebels as gangsters trying to get away with murder. Many Colombians want senior FARC leaders to answer for their years of murder, robbery and kidnapping. Getting any amnesty deal through the legislature will probably be the most difficult part of the peacemaking.
Although FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire that lasts through January 20th, the security forces did not reciprocate and the hunt for FARC bases and gunmen continues. The search goes on for FARC bases and economic activities (mainly cocaine related.) The military and police believe they can eventually crush FARC, but it will take years. Meanwhile each week there are several hundred casualties. Most are FARC personnel but some are security personnel or civilians. Peace would prevent a lot of pain and loss.
In neighboring Venezuela the government has managed to keep annual inflation under 20 percent although the monthly rate in November was 2.3 percent. The socialist policies of president Hugo Chavez have ruined the private economy, driving up unemployment and inflation. The government has kept the economy going with oil income and loans and that won’t last much longer. This policy of handouts instead of jobs has led to a rapidly rising crime rate, the worst in the Americas. The annual murder rate is 67 per 100,000 and it’s so bad that Norway recently shut its embassy in Caracas because of the rampant street crime and the growing incidence of diplomatic personnel being kidnapped. Norway will move its Venezuelan diplomatic operations to Colombia. About 20 percent of the murders are committed by police, who use illegal death squads to control the most dangerous criminals. Venezuelan courts were never known for their speed or efficiency. Chavez recently returned from three weeks of cancer treatment in Cuba and his disease is believed to be terminal. There is concern that when Chavez dies there will be no one to hold his political followers together and chaos will ensue. Another alternative is a military coup as Chavez has replaced most military commanders with loyalists.
December 5, 2012: Peace talks with FARC resumed in Cuba.
December 4, 2012: Over the weekend several FARC bases were hit with air strikes killing at least twenty leftist rebels.
November 30, 2012: On the Panamanian border a group of FARC encountered Panamanian police and a gun battle ensued. One FARC man was killed and seven captured. Weapons and large quantities of cocaine were captured.
November 28, 2012: Colombia declared that it would no longer recognize rulings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This was in reaction to a November 19th court ruling on a dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua over who should control some islands and the coastal waters nearby. The ICJ (based in the Netherlands) awarded Colombia the islands but gave Nicaragua control of most of the sea areas (along with fishing rights and control of underwater oil and gas deposits). Colombia was not happy with this and there was a lot of public anger over the ruling. Colombia will recognize the November 19th ICJ ruling but will find other ways to deal with other territorial disputes it has with Nicaragua.
Police arrested a FARC leader (Angelo Caceras) who had ordered the death of three Americans in 1999 (for entering FARC territory without permission.) Even FARC was forced to denounce this action, but refused to hand over the man responsible. Colombian police have been on the lookout for Caceras ever since.
November 23, 2012: FARC has largely enforced its unilateral ceasefire. There was one incident on the 20th when two electric towers were blown up, and FARC said that one of their subunits had not gotten the ceasefire order in time. A more serious accusation is that four kidnapped Chinese (three engineers and a translator), recently released after ransom was paid, were taken by FARC, not common criminals. FARC has bowed to public displeasure and renounced kidnapping for ransom. But now it is believed that FARC is still at it, but pretending to be gangsters doing it, not leftist revolutionaries. FARC needs cash to keep its armed forces intact.