Colombia: The Lost Boys


February 26, 2013: The FARC peace talks are causing morale problems among the lower ranking members. Many have known no other life and are forbidden to openly discuss post-FARC options. There are not many, as former rebels, even after an amnesty, will be stigmatized as criminals and have difficulty finding jobs. The government is trying to come up with a plan that will overcome this. Meanwhile FARC desertions are up and the leadership is becoming quicker to punish those suspected of disloyalty. The peace talks are stalled because FARC is demanding legalization of cocaine and other recreational drugs and a massive distribution of land (most of it public but some of it privately held). Meanwhile, army and police operations against FARC and ELN leave 30-40 rebels dead each month and many more surrendered or captured. The leftist rebels have been on the defensive for the last decade and are relying more on terror (assassinating and kidnapping police and soldiers) in an attempt to get the security forces to back off. This has not been working.

The government is trying to settle a mine worker strike before it descends into the all-too-common Colombian cycle of violence. The strike at a major coal mine (that exports over 35 million tons of coal a year) is mainly over pay raises. But leftist rebels see it as a way to legitimize themselves a bit, and to that end they recently attacked a mine compound and destroyed several trucks. Historically Colombian labor unions have been very militant and violent. Employers would form their own armed groups and fight back. The government was often unable or unwilling to get everyone to step back and negotiate. That is a major reason why Colombia has been one of the most violent places on the planet for over a century.

February 22, 2013: A music festival was cancelled in Medellin because of increasing violence from drug and kidnapping gangs. The police had sent in a special anti-kidnapping force to reduce the growing number of kidnappings. The gangs responded with random terrorism. In the last decade kidnappings have been reduced by 90 percent and Colombia is no longer the kidnapping capital of the world. But as many more men are forced out of the leftist and anti-leftist militias they often turn to non-political crimes. Many of these gangsters joined the militias as teenagers and never acquired any other skills.

February 20, 2013: In the southeast a FARC leader (of 60 men) walked away from his followers and surrendered to troops nearby. He was worn out and demoralized by the years of fighting. The army had been chasing his unit for weeks and there had already been several desertions among the lower ranking rebels. Even middle-management gets discouraged and surrenders.

February 19, 2013: Hugo Chavez, the recently reelected president of Venezuela, returned home from Cuba where he had been for over two months receiving more treatments for his cancer. The 21 month long battle against the disease is apparently not going well. Chavez has not spoken to the public since December 11th and his inauguration has been delayed until he is well enough to be sworn in. Many believe Chavez has returned to die and his senior aides are maneuvering to take power when he goes. There is no clear successor and that creates the potential for a civil war, or at least some unrest and violence until the succession is sorted out.

February 18, 2013: Another round of peace talks with FARC began.

February 16, 2013: In the southwest FARC released a soldier they had captured, after releasing a policeman yesterday. In part this was a good-will gesture, in part it was realization that trying to exchange these captives for imprisoned rebels was not going to work and that the government was getting better at finding the FARC hostages and freeing them. These two had been seized last month when FARC ended its unilateral holiday ceasefire.

Near the Ecuador border FARC attacked a police station, destroying it and several nearby buildings.

February 15, 2013: Outside the capital FARC ambushed an army patrol and killed three soldiers.

FARC, and possibly ELN, damaged two oil pipelines (one near the Venezuelan border and one near Ecuador in the south). This temporarily halted 100,000 barrels a day from being shipped.

February 13, 2013: In the south a clash between troops and FARC left at least a dozen dead, seven of them soldiers.

February 11, 2013: ELN is demanding proof that two elderly German brothers they seized in November are not spies. The two captives were tourists, but ELN believed they were part of a clever scheme to spy on the leftist rebels.

February 6, 2013: In a joint operation with Peru, police in Peru arrested the leader of a major Colombian drug gang,

January 31, 2013: Troops found and attacked a FARC camp, killing a senior leader and five other rebels. The dead leader was a close friend of one of the FARC peace negotiators.

January 30, 2013: In the southwest four soldiers were killed in a clash with FARC.


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