Colombia: Leftist Rebels Make A Deal


May 28, 2013: The peace talks with FARC are driven in part by declining morale among the rebels. For example, surrenders (over 500 so far this year) are up six percent to date compared to last year. Interviews with captured or surrendered rebels indicates declining morale, in part because all the publicity the peace talks have received has shown the rebel negotiators living a lot better than their gunmen in Colombia. FARC men also complain of constant pressure from the army and police and no future for their “revolution”. Not a lot of the drug profits reach the lower ranks but FARC upper and middle management do well. This has made recruiting more difficult for FARC, and the rebels are now accepting younger teenagers, despite the fact that kids this young are more difficult to train and often don’t last long in action.

May 26, 2013: The peace talks with FARC in Cuba have produced a compromise on the how to handle land disputes. Not all details have been released yet but the agreement involves more than just land, but also access to loans, technical assistance and more police protection for rural farmers. All this is meant to address problems that go back over a century in Colombia. One of the major demands FARC made was to take large amounts of land from family and corporate owners and distribute it among millions of landless rural people. It’s this sort of idea that got FARC going fifty years ago. The “land redistribution” dispute revealed some serious fundamental problems. Just distributing land tends to perpetuate poverty among rural populations, who need education and access to better jobs and honest government more than free land. Corruption and rural gangsters make it difficult for small farmers to survive and that’s a major problem throughout the world and especially in Colombia. The compromise deal apparently tries to address these problems.

This is not the first effort to address the rural land problem. Two years ago the government agreed to a deal whereby some two million hectares (5 million acres) of land stolen (through fraud, intimidation or outright theft) over the last two decades would be returned, along with buildings and other property, to some 430,000 families. But many of those who stole the land were willing to use lots of lawyers and hired guns to avoid giving back what they took by force (or bought from those who did). This plan got a lot of land claimants killed out in the still lawless rural areas.

The current land crisis began seven years ago, as FARC and drug gangs were driven from large areas along the borders (that being the best place to grow coca, and export the refined cocaine to overseas markets). As the former FARC territory again came under government control the government found it had inherited a lot of old social and economic problems. These were suspended by the decades of FARC and drug gang rule, and that in turn created some new problems. Now the newly liberated populations were free to vote, demonstrate and protest, and many had legitimate reasons to complain. A lot of the problems had to do with real estate.  Indian tribes wanted their land rights back, farmers wanted title to the land they had long worked, business owners want their property (which owners had to leave behind when they fled to escape getting killed by the rebels or gangs) back. The government is having a hard time sorting all this out, especially while under pressure to get legitimate economic activity going in what was long lawless "bandit territory."

May 23, 2013: In the north a clash between soldiers and FARC left three troops and two rebels dead.

May 22, 2013: In the north (near the Venezuelan border) FARC blew eight holes in an oil pipeline. This vandalism was apparently revenge for the death, the previous day, of the senior FARC commander in the area.

May 21, 2013: In the north ELN rebels ambushed an army convoy, killing ten soldiers and wounding eleven.

May 15, 2013: The peace talks with FARC resumed in Cuba and will continue until the 25th.

May 14, 2013: Police uncovered evidence that professional assassins were being hired to kill journalists investigating ties between gangers and politicians. Such cooperation is an old problem in Colombia, as is the practice of killing vocal critics. The current president of Colombia is a former journalist and has ordered police to investigate this old problem and come up with some solutions.

May 9, 2013: The government will not begin peace talks with ELN (the smaller, compared to four times larger FARC leftist rebel group that is also taking a beating out in the bush) until ELN releases its kidnapping victims. These include a Canadian geologist taken in January.

May 4, 2013: In the southwest troops killed seven FARC rebels and captured another. 


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