Colombia: No Surrender, No Peace


August 7, 2013: A government study has concluded that at least 220,000 people have died in the last 54 years as a result of the armed leftist violence that began in 1958. Some 80 percent of the dead were civilians, the rest were armed (soldiers, police, rebels, and anti-leftist militias). Add the deaths from the drug cartels and the many criminal gangs and the death toll more than doubles. The persistent violence in Colombia, and the region in general, is part of a larger trend. In short, Central America and South America have long had very high murder rates (currently 5-12 times higher than in the United States). Some cities were much worse. The murder rate of Caracas, the capital and largest city in Venezuela, has been over 200 killed per year per 100,000 population. That's eight times the 24 per 100,000 rate in the capital of neighboring Colombia. This makes Caracas more violent than the worst hit (by drug gang violence) Mexican border city (Ciudad Juárez) where the murder rate has been nearly 200. The national rate for Venezuela is over 60, that's four times the current rate in Iraq, and more than ten times the rate in the U.S. (5.4). It's also higher than the rate in Afghanistan, which has been running at about 24 dead per 100,000 population over the last few years. Compare that to the Western hemisphere in general, where the rate is about 8 per 100,000 people a year. That in turn is much higher than in Europe, where it is about 3-4. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5-10 per 100,000. Back in 2009, the rate in Iraq was 26. That's not a lot higher than it was under Saddam (10-20 a year) but less than a third of what it was the year before. Colombians are eager to reduce the death rate and the violence that causes it. That, more than anything else, is pressuring the leftist rebels to make peace.

The latest corruption rankings place Colombia at 96 (out of 174 nations) on the list. The number one state (Denmark) is the least corrupt and 174 (the most corrupt) is Somalia. Venezuela is at 165 and it’s getting worse, while in Colombia there is some progress in reducing corrupt practices. The situation in Venezuela is largely the result of government attempts to run the economy. This decade old effort has led to more shortages, unemployment, crime and inflation. As of July annual inflation is at 42 percent. The government has no real plan for solving all these problems and responds to criticism by saying that their social program is working and adjustments will be made as needed. Opposition to the government is growing and that is apparently one reason why the government has reduced the anti-Colombia talk and asked for diplomatic efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

August 6, 2013: In the capital police caught two men trying to place a car bomb near a business the two were attempting to extort protection money from. The bomb was disabled and the two men arrested. The two bombers belonged to a gang of former FARC members (who had surrendered and accepted amnesty) that had been trying to resume the extortion activities they had used while working for FARC. The government expects a percentage of former rebels to revert to criminal activity.

August 5, 2013: The government told Nicaragua that it would not permit oil exploration in disputed waters between the two nations. Last year 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. This is mainly about the offshore oil.

August 4, 2013: The government and FARC resumed peace talks in Cuba. Both sides have announced that they are confident an agreement will be reached this year. There are still disputes over how much amnesty FARC members will get. While FARC insists both sides did bad things, the government has been prosecuting soldiers, police, and government officials for that sort of thing while FARC has not. Moreover, most Colombians consider FARC by far the biggest offender, a charge most FARC leaders are reluctant to accept. The smaller ELN is waiting to see what kind of deal FARC gets before entering peace talks. ELN is less involved in drugs and more into other criminal behavior like extortion and kidnapping. The government warned the leftist rebels that the security forces will keep up the pressure right up to the day a peace deal goes into effect. This is in response to continued attacks by FARC and ELN.

The UN confirmed that Bolivian coca (the raw material for cocaine) production dropped seven percent last year. This is part of a regional decline in coca production, especially in Colombia. In the United States cocaine use is down by nearly half in the last decade. That’s largely because cocaine production is down in South America by nearly as much. Some of the Colombian drug gangs had shifted operations to Bolivia but the local government is putting up some stiff resistance to that.

July 22, 2013: A Canadian mining company is shutting down operations in Colombia because of attacks by ELN, especially the kidnapping threat. ELN still holds one Canadian engineer, who the company is still trying to get released. ELN has declared the Canadian company decision a victory.

July 20, 2013: In the south four soldiers and six FARC rebels died in a clash. In the east, near the Venezuelan border, 15 soldiers, guarding a pipeline, were killed when attacked by 70 FARC rebels. Another twelve soldiers were captured.

July 19, 2013: FARC announced they were holding a former U.S. marine (Kevin Scott Sutay) and were willing to negotiate. American officials said they had no report of any U.S. citizens missing in Colombia and Sutay had been warned not to enter the area where he was apparently seized by FARC on June 20th. FARC is trying to turn their American captive into a media event by declaring him a “mercenary” and demanding that the government take all this seriously. The government refuses to cooperate.

July 15, 2013: The chief FARC negotiator confidently announced that five decades of leftist violence was coming to an end and a peace deal was close. While the smaller (1,500 armed personnel) has still resisted negotiations. ELN is having a hard time and recently 30 ELN members surrendered, with their weapons. This was the largest single ELN surrender ever.



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