The government is preparing to help up to 40,000 leftist rebels go from being gangsters to lawful citizens. While the government believes there are only about 8,000 active FARC members (and a few thousand ELN), there are at least as many supporters, some of them armed. There are also thousands of former members who want amnesty so they can come out of the shadows. In the last decade the government has rehabed over 50,000 former gunmen, most of them belonging to anti-leftist militias that made peace with the government when it appeared the police and army were able to protect the rural population the militias were organized to safeguard. The rehab process can take up to seven years but the government has developed methods they know work.
What is driving FARC willingness to negotiate is continued success of the decade old offensive against all the criminal gangs (political and criminal). The military has developed intelligence gathering techniques that make it very difficult for the rebels to keep secrets. Thus the army and police are constantly raiding rebel bases and storage sites. These losses, and dwindling income from kidnapping and providing security for drug gangs (who are also being forced out of the country), are a trend FARC and ELN have not been able to reverse. Each year rebel strength shrinks (from casualties, desertions, and difficulty recruiting).
Colombia is still a violent place, but opinion surveys show most Colombians are feeling good because things have been getting better for a decade now and the majority believe the trend will continue. This is bringing in more foreign investment. Educated and well-off Colombians who had fled (often taking lots of money with them) in the 1990s are returning. Tourists are coming as well, although there are still parts of the country (where drug gangs and leftist rebels are most active) where foreigners are warned away from, for the moment.
Venezuela is becoming increasingly unstable and that makes it a more secure sanctuary for Colombian drug gangs and leftist rebels. The socialist policies pioneered over a decade ago by recently deceased leader Hugo Chavez have trashed the economy, brought on an unprecedented crime wave, and led to massive corruption. Venezuela is supposed to be a socialist paradise by now. But like every other attempt at this use of centralized economic planning and control, it has only resulted in more poverty and growing shortages of basics. Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro lacks the charisma to maintain popularity for the dysfunctional government. Determined to maintain control, Maduro has resorted to police state methods and increasingly desperate measures. That included recently expelling three American diplomats after accusing them of being responsible for the collapse of the electrical generation system. This sort of thing is noticed by everyone as recently the lights went out for two-thirds of the country for a while. The cause is a combination of mismanagement and corruption that have left electricity production and distribution facilities poorly maintained. Oil production is falling and sometimes there is no fuel for the power plants. Meanwhile, Maduro’s political subordinates and allies grow rich from stealing and dealing. Bribes from drug gangs keep the cocaine flowing through Venezuelan ports and air fields. Maduro is trying to build a popular militia loyal to him and the ruling party but the country is running out of money for buying enough loyalty. A recent attempt to get a large loan out of China, a major customer for Venezuelan oil, was rebuffed. The Chinese see where this is going and want to cut their losses. Corruption also leads to foreign suppliers not getting paid, which in turn leads to regular suppliers refusing to ship to Venezuela. This has played a role in the growing food shortages. Finding new suppliers is not easy once you have a reputation for not paying.
October 5, 2013: In the northwest, near the Panamanian border, an American surveillance aircraft (monitoring drug smuggling routes) crashed because of mechanical failure. Three American anti-drug officials died, two survived and were rescued.
October 4, 2013: In the south (Caqueta) FARC killed two policemen.
October 3, 2013: Peace talks resumed with FARC in Cuba. The rebels report slow progress after ten months of negotiations.
September 30, 2013: ELN, the smaller of the two leftist rebel groups, is still negotiating terms for a deal that will begin peace negotiations. As with FARC, ELN has factions opposed to making peace and are willing to fight to the death. ELN leaders want to avoid an internal power struggle over the issue and that is taking time.
September 26, 2013: The UN made it official, announcing that Peru was now the largest producer of cocaine in the world. For over two decades Colombia had been the main source. Over a decade of energetic anti-drug efforts forced drug gangs out of business or into neighboring countries (mainly Peru and Ecuador but also Venezuela and Brazil). Peru had been the main cocaine producer until 1992, when Colombia took the lead. Peru has a problem similar to Colombia’s: leftist rebels (the Shining Path) working with drug gangs to create drug production sanctuaries. Peru had crushed the Shining Path in the early 1990s but the group survived and made a comeback.
September 24, 2013: In the southwest (Caqueta) soldiers and police killed twelve FARC gunmen and captured many weapons and other equipment.