Colombia: Bracing For The Venezuelan Meltdown


December 7, 2013: Peace talks with FARC have resumed and FARC is again calling for a ceasefire. The government sees the FARC calls for a ceasefire as an attempt to get the security forces to halt their destruction of FARC combat forces and money-making operations. FARC long sought this as a precondition for peace talks but finally was forced to begin peace negotiations without it. A truce would allow FARC to repair much of the damage the relentless government offensive has inflicted over the last decade. FARC has not given up on efforts to get a ceasefire. For example, FARC ended a unilateral ceasefire last January 20 th after the government would not reciprocate. The government kept going after FARC. Attacks by the leftist rebels were down during the ceasefire, apparently because FARC units were ordered, where possible, to stay in their rural camps for training and improving their facilities. The army and police kept coming after FARC and those rebels that were caught had to fight back.  At least 34 rebels were killed during the two month ceasefire.

Nationwide the security forces and FARC continue to battle each other. FARC tries to confine its attacks to soldiers and police but the bombs and bullets often kill or wound civilians, which just makes FARC more unpopular. More and more FARC are fleeing across the border or to areas they had previously avoided (like the remote Amazon jungle region of the southeast). These moves are an admission of defeat and an attempt to salvage something from a losing battle with the security forces. The loss of popular support has also been a heavy blow to the leftist rebels. This is especially true because of the growing availability of cell phone service, which makes it possible for civilians hostile to FARC to call the police or soldiers and report on what FARC is up to. 

Many government officials still see the peace talks as a FARC propaganda ploy and not a sincere effort to negotiate a peace deal. Electronic chatter among FARC members and supporters has mentioned the use of peace talks as a ploy, but the FARC leadership insists that the peace talks are sincere, as are the calls for a ceasefire. But FARC does get caught up in its own propaganda. For example, the latest round of talks covers FARC’s role in the cocaine trade. Despite years of FARC being caught involved in all aspects of cocaine production and smuggling the FARC negotiators insist this is not true and that all FARC did was tax farmers growing coca and other people working for the drug gangs. In return for the taxes, FARC protected people from the violence that characterizes those involved in the drug trade. The government doesn’t really care how FARC spins their involvement, as long as FARC agrees to cease all operations in support of the drug trade. It appears that FARC is seeking to appease its members who refuse to give up their lucrative drug activities by denying that this involvement even exists and trying to get the government to agree. That will be difficult because the government has lots of evidence (statements from captured FARC members, as well as documents and recordings of radio and phone conversations) to the contrary. This could get ugly, as some of the FARC groups that have prospered because of their cocaine connections are unwilling to give it up. This might be solved by simply expelling these dissidents, but FARC leaders don’t want these wayward leftist rebels to eventually tell their stories and besmirch the history of FARC. Figuring out a solution is what the negotiations are all about and one reason why they are held in Cuba where it is easier to keep the details of the talks secret.

Meanwhile, the situation next door is getting worse. The economy in Venezuela is collapsing as government efforts to run the economy continue to fail. The growing corruption in the government doesn’t help either. The self-proclaimed socialist government of Venezuela blames foreign enemies for sabotaging the economy, which has seen 107,000 businesses close in the last 13 years and the economy shrink by a third. The government economic statistics are largely fiction and attempts to hide the decline. But there is no hiding the inflation rate, which is now over 50 percent and getting worse. The government says unemployment is under 8 percent and falling but the visible number of idle men and the growing number of government jobs that involve no real work demonstrate why there is such a high inflation rate. The economy is crippled by restrictive government policies and unable to produce or distribute enough consumer goods. The shortages are increasingly visible, even though the government cracks down on any local media that points this out. Venezuela is emulating Cuba, where half a century of communism has impoverished most Cubans and made it a criminal offense to even discuss change. Venezuela can’t stop the economic meltdown and growing shortages, unless the government takes control of the entire economy and institutionalizes poverty and shortages as countries like Cuba and North Korea have done. The government is expanding its control but does not have the manpower or the will to go all the way. The problem in Venezuela is that a lot more people still have access to weapons and government efforts to arm pro-government militias has backfired, as many of the militiamen are no longer loyal to the government. Colombia fears a civil war in Venezuela that would send hundreds of thousands of refugees into Colombia and make the border even more of a combat zone as drug gangs became less restricted (by Venezuelan forces) on the Venezuelan side of the border.

December 1, 2013: In a peace gesture the ELN released (to the Red Cross) an engineer they kidnapped in 2012. ELN is watching the FARC peace talks with intense interest and hopes to get a similar deal if the negotiations succeed.

November 28, 2013: FARC units in the southwest are trying to ban the practice of religion (Catholic priests conducting mass). FARC used to be allied with leftist clergy, but most clergy are now anti-FARC or neutral because FARC has turned into gangsters over the last two decades.

November 27, 2013: The ambassador to Nicaragua was called home for “consultations.” There is a continuing dispute with Nicaragua over where the maritime boundary between the two nations is. Last August the government told Nicaragua that it would not permit oil exploration in disputed waters between the two nations. In 2012, Colombia declared that it would no longer recognize rulings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This was in reaction to a November, 2012 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 and it is still unresolved.

November 23, 2013: In the northeast troops clashed with ELN forces on the Venezuelan border, killing ten of the rebels and wounding (and capturing) two others.


Article Archive

Colombia: Current 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close