Over a decade of hard fighting against the cocaine cartels of Colombia has had a positive impact in several areas. 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. The drug gangs have suffered even large losses in Colombia, where much of the drug production (growing and refining coca plants) has moved to neighboring countries. That is largely due to the leftist rebels in Colombia (FARC and ELN) suffering heavy losses. The rebels have been so badly battered that they have finally agreed to peace talks, which are now underway.
The eight months of peace talks with FARC may succeed where three previous attempts (since the 1990s) have failed. What’s different this time is that rebels have suffered some major defeats over the last decade and their armed strength has been reduced by more than half. Meanwhile, decades of fighting has gained FARC nothing but has left over half a million dead and nearly four million people driven from their homes. Involvement with cocaine gangs in the 1990s provided the rebels with a lot of cash but also corrupted many of their members and greatly increased the level of violence. Recruiting has become much more difficult and FARC has become more dependent on kidnapping and brainwashing teenagers (and younger children) to be fighters. This sort of thing has made FARC very unpopular in rural areas where the leftists used to enjoy popular support. Because of all this, FARC was willing to negotiate an end to the half-century of armed rebellion and become a political party. FARC never offered to negotiate disbanding its armed forces before.
FARC, the largest leftist terrorist organization in Colombia, has been trying to overthrow the government since the 1960s. It has failed and is in the process of being destroyed itself. In the last few years FARC has lost most of its armed strength and much popular support as well. This began when, over the last decade, FARC turned into an ally of the Colombian drug gangs that dominate the world cocaine trade. FARC needed the money, as its revolution was faltering. People were getting tired of endless violence and lawlessness. As a result, FARC has come to depend on kidnapping and cocaine to pay its army of gunmen. But in the last eight years, most Colombians have turned against FARC, no longer believing that the rebels stood for social justice. The government has capitalized on this. Using several billion dollars in American military aid, Colombia has taken advantage of FARC’s weakness. In the last nine years, FARC has lost over 15,000 armed members to capture, surrender, and desertion (that the government knows of) and over 10,000 were killed in combat. Many other FARC members died of disease. Nine years ago FARC had about 18,000 gunmen, now it has about a third of that. In that same time government security forces have grown from 200,000 to 300,000. This is a stunning reversal because nine years ago FARC was talking about increasing its strength to 50,000 and taking on the army for complete control of parts of the country. But in the last few years, FARC has been dealing with lower quality recruits and a growing number of police informers.
In the last five years, FARC has lost most of its seven man ruling Secretariat. The replacements have spent most of their time avoiding capture. Optimism has been replaced by paranoia. FARC has executed hundreds of its own members in the few years, on suspicion of being government informants. There are many spies within FARC, but the most valuable source of information for the government has been the electronic monitoring equipment, and techniques, supplied by the United States.
Over the last decade, FARC has been declared an international terrorist organization and lost much of its formal support from leftists around the world. Extreme leftists still support FARC, but this is more a liability than an asset. Some of the senior commanders still strive to turn Colombia into a communist dictatorship, but most have turned into gangsters. The government increasingly treats FARC just like the other drug gangs. FARC must now act like one, using fear and terror to extract support, and recruits, from the population. That’s not a long term formula for success. FARC has now met its most formidable enemy ever and it’s FARC.