Colombia: FARC Death Watch


June 10,2008: FARC has lost three of its seven most senior leaders so far this year, and the organization shows signs of breaking up. Even before the current leadership crises, there were divisions in the organization. The last four years of defeats have wiped out over a dozen of FARC's local gangs, and greatly weakened most of the others. The FARC groups that have survived best tend to be the ones with the most money, and these days nearly all the cash comes from cocaine production and smuggling. Here FARC is caught between government security forces, and non-political drug gangs (who are getting stronger, because they have a lower profile than FARC and can concentrate on making money). FARC's kidnapping operation used to be a big moneymaker, but in the six years since president Uribe took office, police have reduced kidnapping by 90 percent. These days, 3-4 people a week are snatched, and police often rescue the victims. FARC's reputation is in the toilet, mainly because of its drug connections and kidnapping activities, and most Colombians agree that the organization is no longer a political threat. But FARC will remain a criminal menace for some time.

June 8, 2008: Hugo Chavez, beleaguered leftist president of Venezuela, urged FARC to give up its four decades of armed rebellion, and make peace with the Colombian government. This was a surprise turn-around for Chavez, who was revealed, in FARC documents captured earlier this year, to be an eager and generous ally of FARC. Those revelations apparently had something to do with this change of attitude. The captured emails confirmed what many had suspected, that Chavez was using his recent efforts to broker an exchange of FARC kidnapping victims for FARC members imprisoned for crimes, to make FARC stronger. The emails also revealed how this exchange would also help Chavez arrange a lifting of FARC's terrorism status in Europe (and perhaps in the United States, if a leftist president is elected this Fall.) Chavez has had other failures closer to home this year. His effort to get a referendum vote to make him a virtual dictator, with the ability to rule, for life, by decree, was defeated. Recent efforts to reorganize the intelligence services along the lines of leftist dictatorships backfired, when massive public opposition quickly developed. So Chavez is backing off the revolutionary activities, if not the revolutionary rhetoric.

June 6, 2008: A Venezuelan Army sergeant (and another Venezuelan and two Colombians) was caught in eastern Colombia, while transporting 40,000 rounds of AK-47 ammo. The AK-47 is a popular weapon with FARC gunmen.

June 4, 2008: The government has offered FARC leaders the option of foreign exile, if they release their hostages, especially the 38 high-profile ones. FARC did just release two men they had kidnapped seven weeks ago. The families of the men, it turned out, were too poor to pay a ransom. Usually, FARC kills captives in such situations, even though it was FARC that screwed up by not checking family assets before snatching someone. But FARC is keen to improve its public image, and releasing these two men is part of that effort. Another image buffing effort involves promises to back off on attacks against churches and Catholic clergy (who try and protect the locals from FARC violence). Over the years, FARC has forced 130 churches to close, and killed or wounded hundreds of priests and nuns, all as part of a terror campaign against the church.


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