Colombia: Captain Nemo Goes Down


December 25,2008:  Surrenders of rebel fighters are up seven percent over last year. For the year so far, 3,352 rebels have surrendered. Some 88 percent were from FARC, the largest leftist rebel group in the country. Most of the rest came from the second largest leftist rebel outfit, the ELN. Since 2002, when offensive operations against the various rebel outfits began, nearly 18,000 have surrendered. Many more have accepted disarmament and amnesty deals. The political, social and ethnic violence that has afflicted the country for over half a century, has left the landscape cluttered with dozens of political and criminal gangs. In 2002, fed-up Colombians elected another president (Uribe) who promised to clean it up, and this time the government actually did the deed.

The army and police have dozens of separate investigations going on to find and dismantle criminal and rebel organizations. The larger (since 2002) and better trained security forces have also made it more difficult for the gangsters and rebels to move around. The police and army are now dismantling specific gang and rebel operations. Many parts of the country no longer have a FARC presence (after decades of the leftist group preying on the area). Similarly, many of the criminal organizations that constitute the cocaine manufacturing and smuggling business, are being identified and taken down. This has led to increased economic growth, as large areas of the country were reopened for legitimate business. While GDP is up only four percent this year (compared to 8 percent or more for previous years), this is a result of the world-wide recession, which is expected to be over within the year. All these changes have brought to light many other social problems, that were concealed for decades. Rural poverty and the plight of Indian tribes is now out in the open, and accessible to the government.

December 23, 2008: FARC apologized for killing two rural health workers earlier this month. The two were killed by a roadside bomb, that was intended for a vehicle belonging to an anti-kidnapping force. The government is using this special unit to find where FARC is holding hundreds of kidnapping victims, so they can be freed. The anti-kidnapping unit has had a lot of success, and FARC wants to stop it. But killing public health workers was a public relations disaster, so FARC issued a rare apology.

December 17, 2008: Venezuela said that it had destroyed 230 hidden air strips used by cocaine smugglers. This confirms the extent to which Colombian drug gangs and leftist rebels like FARC, have moved their operations across the border. How these airstrips were destroyed was not described. The hard work in building these airstrips is taking down jungle trees, and removing stumps and rocks so you have several hundred meters of flat ground. You could "destroy" the airstrip by dragging some of the original debris (logs and rocks) back onto it, and digging some trenches. But this can easily be repaired. Venezuela has been accused of tolerating, and even supporting, the drug gangs and leftist Colombian rebels.

December 15, 2008: After three years of detective work, police finally arrested the guy who, well, "invented" the semisubmersible boats used to move cocaine to North America. The inventor, and builder, of these craft was a boat builder and part time shrimper, Enrique Portocarrero, who came up with several design innovations that made the low slung boat very difficult to detect with radar, or by eye. The boats built by "Captain Nemo" (as he was known in the drug trade) even defeated heat sensing devices by venting the boat engine exhaust into the water under the boat. Portocarrero built about twenty of them, and became a millionaire in the process. He bought five shrimp boats with the proceeds, and worked that fleet of boats as a cover for his cocaine boat building business. Police found two boats under construction in Portocarrero's jungle boat yard. There are other boat yards like this, and one is found every few months. But for years the police have sought the builder who actually came up with the basic design of these boats. Now they have him.




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