Colombia: Sticking It To The Swedes


April 30, 2011:  The drug cartels are fleeing Colombia. The environment has become increasingly hostile for the drug gangs. The government has regained control over most of the country, restricting the cocaine producers activities in growing coca, refining the plants into cocaine, and then moving the drugs out of the country. Not only are more cartel leaders captured, but most of them are extradited to the United States, where bribing or intimidating prosecutors and judges is virtually impossible. Some of these prisoners manage to bribe their way free before being taken north, but even that has become more difficult over the years. Nearly all the gang leaders sent north are convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.

With the government back in control of most of the country, and the spread of cell phone service, a system of cash rewards (for key FARC leaders) has become a crucial weapon. It's so easy to call in a tip on a FARC suspect that most FARC leaders stay put, out in the hills, most of the time. This reduces their effectiveness, making them unable to get around and personally supervise their subordinates. When forced to travel by some emergency, they are often spotted and caught. Every month, the list of FARC leaders caught this way increases. The same pattern is making life difficult for the drug gang leadership.

Although the Venezuelan government claims the economy grew (3-4 percent) in the first three months of this year, most Venezuelans are not seeing it. Inflation is  running at about 28 percent a year, just as it did last year. President Hugo Chavez is facing increasingly hostile voters, and even rising oil income is unable to buy loyalty back. Faced with losing at the ballot box, Chavez is arming his core supporters, while placing loyalists into key military and police commands. Chavez has taken control of electronic and print media over the last two years, and has also managed to throttle free speech for Venezuelan Internet users. Opponents, even judges, have been dealt with quickly and harshly. All this makes opposition grow. Chavez is ready to rule as an unelected dictator, even at the risk of a destructive civil war. In the meantime, he is trying to repair the damage he has done to the economy. This includes restoring trade with Colombia (which helps), and increasing control over the economy (which doesn't).

Venezuela, eager to deal with growing anger, and talk of rebellion, along its border with Colombia, has forced several thousand FARC men back into Colombia. The FARC gunmen thought they had a sanctuary in Venezuela, and for several years they did. But FARC members acted as they usually do, indulging in petty crime and threatening local lawmen. This angered the independent minded Venezuelan farmers and ranchers, who called on their government to do something about the situation, or else. As much as Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez likes FARC, he likes keeping the peace along the Colombian border more. Chavez also needs to repair economic and political ties with Colombia, to lessen the economic pain (brought about by Chavez's socialist policies) Venezuelans are enduring. In return for running FARC out of the border area, Chavez has received some political favors from Colombia, mainly a decrease in embarrassing revelations about Chavez's support for leftist rebels. This included sending one drug gang leader, with too much knowledge of Venezuelan cocaine smuggling, to Venezuela, instead of the United States.

April 29, 2011: In the southwest, a bomb went off in the offices of the local prosecutor, wounding five people. FARC, or local criminal gangs, are suspected. There have been a lot more prosecutions in the area recently, so there are a lot more people with a motive to intimidate the prosecutors.  

April 27, 2011:  In the southeast, the bodies of two soldiers, who had been captured by a larger FARC forces a week earlier, were found. FARC had planted landmines around the bodies, hoping to kill more troops. FARC is increasingly less likely to hold soldiers and police for ransom. That's because there are fewer secure (from military patrols) areas to hold the captives while waiting for families to raise the cash.

April 26, 2011: In two attacks (one in the southwest and another in the northwest), five policemen were killed fighting the FARC. The fighting against the FARC and drug gangs is a daily occurrence somewhere in Colombia. But the usual outcome is the bad guys getting arrested or fleeing. FARC and the gangs used to fight back much more vigorously, but there's been less and less of that in the last decade.  

April 23, 2011: FARC media specialist Joaquin Perez flew into Venezuela, and was, to his surprise, arrested. Two days later, Perez was extradited to Colombia. Perez runs the main FARC website, based in Sweden and is widely considered the main media rep for FARC. Perez has been a FARC member for three decades, but has spent most of that time in exile. Perez, who was raised in Colombia, became a Swedish citizen eleven years ago, believing this would make him immune from extradition and arrest for his FARC activities. But Perez misjudged Hugo Chavez's efforts to mend relations with Colombia. Chavez ignored pleas and threats from Sweden, and sent Perez to Colombia.

April 16, 2011: Near the Panamanian border, troops found and attacked a FARC camp, killing six rebels. Several dozen more fled, but many of these will soon desert or surrender. Without the camp, the FARC men will have to rough it, or risk getting turned in by hostile civilians if they seek refuge in a settled area. Documents and other evidence captured in the camp also make it more likely the police will track down those who fled.

April 7, 2011: Last month, 53 FARC guerrillas were killed, 90 arrested and 85 surrendered (accepting amnesty offers). Many more were left homeless when their camps were captured and destroyed. The government has a hard time tracking FARC desertions, but indications are the number is large, and growing. Military commanders believe that the FARC and ELN are in a death spiral, which is accelerated by a leadership that refuses to acknowledge defeat. Most senior FARC leaders are still true believers in their original leftist goal of establishing a communist dictatorship. But further down the chain of command, FARC had turned into mercenaries, working for drug gangs, or turning into divisions of cocaine cartels. The drug operations, with more pragmatic leadership, are leaving Colombia, and most FARC groups are not going with them. The combination of increased military and police pressure, and less income from the drug cartels, has FARC shrinking each year for more than a decade. In another decade, FARC will be a bad memory in most of Colombia.





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