Colombia: The Devils Are In The Details


August 26, 2013: Peace talks with FARC resume today after a three-day break. That halt was called after a seeming deadlock over FARC demands for rewriting the constitution. The government also accuses FARC of supporting farmers and truckers who have been protesting free trade agreements with roadblocks around the capital and violence against police sent to clear the roads. Some radical farmers groups want the government to impose high tariffs on food imports, so that farmers can compete with cheaper foreign producers. The government says that the free trade deals provide more export oriented jobs and lower prices for all Colombians. FARC follows a popular leftist doctrine that these kinds of trade deals are bad, which they aren’t, unless you’re a cynical politician willing to do anything for votes. Along the same lines, truckers have joined the more than 20,000 striking farmers to demand the government provide cheaper fuel.

Meanwhile, the ELN (a smaller leftist rebel group) is discussing joining the peace talks. While the smaller (1,500 armed personnel compared to 8,000 for FARC) rebel group has resisted negotiations so far, the increasing pressure from the security forces is changing that. ELN is having a hard time and more and more ELN members are surrendering, often with their weapons.

One of the major obstacles to a peace deal with FARC is the growing number of criminal scams the leftist rebels are using to finance their private army. One of the more recent ones is protecting and “taxing” illegal tungsten and tantalum miners in the mountains of southeastern Colombia. FARC also arranges to smuggle the valuable metals out of the country to legitimate brokers. Tungsten and tantalum are essential in manufacturing electronics and aircraft engines. The illegal FARC mining operations are often in national forests or on Indian lands.

The UN released data showing the coca (the raw material for cocaine) crop land in Colombia was down 25 percent last year. Earlier it had been revealed that Bolivian coca production dropped seven percent last year as well. Peruvian production is believed to have increased, but that data has not been released. This is all part of a regional decline in coca production, especially in Colombia. 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. Some of the Colombian drug gangs had shifted operations to Bolivia but the local government is putting up some stiff resistance to that.

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela is eliminating his political enemies (who very nearly defeated him in the last rigged election) by staging an anti-corruption drive that only targets his political opponents. The most corrupt officials are Maduro supporters and their immunity has not gone unnoticed. The latest corruption rankings place Colombia at 96 (out of 174 nations) on the list. The number one state (Denmark) is the least corrupt and 174 (the most corrupt) is Somalia. Venezuela is at 165 and it’s getting worse, while in Colombia there is some progress in reducing corrupt practices. The situation in Venezuela is largely the result of government attempts to run the economy. This decade old effort has led to more shortages, unemployment, crime, and inflation. The Maduro government refuses to enact economic reforms or reduce state control over the economy. This is one of the causes of the shortages and corrupt Maduro supporters get rich smuggling in goods that are in short supply. Despite the shortages at home, Venezuela continues to sell or give-away oil overseas to score political points. The latest deal sells oil to the Palestinians at a discount. These deals are increasingly unpopular inside Venezuela.

August 24, 2013: In the northeast, near the Venezuelan border, FARC ambushed an army patrol, killing 14 soldiers and losing two rebels.

August 23, 2013: In the southwest an army raid killed a senior FARC commander.

August 22, 2013: In the southwest (Putumayo) a group of armed Colombians crossed in to Ecuador and clashed with Ecuadorian soldiers. This left five of the intruders dead, along with one soldier. The armed Colombians were either FARC or drug gang gunmen. Both groups have moved more and more of their operations across the border and Ecuador and Peru are sending more troops to the Colombian border to deal with it.

The army ordered another 28 Commando wheeled armored vehicles from the United States for $1.13 million each. All of the armored vehicles in the army are on wheels, to better control the roads in areas where FARC or drug gangs are active. The army has about 300 armored vehicles, a growing number of them armored trucks (hummers).

August 20, 2013: As a side effect of the peace talks in Cuba, FARC issued a statement admitting, for the first time, that its decades of violence had caused some “pain and suffering.”