January 4, 2014:
The government is closing in on an illegal FARC tungsten mine in the southeastern jungles. This area is part of the Amazon River basin and the mine is in an Indian reservation and heavily guarded by FARC gunmen. For several months the government has been moving forces into the area, scouting the FARC operation and seizing boats and barges used by FARC to get supplies in and tungsten out. The government has also persuaded many of the major companies that use tungsten to stop buying from FARC. Operations like this, and extortion, are what keeps FARC in business these days. Income from cocaine have dropped sharply in the last few years. While some FARC factions are still getting lots of cocaine cash, most are not and have been scrambling for new ways to make money and keep their people paid, fed, armed and motivated. Pressure like this keeps the FARC negotiating a peace deal, which the government expects to implement later this year.
Meanwhile the situation next door is getting worse. The economy in Venezuela is collapsing as government efforts to run the economy continue to fail. The government admitted that inflation was over 50 percent in 2013 but boasted that the GDP grew 1.6 percent last year. Left unsaid was how this got done with loans, make-work jobs and at the expense of companies that actually produce things. Government efforts to control the economy are driving productive enterprises away or out-of-business. The latest crises is foreign investors and lenders backing away. Venezuela’s credit rating is falling rapidly and loans are harder to get. China sees an opportunity and has recently loaned Venezuela $5 billion. But this has strings attached as China wants government assistance in establishing a larger role in the Venezuelan economy. China is taking the long view, believing that the current socialist government is probably going to self-destruct and in the aftermath China will be a major player in many industries and have another economic foothold in South America. China has become a major customer for Venezuelan oil and has put $36 billion into Venezuela since 2008. Corruption and mismanagement have led to a decline in oil production while next door Colombia, with less oil reserves has been increasing production. The problem in Venezuela is that the government has diverted money usually spent to maintain and expand oil production to dealing with the wrecked economy. The growing corruption in the government doesn’t help either. The self-proclaimed socialist government of Venezuela blames foreign enemies for sabotaging the economy, which has seen 107,000 businesses close in the last 13 years and the economy shrink by a third. The government economic statistics are largely fiction and attempts to hide the decline. But there was no hiding the inflation rate, that is now over 50 percent and getting worse. The government says unemployment is under eight percent and falling but the visible number of idle men and the growing number of government jobs that involve no real work demonstrate why there is such a high inflation rate. The economy is crippled by restrictive government policies and unable to produce or distribute enough consumer goods. The shortages are increasingly visible, even though the government cracks down on any local media that points this out. Venezuela is emulating Cuba where half a century of communism has impoverished most Cubans and made it a criminal offense to even discuss change. Venezuela can’t stop the economic meltdown and growing shortages unless the government takes control of the entire economy and institutionalizes poverty and shortages as countries like Cuba and North Korea have done. The government is expanding its control, but has not got the manpower or the will to go all the way. The problem in Venezuela is that a lot more people still have access to weapons and government efforts to arm pro-government militias has backfired as many of the militiamen are no longer loyal to the government. Colombia fears a civil war in Venezuela that would send hundreds of thousands of refugees into Colombia and make the border even more of a combat zone as drug gangs became less restricted (by Venezuelan forces) on the Venezuelan side of the border.
December 28, 2013: Just across the border in Ecuador six FARC members surrendered, with their weapons, to police. The six wanted asylum because they were in danger of being killed by other FARC factions back in Colombia. This is part of the growing internal violence as FARC runs low on cash, options and new ideas. Most FARC members back the peace talks, but a large minority is not so sure.
December 25, 2013: Acting on tips from local civilians the air force found and bombed a FARC camp in central Colombia (Meta province). When troops arrived they recovered documents and found at least ten rebels had been killed and several more wounded. One of the dead was a veteran (15 years) leader who was wanted for murder, kidnapping and extortion.
December 24, 2013: Former officials talked openly about how American intelligence assistance worked and mass media made much of the “CIA connection.” But Colombian military officials pointed out that this was never a secret (except for the usual methods and sources, which have to be protected so that they enemy does not gain an edge in avoiding the surveillance) and that Colombia has always acknowledged that U.S. help in collecting intel on FARC has long been a decisive tool in shutting down the leftist rebels and the drug gangs. Less well known (to the general public) was how the U.S. supplied Colombia with smart bombs which, from 2006 on proved decisive in killing FARC leaders before they could move and evade capture.
December 15, 2013: FARC began a unilateral 30 day holiday ceasefire. The government refused to follow suit pointing out that FARC is only negotiating because of a decade of relentless pressure from the security forces.
December 7, 2013: In the east (Inza) a FARC car bomb was set off near a police station leaving nine dead and 48 wounded, most of them civilians.