Colombia: Venezuela Slides Towards Revolution

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April 15, 2015: The government reports that there were five violations by FARC of the ceasefire in last month. The government has not joined the ceasefire and reports there were 13 clashes involving FARC in the same period. Meanwhile ELN, the smaller version of FARC, is not observing a ceasefire and still active. Some 80 percent of the violence so far this year has been because of ELN.

The two year old peace talks with FARC are stalled because the rebels insist that they must have complete amnesty or, at the very least, not be tried as common criminals. That is progress because for a long time the rebels were not willing to allow any punishment. Many rebels are willing to end the decades of violence, renounce the gangster life and disarm, but not if they risk life in jail because of prosecution for the crimes (murder, rape, kidnapping and sundry acts of violence and theft) they have committed. This problem is compounded by the fact that many of these criminal acts were committed or ordered by FARC and ELN members who are publically known. There are often still witnesses out there willing to testify. Over 200,000 people died in a half century long FARC uprising and too many people are unwilling to forgive and forget. Many Colombians are willing to let the war (which the leftist rebels have been losing for the past decade) go on rather than let so many of the rebels “get away with murder.” The government is trying to sell the public on something less than full prosecution. Every month FARC and ELN get weaker from casualties, desertions and the fact that they have lost much of the public support they once had. The government believes it can get some amnesty, but not as much as all the rebels want. The government wants to end the half century war with FARC but must do it in a way that the voters will accept. Until this amnesty issue is revolved the peace talks are, in effect, stalled. All other issues have been settled. FARC tried to get an agreement that takes advantage of a 2012 amendment to the constitution that allows the government to prosecute and convict FARC and then suspend the sentences. Doing that discreetly would not eliminate the possibility of a public uproar and political crises. That did not work when originally proposed but it is still an angle the government is pursuing.

Next door in Venezuela the economic situation is so bad that the government will no longer reveal key economic statistics. The government has also bought or shut down most privately owned mass media. But the bad news still gets around, just not as quickly. It appears that inflation is now over 200 percent and unemployment over 20 percent, with underemployment (mainly of people with government make-work jobs) even higher. Food shortages are getting worse, in large part because Venezuela imports most of its food and those imports are down by nearly half compared to a year ago. That’s because the world price for oil is down by half and the government simply does not have the money. No one is willing to lend either, because Venezuela already has lots of foreign debt and some of it looks like it won’t get paid back. China has agreed to provide another $5 billion, but only for maintenance and upgrades on Venezuelan oil production facilities. This is so China has a better chance of getting paid back the other $40 billion it has loaned Venezuela.

Recent polls show that at only 30 percent of voters are willing to keep the current socialist government. Most key people in the government now accept that they have a problem but there is deadlock over how to deal with it. Many senior officials fear that if they lose power they will be prosecuted for crimes (especially corruption and drug smuggling) committed while they were in power. This has caused gridlock in the government. That leaves revolution, which most Venezuelans don’t want but if the privation gets too bad that will be the only option.

Meanwhile the government has not been able to halt the growing smuggling as criminal gangs, in cooperation with corrupt officials, divert imported food so it can be smuggled into Colombia or Brazil and sold there. Price controls in Venezuela make food and other items much cheaper to buy than the market prices prevailing in neighboring countries. Smugglers point out that is often more profitable to smuggle Venezuelan food into Colombia than to move Colombian cocaine into Venezuela.

April 8, 2015: The government will extend for another month its suspension of air attacks against FARC. Aerial surveillance and ground operations continue. FARC has been observing a unilateral ceasefire since December 20th and the government is responding with less aggressive operations, but not a ceasefire of its own. FARC operations are being restricted by the security forces and FARC has come to accept that in order to keep the peace negotiations going.           

April 7, 2015: FARC has agreed to cooperate with the government to clear mines planted by FARC over the years. This is seen as a PR move by FARC, in light of the fact that over 11,000 people have been killed or wounded by these mines since FARC started using them in 1990. Over 40 percent of the victims were civilians most of the rest were soldiers and police advancing on FARC bases defended by mines.

The navy revealed the largest cocaine seizure in two years as they found five tons of the drugs on a ship off the coast and arrested 14 crew members. Total cocaine seizures last year were 22.8 tons.

 

 

 

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