Colombia: January 24, 2004

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The government reported that, last year, army and police had some 2,300 violent encounters with various rebel groups. This resulted in nearly 3,000 rebels killed and 10,000 captured or surrendered. Tons of cocaine has been seized and drug processing facilities destroyed. But there are still some 30,000 armed rebels out in the bush. The rebels have turned much of rural Colombia into an economic wasteland, where working as a gunman for the rebels or drug gangs is the best kind of job available. The government's efforts to mobilize the population, and invest more money in the army and police, has paid off. Most Colombians are fed up with decades of war and violence. This can be seen by the homicide rate declining 22 percent last year (to it's lowest level in 18 years.) Still, the death rate from homicide last year was 50 per 100,000 population. That's more than three times the current homicide rate in Iraq. President Uribe, who mobilized the popular dissatisfaction with the decades of chaos, is pressing on. While the right wing rebels have made a peace deal, the left wing rebels vow to fight on. The drug gangs, who are not particularly interested in fighting a war, are beginning to move their operations into adjacent countries. 

The change is not just a matter of more troops, with better equipment and training. There's a new, "we're not going to take it any more," attitude among most of the population. The police are receiving a lot more tips from citizens about rebel activity, which has made it possible to shut down rebel control in many areas. The rebel groups each divide the country into areas (sort of mini-provinces) and appoint the most successful local gun-slinger as the local rebel leader. This guy is basically a warlord and, as long as he can get away with it, the law. But with more passive resistance from the local civilians, these warlords find themselves getting caught, or killed, by the police with increasing frequency. Some attribute this to the spreading use of cell phones. Last year, cell phone use in Colombia grew 20 percent to six million users (out of a population of 40 million). What happens is that some emboldened citizen with a cell phone, sees the local FARC commandante roll by in his SUV, and calls the local police or military garrison and reports this. The army and police are now trained to have a "quick reaction force" ready to exploit such opportunities. Thus another commandante bites the dust, and his followers often flee, or switch to less menacing employment. 


 

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