continues to take a beating, as troops and police keep clearing the rebels and
their drug operations from areas on the Pacific Coast, and the borders with
Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama. The drug gangs prefer rural border areas,
because they can easily slip out of the country if the pressure is too intense.
On the other side, bribes, and good behavior, are enough to assure a safe place
to hide out. This makes life hard for the Colombians living near the border.
The leftist rebels, especially FARC, supplement their drug income with
kidnapping and extortion. Entire families are slaughtered if they refuse
to make the payoffs. Such a massacre occurred recently on the Ecuador
border, as a bloody example to other families. In some border regions,
especially near Venezuela, there are battles between rival leftist rebel groups
ELN and FARC. They, in turn, fight Venezuelan and Colombian troops and police.
Security forces in Ecuador and Panama are more willing to make a deal, to keep
the peace. Over a quarter of a million Colombians have recently fled across the
border to Ecuador and Venezuela, because the violence is less intense on the
other side. The more effective Colombian troops and police don't cross the
border. Ecuador and Venezuela are not happy with, in effect, Colombia pushing
FARC and ELN across the border and out of Colombia. The rebel groups don't want
to leave their homeland, but increasingly, they are. Venezuelan leader Hugo
Chavez is trying to negotiate some kind of deal that will keep FARC out of
Venezuela. To that end, he is trying to work out a prisoner exchange deal, that
will get several dozen prominent FARC kidnap victims exchanged for a FARC safe
haven within Colombia. Venezuela already provides FARC with a safe haven, but
knows that this border sanctuary is turning into a criminal playground and cocaine
factory. Already, Venezuela is being used for smuggling larger and larger
amounts of cocaine out of Colombia.
Without much fanfare,
Colombia has brought down the majority of major figures in the drug gangs.
Naturally, these guys are replaced with up-and-coming gangsters. But the new
guys are less experienced, and more vulnerable. The government has also been
successful in cutting off a lot of the foreign gunrunners and technical experts
the gangs have been using. For example, a former Israeli commando officer, who
had trained drug gang members, was recently arrested in Russia, after Colombia
had gotten an international arrest warrant issued.
The United States has been
a big, if quiet, help in a lot of this police work. This is especially the case
with the international cases. These require a lot of expertise in international
law, and connections in places as far away as Russia. But the results have been
spectacular, with Colombian drug lords finding that there's no place in the
world to hide.