Colombia: Something To Die For


October 26, 2007: National elections this weekend, for municipal and provincial leaders, are generating more violence than four years ago. That's because there are few areas where the leftist rebels can dictate who will stand for election. The security forces regained control of most of the country over the last few years, and there are few places left where FARC can control who gets elected. FARC needs sympathetic elected officials, especially in the rural areas where most cocaine production and smuggling operations take place. So FARC is using more terrorist tactics this time around. Known anti-FARC candidates are encouraged to go away. So far this year, about 25 candidates (out of some 87,000 candidates in over 1,100 election contests) who didn't take the hint have been murdered by leftist death squads. Thousands have received threats. The gangs also offer bribes, usually just for people already in authority. Recently, a navy captain (the rank just below admiral), and two civilian navy employees, were arrested and charged with passing information to the drug gangs. The smuggling operations of the drug gangs have been increasingly hurt by improved navy patrols. The gangs can't fight the navy, but they can bribe naval officers to obtain navy plans, and patrol routes. Same deal with the army, where there are always half a dozen or more army officers or officials under investigation.

The violence in Colombia is but a continuation of a political dispute that has been going on for over sixty years. Colombia has long been the most heavily armed, and violent, country in the Western hemisphere. About a quarter of the population can be described as leftist, and another quarter as rightist. The rest are more flexible, and just wish the violence would just go away. But there have always been enough activists with guns, and a willingness to use them, to keep the war going. The lawlessness made it easier for the drug gangs to emerge, evolve and grow. It wasn't until the last decade or so that most Colombians agreed that this "rule of the gun" wasn't going anywhere good. While most of the rightist gangs have agreed to shut down, far fewer of the leftists have even agreed to negotiate a peace deal. And it's not hard core political leftists who are keeping the fight going, but leftists who have become more gangster than political. It's mostly about money, and those would will kill for it.

October 25, 2007: Troops attacked a FARC camp and killed 18 rebels, including leader Martin Caballero. The base, near the Caribbean coast, was used by a FARC group that had been attacking oil installations. Army intelligence efforts have been much more successful of late, benefiting from new techniques and equipment developed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. American advisors have long assisted the Colombians in their intelligence efforts.


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