Colombia: The Silent Grind


August 25, 2009: The campaign against the leftist rebels and drug gangs grinds on. It's a slow process of moving elite army and police units in first to clear out rebel and drug gang bases and gunmen. This is followed by regular police and rehabilitation specialists, to restore government services, and the economy. Not every sexy, and it rarely makes the headlines outside Colombia, but all this is the real war. The newly liberated areas contain higher poverty levels, and getting into so much of this new territory in the last five years has played a large role in reducing the national poverty rate.

While the leftist rebels (mainly FARC and ELN) have been much reduced in the past decade, the drug gangs have been more resourceful. When the army destroys drug operations in one area, they are often moved to another part of the country. But in the last few years, it's been found that there are few areas (without a strong government presence) left where the drug gangs can move to. So now the cocaine operations are moving into Ecuador and Venezuela, where the rulers are more hospitable to outlaw behavior. This is backfiring, as the leftist rebels and drug operators are basically a lawless bunch, and soon are preying the locals, who complain to their government and, well, it's getting complicated.

Meanwhile, every month more veteran FARC and ELN members are captured, which means lots of old crimes are being solved. Many of these older rebels have been at it for over a decade, and can be linked (by fingerprints, DNA and other evidence) to a growing list of unsolved cases.

August 17, 2009: FARC released a video of two soldiers they are holding captive, to prove the men are alive, and to try and sway public opinion to pressure the government into a prisoner exchange (releasing jailed FARC leaders, in exchange for kidnapping victims.)

August 16, 2009:  The government has reached an deal with the United States to allow American reconnaissance aircraft, being expelled from Ecuador, to operate from Colombian air bases. For a decade, the aircraft had operated from Ecuador, to patrol the coast and detect drug smuggling traffic. But the new president of Ecuador was elected with the help of the drug gangs and is partial to them. Thus the expulsion of the recon aircraft. Venezuela also is more friendly towards the cocaine gangs, and is loudly, along with Ecuador, protesting the move of the U.S. aircraft to Colombia. The new arrangement is worth $40 million a year for Colombia. As before, Colombia gets to share the data of the American coastal patrols. The U.S. has similar recon operations in Aruba (off the north coast of South America) and El Salvador (Central America).




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