September 2, 2009:
The leftist presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela are trying to turn the U.S. anti-drug smuggling effort in Colombia (and the movement of American recon aircraft from Ecuador) into a secret U.S. plan to invade the region. That might seem absurd to North Americans, but in South America such fantasies still have a hold on many people. What the leftist leaders are trying to hide with this rhetorical smokescreen, is the fact that Ecuador forced U.S. reconnaissance aircraft out because Ecuador now has a "drug gang friendly" government. Venezuela, in turn, is run by a man (Hugo Chavez) who openly preaches his desire to turn all of northern Latin America into one big leftist republic, run by Hugo Chavez. This does not go down well with many people in the region. This includes other leftist groups, who do not agree with Chavez for doctrinal or practical grounds, or who just consider Chavez a nut case. That kind of thinking arises from the fact that Chavez has ruined the Venezuelan economy, even as he promised to reform it so that the poor got more. But now the poor are getting less, and are unhappy with how much of the oil money is being spent on Chavez's political plans. There is also unrest, especially along the Colombian border, with the Chavez policy of giving sanctuary (apparently for a fee) to drug gangs and leftist rebels from Colombia. What may be the final blow is Chavez taking his invented threat from the United States, and using it as an excuse to buy billions of dollars of weapons from Russia. Not only is there no need for the weapons (except perhaps to threaten Colombia, and other neighbors), but these transactions (this is not the first Russian arms buy) is another opportunity for Chavez cronies to skim lots of money off these deals in the form of bribes and kickbacks.
The Colombian drug gangs (or "cartels") are certainly in need of some help. The police and military continue to chase the gangs out of areas they had long used for their production and smuggling operations. The tonnage of drugs captured continues to climb, cutting into the once fat profit margins. Prosecutors are bringing down more officials who had long been on the drug gang payroll. This pressure has caused some of the drug gangs to diversify into legitimate businesses. But they often do it using their usual thuggish tactics. Moreover, these guys want the cops off their backs, and also want to keep their private armies, and control (via force and intimidation) of the rural areas where they live. This is causing the government problems in areas that appear to be free of drug gang or leftist rebel activity. That's because there are still groups of armed men wandering around, usually up to no good. Legitimate businesses moving into these liberated areas soon encounter the "law abiding gunmen" and find that the liberation only went so far. Colombia has long had a heavily armed, frontier culture out in the countryside. Increasingly, country people are fleeing to the cities, to get away from all the lawless violence. There's a lot more law and order in the urban areas.
Meanwhile, the expanding war against FARC has led to the capture of more and more wanted (for a long time and for many offenses) criminals. In turn, FARC is trying harder to arrange exchanges, of police and soldiers it has captured, for FARC leaders sitting in prison (especially ones liable for extradition to the United States). So far, the government has not shown any enthusiasm for these kinds of exchanges, and apparently expects to rescue the kidnap victims sooner, rather than later.
FARC, and the drug gangs that have long subsidized them, have bigger problems to fret about. The U.S. has become more aggressive in going after the banks FARC and the drug gangs use to move their billions of dollars around. This has been a long term play on the part of the Americans, and its beginning to pay off big time.