December 26, 2009:
The Phony War between Colombia and Venezuela continues. It's all pretty absurd. All the accusations (of imminent invasion by Colombian and U.S. troops), and initiatives (sending more troops to the border, shutting down border crossings, buying billions of dollars in weapons from Russia), have come from Venezuela. Over there, it's become a major activity, keeping the media full of alarming stories about the threat from Colombia, and what Venezuela is going to do about it. Venezuela might be justifiably fearful of a Colombian raid on one of the many FARC bases now operating in Venezuela. It was such a raid in Ecuador nearly two years ago, that recovered laptops containing much embarrassing evidence of Venezuelan support for FARC. The Venezuelan government likes to keep that possibility out of the news as much as possible.
The two main leftist rebel groups, ELN and FARC are openly discussing more cooperation. The two, in the past, were more likely to fight each other than cooperate. FARC is a hard-line communist group, while ELN was founded by radical priests seeking social justice. But ELN has collapsed more quickly than believed, and appears to exist only because of sanctuaries it has established in Venezuela. FARC only has about 8,000 armed members (less than half what it had a decade ago), while ELN has a few thousand or so, at most, and many of these are rebels in name only. Too often, both FARC and ELN groups are now criminal gangs trying to pass themselves off as leftist rebels. Both groups are heavily dependent on criminal activity (mostly the cocaine trade) to keep going. But the relentless attacks by the police and special army counter-terror battalions, plus the increased police and army security throughout the country, have made it much more difficult for the leftist rebels to operate. Worst of all, public opinion has turned against the rebels, who were once hailed by many Colombians as a viable alternative to the traditional politicians. No more, and the rebels have had to use more terror just to try and prevent local civilians from turning them in. A merger between the FARC and ELN is not going to help the leftists much.
The leftist rebel angle is still useful. Many NGOs (Non-governmental organizations, like the Red Cross) are staffed by leftists who are not willing to pick up a gun, but otherwise agree with many of the aims, and methods, of groups like FARC and ELN. But that connection only works, to the advantage of the rebels, as long as they can project a convincing leftist rebel image.
Confronted with many more Venezuelan troops stationed along the 2,000 kilometers long border, Colombia announced the building of a new base to keep an eye on all this Venezuelan theater. The new base will cost about $1.5 million to build and will house about a thousand troops, some helicopters, and a clinic for nearby tribal people.
The capture of large stocks of FARC, ELN and drug gang weapons and ammunition during the past few years has created a shortage for the bad guys. That means prices have gone up, and gunrunners are tempted to get ammo and guns across the Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Venezuela. Ecuador and Venezuela are the best sources, as they have leftist governments that are willing to help weapons smugglers. Border police are catching more guns and ammo coming across these borders.
December 21, 2009: In the south, a group of armed men burst into the home of Caqueta state governor Francisco Cuéllar. The police guard was killed and the governor was shoved into a four wheel drive vehicle, which drove off into the dark. But nearby soldiers heard the noise and took off in pursuit. Then the kidnappers, believed to be from FARC, killed the governor and scattered. Apparently this was a desperate operation to kidnap the governor, for ransom and political theater. FARC could use some good news, but this wasn't it. The government has offered a half million dollar reward for information on the kidnappers. The 69 year old governor had been kidnapped four times before. Until a few years ago, Caqueta state had been a FARC stronghold, and center of cocaine production. Close to the Ecuador and Peru borders, with a population is about 450,000, Caqueta was, and still is, the boondocks. There are still lots of gangs around, some of them remnants of FARC organizations.