Colombia: Only In It For The Money


January 30, 2014: FARC has gone public with the factional fighting it is suffering from and having an increasingly hard time controlling. This was most visible when some FARC factions did not observe the recently ended holiday ceasefire. Less obvious was factions carrying out terror attacks that killed civilians despite orders from the FARC high command not to do so. The FARC leadership was not surprised when the UN openly condemned one such recent (January 16 th ) attack. While the FARC leadership has figured out how damaging attacks on civilians can be to the image of leftist rebels, some FARC factions simply don’t care. In 2013 FARC had to deal with dissident factions trying to assassinate government leaders.

FARC is also criticizing the government for continuing to attack the left rebels, especially their drug operations. FARC has always demanded a ceasefire before negotiations and the government resolutely refused. So FARC went along with talks even while the government continued their successful, decade long, campaign of taking apart FARC and the smaller ELN. In 2013 FARC lost nearly 300 men killed and over 1,200 captured or surrendered. Since 2002 FARC and the smaller ELN have lost over 34,000 killed and over 14,000 captured or surrendered. Many more have deserted. Current FARC armed strength is about 7,000 while ELN has about 1,500.  FARC is no longer optimistic about their future, which is why FARC leadership has stuck with the peace talks for over a year now.

While some FARC factions are still getting lots of cocaine cash, most are not and have been scrambling for new ways to make money and keep their people paid, fed, armed and motivated. Pressure like this keeps the FARC negotiating a peace deal, which the government expects to implement later this year. While FARC has suffered many defeats in the last decade, it is still a viable criminal organization. As a political movement it is in much worse shape and the “politicals” in the FARC leadership appear to be pushing the peace talks. The FARC “gangster” factions are going along, but want to continue making money in the drug trade and other illegal endeavors. All FARC leaders have had to accept some criminal activity to pay the bills, but a growing number of total gangster FARC factions are starting to dominate FARC leadership. This is a disturbing trend that the more political senior FARC leadership want to eliminate. The government fears that the FARC leadership has lost its ability to control both gangster and political factions and that eventually there will be a civil war within FARC. Many government officials see the FARC participation in peace negotiations as a desperation measure.

ELN, the smaller of the two leftist rebel groups, is still negotiating terms for a deal that will begin peace negotiations. As with FARC, ELN has factions opposed to making peace and willing to fight to the death. ELN leaders want to avoid an internal power struggle over the issue and that is taking time.

The growing crime rate and corruption in neighboring Venezuela will continue to make problems for Colombia. The economy in Venezuela is headed for a second year of recession, with inflation continuing at over 20 percent and the local currency declining in value. This has increased the crime rate, government corruption and tolerance for Colombian drug gangsters and leftist rebels inside Venezuela. The government attempts to micromanage the Venezuelan economy in accordance with its self-proclaimed socialist principles has scared off foreign investment and crippled job growth. No one who can wants to risk starting a new business. The growing corruption in the government doesn’t help either. The self-proclaimed socialist government of Venezuela blames foreign enemies for sabotaging the economy, which has seen over 110,000 businesses close in the last 14 years and the economy shrink by a third. The government economic statistics are largely fiction and attempts to hide the decline. But there is no hiding the high inflation rate that is persistent and getting worse. The government says unemployment is under eight percent and falling but the visible number of idle men and the growing number of government jobs that involve no real work demonstrate why there is such a high inflation rate. The economy is crippled by restrictive government policies and unable to produce or distribute enough consumer goods. The shortages are increasingly visible, even though the government cracks down on any local media that points this out. Venezuela is emulating Cuba where half a century of communism has impoverished most Cubans and made it a criminal offense to even discuss change. Venezuela can’t stop the economic meltdown and growing shortages unless the government takes control of the entire economy and institutionalizes poverty and shortages as countries like Cuba and North Korea have done. The government is expanding its control, but has not got the manpower or the will to go all the way. The problem in Venezuela is that a lot more people still have access to weapons and government efforts to arm pro-government militias has backfired as many of the militiamen are no longer loyal to the government. Colombia fears a civil war in Venezuela that would send hundreds of thousands of refugees into Colombia and make the border even more of a combat zone as drug gangs became less restricted (by Venezuelan forces) on the Venezuelan side of the border.

January 24, 2014: In a rare bit of public criticism FARC leadership condemned a dissident FARC faction for using a car bomb to attack a government building last week. FARC said it would punish those responsible for the attack.

January 19, 2014: On the Venezuelan border a FARC camp was attacked by warplanes and troops. Later 14 dead bodies were shown, along with the wreckage of the camp. The army believes this camp was used by a group that had been attacking oil facilities and had ambushed and killed 14 soldiers in August 2013. The army has been hunting this group for a long time.

January 16, 2014: In the southwest a motorcycle bomb in front of a government building killed one policeman and wounded fifty civilians. FARC was responsible but FARC accused a dissident faction of carrying out the attack.

January 15, 2014: The unilateral month-long FARC holiday ceasefire ended.

January 14, 2014: As another round of peace talks with FARC began in Cuba FARC called for legalized production of coca leaf (for cocaine), opium poppies (for heroin) and marijuana as a way to deal with the drug problem. Many in the government are sympathetic to this but realize that the U.S. and European countries that are on the receiving end of these powerful narcotics are not. FARC is desperate to maintain its income. Once the peace deal is done the government expects FARC to exit all its criminal activities (drugs, extortion, theft and kidnapping.) That will mean FARC will lose most of its personnel, as many members are mainly in it for the money.

January 7, 2014: In the southwest another 16 FARC members turned themselves in. Over a hundred FARC a month do this, on average. Large group surrenders are becoming more common.





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