Colombia: Venezuela Lurches Towards Collapse

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February 26, 2014: In Venezuela the government use of force and media shutdowns have not halted the growing anti-government demonstrations. So far at least 15 (all demonstrators) have been killed and over 150 (mostly demonstrators) wounded. The government has arrested nearly 600 people. There are growing desertions from the security forces, because the demonstrations are caused by problems (inflation, unemployment, crime, shortages) that everyone can see but the government downplays and continues, as it has for years, to insist that solutions are just around the corner. The government refuses to respond to protestor demands that the government do something effective to address all these self-inflicted problems. Despite government efforts to play down a lot of these problems the growing shortages of staple goods (food products and even things like toilet paper) and the soaring crime rate are things people are forced to deal with every day. Most Venezuelans know that, government propaganda to the contrary, Venezuela has the highest murder rate in the world. Over 25,000 Venezuelans were murdered last year and there is growing popular anger against a government that will not or cannot act to make things better. The government is afraid of a revolution and may have made that more possible by forming a large armed militia to help deal with unrest. But many members of these militias, as well as soldiers and policemen, are also hurting from the crime and growing economic problems. At the moment, the situation for the Venezuelan government does not look promising.

In Cuba peace talks between FARC and Colombia resumed. The focus is now how to deal with the drug trade. FARC wants 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.  But if some of FARC’s drug operations are legalized, the leftist group will be much better off.

FARC is eager to achieve a final peace deal sooner rather than later. That’s because the security forces continue to do major damage to FARC and the drugs gangs the leftist rebels work with. To make matters worse American efforts to cripple drug gang and FARC access to the international banking system continue to increase their effectiveness. FARC is not in imminent danger of falling apart, but the trends continue to work against long-term survival of the rebel group.

February 25, 2014: The U.S. expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to the February 17th Venezuelan expulsion of three American diplomats. The Venezuelan government blames the United States, and other foreign agitators, for causing the growing anti-government demonstrations.

February 24, 2014:  Venezuela has shut down Internet access in an effort to halt the spread news of the growing anti-government demonstrations. The government has taken control of most electronic media, or shut down what it could not control. That left the Internet as the main source of information the government did not approve of. In addition to the Internet the government also shut down the few remaining independent media outlets that were reporting on the demonstrations along with foreign outlets that were allowed to broadcast in Venezuela.

February 21, 2014: The Venezuelan government expelled four CNN journalists and accused the American cable network of spreading lies about the escalating unrest in Venezuela. In effect, the government is telling foreign media to either adopt a pro-government line or face expulsion. For the last few weeks the best sources of what is happening in Venezuela is coming from news organizations outside the country.

In the east (near the Venezuelan border and the Atlantic coast) two bomb attacks on a new Colombian pipeline failed to do any damage.

February 19, 2014: In neighboring Venezuela the spreading anti-government demonstrations led the government to try violent suppression. Pro-government militias attacked the peaceful demonstrators and the security forces sought to arrest protest leaders. This left at least four demonstrators dead and many more wounded. This did not discourage the demonstrators and they kept assembling for daily protests and more and more towns and cities had demonstrations as well.

February 18, 2014: The commander of the Colombian military was fired because the hel was overheard in a phone conversation complaining about investigations and prosecutions of military personnel for corruption and abuse of power (especially the use of death squads). His phone was tapped because of a corruption investigation. There were also recent revelations of corruption in the military and of military personnel illegally eavesdropping on FARC negotiators to the peace talks. While the dismissed general was not personally accused of any wrongdoing, his management style and attitudes were deemed ineffective and unacceptable. Four other senior generals were also dismissed on suspicion of being involved in the corruption (kickbacks on contracts) or eavesdropping on the FARC peace negotiators. The elected politicians, particularly the president, are under pressure to continue and increase efforts to deal with corruption. This included unauthorized spying efforts by government intelligence agencies.

February 17, 2014: In the north (Antioquia province) FARC gunmen attacked a group of police engaged in destroying coca (the source of cocaine) plants. The ambush left five policemen dead and three wounded.

February 15, 2014: In Venezuela the government has been limiting the ability of people to use the Internet. The government is trying to prevent images of the demonstrations from spreading. The official government line is that the demonstrations are a minor nuisance and not worthy of any media attention. A popular TV news channel from Colombia was also blocked.

February 12, 2014: In Venezuela large demonstrations began in the capital, to protest the growing inflation, unemployment and shortages of staple goods. Opposition politicians called for similar demonstrations all over the country. A growing number of Venezuelans are fed up with the inept government response to all the economic problems (caused by 15 years of efforts to create a state controlled economy).

February 6, 2014: Colombia has agreed to cooperate with Venezuela to curb smuggling operations along their mutual border. This is more symbolic than real because the border is vast, largely in thinly populated forest areas and the smugglers have been at it for generations and are quick to adapt. Venezuela has long resisted calls for joint efforts but now, with the growing shortages inside Venezuela the smugglers are seen as a political threat because the smugglers are providing what the government cannot and getting rich at it.

February 1, 2014: In the southwest (Narino), navy security personnel seized twenty hand grenades destined for use in FARC terror attacks. A local government policy of paying cash rewards (up to $5,000) for information on FARC activities apparently played a role in this particular operation.

 

 

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