Colombia: Troubles With The Neighbors


May 6, 2014:  Negotiating peace deals with leftist rebels (mainly FARC and ELN) has proved tedious, but successful. A final deal with FARC is expected in about a year but the smaller (a third the size of FARC) ELN is still going through an internal debate over the issue of making peace or continuing to fight (and lose). Diehards in FARC and ELN want to fight to the end. FARC handled that issue, ELN is still struggling. There are no offers to negotiate with the drug gangs who continue to move their operations out of the country to avoid the constant attacks by army and police units who specialize in that sort of thing.

Oil production hit a 20 month low (935,000 barrels a day) as a result of leftist rebels bombing pipelines (nearly a dozen attacks a month this year versus over 21 a month last year) and growing protests by tribes in rural areas blocking repairs because of anger at the mess the oil spills create. The tribes have long fought the drug gangs and leftist rebels and expect the government to do something about the oil mess.

After more than a decade of defeats the drug gangs and leftist rebels are now much less of a problem. The biggest threat to that trend is neighboring Venezuela, which is slipping into chaos and civil war. Already Colombian rebels and drug gangs have established camps across the border in Venezuela and use that sanctuary to launch attacks into Colombia. The drug gangs are finding Venezuela a safer route for smuggling cocaine out of Colombia although now most Colombian cocaine production has moved south and outside Colombia. Meanwhile Colombians nervously watch the situation deteriorate next door. In Venezuela the government introduced ration cards on May 1st. This measure is meant to restrict hoarding and limit how much basic food items can be bought each month. People have three months to register for a card and until then armed guards at food stores manually check to see that no one buys too much. Government attempts to control the economy have crippled it and GDP is falling. Venezuelan economic problems produce more unemployment and inflation in addition to shortages. The government has hiked the minimum wage 40 percent so far this year, but that is below the inflation in the last year (over 50 percent). Farming has become less profitable because of government regulation so less food is being produced in Venezuela and falling oil production (because of mismanagement and corruption in the state owned oil industry) means less money to buy and import food. The government refuses to recognize that its policies have caused these economic problems and instead blame foreign enemies (especially the United States) and traitorous (anti-government) Venezuelans. This results in Venezuelans being jailed for just protesting the economic mismanagement and the arrest of random foreigners on suspicion of being agents sent to cause unrest and economic problems in Venezuela.

Months of growing protests and government efforts to suppress them have resulted in 41 dead, over 600 wounded and over 2,200 arrested. Newly elected president Maduro saw his approval ratings continue to decline (from 47 percent in February to 37 percent in April). Despite government claims that the economy is still growing, most people can see signs of economic decline instead. This is obvious in poor neighborhoods, where more unemployed men congregate on the streets and stores have more empty shelves. The malls of the disappearing middle class (who are emigrating while they still can, often to Colombia) used to be full of goods and people, who could at least look even if they could not afford to shop. But now there are a growing number of empty stores and shelves in the malls, and fewer people coming in to do anything.

May 2, 2014: In the northeast the main pipeline taking oil to the coast was bombed by ELN again.

April 28, 2014: As if Venezuela didn’t have enough economic problems Colombia warned that natural gas exports would have to be cut soon because drought in Colombia had reduced production of hydroelectric power and in order to keep electricity production up some of the gas exported to Venezuela would have to be diverted to electricity production in Colombia. Currently about ten percent of Colombian natural gas production goes to Venezuela. Colombia’s economy is still growing (at the highest rate in South America) while Venezuela’s is shrinking. But Venezuela also has problems with drought and electricity production and losing the natural gas from Colombia won’t help.

April 22, 2014:  In the southwest leftist rebels set up a temporary roadblock and robbed dozens of motorists who came by.

April 18, 2014: In the east (Arauca) ELN released two telecommunications engineers they had kidnapped hostage.

April 17, 2014: In the southwest (Cauca) FARC released a soldier they had captured two days earlier.





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