Sunday, June 8, 2008

A brief history of Colombia Civil Conflict

I am copying all these articles related with the American hostages by FARC in Colombia.
vdebate reporter
Continuing a series of posts begun here. A very brief history of the Colombian civil conflict, South American narco-trafficking, the link between the two, and the U.S. role:
Since 1964, ideologically communist insurgents have fought a low to mid intensity asymmetrical campaign against the Colombian government. The largest insurgent groups are the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army, ELN). A third major insurgent group, the Movimiento 19 de Abril (19th of April Movement, M-19) demobilized into a political party in the early 90’s. In the mid 90’s, numerous semi-populist and eventually illegal anti-insurgent paramilitary groups coalesced under the loose banner of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-defense Forces of Colombia, AUC).
The overwhelming majority of the world’s cocaine demand, including approximately 350 Metric tons per year for the U.S., is supplied by the Andean Ridge region of South America; primarily Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. This concentration of cocaine production is largely a function of the agricultural needs of the coca plant combined with the extraordinary remoteness of the jungle covered mountain regions of these three countries. While coca production has shifted wildly from one country to another, the control of the final product has remained consistently in the hands of Colombians. Large, extremely powerful, politically connected, and extraordinarily violent Colombian cocaine syndicates formed during the 1970’s, including the well known Medellín and Cali cartels. During the height of his power, Medellín cartel head Pablo Escobar was elected to congress and was assessed to be one of the wealthiest individuals in the world. Part of the Cartels’ success came from a willingness to use terror tactics: the cartels assassinated presidential candidates, judges, elected officials, and hundreds of police. Eventually the cocaine cartels were decapitated and fragmented. While not entirely gone, they are no longer freely operating massive conglomerates in full control of the cocaine industry.
Throughout the history of Colombian cocaine production, the FARC and other insurgent groups have played a roll. The coca is grown and processed in remote areas frequently dominated by the insurgents. Although the relationship between the insurgents and the cartels was often strained and occasionally violent, the insurgents and the cartels developed a working relationship that involved an informal “taxation” of the coca in exchange for “protection,” both real and symbolic, of the fields, processing facilities, and convoys. With the drying up of Soviet funding for world wide communist governments and proxy insurgents, the FARC and others became dependent upon coca revenue, along with other fund raising methods, such as kidnapping for ransom. With the decapitation and reduction in power of the cartels in the 1990s, the FARC and others, including the paramilitary AUC, stepped in to fill an ever larger direct role in cocaine production, processing, and distribution. Today, the FARC is inextricably linked to cocaine production.
The United States has been a long term supporter of the Colombian government’s struggle against the communist insurgents. This support has ranged from direct combat assistance in the 1960s to largely financial, legal and advisory assistance in the 1990s. During that period, the U.S. walked a fine congressionally controlled line between direct support for counter narcotics and the taboo of involvement in foreign counter insurgency. This decade, largely as a result of expanded counter-terrorism policies approved in the wake of 9/11, U.S. policy shifted to allow military assistance, though not direct operational activity, to Colombia’s security forces fighting the various insurgent and paramilitary groups. The U.S. government recognizes the direct FARC and AUC link with drug trafficking.
It is probably appropriate to mention that no party in this long struggle is pure. While the insurgent forces have waged a cocaine, kidnapping, and extortion funded illegal civil war that has killed thousands, the government forces have a long history of corruption, collusion with the illegal paramilitaries, and human rights abuses. International pressure and the tying of U.S. assistance to a clean up in these areas has resulted in significant improvement. The AUC collusion has been removed as an institutional tie, though accusations of operational level ties remain. Human Rights grievances against national police and the Colombian military have dropped precipitously; though internationally watch dog groups still find much to fault in the Colombian forces. This series of posts is not intended to resolve those disputes, or even weigh in on who is right. These posts are about the hostages.
Which brings us to Marc, Keith, & Tom. Contracted by the US Department of Defense, they were conducting aerial reconnaissance support when their Cessna’s engine died, forcing them to crash land in the vicinity of a FARC patrol. We approach the fifth anniversary of their captivity. The FARC have suffered significant losses during the past 5 years, their numbers dropping, recruitment suffering, and influence waning. But they remain the largest insurgent force in the hemisphere, well armed, solidly funded, experienced, and lead by a cadre committed to continuing the conflict.
Prospects for a peaceful release are dim. While kidnapping for ransom is a common funding method for the insurgents, high profile and political prisoners tend to stay captive for years, and are sometimes executed. The FARC hold hundreds of Colombian national hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate captured in 2002, numerous elected officials, civil employees and police officers. The FARC have used their high profile captives as bargaining chips, putting forth various hostage exchange scenarios that would swap some FARC-held prisoners for hundreds of captured FARC members being held in Colombian prisons. On rare occasions, the FARC will make a good will gesture, as they did last week with the release of two long term hostages; Betancourt’s aid and a former Congresswoman, into the care of their perceived ideological sympathizer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
As I said in the first post:Here is what I propose: In one month, on February 13th, on the fifth anniversary of their imprisonment, I would like to see every blogger and journalist with which we have the slightest influence post something about Marc, Keith, & Tom. Anything. Decry the drug war. Rail against the communist-based, narco-trafficking insurgents. Rage against Western imperialism in Latin America for all I care. Just remember Marc, Keith, & Tom. Express concern for their welfare, and hope for their freedom. Demonstrate to their families that they are not forgotten. Help spread the word. If you have a blog, mark the date, prepare a post. If you don’t, send an email to your favorite blog. I don’t care if anyone link’s to this post, I really don’t. Just get something posted. Let’s spread this far and wide. This is something that can cross nearly all ideological boundaries. I don’t know what good this can do, but I would like to think that it might elevate the issue in the minds of influential parties. Hostages have been released for lesser public relations reasons.

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