Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Colombia is rapidly improving

The policital and security situation in Colombia has radically improved in the last five years and even in the last year. The paramilitaries, which were privately created armies to maintain order in chaos, have largely disbanded. And now FARC, the revolutionary resistance to the government for years, is getting weaker by the month. The USA now has a strong ally in South America with rapidly improving political instititions and a 7% real economic growth rate.

Here is an excerpt from an article in todays WSJ:

Rebels Flail in Colombia
After Death of Leader

May 28, 2008; Page A1

BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- Last November, a guerrilla commander in the jungles of Colombia wrote a despairing note to his superior, the legendary guerrilla leader known as Manuel Marulanda.

"The [army] operation doesn't let up. The number of troops is enormous," wrote Iván Márquez. "Sometimes we eat once a day."

Mr. Márquez's flagging morale, and that of the broader Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group, known as the FARC, has probably deteriorated much further in the past few months. This past weekend, it emerged that Mr. Marulanda, whose given name is Pedro Antonio Marín, died of an apparent heart attack in late March. He was the FARC's leader for four decades.

Mr. Marulanda's death is only the latest blow to the FARC, Latin America's oldest and biggest insurgency. Having been at the gates of Bogotá just five years ago, the group finds itself on the run from an invigorated Colombian military that runs nightly bombing missions. By most estimates, the rebels' ranks have fallen from an estimated 18,000 fighters to about half that level -- ravaged by desertions. The group's command and control structure has been disrupted to the point where rebels hardly ever use mobile phones for fear of being overheard, relying instead on a system they used in 1964: couriers on foot.

The turnaround is a triumph for Colombia's military and President Alvaro Uribe. A driven man whose father was killed by the FARC in a botched kidnap attempt in 1983, Mr. Uribe was elected Colombia's president in 2002 and vowed to bring the Communist group and other insurgents to heel. His success on that score is a big reason why his approval ratings top 85%.

It is also a largely unsung victory for the U.S., which has lavished nearly $4 billion in mostly military aid on Colombia during the past five years and helped retool the country's army from a demoralized and static force into a powerful fighting machine. At a time when the U.S. has struggled to defeat insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the progress in its own backyard against a powerful drug-fueled Communist insurgency is a noteworthy achievement.

"The U.S. took us by the hand and showed us how to do things," says a high-ranking Colombian military officer. "None of these successes could have been possible without the United States."

March may have been a tipping point for the rebels. During that month, the FARC lost three members of its seven-man ruling Secretariat -- a stunning development considering the rebel group had not lost a single member of its Secretariat to battle in 44 years of warfare. Aside from losing its founder, the FARC's second in command, Luis Eduardo Devia, known as Raúl Reyes, was killed in a controversial cross-border bombing raid in Ecuador by Colombia's army. A week later, Iván Rios, a rising star in the FARC, was murdered by his trusted bodyguard, who then cut off his hand to ensure he would get a $2.5 million bounty offered by the Colombian government.

Another blow was the recovery of thousands of incriminating files found in the computers of Mr. Reyes which show a relationship between the guerrillas and several regional leaders, especially Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez. The files suggest that Mr. Chávez has a strategic plan to put his oil-financed political muscle and millions of dollars in economic aid behind the FARC. The Venezuelan government has denounced the files as fake. But Interpol has analyzed the computers and declared that the Colombian government hasn't tampered with them. In any case, the uproar over the files would likely discourage major gestures of aid from Venezuela in the future.

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