January 29, 2008: Venezuela continues to press for Colombia to ease up on military and police attacks on FARC. At the same time, Venezuelan diplomats press European nations, especially France, to consider removing FARC from the list of international terrorists, and giving it the status of a legitimate rebel organization. Back in the 1970, European nations did that for Latin American leftists. This enabled the rebels to get passports and enjoy diplomatic immunity while traveling abroad. Colombia feels that all this is leading to Venezuela itself granting FARC official recognition, and allowing the rebels to move freely in Venezuela. FARC is already doing that, just unofficially. Some of FARCs drug smuggling operations have moved to Venezuela.
Many European leftists still support FARC, ignoring any contrary evidence, even the testimony of Colombian victims of FARC crimes are brushed aside, and accused of being part of a U.S. plot to discredit FARC. Moreover, there is much popular support for helping FARC in France, because one of the hostages (a woman kidnapped while running for president of Colombia) also has a French passport. The French media plays this up, and French politicians are under pressure to do whatever they can to get FARC hostages freed. The Colombians have been burned by FARC negotiations before and are having none of it. For example, one of the pro-FARC proposals is to have FARC release all its 700 hostages and promise to kidnap no more. Colombian security officials believe this would not work, even if it was agreed to by all the big shots. That's because FARC has broken up into several factions that cooperate with each other, but do not all submit to one supreme command. Several of these factions have made it clear, they are not going to give up hostages without the proper ransom (which in some cases, is the freedom for convicted criminals).
Over a thousand additional Venezuelan troops have been sent to the Colombian border, not to control FARC gangs, but to stop food and fuel from going to Colombia. Normally, twice as much stuff (over $3 billion worth) come from Colombia, than goes in the other direction. But Venezuela is suffering from inflation and food shortages, and president Hugo Chavez addressed the problem by putting price controls on food. But he did not put controls on the items farmers have to buy to produce the food. Thus farmers are being forced to sell food at a loss and go bankrupt. To avoid that, farmers are smuggling their products to adjacent countries, where it can be sold at market rates.
Chavez has begun a propaganda campaign to convince Venezuelans, and as many foreigners as possible, that Colombia and the United States are plotting to invade and overthrow him. Meanwhile, FARC is trying to gets its troops to switch from portable radios to iPods. That's because government radio ads for its amnesty program are causing hundreds of FARC rebels a month to turn themselves in. A portable radio is one of the few luxuries a FARC warrior has access to when in the bush, and getting those radios out of circulation is not easy.
FARC has more serious concerns. Army and police intelligence efforts have identified the general area where most of the kidnap victims are being held, and the army is setting up a blockade of the area. FARC has announced that the army must back off, or the already harsh conditions the hostages endure will get worse, and it will all the be army's fault. This worked, because French diplomats asked Colombia to back off from this operations, to avoid hurting any of the hostages that are French citizens.
The war on FARC is a diffuse operation, with few photo-ops showing large numbers of guys with guns. It's small patrols, teams of police investigators, and checkpoints that do most of the work. Whenever FARC does concentrate a lot of armed men, the air force comes in and bombs them. It's a war of small details, and the bad guys are losing.