More setbacks for the FARC
Shortly after the Colombian attack on Reyes, another FARC leader, Iván Ríos, was killed by his own bodyguard and a well-known female guerrilla leader surrendered to the authorities. These events were severe setbacks for the Farc guerrillas, who were subjected to another blow in May 2008 when guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda died of a heart attack.
In July 2008, the government army also succeeded in freeing Ingrid Betancourt, who was a presidential candidate, when she was abducted by the FARC during the 2002 election campaign. Her case had attracted a great deal of international attention. In addition to Betancourt, three Americans and eleven soldiers and police officers who had also been held by the guerrillas were also released.
The Colombian military was able to carry out the exemption by pretending to be an aid worker, something they were later criticized for because it could pose risks to aid organizations working in the area.
Although the FARC was now weakened, the guerrillas did not stop their acts of violence. The military and paramilitary forces were also accused of continuing to violate human rights. The government was criticized for not intervening vigorously enough to break the ties between the army and the right-wing militias.
Following an investigation, Colombia’s Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that a large number of politicians had cooperated with the paramilitary groups. A number of members of Congress were arrested and the Foreign Minister resigned due to the so-called scandal called parapolítica (formed by the words paramilitary and politics). In the following years, one politician after another became the subject of criminal investigations, most of them affiliated with right-wing parties. After six years, more than 40 members of Congress had been convicted of crimes, and more than 130 were still under investigation.
In connection with the disarmament of the AUC, the organization’s leaders had been promised that they would not be extradited to the United States. However, the government changed when it became clear that many had been able to continue their criminal activities from prisons. In May 2008, more than a dozen AUC leaders were extradited to the United States, where charges were pending for drug offenses and money laundering . The Constitutional Court has also ruled that AUC members were guilty of “ordinary” rather than political crimes, and thus could not obtain political amnesty.
War and drugs
By engaging in the drug trade, the FARC raised large sums of money for its warfare. In the 1960s and 1970s, poor Colombians sought refuge in the sparsely populated southern part of the country to break new ground. But many small farmers could not support themselves and therefore invested in the profitable crop to boil. Colombia is today the world’s leading producer of coca leaves. In addition, poppies are grown for the production of heroin.
The processing of coca leaves into cocaine gained momentum during the 1980s. The cocaine was sold on to the United States and Europe, and the major criminal syndicates in the cities of Medellín and Cali gained economic and political influence. Large areas of land were bought up by drug dealers who needed to “wash” money. The FARC cooperated with the drug cartels, but when the drug smugglers started running cattle ranches, they came on a collision course with the guerrillas, who saw the big landowners as their enemies.
Following pressure from the United States, the Colombian government intervened against the drug cartels. A state of emergency was imposed in 1984. The Medellín cartel declared war on the authorities and hundreds of people – including four presidential candidates – were killed in a bomb blast. The government managed to crush both the Medellín and Cali cartels, but new and less visible players took over.
At the same time, more and more boils were grown in inaccessible areas in southern Colombia, where the FARC could make money from weapons in the drug trade. AUC and ELN also earned large sums on drugs. In the south, the FARC and the AUC fought for control of land.
Millions of refugees
Colombia is one of the most violent countries in the world. Since the early 1990s, the war is estimated to have claimed at least 50,000 lives, and most of the victims are civilians. In addition to the war, many thousands of murders take place every year, most of which have no political connection.
For the general public, widespread crime is often a bigger problem than war. Business is hampered by robberies, extortion and kidnappings, often carried out by guerrillas or militias. The worst situation is in the drug mafia’s capital Medellín and Cali.
Deadly violence, sexual abuse and threats have driven many Colombians to flee their own country or abroad. In 2010, it was estimated that there were between 3.3 million and 4.9 million refugees in the country. Later, the number has been estimated to be closer to 6 million. The refugees often have to manage without the help of the authorities.