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April 25, 2006


The Gonzman

Resistance ... is futile ...

Come to the Dark Side, Hugo.


It's wise to not let the phrase socialist or even Marxist play a particularly heavy role in your evaluation of the sympathy-worthiness of any political opposition group (pro or con). FARC is contemptible on the basis of what they do, regardless of their imagined ends. I'm not a big fan of their ends, either, but their means are all I need to know about them. Treating socialists as a uniform group is a category error (and would allow the unfortunate grouping of Chavez with FARC and Shining Path, a significant category error).

Glad you're back. Columbia certainly sounds marvelous. I've been considering a trip to Panama; perhaps I'll find a way...


DJW, I use the term that the movements use for themselves. Admittedly, that means that lots of folks get lumped together who perhaps shouldn't be. That seems to be the nature of appellations, though.


Welcome back! I know what you mean about Columbia, I was there 20 years ago and we had to be escorted into a residential neighborhood by armed guards.__Welcome back!


I visited Colombia in February 2005. My mother's family is from a different circle than your wife's - we spent all our time in Bogota and Manizales, though my mother spent an extra week, and traveled in Honda, Libano, and to Armero.

Manizales seemed at least as safe as Oakland - it's poor, but more relaxed than Bogota. My mother reported that nothing untoward happened when her driver took a wrong turn driving in the Magdalena valley, though everyone was very worried for her in retrospect when she told them of the wrong turn.

Bogota felt like an armed camp at times, or like being in a giant airport. Security *everywhere*. At the bullfight, there were about 10 CTI agents standing near up, and there were clusters of various sorts of cops all around. Though people did verbally abuse the cops who were ejecting someone (about a quarter of the way around the stadium - I had no way of knowing what it was all about). We almost ran into a demonstration by demobilized paramilitaries - we hustled away, and I was told to not take pictures.


Anthony, I certainly know what it's like to be told not to take pictures. Yet the security seemed lighter to me on this trip...


I don't have much to compare to - my previous visit was in 1982 or thereabouts, and we mostly visited relatives that time. I never left Bogota, nor even spent much time outdoors.


I am pleased that Colombia is safer than it used to be, as I'm going there in a few weeks for my first visit.
However, I'm not sure I would lump the FARC in with all revolutionary movements. The FARC is on the sleaze end of the spectrum.


Seems to me that the question of whether Uribe's security program is a success depends on whether it is a matter of simple force application, or if they have applied -- in addition to force -- policies which make support for FARC less justifiable, and which make an eventual peace (not to be confused with a mere lack of shooting) more imminent.

I am pleased that you were safer. Welcome home.

Adam Isacson

Thanks for a very interesting post. I'd be interested to know whether you heard or saw much about paramilitaries. Cesar department is widely considered to have come strongly under the control of what until very recently was known as the "Northern Bloc" of the AUC, under the command of "Jorge 40," one of the most powerful paramilitary leaders and a major narcotrafficker.

It's not surprising that the guerrilla presence where you were has receded quite a bit, but my impression of Cesar (and much of northern Colombia) is that it owes chiefly to a paramilitary advance that was fully tolerated by the government. (And probably supported by much of the exhausted population - the FARC are as abusive and predatory as you describe them.)

The tranquillity you saw in Cesar is the result of one group being in power, and the territory no longer being contested. I guess my question is, which group is making the trains run on time there, the Colombian government or "Jorge 40"?


Adam, I did see this sign in Pelaya:


It jived with what I heard from my wife's family about the demobilization proceeding very well -- but that may mean that one group has been exchanged for another.

Adam Isacson

The sign speaks volumes: "We support the peace process with the paramilitaries; We demand protection from the national government." The second part shows concern that if the AUC demobilizations turn out to be the real thing (Jorge 40 just "demobilized" a little over a month ago), then the FARC may come back to Cesar.

If they're demanding protection from the Colombian government, they probably weren't getting it before. So can President Uribe get much credit for the evidence of security and order you saw in Cesar? Or was it the local warlord? (Of course, it could have been a little of both.)

Either way, it's not at all clear what's going to happen next in areas like the one you visited. Some say the FARC are coming back, others say the paramilitaries continue to dominate, still others talk of "new" paramilitary groups, and most worry about a coming crime wave thanks to thousands of unemployed ex-paras. The picture is murky but pretty pessimistic.


Adam, we saw many of the demobilized paramiltaries dressed in yellow jumpsuits, working to trim vegetation all along the main highway. Driving from San Alberto north to Pelaya, we ran into little groups of them every few miles. I assume the national government is paying the bill for this, but for how long I don't know.

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