July 13, 2012: The leftist rebels (mainly FARC and ELN) are being forced out of areas they have long controlled and prospered in by constant police and military action. Many of these guys have sought new hideouts and criminal activities that are not under so much pressure.
Illegal gold mining has become a favorite, as is smuggling and extortion. The criminal gangs go where the military and police presence is lightest. With gold selling for $48 a gram (or $48 million a ton) there has been a gold rush in rural northwestern Colombia. Production has more than tripled in the last five years, from 15.5 tons in 2007, to 53.6 tons last year. Colombia has been a source of gold for centuries but the sharp rise in price in the last decade has made many old mines worth opening again.
The leftist rebels usually extort money from existing small miners (in return for protection from the police and other gangs). Some of the larger gangs are trying to extort money from the oil companies, which are much larger organizations with their own security forces. All this is another side effect of too many men who have spent some time as outlaws and acquired bad habits they can never get rid of. Colombia is still a very violent place. It’s not just that the police cannot suppress all of the violence but that the courts often let criminals and killers go free (because of threats, bribes, or overwork).
In the southwest, the Nasa tribe has tried to use unarmed demonstrations to force the drug gangs, FARC, and the army out of the area. The drug gangs and FARC have been fighting to keep their drug smuggling operations going down there for the last decade. This has resulted in constant violence as army positions are attacked and patrols ambushed. This makes life difficult for the Nasa and the Indians are not going to take it anymore.
The gangs and rebels can be ruthless and may respond by murdering tribal leaders, something they have avoided so far.
Violence in the south was up fifty percent during the first four months of the year, with several violent clashes a week being common. FARC violence is up throughout the country and the government is accused to slacking off on anti-rebel operations. The country is still split over prosecution of politicians who supported anti-leftist gangs that arose in the 1990s to fight FARC and similar leftist groups. The anti-leftist gangs turned into criminal organizations that were finally persuaded to disband. FARC and other leftist rebels have refused to follow.
Police have found evidence of remote FARC camps where the leftist rebels are brainwashing children to be suicide bombers.
July 11, 2012: A Colombian Air Force Super Tucano aircraft went down in a rural area of the south west. Both crewmen were killed. FARC claims they shot down the aircraft, but that won’t be confirmed until the wreckage can be examined. FARC protested the arrival of these Brazilian made aircraft six years ago. The five ton, single engine, propeller driven Super Tucanos are used for pilot training and counter-insurgency work. These aircraft can carry about a ton of weapons and stay in the air for about eight hours per sortie. Super Tucano are often used as armed reconnaissance aircraft to find FARC bases. Shooting them down is not easy but it is possible.
July 4, 2012: In the south FARC attacked an oil well work crew, killing five workers and wounding several others. There have been twenty attacks on oil facilities so far this year but this is the first one on a well. Most attacks are on pipelines.
June 20, 2012: In the southwest FARC gunmen opened fire on a bus that failed to stop at a roadblock the leftist rebels had set up (apparently to rob vehicles coming by). The gunfire killed four people on the bus and wounded seven others.