Magazine article New Internationalist

Drugs, Guns and Money

Magazine article New Internationalist

Drugs, Guns and Money

Article excerpt

In Colombia, a country numbed to human tragedy, one story is more emotive than ever: the plight of the country's 3,000-plus hostages. Since the murder in June of 11 politicians held in captivity, demands for a humanitarian exchange between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas (who hold most of the hostages) have reached fever pitch. Mass marches against kidnapping have taken place, the Government has unilaterally released guerrilla prisoners, both Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Sarkozy have intervened as mediators, and one hostage's father has set up camp in Bogota's main square, having walked almost a thousand kilometres from his home to get there.

Yet what does the FARC want? In order even to discuss the hostage exchange, the FARC has demanded a demilitarized zone, measuring 785 square kilometres. President Alvaro Uribe has refused, claiming it would be used for drug-running to the Pacific coast Most Colombians support him, seeing the FARC - which is classified as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU - as a cocaine cartel in communist clothes. In 1998, Uribe's predecesor, Andres Pastrana, granted the FARC a demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland to assist peace talks, but the area became a haven for kidnapping and drugs production. The experience has not been forgotten.

However, for some observers, the FARC's transition from left-wing guerrillas to drug-running kidnappers is unconvincing. Surely the group must have a political agenda?

The FARC was founded in 1964, just five years after the Cuban Revolution, by communist peasant guerrillas. Yet, unlike Fidel Castro, it never came close to taking power. Now it appears to have two options: to negotiate, disarm and enter national electoral politics; or to exercise local power funded by drugs revenues.

The first option appears as remote as ever. …

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