The Buzz

Kidnapping the Truth

The Economist’s latest analysis of Colombia’s FARC makes readers hope they too might be delivered from such naive journalism. “Deliverance?” details the delightful new Colombian era ahead in light of the FARC’s recent pledge to discontinue the kidnappings that have become a hallmark of the guerillas’ operations.

To begin, the piece misstates even the most basic nuances of FARC operations in Colombia. Claiming that “government pressure has reduced the FARC from 20,000 in 2002 to about 8,000” is far too rosy a portrait. The Colombian military itself estimated the FARC’s numbers at eighteen thousand as recently as a year ago.

Even so, heralding a decrease in the FARC’s legions is a false victory at best, particularly when the group steadily continues to control about 40 percent of the country. Even if the FARC were ten people operating effectively, its grasp has not lessened.

Similarly useless, there is no way to verify or enforce the no-kidnapping pledge. There already appear to have been “violations” with the kidnapping of seven oil workers in Arauca in FARC territory last week.

The article leads the reader to believe that the FARC kidnaps hostages for financial gain. This is true, but it is not put into any kind of effective perspective. These kidnappings are more for intimidation than profit. When one looks at how the FARC generates its estimated $300-500 million operating budget, it’s apparent that even if the FARC were to give up kidnapping hostages, this would do little to thwart its power. Scholars have estimated that the taxation of illegal drugs alone provides the FARC with up to 70 percent of its revenue. The majority of the rest comes from the lucrative extortion of private landowners and corporations.

One must believe that were this no-kidnapping “pledge” at all meaningful to Colombians, there would have been celebrations in the street proclaiming victory. And yet, we see none of this. The people of Colombia have been made many empty promises over the years, and they are prudent to think that this is no exception. A howler, at best.