The leftist FARC guerrilla movement in Colombia announced today that they would no longer kidnap civilians for money.
While many Colombians greeted the announcement with relief, most are still skeptical. For one, FARC has a history of not carrying through with its pronouncements. For another, the announcement was ominously vague.
On its website, FARC said,
"Much has been said about retentions (FARC's word for kidnapping for ransom). It is time to clarify who and why one kidnaps today in Colombia."
The FARC then went on to say that it was rescinding the "retention" portion of "Law 002," a FARC decree issued in 2000 stating that all citizens above a certain income level should be "taxed" - and would be "retained" if they did not pay such "taxes" voluntarily.
But those income levels were never clearly determined by FARC, and most "retentions" involved middle and lower income people who could not afford the increased security available to the better off. FARC tax collectors grabbed anyone they thought could pay, making Colombia the "kidnap capital of the world" for several years.
But the past 10 years have devastated FARC. The professionalization of Colombia's armed forces, the unification of Colombia's right with the moderates, economic reforms aimed at helping Colombia's poor, and an aggressive military campaign paired with clear political objectives have all combined to both isolate FARC and cut it base of support. From an estimated 20,000 armed fighters in 2000, FARC can now muster probably no more than 2500, and the entire FARC itself is now estimated to hold no more than 8000. FARC has effectively been pushed to the margins of the country and a permanent government presence in the countryside means smaller FARC units have to operate with less resources.
FARC also announced that it will release the last military prisoners - 10 soldiers and policemen, some of whom have been held for 14 years. However, no mention was made of the 72 civilians kidnapped by FARC last year. And, apparently, military & police personnel are still "legitimate" targets.
Given the thousands kidnapped by FARC, many of whom were executed even if their ransoms were paid, Colombians have reason to be skeptical.
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