Don’t expect this to show up in English/international media, but ELN guerrillas have announced a “paro armado” at the national level in Colombia, where they will be setting up roadblocks in remote areas, which basically means extortion, robberies and maybe even kidnappings.
The army has been deployed and commercial drivers are on high alert, some far-flung towns and areas like Catatumbo have been silenced as everyone stays home and locks their doors, even public services shut down. I was surprised to learn this is not a new thing, in the past with the FARC and other groups there have been numerous paros armados, typically announced by the militants ahead of time and lasting 72 hours or so.
Crazy to wake up and realize you live in a country where something like this can happen. Where the national government is strong and the armed forces highly effective at fighting guerrilla and narcotraffickers, but the difficulty of controlling a geographic area like Colombia is high. The armed forces and national police do their best in the face of incredible challenges.
It has to be said, though, that the government’s hard-line stance on compliance with the FARC peace accords over the last couple of years has strained relations or possible relations with armed groups. Plus, there is such a multitude of them operating under such variable conditions and leadership, there is no centralized leadership to negotiate with. Meanwhile, armed bands terrorize the populace in rural areas where help may come slowly, if at all.
For someone who didn’t grow up with this, who was born and raised in a country where this kind of illegal banditry is more or less unheard of, it’s unreal to know that some militant group can just announce that they will be taking over the roadways, and expect to get away with it against the country’s very own army. It’s terrorism, pure and simple, otherwise why would they announce it, not least say that it would only last 72 hours? It’s hard to even know how to feel about this, let alone the discomfort with the idea of driving out to the country house, like we do every other weekend, and thinking about the possibility of getting stopped in some guerrilla roadblock and at the very least extorted for money, at the worst kidnapped and carried off into the jungle to live in a box and eat slop until someone pays your ransome or something even worse happens.
Strange days. I have to wonder if something like this could happen in the United States. With the rise of some of these new right wing militant groups, and events like the takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge by an armed gang of ranchers, disgruntled over public land grazing rights, or “alt-right activists” fighting it out and running over counter-protestors in North Carolina, the reality of armed paramilitaries taking over small parts or even whole regions of the United States seems like less of a crazy possibility. With the rhetoric and the bizarre leadership (if you can call it that) coming from the top of the federal government and our Glorious Leader, who knows what could happen?
Even with these kinds of things still going on in a country that was supposed to be moving on from the worst problems with armed militants (after signing the peace agreement with the FARC), it still seems like a better place to live than the United States, at least from what we see on the news. I love my country, but many things these days seem to be going from bad to worse. Even with something like a paro armado going on, guerrilla problems are a known quantity. Colombia has been dealing with guerrillas for a very long time. Future stability of the U.S., at least in the long term, seems far more uncertain.
Living in South America is looking better and better all the time.