Which border crossing should we use? Is that city too dangerous? Is this section of road safe? Should we eat at that food stand? Can we trust the cops in this country? Will this museum be the one where I finally snap and use my stun gun on an innocent ticket-taker?
RISK, RISK, RISK, a constant balancing act.
On June 29th FARC attacked police on the Pan American highway north of Medellin, killing one cop and wounding 4. Then on July 9th, the FARC executed five near-simultaneous attacks, including a deadly bomb. A car loaded with 220 pounds of explosives was detonated in a town plaza killing 6 and injuring over 70. The attacks occurred in the Cauca province, approximately 200 miles southwest of Bogota.
Time for a Sprinter Life risk assessment because Cauca happens to be directly in our path of travel.
Our crux is that we have to move south. In 2 weeks we fly out of Quito, Ecuador to the U.S. for a month long vacation. Quito is a long way from our current location when you’re driving in the Andes.
But this is no joke. We need to be careful south of Bogota. Roads have been closed intermittently and the military is reacting to the situation. The advice we’ve been getting from locals is that you don’t want to F@ck with FARC.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the largest rebel insurgency in South America. It has long financed its political and military battle against the Colombian government by kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking. Since the early 1980s the FARC has been a top supplier of cocaine, heroin, and other drugs to its number one customer, the United States of America
In recognition of this, Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. aid outside of the Middle East and receives significant support in military funding to combat the guerrilla force.
The FARC has an estimated membership of 18,000 troops along with 200,000- 300,000 million in yearly drug revenue (mostly cocaine). In Colombia they are a force to be reckoned with.
Note: I’ve already established that The War On Drugs Cannot Be Won. But, if the U.S. would legalize drugs, the FARC revenue steam would be decimated and the organization would most likely follow. The same thing would happen to the cartels in Mexico – read more here
The current violence that just sprung up in Cauca demonstrates FARC’s willingness to engage in heavy combat with military troops. But why? What do they want?
It’s simple. They want control of the roads.
Did you ever wonder how these guys are able to move so many drugs to the US? I did, especially given the hundreds of road blocks we’ve been through. When we were in Venezuela we started hearing for the first time that the drugs are sent by submarine! I was like, yeah right! But we heard it over and over again. A few days ago authorities here in Colombia seized 3 submarines in a craft workshop in the coastal town Neococli.
Each one of these vessels is capable of smuggling 3 tons of cocaine to the United States.
There are not a lot of roads that link the mountains to the ocean in Colombia, so it’s no wonder that the FARC wants to secure this southern corridor, nor that they are willing to fight the military.
On Friday, July 15th, 460 members of the Colombian special forces, along with the newly formed High Mountain Battalion, arrived in Cauca. We’re told they will install checkpoints and roadblocks at critical points throughout the region in order to limit guerrilla mobility. This will surely result in more violence.
So what is our risk assessment? Well, our plan is to backtrack 10 hours from Bogota up to Medellin and hang for a few days. We’ll wait and see how things shape up in the south. My hope is that the military will secure the Pan American south, and we’ll be able to cruise through without incident.
In the meantime we’re looking forward to checking out Medellin.