Imagine the headlines

17,000 killed last year. Widespread kidnappings. Car bombs and IED’s killing policemen. State officials killed by “insurgents”. Militant rightists killing those associated with the insurgents. It’s Bush’s fault.

Nah, it’s merely the normal headlines from Colombia…whose civil war has been going on since the 1950’s, but rarely gets publicity.

As Strategy Page LINK2 points out:, the murder rate is one of the highest in the world (43 per 100,000 population.) Iraq’s murder rate last year was 51, but got a lot more coverage in the media. That’s because the carnage in Colombia has been going on for decades, and long since ceased to be “news.” The murder rate in the United States last year was 4.8.

Yet Colombia continues to work. Not efficiently and cleanly, but it does work. It has remained a democracy. And slowly there are some successes that are leading to a slow decrease in the number of dead and the number of “internally displaced” by fighting.

What is helping win the war is like what is happening here in the Philippines: A combination of government pressure (killings and arrests) of leaders (including the druglords who help fund the insurgents), successful kills of insurgents that send the message that joining them is no longer a good job opportunity, offers of amnesty, and economic expansion that allows young men an alternative to joining the insurgents.

Will it stop the insurgency? No. There are real grievances about land reform and there is a danger that Venezuela’s left wing government might help these groups. Yet the real violence is slowly decreasing as steady government policies make investment and jobs available for locals.

It’s like a circle: fighting stops investment, no investment equals no jobs, no jobs, and men decide joining rebellion is the best job in town.

But cutting the cycle of violence with many different means also leads to a cycle: less danger, more investment, more jobs, kids deciding it is better to work at a regular job since joining the rebels means you’ll just be killed.

American pundits, by seeing Iraq only with the nostalgia of 1970 Viet Nam forget that most insurgencies cannot be viewed through a Marxist “us versus them” and “defeat is inevitable because insurgents always win” lens.

And the presence of Viet Nam at the ASEAN summit reminds us that even die hard communists regiemes know that globalization and capitalism, not wars of liberation, are what lead to improving the daily lives of their own people.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, six dogs, three cats, and a large extended family. She has family members living in Colombia. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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