Geopolitics

Inside The FARC Plot To Kill Arch-Enemy Uribe

Exclusive: Rebels and drug traffickers teamed up to take out Colombia's former president. Two undercover agents gained key information, before being discovered and killed by FARC.

Members of the Military Police of Colombia
Members of the Military Police of Colombia
María del Rosario Arrázola and Juan David Laverde Palma

BOGOTA — Two policemen who infiltrated the Sixth Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the country's southwestern Cauca region managed to provide vital clues that helped foil an imminent attempt to kill the former president Álvaro Uribe and the head of the state prosecution service Eduardo Montealegre Lynett.

The stunning news comes as FARC leaders negotiate in Havana with the government in a bid to end decades of conflict in Colombia. Uribe, president from 2002 to 2010, has bitterly criticized the talks, while Montealegre Lynett's Prosecution Service may have obtained ample evidence of a range of recent illegal activities by the FARC.

The investigations that led to this week's revelations began last April when state forces captured 17 members of the FARC's Sixth Front. Several of those detained revealed information on possible attacks on political leaders, but with few details.

Uribe last year at World Economic Forum

El Espectador has learned that soon after, Colombia's police forces ordered a successful infiltration operation. Two policemen sent accessed confidential information, which they reported back to Bogotá, including evidence of links between one of the Front's units, the Teófilo Forero Mobile Column, and various drug-trafficking outfits and loan sharks in western Colombia. The scenario was almost a perfect copy of the failed 2012 plot to kill Colombia's former Interior Minister Fernando Londoño.

The undercover policeman, however, were caught by FARC, who killed them in Caquetá in southern Colombia. The information they had obtained was in any case already included in an extensive intelligence report that would help focus the investigation.

They call him "El Paisa"

Police subsequently ordered several phone lines tapped, while informants identified the man behind the emerging plot as the head of the Teófilo Forero column Hernán Darío Velásquez, dubbed "El Paisa." They cited the names of other guerrillas of the Southern Block, Sixth Front and the Teófilo unit active in this part of Colombia, including sharpshooters and bomb-makers.

Authorities are certain the FARC routed cash that reached an extortion racket in the southwestern city of Cali, to pay for the carrying out of the attack against Uribe. Police and prosecutors say they have precise information on this payment, and above all, the precedent of the Londoño plot. They believe that the FARC and drug gangs were collaborating on this double assassination project, noting that plans to kill Uribe were far more advanced than those against chief prosecutor Montealegre Lynett.

On Nov. 12, police launched operations against the rackets in Valle de Cauca, while the military bombed El Paisa's camp in jungle areas in southern Colombia. Computers found there were sent for analysis by technicians of the Police and the Prosecution Service. The PCs apparently had data on other FARC plots and a list of parliamentarians for possible kidnapping.

El Paisa, a former gunman for the Medellín Cartel, has been a target of the authorities for over a decade now. This FARC captain has turned out to be more ruthless than the notorious "Mono Jojoy," the FARC military commander shot in 2010. The list of his purported crimes includes the attempted kidnapping and killing in 2006 of Liliana Gaviria, sister of the former president César Gaviria, the murder of the governor of Caquetá Luis Francisco Cuellar and the 2003 bomb attack on the El Nogal club that killed 36 and injured 185 people.

A recent intelligence report indicated the FARC's secretariat may have lost control of its terrorist arm.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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