Kidnappings and murders have dropped progressively. Homicides, for instance, have fallen from 67 murders for every 100,000 Colombians in 1996, when the FARC controlled nearly half the countryside, to 36 per 100,000 people last year.The FARC, a peasant-based movement rooted in internecine 1950s political bloodletting known as “La Violencia,” also lost support abroad, with the European Union joining the United States in deeming it an international terror group.The murderous far-right militias created in the 1980s by ranchers and drug barons to counter FARC kidnapping and extortion have also been weakened. Blamed for more than 50,000 killings, they are now largely gone, having demobilized under Uribe. He extradited most of their top leaders to the United States, where they were wanted for drug trafficking.Peace gestures have been made by both sides.In February, the FARC said it was halting ransom kidnappings. In June, Colombia’s congress passed a “peace framework” law setting parameters for amnesty and pardons for rebel commanders. And Santos has vowed to return land stolen mainly by far-right militias to Colombia’s internally displaced, who number in the hundreds of thousands. New Year’s resolution: don’t spend another year in a kitchen you don’t like Bottoms up! Enjoy a cold one for International Beer Day One factor surely on the minds of FARC leaders is Hugo Chavez.The U.S.-bashing president of neighboring Venezuela has long quietly provided top rebel leaders with refuge, Colombian officials have said. Chavez is up for re-election Oct. 7 and faces his stiffest challenge since first winning office in 1998. He also underwent treatment for an unspecified cancer in Havana and his long-term prognosis is unknown.How much the FARC’s fate is entwined with Chavez’s remains unclear, however.The movement has, after all, outlasted the end of the Cold War by more than two decades.___Vivian Sequera is Associated Press news editor in Bogota, Colombia and has reported on Colombia’s conflict since 1991. Frank Bajak, AP’s chief of Andean news based in Lima, Peru, has covered Colombian affairs since the late 1990s.___Vivian Sequera on Twitter: http://twitter.com/viviansequeraFrank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak (Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) 5 people who need to visit the Ultrastar Multi-tainment Center Confirming the long-rumored talks after a crescendo of media reports, Santos gave no details about what would be the fourth serious attempt since the early 1980s to negotiate an end to the government’s conflict with an insurgency founded when he was 13 years old.It is a conflict whose roots are as complicated as the prospects for its resolution.The last peace effort ended in disaster in 2002, after three years of talks in a Switzerland-sized safe haven ceded by then-President Andres Pastrana. The rebels, known by their Spanish-language initials FARC, never agreed to a cease-fire. Nor did they stop kidnappings for ransom or trafficking in cocaine.Much has changed since.A U.S.-backed military buildup called Plan Colombia launched in 2000 morphed from counternarcotics to largely counterinsurgency, helping Pastrana’s successor, Alvaro Uribe, badly weaken the FARC. More than $8 billion in aid has flowed from Washington to Bogota since.The FARC’s ranks were roughly halved to about 9,000 today as the Colombian army’s newly created mobile brigades backed by Black Hawk helicopters and, later, U.S.-made unmanned aerial vehicles, made hiding more difficult.The rebels were largely pushed into Colombia’s least populated provinces, forced into classic guerrilla hit-and-run tactics. Since 2008, three senior FARC leaders have been slain in military raids, including top commander Alfonso Cano last year, and the rebels have freed all “political prisoners” while other captives have been rescued.