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Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

Mexico And The War On Drugs: Holy Hyperbole Batman!

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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by Tommy Brown

So, okay, it really bugs me when people pop off about the dope trade when they don’t know what they’re talking about and/or are purposefully being hysterical. From “Drug Gangs Have Mexico On The Ropes,”  on the editorial page of the Journal:

A murder in the Mexican state of Chihuahua last week horrified even hardened crime stoppers. Police Commander Martin Castro’s head was severed and left in an ice cooler in front of the police station in the town of Praxedis with a calling card from the Sinoloa drug cartel.

Not a good start. “Horrified even hardened crime-stoppers?” Who? Certainly not drug cops in Central America. Policemen in Mexico get assassinated on a fairly regular basis, just like every other narco-state. I mean, it’s a statement, but how much worse is it than the Colombian necktie? Next up:

According to Mexico’s attorney general, 6,616 people died in drug-trafficking violence in Mexico last year. A high percentage of those killed were themselves criminals, but many law enforcement agents battling organized crime were also murdered. The carnage continues. For the first 22 days of this year the body count is 354.

Translation: Six thousand people mere murdered. That’s a fair number of people. But most of them were narcotraficantes killed by other suppliers or the police themselves; what American cops call “public-service homicides.” Notice it doesn’t actually mention how many of the victims were the police. At any rate, the number of deaths doesn’t even match Colombia during the reign of the Cali cartel, let alone the reign of ultraviolance brought about by Pablo Escobar before that. And Mexico’s federal police are notoriously corrupt.

But here’s where it gets really stupid:

As bad as the violence is, it could get worse, and it is becoming clear that the U.S. faces contagion. In recent months, several important American voices have raised concerns about the risks north of the border. This means there is hope that the U.S. may begin to recognize the connection between American demand for prohibited substances and the rising instability in Mexico.

The brutality of the traffickers is imponderable for most Americans. Commander Castro was not the first Mexican to be beheaded. It is an increasingly popular terror tactic. Last month, eight soldiers and a state police chief were found decapitated in the state of Guerrero.

The first paragraph bears no connection to reality. The US risks contagion? As the author herself points out, it’s that America creates the demand that drives this trade in the first place. There is a comprehension-defying tidal wave of drugs that  coming over the Mexican border every single day: coke, dope, cheap weed, meth, unlicensed pharmies, you name it. If we expanded the DEA by a factor of ten we couldn’t put a serious dent in the border trade;  with the trillions of dollars involved,  it’s not hard for underpaid cops to turn a blind eye, especially in poverty-stricken Mexico. There is nary an inhabited square mile in this country (hell, in the Western Hemisphere) you can’t cop coke, rock or dope, whether it’s stepped-on garbage at a premium or high-purity Colombian.

Mexico’s worsening problem with traffickers is not exactly surprising. A little history: In the Eighties and Nineties, Colombia distributed cocaine directly into the United States, using Dominicans in the east and Mexicans in the west as distributors (there’s a reason the most popular slang for your coke connect is papi). And, as has been documented, the cartels took a beating: Escobar was killed and the Medellins crushed, to be replaced by the Calis who themselves were smashed by the end of the Nineties. So they decided to pull a Bolivia.

One of the best kept secrets of the War on Drugs is that Bolivia grows an enormous amount of coca, including a huge percentage of product processed in Colombia. But they refuse to actually deal drugs, except to the cartels and other major players, moving bulk and taking a smaller but safe profit. The Colombian cartels thought this outsourcing thing was a great idea, and proceeded to replicate the same thing with Mexico.

Really, it’s a great business decision.  Smuggling drugs into Mexico is practically a legitimate business, requiring only massive amounts of bribes and airplanes. The Mexicans have to take all the risk and expense of getting it into America, and then cutting it up it in places like New York and Los Angeles to be shipped around the country. But it’s still a good deal for the Mexicans too: They receive a bigger slice of the profit, there are large, well-established Mexican communities in every major American city to facilitate distribution, plus millions of illegals with one foot in the black market to begin with.

In fairness, I thought I would end this with the final line of the editorial as food for thought:

To put it another way, if Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state, look no further than the large price premium the cartels get for peddling prohibited substances to Americans.

Try Harder, Please

Monday, January 26th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I don’t know what it is about Barack Obama that makes David Sirota stupid, but at this point it’s like the sun rising. His latest is awful, even by his standards.

To wit, Sirota is hopping mad that Obama is putting the Colombian Free Trade agreement back on the table.

With the New York Times noting that Congress is questioning Attorney General nominee Eric Holder’s defense of Chiquita’s murderous behavior in Colombia, I can’t say I would be totally surprised by news that Obama may start pushing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement – a pact that rewards the Colombian government that allowed Chiquita’s and other corporations to crush workers. I would, however, be surprised that his push would come so soon considering the campaign pledges, and the potential for a serious political backlash that could endanger Obama’s broader agenda.

I don’t really get what the Attorney General has to do with trade policy, but there it is I suppose. And I suppose it’s a fair enough criticism, after all Obama was against it on the basis of labor standards, and Colombia’s history of not protecting labor leaders is troubling. Maybe some background?

President-elect Barack Obama wants to win approval of stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, but more work is needed on two of the pacts, Democratic lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Hmm. Well that doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, the Colombia deal could be one of those two (odds are better than not in fact), and labor standards could be one of the issues that needs to be worked out. It sure would be nice if Reuters dug a little bit deeper into the question. Oh, wait:

It was never the case that Colombia was “a bad trade agreement,” Rangel told reporters. Rather, the issue was “whether the administration was prepared to insist on the protection of labor leaders in Colombia.”

With Democrats now controlling the White House and Congress, it should be possible to work out a solution with Colombia that resolves concerns, Rangel said.

In other words, Obama is reconsidering the Colombian trade deal, but onlyif the labor questions are addressed. Hardly controversial.

For the record, Sirota cites the first two paragraphs o the Reuters article, and not the section I highlighted, which comes only two paragraphs later. So either Sirota doesn’t take the time to read entire articles before he forms a conclusion from them, or he read the whole thing and only picked out the part he could use to bolster his Obama criticism, deliberately leaving out the context, which happens to address his criticism entirely. Neither speaks very highly of him, but does reinforce, yet again, why progressives need to ignore David Sirota, and make it clear to people like Bill Moyers that Sirota does not speak for the progressive movement.

Mike Vickers’ War

Monday, September 1st, 2008

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From Newsweek on the successful rescue of hostages in Columbia:

But Colombia’s dramatic shift in strategy over the last two years also has much to do with a quiet U.S. effort to school allies in counterinsurgency and Special-Operations tactics. Even the strategy of infiltration used against the FARC—a turncoat guerrilla working with the Colombian military was key to the hostage ruse—is one that has been promoted inside the Pentagon against Al Qaeda and other terror groups. While U.S. officials stress that every insurgency and terror group presents unique challenges, similar principles are being applied in Iraq’s Anbar province and now by the new Pakistani government in its Taliban- and Qaeda-infested tribal regions.

American-style counterinsurgency, in other words, is going global. “Colombia has done a really masterful job,” says Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations. Vickers gives Uribe’s government “the lion’s share” of the credit for the hostage ruse and anti-FARC strategy in general. But he acknowledges that “the Colombians are very close partners of ours and we’ve provided the training and other things.”

Mike Vickers, of course, has achieved some notoriety due to the book and movie Charlie Wilson’s War, wherein he was recruited by borderline-renegade CIA officer Gust Avrakotos to be the logistical brains behind supplying the mujahideen during the Afghan-Soviet War. Even though he was a junior officer at Langley, he had been a noncom and an officer in the Special Forces and ended up being responsible for the largest covert action program in American history, coordinating the fractuous muj insurgency and about a dozen foreign governments, with a budget in excess of two billion dollars. By all accounts, Vickers is without doubt an absolute genius at counterinsurgency. Having him as the coordinator for special ops and low-intensity conflicts is a Very Good Thing.

The story behind the story is that Colombia is just one example of a grand counterinsurgency strategy that is occurring all over the world, from Pakistan to Djibouti to the Philippines. Small teams of  American SF operators are teaching the indigenous armed forces how to fight the dirty, asymmetrical “small wars” of the twenty-first century, while at the same time providing civil services to the population in a hearts-and-minds campaign. Despite the much-publicized setbacks in stabilizing and building a competent military in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, in many other countries incredibly small numbers of American soldiers are revolutionizing how Third World militaries combat terrorism and insurgencies.

It always amazes me that so many people are ignorant of the fact that the Afghan War was fought and won by a few hundred Special Forces soldiers, CIA paramilitary officers and Air Force close air support controllers acting in concert with the native anti-Taliban forces, not the thousands of conventional troops responsible for SASO (security and stability operations, or “nation building”) that arrived afterwards. Despite the constant media hullabaloo about “a new kind of war,” the fact that the first American war of this century was prosecuted by a handful of men leading Uzbek and Pashtun guerillas on horseback seems to have slipped under the national radar.

The downside to this strategy is that it basically replicates how the British Empire functioned in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, which raises the hackles of conservative isolationists and liberal internationalists alike. The British always liked to control their vassal states by proxy, like the “Arab facade” of the Hashemite kings that ruled large swaths of the Middle East after World War One, with military and colonial “advisors” directing the native governments.

Our strategy is certainly much less heavy-handed than the often-brutal English, but it may be much more effective due to an emerging fact in the globalized world: As many Third World countries are transitioning from repressive regimes to weak, unstable democracies, the politicians come and go, voted out of office or overthrown in coups, but the people responsible for the military and security apparatuses stay in power behind the scenes for years and years. Indeed, in most developing nations and failed states, the military is the only stable institution in the whole country, which means a little training and advice from the finest military in the history of time goes a long, long way.

The American public seems to be happy to pretend that this country has not been relentlessly expansionistic throughout its entire history, but at the same time demand the constant economic expansion that in today’s world almost always comes at the expense of weaker countries. This cognitive dissonance, allowing for a “soft imperialism” while pretending it doesn’t exist, is perhaps the most dangerous issue facing the United States in an increasingly multipolar world, as it prevents any meaningful discussion of our role in the world.


by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

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