Saturday, February 9, 2008

The FARC controversy, Nicaragua's approach, and narco power in Mexico

This post includes three main items:

1) a question to me, and a reply, about the Colombian FARC and the holding of hostages intended for exchange with government held political prisoners.
2) a report from Managua's Radio La Primerisima on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's attitude towards the FARC and the prisoner issue (in Spanish).
3) a 2008 report on the The Geopolitics of Dope from Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting Inc).

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A member of the Brazilian PT sent me the following question. My response follows the question below, in addition to a press report (in Spanish) on the approach taken by our Nicaraguan Sandinista government to the issue of political prisoners in Colombia (the government hold far more political prisoners than the FARC, but they are not called hostages, but inmates. We have yet to see any CIA backed demonstrations calling for their freedom or denouncing the massive, decades-long repression against labor and human rights activists, campesinos, and indigenous people in that country. Don't hold your breath).

The alliance between the drug lords, the army high command, and the Uribe government is hardly hidden from view for anyone who wants to face the real world and not the fabricated picture presented by the U.S. State Department and its stable of reliable jornalists "without borders."

We now see a similar process of the ermergence of a narco state in Mexico. This process was the subject of a recent report from the Stratfor Stratgegic Forecasting group - The Geopolitics of Dope. It is posted immediately below the Spansih language news item from Managua's Radio La Primerisima at the end of the post.

Felipe Stuart C.,

What do you think of this statement by Chávez that the FARC and ELN are "insurgents with a Bolivarian project"? This has raised tremendous discussion in our press because most of the media -- including leftist media -- strongly oppose the kidnapping of non-combatants. There are also reports that hundreds of them were released after ransom was paid by the family in very fast and discreet operations.

In addition, many people believe that there are strong connections between these guerrilla forces and drug lords, including some Brazilian drug chiefs. For example, with Fernandinho Beira Mar, who is currently doing time in a maximum security jail in Brazil.

My response:

My apologies for not responding to this message earlier.

It is difficult for me to comment directly on the statement by Chávez because you forgot to attach it.

But I am familiar with his general position on the role of the FARC and the ELN., and I believe it to be essentially valid and correct.

I would even argue that the stand taken by the Chávez leadership to the guerrilla struggle in Colombia is strong evidence of the revolutionary and anti-imperialist character of his government and of the Bolivarian movement as a whole.

All the pressures on Venezuela would seem to dictate a policy of attempting to appease the regime in Bogotá. The two countries have vital trade and economic interrelations including long-term agreements to complete two-way gas and oil pipelines. Colombia is Venezuela’s window on the Pacific, and also its land bridge to Ecuador (this is important on the political level because of the close relations between Quito and Caracas since the election of Correa as president of Ecuador). Having access to the Pacific via a cross-Colombia pipeline will be crucial for export of Venezuelan oil and derivatives to China and other Asian markets.

Add to that the permanent vulnerability of Venezuela to military incursions from Colombia, either the Colombian army or the private armies maintained by the drug cartels. Washington's planning to destroy the Bolivarian revolution includes the option of inciting Bogotá to invade Colombia. This is an open secret in the international intelligence community and has been subject to widespread commentary by political analysts. A war between the two countries would be an enormous blow to the overall revolutionary process in the region. It is difficult to foresee how Ecuador and Bolivia, and possibly Nicaragua, could avoid being drawn into the conflict, and of course, Cuba would do its all to aid Venezuela. The reason that scenario now appears unlikely is the political weakness and instability in Colombia itself. Uribe has been shown to be politically weak on his own turf and the ongoing pressure for a negotiated settlement to the civil war weakens him even more.

Despite all the economic pressure and temptations, the Bolivarian leadership have not sold out the struggle against the vulture regime in Bogotá. Instead, without falling into the trap of appearing to be supporting the FARC and/or the ELN, Chávez has maneuvered to expose the real nature of the gang running Colombia, and its servility to Washington. This was a major lesson of the negotiations to win the release of the FARC hostages. The Uribe gang were put on the defensive within their own political system and the broad democratic opposition in Colombia was strengthened.

As to the claims that the FARC (and at times the ELN often gets included in the mudslinging) are involved in the drug trade), I think this is mainly a lot of background noise emanating from the imperialist slander campaign against any and all liberation struggle. The FARC’s role on the drug front largely consists of taxing farmers and cocaine producers within the territories it controls. For tactical reasons they have not tried to repress drug trafficking. That would force them into endless skirmishes with private armies controlled by drug lords, a problem that they are forced to try to avoid so as to be able to defend their positions against the army and U.S. special mercenary forces secretly operating there.

We should recall that cultivation and use of the coca leaf is vital to the economy and health of indigenous peoples and campesinos throughout the Andes region, including large parts of Colombia. Cocaine production and export exist because sections of the US ruling class are major importers of that product. The main demand for cocaine is in the USA, and the role of the DEA is not to suppress this trade, but to assure that the right people maintain control over it. Chomsky has written about this well camouflaged role of the DEA and the vital role of cocaine in enabling the US ruling class to repress and control the Black youth in the large ghettoes of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Detroit, etc.

The FARC is the product of over five decades of civil war in Colombia. Three generations of Colombians have never known civil peace. The regime in Bogotá, from one puppet president to another, is one of the most repressive in Latin American history. Death squads work hand in glove with the army high command and drug lords to maintain a permanent terror and repression against the labor movement and various social movements, including human rights organizations.

The FARC emerged out of the Stalinist movement and has ideological weaknesses associated with some of the worst features of Stalinism such as using violence against political opponents on the left (the most extreme example of that problem, of course, is Sendero Luminoso in Peru, of which Hugo Blanco has written). It is that problem that gave rise to the emergence of a second armed movement in Colombia, the ELN, which is closer to the Cuban leadership. In the last five years or so the ELN shifted strategy and set out to try to compel the government to negotiate a political solution to the civil war. Cuba agreed to host discussions between the ELN and the government, and there have been several rounds of discussions.

I think the most recent experience with the impact of FARC releasing the two hostages, and of Chávez’s role in that, indicate that better conditions exist in Colombia now to force the regime to negotiate with the armed opposition. Washington will attempt to scuttle that process, but some elements in the Colombia ruling class are anxious to bring the internal war to an end. The loose cannon in the process are the drug lords and the army high command that is also heavily involved in drug trafficking.

Well, that is a general course-grained overview of how I see the guerrilla struggle in Colombia. Revolutionists in other countries who lack detailed information and historical knowledge of this struggle are well advised to take their cue from the Cuban and Venezuelan leaderships.

I should also note that the Nicaraguan FSLN (and now the Presidency) maintain friendly relations with both the FARC and the ELN, and Daniel Ortega publicly refers to the FARC’s main leader as his “brother.” At this moment Daniel and his wife Rosario Murillo are collaborating with Colombian congresswoman Piedad Córdoba to hold a continental wide gathering of women to pressure the Uribe regime to negotiate further exchanges of prisoners (the regime is holding between 500 and 1000 political prisoners, a figure that would be much higher were it not for the sad fact that they have killed and “disappeared” so many others. See item below from an EFE/Radio La Primerisima report).



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Daniel y Rosario buscan encuentro continental por retenidos de FARC
EFE. Desde Bogotá. enero 22, 2008

El presidente de Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, y su esposa, Rosario Murillo, promueven para el mes próximo un "gran encuentro continental de mujeres" por Colombia, informó este lunes en Bogotá la congresista Piedad Córdoba.La legisladora dijo que Ortega y su señora se comprometieron con ella en tareas en favor de los 44 secuestrados que las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) buscan canjear por unos 500 rebeldes presos, incluidos dos extraditados a Estados Unidos.Ortega y Rosario Murillo se entrevistaron con Córdoba a comienzos de la pasada semana en Managua, adonde ella viajó junto al presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez, después de asistir a la investidura de Álvaro Colom como gobernante de Guatemala.Chávez y Córdoba ejercieron hasta hace cuatro semanas como mediador y facilitadora de un acuerdo sobre secuestrados con las FARC, tarea de la que fueron separados por el gobernante colombiano, Álvaro Uribe, lo que desató una crisis diplomática que aún persiste.Como desagravio, las FARC pusieron en libertad el pasado 10 de enero a dos de sus 46 rehenes, la ex candidata a vicepresidente Clara Rojas y la ex congresista Consuelo González de Perdomo.La parlamentaria colombiana dijo al programa "Las voces del secuestro", de Caracol Radio, que: "tuve la oportunidad de hablar con Daniel Ortega, a quien le dije: ayúdenos, envíe una voz a la gente de las FARC para que entienda que este momento es muy importante, para que las liberaciones puedan continuar".El presidente nicaragüense y su esposa asumieron el compromiso de realizar a finales de febrero próximo un "gran encuentro continental de mujeres por la paz y por el acuerdo humanitario" en Colombia, dijo Córdoba, sin precisar detalles.

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The Geopolitics of Dope / Geopolitical Intelligence Report
– from Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting Inc).

The main demand for cocaine is in the USA, and the role of the DEA is not to suppress this trade, but to assure that the "right people" maintain control over it. Cocaine production and export exist on such a huge scale because sections of the US ruling class are major importers of that product. Chomsky has written about this well camouflaged role of the DEA and the vital role of cocaine in enabling the US ruling class to repress and control the Black youth in the large ghettoes of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Detroit, etc.

New insight into this tragic reality comes from today’s fascinating report – The Geopolitics of Dope / Geopolitical Intelligence Report – from Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting Inc).

The report deals mainly with the impact on Mexico and U.S. border regions of a shift of the main routes into the USA from the Caribbean to the land routes across the Rio Bravo. Anyone who thinks that big U.S. capital of varied origins is not involved in the drug import business will have pause for rethinking the matter, I expect, after reading this and related material, such as Chomsky's writings on this question.

The shift of the main routes away from the Caribbean-Florida-Georgia routing to Mexico is also impacting on Nicaragua. The main ports of entry are now small inlets and fishing ports along the Pacific Coast, an area where property values have sky-rocketed as foreign investors buy up beach fronts and harbour areas to build resorts and recreational areas (many destined to be good camouflage for landing of small but fast craft laden with cocaine). It is intersting to me that although the national police spokespersons acknowledge that Pacific routes are now the main ports of entry, the main busts are still taking place on the Caribbean side. Maybe this is but another peek at turf wars.

We might also want to rethink what forces stood behind the fraudulent election results in the most recent Mexican federal elections that assured Felipe Calderón the crown. He, like Colombia’s Uribe, presides over a new, yet to be fortified Narco Kingdom masquerading as a republic.

Phil Stuart
The Geopolitics of Dope
Original source:

January 29, 2008 2103 GMT By George FriedmanOver recent months, the level of violence along the U.S.-Mexican border has begun to rise substantially, with some of it spilling into the United States. Last week, the Mexican government began military operations on its side of the border against Mexican gangs engaged in smuggling drugs into the United States. The action apparently pushed some of the gang members north into the United States in a bid for sanctuary. Low-level violence is endemic to the border region. But while not without precedent, movement of organized, armed cadres into the United States on this scale goes beyond what has become accepted practice. The dynamics in the borderland are shifting and must be understood in a broader, geopolitical context.

The U.S. border with Mexico has been intermittently turbulent since the U.S. occupation of northern Mexico. The annexation of Texas following its anti-Mexican revolution and the Mexican-American War created a borderland, an area in which the political border is clearly delineated but the cultural and economic borders are less clear and more dynamic. This is the case with many borders, including the U.S.-Canadian one, but the Mexican border has gone through periods of turbulence in the past and is going through one right now.

There always have been uncontrolled economic transactions and movements along the border. Both sides understood that the cost of controlling and monitoring these transactions outstripped the benefit. Long before NAFTA came into existence, social and economic movement in both directions ­ but particularly from Mexico to the United States ­ were fairly uncontrolled. Borderland transactions in particular, local transactions in proximity to the border region (retail shopping, agricultural transfers and so on), were uncontrolled. So was smuggling. Trade in stolen U.S. cars and parts shipped into Mexico, labor from Mexico shipped into the United States, etc., were seen as tolerable costs for an open border.

A low-friction border, one that easily could be traversed at low cost ­ without extended waits ­ was important to both sides. In 2006, the United States imported $198 billion in goods from Mexico and exported $134 billion to Mexico. This makes Mexico the third-largest trading partner of the United States and also makes it one of the more balanced major trade relationships the United States has. Loss of Mexican markets would hurt the U.S. economy substantially. The U.S. advantage in selling to Mexico is low-cost transport. Lose that through time delays at the border and the Mexican market becomes competitive for other countries. About 13 percent of all U.S. exports are bought by Mexico.

Not disrupting this trade and not raising its cost has been a fundamental principle of U.S.-Mexican relations, one long predating NAFTA. Leaving aside the contentious issue of whether illegal immigration hurts or helps the United States, the steps required to control that immigration would impede bilateral trade. The United States therefore has been loath to impose effective measures, since any measures that would be effective against population movement also would impose friction on trade.

The United States has been willing to tolerate levels of criminality along the border. The only time when the United States shifted its position was when organized groups in Mexico both established themselves north of the political border and engaged in significant violence. Thus, in 1916, when the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa began operations north of the border, the U.S. Army moved into Mexico to try to destroy his base of operations. This has been the line that, when crossed, motivated the United States to take action, regardless of the economic cost. The current upsurge in violence is now pushing that line.The United States has built-in demand for a range of illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana. Regardless of decades of efforts, the United States has not been able to eradicate or even qualitatively reduce this demand. As an advanced industrial country, the United States has a great deal of money available to satisfy the demand for illegal drugs. This makes the supply of narcotics to a large market attractive. In fact, it almost doesn’t matter how large demand is. Regardless of how it varies, the economics are such that even a fraction of the current market will attract sellers.

Even after processing, the cost of the product is quite low. What makes it an attractive product is the differential between the cost of production and the price it commands. In less-developed countries, supplying the American narcotics market creates huge income differentials. From the standpoint of a poor peasant, the differential between growing a product illegal in the United States compared with a legal product is enormous. From the standpoint of the processor, shippers and distributors, every step in the value chain creates tremendous incentives to engage in this activity over others.

There are several factors governing price. The addictive nature of the product creates an inelastic demand curve in a market with high discretionary income. People will buy at whatever the price and somehow will find the money for the purchase. Illegality suppresses competition and drives cartelization. Processing, smuggling and distributing the drugs requires a complex supply chain. Businesses not prepared to engage in high-risk illegal activities are frozen out of the market. The cost of market entry is high, since the end-to-end system (from the fields to the users) both is a relationship business (strangers are not welcome) and requires substantial expertise, particularly in covert logistics. Finally, there is a built-in cost for protecting the supply chain once created.

Because they are involved in an illegal business, drug dealers cannot take recourse to the courts or police to protect their assets. Protecting the supply chain and excluding competition are opposite sides of the same coin. Protecting assets is major cost of running a drug ring. It suppresses competition, both by killing it and by raising the cost of entry into the market. The illegality of the business requires that it be large enough to manage the supply chain and absorb the cost of protecting it. It gives high incentives to eliminate potential competitors and new entrants into the market. In the end, it creates a monopoly or small oligopoly in the business, where the comparative advantage ultimately devolves into the effectiveness of the supply chain and the efficiency of the private police force protecting it.

That means that drug organizations evolve in several predictable ways. They have huge amounts of money flowing in from the U.S. market by selling relatively low-cost products at monopolistic prices into markets with inelastic demand curves. Second, they have unique expertise in covert logistics, expertise that can be transferred to the movement of other goods. Third, they develop substantial security capabilities, which can grow over time into full-blown paramilitary forces to protect the supply chain. Fourth, they are huge capital pools, investing in the domestic economy and manipulating the political system.

Cartels can challenge ­ and supplant ­ governments. Between huge amounts of money available to bribe officials, and covert armies better equipped, trained and motivated than national police and military forces, the cartels can become the government ­ if in fact they didn’t originate in the government. Getting the government to deploy armed forces against the cartel can become a contradiction in terms. In their most extreme form, cartels are the government.
Drug cartels have two weaknesses. First, they can be shattered in conflicts with challengers within the oligopoly or by splits within the cartels. Second, their supply chains can be broken from the outside. U.S. policy has historically been to attack the supply chains from the fields to the street distributors. Drug cartels have proven extremely robust and resilient in modifying the supply chains under pressure. When conflict occurs within and among cartels and systematic attacks against the supply chain take place, however, specific cartels can be broken ­ although the long-term result is the emergence of a new cartel system.

In the 1980s, the United States manipulated various Colombian cartels into internal conflict. More important, the United States attacked the Colombian supply chain in the Caribbean as it moved from Colombia through Panama along various air and sea routes to the United States. The weakness of the Colombian cartel was its exposed supply chain from South America to the United States. U.S. military operations raised the cost so high that the route became uneconomic.

The main route to American markets shifted from the Caribbean to the U.S.-Mexican border. It began as an alliance between sophisticated Colombian cartels and still-primitive Mexican gangs, but the balance of power inevitably shifted over time. Owning the supply link into the United States, the Mexicans increased their wealth and power until they absorbed more and more of the entire supply chain. Eventually, the Colombians were minimized and the Mexicans became the decisive power.

The Americans fought the battle against the Colombians primarily in the Caribbean and southern Florida. The battle against the Mexican drug lords must be fought in the U.S.-Mexican borderland. And while the fight against the Colombians did not involve major disruptions to other economic patterns, the fight against the Mexican cartels involves potentially huge disruptions. In addition, the battle is going to be fought in a region that is already tense because of the immigration issue, and at least partly on U.S. soil.

The cartel’s supply chain is embedded in the huge legal bilateral trade between the United States and Mexico. Remember that Mexico exports $198 billion to the United States and ­ according to the Mexican Economy Ministry ­ $1.6 billion to Japan and $1.7 billion to China, its next biggest markets. Mexico is just behind Canada as a U.S. trading partner and is a huge market running both ways. Disrupting the drug trade cannot be done without disrupting this other trade. With that much trade going on, you are not going to find the drugs. It isn’t going to happen.

Police action, or action within each country’s legal procedures and protections, will not succeed. The cartels’ ability to evade, corrupt and absorb the losses is simply too great. Another solution is to allow easy access to the drug market for other producers, flooding the market, reducing the cost and eliminating the economic incentive and technical advantage of the cartel. That would mean legalizing drugs. That is simply not going to happen in the United States. It is a political impossibility.

This leaves the option of treating the issue as a military rather than police action. That would mean attacking the cartels as if they were a military force rather than a criminal group. It would mean that procedural rules would not be in place, and that the cartels would be treated as an enemy army. Leaving aside the complexities of U.S.-Mexican relations, cartels flourish by being hard to distinguish from the general population. This strategy not only would turn the cartels into a guerrilla force, it would treat northern Mexico as hostile occupied territory. Don’t even think of that possibility, absent a draft under which college-age Americans from upper-middle-class families would be sent to patrol Mexico ­ and be killed and wounded. The United States does not need a Gaza Strip on its southern border, so this won’t happen.

The current efforts by the Mexican government might impede the various gangs, but they won’t break the cartel system. The supply chain along the border is simply too diffuse and too plastic. It shifts too easily under pressure. The border can’t be sealed, and the level of economic activity shields smuggling too well. Farmers in Mexico can’t be persuaded to stop growing illegal drugs for the same reason that Bolivians and Afghans can’t. Market demand is too high and alternatives too bleak. The Mexican supply chain is too robust ­ and too profitable ­ to break easily.

The likely course is a multigenerational pattern of instability along the border. More important, there will be a substantial transfer of wealth from the United States to Mexico in return for an intrinsically low-cost consumable product ­ drugs. This will be one of the sources of capital that will build the Mexican economy, which today is 14th largest in the world. The accumulation of drug money is and will continue finding its way into the Mexican economy, creating a pool of investment capital. The children and grandchildren of the Zetas will be running banks, running for president, building art museums and telling amusing anecdotes about how grandpa made his money running blow into Nuevo Laredo.

It will also destabilize the U.S. Southwest while grandpa makes his pile. As is frequently the case, it is a problem for which there are no good solutions, or for which the solution is one without real support.

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