15.4.11

Colombia's Santos: accomplice in drug trafficking and terrorism

Since the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, in 1948, Colombia has been suffering from an internal armed conflict. Historically, communist guerrilla movements -such as Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces or FARC- have exerted control over much territory, at one point controlling an area that extended to 40% of Colombia. The BBC, not the most objective source of information on issues that expose communism, has reported that 4.6 million people have been displaced in Colombia, due to the conflict between guerrillas and security forces. The FARC, which over the years lost its purpose, has supplanted Colombia's notorious cartels and now finances its terrorist activities  with kidnaps and cocaine trafficking. In fact, it is believed that the FARC is today's Colombia's largest drug cartel, with operations in a number of South American countries, especially in adjacent Venezuela, and Ecuador.


Against that backdrop, successive Colombian administrations have tried, both through dialogue, demobilisation, and force of arms, to put an end to the conflict, and bring FARC terrorists to justice. Alas official efforts, however laudable, are being undermined by the very individuals that have got to be unflinching in their determination to bring peace to Colombia: its presidents.

First, it was former president Alvaro Uribe, under whose command a huge cache of data of FARC activities, both at national and international levels, was seized following the slaying in Ecuador of FARC no. 2, Raul Reyes. INTERPOL was invited by Uribe's government to certify that information contained in Reyes' computers had not been tampered with, read it had not been fabricated by the Colombian government. Said information led to captures of FARC collaborators in Spain, and Costa Rica, and cast a light on the wide international network in which FARC operates. It showed direct connections with ETA, the Basque terrorist group. But more worryingly, it revealed how deep Hugo Chavez's support for FARC went, as a provider not only of safe haven in camps in neighbouring Venezuela, but of weapons, money, military cooperation and even oil to be traded by FARC. It is worth noting that Hugo Chavez has frozen relations with Colombia -Venezuela's second largest trading partner- on four occasions since his ascent to power in 1998: every single one of them has been because of FARC. What of the intelligence though? What did Uribe do with it? After presumably sharing it with the US, the data was sent to London, where it was purportedly going to be used to build a case in international courts against all actors involved, Hugo Chavez included. 

Chavez had a different plan though, he knew that refusing to pay millions of dollars owed by Venezuela to Colombian businesses would force Uribe into acquiescence. And acquiesce Uribe did. Despite sitting on a pile of evidence that could easily drag Chavez before the International Criminal Court, for violations to UN resolutions on terrorism, Uribe swept the whole thing under the carpet upon getting Chavez's word that all monies owed would be paid, and trade -worth to Colombia an estimated $7-8 billion/year- would continue. 

Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe's powerful Minister of Defence, was elected as president of Colombia in June 2010. His election caused much expectation and hope in the region, after all he was the man in charge of the operation that killed Raul Reyes in Ecuador and dealt lethal blows to FARC. Just before leaving the presidency, Uribe instructed his Ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), to formally accuse Venezuela of harbouring, supporting and protecting FARC terrorists. Allegations as per the presence of 1,500 FARC members living in 85 camps located in Venezuela were made by Colombia's Ambassador. Evidence, in the form of intercepted communications, photographs, geographic coordinates and maps, was presented. And a request was made: Colombia demanded the hemispheric body to appoint a commission to visit Venezuela and check whether the allegations were real. Alas, yet again, nothing happened. 

Recently inaugurated Santos, walked into office in the middle of this crisis. He summoned Chavez to Santa Marta, and after a private conversation both leaders emerged laughing, posing for the cameras. A notably shaken and decomposed Chavez said that Santos was now "his best friend", bilateral relations -suspended over the mentioned incident at the OAS- would be immediately reestablished, and trade would carry on as normal. Success would continue favouring Santos. On 18 August 2010, Walid Makled, a Venezuelan drug kingpin, was arrested in Cucuta, a city on the Venezuela - Colombia border. While arrested in Colombia, Makled has given statements to the press, implicating high officials and relatives of the Chavez government in drug trafficking activities. Some of these officials, in turn, had been previously identified by the US Treasury as drug kingpins and collaborators of FARC. The US government has asked Colombia to extradite Makled for the alleged shipment of 10 tonnes of cocaine. But Venezuela asked Colombia to extradite Makled before the US, for the alleged assassination of a journalist. Expectedly, Santos decanted in favour of Chavez.

President Santos, has used Makled to leverage his country's economic and political position vis-a-vis Chavez, in the same manner his predecessor used the cache of FARC information to force Chavez into retreat. In principle, there's nothing wrong with that, for that old premise of countries not having friends but interests. However, Makled has admittedly smuggled 900 tonnes of cocaine to international markets, while the FARC is directly responsible of not only vast quantities of cocaine entering other countries, but thousands of deaths and millions of people displaced. All things considered then, is Uribe's and Santos' calculated blackmail morally acceptable? When the whole world seems to have united in its outrage towards Gaddafi, can Santos continue compromising the peace, not only in his country, but in the Andean region for a balance of some $7 billion? Ultimately, are Uribe's and Santos' calculated moves not equivalent to complicity with Chavez and the FARC? Failure to act upon knowledge of crimes being committed is the very definition of accomplice.

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