Is Colombia in Danger of Becoming a Narco State Again?

Cocaine has been flowing from Colombia through Venezuela to the United States
Cocaine trafficking, from Colombia, through Venezuela, and to the United States, is flourishing. (El Espectador)

By José Marulanda

EspañolCocaine use in the United States is on the rise, and Colombia’s coca-leaf plantations are thriving. This according to William Brownfield, former US ambassador to Venezuela and Colombia, and currently the US Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

In May, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the army to stop using glyphosate, a powerful herbicide to eradicate coca plantations, following a request by the FARC guerrilla.

Around 400 tons of cocaine exits Colombia through the Venezuelan border every year.

Given that the underlying cause of insecurity in many Latin American cities is drug trafficking, Brownfield’s announcements are discouraging: a surge in international drug trade will lead to increased consumption, retail trade, and insecurity.

Police action against retailers tends to be short-sighted and uncoordinated, creating additional problems and exposing the government’s inefficiency.

Widespread Corruption

At the bottom lies an inefficient and sluggish judiciary. According to the 2015 Global Index of Impunity by the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico, the top three most-corrupt justice systems are those of the Philippines, Mexico, and Colombia.

In Venezuela, the Institute for Criminal Science at the Central University of Venezuela claims that the impunity rate is at a staggering 95 percent.

The growing number of street lynchings and attacks against police officers are a clear symptom that Venezuelans are losing confidence in the country’s authorities. The mismanagement of security programs only aggravates the problem.

In Bogotá, security has notably decreased under the rule of former guerrilla member Gustavo Petro. The city’s Surveillance and Vigilance Fund has had six directors in over a year, who executed only 30 percent of its budget, full with errors and improvisation.

Rather than an administrator suited to the needs of large city like Bogotá, Petro has been a confrontational and polarizing ideologue.

The mayor has expressed an interest in following the example of Hugo Chávez, but the truth is that the late Venezuelan President’s 21st-century socialism has gifted Caracas with the world’s second highest homicide and kidnapping rate.

So far, none of the Venezuelan government’s 21 security plans has given Venezuelans a break.

Marxists and the Drug Trade

Violence in Latin America has many actors. Extremists have funneled money to armed civilian groups so they can defend the revolution at gunpoint. Then you have a co-opted and politicized judiciary. Police officers are loyal, but inefficient. There are serious logistical failures, and prisons are controlled by gangs, among other shortcomings.

In addition, armed left-wing groups, such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army in Colombia, Shining Path in Peru, and the People’s Army in Paraguay, have joined forces to profit from the drug trade. This has spillover effects not only into crime, but also into the economy.

As the crisis affecting Argentina and Venezuela gets closer to Colombia, what the Italian journalist Robert Saviano wrote in Zero Zero Zero: How Cocaine Rules the World starts making sense: “Cocaine is the universal response to the necessity of liquidity. The coke economy grows exponentially and reaches every corner of the country.”

Paraguayan Attorney General Javier Díaz Verón aptly said that “drug trafficking not only corrupts men, but the state’s own structure.”

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In Argentina, drug-related violence has become a national-security problem, and Chief of Staff Aníbal Fernández faces allegations over involvement in a drug-trafficking ring.

Meanwhile, a US court has allegedly accused top Venezuelan officials like National Assembly Speaker and Chavismo strongman Diosdado Cabello of leading an international, illicit drug cartel.

Most recently, the DEA arrested and indicted President Maduro’s relatives on drug-trafficking conspiracy charges. Colombia has become the world’s top cocaine producer again, and in Peru, the second top producer, President Alan Garía, who is seeking a third term, has been accused of pardoning hundreds of drug traffickers after “asking God for advice.”

Not to mention Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, which deserve a separate article.

This could explain why the United Nations deems Latin America the most dangerous continent, while drug trafficking, the cause of insecurity, continues to grow inexorably with the complicity of politicians.

Faced with this scenario, the question now is under what conditions will the FARC enter the political arena once the negotiations with the Santos administration are done.

How will the guerrilla deal with the government? With the media?

The FARC control precisely those regions in Colombia near the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan border where coca plantations have increased. This suggests that the peace talks in Havana could potentially lead to the construction of a narco state, with all the dire consequences for the economy and politics that come with it.

José Marulanda is a columnist, Colombian Army colonel in active reserve, and security consultant with energy firms in Latin America.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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