This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Coca in Brazil

When satellite images revealed a small coca plantation some 150 kilometers south of Tabatinga in the Brazilian state of Amazonas on 14 March, both the Brazilian military and local members of the civil police immediately headed to intercept.

They found roughly two hectares of coca bushes and a small cocaine processing lab filled with all the necessary chemicals and other materials required to process coca leaves to coca paste and from paste to the pure powder.

According to analysts, Brazil consumes roughly 40 tons of cocaine a year, while another 40 tons annually pass through the county and on to West Africa where the shipments are downsized and carried into Europe, mostly through the work of dozens of mules.

Given the size of the two hectare plot, the bushes growing there could yield up to 12 kilos of pure cocaine, hardly enough to warrant Brazil as a source country.

The small plantation’s location was along the banks of the Javari river, south of Tabatinga, a lawless town that sits on the Brazil-Peruvian border. The location suggests cooperation between Brazilian and Peruvian elements, and confirms the use of the Javari river as a waterway used to transport cocaine from the remote jungles of the Amazon to the city of Manaus and possibly onto Belem on the coast for export, or south to Sao Paulo for distribution and local consumption.

The discovery of the plantation indicates that there are likely more, but most importantly, it confirms a long-held suspicion that coca bushes have been genetically engineered to grow at low altitudes.

According to local reports, the leaves of the coca bushes that grew along the banks of the Javari were thicker than the leaves found on bushes growing at higher altitudes in the Andes. Some point to the leaves’ thickness as a sign that this new strain can produce more coca paste per bush.

Tabatinga has long been known as a port town where drugs, guns, and the precursor chemicals used to produce cocaine meet and are swapped between interested parties coming south from Colombia, east from Peru, or west from Brazil. The Brazilian criminal Fernandinho Biera-Mar, considered to be running a multi-million dollar smuggling business from his prison cell, pioneered the links between organized crime in Rio and Colombia’s FARC. The cocaine for guns barter system he put in place is considered very much alive today.

It’s possible that his associates are involved in the creation of coca plantations in Brazil. Such an evolution is certainly not a surprise, as the Brazilian Amazon would be the perfect place to expand coca production.

Reporting the discovery of the camp, the Brazilian military called it a triumph of superior intelligence gathering. Others quietly regard it as a lucky break. With barely enough man power to operate the air-bridge denial program that Brazil maintains in the Amazon through a series of radar posts, and a Navy that refuses to patrol rivers, Brazilian authorities are hardly in a position to crack down on the proliferation of more coca bush plantations in the Amazon.

There is simple saying in Portuguese that goes, “In the Amazon, anything grows.” Apparently coca does too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mexicans in the FARC & the FARC in Mexico

After the Colombian Air Force (FAC) bombed the camp of FARC leader Raul Reyes with Brazilian airplanes and Israeli guidance systems, the camp lay destroyed in the early morning hours of 2 March. When the Colombian military special forces picked through the bodies just moments after the dust settled, they came across an interesting find.

Mexicans figured among the dead.

Six days later, the Colombian vice president, Francisco Santos, said that there were “several” Mexican youths being trained by the FARC while residing at Reyes’ camp. At least one Mexican, Lucia Morett Alvarez, was taking a course on explosives. This fact resonates with the as yet unconfirmed rumors that Raul Reyes had been in contact with a Mexican insurgent off-shoot called the Ricardo Flores Magon - Insurgent Militias. Other information connecting the FARC with insurgencies inside Mexico is likely on the recovered computers, but so far has not been leaked.

According to the Colombian government, however, at least four Mexicans have been confirmed as dead from the bombing of Reyes’ camp.

Beyond insurgent activity, and the reported resurgence of FARC activities among Mexico’s universities, the presence of the FARC in the Mexican drug trade has been well established. As businessmen, FARC operatives have taken no sides in Mexico’s internal struggles. They are known to have worked with all of the major Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Where there is a Mexican buyer, it seems, so there is a FARC seller.

Echoing the Colombian vice president’s public claim of Mexicans taking classes from the FARC, the Mexican Attorney General, Eduardo Medina-Mora, said on 10 March that the FARC maintains a strong presence in Mexico. He claims the FARC sells some US$780 million worth of cocaine to the world market every year, of which Mexican drug trafficking organizations purchase some US$428 million or 55 percent.

While it is difficult to determine the true dollar amount of FARC cocaine sales to Mexico, it’s possible that this number may soon grow if the recently released older brother of the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization (AFO), Felipe, decides to get back into the cocaine buying business.

He was the organizations top cocaine smuggler in the early 1990s and is considered the front man who made contact with the FARC, establishing the insurgency as a reliable cocaine supplier. The AFO has been credited with being the first Mexican drug trafficking organization to have engaged the FARC as a cocaine supplier. Now, it seems, there is a chance to renew old ties, bringing the FARC deeper into Mexico.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Two Fronts Against Colombia

Colombian relations with Ecuador chilled after Colombia delivered a bomb strike on the Ecuadorian side of the border. The FARC’s number two, known as Raul Reyes, was killed, making the strike justifiable for Colombia but still inexcusable for Ecuador.

Speaking more to a domestic audience than the Colombians, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa reacted strongly to the Colombian incursion. He has sent a cursory amount of troops to the Colombian border for a show of strength, not intimidation. He has also begun a regional tour to seek support for his cause, and is scheduled to meet with Hugo Chavez on 5 March after his current meetings with Alan Garcia in Peru have been concluded.

Chavez, who has maintained a rhetorical offensive against Colombia since November last year, has taken advantage of Ecuador’s ire to propel his rhetoric and actions to a new level of war mongering. Chavez has now sent troops and tanks to the Venezuelan-Colombian border, has closed a major border crossing point, and promises that trouble will come if Colombia makes any move to invade.

Uribe will not send Colombian troops to either border, however. Interesting though is his abrupt change in tact. Until 4 March, Uribe had resisted playing into Chavez’s game of name calling and public argument. Now Uribe has announced that he will sue Chavez at the International Criminal Court for financing genocide.

Few doubt that Uribe has the information to back up his claims. Colombian intelligence agents have been planting the seeds of intelligence gathering in Venezuela for over a decade. Rumors that Chavez has in one way or another loaned or granted the FARC 300 million are likely supported by as yet undisclosed evidence. Already information has been leaked to Colombian media, which has taken the mantel for its country and is currently in full attack mode against Chavez – likely allowing Uribe to keep out of the public eye as Colombian journalists lambaste the Venezuelan leader with a number of accusations.

Not the least of which has been a recent accusation that Chavez offered a “stake” in oil companies to the FARC. The nature of this agreement is unclear, but if true, its ramifications for the state sponsorship of an internationally recognized terrorist group and insurgent army are serious enough to potentially cause Chavez some serious trouble at home.

Correa’s ruffled feathers are little more than a show of national unity and a savvy politician seeing an opportunity to gather support. Correa knows that Raul Reyes’ death benefits his country nearly as much as it benefits Colombia. And it is Chavez, not Uribe, that is in the most precarious position. Uribe appears to have lost his patience and will now push forward with a credible smear campaign that may loosen tight blocks of “chavista” support inside Venezuela, further reducing Chavez’s already dwindling support base.

With 24 percent inflation, scarce supplies of basic foodstuffs and a soaring crime rate around the country, it behooves Chavez to keep his supporters’ attention focused elsewhere. Yet if by chasing after war with Colombia, Chavez actually brews a conflict, he must be careful to control blood shed and come out a clear winner. If not, there is a significant chance he will lose the conflict and his presidency...

Powered by Southern Pulse |