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Saturday, September 29, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Farc woman steals plane to desert

An armed female member of Colombia’s Farc rebel group hijacked a small plane to escape her “tortuous life” with the guerrillas, police have said.

The woman, who was identified only by her alias “Angelica,” took over the plane at an airstrip in Puerto Principe, in eastern Colombia.

Carrying a rifle, machete, knife and 150 bullets, she forced the pilot to fly her to the city of Villavicencio.


Police said the hijacker would not be charged with a crime and would be admitted to the government’s rebel rehabilitation programme.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombian ‘drug lord’ is captured

Police in Colombia have captured the man they regard as the country’s top drug baron, Diego Montoya.


Mr Montoya - known in Colombia’s underworld as the “boss of bosses” - appears on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “10 Most Wanted” list.


Colombia’s Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, said Mr Montoya controlled a vast trafficking network responsible for about 70% of the cocaine smuggled to the US and Europe.

Mr Montoya’s private army of assassins, called Los Machos, was behind some 1,500 killings, Mr Santos said.

It would appear that Montoya will be extradited to the US-which is a continuation of President Uribe’s policies in these matters (which is a switch from

Of course, this capture will disrupt the cartel to some degree, but it will hardly stop the flow of cocaine. Even if the arrest somehow leads to the dismantlement of the entire operation, a new group/groups will emerge to take its place. Such are the depressing facts of the drug war.

The AP has more:

Soldiers surrounded Diego Montoya, also known as Don Diego, in a farmhouse where he was hiding with his mother and several other people near the western coffee town of Armenia, capping a more than 7-year manhunt.

Somehow being holed up with one’s mother doesn’t quite fit the image of the big bad drug lord.

At any rate, soft spot for Mom or not, he oversaw a lot of violence:

He consolidated his empire using paramilitaries to brutally control rural areas used to produce and transport cocaine. The “paras” have committed some of the worst massacres and other atrocities of this Andean country’s four-decade-old war between left-wing guerrillas and the government.

I am not sufficiently caffeinated yet to go into the whole “four-decades old war” bit (let’s just say it is a simplification at best), but it is true that the paras have been a major (if not the major) source of violence in Colombia over the last two decades.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia seeks Israeli mercenary

Colombia is to seek the extradition of an Israeli mercenary, convicted in absentia of training death squads, who has been arrested in Russia.

Yair Klein, a former Israeli colonel, was held at a Moscow airport on an international arrest warrant.

He was sentenced to 10 years for training drugs traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries in the 1980s.

Prosecutors say those trained went on to carry out some of the country’s most notorious political assassinations.


The Colombian authorities say Klein was hired by the Medellin cartel of drug lord Pablo Escobar, which set up a training school for paramilitaries and assassins in Colombia.

Wild. It sounds more like the plot of a movie than real life, yet it is sadly quite real.

I know that one of the founders/leaders of the paramilitary group the AUC, the late Carlos Castaño went to Israel to obtain training from mercenaries. I wonder if that training involved Klein?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Remember the AUC member who was stripped of his cease-fire privileges that I mentioned the other day? Well, the US has requested his extradition (via the BBC: US seeks Colombian paramilitary):

Colombia said Jimenez violated a peace agreement by continuing to organise cocaine shipments and run a criminal empire from prison.

Jimenez is wanted in the US on drug trafficking charges


He is the first jailed warlord to lose benefits agreed under a 2003 peace deal which led paramilitary leaders to surrender and demobilise 31,000 of their men in exchange for reduced jail terms and extradition protection.

The Uribe administration has been quite willing to extradite such persons to the US, so the track record suggests that they will do so here. Further since, Jimenez was caught breaking the demobilization agreement, I suspect that the Colombian government will want to make an example of him. Given that one of the things that narcos have wanted to avoid is extradition to the US this situation will give Uribe a chance to send a signal to the other AUC commanders: behave or be sent to the US for trial.=.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia warlord loses benefits

The authorities said they had evidence that Carlos Jimenez, also known as Macaco, was continuing to smuggle drugs and run a criminal empire from prison.

He has been transferred to Colombia’s most secure prison, Combita, and will be tried as an ordinary criminal.

Jimenez could also be extradited to the US although no request has been made.

The move means Jimenez loses the benefits given to demobilised paramilitaries, including shorter sentences.

The idea that Jimenez could have been continuing criminal activities in prison is hardly a surprise. Indeed, for anyone familiar with Colombia’s track record on curtailing criminal activity by high profile prisoners, this news will likely elicit nothing more than a yawn.

The interesting part is that Jimenez’s actions are in violation of the demobilization agreement between the government at the paramilitary group known at the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The real question now will be if the Colombia justice system actually succeeds in treating Jimenez like a common criminal, and it will be quite interesting to see if the US seeks his extradition. From there the real question will be if this will dissuade other imprisoned AUC commanders from continuing their criminal activities.

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Monday, August 20, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

What do you call a policy that spends billions of dollars, makes the problem that the policy is designed to address worse, and yet everyone involved in making that policy wants to expand? You call it the “War on Drugs.”

Misha Glenny, writing in WaPo has the latest in a long line of attempts to explain the failure that is the war on drugs: The Lost War:

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

That is exactly right.

There isn’t an easy alternative, I will grant, but the continuation of our current policy is as wrongheaded as it can be, if what one wants out of public policy is return on investment (i.e., for the money spent to actually accomplish something). We spend billions, and the problem only gets worse and the very metrics employed to measure the efficacy of the policies tell us that this is true. If we look at the availability of product, the street price and the hectares under cultivation, it is clear that the policies are utter failures. Yet, as one article put it, we are “addicted to failure” it would seem.

Not only are the current set of policies ineffective, but they make the situation worse by increasing the profits on these business radically. It is the very fact of prohibition that makes leaves, flowers and weeds into multi-billion dollar industries.

The answer that is always given in Washington is: just a little more money and we’ll get it right. However, this is objectively not true.

Of course, to make such suggestions usually results in scorn, because one is assumed to be pro-drugs if one takes this stance. Or, one is accused of wanting to expose the children of America to heroin usage. Indeed, as I have studied this policy over the years, it is clear that the main motivator seems to be protecting children and this is what has made, as Glenny notes, the war on drugs a “third rail” (the one that electrocutes you if you touch it) in America politics.

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It’s obvious why — telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, “I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years’ time and tell the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ This is so stupid.”

How right he is.


The references to international terrorism in this case are far from gratuitous. The fact of the matter is that drugs are an excellent source of funding that can easily arm a large number of persons, and arm them well. There is no doubt, for example, that the Taliban pre-9/11 was able to accrue cash via taxing poppy sales and the FARC in Colombia have been making tremendous profits off of the cocaine industry for over two decades. As a set of Marxist guerrillas one would have expected the end of the Cold War to have damaged their ability to continue fighting, yet instead they have grown and flourished since that time.

In regards to Afghanistan, I have argued for some time that the drug war was counter-productive to counter-terrorism policies and further recently noted a story about how the US government’s anti-drug zeal is seriously damaging our ability to make political progress in Afghanistan. Glenny makes a similar observation:

Docherty was quick to realize that the military push into northern Helmand province was going to run into serious trouble. The rumor was “that we were there to eradicate the poppy,” he said. “The Taliban aren’t stupid and so they said, ‘These guys are here to destroy your livelihood, so let’s take up arms against them.’ And it’s been a downward spiral since then.”

This is not a good situation, yet no one in Washington even wants to even discuss it (as Dan Drezner also notes).

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Forbes>: Colombia Checks Admiral for Drug Ties

A high-ranking navy officer is being investigated for alleged ties to drug traffickers and has been removed from his post, in a widening probe into connections between Colombia’s military and drug trafficking.

Colombia’s minister of defense said Monday that Rear Admiral Gabriel Arango, who served along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is the latest in a series of military officers fired for alleged ties to this South American country’s vast cocaine industry.

Colombia’s Caribbean coastal area is rife with big-time drug trafficking and is also the main nexus of the parapolitica business (the infiltration of electoral politcs by paramilitary groups). None of that automatically implicates Arango, of course, but it did provide ample opportunity.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via CNN: Two Colombian officers die in captivity -

Two military officers kidnapped four months ago by leftist rebels have died in captivity, their families confirmed Wednesday.

Army Sgts. Alexander Cardona and Jesus Sol were taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, while on patrol near their homes in southwest Colombia.

After the death of the 11 departmental legislators earlier this summer, I suspect that this event will further drive down public opinion concerning the FARC (not to mention the tale of Gustavo Moncayo, who took seven weeks to walk across Colombia to draw attention to the plight of his son, who has been in the FARC’s custody for ten years).

I still find the following rather unlikely, and today’s news won’t help any:

The FARC also is insisting on a New York-size demilitarized zone to negotiate the release of another 45 so-called political hostages it is also holding, including three American defense contractors held captive since 2003.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Colombia navy seizes sub in coke probe - 08/07/2007 -

Colombia’s navy seized a 65-foot submarine that likely was used to haul tons of cocaine on part of its journey to the United States, officials said Tuesday.

No drugs were found or arrests made when the fiberglass submarine was discovered Sunday in a swampy mangrove about six miles off the northernmost point of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

The blue-colored, diesel-powered vessel had sophisticated communications systems and was capable of carrying up to 11 tons of cocaine

I say “another” in the title, as there have been several of these types of thing seized over the years. It is always an excellent illustration of the lengths to which smugglers will (and can, given the profits) go to move their product.

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Friday, August 3, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombian court defends “para” ruling, slams Uribe

- Colombia’s Supreme Court on Thursday stood by its decision to stop former paramilitaries from holding public office, despite cries from the government the ruling will torpedo the country’s peace process.

A Supreme Court ruling in July shook the foundation of Uribe’s paramilitary peace accord by saying demobilized fighters must be charged with common crimes like drug trafficking and murder rather than with political crimes, which can be pardoned.

Uribe’s plan was based on the idea of pardoning paramilitaries not directly involved in atrocities so they could later run for political office, an avenue closed to anyone with a serious criminal conviction.

To bypass the court’s decision, Uribe proposes a law allowing former paramilitaries the same rights as some demobilized Marxist rebels who faced charges of sedition, a political crime, and then went on to win seats in Congress.

This is a rather difficult situation. On the one hand, both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries have engaged in criminal activities-and the FARC’s reliance on kidnapping and drug-related activities hardly make them idealistic fighters. As such any type of amnesty program for any of the armed groups will result in outrage from some sector of Colombian society. The problem with the paramilitaries is that they have been brutal in their application of violence. For example, a key tactic of the AUC (the umbrella group for Colombian paramilitaries) has been to terrorize villages in areas where the FARC and ELN are active. If the AUC believes that a village has been cooperating or helping guerrillas in any way, the AUC treats the village as if it is just as guilty as the FARC and are more than willing to massacres peasants and displace the survivors.

For example, there were cases were the FARC had stolen cattle from land owners (in many cases linked to narcos, who used profits to buy large ranches) and then the FARC traded or gave the cattle to peasants, who then took the cattle to local butchers to prepare the animal for eating. The AUC targeted butchers in guerrilla areas, killing them (and not just killing them, but beheading them, castrating them, burning them with acid and so forth) on the logic that they should have known they the cattle were stolen.

There is also the issue of state complicity in paramilitary activity. While it would be inaccurate to say that the paramilitaries have been officially sanctioned state-directed actors, it is also the case that there is ample evidence that demonstrates substantial cooperation between elements of the state with these groups (ranging from turning a blind eye to providing material and even coordinating activities). As such, there is the question of whether amnesty to paramilitaries isn’t just the government, in some cases, forgiving itself after a fashion.

Uribe has the votes in the congress to pass the new law. However, there is also a significant opposition presence, so the debate on this topic should be interesting.

Ultimately the problem is that the alternative to any kind of peace agreement (whether with the guerrillas or paramilitaries) is simply more fighting. Of course, a key criticism of the peace process with the paramilitaries is that they aren’t all quiting the fight once they “demobilize.”

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