Category Archives: Colombia

Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a constitutional republic in northwestern South America. Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela[8] and Brazil;[9] to the south by Ecuador and Peru;[10] to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the northwest by Panama; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia also shares maritime borders with Venezuela, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

“Katie bar the door” :: Southcom Keeps Watch on Ebola Situation

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2014 – The potential spread of Ebola into Central and Southern America is a real possibility, the commander of U.S. Southern Command told an audience at the National Defense University here yesterday.

“By the end of the year, there’s supposed to be 1.4 million people infected with Ebola and 62 percent of them dying, according to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly said. “That’s horrific. And there is no way we can keep Ebola [contained] in West Africa.”

If it comes to the Western Hemisphere, many countries have little ability to deal with an outbreak of the disease, the general said.

“So, much like West Africa, it will rage for a period of time,” Kelly said.

This is a particularly possible scenario if the disease gets to Haiti or Central America, he said. If the disease gets to countries like Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, it will cause a panic and people will flee the region, the general said.

“If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Kelly said. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment.”

Also, transnational criminal networks smuggle people and those people can be carrying Ebola, the general said. Kelly spoke of visiting the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua with U.S. embassy personnel. At that time, a group of men “were waiting in line to pass into Nicaragua and then on their way north,” he recalled.

“The embassy person walked over and asked who they were and they told him they were from Liberia and they had been on the road about a week,” Kelly continued. “They met up with the network in Trinidad and now they were on their way to the United States — illegally, of course.”

Those men, he said, “could have made it to New York City and still be within the incubation period for Ebola.”

Kelly said his command is in close contact with U.S. Africa Command to see what works and what does not as it prepares for a possible outbreak in the area of operations.

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European cap-and-trade market takes a nose dive

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The European Union’s cap-and-trade system took a huge hit on Thursday, with carbon prices plummeting a record 40 percent after a panel rejected a plan to delay emission permit sales to alleviate the overabundance of permits already in the system.

“The market is panicking, really,” Daniel Rossetto, managing director of Climate Mundial, told Bloomberg, adding that traders fear that Europe’s carbon emissions market won’t continue past 2020.

An excess of carbon emission permits in the 54 billion euro trading system drove the price down 91 percent from its record high in April 2006. Carbon permit prices sank to a record low of 2.81 euros ($3.75) per metric ton immediately after the panel rejected the EU plan. However, prices slightly rebounded to 4.33 euros per metric ton.

“This should be the final wake-up call,” said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard in a statement. “Something has to be done urgently. I can therefore only appeal to the governments and the European Parliament to act responsibly.”

The Financial Times reports that the carbon market has seen two record-low prices within the last four days, causing some analysts to say carbon permits are “worthless.”

The European Commission wanted to temporarily delay the sale of 900 million permits to alleviate the current overabundance. Analysts say this move would have boosted prices, but not high enough to provide sufficient incentives for utilities to switch to cleaner energy sources, reports the Guardian.

However, the plan was met with resistance from various governments, industries, and lawmakers.

Joachim Pfeiffer, economy spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said the plan was “absurd” and would impose higher costs on German industry.Reuters reports that the bank Societe Generale cut its EU carbon price forecast from 2013 to 2015 by 30 percent, due to prices plunging to record lows.

“Negative news and events relating to the EU [Emissions Trading System] continue to pile up and come from all sides. So it is not at all surprising that EUA prices have fallen and have continued to be quite volatile,” they said. “The EU ETS has become a one-way market, spiraling down.”

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Colombia: ‘Carbon credit’ scheme a cover for land grab

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Sunday, March 4, 2012
By James Bargent

When the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) arrived in San Onofre in northern Colombia in the late 1990s, they came after dark, dragging people from their homes and disappearing into the night.

Soon, they did not need the cover of darkness. People were executed in public plazas in broad daylight. Women and young girls were openly raped and abused.

Since the demobilisation of the local AUC bloc in 2005, 42 mass graves have been discovered in the municipality. Locals say about 3000 people disappeared ands tens of thousands fled their homes and abandoned their land to escape what one survivor called a region of “concentration camps”.

Seven years on from the AUC demobilisation, San Onofre is now the site of thousands of hectares of teak trees belonging to one of Colombia’s five biggest companies, Argos S.A.

In February last year, Argos’ commercial monocrop plantation was approved for the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) carbon trading scheme. This means it can sell carbon credits to industrialised countries trying to meet Kyoto Protocol emission reduction targets.

The company says the plantation will capture 37,000 tones of CO2 a year for 25 years – worth about $12.5 million in the current carbon market. It also plans to use another teak plantation in the nearby municipalities of El Carmen and Ovejas for the CDM.

Argos claims the teak plantation is helping fight climate change and contributing to the sustainable development of a conflict scarred region, but the project has proved controversial.

Survivors from the paramilitary era and land restitution campaigners claim the plantation and its CDM status is not only an attempt to cash in on the lucrative carbon credits market, but also legitimise a mass land grab that followed paramilitary violence, and prevent land restitution to a displaced population.

The municipalities of San Onofre, El Carmen and Ovejas are in the Caribbean region Montes de Maria. A heavy guerilla presence in the area led to the creation of AUC bloc, the “Heroes of Montes de Maria” in 1997. The paramilitaries soon gained complete social and economic control of the region by murdering, torturing and displacing local farmers with the support of local state security forces.

Between 1995 and 2005, 54 massacres were reported in the three municipalities of San Onofre, Ovejas and El Carmen and, says government agency Accion Social, 117,097 people have been displaced there since the paramilitaries first arrived.

The AUC era ended with demobilisation in 2005. However, in 2008 El Espectacor reported a new invasion, of “strange personalities” in bulletproof Hummers.

A land grab ensued, in which desperate, indebted or frightened people were pressured into selling property. Abandoned land was snapped up by speculators.

Next came big business. What had previously been an area of smallholder and subsistence farming rapidly became dominated by large-scale agro-industrial enterprises ― dairy, timber, African palm and teak.

As the land became more concentrated in fewer hands, the landscape of Montes de Maria began to change. Most of Montes de Maria is now owned by just a handful of large businesses, among them Argos, which owns an estimated 12,500 hectares.

Argos claims it bought its land in San Onofre directly from the owners in 2005, after the paramilitaries had left. However, the CDM validation report indicates it first bought land in 2003 and continued to do so until 2008.

Camilo Abello, the vice-president of corporate affairs at Argos, claims the company entered “a completely peaceful zone. The Argos representative who made the purchases was able to go into the zone because there were no paramilitaries, there was no violence.”

“Juan Carlos”, a San Onofre local whose family sold their land to Argos, disagrees.

Juan Carlos’ family owned land close to the El Palmar ranch, headquarters of the infamous local AUC leader known as “Cadena” and site of a mass grave containing 72 tortured and mutilated bodies.

“We had to sell the land because we were in an unbearable situation,” he said, “Our lives were in danger.”

Juan Carlos said his family had to ask Cadena permission to sell to Argos. He said that although he knew of no formal contact between the AUC and Argos, paramilitaries visited the farm while the Argos representative was measuring the land.

Government statistics show that nearly 2000 people were forcibly displaced in San Onofre in 2005, more than in the previous two years. More than 1000 people were also displaced in 2006 and again in 2007.

Murder and displacement rates have dropped sharply since, but government risk reports on San Onofre show a renewed and growing paramilitary presence in the area.

In El Carmen de Bolivar and Ovejas, Argos bought land from the speculators who flooded the region in the wake of the paramilitaries.

One of the main sources was a group of powerful businesspeople and ranchers called the Amigos de Montes de Maria. Locals say they pressured campesinos into selling their land and evicted families from land bought for agro-industrial projects.

Testimonies collected for two NGO reports said that in at least one case Argos bought land acquired by Amigos de Montes de Maria from demobilised AUC members who had displaced its owners.

Residents also report how one alleged demobilised AUC member, Silvio Flores, went to work for the company after it bought the land he managed on behalf of a member of the group. Locals claim Flores then began pressuring other campesinos to sell; abusing and threatening them, killing their animals and burning down houses.

In the report, residents of Ovejas also describe being threatened by heavily armed camouflaged men who claimed to be the company’s security.

Argos denies any involvement in pressuring people to sell or buying from displaced people. “What we did was buy from people who wanted to sell,” said Camilo Abello, “without any coercion or pressure”.

Abello also denied any links to paramilitary groups and claimed the company does not use any type of security at the plantations. According to Abello, the company is helping the region by creating jobs.

“We don’t think that we are taking advantage, on the contrary we are supporting the reconstruction of the fabric of society, we are investing in a post-conflict zone,” he said.

The issue of land ownership in Montes de Maria has been complicated further by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ new flagship policy ― the Victims and Land Restitution Law.

The law is designed to address the desperate plight of the estimated 3-5 million Colombians forced from their lands into city slums and squatter camps by conflict and violence. Its main focus is the restitution of lands to the displaced.

Critics of Argos claim the company is using the teak plantations and their CDM status to ward off the danger of losing their lands because of the Victims Law. If Argos faces claims on its Montes de Maria land, it can retain the plantations by exploiting a loophole in the restitution process.

The Victims Law says land will not be taken from companies that are using it for agro-industrial enterprises if the company can prove it bought the land in good faith. Instead, the authorities will try to negotiate a financial agreement between company and claimant.

Colombian Congressperson Ivan Cepeda campaigns on land rights and has raised the issue of Montes de Maria land grabs to Congress.

“The operation [Argos] has done in Montes de Maria is a clear example of how the government’s proposed restitution with the Victims Laws is going to work,” he said. “All of this is a big, sophisticated operation to legalize the lands they have robbed from the campesinos.”

Cepeda is scathing of Argos’ claims to have acted in good faith when it bought the lands.

“[Paramilitary violence] did not happen in isolation,” he said. “It is a fact of public knowledge and frankly it is illogical and incomprehensible that these businesses did not know which land they were dealing with and who had lived on that land.”

He added: “[Argos’ project is] a business that it is presenting as clean when in reality it is a business drenched in blood ― the blood of campesinos that were the victims of massacres.”

The company itself says it welcomes the Victims Law and would cooperate fully with any claims on land owned by the company.

In October, Cepeda wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging him to expel Argos from the CDM program and enforce the UN Global Compact, which commits associated companies to human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption principles.

Ban did not publicly respond, but the CDM board chair Martin Hession said responsibility for the matter lay with the Colombian government.

“Primarily, it is for (them) to resolve issues like this as they certified the sustainable development of the project,” he said in an interview with Point Carbon News.

A spokesperson for the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development said, “Only the CDM Executive Board can take this decision [to remove Argos’ approval].”

Compared with the horrors of the turn of the century, life for the campesinos of Montes de Maria is quiet. But with growing tensions over landownership and the resurgence of paramilitarism, violence and conflict still lurk beneath the surface.

“We believe that it is not going to stay calm,” said “Andres”, a campesino from Ovejas.

“It is going to continue, we are going to see deaths here, we are going to see pressure, we are going to see evictions and displacement because they are going to try to reclaim the land like a debt and we are not going to let them.”

[The names of the campesinos interviewed for this article have been changed to protect their identities.]

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Pacific Rubiales Makes Gas Discovery in Colombia

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Pacific Rubiales Energy said today that it has discovered natural gas and condensate in the Cotorra-1X exploration well, drilled on the Guama Block in the Lower Magdalena basin.

The Company has 100% working interest in the block and is the operator.

Ronald Pantin, Chief Executive Officer of the Company commented: “this is an important exploration discovery for Pacific Rubiales and demonstrates the potential of both the Guama block and Lower Magdalena basin where the Company has a large exploration acreage position and is looking to increase its gas reserves to support its initiative to develop an LNG export market in the future.

The Cotorra-1X well was drilled as an exploratory well after an earlier exploration success on the block, the Pedernalito-1X well drilled in 2010. The well targeted Porquero Medio sands and silts of Miocene age, a low-permeability play successfully tested by Pedernalito-1X. Cotorra-1X was drilled to a total depth of 7210 feet in mid-January. The petrophysical evaluation showed a total of 40 feet of net pay, with average 20% porosity.

The well was perforated only in the deeper pay zone, across two intervals; leaving overlying pay zones untested for further evaluation.

After clean-up while flowing through a 1/2″ choke, Cotorra-1X reached a maximum gas flow rate of 7.5 MMcf/d and 370 bbl/d 56 degrees API condensate, followed by a three-stage isochronal and one extended flow test through 12/64″ choke which flowed at 2.6 MMcf/d and 121 bbl/d condensate at 3137 psi well head pressure.

During the month, the Company also completed drilling the Apamate-2X exploration well on its 100 percent owned and operated La Creciente Block. The well failed to test hydrocarbon flow at economic rates and was plugged and abandoned.

Articles

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Estrella shuts down rigs in Colombia because of unrest

 

Coat of arms of Republic of Colombia.

Estrella shuts down rigs in Colombia because of unrest – Oil | Platts News Article & Story.

Latin America : Business climate is king again

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By Brian Winter
SAO PAULO | Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:20am EST

(Reuters) – Here’s an economic riddle of sorts: Which economy grew faster over the last seven years? A) President Hugo Chavez‘s Venezuela, famous for its forced nationalizations and “21st century socialism,” or B) Chile, long renowned as a capitalist paradise for investors.

It might surprise some outsiders to learn that the answer is actually A. In recent years, commodities prices have dictated growth in Latin America more than any other factor, meaning that countries could trample on businesses but still grow briskly as long as they exported plenty of raw materials such as oil and iron ore to China and elsewhere.

Venezuela, the region’s No. 1 oil exporter, has averaged about 4.6 percent economic growth since 2005, compared to 4 percent in Chile, the world’s leader in copper. An even clearer example of commodities’ almighty reign was Argentina, which averaged 7 percent growth during the same period as record soy and other farm exports helped offset the government’s hostile stance toward energy companies and some other investors.

Now, it looks as if the trend is shifting. In Latin America, 2012 seems set to be the year in which business climate clearly reestablishes its supremacy as the main driver of growth.

The countries expected to grow the fastest in 2012 are also generally the ones that are perceived by the World Bank and others as treating investors the best. That means Chile, Peru and Colombia should lead the pack, while Venezuela and even Brazil will lag a step behind – just as they did last year.

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Graphic on region’s economies: r.reuters.com/bed95s

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What has changed? The global economy.

Demand for many commodities is expected to slacken in 2012 due to economic problems in buyer markets such as China and Europe. That means it will be up to Latin American countries to generate more of their own growth – and the ones that fare best will be those who have made their labor laws more flexible, cut red tape, and taken other steps to stimulate business.

“There’s no question we’re seeing a change,” said David Rees, Latin America economist for Capital Economics in London. “The external drivers of growth are drying up and these countries will have to look to other sources like investment in order to keep up the pace.”

A DOGFIGHT FOR FIRST PLACE AMONG INVESTORS

One way to measure the trend is by looking at the World Bank’s annual “Doing Business” study, which ranks the business climate in 183 countries around the world based on how well they protect investors; the ease of starting a business; the simplicity of paying taxes; and other factors.

The cluster of Latin American countries that rank a clear step above their other regional peers in the survey are Chile (39), Peru (41) and Colombia (42).

All three of those economies are forecast to grow 4.5 percent or more this year, according to the International Monetary Fund‘s latest forecasts, made in October. Countries that rank lower in the Doing Business survey, such as Guatemala (97), Brazil (126) and Venezuela (177) are all forecast to grow in the 3.5 percent range or lower.

The divergent trend is even more pronounced in more recent 2012 forecasts by Wall Street firms such as Morgan Stanley.

The region’s other two big economies also appear to be headed in opposite directions.

Growth in Argentina (113) is expected by the IMF to be around 4.5 percent this year – but that’s just about half of last year’s pace. Meanwhile, Mexico’s (53) relatively open, low-tax economy should show resilience, with growth of 3.6 percent – well above its roughly 2 percent trend level since 2005.

Most of the countries at the top of the economic league table have vigorously implemented pro-business reforms in recent years, often with the explicit goal of improving their standing in the Doing Business rankings.

Peru, Chile and Colombia have been battling each other for supremacy within Latin America for years, said Luis Plata, a former Colombian trade minister. “We fought hard to be first,” he said in an interview. “It became a competition.”

“The rankings improve your standing with investors, but … the real reason to do it is to help you identify deep changes in the system, things that will help your economy grow better,” Plata said.

For this year’s “champion,” the dividends are clear. Chile saw foreign investment of $13.79 billion in 2011, a historic high that contributed to the country’s fastest economic growth in years. A top Chilean official told Reuters last month that the government expects a new record in foreign investment this year.

STALLED REFORMS IN BRAZIL

In countries closer to the bottom of the table, attitudes are notably different.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has shown few signs of softening an antagonistic stance toward some investors that in recent years has seen her government nationalize private pension funds and face widespread suspicions of manipulating basic economic data such as inflation.

Venezuela’s economy remained buoyant for years thanks largely to its status as South America’s biggest oil exporter, but Chavez’s frequent confrontations with business have hollowed out much of the private sector and left the economy dependent on state spending.

In Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, the picture is slightly more complex. While successive governments have catered to private enterprise to a much greater extent than Argentina and Venezuela, Brazil has also failed to push any major pro-business reforms through Congress in a decade.

As a result, investors have become frustrated with the country’s high costs and red tape. Brazil dropped six spots in the latest Doing Business survey – more than any other big economy in Latin America – and ranks in the world’s bottom third in categories such as trading across borders, dealing with construction permits, and ease of paying taxes.

Partly as a result of the business climate, some economists believe that Brazil may be downshifting into a new era of 3 percent to 4 percent economic growth, which would be a letdown after the faster pace of previous years.

“Brazil hasn’t kept pace with some other (Latin American) countries on some of the really important long-term questions, and they may pay the price for that,” said Gray Newman, chief Latin America economist for Morgan Stanley.

“People focus on things like inflation, and that’s good, but what about – How long does it take to open a business? How easy is it to hire and fire?” Newman said. “The economies that are moving forward are the ones that have looked at those metrics, and have put them at the heart of government policy.”

(Editing by Todd Benson and Kieran Murray)

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New Nexus Of Narcoterrorism: Hezbollah And Venezuela – Analysis

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Written by: FPRI
December 22, 2011
By Vanessa Neumann

Press stories, as well as a television documentary, over the past two months have detailed the growing cooperation between South American drug traffickers and Middle Eastern terrorists, proving that the United States continues to ignore the mounting terrorist threat in its own “backyard” of Latin America at its own peril. A greater portion of financing for Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, is coming from Latin America, while they are also setting up training camps and recruiting centers throughout our continent, endangering American lives and interests globally. Some Latin American countries that were traditional allies for the U.S. (including Venezuela) have now forged significant political and economic alliances with regimes whose interests are at odds with those of the U.S., particularly China, Russia and Iran. In fact Iran and Iran’s Lebanese asset, “the Party of God,” Hezbollah, have now become the main terror sponsors in the region and are increasingly funded by South American cocaine.

Venezuela

Venezuela

Venezuela and Iran are strong allies: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly call each other “brothers,” and last year signed 11 memoranda of understanding for, among other initiatives, joint oil and gas exploration, as well as the construction of tanker ships and petrochemical plants. Chávez’s assistance to the Islamic Republic in circumventing U.N. sanctions has got the attention of the new Republican leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, resulting in the May 23rd, 2011 announcement by the US State Department that it was imposing sanctions on the Venezuelan government-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as a punishment for circumventing UN sanctions against Iran and assisting in the development of the Iran’s nuclear program.

Besides its sponsored terrorist groups, Iran also has a growing direct influence in Latin America, spurred by three principal motivations: 1) a quest for uranium, 2) a quest for gasoline, 3) a quest for a base of operations that is close to the US territory, in order to position itself to resist diplomatic and possible military pressure, possibly by setting up a missile base within striking distance of the mainland US, as the Soviets did in the Cuban Missile Crisis. FARC, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda all have training camps, recruiting bases and networks of mutual assistance in Venezuela as well as throughout the continent.

I have long argued that Latin America is an increasing source of funding for Middle Eastern terrorism and to overlook the political changes and security threats in the region with such geographic proximity to the US and its greatest source of immigrants is a huge strategic mistake. It was inevitable that South American cocaine traffickers and narcoterrorists would become of increasing importance to Hezbollah and other groups. While intelligence officials believe that Hezbollah used to receive as much as $200 million annually from its primary patron, Iran, and additional money from Syria, both these sources have largely dried up due to the onerous sanctions imposed on the former and the turmoil in the latter.

A recent New York Times front-page article (December 14, 2011) revealed the extensive and intricate connections between Hezbollah and South American cocaine trafficking. Far from being the passive beneficiaries of drug-trafficking expats and sympathizers, Hezbollah has high-level officials directly involved in the South American cocaine trade and its most violent cartels, including the Mexican gang Los Zetas. The “Party of God’s” increasing foothold in the cocaine trade is facilitated by an enormous Lebanese diaspora. As I wrote in my May 2011 e-note, in 2005, six million Muslims were estimated to inhabit Latin American cities. However, ungoverned areas, primarily in the Amazon regions of Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, present easily exploitable terrain over which to move people and material. The Free Trade Zones of Iquique, Chile; Maicao, Colombia; and Colón, Panama, can generate undetected financial and logistical support for terrorist groups. Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru offer cocaine as a lucrative source of income. In addition, Cuba and Venezuela have cooperative agreements with Syria, Libya, and Iran.

Some shocking revelations into the global interconnectedness of Latin American governments and Middle Eastern terrorist groups have come from Walid Makled, Venezuela’s latter-day Pablo Escobar, who was arrested on August 19, 2010 in Cúcuta, a town on the Venezuelan-Colombian border. A Venezuelan of Syrian descent known variously as “El Turco” (“The Turk”) or “El Arabe” (“The Arab”), he is allegedly responsible for smuggling 10 tons of cocaine a month into the US and Europe—a full 10 percent of the world’s supply and 60 percent of Europe’s supply. His massive infrastructure and distribution network make this entirely plausible, as well as entirely implausible the Venezuelan government did not know. Makled owned Venezuela’s biggest airline, Aeropostal, huge warehouses in Venezuela’s biggest port, Puerto Cabello, and bought enormous quantities of urea (used in cocaine processing) from a government-owned chemical company.

After his arrest and incarceration in the Colombian prison La Picota, Makled gave numerous interviews to various media outlets. When asked on camera by a Univisión television reporter whether he had any relation to the FARC, he answered: “That is what I would say to the American prosecutor.” Asked directly whether he knew of Hezbollah operations in Venezuela, he answered: “In Venezuela? Of course! That which I understand is that they work in Venezuela. [Hezbollah] make money and all of that money they send to the Middle East.” A prime example of the importance of the Lebanese diaspora in triangulating amongst South American cocaine and Middle Eastern terrorists, is Ayman Joumaa, a Sunni Muslim of the Medellín cartel with deep ties with Shiites in the Hezbollah strongholds of southern Lebanon. His indictment made public on Tuesday “charges him with coordinating shipments of Colombian cocaine to Los Zetas in Mexico for sale in the United States, and laundering the proceeds” (NY Times, Dec. 14, 2011).

The growing routes linking South American cocaine to Middle Eastern terrorists are primarily from Colombia through Venezuela. According to an April 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the most prominent country of origin for direct cocaine shipments to Europe, with the cocaine coming mainly from Colombia, primarily the FARC and ELN terrorist groups. Shipments to Africa, mostly West Africa, gained in importance between 2004 and 2007, resulting in the emergence of a new key trans-shipment hub: centered on Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, stretching to Cape Verde, The Gambia and Senegal, thus complementing the already existing trafficking hub of the Bight of Benin, which spans from Ghana to Nigeria. As the cocaine is transported through Africa and into Europe, its safe passage is guaranteed (much as it was in Latin America) by terrorist groups—most prominently, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. The cocaine can also travel from Latin America’s Tri‐Border Area (TBA)—bounded by Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil—to West Africa (particularly Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, with its poor governance and vast archipelagos) and then north into Europe through Portugal and Spain or east via Syria and Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s traditional continental home has been the TBA, where a large, active Arab and Muslim community consisting of a Shi’a majority, a Sunni minority, and a small population of Christians who emigrated from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian territories about 50 years ago. The TBA, South America’s busiest contraband and smuggling center, has long been an ideal breeding ground for terrorist groups, including Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda—the latter since 1995 when Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad first visited.

Hezbollah is still active in the TBA, according to Argentine officials. They maintain that with Iran’s assistance, Hezbollah carried out a car‐bomb attack on the main building of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, protesting the Israeli‐Jordanian peace agreement that year. Today, one of the masterminds of those attacks, the Iranian citizen and Shia Muslim teacher, Mohsen Rabbani, remains not only at large, but extremely active in recruiting young Brazilians, according to reports in Brazilian magazine Veja. This region, the third in the world for cash transactions (behind Hong Kong and Miami), continues to be an epicenter for the conversion and recruitment of a new generation of terrorists who then train in the Middle East and pursue their activities both there and in the Americas.

According to Lebanon’s drug enforcement chief, Col. Adel Mashmoushi, as cited in The New York Times, a main transportation route for terrorists, cash and drugs was aboard a flight commonly referred to as “Aeroterror,” about which I wrote in my May 2011 e-note for FPRI. According to my own secret sources within the Venezuelan government, the flight had the route Tehran-Damascus-Caracas-Madrid, where it would wait for 15 days, and flew under the direct orders of the Venezuelan Vice-President, according to the captain. The flight would leave Caracas seemingly empty (though now it appears it carried a cargo of cocaine) and returned full of Iranians, who boarded the flight in Damascus, where they arrived by bus from Tehran. The Iranian ambassador in Caracas would then distribute the new arrivals all over Venezuela.

I wrote in my May 2011 e-note that reports that Venezuela has provided Hezbollah operatives with Venezuelan national identity cards are so rife, they were raised in the July 27, 2010, Senate hearing for the recently nominated U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer. When Palmer answered that he believed the reports, Chávez refused to accept him as ambassador in Venezuela. Thousands of foreign terrorists have in fact been given national identity cards that identify them as Venezuelan citizens and give them full access to the benefits of citizenship. In 2003, Gen. Marcos Ferreira, who had been in charge of Venezuela’s Department of Immigration and Foreigners (DIEX) until he decided to support the 2002 coup against Chávez, said that he had been personally asked by Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (who served as both deputy head of DISIP—Venezuela’s intelligence service, now renamed SEBIN—and Interior Minister under Chávez) to allow the illegal entry Colombians into Venezuela thirty-five times and that the DISIP itself regularly fast-tracked insurgents including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. The newly-minted Venezuelan citizens during Ferreira’s tenure include 2,520 Colombians and 279 “Syrians.” And that was only during three of the past twelve years of an increasingly radicalized Chávez regime.

While Chávez has done more than anyone to strengthen these relationships with Middle Eastern terrorists, in an attempt to use what he calls “the International Rebellion” (including Hezbollah, Hamas and ETA) in order to negotiate with the US for power in Latin America, the coziness of the seemingly strange bedfellows dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union, when the USSR abandoned Cuba. At the Sao Paulo Forum of 1990, prominent Venezuelans and international terrorists were all in attendance, including: then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez (against whom Chávez attempted a coup in 1992); Alí Rodríguez, then-President of PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company); Pablo Medina, a left-wing Venezuelan politician who initially supported Chávez, but has now moved to the opposition; as well as Fidel Castro, Moammar Qaddafi and leaders of the FARC, Tupamaros and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The extent to which these alliances have deepened and become institutionalized is exemplified by the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator, the office that coordinates all the Latin American terrorists. According to a well-placed Venezuelan military source of mine, they are headquartered in the Venezuelan state of Barinas—the same state that is effectively a Chávez family fiefdom, with their sprawling family estate, La Chavera, and their total control of local politics. Their extreme anti-Semitism is not ideological, but simply out of convenience: to court and maintain Iranian support.

According to the Congressional Research Service, with enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011, (H.J.Res. 48/P.L. 112-6) Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Yet for all this massive spending on fighting terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to them here, on a number of fronts. First and foremost, the United States is under territorial threat through its Mexican border. Hezbollah operatives have already been smuggled, along with drugs and weapons, in tunnels dug under the border with the US by Mexican drug cartels. Only a week after my October 5th interview by KT McFarland on Fox, where I specifically warned of a possibility of this resulting in a terrorist attack carried out inside the US with the complicity of South American drug traffickers, the global press revealed a plot by the elite Iranian Quds Force to utilize the Mexican gang Los Zetas to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a bombing that would have murdered many Americans on their lunch hour.

Second, American assets in Latin America are under threat. Embassies, consulates, corporate headquarters, energy pipelines and American- or Jewish-sponsored community centers and American citizens have already been targeted by terrorist groups all over Latin America for decades: FARC in Colombia, Sendero Luminoso and Tupac Amaru in Peru and Hezbollah in Argentina. Al Qaeda is also rumored to have a strong presence in Brazil.

Third, while American soldiers give their lives trying to defeat terrorists and violent insurgents in the Middle East, these same groups are being supported and strengthened increasingly by Latin America, where they receive training, weapons and cash. This makes American military engagement far more costly by any metric: loss of life and financial cost.

Indeed over the last decade, Latin America is a region spiraling ever more out of American control. It is a region with which the United States has a growing asymmetry of power: it has more importance to the United States, while the United States is losing influence over Latin America, which remains the largest source of oil, drugs and immigrants, both documented and not. Latinos now account for 15 percent of the US population and nearly 50 percent of recent US population growth, as well as a growing portion of the electorate, as seen in the last presidential elections. The discovery of huge new oil reserves in Brazil and Argentina, that might even challenge Saudi Arabia, and the 2012 presidential elections in Venezuela, make Latin America of increasing strategic importance to the U.S., particularly as the future political landscape of the Middle East becomes ever more uncertain, in the wake of the Arab Spring and the political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in previously secular Arab governments. The growth of transnational gangs and the resurgence of previously waning terrorist organizations pose complicated new challenges, as violence and murder cross the U.S. border, costing American lives and taking a huge toll on U.S. law enforcement. The United States needs to develop a smart policy to deal with these challenges.

So while the US is expending vast resources on the GWOT, the terrorists are being armed and reinforced by America’s southern neighbors, making the GWOT far more costly for the US and directly threatening American security. Even though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez may be removed from the presidency either through an electoral loss in the October 7, 2012 presidential elections or through his battle with cancer, certain sectors of the Venezuelan government will continue to support international terrorism, whose activities, bases and training camps have now spread throughout this region. By understanding the dynamics of the increasingly entrenched narcoterrorist network, the U.S. can develop an effective policy to contend with these, whether or not President Chávez remains in power.

Author:
Vanessa Neumann
is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is co-chair, with FPRI Trustee Devon Cross, of FPRI’s Manhattan Initiative.

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Flawed US Drug Data: Narcoleaks vs the White House

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Written by  Geoffrey Ramsey

An independent analysis of U.S. government figures showed that the total amount of cocaine confiscated in one year was bigger than the U.S. estimate of global production — but the response from the White House was far from satisfying.

According to Narcoleaks, an Italian NGO which monitors anti-drug operations worldwide, the Obama administration’s estimates of global cocaine production are unrealistically low. In a strongly-worded press statement released last week, the group questioned the State Department’s assertion that the world production of the drug in 2009 amounted to 700 metric tons.

As the report points out, this clashes with a recent statement from the U.S. Coast Guard, which claimed that 771 metric tons of cocaine were sent to the U.S. in 2011. It also jars with the group’s estimate that 744-794 metric tons of cocaine will have been seized globally by the end of the year. Narcoleaks said that this discrepancy amounted to an “embarrassing contradiction,” and called on the Obama administration to clarify it.

The group also took on the recent claim by U.S. drug officials that Peru has outstripped Colombia as the world’s top producer of cocaine. According to Narcoleaks, this was disproved by the recent discovery of a cocaine lab in Colombia which police claimed could produce between 500 and 800 kilos of cocaine HCl per day. If this is accurate, the group pointed out, it would mean that the lab churned out between 182 and 292 metric tons of cocaine per year, accounting for almost the country’s entire cocaine output, according to a U.S. estimate which put it at 270 tons.

However, it is far more likely that the output of the lab was simply misquoted on the National Police’s website. Local press accounts quoted General Luis Alberto Perez, head of Colombia’s Anti-Narcotics Police, as giving that figure as the weekly production, not daily. Additionally, the amount of time that the cocaine lab had been operating is not known, so it is not necessarily possible to extrapolate an annual production rate. Considering its size, it seems unlikely that this lab would have been able to operate clandestinely for very long.

Still, Narcoleaks’ skepticism of the U.S. figures is not without cause. Just the Facts’ Adam Isacson also questioned the State Department’s estimate in March, noting that the estimate of 2009 world cocaine production is equal to the amount that the agency claims was seized in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or the U.S., plus the estimate of cocaine which passed through Venezuela, leading to the unlikely conclusion that the world’s entire cocaine output was either seized, or was trafficked via Venezuela.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) responded to Narcoleaks’ allegations on its blog, claiming that the organization’s analysis was “systematically flawed.” According to the ONDCP, seizures cannot be compared to global production estimates, because cocaine becomes increasingly diluted the further it travels along the supply chain. While this is true, it is unlikely to account for the entire gap, as Narcoleaks has pointed out.

The White House office also stressed that the administration’s estimates were “just that — estimates,” and should not be taken as hard facts. As the ONDCP argues: “our estimate of potential cocaine production of about 700 metric tons (of pure cocaine or about 850 metric tons of export quality cocaine) is actually the midpoint of a range — there may have been more or less actually produced.”

This caution is a reminder of the uncertainties inherent in tracking the flow of narcotics worldwide. Because of the shadowy nature of drug trafficking, it is simply not possible to come up with exact figures on production. Still, policymakers in the U.S. and around the globe make major political decisions based on these estimates. Even in countries that are relatively small players in the hemispheric drug trade, the drug-related declarations of the U.S. government carry a lot of weight. This was illustrated recently when the government of Guyana issued a triumphant press release celebrating its absence from a U.S. government list of major transit nations, despite other official claims the country exhibits “marginal commitment and capacity at all levels of government.”

A better response to Narcoleaks’ criticisms might be for the U.S. government to work with academics and specialists to try to tweak the estimates to account for the apparent inconsistency, and leave all political considerations out of it.

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