Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Colombia's Mounting Troubles
Things are going from bad to worse in Colombia at a time when we can ill afford further exposure on the southern flank. As the Washington Post reports today, the reform of the police and military is far from completed.

President Alvaro Uribe, locked in a costly and protracted war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has failed to adequately gauge the dangers posed by the paramilitary groups on the other side. They are just as brutal and perhaps even more involved in cocaine trafficking than the FARC. (To its credit, the Bush administration has declared both the FARC and Self Defense groups terrorist organizations).

Uribe's inability to confront the paramilitary groups, initially formed to fight the FARC and other Marxist-led rebel groups, has been a disaster for his government, and could well turn into a disaster for his neighbors and the United States as well.

The consequences will be severe, particularly for "Plan Colombia." The Congress will cut or condition aid, and the tolerance of Colombia's political class for the paramilitary groups and their money will mean that little true reform will come, at least not quickly. That could kill the Congressional tolerance for spending close to a billion dollars a year on a plan that is running out of steam.

The conditionality of aid is often useful, and there is no doubt that the Uribe government set itself up for much of the current difficulties it faces. Uribe appears to have learned little from the bloody experiences of fighting the drug cartels, where jailed leaders routinely directed their organizations from prison, bought politicians and engaged in endless negotiating tactics and false truces with the government.

The paramilitary groups are using all the same tactics, with the same result-a grotesque undermining of the Colombian state's authority and the consequent delegitimization of the state itself in the eyes of many Colombians.

This is a clear danger to the Colombian state. But the broader strategic danger to the United States, it seems to me, remains the FARC, and their protector in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

The threat stems in part from Chavez's ability to broker mutually-beneficial contacts between the FARC and Hezbollah operatives in the region. As a joint NBC/Telemundo investigation shows, Hezbollah is well organized and well financed in much of the Triborder area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

What it does not note is how widespread Hezbollah's cyper presence and fund raising activities are across much of South America, where the presence in relatively new. See my IASC paper paper for more in depth discussion of this issue

There seems to be some modest hope. The new Colombian police commander, Oscar Naranjo, is an old friend of mine and one of the best in his business. Like Jose Serrano, who stepped in at a crucial time in fighting the cartels and met his historic challenge, Naranjo brings the honesty and courage necessary to fight the cancer inside the government while keeping an careful eye on the broader picture.

The police and military would rather take the fight to the FARC, and when they do, they have had some success. It is to Uribe's shame that he has allowed the paramilitary mess to flourish to the degree that it threatens to undermine all of the hard-won progress of recent years.
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