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

Blood from Stones

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The Collateral Damage From the West Africa Drug Trade
I have heard recently in discussions with people on the Hill and in policy making circles that the exploding drug trafficking phenomenon in West Africa is not really a U.S. security concern because most of the cocaine that transits through that region is bound for Europe and not the United States.

There are several thing wrong with that perspective, I believe. The first is that the traffickers will (and already have) attack the fragile institutions and rule of law where they exist, and they are already incredibly weak. But in countries like Ghana and Mali, where notable progress has been made, and Liberia and Sierra Leone, struggling after years of punishing civil wars, some progress has been made.

Drug trafficking, which must rely on corruption and coercion because it is illegal, will make the possibility of establishing the rule of law in the region virtually impossible. That will translate into another round of instability and carnage in an area that has already suffered a great deal. But what will get broader attention is the fact that the region at stake produces close to 20 percent of the oil we use, and the production will plummet as the chaos spreads.

There are also other reasons to care about the massive inflow of illicit cash. Remember that Hezbollah, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have funded themselves from illicit drugs, diamonds and timber, including activities in West Africa.

For a fascinating glimpse at the scope of the illicit money activities of Hezbollah in West Africa, see this OFAC announcement released today on the targeting of Hezbollah fundraisers in West Africa.

Abd Al Menhem Qubaysi is a Cote d'Ivoire-based Hizballah supporter and is the personal representative of Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Qubaysi communicates with Hizballah leaders and has hosted senior Hizballah officials traveling to Cote d'Ivoire and other parts of Africa to raise money for Hizballah. Qubaysi plays a visible role in Hizballah activities in Cote d'Ivoire, including speaking at Hizballah fundraising events and sponsoring meetings with high-ranking members of the terrorist organization.

Qubaysi also helped establish an official Hizballah foundation in Cote d'Ivoire which has been used to recruit new members for Hizballah's military ranks in Lebanon.

Because the Lebanese expat community controls much of the import and export economy and access to the region's financial structure, it seems highly likely that the South American drug cartels moving into West Africa will have to either buy or kill its Lebanese rivals. There is little likelihood that the violence will erupt, meaning the Hezbollah-dominated illicit networks will reap a windfall profit. And the extra cash is unlikely to be kept in Cote d'Ivoire!

A third element is that the worst non-state actors (RUF, UNITA etc.) thrive on resource exploitation, which enabled them to buy the weapons that fed their wars. Cocaine will become another commodity that will provide earnings far beyond that of diamonds and timber. The wars will likely rage even more fiercely than before. The millions of unemployed, combat-hardened veterans are still there, and ready-made army for whoever will pay them.

Drug trafficking through a region always leaves a growing addict population. Brazil, once a transshipment point primarily, is now the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world, after the United States. Traffickers will pay in kind rather than in cash if they can, and the trail that follows is not pretty.

So, the arc of instability, war, and humanitarian disaster is likely to follow. The risks are enormous. The other side of the equation is not pretty either. Most of the coke entering West Africa comes from Venezuela and Brazil. The FARC benefits from the Venezuelan trafficking, and the Bolivian and Peruvian cartels from the Brazil trafficking. The destabilizing effect of these routes in Latin America will be immense.
The Taliban's Continuing Foreign Support
Specks of Light in Dealing with Drug Crops?
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