British academic Mary Kaldor's book New and Old Wars¹ is a revealing text on the nature of the new warfare scenarios. The work describes the constitutive elements of these scenarios, which are markedly more insidious and damaging than the traditional ones. And, although the processes of building power through illicit activity have been well documented throughout history, these new conflicts entangle with the participation of national armies, organised crime structures i.e., the cartels, makeshift-economies, political parties, radical ideologies, guerrilla groups, armed insurgency, the social networks, money laundry and the constant and systematic violation of human rights. This provides an excellent opportunity to exemplify the reality of Latin America, the most dangerous region according to the United Nations, with an average homicide rate of 25 episodes per 100,000 inhabitants, when the global average is 7, and with five of the ten cities with the highest number of murders in the world. In addition, the region produces 97% of all cocaine consumed in the world; And the profits from drug-trade feed extremist left-wing armed movements, such as the remnants of the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, the Ejército Paraguayo del Pueblo (EPP) and Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which have wielded quotas of geopolitical power in the region and maintain links with the Primer Comando de la Capital and the Comando Vermelho in Brazil, the Cartel del Golfo and the Jalisco Nueva Generación in Mexico.
With transnational organised crime intimately related to drug-trade as a backdrop, the proliferation of illegal mining, more than 60 million illegal weapons circulating in the region, human-trafficking, counterfeiting, extortion and kidnapping, the seizure of state-power by organised crime and its fabulous amount of money are not surprising consequences for savvy analysts.
Large portions of cocaine produced in the Republic of Colombia circulate through Venezuelan territory, an operation that, at present, can be estimated at around 1,500 metric tons, according to Col. John Marulanda of the Colombian Army. In turn, Col. Mario Pazmiño of the Ecuadorian Army, adds an example that exemplifies the power of organised crime's influence on the state's decision-making spectrum:
"The infiltration of organised crime into state structures can lead to decisions that compromise the stability, not only of a particular state, but of the region as a whole. The presence of the Manta Base, from 1998 until 18 September 2009, was a major obstacle for the criminal activities of the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, who saw it as the technological brain that allowed better control and large-scale seizures of aerial, maritime and land cocaine shipments. [...] Its closure, then, was necessary and its main beneficiary was the FARC, as part of the drug-trade structure. This group consolidated approaches and agreements with Correa's officials, where both were winners: the narco-terrorists would support Rafael Correa's 2006 electoral campaign with economic resources, as well as carrying out propaganda at the border, while Correa, once appointed president, had to remove the Base on the grounds that it affected national sovereignty. [...] Strictly speaking, the decision that led to the closure of the Manta base is almost a decade old, and its effects, which favoured the activities of organised crime, have not ceased to take their toll. The facts are clear: Ecuador is now one of the most important collection centres and international distribution platforms for alkaloids. Ecuador's geography includes two of the four most important international drug corridors: the Pacific and Amazon Corridor."
This ideologised corruption and adverse administrative results have paved the way for the right, as opposed to the left, to regain power in the region, in a political map that, as illustrated by Argentine Army Col. Pablo Quiroga, has changed its colour:
"The shift begins with the electoral victory of Engineer Mauricio Macri in Argentina, December 2015. In Ecuador, Lenín Moreno would break relations with the left, moving closer to the worldview of the United States of America. Around November 2017, the conservative candidate Sebastián Piñera won in the Republic of Chile. This context was completed by the triumph of President Jair Messias Bolsonaro in the Federative Republic of Brazil. Nevertheless, the prominence of the ex-military Bolsonaro in the aforementioned regional political shift does not necessarily signal a return of the armed forces to political activity in the region. In fact, after the de facto governments, Brazil has bequeathed a process of consolidated political order and industrialisation, and the office of Minister of Defence has remained in the hands of a military officer; meanwhile, Chile has bequeathed not only a parliament that is sympathetic to what has been done, but also progressive legislation on the defence budget, based on a system of royalties on the export and sale of copper on international markets. In contrast, the Republic of Argentine faced mobilisation in 1978 and became involved in the Malvinas War, a course of action that was sealed with a hasty exit from the military government. At the time of the breakdown, it can be certified that the case of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and his military cabinet are framed in an exception that can hardly be transferred to the countries of the region.²"
On a different level — and one that today takes the front pages of the world's newspapers - The United States, the immediate and consequential source of the current ideological shift in Venezuela, which is in a state of upheaval. Could the influence of the American left make the region turn into a proscenium of internal geopolitical confrontation, perhaps a southern Cold War?
"Anyone who confuses the participation of other important actors such as the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, the Islamic Republic of Iran or, worse still, continues to dream of a coup d'état, I must warn them that the alienation and control of this issue has been left in the hands of the United States, based on the leadership certified by the Vice President of that country, Mike Pence, in which none of the previously mentioned hypotheses is being considered," stresses Col. Christian Slater of the Chilean Army. "In order to understand the events taking place in Venezuela today, it is absolutely necessary to focus attention on the role of the US vice-president, who has visited Latin America three times. In what constitutes a clear state policy from Donald Trump's White House, the right-hand man of the US president, inadvertently and without getting involved in the controversial situations affecting his 'boss,' has taken care to obtain the support of Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Panama and Guatemala."
From the above, a clear link between transnational organised crime, drug-traders, the left-wing elites, and the resurgence of the political right in the systems of government in the region under assessment can be deduced.
For Col. Marulanda, the aforementioned relationship is related to governments, be they left-wing or right-wing, considering that one of the fundamental obligations of any system of government is to guarantee the security of its members, and that drug-trade plays the role of the primary generator of insecurity and instability in all the nations of the region, shares Col. Marulanda:
"If the purpose is really to deal with the common threat of the cartels, which delegitimises the institutional structures of the state through corruption and destroys the social fabric, it is yet to be seen whether the collaborative effort between the Duque administration, the president of the now main cocaine-producing country, and López Obrador, the head of state of the nation with the major drug cartels, will work on the ground."
Drug-trade and political shift in Latin America
Latinoamericano — March 6, 2019
¹ Kaldor, Mary (2012). New & Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (3rd ed.) Stanford University Press.
² See maps.
Radio & Televisión Española
(February 18, 2022)