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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: Latin America - A Gang Region?
Former Venezuela Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel on the release of FARC leader Jesus Santrich who was caught red-handed working on cocaine export deals to the USA -- even as he was taking his seat in Colombia's Parliament.

By Beatrice E. Rangel

Recent decisions involving the release and re-arrest of Seuxis Hernandez (AKA Jesus Santrich) in Colombia seem to give the last stroke to a carefully crafted institutional network created to support a growing illegal economy. This system began developing in the 1970s and is about to reach its prime with the unification of Venezuela and Colombia into a single economic unit.

Springing from legitimate economic activities such as exports of cattle product, trade of illicit substances began to build a parallel institutional framework to support the myriad activities that are part of that value chain.

Drug production and trade in Latin America took off in a decade mired by stagnation and debt. And as the business grew, the need to secure a laissez faire attitude from governments increased. Production demanded a stable milieu to plant and grow crops. Government raids and eradication campaigns had to be prevented while laboratories and their logistics platform needed full protection from law enforcing authorities and rivals.

Penetration of governing institutions was also part of a strategy to develop an economic activity which enjoys an astronomical margin. Those huge margins allowed investment in these crucial aspects of business logistics. Little by little that production and trading platform for drugs began to create a parallel order that has not ceased to grow in significance, penetration and power all over the hemisphere.

And as the business grew, diverse segments of the value chain were slowly and effectively spreading throughout the continent. Production, transport and distribution platforms are displayed in a stretch of land that goes from Bolivia to Tijuana, Mexico. Corporate structures are built in Panama. Laundering and asset whitewashing take place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Intelligence and distribution to Europe in Venezuela. Creation and supply of defense squads and militias in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Colombia remains the corporate headquarters where planning and operational schemes are designed and financed. And of course, where the hemisphere strategy is agreed upon by the diverse partners in this quite successful enterprise that since its inception has grown 300-fold.

It should thus be no surprise that the Colombian government would be successfully penetrated by the pesky business. Signs of the power base represented by illicits in Colombia seem to abound. The largest and most significant crop today is coca. Despite falling exports, reductions in energy production and the loss of the Venezuelan market to public policy induced economic collapse, the exchange rate is miraculously stable.

This simply means that rivers of foreign exchange are entering the country. And these can only originate in illicit trade.

The release of Jesus Santrich thus would represent a release operation aimed at covering with the shield of impunity for all members of the business that have political responsibilities.

But the release of Santrich after reams of evidence of his continuing deals with the Cartel del Golfo in Mexico also unveiled yet another worrisome development: the synchronized operations between the FARC and the Government of Venezuela.

Hours before Santrich was released from prison by the special peace jurisdiction, his trip to Venezuela was masterfully prepared and plotted by those in the FARC signaled as handlers of all kind of illicits.

This seems to point to the existence of a division of labor between Venezuela and Colombia whereby Venezuela handles the tough distribution and operational tasks while Colombia creates plans and strategies. Should this be the case we would be witnessing the rise of a new Gang Region in the old Gran Colombia.

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.


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