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Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism – A Response to Pollard

By Michael E. Brown, Bogota, Colombia

in response to Pollard Analysis

The views and opinions expressed in the following essay are those of the contributor and not necessarily of the Terrorism Research Center.

Terrorism and Organized Crime.

Colombia is currently experiencing a phenomenon linking organized crime and terrorism that bears close examination. Colombia is home to some of the world’s most powerful organized crime organizations that flourish in the manufacture and exportation of illegal drugs. Their pervasive corruption and influence has been felt both in Colombia and throughout the western hemisphere for more than two decades. Their success and continued presence is in large part due to the presence of another long known Latin American phenomenon-the terrorist-guerrilla. Colombia has been in the throes of a Marxist insurgency for more than thirty years. The insurgents have grown stronger in the last two years than at any time in their history. The two phenomenon are intricately related by design. What Colombia is experiencing could very well be a portent to what we will see in Mexico in the very near future and in other parts of the world in years to come.

Guerrilla-terrorist organizations and criminal organizations certainly have different objectives and methods. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have a Marxist- socialist political agenda. Clearly, the drug trafficking organizations exist to make money and have a business agenda . However, their existence is mutually beneficial. The inevitable relationship that has spawned between Colombian drug organizations and guerrillas is a natural marriage of two diverse organizations that have both short-term and long-term benefits. We can refer to the short term benefits as the tactical objectives and the long-term benefits as the strategic objectives. Western democracies have seen for years the tangible benefits of the tactical objectives; guerrillas provide lab and airfield security, and assist in crop harvest for drug traffickers in exchange for money and weapons. In some parts of Colombia, guerrilla fronts subsist almost entirely on the proceeds of drug activity.

However, the drug organizations and guerrillas prosper from the strategic benefits of the situation far more than they do the tactical benefits. Police and military forces are quickly finding entire areas of the country largely or entirely hostile to them as a result of both drug and guerrilla activity. Here we see the strategic benefit of the relationship. The drug organizations know when military and police forces are being overwhelmed by guerrilla attacks that operationally and politically the government must focus on counter-guerrilla operations at the expense of counter-narcotic operations. Areas partially or totally controlled by the guerrillas become “no-man’s lands” that allow unrestricted criminal activity.

The FARC also benefit from this situation. While world governments condemn the Colombian government for it’s role in drug proliferation, Colombia is forced to invest scarce resources to conduct counter-narcotics operations. Likewise, military and police forces conducting counter-narcotic operations cannot be committed against guerrilla targets. It is a stated political objective of the FARC to control geographic areas of Colombia and the operational benefit gained by the presence and activites of the drug organizations is immense. Additionally, the FARC (like all insurgent or terrorist organizations) seeks to gain political support by discrediting the elected government. The public political crisis the Colombian government is now experiencing as a result of widespread drug related political corruption only enhances the FARC’s ability to gain political support among the rural population.

The success of western governments like Colombia to successfully break the criminal-terrorist alliance will be determined by their ability to recognize and effectively deal with the strategic objectives of the alliance. Governments must first honestly identify the strategic benefits of the alliance and develop a cohesive strategy to deal with it. Additionally, governments must ensure that political, economic, and judicial policies made at home and abroad do not undermine their own strategies and unconsciously assist the guerrilla-terrorist organizations.

All western governments should carefully study the crisis in Colombia to understand the mechanics of these relationships. One need only look to Mexico to see the potential for cooperation between Mexican drug organizations and Chiapas based insurgents or to Eastern Europe and the increasing power of the Russian mafia. These mays seem separate issues, but, not when looked at from the strategic perspective.

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