War on Drugs

Betancourt’s tin ear

What is wrong with Ingrid Betancourt? The most charitable explanation is that she is absolutely terrible at public relations. Her first act upon being rescued from six years in FARC captivity last year was to leave her faithful, long-suffering husband. Then she moved to France – her other nationality – and now she’s asking the Colombian government – the government that mounted a hugely complicated, daring operation to rescue her – for US$6.8mn in damages for the kidnapping ordeal.

There are plenty of people who would be within their rights to demand monetary compensation from the Colombian military, but Betancourt? And really, is this the best she’s got?

A smart person and a good politician would have been able to leverage her kidnapping experience into a few speaking engagements, a visiting professorship, several seats on the boards of NGOs, and a profitable book about a humbling journey that made one spiritually stronger, etc.

And then, who knows? Public office? A UN Rapporteurship? A lobbying position?

But when Betancourt stepped off that helicopter and onto the public stage, she spontaneously combusted, and she’s been burning ever since. La Silla Vacia tries to argue that this latest tone-deaf move is part of her history of chasing after money. But as I just noted, there are all sorts of ways Betancourt could have turned her ordeal into money had she been so inclined. Sell the movie rights, for Christ’s sake.

Only someone who feels both completely indifferent to the opinions of average people and totally entitled to special treatment from authority could do something this boneheaded. This isn’t Betancourt the almost-martyr presidential candidate, Colombia’s angel of suffering before FARC brutality and the gaze of all the world.

This is Betancourt the aristocrat, and it makes one think that maybe the gringos were right.

(Original image courtesy Fabio Gismondi, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Also posted in Colombia, Human Rights, Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

US warships headed to Costa Rica

Southward bound.

Militaryless, democratic, non-conflict-having Costa Rica is the new front in the United States’ War on Inanimate Objects. The country’s  national assembly has given the OK for a veritable US invasion force to enter Costa Rican territory: 7,000 marines on 46 warships, including the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship the USS Makin Island, pictured.

La Nación quotes a document from the US Embassy that states that, “The US personnel in Costa Rica will be able to enjoy freedom of movement and the right to carry out the activities that they consider necessary to complete their mission.”

Well isn’t that just permissively vague.

The legislation says the mission has to do with fighting drug traffickers, as well as a few humanitarian goals, though the humanitarian use of a Harrier jet is still somewhat unclear.

On a casual note, I would point out again that for all the Costa Rican smugness about not having an army, they do a pretty good job of borrowing one when they need it. On a more serious note, because this is bound to be extremely politically unpopular domestically, the government must have a damn good reason for inviting all this firepower in from up north.

My guess is that the government is secretly terrified it is losing control of the security situation. They probably should be.

A proportionally very large amount of cocaine is busted in Costa Rica every year, and the country has become something of a bodega for Mexican and Colombian drug smugglers, what with its good infrastructure, weak judicial system, ill-equipped police force, long coastlines, remote beaches, terrible immigration enforcement, and ample opportunities for laundering money through real estate transactions and layers of shell corporations.

I’m not sure how well-armed helicopters will change any of those factors, unless you could make the National Registry more transparent by slipping a few Hellfire missiles through the front door . Probably wouldn’t hurt.

Anyway, keep ironing around that wrinkle fellas. You’ll win the war on drugs any day now.

Also posted in Costa Rica, Politics | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

Money laundering (get it?)

If you read one story today, let it be Michael Smith’s very long and very interesting story in Bloomberg on how Mexican drug traffickers launder money through US banks like Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) and Bank of America.

The piece is long and excellent enough to defy excerpting, but let’s give it a shot:

For years, federal authorities watched as the wife and daughter of Oscar Oropeza, a drug smuggler working for the Matamoros-based Gulf Cartel, deposited stacks of cash at a Bank of America branch on Boca Chica Boulevard in Brownsville, Texas, less than 3 miles from the border.

The Oropeza case gives a new, literal meaning to the term money laundering. Oropeza’s wife, Tina Marie, and daughter Paulina Marie deposited stashes of $20 bills several times a day into Bank of America accounts, Salazar says. Bank employees got to know the Oropezas by the smell of their money.

“I asked the tellers what they were talking about, and they said the money had this sweet smell like Bounce, those sheets you throw into the dryer,” Salazar says. “They told me that when they opened the vault, the smell of Bounce just poured out.”

Yes, they were literally laundering money. I suppose to wash off the cocaine, or something.

The drug traffickers appear to be onto something obvious: In my personal, anecdotal, totally non-peer-reviewed experience, it is a hell of a lot easier to open bank accounts and move money in the United States than in Latin America.

Maybe someday soon, the war on drugs will also make it impossible to open a bank account in the US without presenting a copy of a university diploma.

Also posted in Economy, Mexico | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Gubernatorial candidate assassinated

Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

Also posted in Mexico, Politics, Side notes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

El Lobo’s ugly weapons collection

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

Also posted in Mexico, Side notes | Leave a comment

Pecados de mi Padre

This looks like a fascinating movie: Pecados de mi Padre – Sins of my Father – purports to be a documentary on the life of Pablo Escobar’s son, Sebastián, but it also appears to have a healthy bit of good clean footage and storytelling about Pablo himself.


However, I have to say that having read Killing Pablo the whole thing seems a little weird. According to my foggy recollection, during Pablo’s final days, 16-year-old Sebastián was Pablo’s communication link to the world and to his troops, such as they were by that point.

And he took to the job pretty heartily.

That would make Sebastián a little more than just the innocent bystander he appears to be portraying himself as. Of course, many of us at 16 would have done something similarly craven if given the chance, but I still wonder if this documentary is an attempt at laundering the past.

Anyway, lots of questions. Hope I can find this somewhere other than HBO.

(Thanks to Anahí for the tip on this one.)

Also posted in Arts and Culture, Colombia, History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Coca soft drink goes on sale in Bolivia

A soft drink containing coca leaf extract is now on sale in Bolivia. The drink is totally non- coincidentally named “Coca Colla,” after the Colla indigenous people. The news seems a bit old, but for whatever reason it’s now making the rounds, and I’m posting this to see if someone will send me a six pack. [link]

Also posted in Bolivia, Odd, Side notes | Leave a comment

Bomb goes off at U.S. consulate

Someone threw a bomb at the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The incident took place at night, so no one was injured. The small device broke some glass. No word yet on what it was or who is taking responsibility. It’s the second recent attack on U.S. government personnel/installations after three people related to the Juárez consulate were gunned down last month. [link]

Also posted in Mexico, Side notes | Tagged | Leave a comment

The AP has called the Juárez turf war, and the winner is: The Sinaloa Cartel, led by El Chapo. Along with a little the help of the Mexican army, Chapo’s people have taken the Juárez cartel out of business and now own that trafficking route. [link]

Also posted in Mexico, Side notes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mexican authorities round up criminals

As if they didn’t have anything better to do, yesterday Mexico’s federal police arrested two foreign journalist for public urination. NPR journalist John Burnett and CBC journalist Bruce Livesey were on their way back to Juárez to continue covering the ceaseless killing and violence and lawlessness when they allegedly stopped to partake in some of their own by peeing on the side of the highway. They were arrested.

The reporters, who said they hadn’t seen any police during their entire time in the region, explained to the officers that they were journalists, but the officers did not believe them and they were brought in for booking. They were freed hours later.

Good job, Mexico. Maybe after you’re done rounding up all the scofflaw journalists, you can start figuring out what happened to all the ones that are dead.

(Original image courtesy katutaide.)

Also posted in Mexico, Odd | Tagged , | 2 Comments
  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]