Jour­nal­ists’ killing shows Ecuador, Colom­bia must act on ‘narco bor­der’

Kuwait Times - - Analysis -

The kid­nap­ping and killing of two jour­nal­ists and their driver has thrown up an un­com­fort­able truth for Colom­bia and Ecuador, an­a­lysts say: That their long-ne­glected bor­der has be­come a drug traf­fick­ers’ nir­vana. The two gov­ern­ments sent troops into the dense jun­gle area to hunt for the killers and reestab­lish con­trol over a re­gion an­a­lysts say has be­come a key cor­ri­dor for the sup­ply of co­caine to the United States. Ecuador’s In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ce­sar Navas said Sun­day he had sent 550 po­lice and troops, backed by tanks and a he­li­copter, to take “to­tal con­trol” of the bor­der town of Mataje, where the jour­nal­ists were kid­napped.

As part of a co­or­di­nated oper­a­tion Bo­gota sent troops into the Tu­maco area on the Colom­bian side of the bor­der, known as the zone with the world’s high­est den­sity of coca-leaf plan­ta­tions.

The north­west­ern area is marked by dense jun­gle, criss­crossed by rivers, lead­ing into the Pa­cific - an ideal launch­ing pad for seaborne drug ship­ments and “transna­tional crime” under the in­flu­ence of the Mex­i­can drug car­tels, said lo­cal Colom­bian mil­i­tary com­man­der Gen­eral Mauri­cio Za­bala.

This is the fief­dom of the Oliver Sin­is­terra Front, which claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the kid­nap­pings of Javier Or­tega, Paul Ri­vas and their driver Efrain Se­garra. Its leader is Wal­ter Pa­tri­cio Ar­ti­zala, bet­ter known by his nom-de-guerre Gua­cho, a for­mer mid­dle-rank­ing FARC com­man­der known to op­er­ate on both sides of the bor­der with about 80 men. “Gua­cho will fall, sooner or later,” Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos said Sun­day, con­firm­ing the king­pin is on a list of high value tar­gets. “The highly-present Mex­i­can car­tels see that one of their main co­caine sup­ply sources is dry­ing up, that is why they are try­ing to gen­er­ate vi­o­lence,” he added.

How­ever, the full-on mil­i­tary ap­proach be­ing un­der­taken by the gov­ern­ments risks un­leash­ing a fresh wave of vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to an­a­lyst Fer­nando Car­rion, point­ing to the blood­shed in Mex­ico under Felipe Calderon’s gov­ern­ment (2006-2012). In de­pressed ar­eas like this one “an eco­nomic pol­icy is re­quired so that there is sub­sti­tu­tion of crops, so that the in­come of the in­hab­i­tants doesn’t come from nar­cotics,” he said. “We have to have a mul­ti­lat­eral pol­icy, where there are is­sues of econ­omy, pol­i­tics and ob­vi­ously mil­i­tary is­sues,” said Car­rion, an ex­pert in se­cu­rity at the Latin Amer­i­can Fac­ulty of So­cial Sciences in Quito.

Gov­ern­ment con­tra­dic­tions The sit­u­a­tion hasn’t been helped by glar­ingly con­tra­dic­tory state­ments com­ing from each gov­ern­ment. Navas, the in­te­rior min­is­ter, said the jour­nal­ist team was killed on the Colom­bian side of the bor­der. “They were mur­dered on Colom­bian ter­ri­tory,” he said, tac­itly putting the onus on Bo­gota to find and repa­tri­ate the bodies. Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos said they were killed in Ecuador, where they were kid­napped.

The two gov­ern­ments also dif­fer on the na­tion­al­ity of Gua­cho, the man they hold re­spon­si­ble for the mur­ders. Each say he is the na­tional of the other coun­try. “The im­pres­sion is that there has been a kind of hand-wash­ing go­ing on and hand­ing on re­spon­si­bil­ity to the other side,” said Car­rion. It’s an un­com­fort­able re­minder of old diplo­matic fail­ings in the re­gion. In 2008, a Colom­bian at­tack on a guer­rilla camp in Ecuador, with­out the en­dorse­ment of Quito, led to a diplo­matic cri­sis. —AFP

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