Drugs and ter­ror­ism

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - BABE ROMUALDEZ * * * Email: babeseye­view@gmail.com H

The other day while wait­ing to see the pres­i­dent in Mala­cañang, I met Ioan Grillo, au­thor of the best­seller Gang­ster War­lords: Drug Dol­lars, Killing Fields and the New Pol­i­tics of Latin Amer­ica. He gave me a signed copy of his book and I be­gan to read while wait­ing. Al­most im­me­di­ately, the book seemed to kick me in the guts be­cause it gave me a very grim pic­ture of the prob­lem of il­le­gal drugs, and the creep­ing in­flu­ence of drug car­tels all across the globe. Worse, it con­vinced me that in­deed, re­sources gen­er­ated from drugs can fund ter­ror­ists and cre­ate havoc around the world. Even the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil rec­og­nizes the link between drugs and ter­ror­ism as a “threat to global peace, se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment.”

Gang­ster War­lords is a hard-to-put-down kind of book be­cause the ini­tial chap­ters alone are grip­ping – and this is not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion – be­cause it shows how easy it is even for an ed­u­cated per­son to get hooked in the il­le­gal drugs busi­ness whose markup can go as high as 650 per­cent, where $1,500 can gen­er­ate an ROI of $10,000 and so on, with sev­eral suc­cess­ful deals able to turn one into a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire. As Grillo put it, “narco fi­nances turn eco­nom­ics in­side out.”

Grillo de­scribes the killing fields in Mex­ico where the corpses of peo­ple caught in the war between drug car­tels are thrown. The num­bers are stag­ger­ing: between 2007 and 2014, more than 83,000 peo­ple have been killed – some­thing that many peo­ple may find in­cred­i­ble to di­gest. Even as the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto was try­ing to soften the vi­o­lence of the drug car­tel wars, the killing of three stu­dent teach­ers and the dis­ap­pear­ance of 43 others in Septem­ber 2014 in Iguala be­lied all that, as it gave global fo­cus to the narco cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence in Mex­ico.

The Iguala in­ci­dent in­volv­ing mem­bers of the drug car­tel called the War­riors and lo­cal po­lice­men un­der their con­trol high­lighted “the prob­lems that had been build­ing up for years – of car­tels that have be­come an al­ter­nate power con­trol­ling may­ors and gover­nors, and their ten­u­ous links to fed­eral se­cu­rity forces…”

No one knows why the stu­dents who com­man­deered a bus dur­ing a protest were at­tacked – did the bus con­tain heroin for ship­ment? Did the car­tel think the stu­dents be­longed to a ri­val group? Un­for­tu­nately, me­dia re­fused to be­lieve gov­ern­ment ac­counts that it was drug deal­ers from the War­riors crim­i­nal em­pire that was re­spon­si­ble. One thing is clear: Real power lay in the car­tels that dealt drugs and con­trolled politi­cians, part­ner­ing with se­cu­rity forces to strengthen their grip on the trade.

Equally dis­turb­ing is the chain of crime wars slic­ing through Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean: Mex­ico, Brazil, Colom­bia, Ja­maica, etc., where drugs, guns and gang­sters pro­lif­er­ate. Grillo says the nar­cotics trade is not just in the poor­est re­gions but in in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing so­ci­eties with a grow­ing mid­dle class.

Sprawl­ing slums are “home to ul­tra­vi­o­lent gangs with links to politi­cians and busi­ness­men.” He talks of a “co­caine-fu­eled holo­caust” with more than one mil­lion peo­ple across Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean mur­dered between 2000 and 2010.

“Drug car­tels are deeply rooted in­side com­mu­ni­ties, draw­ing their strength from vil­lages and bar­rios,” Grillo wrote – re­mind­ing me of a re­port by the Philip­pine Drug En­force­ment Agency that 20,872 of the 42,036 barangays in the Philip­pines – or roughly 50 per­cent – are af­fected by il­le­gal drugs. In­ter­est­ingly, Latin Amer­i­can crime lead­ers de­velop a loyal fol­low­ing and are revered like Robin Hood – rem­i­nis­cent of this Cebu drug per­son­al­ity named Jef­frey “Jaguar” Diaz whose funeral was at­tended by thou­sands of peo­ple lin­ing the streets.

Un­like the old stereo­typ­i­cal por­trayal of gang­sters and war­lords, there is now a new gen­er­a­tion of king­pins that Grillo de­scribes as a “weird hy­brid of a crim­i­nal CEO, gang­ster rock star and para­mil­i­tary gen­eral.”

Over the last two decades, these crime fam­i­lies and their friends in pol­i­tics and busi­ness have taken over much of the world’s trade in “nar­cotics, guns and hu­mans” and other in­dus­tries, their net­works stretch­ing across the US, Europe, Aus­tralia, even Asia.

The Bri­tish au­thor – who just came from Marawi to ex­am­ine the con­nec­tion between drugs and ter­ror­ism – told me he is plan­ning to write a very long ar­ti­cle for a mag­a­zine which I hope the Philip­pine

STAR would be able to print one day for peo­ple to un­der­stand the lo­cal drug sit­u­a­tion and the con­text of the global drug menace.

Grillo is also the au­thor of El Narco – the book that Pres­i­dent Duterte men­tioned in a tes­ti­mo­nial din­ner some­time in July last year and chal­lenged the au­di­ence to read it and ex­am­ine for them­selves if the pres­i­dent is right – or not – that if no­body in­ter­dicts the drug busi­ness in the Philip­pines, we will be­come a narco state.

This is what Pres­i­dent Rody Duterte has been say­ing when he took over as pres­i­dent. Even dur­ing the cam­paign sea­son, he was very em­phatic that the prob­lem re­gard­ing il­le­gal drugs is so se­ri­ous that it can de­stroy the na­tion. Peo­ple very close to the pres­i­dent tell me that he gets very frus­trated when peo­ple refuse to be­lieve the mag­ni­tude of the drug prob­lem in this coun­try.

One can only imag­ine the kind of dam­age that il­le­gal drugs can do to the fab­ric of so­ci­ety. It won’t be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that Grillo’s book is a mus­tread even for hu­man rights groups to be able to un­der­stand how ex­ten­sive the prob­lem has be­come, and the per­va­sive in­flu­ence of il­le­gal drugs not only in the US and Latin Amer­ica but also in Asia – in fact right here in our very own back­yard.

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