Drugs and terrorism
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.