Posts Tagged ‘colombia’

16 Maps Of Drug Flow Into The United States

Despite growing momentum for drug policy reform in Latin America, continual carnage in Mexico and a U.S. government-sponsoredstudy that rips U.S. drug policy, America’s 40-year war on drugs is still raging. 

This week retired Colombian police Gen. Mauricio Santoyo turned himself in to the DEA on charges that he helped drug gangs and right-wing paramilitaries smuggle cocaine to Mexico and the U.S. while he was the head of security for the president of Colombia.

We’ve covered how cocaine gets from the fields in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia to the world’s largest drug market.

The U.N.’s World Drug Report 2012 showed us how the U.S. has high demand formarijuanacocaine and painkillers. Ironically, the more America spends on the drug war, the cheaper drugs become.

All this got us thinking about how drugs make it from Latin America to American cities, so we put together a series of maps to get a better idea.

Most of the drugs that enter the U.S. come from Central and South America

Mexico is the transit zone between the biggest source of drugs and the biggest consumer

95 percent of American cocaine imports are brought by Mexican cartels through Mexico and Central America

The drugs are shipped in a variety of ways

The drugs are shipped in a variety of ways


And flow through a variety of cartels

And flow through a variety of cartels


Despite wars between cartels, most shipments make it through Mexico to the U.S. border

Despite wars between cartels, most shipments make it through Mexico to the U.S. border


Here’s a look at which cartels tends to handle which drugs (though the dominant Zetas are conspicuously missing on this map)

Here's a look at which cartels tends to handle which drugs (though the dominant Zetas are conspicuously missing on this map)


The battle to control the border claims the most lives

As a comparison, here’s how heroin makes it to its largest markets

Demand is geographically skewed in the U.S. as the West prefers methamphetamine (red) and the east prefers cocaine (blue)

The supply routes for meth follow the demand

The same goes for coke so sellers can reap the biggest possible profit

Marijuana distribution, like preference for it, is more balanced

And the same goes for heroin

Here are the aggregate answers from local law enforcement agencies when asked: “What drug poses the greatest threat to your area?”

All things considered, the drug superhighway is running smoothly as cocaine is causing more trouble than ever in its largest markets (U.S. and Europe)



The rise of SOCOM – to train proxy forces in all the places where US projects its power – is alarming.

The recent news of a possible shift in the operation of drones from the CIA to the Department of Defense was by and large received with a shrug. Given that the programme would likely be operated by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and under conditions of strictest secrecy, and probably launched from inaccessible “floating bases” on especially configured naval vessels, the shift is not an indicator of a change in the US’ assassination policy. And to the putative victims of the drone strikes, it is largely an irrelevant organisational change.

The reason, however, that the shift is of relevance more broadly is that it signals the irresistible rise of the special operations community in the post-counterinsurgency era.  More than a year ago, in January 2012, President Obama inaugurated the US Defense Strategic Guidance. The document was strategically significant because it announced the “pivot to Asia” alongside continued commitments to the oil sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf.

Militarily, it clearly signalled the end of large-scale invasion and occupation of troublesome or intransigent countries in favour of the kind of operations in which the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and its counterterrorism component, the JSOC, excel. This ascendancy is confirmed by the planned expansion of the SOCOM by around 7.5 percent by 2015, from 66,100 civilian and military personnel in 2011 to 71,100 by 2015.

This expansion of the force, at a time when most US government departments – including the Pentagon itself – are contemplating possible sequestrations, speaks to the increasing importance of a force which can act in the shadows, leaving a “light footprint”.

A recent report by the Center for a New American Security describes the light footprints as a “minimalist” and “non-intrusive” approach to asymmetric warfare combining “air power, special operators, intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups and contractors, often leveraging relationships with allies and enabling partner militaries to take more active roles”. US Special Operations Command is perfectly suited for such tasks and is increasingly consolidating its hold over the broad spectrum of military tactics it entails.

‘Minimalist and non-intrusive’ approach

Established in 1980 and 1987 respectively, JSOC and SOCOM both have their origins in the US military’s failed hostage rescue mission in Iran in 1980.

The most prominent operations in which the SOCOM has participated or had leading roles have included the invasion of Grenada (1983), rescue operations during the Achille Lauro hijacking (1985), the invasion of Panama and the kidnapping of Manuel Noriega (1989), the Mideast during the Gulf War (1991), the operation to arrest Mohamed Farrah Aidid in Somalia (1993), re-installation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti (1994), classified missions in Bosnia and Kosovo (1996-2002), and of course Afghanistan (2001-present) and Iraq (2003-present).

The USSOCOM draws from the special operators of the various branches of the US military, including the US Navy SEALs, the Army’s Green Berets and the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Marine Corps’ Special Operations Regiment, and the Air Force’s special operators.

The JSOC, the wholly classified sub-unit of the SOCOM, includes even smaller and more elite groups of the Delta Force and the US Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group (or DEVGRU) which was responsible for the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But while such operations capture the attention of mainstream media and Hollywood producers, other functions of the SOCOM are less commented upon but just as important.

In both the aforementioned CNAS report and the 2011 Congressional testimony of Admiral William McRaven, the SOCOM chief, such visible direct operations are said best complemented by indirect approaches.

The direct special operations approach usually includes the drone-led assassination programme, and secret special operations forays into a variety of official, unofficial and unannounced battlegrounds in countries around the world. At last count, these countries numbered 71, up from around 60 during the Bush administration.

Although these operations get the press, and certainly seem to have a kind of pop culture glamour – with Hollywood clamouring to make films about special operators – the CNAS report helpfully tells us that:

“Drones and commando raids are the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Surgical strikes [sic] are only the most visible (and extreme) part of a deeper, longer-term strategy that takes many years to develop, cannot be grown after a crisis and relies heavily on human intelligence networks, the training of indigenous forces and close collaboration with civilian diplomats and development workers.”

The latter few items of the series above count as the kind of indirect operations that both McRaven and CNAS consider crucially important. The indirect tasks primarily include training and advising foreign security forces in a broad range of countries and operating alongside them. Altogether, by March 2012, according to Admiral McRaven, the US Special Operations Forces were present in some 100 countries.

In all accounts extolling the use of the “foreign internal defence” programmes, the special operators and their supporters like to use the training of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and participation in Plan Colombia as their exemplary cases.

In the Philippines, the special operators continue a long tradition of intervention in the country which began with the effective colonisation of the Philippines Islands between 1898 and 1946 and continued with counterinsurgency activities in the 1950s. Through this long period, the US forces have fought the Moros of southern Philippines in a variety of guises, both directly and indirectly.

The most recent incarnation of the fight has entailed the SOCOM training of the Philippines Special Operations Forces, and fighting alongside them against the Abu Sayyaf Islamists in southern Philippines.

The training began with the initial insertion of 1,200 Special Operations Forces into the country for advising, training and eventually engaging in military operations. Although the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is still active in the Philippines, they now maintain a much lower profile.

Indirect approach and training programmes

Plan Colombia brought together the US State Department, USAID and more importantly, the US special operators, the DEA, the CIA and military contractors to train the Colombian military and the police to both fight the FARC guerrillas and assist the US in the interdiction of cocaine in Colombia (although the extent to which the intelligence agencies have been involved in interdicting drugs has been laid open to question when a plane previously used for rendition – presumably by the CIA – crashed in Mexico carrying Colombia cocaine).

The connections built in Colombia are particularly close and the US special operations activities there are so crucial that CNAS fellow and influential pundit Robert Kaplan has claimed that:

“The future of military conflict [is] better gauged in Colombia than in Iraq… In Colombia I was introduced to the tactics that the US would employ to manage an unruly world.”

Other regions of the world will follow the model established in Colombia and the Philippines in the first decade of the 21st century.

The US Special Operations Forces are now operating in Uganda, Libya, Mali, Yemen, and out of the US bases in and near hotspots throughout the world. Where they engage in training or special operations, their fields of activity become useful laboratories for development of special operations tactics and honing of special skills.

But the indirect approach and training programmes also establish long-term connections between military officers of various countries and their counterparts in the USSOCOM.  The CNAS report on “light footprints” hopefully offers, “as American advisers maintain relationships with their foreign counterparts over the years, lieutenants become captains, then colonels, then generals, and they begin to influence the partner nation’s military from within”.

Another cheerleader for the use of indirect approach by special operators, journalist Linda Robinson, tell us that:

“Colombian special operators act as valuable force multipliers since they speak the language and understand the culture of these places in ways that US forces might not. These Colombians are part of an expanding network of US-trained Special Operators that also includes forces from Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries and whose members are now participating in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere alongside traditional US partners from Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.”

In the same article, she recognises that the local forces trained and supported by the US can be corrupt, “incompetent or abusive”, but she argues that the use of these proxy forces is the “only realistic course for US security policy” short of expensive and unpopular large-scale military intervention.

The rise of US Special Operations Forces engaging in kinetic operations and direct action or in using their extensive military, psychological operations and war-fighting skills to train proxy forces in all the places where the US projects its power is alarming.

The ascendance of an elite clique of ultra-warriors protected by the cloak of secrecy and pushing off responsibility for acts of violence to their proxies and allies, means that the tip of the imperial spear can tear through the social fabric of many a country without associated costs in blood and treasure and hidden from the view of the press and the public.

And because such special operations do not require the sacrifices of an expansive force, the special operators can largely act without public outrage or demand for accountability.  The old/new military philosophy of a light footprint is useful precisely because it allows for the war in the shadows to continue unabated and with impunity.

Posted on August 16, 2012

In the noise and confusion attending the extradition to the US  on the same day last week of three women involved in cocaine trafficking from South America,  questions raised by the family connection of one to the former President of Colombia went unanswered.

Did Alvaro Uribe okay the loading of 3.6 tons of cocaine at an airport he controlled in Rio Negro Colombia onto a “former” CIA Gulfstream (N987SA) jet from St. Petersburg Florida that crashed in the Yucatan in 2007?

Why did two successive U.S. Administrations lavish  billions of dollars to stop drug trafficking on a President of Colombia who was himself involved in the drug trade?

While any further emphasis of the ties to the drug business of a global elite of the parasitic rich seems unnecessary at this late date, all three of the extradicted women belong to the families of legendary drug-trafficking dynasties.

A Godfather, a Tiger, and Sandra Avila

Receiving the lion’s share of last week’s media attention was femme fatale Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the Queen of the Pacific, whose seductive persona has fascinated Mexico for much of the past decade.

Avila, who faces charges of money laundering and drug trafficking, belongs to the Beltran-Leyva  family, which has been involved in drug trafficking for three generations.

She is the niece of the man known as the original “Godfather” of Mexico’s drug business, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, currently in prison in Mexico.

Avila’s “claim to fame” is that she, and her significant other, Colombian Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, alias El Tigre, established ties between the Sinaloa Cartel and Colombia’s dominant Cartel del Valle.

“She used her physical attributes to do business and gain allies,” says noted journalist Ricardo Ravelo. “Her character is violent and manipulative; she has a very active social life, loves  parties, jewels and pleasures.”

Quietly extradicted, almost as an afterthought

By contrast, Dolly Cifuentes-Villa and her daughter Ana Maria Uribe Cifuentes flew in under the radar, almost unnoticed.

Yet, shockingly, both belong to the family of the former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, and were actively involved in drug trafficking while Uribe was at the same time being paid $8 billion by the U.S.’s  Plan Colombia to pursue a war against that country’s cocaine traffickers.

She is charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute narcotics between 2003 through 2009, as well as laundering drug money through shell companies and real estate in Colombia, Panama, and Mexico.

She was either married or the long-time mistress—accounts differ—of Jaime Uribe, Alvaro Uribe’s brother. Their daughter, Ana Maria, also a part of the family business, is Alvaro Uribe’s niece.

Like Sandra Avila, Dolly Cifuentes’ dynastic ties to drug trafficking go far beyond her marriage to the brother of former President Alvaro Uribe.

She is the sister of a clan of drug trafficking Cifuentes Villa brothers, led, until his 2007 assassination, by Francisco Cifuentes, known as “Don Pancho,” who cut the historic deal with Sandra Avila’s assistance, to distribute Columbian cocaine into the U.S. through Mexico with Sinaloa Cartel honcho El Chapo Guzman.

That deal, cut shortly after Guzman’s “escape” from prison while Vicente Fox was president of Mexico, has led to Mexico’s current horrific drug war, as rival Mexican cartels scramble for their share of Colombia’s business.

The tangled past of George W. Bush’s ‘great good friend’ Alvaro Uribe

If having close family members involved in drug trafficking was the first taint of corruption to besmirch the reputation of Alvaro Uribe, it might be possible to explain it by saying he is not responsible for the actions of others in his family.

If this were just the second time that charges of involvement in drug trafficking have been leveled against him, there might still be an innocent explanation, however implausible, that could be used.

But this is at least the the fourth time credible allegations of involvement in drug trafficking have been leveled against Uribe.

A declassified report made public in 1991 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), directly linked then-senator Alvaro Uribe to Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel (as well as naming Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi as a trafficker).

The report referred to Uribe as “a Colombian politician dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin cartel at high levels,” claiming Uribe was “a close personal friend” of Escobar’s.

Using US money to take out the competition

Then in 2007 another US intelligence report was leaked to the LA Times by a CIA official described as “unhappy that Uribe’s government had not been held to account by the Bush administration.”

According to this report, Uribe tasked his defense minister, General Mario Montoya, with leading a controversial counterinsurgency push in the city of Medellin in 2002 which relied heavily on the support of a right-wing paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which was itself involved in drug trafficking.

While Uribe’s rival cocaine barons in Colombia were being hunted, their coca sprayed, and their flights regularly interdicted, officials in both the US and Colombia turned a blind eye to Uribe-backed traffickers who the U.S. now says sent 500 tons of cocaine to the U.S.

According to a 2004 U.S. Government Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictment, the Norte del Valle cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds – more than 500  tons – of cocaine worth in excess of $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale.

But the organization, according to a senior official of the National Police of Colombia who spoke to a Colombian journalist,  was not pursued between August 2002 and August 2010, during Uribe’s two terms in office.

In the past three years, say Colombian police, the Cifuentes Villa brothers’ Norte del Valle cartel, with operations in five countries, has sent 30 tons of cocaine into the United States.

Dolly Cifuentes’s story, which US officials will no doubt dissuade her from telling, makes clear that the $8 billion in Plan Colombia money was criminally wasted.

It presents a potentially major embarrassment to the US Government,  threatening the very premise behind America’s War on Drugs while raising the specter that the U.S.  is engaged in selective prosecution, favoring some drug traffickers while prosecuting others.

The War on Drugs, whose $40 billion a year price tag is footed by US taxpayers, benefits just a small group of insiders who are able to command the official complicity of their governments in their drug trafficking endeavors.

This would all be a huge scandal, if we had a free press.