In February, Spanish authorities found 500 kilos of cocaine hidden in a plane belonging to the Bolivian state-owned aviation company, BOA, which operated on the commercial route between Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Madrid. The drug was shipped from Bolivia, “escaping” the control of seven local checkpoints and surveillance cameras. An operation that obviously had the support of local authorities. The apprehension could just be a gigantic police case, but as it concerns the Andean neighbor, the case should necessarily be treated from the perspective that we are talking about a criminalized State.
The term narco-state, which is widespread, is commonly used to designate countries where the government, but also the Legislature, Judiciary and the Armed Forces are infiltrated by cartels or transnational crime organizations whose basic activity is drug trafficking. The definition is also used for those countries where a step is taken. Public agents with elected positions are often former drug traffickers and manage the criminal enterprise from their offices. This is just one of the ways to build a criminalized state, but perhaps the most common.
In a narco-state, the capture of political power comes in the wake of the economic power of crime – in the case of countries like Bolivia, the economy is dependent on drug revenues. But the concept I have just described is not enough to describe a criminalized state, or what Bolivia has become. And not just Bolivia. Cuba, much earlier, and Venezuela more recently fulfilled the basic requirements of the classic concept of narco-states, but went further.
When Evo Morales came to power in 2006, Bolivia underwent a conceptual refoundation. He won a new Constitution, official name and flag to package the noble mission that included legalizing and giving an invented nobility to the production of the main ingredient of cocaine, which are coca leaves. In addition, the government released areas for cultivation, supported the discourse of victimization of producers and scattered a few million dollars around the world to sponsor the new image of the new Bolivia, where the indigenous people, after five centuries of exploitation, finally came to power.
Meanwhile, Bolivian Air Force planes made regular flights to Venezuela and Cuba filled with cocaine. One of the pilots operating the route claimed to have transported the drug that was disguised as diplomatic cargo. It is not possible to say how many times the operation was performed. Brazilian Air Force officials indicate that, between 2009 and 2014, Bolivia used Brazil’s airspace 91 times for the transit of military aircraft destined for Caracas and Havana.
In 2011, a general decided to complain to President Morales about the misuse of military aircraft. But, by a fatal coincidence, the soldier died on the same day that he dared to complain about drug trafficking operations. Officially, the soldier died of asphyxiation in his own vomit.
In the 1980s, Fidel Castro rented Cuba, for a daily rate of $1 million, to Pablo Escobar. The Colombian trafficker used the island as a warehouse at the doors of the United States, where he stored cocaine to later make it reach American territory, with the help of the Cuban military who provided logistical intelligence, using the regime’s radar systems to monitor the location of the United States Coast Guard and other State agents, to identify free routes for sending the drug to America.
Fidel, by the way, was the one who opened the doors of drug trafficking to Chavismo. In Hugo Chávez, the specterI reproduce the story of an ex-soldier who was part of President Hugo Chávez’s circle who said that the moral justification for the use of the Venezuelan state apparatus in favor of drug trafficking was taught by Fidel Castro.
On a visit to Havana, Chávez shared with Fidel his desire to help the FARC get back on its feet financially, but there was the downside of cocaine. Fidel, without hesitation, corrected his disciple. “Cocaine was not a problem, but an instrument in the struggle against imperialism,” said the Cuban. Total and unrestricted support for the Colombians would not only foment revolution in the neighboring country, it would also harm the United States. The increase in trafficking, Fidel taught, would force Americans to spend more money on repression actions and on the treatment of addicts.
Thus was born the cartel de los soles and the Venezuelan narco-state.
But both Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia went further. They transformed drug trafficking into State policy, an asymmetrical instrument for achieving their political and military objectives, and remodeled the concept into what I believe should be called the Narco State.
This is not a simple play on words, but a conceptual evolution that allows describing how a State can behave like a criminal organization. Being The Criminal Organization. Politicians, diplomats, military and all sorts of officials need to keep in mind that when they deal with their “peers” from criminalized countries, they are not dealing with politicians, diplomats, military and regular officials, but actors directly or indirectly linked to a structure of crime whose dimensions are state.
Colombia, which is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, is face to face with a scandal of major proportions, which has immured the government of President Gustavo Petro. recordings which reveal conversations by Petro allies that sound more like mobster talk, suggest that drug cartels sponsored the president’s campaign.
Petro claims to be the victim of a frame. His minions talk in lawfare. The allies, in coup. Even without knowing for sure what is going on in Colombia, but confident that nothing will happen, leftists from all corners signed a petition in solidarity with the Colombian, in which they speak of a “soft coup”. Among the signatories are the federal deputy and president of the PT, Gleisi Hoffmann, the boss of the MST, João Pedro Stédile, and the federal deputy Guilherme Boulos, from PSOL. In addition to them, a bunch of union members from the CUT and other associations. There are so many Brazilians that it even surpasses the list of Colombian signatories.
Escobar dreamed of being president. He had so much money that he wanted to pay off the country’s foreign debt out of his own pocket. He was a drug lord with drug dealer DNA. Time passed, crime evolved and with it, cartels and transnational crime organizations. The Escobar style of being has become anachronistic. Absolutely out of fashion and on purpose. The crime advanced on the State. From parallel power, it became formal power. Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela are very well-finished examples of the process of criminalizing entire states.
The Colombia of Escobar and Petro (and I emphasize, I am not making a comparison here, just a reference to nationality) has been on this threshold for decades. But resilience has a limit. Perhaps this limit has already been exceeded. Free and serious investigations are needed to find out to what extent trafficking has already penetrated power, ceasing to be an influence to be the central actor of power.
While the European left looks to Latin America imagining seeing their Finnish peers there, or Americans who think that Evo Morales and his gang are Latin versions of the Democratic Party, the Latin American left closes its eyes and embraces itself, placing the “ideological unity ” ahead of integrity and morals. The crimes – all of them – are visible to the naked eye. But the revolution comes first.
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