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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: Will the West be Checkmated in Bolivia?
Former Venezuela Minister of Ministers Beatrice Rangel on the threats to the promising future of Latin America from crime in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Colombia.

By Beatrice E. Rangel

While at Harvard I was taught that the world is ruled by geopolitics and thus geography, economics, and demography carry weight or even define the behavior of a nation state and in particular its foreign policy.

Further, countries that were at a geographical crossroads enjoyed advantages vis-a-vis other nations that were more isolated. In addition, those states with advantages derived from a resource basket, geographical location and talented populations stand a better chance of imposing their interest over the interests of other states in the "remorseless struggle for advantage among states," as Kissinger defines international relations.

These states can impact (positively or negatively) the interests of other states and can serve as effective platforms to inflict damage upon states or coalitions of states.

The reason for Europe for instance to achieve development lies, among other fundamentals, in the fact the continent is a crossroad for the world.

Europe is almost equidistant to Asia, the Americas and Africa. Its resource basket is plentiful, and fire was revealed there. Europe thus became a development platform that impacted the whole world. Its cultural and economic algorithms prevailed for about 500 years.

Today the world gravitation point is slowly displacing itself to Asia while in the Americas interdependence has weaved together all the economies and is moving slowly but surely to the establishment of an integrated economic space.

Several countries in the Americas exhibit competitive advantages that will enable them not only to grasp the fruits of this process but to enhance and accelerate the course. These countries are México and Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Mexico and Colombia -- besides enjoying some degree of institutional firmness -- have extensive Pacific and Atlantic coasts, a bountiful resource endowment and relatively large middle classes.

Venezuela is the entry key to the Southern Caribbean and the coasts of Brazil, is gifted with strategic minerals (uranium, iron, bauxite coltan, gold), the largest oil reserves in the world and hydro electric energy.

Paraguay is key to Merco Sur integration as it sits over the most significant waterways in South America after the Amazon and Orinoco rivers and it is a breadbasket for the region in terms of its bountiful cereal and soy production.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It has a chain of lakes that could allow the region to build a second navigation canal between the Atlantic and Pacific. Nicaragua's agriculture is plentiful and with good public policies and management could turn it into the Central American breadbasket cum subsidiary trade hub.

Bolivia on its part sits at the heart of the Southern continent. It has accessible river traffic to all Merco Sur countries, is endowed with one of the largest world reserves of lithium and is a coca grower.

Except for Paraguay, all these nations are experiencing institutional stress that has turned Venezuela into a failed state; Mexico into economic paralysis, Colombia into an assailed democracy; Nicaragua into a tyranny; and all into anchorages or headquarters for organized crime.

This institutional deterioration is the product of a combination of foreign and internal elements that could soon turn the region into a Crime Inc. controlled territory.

Internal elements include corporativism as a political model and rent extraction as an economic model.

In the international field the technology wizard has impacted geopolitics in ways that can be quite detrimental to democracy, freedom and development.

Undeniably, technology has conveyed power to non-state actors that can impact not only the world balance of power but bring havoc to countries and regions of the world. One such actor is organized crime that derives such a huge margin from the illicit activities it engages in that it can now access the most sophisticated and effective technologies to improve and upgrade these illicit activities.

But organized crime needs operational bases and countries with fragile institutional frameworks are perfect to fulfill this role.

In South America, Bolivia and Venezuela today allow operational bases to organized crime.

Over the long run this could pose exactly the same danger that organized crime posed to New York City which stirred the U.S. adoption of the RICO legislation.

Today the people of Bolivia took action to initiate the control of this perfidious evolution in our continent. They voted out the head of the Crime Inc partnership.

To be sure, Mr Morales has been a swift partner that has allowed illicits to grow side by side with the legal economy. As a result, few had questioned his leadership up until he decided to shred constitutional principles.

Bolivians indicated they would not let this happen and went to the polls to defeat him in the first round.

As a consequence, Mr Morales has to go to a second round to face Mr Mesa who is leading the polls. Mr Morales decided to blatantly engage in fraud. And while the OAS technical commission sent to investigate the fraud indicated that indeed there had been fraud and that a run-off election should take place, neither the Secretary General nor the rest of Latin America seem to be moving in that direction.

Should they fail to follow the OAS recommendations, Latin nations and the U.S.A. could be the losing party in a chess game were Crime Inc will execute a clean checkmate in seven movements.

And once this happens smaller gangs in the region will get emboldened. They already have the cheering signs coming from Culiacan where the Mexican government decided to let Crime Inc take over.

In less that a decade the whole region will harbor criminal groups from all over the world. A sort of modern Casablanca that develops the day the international community fails to protect Bolivia's popular will.

As in chess, checkmating the opponent wins the game.

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.


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