By Beatrice E. Rangel
I am truly amazed at the lack of depth in most media reports on the so called Santrichgate in Colombia.
For newcomers to the drama, Mr Santrich, a member of the FARC directorate (the newly created political party representing the pacified guerrillas), was found in fraganti by undercover DEA agents preparing a load of cocaine to be sent to Mexico with final destination the U.S.A.
The FARC immediately called the incident a trap.
But when they could not prove Mr Santrich's innocence because his accomplices decided to jump aboard the DEA ship and become protected witnesses, the organization is now denouncing a plot by the right to destroy the peace process.
Ivan Marquez, a FARC principal with a seat in congress, decided to go back to the jungles and presumably retake his AK-47.
The episode would merit an in-depth analysis of the penetration by organized crime in Latin America and very particularly in Colombia. But all we see everywhere except for The Economist and the like is a recording of the police proceedings on the case, a debate on the merits of extradition to the U.S. (or lack of thereof) and Mr Santrich's saga from his home to the hospital and presumably to jail when his sudden ailments subside.
Missing from this coverage of course is the core of the matter: organized crime has taken over political life in many Latin American countries.
But both knowledge as well as perception of the threat remain a matter of law enforcement agencies while the citizenship ignores its presence.
Organized crime has a major impact in Latin America. This can be clearly perceived in the levels of crime that have made Latin American cities the most violent and insecure cities worldwide. With 8% of the total world population, Latin American cities concentrate 75% of global kidnappings.
Drug trafficking contaminates government spreading increasing levels of corruption, violence and political instability. In 10 out of the 13 Latin American countries that have credible records, the levels of delinquency have multiplied between 4 and 6 times since the 90s.
Mexico-based Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice released a study concluding that 43 of the 50 deadliest urban areas in the world are in Latin America, with Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, seen as the most dangerous city with 130 homicides per 100,000 people. Acapulco, Mexico, was second.
The situation worsens as organized crime exploits and enhances dysfunctions suffered by states.
Presence of these dysfunctions is easily perceived in three areas that define a nation state. These areas are: institutional fragility; incapacity to generate public goods; and erosion of the political system.
Fragility produces weak states which are unable to guarantee the "rule of law." When a state does not produce enough public goods, the population adopts a survival culture that further deteriorates the institutional framework.
As the state fails to satisfy the public demands for public goods, democracies are eroded beyond repair. Thus, like led by the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the people of Latin America are marching to their political funeral without even realizing!
To face the monster is essential, and it begins by calling things by their name.
FARC leaders, for example, need to be seen as what they are: a cartel and not a political organization.
The same goes for all those organizations in Latin America that are part of organized crime.
In Brazil Comando (drug trafficking) syndicates, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), Comando Vermelho and Amigos dos Amigos are all crime organizations and as such should be treated that way.
And the region should expeditiously adopt mechanisms to allow national law enforcement agencies to act regionally within the parameters of the UN Convention against transnational organized crime.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.