Institutions and Competition

Colombia court fines Brazil's Odebrecht $250 million for corruption

July 12, 2017
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UPDATE 19 DEC According to Buenos Aires News and other sources, Colombia's justice system has fined Brazil construction and engineering giant Odebrecht $250 million, having found the firm guilty of corruption to secure contracts. The company is also banned from tendering for state contracts in Colombia for ten years. According to the Buenos Aires News coverage, Odebrecht is suspected of paying out around $750 million to win government and near-government business in Latin America and the Carribean.

UPDATE 17 DEC After posting information on its ELN Twitter account, El Espectador of Bogota and France 24 are reporting that the 1700-strong National Liberation Army (ELN) has annouced a truce-cease fire during the period 23 December -3 January 2019. Considered by some experts ("Latin Americanists" as they are called in the United States) as the oldest guerrilla in Colombia,the ELN are proving they hold to their "hard line" Marxist orientation. FARC, the largest guerrilla, signed on to the "peace process" brokered by the UN and Pope Francis, a process which remains tenuous. The new Duque government in Bogota refuses to talk officially with ELN, claiming the group still engages in ransom kidnappings, continues to hold hostages, engages in organized crime (narco trade) and continues to recuit young talent for its organization and will not go back to negotiating until they have incontrovertable evidence those activities have permanently stopped (good luck!). For its part, ELN says it is ready to resume talks in where else... Havana, Cuba. The political drama and the "finagleing" is worthy of a Netflix movie, particularly since Trump National Security Director John Bolton has take a "get tough" line with ELN's friends in the Bolivarian Alliance (Cuba, Nicaragua, Veneuela, Bolivia). With things quieting down over Christmas Season, maybe time to get into the gambling spirit at the Rockefeller Casino in Bogota's chic "Zona T"... As I may have mentioned in the past, the grassy park in front of the casino is a traditional venue where families gather at night during Roman Catholic 12 days of Christmas to light candles and pray for peace.

UPDATE 17 NOV A new investigative article by respected news source Bloomberg has raised new questions regarding the integrity of Colombia's current and former governments, the moral compass of its judicial system and how successive regimes prosecute the official investigation of Brazil construction and engineering giant Odebrecht and its activities in Colombia, Panama and elsewhere. The Bloomberg article discussing the Odebrecht investigation(s) raises questions of what some western media and assets with current or former ties to "the intelligence community" refer to as "wet work" or "black box operations". Ironically, there has been little coverage of these events by print or online sources in Brazil, where president Michel Temer is presiding over a "smooth transition" to the incoming regime of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro. All of this unfolds as elements of the FARC and other leftist factions are showing signs of moving back to guerrilla operations.

UPDATE 2 NOV Citing an official government source, El Espectador of Bogota is reporting that US president Trump has cancelled his planned December 2nd visit to Colombia, citing a scheduling conflict. This is the second cancellation of a planned visit by president Trump to meet in Colombia with the president and other leadership this year. A planned visit to the "Summit of the Americas" event in Peru early in the year was also cancelled, in part, due to political turmoil in that nation that continues to play out.

Colombia (including its armed forces) is a new "provisional member" of the NATO alliance. And its economy is being helped along by around $11.5 billion in funding from multilateral lenders. In a recent interview with the BBC former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr. was asked whether the incoming Bolsonaro government in Brazil might benefit from similar membership status NATO has afforded Colombia, and while speaking unofficially, he suggested that it would likely complement the shared policy objectives of both nations in "The Americas." Now retired, Shannon is currently a consultant with Washington power law firm Arnold & Porter. All toll, president Trump has cancelled three visits to the region so far this year.

UPDATE 12 MARCH Le Monde and Agence France Presse (AFP) are calling yesterday's congressional elections in Colombia a "victory for the right." Same sources also suggest that due to the generally poor showing of leftist parties and their candidates, that the 2016 Havana "Peace process" is now "ïn play. The big winner in this election meanwhile is former presidente Alvaro Uribe, the longtime rival of current "lame duck" (outgoing) president Juan Manuel. Santos, who opposed the referendum that narrowly approved including FARC (and other "refomed" revolutionary groups) into the political mainstream. Based on the results of Sunday voting, Uribe's "man," youthful Senator Ivan Duque(educated at Harvard and Georgetown), is likely to be elected president of Colombia in the May presidential vote. His oponente will be Gusavo Petro, a mercurial former mayor of Bogotá city and na ex operative of M-19 revolutionary movement. Ironically, U.S. president Trump will meet with outgoing president Santos in Colombia next month. Update ends.

UPDATE 7 MARCH Bogota daily El Espectador is reporting that, due to failing health, FARC presidential candidate "Timochenko" is no longer a candidate for the presidency of Colombia. With the tenuous "peace process" baecoming more problematic, the vacuum created by the absence of one of its key architects will cause new political turbulence across the political spectrum in Colombia, as well as in neighbor nations. Update ends.

Will Colombia give peace another chance?

Approved last November by Colombia's congress, a revised peace deal between the government of current president Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) is moving into a new phase that is likely to test the tenability of an arrangement that, while earning president Santos the Nobel peace prize, still has many loose ends.

In a unanimous vote on July 10th, the UN Security Council approved an initiative sponsored by the United Kingdom that will send a new political mission to Colombia, called the UN Verification Mission.

The stated purpose of the “new” mission, which will replace the “old” mission on September 26th, is to verify the economic, social and political reintegration of those FARC-EP associates official UN media refers to as “former combatants”.

REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Does an elite UN bureaucracy have the capacity to reprogram revolutionary minds?

Probably not. And in today's UN "crowdfunding" environment, the competition for money will be tough and the pricetag won't be cheap.

One clue can be found in the official UN media bulletin available on the Web. The communique erringly subsumes that the greater Colombian society is the place that FARC-EP will “reintegrate” into.

The UN may have the ability succeed at short term mediation. But it's problematic to argue or predict that the UN has the track record and the capacity to "re-integrate" people into a society they were never really part of.

However, it can be argued convincingly-- whether using "classical liberal" theory or Marxist-Leninist social tools, that, historically, the majority of FARC-EP members have been marginalized, or found their pathway to life chances truncated by an unforgiving elite and the politico-military class that grew to protect their interests, even when acting as the opposition in a foreordained power sharing arrangement.

Such was the case with Colombia's National Front (1958-1978), which was organized to reduce the violence that between the Liberal and Conservative parties and their powerful family clans since the 1930s. As the National Front went into decline in the early 1970s, leftist violence increased, life chances for the poor worsened and the FARC found more urban and rural marginados joining its ranks. They also added the cocaine and precursor chemicals businesses to their menu of extortion and kidnapping.

Sensationalized by the local and international print media, and a favorite theme among diplomats who were enthusiastic about offering off-the-record "media guidance," the FARC-EP methods of financing their organization's mission were no different than the Peronist Montoneros, Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), the Red Brigade, elements of the IRA, and the PLO all of which (save for the PLO) had hybrid revolutionary manifestos based on some form of socialism.

Groups connected to US interests did the same thing in Latin America, the Iran-Contra deal being a case in point.

Mission Accomplished?

FARC-EP is reported to have complied with a major objective of the first UN mission, which is winding down and will be replaced by the "new" mission on September 26th. The organization is said to have relinquished all of its “registered” weapons to UN authorities (by the end of June).

But what about "unregistered" weapons? Cached, or hidden by FARC-friendly campesinos. Paramilitary groups and their informer networks who are on the lookout remain one of the contentious, unresolved issues in the "peace deal" that will continue to be buzzed up by NGOs and other civil society groups, who magnify the importance of the events to obtain grant money from foundations and "fatcat" contributors and get more "likes" on Facebook and Instagram.

Boasting 100,000 insurgents, the Maoist Naxalite insurgency has been taking place in India for as long as the FARC-EP has been in existance, controlling a large area of the subcontinent known as "India's Red Belt" and is much more selective about the use of armed violence than FARC-EP. But it rarely receives coverage in western print and online media, or anywhere outside India for that matter, preferring to keep a low profile.

UPDATE 22 DEC 17 Temporary truces as a humanatarian gesture or bargaining chip are traditional in Colombia- in Bogota families traditionally light candles and pray for peace in the Viceroy (Virrey) park across the street from the Rockefeller Casino in the affluent "Zona T". Asahi Shimbun reports that even among the bloody insurgencies and counterinsurgencies in Duterte's Phillipines, the Maoist revolutionaries have called a truce for Christmas holidays and it is being respected.

Then too, who among high level FARC-EP, senior armed forces cadre

and paramilitary squads gets prosecuted nationally- and at the international level- continues to be an unresolved issue that has the potential to trigger unpleasant events.

"America United" ...at the Brazilian Pavilion

While western media assets, some analysts and Latin diplomats are creating positive spin for the Santos-FARC-EP deal, Washington and some of its Latin allies, even inside Colombia, are hedging their bets on predicting the future of the FARC-EP brand. After all, it has been as recognizable as Coca-Cola. FARC-EP has been buzzed up for decades due to its commitment to armed revolution, violence and the Marxist-Leninist class struggle.

In May it was announced by BBC, Brazil's Defense Net (Defesanet) and other media that, at the behest of the government of Brazil, forces (and other agencies) from Brazil, Colombia, Peru and the United States plan to conduct operation “America United” in November. The 10-day exercise will operate from a temporary multinational base in an area of Brazil's heavily canopied Amazonian “Triple Frontier” jungle that borders Colombia and Peru.

The exercise has been positioned as a major step in the trust building process between the government of Brazil's highly unpopular (7% approval rating) president Michel Temer and Washington. With Temer as acting president while former president Dilma Rousseff was removed for 180 days-- as part of the constitutional requirement for the impeachment process-- the armed forces (army, navy, air force) promoted 80 officers to the "general officer" level, according to Defense Net (Defesanet).

Exercises are expected to be conducted in Colombian and Peruvian territory. This swathe across the Amazon and into Latin America's "northern tier" is the major conduit heading north to the American market and to Brazil's huge drug market, and for transshipment from the Brazilian eastern coast to Africa, which can be done in two engine propeller aircraft. The contraband is then moved on to Europe. According to the Soros-funded online publication "Insight Crime" FARC-EP and its allies have controlled the region for decades earning tribute for protecting shipments of coca product, other narcotics and opioids, methamphetamine, gold and the trafficking of humans for cheap labor (sometimes slave labor) and prostitution.

According to the BBC and Venezuela-based Telesur, the temporary base in Brazil will be provisioned with "logistical items" to include communications equipment, transportation vehicles, munitions and firearms.

A similar "temporary base" strategy is currently being used by NATO in nations bordering Russia.

Reasons for concern

Petr V. Ilichev, who is Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, has said in Security Council proceedings that Russia will continue to provide assistance to the government of Colombia to build on the momentum of the peace deal. But with Colombia holding parliamentary elections in March to elect 102 members of the senate and 166 members of the lower house local politics and surprise disruptions (for example, violence, or environmental accidents caused by blowing up oil pipelines or even "false flag" operations designed to depict FARC-EP as "bad actors" could shift momentum on key issues of the peace deal which are still being negotiated.

In this context, it should be remembered that, in a nationwide election last October, voters rejected the Santos-FARC-EP peace deal by a margin of about 53.500 votes, 50.2% to 49.8% with only 37% of the electorate (13 million total votes) bothering to cast ballots. At that time, president Santos and his team predicted, incorrectly, that 65% of the electorate would support the deal. Santos and FARC-EP leadership renegotiated some technical elements of the deal and it was passed by Colombia's congress (some would say "railroaded";) without having to be approved a second time in a costly national election.

Even today, former two term president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) now a senator, continues to charge that the peace deal negotiated by president Santos and his team doesn't do enough to keep the FARC-EP in check. There is a long history of enmity between Santos and Uribe and both men continue to trade barbs as they jockey for position as influencers in Colombia's 2018 presidential election.

President Santos recently issued his third and final pardon for FARC-EP "ex-guerrillas." Still, multiple online sources estimate that between 400 and 800 associates have not joined the peace process, have not given up their weapons and are continuing their lifestyle. According to the Spanish Agency EFE, these rogue operators have been expelled from FARC-EP and sometimes find work protecting shipments for drug gangs and cartels.

Beyond the prestige of being a Nobel laureate and cobbling together a tenuous peace accord, corruption scandals in the administration of president Santos have damaged his credibility.

Brazilian corruption spills into Colombia

Bogota media, the BBC and the Voice of America have all given important coverage to revelations that the presidential campaigns of Juan Manuel Santos in 2010 and 2014 received illegal financing from the Brazilian construction and consulting giant Odebrecht.

Claiming that he had no personal knowledge of the Odebrecht contributions, president Santos has issued an apology.

President Santos lost the first round of the presidential voting last May to economist Oscar Zuluaga with Zuluaga, beating him by a margin of 29.5% to 25.6% in an election marked by low voter turnout. Santos then defeated Zuluaga in a second round of voting in June, 2014 by a margin of 50.95% to 45%, roughly 900,000 votes, according to BBC and other sources.

After a long investigation, on July 13, 2017, Colombia's attorney general confirmed that Santos and Zuluaga both received illegal campaign contributions to finance their 2014 presidential campaigns from Odebrecht interests. The information has been passed on to Colombia's National Electoral Council for review and possible action.

In March, 2017, US media giant Fox News reported, citing the popular Brazilian publication Veja, that during the 1990s, FARC started receiving tribute money from Odebrecht after the organization kidnapped two of their executives. According to Veja, testimony made by two Odebrecht executives to Brazilian government investigators revealed that Odebrecht made payments of between $50,000 and $100,000 per month, for a period of time that was not revealed, to FARC-EP in consideration for being able to complete a highway through FARC-EP controlled territory down to the coast that would help increase economic development, and to continue moving forward with other projects. Some have dismissed these stories as "fake news." Still they continue to remain relevant to "the conversation."

Can a youthful new leader craft a tenable peace?

German Vargas Lleras, the youthful, 47 year old scion of a prominent political family and vice president under Santos, resigned in March ostensibly to camaign for the presidency. But some Bogota journals note that he sought to distance himself from the corruption associated with the Santos regime and because he objected to many of the concessions president Santos and his negotiator Humberto de la Calle (also connected to Colombia's old ruling elite and harboring his own presidential ambitions), granted to the FARC-EP.

To complicate matters further, Colombia's other major guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), which has a Marxist-Leninist-Guevarista orientation, continues to operate at a strength of betweeen 1,500 and 2,500 combatants. According to Agence France Presse (AFP) the group has held talks with government negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo. But the organization is reluctant to enter into a deal, claiming the Santos government continues to maintain ties with paramilitary groups who have conducted strategic assassinations on ELN members.

Starting with the administration of US president Bill Clinton in 1999, the United States has spent about $10 billion on its share of Plan Colombia and the black project components that likely go with it. Plan Colombia, which has received some financial participation from Colombia is a long term strategy featuring classic Pentagon-style "mission creep," with the stated objective of ridding Colombia of communist guerrilla insurgencies and prosecuting the "war on drugs." Since that time, the reported size of the FARC-EP has decreased from 16,000 to around 8,000. Based on the $10 billion outlay, the old "winning hearts and minds" concept that was the sales pitch for escalating the Vietnam war nets out in Plan Colombia at about $1.25 million per heart and mind that has been "won".

Criticism of senior Pentagon officers and other senior officers operating in theatre who were obstinate in their costly commitment to "winning hearts and minds" while prosecuting the Vietnam war is one of the key points made by current U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster in his famous monograph analyzing the conflict; his trajectory to being named a general officer was held up for years because he expressed his views instead of opting to "go with the flow."

This considered, can the new UN under secretary general Guterres of Portugal and "his" in-country verification mission "honestly" verify that 8,000 FARC-EP people are ready for "reintegration"?

While it is too early for any long term scholary or politico-military predictions on the FARC-EP's future, so long as there is a big demand for "drugs" and other high value contraband moving through the Amazon and Latin America's Northern Tier "ex-revolutionaries will seek financial gain, and escalate their demands for political and social justice. The clock is ticking in the Latin America's kulturkampf to rebrand and "realign" the revolution.

Reprograming and "reintegration" of Marxist-Leninist minds into Colombia's society will cost billions and billions of dollars more than what has been spent so far. And that doesn't address the future of the Bolivarian group of nations. In a problematic global economy where institutions engage in predatory competition to obtain funds and resources to secure the futures of their democratic and vertical regimes, rebranding the revolution will be a boon and a blessing for the defense driven economy and its homologue surveillance component. It's politically correct to think positive about the Santos-FARC-EP peace deal. But it could all go "back to the future" in less than a generation.

note: this post has been updated to account for recent developments

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