Tue, Apr 17, 2018 - Page 7 News List

ANALYSIS: Colombia, Ecuador struggle with anarchy on the border


Colombian marines on Sunday perform guard duty along the Mira river in Imbili, Tumaco Municipality, in the Colombian department of Narino near the border with Ecuador.

Photo: AFP

The kidnapping and killing of two journalists working for Ecuador’s El Comercio newspaper and their driver has thrown up an uncomfortable truth for Colombia and Ecuador, analysts said: Their long-neglected border has become a drug traffickers’ nirvana.

The two governments sent troops into the dense jungle area to hunt for the killers and re-establish control over a region that analysts said has become a key corridor for the supply of cocaine to the US.

Ecuadoran Minister of the Interior Cesar Navas had sent 550 police and troops, backed by tanks and a helicopter, to take “total control” of the border town of Mataje, where the journalists were kidnapped, he said on Sunday.

As part of a coordinated operation, Bogota sent troops into the Tumaco area on the Colombian side of the border, known as the zone with the world’s highest density of coca-leaf plantations.

The northwestern area is marked by dense jungle, criss-crossed by rivers, leading into the Pacific — an ideal launching pad for seaborne drug shipments and “transnational crime” under the influence of the Mexican drug cartels, local Colombian military commander General Mauricio Zabala said.

This is the fiefdom of the Oliver Sinisterra Front, which claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of Javier Ortega, Paul Rivas and their driver Efrain Segarra.

Its leader is Walter Patricio Artizala, better known by his nom de guerre Guacho, a former middle-ranking Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander known to operate on both sides of the border with about 80 fighters.

“Guacho will fall, sooner or later,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Sunday, confirming that the kingpin is on a list of high-value targets.

“The highly present Mexican cartels see that one of their main cocaine supply sources is drying up, that is why they are trying to generate violence,” he added.

However, the full-on military approach being undertaken by the governments does risk unleashing a fresh wave of violence, said analyst Fernando Carrion, citing the bloodshed under former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s governmen, from 2006 to 2012s.

In depressed areas like this one “an economic policy is required so that there is substitution of crops, so that the income of the inhabitants doesn’t come from narcotics,” Santos said.

“We have to have a multilateral policy, where there are issues of economy, politics and obviously military issues,” said Carrion, an expert in security at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito.

The situation has not been helped by glaringly contradictory statements coming from each government.

Navas said the journalist team was killed on the Colombian side of the border.

“They were murdered on Colombian territory,” he said, tacitly putting the onus on Bogota to find and repatriate the bodies.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said they were killed in Ecuador, where they were kidnapped.

The two governments also differ on the nationality of Guacho, the man that they hold responsible for the murders, with each claiming that he is the national of the other country.

“The impression is that there has been a kind of hand-washing going on and a handing on of responsibility to the other side,” Carrion said.

It is an uncomfortable reminder of old diplomatic failings in the region.

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