Colombian soldier standing in front of bombed bus.
The Age of Narcoterrorism
During a press conference this week in Spain President Felipe Calderon admitted for the first time that Mexico today faces some similarities with Colombia in the 1980’s.
In Colombia during the 1980’s and early 90’s violence, terror and drug cartel warfare was so extreme that these years are known as the “age of narco-terrorism”.
During this era Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel, declared war on the Colombian government and nation in his fight against extradition to the U.S.
The Medellin cartel was held responsible for car and truck bombings beginning in 1989 that killed hundreds in Bogota and throughout Colombia. Isolated incidents of car bombings have continued in Colombia to this day.
The U.S. Justice Dept charged Pablo Escobar with the bombing of an Avianca Airlines jet over Colombia that killed 110 passengers and crew, including 2 Americans. A presidential candidate, Cesar Gaviria, was to be on the flight but did not board.
The assassinations of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara in 1984 and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan in 1989 and countless mayors and provincial officials ordered by Escobar mirror the current attacks on Mexican political figures and candidates.
Illegal paramilitary groups(AUC) and guerilla armies(FARC), both largely financed through cocaine trafficking, murdered kidnapped and disappeared thousands of civilians beginning in the early 1990’s.
In 1985 Colombia’s Supreme Court building was attacked by leftist guerillas with links to the Medellin cartel. The incident left 95 people dead including 11 supreme court justices. On the day of the attack the Supreme court was to deliberate the validity of the extradition treaty with the U.S.
The Medellin cartel’s violent battles against the Cali and Valle del Norte cartels left thousands of dead and dismembered bodies dumped on the streets of Colombia’s cities. This is the same situation in today’s cartel on cartel warfare in Mexico.
The anarchy and killings that made Medellin, Colombia, the global murder capital of the 1980’s is the equivalent of today’s murder capital, Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
Speaking in Spain, President Calderon said that Mexico is not nearly as threatened today by drug cartels as Colombia during the 1980’s.
"In Mexico we acted in time to prevent organized crime linked to drug trafficking from having the same power as in other neighboring countries like Colombia, where cartels took over entire areas of the national territory."
"We have taken decisive action and hope to resolve this scourge faster than Colombia, but this will take time and will be expensive."
He said that while there are stages that resemble the South American country, "probably we can resolve it more quickly."
“Stages like the attempts to dominate regions and communities , the confrontation between these criminal groups that lead to a very bloody war leaving countless dead and then the breakdown of cartels and the fall of their leaders, like Pablo Escobar."
The President even compared the death of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar with that of Arturo Beltran Leyva, killed last December at the hands of Mexico’s marines.
Calderon also stated the level of violence in Mexico is much lower than in Colombia today, where there are 39 murders per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 12 that occur in Mexico. During the height of the violence in the 1980’s Colombia’s murder rate approached 100 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
In a 2009 interview, DEA intelligence chief Anthony Placido also compared Mexico today with Colombia in the 1980’s
“The situation in Mexico is now similar to that experienced in Colombia at the beginning of the 1980’s,” says Mr. Placido “The Mexican government’s challenge is to transform a threat to national security into a problem that can be resolved by civil police.”
“And, from our point of view, that is the path that Mexico is following, but it will take time and a greater sacrifice of people will be required. The situation will worsen just befor the problem is resolved.
Placido said that the DEA could even accept agreements with Mexican drug traffickers, similar to agreements made in Colombia in order to make it easier for them to hand over drug lords, although at this time he does not see conditions for it.
"If they are willing to surrender on terms that are acceptable to us, we would be happy to accept their proposals, but none of the Mexican criminal organizations would surrender at this time, not unless they feel really threatened by the operations of the Mexican government."
"None of the kingpins of the drug cartels feel really at risk by the actions of President Felipe Calderón.” Mr. Placido added "The main reason they don't feel threatened is because they have broad powers of corruption that gives them a kind of immunity, we say, guaranteed,"
In the late 1980s and for most of the nineties, several of the major Colombian cartel kingpins (Medellín, Cali, and Northern Valley) negotiated, through the DEA, their surrender to U.S. authorities.
"People who have been involved in drug trafficking for years and agree to cooperate, by providing information and evidence to solve the problem, could receive a reduction in their sentence, which I think is one of the most appropriate ways to agree to negotiate with the drug traffickers," said the agent in charge of worldwide DEA planning and operations against drug trafficking.