Cuba Isn’t Worth the Headache. But See Colombia.

When ‘Cuba’ and ‘national security’ are mentioned in the same sentence, they tend to be followed by phrases like ‘refugee wave,’ ‘Marxist revolutionaries’ and ‘missile crisis.’ The steps towards normalization of relations with the old Communist foe have caused reactions as varied as the embargo is old, but the ship has set sail and Americans should start accepting that this country’s future with Cuba is going to look a lot different than it did to their parents. Or grandparents. Or great-grandparents. Continue reading “Cuba Isn’t Worth the Headache. But See Colombia.”

Strapped For Cash, al-Qaeda Turns To Drug Trafficking and Kidnapping

In a sign that efforts by the international community are stemming the primary financing sources of al-Qaeda, the group has recently become active in drug trafficking and kidnapping activities to support its operations.

Previously, al-Qaeda did not have trouble raising money from wealthy Middle Eastern donors and Islamic charities supportive of the group’s war against the West.  However, as western financial firms have been prohibited from doing business with organizations with known al-Qaeda ties and governments have become more effective at tracking financing networks, the terror group has been forced to seek alternate funding.

One source has been drug trafficking and other international crime.  Though al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama Bin Laden, did not initially want the group involved in such activities for religious reasons, the opportunities in drug and arms smuggling have apparently proven too lucrative to resist.  Coupled with an increasingly critical need to address diminishing resources for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda leaders have justified the new activities as necessary to meeting the group’s ultimate objectives.

U.S. officials view the trend as a sign that al-Qaeda is, perhaps, in its weakest financial state in many years.  Cooperative networks among western governments has led to al-Qaeda–linked assets being frozen and suspected donors being isolated from the mainstream global financial system.  Though these efforts have apparently had meaningful effect, al-Qaeda’s new business model will pose new challenges to finance officials around the world.

Read more at The Daily Telegraph (UK).

Civil Suit Against Chiquita for Violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991 Proceeding to Discovery Phase

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled against Chiquita’s motion to dismiss a civil suit for violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, brought by the families of missionaries murdered in the mid 1990’s by the Marxist group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Ohio-based company held hundreds of banana plantations in Colombia prior to 2007, and according to court records, paid monthly bribes to FARC of $20,000 to $100,000 and ultimately 10% of Chiquita’s gross earnings from Colombia. Chiquita pleaded guilty in 2007 to violating anti-terrorism laws by paying bribes to the right wing terrorist group, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which according to the U.S. Justice Department, totaled $1.7 million. In that case, Chiquita also acknowledged payments to FARC during a period between 1989 and 1997. The families of the victims allege that not only was this money a bribe, but Chiquita also provided FARC with weapons and material support, and used FARC to protect Chiquita’s Colombian enterprises.

Read more at CNN.

Chavez Talks War, Devalues Currency

Over the past several years, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the United States of plans to invade his country. Recently, he has even accused the governments of Colombia, and the Netherlands Antilles of assisting with this plan. In the last few months he has gone so far as to destroy bridges on the Colombian border, and suggests that U.S. planes were sent to Venezuela to provoke him. However, the most recent accusations were made as he announced the plan to devalue the Venezuelan currency, which could have a serious and negative impact on the Venezuelan people and the regional economy.

Last week at the Pentagon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere Frank Mora denied that U.S. planes had entered Venezuelan airspace in the previous week, noting that Chavez’s allegations coincided with his announcement that the Venezuelan Bolivar would be devalued. Mora, Editor-in-Chief for the Brief stated, “[i]t is, in my view, [that this is] a diversion of attention away from a particularly domestic challenge . . . and trying to scapegoat the issue by once again accusing the United States government.”

Last week, Chavez accused the United States of flying military missions over his country’s airspace, the same day he announced a devaluation of the Venezuelan bolivar. The devaluation is intended to overcome a recession from the drop in oil prices, and the inflation caused by increased nationalization. However, it will undoubtedly further complicate the country’s trade relationship with Colombia as it drives up the prices of Colombian imports. This follows an order by Chavez in December to cut Colombian imports, allegedly in protest of their agreement to build U.S. military bases in Colombia.

The week leading up to the devaluation saw a rush among Venezuelan shoppers to quickly buy appliances before prices rise due to speculation, although Chavez said that he is going to “seize any businesses and shops that are participating in speculation.” In the meantime, a Chinese shipment of consumer goods is on its way to Venezuela to be sold in state-owned stores.

Read more at:

Reuters (Pentagon)

Reuters (devaluation drives up cost of Colombian imports)

Reuters (Chavez cuts Colombian imports)

Wall Street Journal

Border Tensions Increase as Chavez Imposes Embargo

Venezuelan troops blew up a bridge and captured a Colombian soldier this week. This comes on the heels of what Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has termed a Venezuelan embargo against his country. In the meantime, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues to claim that there is a conspiracy against his country by the United States and Colombia.

Venezuelan soldiers blew up another bridge Friday along the border with Colombia in what Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva described as, “another act of aggression and a violation of international rights.” Silva also reports that the Venezuelan military captured a Colombian soldier who accidentally crossed the border. However, General Franklin Marquez of the Venezuelan National Guard claims they merely blew up a walkway “used to transport a lot of contraband food and fuel.”

President Alvaro Uribe blamed Chavez for imposing an embargo on Colombia this week, as reported exports to Venezuela fell 56% in October from 2008, ousting Venezuela as Colombia’s second largest trading partner and replacing it with China. This is potentially problematic for Colombia given the types of value-added products exported to Venezuela, vis-à-vis oil exports to China.

All of this comes less than a month after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States and Colombia of a conspiracy, claiming “[t]he two governments have joined together to fool the world or to try to fool the world.”

Read more at:
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal