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The Globalization of FARC
[Opinion] Brazilian soldier arrested in Colombia may be proof of an internationalized conflict
Alan Mota (al0021)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-07 12:53 (KST)   
On April 5 the Colombian government announced the imprisonment of a prominent member of FARC -- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- Michael Cuello Souza.

Up to this point there's nothing unusual, since the Colombian government has been striking harder and harder on FARC's structure. But what stood out on this arrest is that this prominent member of the guerrilla movement is not Colombian, but Brazilian.

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Souza, who was arrested in a small town on the Colombia-Venezuela border, is said to have joined FARC in 2000, and a year later he -- according to the Colombian government -- took part in one of the bloodiest episodes of the internal conflict in Colombia: The Coreguaje military base takeover, where 37 Colombian soldiers were killed, 19 wounded and several kidnapped.

He is also said to have taken part in the failed peace talks that the previous Colombian administration of President Andres Pastrana held in 2002.

In this conflict -- which started in 1964, after the Colombian army, under pressure from the U.S., tried to eliminate a rural militia inspired by Fidel Castro's victory in Cuba -- the only constant has been the growth of this Colombian guerrilla movement.

Today the number of combatants are estimated between 15,000 and 18,000 and they control an area of approximately 45,000 square kilometers (27,961 square miles), 5 percent of Colombian territory and twice the size of the state of New Jersey.

The conflict has put Colombia on the map for being the country with the most internally displaced people -- 3.5 million -- and for being one of the countries with the most child soldiers, with more than 11,000 children fighting in paramilitary armies and urban militias.

However, what is attracting more and more attention in the conflict is the process of globalization that FARC seems to be undergoing recently.

From Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's alleged support for FARC, to the movement's involvement with the biggest drug dealer in Brazil, more and more news about FARC has included foreigners. With the controversial American involvement in the issue with its "Plan Colombia," the Colombian conflict is getting increasingly public and international.

The Beira-Mar Case

It's known to everyone that one of the major financial backers of FARC are drug lords. In a profitable business for both sides, the drug lords finance many of FARC's actions and in return they have militia protection for their cocaine and marijuana farms, as well as their houses and the planes used to transport their products outside the country.

These drug lords were believed to be strictly Colombian until 2001, when the man considered to be the biggest drug dealer in Brazil during the 1990s was arrested inside FARC territory, after the plane in which he entered Colombia was intercepted and forced to land by the Colombian air force.

Fernandinho Beira-Mar, who had escaped from prison in 1996, became the starting point of an investigation that unveiled a agreement between Beira-Mar's drug trafficking organization based in Rio de Janeiro -- the Comando Vermelho, or "Red Command" -- and the FARC, where he would supply the guerrilla with weapons to get cocaine in return.

It served as proof of FARC's direct involvement in drug dealing instead of solely protection, as well as the broad scope of its power. After all, Rio de Janeiro is very far from Colombia -- it's 4,543 kilometers away from Bogota. This raises questions regarding how a renowned and wanted drug dealer came to meet representatives from a clandestine guerrilla movement under attack by the Colombian government.

Since then, FARC has been suspected of participating in the drug routes that end in major Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, as well as the ones that cross major Brazilian cities on the way to Europe. FARC is also suspected to have ties with the biggest gang in Brazil -- the PCC, based in Sao Paulo -- for the same arms-for-drugs deals, as well as kidnapping expertise -- the PCC performs frequent kidnappings in Sao Paulo. They would have been introduced to the PCC by no one less than Beira-Mar himself.

The Consequences of Internationalization

However, the involvement of a Brazilian soldier in FARC is something that goes way beyond "routine" agreements and business between gangs. It raises questions about how far is FARC going to recruit their soldiers, as well as how far have they infiltrated other South American countries.

How did Michael Cuello Souza come to meet FARC and take part in it? Did it happen in Brazil or Colombia? Was he from a Brazilian gang? Are there other important foreigners inside FARC and where are they from?

The answer to these questions would help authorities all around South America understand the true range of FARC's influence and the integration between the Colombian militia and other gangs not only in Brazil, but in the entire region. After all, just as Beira-Mar introduced the PCC to the guerrillas, what would stop the PCC from introducing the FARC to the Paraguayan gangs suspected of supplying the PCC with weapons, and so on? Or what would impede the FARC from cutting deals with other Latin American gangs or even on another continent?

It all might sound an exaggeration and Souza might be nothing more than a random Brazilian who found his place in a foreign militia. But he may also be the missing link for the authorities to discover much more about FARC and why it's still so strong, defiant and dangerous after 40 years. The investigations will tell us more.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alan Mota

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