Narco-Candidate in Colombia
Narco-Candidate in Colombia
A Narco News Investigative Report
In 1997 and 1998, alert U.S. Customs agents in California seized three suspicious Colombia-bound ships that, the agents discovered, were laden with 50,000 kilos of potassium permanganate, a key "precursor chemical" necessary for the manufacture of cocaine.
According to a document signed by then-DEA chief Donnie R. Marshall on August 3, 2001, the ships were each destined for Medellin, Colombia, to a company called GMP Productos Quimicos, S. A. (GMP Chemical Products).
The 50,000 kilos of the precursor chemical destined for GMP were enough to make half-a-million kilos of cocaine hydrochloride, with a street value of $15 billion U.S. dollars.
The owner of GMP Chemical Products, according to the 2001 DEA chief's report, is Pedro Juan Moreno Villa, the campaign manager, former chief of staff, and longtime right-hand-man for front-running Colombian presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez.
Mr. Moreno was Uribe's political alter-ego before, during and after those nervous 1997 and 1998 months when he awaited those contraband shipments.
When Uribe was governor of the state of Antioquia from 1995 to 1997 - from its capitol of Medellin - Moreno was chief of staff in Governor Uribe's office. During those years, according to then-DEA chief Marshall, ""Between 1994 and 1998, GMP was the largest importer of potassium permanganate into Colombia."
This is the story of the Narco-Candidate, Alvaro Uribe, whose 1982 election as mayor of Medellin, whose 1995 election as governor of Antioquia and whose pending ascendance this year to the presidency of Colombia each mark new chapters in the evolution of the modern Narco-State.
Three ships set sail for Medellin, and in their wake, the factsI
ON THE WATERFRONT IN OAKLAND AND LONG BEACH
On November 17, 1997, a Chinese ship carrying 20,000 kilos of potassium permanganate - the aforementioned cocaine precursor chemical - destined for Moreno's GMP company in Colombia, pulled into the docks at Long Beach, California.
A month later, on December 16, 1997, another Chinese ship, docked in Oakland, also destined for the Uribe campaign manager's company in Medellin, carried another 20,000 kilos of the cocaine precursor chemical.
And, like clockwork, one month after that, on January 17, 1998, a third ship stopped in Long Beach on its way to Moreno's GMP, this one carrying 10,000 kilos of the controlled substance.
"The United States Customs Service (USCS) seized each of these shipments as they transited the ports in California," noted DEA chief Marshall. "No advance notice was filed with DEA that these shipments would be sent from Hong Kong, through the United States, to Colombia."
According to a U.S. law titled 21 U.S.C. 971(a), "each regulated person who imports or exports a listed chemical to or from the United States is required to file advance notification of the importation or exportation not later than 15 days before the transaction is to take place."
The matter of cocaine precursor chemicals, and potassium permanganate in particular, is no small matter to law enforcers.
As Colombia's current president, Andres Pastrana, noted in a press release on October 25, 1999: "Without the coca plant, there is no cocaine, but without acetone, ether and permanganate, it is impossible to have drugs. A good part of these precursors come from Europe and are dumped into our rivers and our land, which produces part of the world's oxygen."
Oxygen, like that which Pastrana gave Uribe and Moreno this week, when the president's Conservative party - destroyed in the recent Colombian congressional elections, precisely because of Pastrana's support for the US military adventure known as Plan Colombia - folded its tent, abandoned its own presidential candidate, and threw its support to the Narco-Candidate Uribe.
QUIETEST SEIZURE IN DEA HISTORY
Just as the coca plant does not grow in the North American mainland, permanganate is not produced in South America. Cocaine as we know it would not be possible without this U.S., European and Chinese export chemical.
For the cocaine processing labs in the Amazon jungle, permanganate is harder to obtain, and thus more vital than even to coca leaf for the production of cocaine.
Normally, when U.S. officials seize a massive quantity of a controlled substance, the press and TV cameras are called and grand proclamations are made about the "record seizures" and "victory" in the war on drugs.
But the political problems caused by these seizures in California caused the usually boastful U.S. authorities to refrain from their usual media blitz.
Contrast that with the government press releases customarily aimed at U.S. companies that fail -- as the Uribe campaign manager's company did in '97 and '98 -- to notify the DEA of shipments of permanganate. United States companies caught violating the same laws have paid a steep legal price.
The Connecticut-based chemical firm MacDermid Inc., according to the January 14, 2000 edition of the Hartford Courant, paid $50,000 dollars to the federal government "to settle a claim involving the export of a chemical that can be used to synthesize cocaine, the U.S. attorney's office said Thursday."
The $50,000 fine was paid, according to the Courant, because "the company failed to notify the government in advance that it was going to export more than 500 kilograms per month of potassium permanganate."
"MacDermid sold the chemical to legitimate buyers," reported the daily Courant. "The government says its only lapse was a failure to make a necessary notification of its export sales."
In other words, for failing to alert the DEA that it would make shipments of 500 kilos of the cocaine precursor chemical - one percent of the 50,000 kilos destined for Moreno's company in Colombia - the Connecticut company had to pay $50,000. (That fine, if applied equally to Moreno's 50,000 kilos, would have added up to $5 million U.S. dollars.)
Moreno's company, by contrast, was not fined a single devalued Colombian peso by the United States government for those 50,000 unreported kilos of the cocaine precursor.
Still, U.S. authorities, tangled in the crisis caused by the seizures of contraband belonging to a political ally of Washington, after three years of tossing this hot potato around, determined not to release the stash.
The Customs Service, the DEA and other U.S. law enforcement agencies were caught in a public relations disaster. Their agents did their job. And the bureaucrats in Washington spent more than three years trying to cover it up.
To apply the law equally to Moreno's GMP Chemical Products company - as the Justice Department did with the Connecticut firm's legal lapse - would have unleashed a chain of events very embarrassing to Moreno and, consequently, to the 1995-97 governor of the Colombian state of Antioquia: Alvaro Uribe Velez, a longtime U.S. point-man in Colombia.
But to apply the law equally would have caused headlines that interfered with Washington's electoral plans for Colombia, which have been executed to weaken all other potential candidates (those that are still alive or not in captivity) and install Uribe as the next Colombian president in the May 26th elections.
Uribe is their man.
PRECURSOR TO A NARCO-STATE
DEA chief Donnie Marshall wrote, in a legal decision, about the seizure of the contraband headed toward Uribe's campaign manager, and his company, GMP:
"The Order to Suspend Shipment stated that DEA believed that the listed chemical may be diverted based on the failure to notify DEA of the transshipment in violation of 21 CFR 1313.31; associations between GMP and other violating chemical companies in Colombia; and other diversionary practices of GMP."
But Marshall, Bill Clinton's DEA chief, had a big headache. The eagle-eyed Customs officers in Long Beach and Oakland perhaps were not aware yet that they had stepped on the wrong narco-toes: three ships whose voyage was not meant to be interrupted.
Donnie Marshall, the DEA boss, explained why:
"GMP is a company founded in 1938 that distributes chemical products, with four locations throughout Colombia, South America. Its president, Pedro Juan Moreno Villa (Mr. Moreno), has served on the board of directors of other companies in Colombia. In addition, from 1995 through 1997, Mr. Moreno served as the Secretary of the Government of Antioquia."
That state government, it bears repeating, belonged to Governor Alvaro Uribe, the current presidential heir apparent in Colombia, whose path to Colombia's highest office began in the City of Medellin, in 1982, when its unofficial mayor, Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drug trafficker in human history, was the undisputed King of the City: Nothing happened in Medellin, in 1982, without Escobar's permission. One of the things that did happen, was that Alvaro Uribe became its official mayor, and from there toiled in the laboratory of the then-nascent Narco-State.
"An extensive security investigation of Mr. Moreno was conducted for this position" in Uribe's administration, wrote the DEA chief. "During his tenure, Mr. Moreno supported the Govenor's goal to fight narcotics traffic. According to Mr. Moreno, his life was endangered because of his duties against drug traffickers and guerillas, resulting in his taking extensive security precautions."
The security precautions taken by Governor Uribe's chief secretary Moreno, though, were apparently not sufficient to keep three of his unreported shipments from being seized on the California coast.
Honest Customs and DEA agents saw their own life-endangering actions subverted and sabotaged by the suits in Washington. The permanganate traffickers - not content to be on the road to the Colombian presidency, but wanting to collect their tips, too - fought from early 1998 until mid-2001, in a case before DEA administrative law judge Gail Randall, to avoid legal penalties and to get their 50,000 kilos back.
"No advance notice of these shipments was provided to DEA by GMP or any other party," wrote DEA chief Marshall. "However, there is a dispute over whether such advance notice was required for these shipments."
It was that greed on the part of the cocaine precursor traffickers that now has led to this trail of paper, and that forced Donnie Marshall to make these words a part of the public record.
Perhaps because he was at the end of his term, or perhaps because his own troops - the DEA agents - were already furious with the bureaucratic cover-ups regarding these seizures, or, perhaps because Donnie Marshall wanted to do something right before his legacy at DEA came to an end, Marshall rejected the non-binding recommendation of the administrative law judge, and ordered the 50,000 kilos permanently seized.
Marshall, the administrator, ruled: "The Administrator finds that based upon the evidence in the record, Colombia produces between 70-80% of the world's cocaine hydrochloride. Potassium permanganate and hydrochloric acid are List II chemicals that may be used for a variety of legitimate purposes, but are also used in the illicit manufacture of cocaine. Potassium permanganate is not produced in South America and therefore must be importedI
"Between 1994 and 1998, GMP was the largest importer of potassium permanganate into Colombia. Since approximately 1994, GMP conducted business with Eland, a Hong Kong company. From 1996 through 1998, Eland's sale of potassium permanganate to GMP had become consistent, with Eland selling GMP in excess of 200 metric tons during that time."
Kind reader, click your calculator. One kilo of potassium permanganate makes 10 kilos of cocaine. GMP's excess of 200 metric tons was sufficient to make 2,000 metric tons of cocaine hydrochloride.
A key fact, though, upon which the Narco-State is built, should be kept in mind: There are other, legal, uses for potassium permanganate, such as to manufacture printed circuit boards and other hi-tech playthings that are not exactly staples of the Colombian economy. This is one of the key loopholes through which the $500 billion dollar-a-year illicit drug industry glides.
Likewise, there are other uses for the humble coca leaf, too. But the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia calls legal coca farmers "terrorists." In Colombia and Ecuador, U.S. helicopters and airplanes spray toxic herbicides over those farmers. Given the central importance of potassium permanganate to cocaine manufacturing, Andean peasants would be as justified in sending those choppers and airplanes to Oakland and Long Beach harbors to blow up the ships. The double standards, and selective enforcement, by U.S. officials have eternally doomed the "war on drugs."
Still, DEA chief Donnie Marshall, in one of his final official acts, was clearly troubled by the reports from some honest Colombian law enforcement agents who found that Moreno's GMP company leaked permanganate like a sieve, systematically violating the very safeguards that are meant to keep the precursors from the hands of narco-traffickers.
DEA CHIEF MARSHALL REPORTED:
"The Direccion Nacional de Estupefacientes (DNE) is the Colombia government agency that issues, revokes, and renews chemical permits for individuals or companies that handle controlled chemicals. The DNE also establishes the total quota of controlled chemicals to be imported per month by permit holders. A company may not import more than its quota in any given calendar month without the permission of the DNE.
"In general, a DNE permit is required if an individual or company wants to handle in excess of five kilograms or five liters of a controlled chemical per calendar month. Therefore, no permit is required if a person wishes to purchase less than five kilograms or five liters in a calendar month."
Regarding the shenanigans at Moreno's GMP to get around this rule, Marshall wrote:
"The Colombian National Police (CNP) is the enforcement entity of the DNE, and is authorized by the DNE to conduct investigations that could result in criminal or administrative penaltiesI
"On June 10, 1997, the CNP inspected one of GMP's facilities finding that on nine occasions between June 3, 1997 and June 6, 1997, GMP had failed to enter required information into its control logs concerning the sale of 2,450 kilograms of potassium permanganateI
(Again, kind reader, the math: that's enough precursor to make 24,000 kilos of cocaine, worth almost a quarter million dollars in the jungle, and seven million dollars by the time the drug enters Los Angeles.)
DEA Chief Marshall continued: "On December 15, 1997, the CNP inspected GMP and found record keeping discrepancies. GMP kept its control log tracking its sales and purchases of controlled chemicals on a computer. GMP was not authorized to maintain its records in this manner. GMP's general manager at that time testified that he was confused by this allegation by the CNP since GMP had been keeping computerized records since 1991I the CNP investigated the addresses and telephone numbers listed on GMP's seized invoices. This investigation revealed discrepancies including addresses that did not exist, telephone numbers that did not match the addresses listed on the invoices, and telephone numbers that did not exist. "In addition, the CNP noted invoices issued on the same date to different named individuals listing the same address and telephone number. The invoices each reflected sales of 4.6 kilograms of potassium permanganate, below the threshold amount. The CNP discovered that the individuals listed on the invoices had not actually purchased the potassium permanganate, but their personal identification cards had been used by their employer to obtain the chemical. "By letter dated January 22, 1998, CNP officials concluded that GMP, 'may be guilty of selling controlled chemical substances, for which purpose it is using fictitious addresses, names of actual persons and is making sales of controlled chemicals in amounts greater than those stipulated by the Office of the National Director of Narcotics without receiving a license from the D.N.E.' "Evidence was represented at the hearing that GMP representatives also investigated the questioned invoices to determine the identity and location of the purchasers listed on the invoices. While GMP representatives were able to locate some of the individuals and companies named on the invoices, many remained unknown. Many contained fictions addresses, and in some instances, no addresses were provided on the invoicesI"
Uribe's campaign manager, Pedro Juan Moreno Villa, also spoke during the DEA administrative law hearings. According to DEA chief Marshall, "Mr. Moreno testified that he was unaware of any GMP controlled chemicals being diverted to the manufacture of cocaine or any other illicit drug."
To shed some perspective on the value of potassium permanganate, even before it is converted into cocaine, the South China News - covering the story from their end of the pipeline, where the permanganate is manufactured - noted on October 23, 1999 that the chemical fetched $75 per kilo in late 1997 (when the first and second of Moreno's GMP-bound shipments were seized) and that the price then skyrocketed to $280 US dollars per kilo by 1999.
Thus, the 50,000 seized kilos of Mr. Moreno's precursor substance were worth $3.7 million dollars when seized, but within two years grew to a black market value of $14 million dollars, before they might have even touched a single coca leaf.
THE HORMIGA STRATEGY CONTROLS COCAINE MARKET
A common expression in Spanish refers to "trabajo de hormigas," or "ant's work," and it applies to the manner used by Moreno's company to move large amounts of the cocaine precursor drug through small sales of volumes just under the five kilo threshold for which buyers must have a license.
As stated by the DEA: Much of GMP's permanganate went out the door in small volumes of only 4.6 kilos - enough to make 46 kilos of cocaine, valued at $30,000 a kilo in Miami, or $1.38 million dollars per "small" shipment - at a time.
The bottom line is this: coca grows on trees in Colombia, and most of the battles between military, paramilitary, police, rebels and the poor farmers - if anyone hopes to control the coca leaf market - will be waged in vain for decades to come.
But he who controls the potassium permanganate market in Colombia - a product that must be imported from continents far away - truly controls the global traffic of processed cocaine.
The same strict standards set by Moreno's GMP company will no doubt be applied when Mr. Moreno and Mr. Uribe - and their customers from the ranks of the narcos and paramilitary groups - get their mitts on the entire Colombian military and law enforcement complex, and the $2 billion US dollars of Plan Colombia.
THE BACK STORY: THE HOUSE THAT PABLO BUILT
In 1982, when Uribe became mayor, his city of Medellin, capital of Antioquia, was a boomtown. The Medellin Cartel, with Pablo Escobar as its maximum leader, was taking the city by storm, constructing public housing for the poor, paying taxes, stoking Mayor Alvaro Uribe's construction of a world-class subway system. ("He must explain the much-debated Metro contract," pleaded columnist Antonio Caballero in a recent column in the national newsweekly Semana.)
The Liberal Party, through which Uribe and Escobar rose in the same electoral wave to mayoral and legislative power, is to Antioquia what the Democratic Party is to Boston: the entire political show.
But there were serious rifts in the party, then as now. One group, the New Liberalism movement, led by Luis Carlos Galan, was horrified by how organized crime had taken over the party and the City. As globally renowned Colombian author Gabriel Garca Marquez wrote in his award-winning chronicle, The Autumn of a Drug Lord, about the life and death of Pablo Escobar:
"In 1982 Pablo Escobar had tried to find a place in the New Liberalism movement headed by Luis Carlos Galan, but Galan removed his name from the rolls and exposed him before a crowd of five thousand people in Medellin."
As every law enforcer and scholar of narco-trafficking knows, not even Galan's courage could stop Escobar.
Pablo Escobar presided over the economic renaissance of Uribe's Medellin. He built the houses, the people came, the people voted, and Pablo Escobar got himself elected to the national Congress.
In an oft neglected history by the journalists who write of Escobar's legend today, Congressman Escobar traveled to the United States in 1982, where this photo was taken, of Pablo and his son, in front of the Reagan-Bush White House, which would, soon, involve Escobar, with Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, and the Nicaraguan paramilitaries known as the Contras, in a cocaine-for-arms deal that coincided with the explosion of crack on the urban streets of North America.
The daily El Tiempo of Bogota captioned that photo: "In 1982, as a member of Congress, Pablo Escobar traveled to the United States. In the photo he appears with his son Juan Pablo, in front of the White House."
As cultural critic Jason Manning, author of The Eighties Club, wrote:
"In 1981-82, an alliance between Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, Jose Gacha and the Ochoa family resulted in the formation of the Medellin cartel, which ran most of the 50 cocaine labs in Colombia. In 1982 Escobar cut a deal with Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, which allowed the cartel to ship cocaine through Panama for $100,000 a load. That same year, Escobar was elected to the Colombian congress; he bought votes by building low-income housing in the Medellin slums."
Or, as PBS Frontline reported in its Drug War timeline for that era:
1981-1982: Rise of the Medellin CartelI The alliance between the Ochoa family, Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha strengthens into what will become known as the "Medellin Cartel." The traffickers cooperate in the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of their cocaine.
And, in the PBS Frontline chronology:
March 1982: Pablo Escobar is elected to the Colombian CongressI Escobar cultivates an image of "Robin Hood" by building low-income housing, handing out money in Medellin slums and appearing throughout the city accompanied by Catholic priests. Escobar is elected an alternate representative from Envigado, but he's driven out of Congress in 1983 by Colombia's crusading Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla.
Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in a Time of Cholera, and other classics, wrote that Escobar, now a Congressman, "had not forgotten the insult and unleashed an all-out war against the state, in particular against the New Liberalism. Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who represented the New Liberalism as justice minister in the Belisario Betancur government, was murdered in a drive-by shooting on the streets of Bogota. His successor, Enrique Parejo, was pursued all the way to Budapest by a hired assassin who shot him in the face with a pistol but did not kill him. On August 18, 1989, Luis Carlos Galan, who was protected by eighteen well-armed bodyguards, was machine-gunned on the main square in the municipality of Soacha, some ten kilometers from the presidential palace."
Colombian journalist Alfredo Molano, who Narco News interviewed in exile in Barcelona in July 2000, and whose predictions in that interview about what Plan Colombia would bring have resulted to be, unfortunately, all too accurate, wrote of Escobar, Medellin, the violent prevention of the legalized Patriotic Union (UP) and M-19 parties from being able to participate in free and fair elections in 1990, and the assassination of Luis Carlos Galan, the last best hope for Colombia, in a September 2000 article for The NACLA Report.
Authentic journalist Alfredo Molano wrote:
"Meanwhile, the paramilitary forces had been growing dramatically, in many cases financed by the head of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar, especially around the northern region of the Magdalena Medio. With Escobar's financing and the army's tolerance, paramilitaries began decimating the leftist UP with impunity. It was during Barco's subsequent administration that most of the UP's activists were murdered. The final days of Barco's government were notably violent. Gunmen assassinated four presidential candidates Carlos Pizarro of the M-19 (who had just turned in their arms); Jaime Pardo Leal of the UP, followed closely by his replacement, Bernardo Jaramillo; and the Liberals' Luis Carlos Galan who would certainly have won the election."
The chief beneficiary of the assassination of that courageous man, Galan, "who would certainly have won the election," is a current backer of the coming Uribe-Moreno Precursor Narco-Ticket, as Alfredo Molano explained in his 2000 article:
"Galan was replaced by Cesar Gaviria, a party hack who had been Minister of Government, and who was elected president for the term 1990-1994."
Cesar Gaviria, today, is the US-imposed chief of the Organization of American States, backer of Plan Colombia, and mentor to key Uribe operative (albeit opportunistically) Rafael Pardo, who recently won the election as representative in the Senate of "Colombians Abroad." Gaviria presided over the big sellout of Colombia's sovereignty to a foreign power that now has Plan Colombia as its logical - but our guess is, futile - attempt to put the lid on democracy in Colombia through paramilitary terror.
Uribe and Moreno, together, were the key movers behind the paramilitary rise in Antioquia in the mid 1990s.
As Uribe's chief of staff, Moreno had many responsibilities: Among them, establishing heavily armed and government-trained vigilantes known as Rural Vigilance Committees (CONVIVIRs, as they were known, and came to be feared, across Uribe's province). These vigilante brigades served, according to Amnesty International and dozens of respected human rights organizations, as thinly-masked and government-sanctioned boot camps and recruiting agencies for Colombia's cocaine-soaked paramilitary forces.
THE ARCHBISHOP IS ASSASSINATED
Those violent policies came home to roost last week with the assassination, in Cali, Colombia, of Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino.
The Colombia Support Network said yesterday, in its statement remembering the fallen archbishop: "Monsignor Duarte was a very fair and generous church leader. He was fundamentally important in helping CSN establish a sister community relationship with Apartado, where he was the Bishop before going on to be the Archbishop of Cali. His nobility of spirit and his commitment to peace were evident to all of us who had the privilege of meeting with him and working to establish links to promote social justice and peace in the region of Apartado. He was respectful and supportive of all who sought peace and justice, from the Patriotic Union administrators of the early 1990