The Washington Times
Commentary, 4 October 1991

F. Andy Messing Jr.

In the Cocaine Jungle

The fourth world war started in earnest at the edge of the Amazon Jungle at a place called the Upper Huallaga Valley (UHV), Peru. There, the once virgin area is becoming an environmental disaster because of slashing, burning and polluting of the jungle for new coca-crop production to accomodate the narcissitice appetite of the world beyond. Tons of toxic chemicals from the processing of cocaine such as potassium permaganant, kerosene and acetone flow into the 200 miles of river that is the headway to the Amazon River.

In the UHV, narcotics and politics combine in a malevolent way that spreads anarchy to the captial, Lima, and eventually affect our own country's security. Drug Lords, Sendero Luminoso, Tupac Amaru Guerillas, and corrupt elements of government, particularily in the police and army, have led to an escalation of violence that is unprecedented in Peru's history. It is a case where everyone is fighting each other for vast sums of money.

A former head of the Peruvian Drug Police in the region lamented that the moratorium on drug eradication and interdictoin by Peru and the United States has been a catalyst for disaster. As it is, unabated coca-crop production in some areas has increased from three crops a year to as much as six, based on the introduction of fertilizers and agricultural advisers sent in by Colombian drug lords. Accordingly, the increased profitability has fueled a 20 percent expansion in coca growing in one year, so more than 500,000 acres in the UHV are in use. Additionally, the growers are increasing their profits by extending their processing steps--going from leaf, to paste, to even base. Now it needs only a final processing step before packaging and export, which is accomplished in neighboring Colombia.

Experts in the U.S. Embassy in Peru, asked how bad the problem is, respond: "Bad, real bad!" However, this does not provide the reference point from which cogent action could be predicated. Over the years, guerilla warfare has been defined by Mao Tse-tung's threee phases. Now with the merger of guerilla and narcotics activities comes a new explanation. the three phases of Narco-Guerilla Warfare. This will allow us to figure out what the problem is and where, when, and how much effort to apply to reduce it.

Accordingly, there are three phases to takeover of a country in turmoil where narcotics are involved:

Phase One is the incipient stage. Here the conflict is generated due to distinct problems associated with social, economic and political imbalances. The governmental forces are set on maintaining the status quo while the opposition guerilla forces are dedicated to change. Both are ideologically motivated and both are willing to expend their lives and energies on attaining their goals. Neither group is preoccupied with funding sources as both envision an opportunity for early victory, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. The military and organizational systems of both the government and the guerillas are defined and fairly disciplined. Both sides reach for the high moral ground in an attempt to get support from the masses. Thus criminal activity is covert or condemned and narco actions are limited.

In Phase Two, both groups come to the realization that the conflict may be protracted. Each group tries to extend its combat power to attain the advantage. The costs escalate in terms of money, resources, manpower and political risks. Money becomes central in the conflict, whether the denial of it or the making of it. As the reasoning of the war blurs and the "end justifies the means" rationale emerges within elements of the fighting factions, the lure of easy money takes hold. It manifests in the rise of illegal actions on both sides. Narcotics activity quickly emerges as a leading moneymaker.

The objective of the narcos at this point is to export the product for sale abroad. Key leaders on both sides use the military structure to facilitate and maximize the profits for "the cause." Narco business elements make informal alliances with key leaders on both sides. Profits initially are directed to the respective formal structure; however, the first evidence of skimming occurs. Informal organizational structures are developed, and discipline starts breaking down. Inflation of services, graft and corruption become routine.

At this point, major elements of the government have become involved in assisting and protecting the narcos. It is during Phase Two that the drug dealers are able to gain some control and influence over both the government and its armed forces and the guerilla movement. Both factions mistakenly use what they believe to be a necessary evil in order to better their individual / group livesand increase their power base.

It is at the end of Phase Two that, in their desire for increased power and security, narco personnel will sponsor individuals to run for official office. In addition, narco dollars are used to establish legitimate corporations that become just as important for internal and external operation of drug trafficking. This results in an economy that becomes dependent on drug growing-trafficking to keep the country afloat.

In the Third Phase, both the governmental and guerilla factions are shells. Both are used by narco factors to protect and legitimize their operations. Real power has been effectively transferred to leading narco elements. Every part of the society has yielded to narco groups within their territory as there is no consistent law and limited order. Narco elements turn inward to domestic markets to squeeze out every last peso while firming up their local control of the population.

The technique of keeping both elements off-balance is the narcos' forte. They play each as if they were musical instruments. Both are maintained at a safe "arms length"; their roles increase and decrease to suit the narco dealers.

Sun Tzu said, "If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat." Accordingly, to avoid defeats on the drug front, we must define the problems before we can come to solutions in this horrific war.

F. Andy Messing Jr., executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation, has visited 17 drug wars worldwide.