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Volume 14, Number 18
September 26, 2008

news

Also in this section:
Major art theft scandal unfolds
Evo Morales visits the University of Panama
Bolivian crisis explodes, Latin America rallies behind Morales
Inter-American Human Rights Court condemns Panama for dictatorship-era disappearance
US "patriot" militia shill and offshore hustler's case against The Panama News dismissed
White House on drugs
Democrats Abroad campaigning here
Home-grown Darien kidnappers thwarted
Panama News Briefs

Darien kidnapping a home-grown crime
by Eric Jackson

The guerrilla incursion into the Darien for the purpose of committing violent crimes is an oft-reported tale, and often it's just not so. Yes, these things do happen, especially when foreign governments urge Panama to take a harder line against leftist FARC rebels coming across our borders to flee pursuing forces, take a vacation, go shopping or take care of banking business and Colombian guerrillas find themselves in a shootout they really didn't want. Sometimes, as in 1993, FARC crosses the border with violent intent. Back then it was because they had bad information that three American missionaries in the village of Pucuro were US government spies, and FARC kidnapped and eventually killed the men.

Usually, however, if armed Colombians cross into Panama intent on violence, it's the government-allied right-wing paramilitary death squads, enforcers for drug trafficking organizations, or else bandoleros --- gangs of heavily armed criminals with ordinary non-ideological profit motives who are often organized in quasi-military fashion.

Telling the bandoleros from the combatant forces is sometimes difficult because blame shifting can make good camouflage, because the bandoleros are often veterans of or deserters from the various Colombian combatant forces, because the different armed forces frequently do business with ordinary criminals, and because all of the factions in Colombia's internal conflicts --- the army and police, the paramilitaries and the guerrillas --- are bunches of thugs if anyone cares to judge them by the things that they actually do.

Back in 1999, when he was a teenage boy, Alberto González's father, a prominent Darien rancher, was abducted by bandoleros, taken to Colombia and eventually murdered. It was widely reported to be the work of FARC but both people in the Darien and an analysis of how the crime was handled indicated that it was really the work of bandoleros.

On the evening of September 18, armed men grabbed Alberto González as he was returning to his home in Meteti, which is next to the police station there. The alarm was quickly sounded.

Meteti is this side of the great waterway that divides the Darien, the Gulf of San Miguel - Tuira River - Chucunaque River system, with its many tributaries. One needs to cross that to get to Colombia and from Meteti there are few routes for a gang with a hostage to do so. They can go by road to Puerto Quimba, which usually has a cop on duty at the dock. They can go east on the Pan-American Highway to Yaviza on the Chucunaque River, where there is a heavy police presence. They can head west on the Pan-American Highway and turn off to one of the three little ports on an arm of the Gulf of San Miguel, but they'd likely run into cops at several places along the way if they did that. They can take a muddy agricultural penetration road to where the Meteti River flows into the Chucunaque and take a boat from there. They can try to hack their way through the jungle. They can hide out with people who will assist them.

But with an early alarm, the police cut off all the likely escape routes from Meteti and began to close the net on the kidnappers. The next day they were located and one of the maleantes who resisted was shot by police. González was freed.

In the corporate mainstream press much was made of the victim's story about how the kidnappers told him that they were from FARC and that they would be demanding a $1.5 million ransom from his family.

But that's what they told him.

Embera sources in the Darien who say they know both the victim and those who abducted him told The Panama News that the kidnappers were local people who may have planned to sell González to FARC if they could get him to Colombia, but in reality they were a group of desperately poor and very foolish young men who definitely were not FARC and would be classified as bandoleros only by stretching the concept. The kidnapping is taken as shocking because even the worst of the locals don't tend to turn to this sort of crime and it was unexpected of these individuals, and because González was well liked in the community. Thus it's not something that can be blamed on outsiders, and not the deed of an isolated desperado, but taken as a sign of alarming social breakdown.


Also in this section:
Major art theft scandal unfolds
Evo Morales visits the University of Panama
Bolivian crisis explodes, Latin America rallies behind Morales
Inter-American Human Rights Court condemns Panama for dictatorship-era disappearance
US "patriot" militia shill and offshore hustler's case against The Panama News dismissed
White House on drugs
Democrats Abroad campaigning here
Home-grown Darien kidnappers thwarted
Panama News Briefs

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