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Be careful! South American policemen on your way

Narcotics smuggling, kidnappings and assassinations involving security forces are part of a series of scandals that has shaken governments of Argentina and Paraguay in the recent weeks. Democracies threatened by those in charge of securing it.   

Argentina and Paraguay have been shaken last week by a series of scandals involving prominent officers from both South American nations’ security forces. Kidnappings, assassinations and narcotics smuggling cannot be explained without the participation of the armed forces, civil police and private security contractors from which the population expects respect and honesty.

In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner was forced to dissolve the airport police, sack national Air Force Commander and at least other ten top officers, after it became public that they were suspected of drug trafficking to Spain. The case is now in the courts, where Judge Carlos Liporace has also prosecuted directors of Southern Winds Airlines, the air carrier responsible for sending 60 kilograms of cocaine from Buenos Aires to Madrid in four suitcases not belonging to any passenger.

In Paraguay, the kidnapping and further assassination of former President Raul Cubas’ daughter sparked angry protests against corruption in national security forces. According to last reports from country’s capital, Asuncion, the police department knew where kidnappers held the 32 year woman, but refused to provide information if not rewarded accordingly. The family later admitted that had paid the $ 800,000 ransom but it became known that criminals only received $ 300,000 out of the original sum.

No one claims for no one's baggage

On September 16, 2004, the Spanish Civil Guard found four unclaimed suitcases in the hall of the Barajas International Airport in Madrid. The baggage arrived in Spain through the regular commercial flight of the Argentine airline Southern Winds with stickers reading: “To the Argentine embassy in Spain, Madrid”.

Spanish officers soon found out that the cases did not belong to any passenger coming in the flight and, as no one got to the airport to claim them, called the Argentine embassy, where they were told that they were not waiting for any mail. At that time, dogs confirmed what everyone suspected, the suitcases contained cocaine. 60 kilograms of it separated in equal bricks, equivalent to 1.5 million euros.

However, the drug trafficking scandal only became known five months later, on February, when the Argentine government became noticed of it. According to official sources, the Air Force did not report the incident to the Ministry of Defense, as the son of the chief of the airport police, a young and successful employee of Southern Winds, was involved in the case and fugitive since December. The airport police is controlled by the national Air Force since the military dictatorship that slashed Argentina in the seventies ordered it in 1977.

As soon as the government made the scandal public by leaking the case to the press, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner dissolved the airport police, sacked Air Force commander, Carlos Rhode and at least other ten top ranked officers. Two other senior air police officials blamed for lax security at the airport have also been fired. Two directors of the Argentine private airline on which the drugs were reportedly found have been arrested. An investigation is also under way into how airport security tapes were wiped. The chain of complicities is, in view of the above, very long.

Man on fire

In a case that makes the observer remember the 2004 Tony Scott film, Man on Fire, the daughter of the former Paraguayan President Raul Cubas was found dead and later dug up from behind a house after she was abducted by heavily armed gunmen in one of the highest profile kidnapping reported in the country. Dental records allowed prosecutors to identify Cecilia Cubas, the poor 32 year woman, for which her parents paid a $800,000 ransom, but kidnappers only received $300,000.

As in Scott’s film, the case unveiled a real kidnapping industry in Paraguay, in which prominent members of country’s security forces are involved, not to mention recent accusations on Attorney General Oscar Latorre, who groundless blamed a leftist party associated to Colombian rebels as responsible for the crime.

Mr Latorre said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, may have been involved in the kidnapping, although he did not elaborate on a possible motive for any FARC involvement. In Paraguay, no one believes in the official version, as it became known later that the police knew where kidnapers held Cecilia and neighbours witnessed police vans in the front of the house where Ms Cubas was buried alive.

In Man on Fire, policemen disguised as policemen kidnap a young girl, daughter of a prominent Mexican businessman. The policemen liberate the zone and shoot her bodyguard, Denzel Washington, who survives and promise to revenge. Soon he finds out that the chief of prosecutors, in charge of investigating the case, is the head of an organization, “La Hermandad”, which is behind the crimes. The Attorney General was not heading the researches to unveil the case, but to get information on haw he can get a profit of it. The family pays the ransom, but kidnapers get only less than half of the money, as policemen cash the rest. Kidnapers kill the girl. An excellent movie all Paraguayans must see.

Photo: Presidents of Paraguay, Nicanor Duarte Frutos (left) and Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, pledged to crackdown on corrupted security personnel.

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