Guerrilla Economics

Guerrilla Economics
Posted by FoM on March 15, 2000 at 08:28:49 PT
By Kathleen Day & Shannon Henry, WP Staff Writers
Source: Washington Post
Deep in the Colombian mountains, where Marxist guerrillas have waged a civil war that has left 30,000 people dead since the 1960s, the two fabulously wealthy businessmen from Washington were trying to talk the rebels out of their revolution.
James Kimsey, co-founder and chairman emeritus of America Online Inc., and Joseph Robert, head of a real estate empire built on the wreckage of the savings-and-loan scandal, earlier this month sat in a camp cleared out of the jungle. Across the table was a man who has devoted most of his 69 years to armed conflict aimed at overthrowing the Latin American ruling class."It's the kind of thing that's irresistible to me," said Kimsey, 60, who has a swagger that befits an Army Ranger who served in the Vietnam War. "To talk to the oldest guerrilla in the world and to try to persuade him of the wisdom of how the world is going to change."The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, is one of the few remaining insurgent groups in the hemisphere. FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army control 40 percent of the Colombian countryside. The 15,000-strong FARC, which claims to represent farmers, labor organizers and other disenfranchised people, regularly mounts attacks on prisons and police stations while purportedly forging ties with drug lords trafficking in cocaine and heroin.As it carries out its war against the rebels, the Colombian government also has launched an unusual campaign--with the help of U.S. government and business representatives--to speed the peace process by educating the guerrillas in modern ideas about investing, technology and the workplace.The rebels' reaction has been mixed. Last summer, they welcomed Richard Grasso, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, to their jungle camps. But in January, after the Clinton administration proposed providing Colombia with $1.3 billion over the next two years, FARC condemned the plan, warning that increased American military involvement would escalate the violence.To triumphant, self-confident leaders of the booming U.S. economy such as Kimsey and Robert, guerrilla groups who still brim with the slogans of Cold War-era geopolitics are as outdated as typewriter ribbons and telephones with dials. On March 3, the two visitors sat for four hours with FARC's leader, Manuel Marulanda--described to them by U.S. and Colombian officials as humorless and rude, tough and quick-tempered. Kimsey and Robert displayed that special American impatience with historical baggage, urging the rebel to sign on to their three-point "action plan": Stop killing people. Stop trafficking in drugs. Economic prosperity can only come to Colombia with peace."Our naivete led us to believe we could have some impact," said Robert, 48, a boyish-looking former Golden Gloves boxer. "It's a can-do attitude, and we're trying to infuse that in them. What's wrong with that?"The way the two men saw it, the personal characteristics that led them to start risky but ultimately very successful businesses could also help cut through years of ill will between the rebels and the Colombian government. Both Kimsey and Robert, self-made millionaires, were told many times in their careers that there was something they couldn't do. Then they'd do it anyway.Kimsey and Robert have been friends for years. Each attended St. John's College High School, an all-boys Catholic military school in Washington. Kimsey went on to West Point and then served two tours in Vietnam before co-founding what is now the largest Internet company in the world. Robert is founder and owner of J.E. Robert Cos., a global real estate company based in McLean.Their latest adventure began in late January, when the two were among a dozen executives from around the world invited by Colombian President Andres Pastrana to visit the country and advise its top leaders on how to lure foreign investment.In a conversation during that trip, as well as one over dinner at Cafe Milano in Georgetown during Pastrana's subsequent visit to the United States, Pastrana, Robert and Kimsey decided that a personal visit to Marulanda might be productive. They would go to San Vicente del Caguan, an area declared a demilitarized zone by the government for peace talks to be held.The two men had hit it off with Pastrana. And both clearly like adventure, Kimsey perhaps a bit more than Robert."For me parts of it were unsettling, but for Rambo here," said Robert, nodding toward Kimsey, some of the potential danger "made it more interesting."The U.S. State Department says it tried to talk the men out of their plan. "We met with Kimsey before the trip took place. We discouraged him, pointing out that this is a dangerous place," one official said. "Since the FARC is responsible for a number of acts of terrorism against Americans, we feel it is risky business."Last year FARC killed three Americans--two women and a man--who were in the country on the peaceful mission of working to preserve an indigenous tribe. A senior commander of FARC, Raul Reyes, reportedly declared war on the United States. (Kimsey said Reyes told him he had been misquoted.)Despite any misgivings, Kimsey and Robert boarded a plane at Reagan National Airport for Bogota, where a bomb-proofed Mercedes-Benz surrounded by an armed escort accompanied them to a downtown hotel. They went to sleep about 5 a.m, only to be awakened 1 1/2 hours later for a trip back to the airport to board a government twin-engine prop plane for the hour-long flight, landing on an single-runway airstrip. They brought chicken salad sandwiches and bottled water in a cooler to share with the guerrillas."The thing that crossed my mind the most when I was in the plane was, what would keep a guerrilla from attempting to shoot down a government plane flying over guerrilla-controlled territory?" said Robert.What Robert and Kimsey wanted to tell Marulanda was that prosperity can come to the peasantry only after the violence and drug trade is stopped. Their message of economic promise, though, must compete with the current reality: The rebels earn $500 million a year or more from extortion, kidnapping people for ransom and protecting the drug trade.Though they realize their trip won't bring an end to drug trafficking, Kimsey said, Marulanda did state to a TV crew from "60 Minutes"--which accompanied them--that he was against drugs. He also said FARC would support Colombia's transition from drug-related farming to other commercial crops.That, Kimsey hopes, will create pressure for the rebel leader to act on his words. And that could be productive by causing "divisions" among Marulanda's followers--"all of which is in our best interest," Kimsey said.Kimsey said they also scored a victory when Marulanda declared, unprovoked, that "communism is dead."But mostly they say they steered clear of political philosophy and instead tried to run the discussion like any business meeting. They asked Marulanda to name his top three goals, which boiled down to his wanting sympathy from the American public and, even more important, money from the United States for economic development. They tried to keep the conversation focused on issues they could easily all agree on, such as helping children."You see that child over there," Robert said he told Marulanda. "That's the future of Colombia, not you. In the new global economy the most important resource a country has rests in here"--Robert taps his forefinger on his temple--"in the mind of its citizens. Kids need an education and to create jobs you need capital."By the end, Kimsey--whom the guerrillas referred to as the founder of "the American Internet"--gave Marulanda his AOL cap in exchange for Marulanda's military hat. Marulanda gave Robert a knife. Then the two Washington businessmen flew back to Bogota to spend the weekend with Pastrana."We are sure that with your help, we will be able to explain to the American people our work to find ways for national reconciliation and social justice," reads the translation of a note Marulanda wrote to Robert.The note was handwritten. But it could have been sent via e-mail. The guerrillas are not so unsophisticated that they lack an Internet connection; their Web site, among other things, features pictures of guerrilla life, including the rebels dancing the rumba.Michael Maccoby, a Washington-based anthropologist and management consultant, says that the trip by Robert and Kimsey reflects an attitude--heightened by a robust economy and the breakneck pace of technological innovation--that's widespread in the board rooms of top entrepreneurs around the country. Such executives are "productive narcissists," Maccoby said, the kind of people who "want to solve big problems and do big things" and win the world's love and respect."They've always done things that others say can't be done," Maccoby said. "The fact that this country produces people like that has pros and cons. You could get into trouble or you could do great things. There's something both wonderful and incredibly naive about these people." Wednesday, March 15, 2000; Page E01  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Colombia's Crisis U.S. Is Setting A Trap for Itself In Colombia Articles on FARC & Colombia:
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on March 15, 2000 at 10:00:28 PT:
Oh, the magnificent arrogance!
Breath-taking, isn't it?The FARC controls one third of the country. In every stand-up fight they've had with the government, the rebels have won, big-time. (Which is why the Colombian press, months before the latest wheedling by McC and Company for more money, were expecting the Marines to land any minute) They have new uniforms, new equipment, ammunition, and seem to have good leadership. Most of all, they have that wonderful cash cow called the WoSD to sustain them. Without the proceeds from the artificially high prices of illegal coke and ganja to sustain them, they simply couldn't afford to do what they have done. So what if they're Marxists; so are the Chinese, and we have one hell of a trade deficit with them. Like the Chinese, the FARC understand the economics of the situation quite well. They don't need to be lectured to by arrogant'Ugly American' rich-boy Yanquis about how to turn a profit. Particularly when said yanquis are behind the globalization that is squeezing so many poor countries into peonage. Which, when you think about it, is the very *reason* the FARC has been fighting.Don't get me wrong; I'm not glorifying any of this. I am saying that when you are dirt poor, and barely able to survive, the last thing you need is *anybody* putting the squeeze play on you. 'Legitimate' government, 'rebel' government, it's all the same to those campesinos.. both are murdering thieves. We shouldn't add to the misery because some fat-ass CEO in a corporate office somewhere in El Norte sees a chance to turn a buck selling ammo to butchers.And as for those top-flight businessmen? Those fools were lucky to make it out of the jungle alive.
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