Arms and Mandela: After the Honeymoon, He Faces the Deadly Dilemmas of South Africa’s Arms Industry

THE LITTLE-NOTICED role of South African-made arms in the catastrophe of Rwanda presents Nelson Mandela with an early test of his ability to reconcile realism and idealism. At least 3,000 of Rwanda’s soldiers and militiamen carry South African-made R-4 automatic rifles. Rwanda bought them in 1992 from Armscor — South Africa’s state-owned arms corporation — along with 10,000 hand grenades, 20,000 rifle grenades, 10,000 launching grenades and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition.

In Rwanda’s killing fields, such grenades and automatic rifles have been weapons of choice, after machetes. At the Christ Spirituality Center in Kigali, soldiers opened fire with automatic rifles, killing five diocesan priests, nine congregated women, three Jesuits and their cook. In Rukara, journalists came upon about 500 corpses inside a church. One supervisor said the people had died when militiamen threw dozens of grenades inside the people.

Will the new South Africa sell arms to countries like Rwanda? Mandela, with his international reputation as a peacemaker, may not want to. But the United Nations trade embargo against South Africa is expected to be lifted soon and new markets are already opening up for South Africa’s deadliest goods. Andre Buys, an executive for Armscor, told Defense News last month that “we expect that by 1996 [arms] exports will at least double, and possibly quadruple.”

Like Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia before him, Mandela may find that his humanitarian impulses are not strong enough to resist the financial attractions of the arms trade. When Havel became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, he promised to end arms exports. But last year, after the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, both renewed sales.

Before Mandela’s inauguration, ANC spokesman Madala Mthembu carefully suggested that the post-apartheid government would not abstain from the arms business. “Once the new government is up and running, we will welcome a complete lifting of all remaining sanctions and embargoes against South Africa,” Mthembu told Defense News. “We also wish to state the new government will be in full compliance with international standards governing exports of technologies and materials that would threaten world security.”

Such standards would preclude arms sales to states like Lybia, which is also currently subject to a U.N. embargo. But states like Rwanda before its present crisis would still be able to legally buy arms. Ethnic strife, which plagues much of the world, makes for a boom market in the weapons trade. And South African weapons are generally more reliable, accurate and durable than comparable arms made by Egypt, Russia, Romania, and even Israel in some categories. While the world rejoices in witnessing apartheid’s downfall, it will have the unexpected effect of adding to the glut of arms already flooding the places that least need them, such as Rwanda, Sudan and Cambodia.

No one expects Mandela to turn his back on what promises to become one of the new South Africa’s best earners of foreign exchange. But few would expect, either, a man who has devoted his life to his country’s struggle for justice, equality, and human rights to turn his back on future victims of other abusive regimes. He doesn’t necessarily have to.

South Africa can afford to forgo sales of guns and grenades because it actually makes most of its profits from the sale of expensive, high technology systems like laser-designated missiles, tactical radios, anti-radiation bombs and battlefield mobility systems. This sort of weaponry, while potentially deadly, is much less likely to be used in human rights abuses than small arms.

In anticipation of an end to the U.N. embargo, South Africa created the Denel Corp. in 1992. While Armscor has since served as the government’s defense procurement organization, Denel has operated as a private manufacturing consortium, representing 60 percent of the arms industry. Denel expects to lead export sales; such sales averaged $127.5 million in the early 1990s, and increased to $222.2 million in 1993. Rwanda’s purchase of $5.9 million of grenades, mortars and ammunition from Denel made only a tiny addition to South Africa’s balance sheet.

South Africa also has a technological edge in land mine detection and sweeping equipment especially needed by Cambodia and other countries. While South Africa has already begun to market this equipment, it announced in March that it would not sell land mines at the same time, and stopped exports. Although it could be argued that this announcement was motivated more by appearance than principle, it was a welcome sign.

But Mandela and the ANC’s stated policy isn’t good enough. Exporting minesweeping equipment is a legitimate way to earn foreign exchange; sales of any arms to human rights violators are not. The new South Africa should re-examine its export policy on such items. International prohibitions against arms sales to abusive regimes are at present nonexistent or weak. Rwanda, with its long-documented history of ethnic strife and its grisly record of human rights abuses, is a case in point. Rather than sink to this standard, Mandela should lead the world in raising it up.

A New Kingdom Of Cocaine: For Colombia’s Powerful Cali Cartel, the Crucial Connection Is Guatemala

The ignominious end of cocaine baron Pablo Escobar obscured the fact that his Medellin cartel had long since been eclipsed by another network of cocaine traffickers based in the Colombian city of Cali. The Cali cartel, led by the Rodriguez Orejuela family, is now said to control up to 85 percent of the world trade in the illicit drug. Two reasons for Cali’s success are clear: It has a reputation for eschewing violence and for distributing its profits widely. A third less often noted reason is that the cartel has established operations in Guatemala, a new safe haven for large cocaine shipments headed north.

Guatemala has become the largest warehouse for cocaine in Central America, according to Colombian and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration experts. Analysts at the DEA and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics Matters now estimate that Guatemala serves as the trans-shipment point for 50 to 75 tons of cocaine a year. That’s a substantial portion of the 300 to 400 tons that reach the United States every year.

“The vast majority of cocaine trafficking in Guatemala is Cali cartel-related,” Lee McCIenny, U.S. Embassy press attaché, says. In July 1992, authorities found 2.8 metric tons of cocaine in a house near the Guatemalan town of Antigua. (A metric ton is equivalent of 2,200 pounds.) Three months earlier, in April 1992, drug enforcement authorities in Miami had searched a load of frozen broccoli that had been shipped from Guatemala. They found 6.7 tons of cocaine, enough to supply every user in the United States for a week. It was one of the five largest drug seizures in U.S. history. The seizure resulted in the arrest of Francisco Guzman, the brother-in-law of one of the cartel’s top leaders, and Harold Ackerman, whom the DEA describes as “the Cali cartel’s ambassador to Miami” and the highest-ranking Cali member ever arrested.

The cartel is more violent than its reputation suggests. According to Siglo Veintiuno, Guatemala’s most respected daily newspaper, the cartel was also responsible for the recent assassination of Rony Sagastume, a Guatemalan national police detective. Sagastume had just been assigned to investigate the cartel’s activities in Guatemala in September 1992 when he was shot while he sat in a car with two other passengers. Siglo Veintiuno reported that sources close to the police said that Sagastume had been terminated by a death squad of the Cali cartel that had arrived in Guatemala one day before.

Members of the Guatemalan officer corps have been implicated in the cocaine trade. The 2.8 tons seized in Antigua were found in a house owned, but not occupied, by a retired Air Force captain. In December 1990 Col. Carlos Ochoa Ruiz was arrested by Guatemalan authorities working with the U.S. DEA. He was later indicted by prosecutors in Tampa, Fla., for smuggling half a ton of cocaine into that city. DEA agents say that Ochoa was working for the Cali cartel.

Guatemala’s officer corps is a relative newcomer to the drug business. The Guatemalan military was previously known, not just in Central America but also around the world, for its record of massacres, torture, disappearances and assassinations. The killing reached its peak in 1982 when a campaign of unprecedented savagery in the Guatemalan countryside effectively crushed the country’s left-wing insurgency. The resulting political stability was one feature that attracted the Colombian cocaine cartels. They chose Guatemala, according to a Latin American drug enforcement official, “because it is near Mexico, which its an obvious entrance point to the U.S., and because the Mexicans have a long-established mafia. It is also a better transit and storage country than El Salvador because it offers more stability and was easier to control.”

The signs of drug trafficking are visible in the Guatemalan economy. “The traffickers have begun to buy property and invest large sums of money for the construction of runways and warehouses for the storage of drugs,” according to an assessment of the Colombian activity in Guatemala done by one country in the region. In the capital, the construction industry has been growing at least four times faster than the rest of the economy.

Some Guatemalan officials suggest that stable policies and a healthy investment climate are behind the boom. But legitimate business leaders say the stampede of cocaine profits threatens either to crowd them out or draw them in. The problem became so pervasive that a year ago a group of exporters organized a conference around an unprecedented theme: how to detect whether their products were being used to run drugs.

Guatemalan newspapers have reported the presence of the Cali cartel in the country but have printed hardly a word about the cartel’s local confederates. A group of Mayan peasants say they had the misfortune to stumble across Guatemalan drug trafficking first-hand. The peasants were farmers living in the village of Los Amates in eastern Guatemala. They allege that, beginning in November 1990, soldiers from a local military base tried to drive them off their land. The soldiers took three men to the base where, the peasants claim, they were beaten and tortured. One of the men filed a complaint with the country’s human rights ombudsman, including a doctor’s medical report on his injuries and photos of a pencil-thin laceration around the entire base of his neck.

Five more peasants from Los Amates filed a second complaint in March 1992. It alleges that nine people from their community were murdered by the local soldiers and provides the dates, times, circumstances, names and titles or military ranks of those allegedly responsible. Some of the statements charge that the killers were protecting a drug trafficking operation.

“On April 18, 1991, they [the soldiers] assassinated Mr. Daniel Melgar, a tractor driver. Since this man had worked on [and knew about] the construction of the clandestine runway owned by Francisco Villafuerte, these narcotraffickers paid assassins to kill him. [When not in use] the runway is camouflaged with logs strewn over it.”

The surviving peasants claim the army has built so many runways in and around Los Amates that it has “converted its five hamlets into warehouses for drugs.” The complaint names a total of 67 individuals as being responsible. They include four army colonels, a major, a captain and 20 military-appointed civilian commissioners.

Local army officers denied any involvement; the country’s minister of defense also denied any knowledge of human rights violations or cocaine trafficking in the area.

How credible were the peasants’ complaints? One suspect named in their complaints was Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, one of the military commissioners who later became the mayor of the nearby town of Zacapa. Apparently unbeknownst to the peasant witnesses, Vargas had already been indicted on drug charges in New York in 1991. A joint DEA-Guatemalan police operation had confiscated 1.8 tons of cocaine in Guatemala which led to the arrest of Vargas and nine other people. The suspects were charged with smuggling several tons per month by tractor-trailer through Mexico to the United States. Vargas was extradited to Brooklyn in May 1992 and is expected to come to trial next year.

There is no known link between the U.S. indictment of Vargas and the peasants’ complaints against him and local army officers. Likewise, the murders of nine peasants in Los Amates remain unsolved. And Lt. Col. Ochoa, still under indictment in Tampa, is a free man. The military court that dishonorably discharged him from the army also ordered that no further action be taken against him, due to “insufficient evidence.”

The Cali cartel is in no danger of being driven out of Guatemala.