eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Should Stop Blaming Colombia For Its Drug Problems

Colombian army operation to destroy cocaine lab
Colombian army operation to destroy cocaine lab
Daniel García-Peña

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — After more than half-a-century of fighting, Colombia's FARC guerillas have surrendered their weapons and officially transformed themselves into a formal political party. But still, the U.S. government apparently isn't satisfied.

"The FARC hasn't followed through on the issue of drugs," the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said matter-of-factly in a recent interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo.

Speaking like some kind of colonial-era viceroy, and forgetting that it's not his place to make such declarations, Whitaker also gave the impression that he's never even read the Colombian government's Final Accord with the FARC. Under the terms of the deal, the former rebels are expected to "effectively contribute, with maximum determination, by different means and through practical actions, to a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs, and terminate within an end-of-conflict scenario, any and all ties that may have presented themselves, as part of the rebellion, with this phenomenon." Nowhere does it state, as Whitaker has requested, that the FARC needs to "provide information on drug trafficking for investigation."

Whether it's a misinterpretation or simply ill-will of the part of the U.S. government, the declarations demonstrate that Washington's outlook on drug trafficking has not only not evolved, but has gotten worse in the era of President Donald Trump. The obsession with illegal cultivations is nothing new. And yet, more so than at any point in the past two decades, it seems like America's anti-drugs policy is being measured only by the number of hectares under drug cultivation.

That number appears to have risen, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). But Washington is wrong to insinuate that the peace process is to blame. The UNODC, for its part, cites multiple causes, including the relative failure of substitution programs, the Colombian peso's fall against the U.S. dollar and the state's absence in areas where the FARC were formerly present or in charge.

Still, the biggest problem with the ambassador's remarks is that he chides the FARC but says nothing about the state's failure to honor its half of the bargain. Henry Acosta, the Colombian government's top go-between with the FARC, has issued an anxious message on the "failure to totally implement the Final Accord." He warned that there hasn't yet been a collective reintegration of guerrillas, that authorities have whittled planned political reforms down to a minimum, that Colombia's highest court is still debating whether the FARC can even engage in politics, and that special transitional conditions to facilitate peace are in a precarious state. Amnestied prisoners, furthermore, remain in jail and, worst of all, social and labor activists are still being killed throughout the country.

No market without demand

Returning to the subject of drugs, what's clear is that Trump, from the moment he launched his campaign, has pushed the idea that crime and insecurity in the U.S. are the result of drugs carried there by illegal migrants. It's repressive prohibitionism all over again, only this time it's also mixed with racism.

The U.S. is extremely important for Colombia. But it's not vital. The approximately $390 million in "aid" money Colombia receives from the U.S. is substantial. And yet it only represents a small fraction of Colombia's GDP. Most of the money poured into Plan Colombia and the war on drugs and crime, more generally, comes from Colombian taxpayers, not Uncle Sam.

At the end of the day, it's the U.S. — the world's main narcotics consumer — that hasn't done its part in the so-called war on drugs. There is no market without demand, and the U.S. has long shown itself to be an insatiable, growing and increasingly diversified market. Cocaine consumption appears to have leveled off, but opioid use has risen and become a veritable plague in many parts of the nation.

If anyone is going to stand in judgment here, it should be Colombia, taking the U.S. to task for its total failure to curb consumption.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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