Geopolitics

FARC Understands Nothing About The 'People' Of Colombia

The kidnapping of a Colombian general is the clearest sign that FARC guerrillas may have entered in peace talks, but have yet to give up their war mentality and false populist ideology.

Funeral in Barranquilla of a policeman killed by FARC members in September
Funeral in Barranquilla of a policeman killed by FARC members in September
Pascual Gaviria

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — Two years of inconclusive talks between the Colombian government and the communist guerrillas of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have yet to bring an end to 50 years of civil conflict that has killed some 200,000 people. Now, things may take a decidedly worse turn after FARC's kidnapping of several soldiers including a general, the highest ranking officer they have held so far.

FARC's isolation from Colombian society, the self-serving "logic" of discord and the arrogance of those who bear arms — it all calls on us to think beyond the usual rhetoric.

For decades, FARC had held forth an epic discourse promising victory and espousing a philosophy of vengeance that necessarily includes the elimination of its opponents. Their idea of politics is directly related to imposition, for they have never been required to persuade others.

FARC's arguments always are signed with the inevitable initials: AK-47.

Perhaps unwittingly, they are still in pursuit of a single party and believe that the mobilization of the masses is a task akin to those of cowboys whipping cattle into the right direction.

Well, our most parochial politicians are well ahead of them in that task. They have understood that lying and a constant steam of personal favors win them loyalties with fewer complications and less cruelty. Their ambitions are more moderate, encompassing a particular lot of political clients, not the hypothetical "people."

FARC has barely contained its glee after kidnapping General Rubén Darío Alzate, and their references so far to this extraordinary incident and to "popular justice" show that their chiefs still believe they are engaged in a very personal confrontation with the government or at best, the state.

Lose the swagger

Their negotiators in Havana are fighters, and as such focused on their own ideological obsessions and enmities. While a government must deal with public opinion, political opposition, the bureaucratic ambitions of its allies and the real problems on the negotiating chessboard before it, the guerrillas think that their game is simply a daily or weekly showdown with their counterparts in Havana.

As long as FARC think that military developments and their adversaries' public humiliation are more important than their own political viability, the peace process will end badly. It may get a signature and the applause of the international community, but most Colombians will ignore or reject it.

The guerrilla chiefs urgently need a long sit-down with some bonafide pollsters or political analysts, acting as psychoanalysts might otherwise: make them repeat the words "public opinion" and make them understand that the "people" they keep citing are not their troops.

By closing off districts with threats and arms so they can engage in politics there, FARC leaders will merely turn themselves into a version of those criminal-style — and paramilitary-affiliated — politicians we have seen around Colombia: obeyed by their cronies and hated across the land.

Some months ago, President Juan Manuel Santos said that by this stage in the talks, he would have to think twice before ordering a military operation against the FARC's supreme chief, the guerrilla dubbed Timochenko. What that meant was that two years of talks generate implicit commitments. Both sides should by now have similar aspirations that make talks appear the preferable option.

Instead, it seems, FARC commanders have retained a very crude and primitive — not to mention boastful and vindictive — attitude toward this process. Colombians want peace says the Government, but they also want "proof" of a changed mindset, which will make the moralistic preachings uttered by FARC commanders in Havana more digestible.

We might tolerate their speeches, and even bestow on to them enough importance to merit replies, if only they set aside the arrogance of those used to swaggering around with a rifle. Time is running out for this public rehab.

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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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