Panama: the latest victim of insurgency osmosis

The LA Times reports on an uptick in drug violence in Mexico and that Colombia’s FARC rebels are increasingly operating on the Panamanian side of the border: Over the last decade, the leftist insurgents have regularly spilled over into Panama, seeking rest and respite from pursuing Colombian armed forces. But rarely have they appeared as ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
585553_090526_panama2.jpg
585553_090526_panama2.jpg
A Panamanian police officer destroys an assault rifle during a destruction of weapons in Panama City on July 23, 2008. Panamanian police on Wednesday destroyed 986 weapons of different calibers seized to drug traffickers and organized crime gangs in the last few years, officials said. AFP PHOTO/ Elmer MARTINEZ (Photo credit should read ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The LA Times reports on an uptick in drug violence in Mexico and that Colombia's FARC rebels are increasingly operating on the Panamanian side of the border:Over the last decade, the leftist insurgents have regularly spilled over into Panama, seeking rest and respite from pursuing Colombian armed forces. But rarely have they appeared as frequently or penetrated so deeply into Panamanian territory as in recent months, say residents and officials here in Darien province.

And guns aren't all they're bringing with them.

The LA Times reports on an uptick in drug violence in Mexico and that Colombia’s FARC rebels are increasingly operating on the Panamanian side of the border:

Over the last decade, the leftist insurgents have regularly spilled over into Panama, seeking rest and respite from pursuing Colombian armed forces. But rarely have they appeared as frequently or penetrated so deeply into Panamanian territory as in recent months, say residents and officials here in Darien province.

And guns aren’t all they’re bringing with them.

Panamanian and U.S. officials say it’s no coincidence that drug-related violence has risen in tandem with the more frequent sightings of the guerrillas, whom the State Department labels drug traffickers and terrorists.

U.S. counter-narcotics officials believe that the FARC and other Colombian traffickers are shipping more drugs from Colombia overland across Panama to avoid tighter control of Pacific and Caribbean coastal waterways by the Panamanian and U.S. naval forces. …

Whether it’s because of the drug trade or more aggressive pursuit by Colombian troops, the increased presence of the FARC on Panama’s side of the Darien rain forest is indisputable, several locals said.

That Alvaro Uribe’s aggressive offensives against the FARC in Colombia have led to an uptick in rebel violence across the border in Panama (as well as Ecuador) sounds quite plausible. It’s in some ways similar to how Chechnya’s rebel violence spilled over into Dagestan and Igushetia after the Russian crackdown there. Or how the Taliban expanded its influence in Northwest Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Or even the increase in drug violence in the southwestern United States since Felipe Calderon’s crackdown on Mexican cartels.

It’s certainly never safe to border a country in the midst of a violent insurgency, but in the short-term, aggresively fighting the insurgency can make life painful for the rest of a country’s region. Something governments probably should keep in mind before demanding that their neighbors squeeze the balloon. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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