A Colombian Image Challenge

James “Terry” Watson, an American DEA agent, was killed in Bogota, Colombia last month. According to this story:

A Virginia grand jury indicted six Colombian nationals Thursday for the kidnapping and murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the South American country during an attempted robbery last month, federal authorities said.

The six defendants operated a robbery and kidnapping conspiracy using cabs in Bogota to lure victims, and the driver of the cab would signal to conspirators to commence the abduction and robbery, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

When the news was announced, however, there was plenty of media speculation that Watson was targeted and assassinated by cocaine cartels. According to this story:

But new details in the case suggest the federal agent working on sensitive and high-profile drug cases in Colombia could have been the victim of a targeted attack. Colombian authorities have arrested four men in connection to the killing.

“It sounds more like a hit than a robbery,” Phil Jordan, a former CIA operative and one-time leader of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Intelligence Center, told Fox News Latino. “There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

[T]he so-called “paseo millonario” robberies usually don’t end up with the victim being killed.
A common tactic in Colombia and other cities throughout Latin America, a “paseo millonario,” where victims are forced to use their ATM cards to empty their bank accounts. The assailant will target people driving expensive cars or leaving upscale neighborhoods for robbery.

Watson’s murder seems suspect because the robbers did not take off with his cell phone or any other personal items.

‘The problem here is that when you’re going to rob someone you normally just rob them and don’t kill them,” Jordan said. “The story line seems farfetched.”

We now know common thieves killed Watson. But which scenario does more damage to the image of Colombia?

If cocaine cartels targeted and killed Watson, it will be assumed that despite all its improvements and billions of dollars in American aid, the government still doesn’t have the narcotraffickers under control. They are still powerful and bold enough to assassinate DEA agents in the country’s capital.

If common thieves killed Watson during a paseo de millonario robbery, then it will be assumed that despite all the improvements in security, Colombia still isn’t a safe place. Watson was near Parque 93, the most affluent area in the country. If that isn’t safe, what is?

The news media has an interest in scandalizing and sensationalizing this tragic murder, which is evident in the early speculation that Watson was targeted. On the other hand, Colombian organizations like ProExport have an interest in portraying Colombia as a safe place to visit, live, and invest.

So the challenge is: if you worked for such a pro-Colombian interest, which angle is worse for your goals?

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  1. I don’t have a smart phone but I understand there’s an app for hailing a cab now in Colombia, especially useful when the traditional taxi libres phone lines are busy. I usually try and take a bus home at night when I’m in Zona T or Parque 93. There’s too much risk in hailing a cab in those zones.


  2. Common thieves are definitely worse. So long as narcos only kill their own, who cares? It’s not great if they’re killing gov’t types, but that’s still sort of intramural. But random violence you can’t avoid by minding your own business/avoiding either side of the drugs trade.

    Watson went to AFG 3 times as part of DEA’s FAST program, i.e. paramilitary bullshit. My guess is he got tough with the kidnappers and ended up dead. The crooks probably weren’t cold-blooded enough to rob the body after the unpleasantness.


  3. People here in the states are more likely to take notice gruesome narco murders which penetrate the background noise of a high crime rate.


  4. @ Jimmy – exactly.

    I think all the gringos in Colombia are voting that common crime is worse because they have to deal with it. But I believe all the Colombians are voting that narcoterrorism is worse because, in the 90s, there were no gringos to suffer street crime.

    But that’s just guesswork.


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