May 22

Hello, everyone. Thank you for visiting. “Plan Colombia and Beyond” is no longer active, as I – the blog’s principal author – have moved to the Washington Office on Latin America, where I’m directing WOLA’s security policy program.

Now that my transition to WOLA is complete, I’ve begun blogging often at the site of the CIP-WOLA-LAWG “Just the Facts” program. Today, for instance, is the first weekly links post, which was a frequent feature on “Plan Colombia and Beyond.” That site allows you to sign up to receive blog entries (among other information) in your e-mail.

Meanwhile, WOLA is in the midst of a total website overhaul. Once that new resource is ready, I’ll launch a new blog there as well. So please keep in touch!

– Adam Isacson

Apr 27

With all the usual caveats about polling in Colombia, just look at this chart of all the polls I’ve seen in the past 30 days or so. They show a steady but mounting momentum in favor of former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus.

The latest Ipsos-Napoleón Franco poll, released late yesterday, gives Mockus the lead for the first time. Mockus overtakes the main “successor” of popular president Álvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos, who a month ago was the untouchable frontrunner.

(Click on the image to see a bigger version.)

The polls show Mockus taking little support from Santos. Instead, the quirky former mayor’s surge began in early April after another popular mayor, Sergio Fajardo of Medellín, abandoned his struggling presidential campaign to join Mockus’ ticket. The unusual display of unity resonated with Colombian public opinion and made Mockus’ campaign far more viable.

Can anyone honestly say they saw this coming a month ago?

Apr 21

It’s a good idea to visit the Colombian Defense Ministry’s website every once in a while to view their latest “Operational Results” report (PDF). You get a long powerpoint presentation with the official versions of statistics about the country’s security situation.

You also find some really shocking numbers. Take combat deaths, for instance.

Between 2002 and the end of March 2010:

  • 13,653 members of “subversive groups” have been killed.
  • 1,611 members of “illegal self-defense groups” were killed between 2002 and 2006 (source is an older version of the same report – PDF).
  • 1,080 members of “criminal gangs” have been killed since 2007.
  • 4,571 members of the security forces were killed in acts of service.

That’s a total of 20,915 people. Most of them young Colombians — many under 18 years of age — serving as foot-soldiers or low-level recruits in the armed forces, the FARC, the ELN or the paramilitaries.

And that’s combat deaths only. This horrifying statistic does not include civilians killed or disappeared in conflict-related violence, which the Colombian Commission of Jurists estimates (PDF) at 14,028 people between mid-2002 and mid-2008. It does not count people wounded, whether by combat, terror attacks or landmines. It does not include the 2.4 million people that CODHES (PDF) estimates were displaced since 2002. (It may, unfortunately, include thousands of civilians falsely presented as armed-group members killed in combat.)

Had the FARC and the Colombian government successfully concluded good-faith negotiations between 1998 and 2002, these 20,915 people would be alive today. That is the cost of the failed peace process of the Pastrana years. It is also the cost of the “successful” security policies of the Uribe years.

Perhaps the most important task Colombia’s next president will face is how to avoid the combat deaths of another 20,915 Colombians over the next eight years. (Plus the civilian dead, disappeared, wounded and displaced.) How to break with a war of attrition which — with as many as 20,000 guerrillas and “new” paramilitaries still active in Colombia — promises to drag on for many more years.

Proposing and pursuing a policy other than continued war will take great political courage. But if a Colombian leader chooses this path, the Obama administration must support him or her unequivocally. The numbers alone demand it.

Apr 20

Dear “Plan Colombia and Beyond” readers,

At the end of April, I’ll be leaving the Center for International Policy.

This decision owes to financial realities, and has nothing to do with the affection and gratitude I feel for my co-workers, management, board and supporters here at CIP, some of whom have accompanied me for all of my fourteen and a half years here. I hope to continue working with them as part of the community of organizations advocating human rights, demilitarization and social justice in U.S. foreign policy. CIP is a vital organization that deserves your support.

In early May, I’ll be joining the staff of the Washington Office on Latin America, where I’ll coordinate WOLA’s security policy program. While I’m saddened by my departure from CIP, I’m very excited by the opportunities that await me at WOLA.

My work there will be more regional than it has been here. WOLA already covers Colombia extensively, and while I hope to contribute to that, it will not be my main focus. Instead, we’ll be working on transparency and accountability in U.S. military programs, regional defense relations, civilian and military roles in U.S. aid to the region, and other issues to be developed with WOLA’s security team.

This change means that, as of May, “Plan Colombia and Beyond” will no longer be updated. The www.cipcol.org archives will remain online indefinitely, but after five and a half years and over 900 posts, this blog will be retiring.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop using the weblog format, which has greatly multiplied the reach of my work here. I’ll still be contributing constantly to the “Just the Facts” blog (www.justf.org/blog), and intend to launch a new resource at WOLA. Though I don’t know yet what form it will take, I’ll let you know where to find it once it’s up and running, which shouldn’t be long.

From my new position, I’ll continue to work on the “Just the Facts” security-assistance-monitoring website and program (www.justf.org), which WOLA’s executive director, Joy Olson, and I started in 1997 when she was at the Latin America Working Group. That website is going to keep getting better, with even more current, primary information and new analyses.

Thank you so much for visiting and participating in “Plan Colombia and Beyond” since its launch in October 2004. Thanks for making this a successful resource that I’ve always enjoyed working on. I hope it has contributed in some small way toward improving U.S. policy toward Colombia and its neighbors.

So this isn’t goodbye — it’s just “goodbye” from this particular website. Stay tuned, and please keep in touch.

Sincerely,
Adam Isacson

Apr 14

The following images come from files that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) recently turned over to independent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. They are shocking and seem to confirm some of our worst suspicions.

The Fiscalía is investigating illegal surveillance, wiretaps and intimidation carried out by the DAS, the Colombian Presidency’s intelligence service. The targets of the DAS campaign were opponents of President Álvaro Uribe: opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, and even Supreme Court judges. Hollman Morris, the journalist, was one of those most aggressively followed.

A Fiscalía report issued Saturday concluded that the DAS surveillance of Supreme Court judges “was directed from the Casa de Nariño,” Colombia’s equivalent of the White House.

Here are the files obtained by Hollman Morris, with English translations. They go beyond surveillance and wiretapping to reveal what it calls a “political warfare” campaign of dirty tricks and threats against President Uribe’s political adversaries. They date from 2005, the last year of Jorge Noguera’s tenure as DAS director. Noguera is now on trial facing charges of aggravated homicide. Click on each graphic to view it larger.

COURSES OF ACTION

  • Initiate a smear campaign at the international level, through the following activities
    • Communiqués
    • Inclusion in FARC video
  • Request the suspension of [U.S.] visa

HOLLMAN FELIPE MORRIS RINCÓN

COLOMBIAN JOURNALIST

COURSES OF ACTION

  • Initiate a smear campaign at the international level, through the following:
    • Communiqués
    • Inclusion in FARC video
  • Sabotage actions (steal his passport, ID card, etc.)
FOREIGN TRAVEL

OPERATIVE ACTIONS

  • Location of his residence at (address blurred out by CIP) in Bogotá
  • Constant following of his moves.
Fiscalía delegated to the Supreme Court

Evidence, Box 5 Copy AZ 63 – 2005

January 6 and 7, 2010

(DAS SEAL)

GENERAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE

OPERATIONS SUBDIRECTORATE

POLITICAL WARFARE

  • Defend Democracy and the Nation.
  • Create consciousness about the consequences of a communist system.
OPERATIONS

  • AMAZONAS
  • TRANSMILENIO
  • BAHIA

STRATEGIES

Smear campaign

  • Media, Polls, Chat
  • Streets: Distribution of pamphlets, graffiti, flyers, posters, books.
  • Creation of Web pages: Communiqués, denunciations, false accusations.

Sabotage

  • Terrorism: Explosive, incendiary, public services, technology

Pressure

  • Threats, blackmail.
RESULTS

  • Disinform the population in favor of the Government’s detractors.
  • Generate division within the opposition movements.
  • Impede the organization of events convened by the opposition.
  • Ideological transfer. [Unclear to us what this means.]

ADMINISTRATIVE DEPARTMENT OF SECURITY [DAS]

GENERAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE

OPERATIONS SUBDIRECTORATE

JUNE 2005

REPUBLIC OF COLOMBIA

AMAZONAS

GENERAL OBJECTIVE

  • Promote actions beneficial to the State for the 2006 elections.

TARGETS

  • Political parties opposing the State.
  • Constitutional Court.

[ILLEGIBLE] POLITICAL PARTIES

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL FRONT

  • CARLOS GAVIRIA DÍAZ: Generate ties to the FARC ONT (Narco-Terrorist Organization).

LIBERAL PARTY

  • PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: Generate ties with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia [someone has drawn a question mark pointing to this].
  • HORACIO SERPA URIBE: Generate ties to the ELN.

INDEPENDENT DEMOCRATIC POLE

  • GUSTAVO PETRO: Generate ties to the FARC.
  • ANTONIO NAVARRO: Generate ties to the M-19 and narcotrafficking.
  • WILSON BORJA: Generate sentimental infidelity [i.e., adultery rumors].
  • SAMUEL MORENO: Demonstrate relationship to financial embezzlement.
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

  • JAIME CÓRDOBA TRIVIÑO
  • HUMBERTO SIERRA
  • JAIME ARAÚJO RENTERÍA
  • CLARA INÉS VARGAS HERNÁNDEZ
  • TULIO ALFREDO BELTRÁN SIERRA

STRATEGIES

Smear campaigns, pressure and sabotage.

TRANSMILENIO

GENERAL OBJECTIVE

Neutralize the destabilizing actions of NGOs in Colombia and the world.

SPECIFIC OBJECTIVE

Establish their ties with narcoterrorist organizations, in order to put them on trial.

CASES

  • UNDER DEVELOPMENT:
  • PROJECTIONS:
OPERATION PUBLISHER

  • OBJECTIVE: Impede the edition of books
    • EA [we don't know what this stands for]
    • Others
  • STRATEGIES: sabotage and pressure.
  • ACTION: Public services
    Distribution trucks
    Threats
    Judicial warfare

OPERATION HALLOWEN [SIC.]

  • OBJECTIVE: Make the population conscious of the reality of communist ideology.
  • STRATEGIES: smear campaign.
  • ACTION: publish book (10,000 copies) – 7,620 delivered
  • PROJECTIONS: Internet (4,000 copies) – creation of web page
OPERATION ARAUCA

  • OBJECTIVE: Establish ties between CCAJAR (The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective human rights group) and ELN
  • STRATEGIES: Sabotage
  • ACTION: Exchange message with ELN leader, which will be found during a search of the premises

OPERATION EXCHANGE

  • OBJECTIVE: Neutralize influence in the Inter-American Human Rights Court, Costa Rica
  • STRATEGIES: Smear campaigns and sabotage
  • ACTION: Alliance with foreign intelligence services
    Communications and denunciations on web pages
    Judicial warfare
OPERATION EUROPE

  • OBJECTIVE: Neutralize influence in European Judicial System
    European Parliament Human Rights Committee
    Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN
    National Governments
  • STRATEGIES: Smear campaign
    ACTION: Communiqués and denunciations web pages
    Judicial warfare

OPERATION RISARALDA

  • OBJECTIVE: Generate division between high Redepaz officials (Ana Teresa Bernal) [Bernal, director of the pro-peace group Redepaz, also serves on the government's National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparations]
  • STRATEGIES: Operative investigation
    Smear campaigns and sabotage
  • ACTION: Prove illicit activities of the Redepaz official to obtain economic handouts to obtain political asylum.
    Communiqués
    Delinking her security apparatus (DAS)
OPERATION INTERNET

  • OBJECTIVE: Generate controversy with regard to NGOs
  • STRATEGIES: Smear campaign
  • ACTION: Emission of communiqués through the creation of the pages: Truth and justice corporation, and Colombian Information and Statistical Service for Conflict prevention

OPERATION FOREIGNERS

  • OBJECTIVE: Neutralize the action of foreign citizens who attack State security
  • STRATEGIES: Operative investigations
    Smear campaigns and pressure
  • ACTION: Deportation
    Communiqués and denunciations
Apr 09

  • Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim is to sign a new defense agreement with the United States at the Pentagon on Monday. The agreement includes no bases or permanent U.S. military presence, but will streamline future cooperation. Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata joked that Venezuela might shut off its trade with Brazil in retaliation, as it did after Colombia signed a defense agreement with the United States – one which did include use of military bases – last October. After signing the accord with Brazil, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is to travel next week to Colombia, Peru and Barbados.
  • In a big upcoming arms purchase, Brazil appears likely to buy Rafale high-tech fighter jets from France, instead of F-18s made by U.S. aerospace company Boeing. The deciding factor: France is willing to allow more technology transfer to Brazil.
  • Two Colombian presidential candidates, both popular former mayors and neither a part of President Álvaro Uribe’s coalition, decided to merge their candidacy this week. Antanas Mockus and running mate Sergio Fajardo now appear in second place in a poll published Friday.
  • Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva says to forget about peace talks with the FARC until the group is militarily defeated. Silva’s predecessor, frontrunning presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos, says the door is open to dialogue, but only if the FARC demonstrate “good faith and stop being terrorists.”
  • The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution (H.Res. 1224) calling on Colombia to fulfill its obligations to protect indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and to aid the internally displaced. See a statement from the Washington Office on Latin America and a suggested action from the Latin America Working Group.
  • As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speculated that his country might sell Venezuela US$5 billion worth of weapons, the State Department questioned Venezuela’s need for these arms and expressed concern that they could end up elsewhere in the hemisphere. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s response: “Don’t be stupid, Yankees.”
  • Czech playwright and ex-president Vaclav Havel published a column condemning the arrest of Venezuelan opposition politician Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, “because it demonstrates just how far President Hugo Chávez’s regime is willing to stray from democratic norms.” The New York Times ran a harrowing account of María Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who, after issuing a ruling that displeased President Chávez, was jailed in a cell near more than 20 inmates whom she had sentenced. She is still there.
  • Bolivia held mayoral and gubernatorial elections last Sunday. President Evo Morales’ MAS party performed well, but not as strongly as expected. Morales called for an investigation of electoral authorities in regions where the MAS lost. Good analyses from Miguel Centellas and the Andean Information Network.
  • In Chile, the Group of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared (AFDD) put out a statement questioning some of President Sebastián Piñera’s appointments and statements for their “authoritarian overtones.”
  • In Peru, six artisanal miners have died after clashes with police. The miners were protesting government efforts to restrict unregulated gold mining. Human Rights Watch called for an investigation of the incident.
  • The publisher of the Mexican magazine Proceso has come under fire for paying a clandestine visit to top narcotrafficker Ismael Zambada, having his picture taken with him and giving him a softball interview.
  • In my considered opinion, the second episode of “Isla Presidencial” is funnier than the first.
Apr 08

Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos has faced accusations in the past that, as a journalist and anti-kidnapping activist in the 1990s, he met with paramilitary leaders and suggested they set up a presence in Bogotá.

Those accusations came from paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, in his testimony before “Justice and Peace” prosecutors. Though the Vice President insisted that he was just making a bad joke, and although Mancuso’s version was never corroborated, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office maintains an open investigation.

Now there is a bit more corroboration. The Verdad Abierta website, a collaboration of Colombian media and think-tanks, has just released a 150-page diary taken from a memory card belonging to extradited paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo. Tovar, alias “Jorge 40,” headed the AUC’s powerful Northern Bloc, which controlled much of the departments of Magdalena, Cesar and La Guajira.

The diary mentions few living Colombian public officials, but it goes on at some length about Vice-President Francisco Santos. And it reflects very poorly on him.

The following should be taken as the words of a truth-challenged former combatant with a political agenda of his own. Much here is probably inaccurate or untrue. (Just as in the case of “Samir,” the former FARC commander who has sought to impugn non-governmental activists.) Still, this is not a testimony that “Jorge 40” chose to release himself, and it does include some disturbing details.

The excerpt follows.

I’m not sure if it was in March, April or May 1997. I was at a vallenato festival when I had the opportunity to meet FRANCISCO SANTOS. I was presented as the person who could contact Comandante Salvatore Mancuso. I said that, coincidentally, he was in the city of Valledupar. I knew he was sleeping just three blocks from where the partying was going on, because we had been talking that day.

He asked me the favor of taking him to where he was because he wanted to say hello and talk to him. I assumed they knew each other because he spoke of wanting to say hello. I asked him to wait a moment while I communicated with the comandante. I moved away from the party and called him. I communicated the desire of FRANCISCO SANTOS, and although the comandante told me that he was sleeping, he agreed to meet him.

I told FRANCISCO SANTOS that I would, with pleasure, take him to the comandante. He asked me for a moment as he poured a shot of whiskey – smuggled, which we were used to drinking back then in Valledupar – and then the two of us left in the company of my two bodyguards.

We arrived and one of the comandante’s guards knocked on the door of the room where he was. He warned of my presence in the company of another man and, within minutes, came out and I saw the effusive way they welcomed each other, and how he greeted the comandante with the nickname “monito” [“Little Monkey” — Mancuso went by the nickname El Mono.]. That’s how I confirmed that they already knew each other. Comandante Santiago, who was sleeping in a room adjacent to Comandante Mancuso, also came out and sat down to talk in the kiosk.

Comandante Mancuso asked me the favor of sitting down and accompanying them for the meeting. In the first topic of conversation Mr. SANTOS asked Comandante Mancuso about the progress of the war. To which Comandante Mancuso responded most knowledgeably and gave an exposition of the situation, confirming his desire to increase the self-defense resistance forces in the departments of Cesar, Magdalena and Guajira.

At the same time, he informed him of Comandante Carlos Castaño’s plans to confront subversion throughout the country. At this moment Mr. FRANCISCO SANTOS asked Comandante Mancuso about the status of the issue he had raised with Comandante Castaño, about the presence of self-defense groups in Bogotá and Cundinamarca.

Next, he brought up the subject of his presence in Valledupar and explained that it owed to a launch the next day, in the Plaza Alfonso López, of the País Libre Foundation, which is devoted to helping on the issue of the release of hostages and their families. Comandante Mancuso, who was the only one who opened his mouth, said it seemed very good to him, because kidnapping not only affects the kidnapped, but his experience told him that the families suffered even more.

At that moment, FRANCISCO SANTOS said that, precisely, not just to help a family, but also because it would help the Foundation to gain a firm foothold in Valledupar, he would like to be given a person that was kidnapped by the AUC, which would kill three birds with one stone: the release of a person and tranquility of the family, the positioning of País Libre in the region, and a signal of the AUC’s will to achieve peace.

Comandante Mancuso told him that as a matter of the Organization’s policy, if the self-defense groups fight against kidnapping, how could they engage in it? That was not allowed. He said, however, that Comandante Santiago could provide additional information on this specific issue. At this time Comandante SANTIAGO explained to Mr. Santos about the person he was asking about.

He said this person had been involved in placing a bomb at the residence of a patriarch of the region. That this person had been located and taken to a zone in Magdalena, to obtain information about the urban network to which he belonged, that later he was killed and that his body would be impossible to recover, because they had thrown it in the Magdalena River. Mr. Santos expressed regret, as he hoped to do his launch the next day, presenting that person.

He took another drink of smuggled whiskey, with which he toasted Comandante Mancuso, and ended with another issue that was more like – or so I saw it – a recommendation. He mentioned that it was true that the war should continue, and that the evil of war was that there would be dead people. He said, then, that they should not disappear people, that this would end up becoming a problem, not just for human rights but also a problem for his Foundation, since the relatives ask his intervention to find the missing, and this increased not only operating costs but the need for more staff.

Comandante Mancuso told him, as did Comandante Santiago, that he would take into account his advice, and that he hoped that on another occasion he would be able to help him with something similar or whatever he might consider approriate. We said goodbye and he wished the comandantes success in their war and prudence in their actions. Then, we went back to the party where everyone awaited the arrival of Mr. Santos, then, as in all Vallenato parties when a Bogotano arrives, he became the center of attention.

(Later in the diary)

After lunch [Carlos Castaño] asked me the favor of traveling to Bogotá to meet with Mr. Francisco Santos, to give a greeting from him and to bring a message.

I told him no problem. When I asked for when, he told me to seek the appointment as quickly as possible. He already knew of our meeting in Valledupar. I told him I would look for the person who had introduced us because I didn’t even get his number the day I met him. He gave me the message to deliver, and thanked me in advance. He said he would only confirm; I was given a phone number and name so that, with that person, he would confirm the completion of the meeting. We said goodbye and I left encouraged because I was trying to position itself as a trusted associate of Comandante Castaño.

Though the message was very short, I was representing him. I took great pains to do him the favor as quickly as possible. I called the person who had introduced us, and asked him the favor of contacting Mr. Santos, to see if I could get 5 minutes, that I wouldn’t take more time than that, since I had a message from Comandante Castaño. He told me that when I was in Bogota to call him, that he would be happy to get him the meeting.

This was the case, and in mid-August, while in Bogotá, I was told he would receive me at 8 or 9 PM at a restaurant called Carbón de Palo, on 106th with 19th, something like that. He would be there because he had a dinner appointment; so I should arrive early in order to have time to speak, before the party he was expecting. I arrived, I greeted him and told him I would not take but 5 minutes. He asked me if I wanted a whisky, I was grateful, but I told him a glass of water was sufficient. He asked me why and I told him I was trying to stop drinking. He laughed I said that was impossible for a vallenato.

I gave him greetings from Comandante Castaño. He thanked me and asked me how things were going. I told him very hard but that the paramilitaries were willing to change the balance of the conflict; that our region was so accustomed to violence that the guerrillas handed us, that the actions with which the resistance responded did not frighten people, however harsh they might be, because the attack had been this hard for the last ten years.

He told me that war was definitely very cruel, and hopefully there could be humane methods. I told him that the only way was by eradicating them, and that without a state guaranteeing the citizens’ minimum rights, they would increasingly choose the option of violence; that definitely this was a war between the people.

Our chat had already taken like 10 minutes, when I proceeded to give the message of Comandante Castaño, which was to say he had received Comandante Mancuso’s message but, because it is the capital of the Republic, he could not send just any commander to that front; that he was looking for the ideal person, who already had the troops, and that once he had the right man, he would come to operate in the capital and in the Department.

I acknowledged receipt of the message and in a few minutes he said to me: the person I was waiting for has arrived. She was a woman. I thanked him for having received me kindly and said goodbye, as the woman was approaching.

Comandante Mancuso’s response was that this was an issue that Mr. Santos had discussed with Comandante Castaño at a previous meeting, and only Comandante Castaño could respond, but that, with pleasure, he would convey the concern to the comandante next time he saw him.

Apr 06
“United States plans new bases in Brazil and Peru to contain Venezuela,” says TeleSur.

During his stop in Quito yesterday, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, was asked about reports that the United States and Brazil are talking about creating a joint anti-narcotics facility in Rio de Janeiro.

Valenzuela responded that the United States and Brazil are discussing a bilateral security agreement. He insisted that this will not resemble the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the United States and Colombia last October, which granted U.S. personnel access to seven Colombian military bases. But he didn’t explain much more.

Below is a translation of the article that broke this story, a piece that appeared last Wednesday in Brazil’s O Estado de São Paulo.

This article tells us the following:

  • The facility will be under Brazilian command.
  • It will resemble the U.S. facility (Joint Interagency Task Force South) in Key West, Florida, where representatives of several Latin American countries, and several U.S. military and law-enforcement agencies, monitor the skies and waters of the Caribbean and eastern Pacific for aircraft and boats suspected of trafficking in drugs, arms or other contraband. It will also resemble a similar European Union facility at Lisbon, Portugal.
  • As such, it will not be a military base, but a building where people gather and share intelligence.

Put that way, the new facility sounds rather uncontroversial. But as media outlets all over the region start reporting about a “new U.S. base in Brazil,” the U.S. government’s public diplomacy apparatus has responded with … silence.

This lack of an official response is troubling because we’ve seen this before. In 2008, the Southern Command caused a regional outcry by suddenly rolling out a long-dormant “4th Fleet” for its operations in the hemisphere. Alarms went off again in mid-2009, after the first leaks about the Colombia defense agreement. In neither case did U.S. officials explain what they were doing. In the face of this silence, Latin American perceptions of both moves ended up being shaped by media outlets and governments that suspect the worst of U.S. motives.

In the Internet era, several days of silence are no longer an option. The vacuum will be filled quickly by others. The Venezuela-based TeleSur network, for instance, is already reporting extensively about the Brazil agreement.

Rather than let others define an agreement that may in fact be quite benign, the Obama administration must show us that it has learned the importance of a more agile public diplomacy effort in the Western Hemisphere. Explain this, please.

Here’s last Wednesday’s article.

O Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, March 31, 2010

Brazil discusses with the U.S. setting up a base in Rio

Goal would be to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and smuggling, all under the command of Brazilians

By Rui Nogueira and Rafael Moura Moraes

At the suggestion of the Federal Police, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva discussed yesterday with the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Lieutenant General Douglas Fraser, the proposed creation of a “multinational, multi-function” base headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

The base would form, along with two existing ones in Key West (USA) and Lisbon (Portugal), the tripod of monitoring, control and combat against drug trafficking and smuggling, especially of weapons, and surveillance against terrorism.

Douglas Fraser spent the day yesterday in Brasilia. After meetings and a working lunch with Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, the U.S. commander met with the director general of the PF [Federal Police], Luiz Fernando Corrêa.

The PF already has an intelligence attaché working at the base in Key West, Florida [The Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South]. The Planalto [the Brazilian Presidency] is to decide whether the attache at the Lisbon base will be a federal delegate or an officer of the Navy.

The base in Rio, as well as the other two, does not allow operations under the command of foreigners. Countries who participate in cooperative programs to fight organized crime always send attachés who work under the supervision of the sovereign country’s agents on the base. The idea is that with the base in Florida, which closely monitors trafficking in the Caribbean, and Lisbon, which exercises control over the North Atlantic, the Brazilian base serves as an outpost for monitoring the South Atlantic.

Tragedy. Key West is a naval air base and that operates in cooperation with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, federal agencies and allied forces. Since 1989, it has housed an intelligence task force that conducts operations against drug trafficking in the Caribbean and South America.It was from there that the first airplane rescue flight departed after the tragedy of flight AF 447, Air France, last June, off the coast of Brazil near Fernando de Noronha. Notified of the accident, the base mobilized its Brazilian attaché, who initiated the rescue.

The group of agents at the Key West task force aims to curtail the cultivation, production and transportation of narcotics. The British, French and Dutch contribute by sending ships, aircraft and officials. The group includes representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American countries.

The U.S. presence in the region [Key West] began in 1823 with the objective of combating local piracy. It was initially used for patrol and submarine operations and as an air training station, used by more than 500 airmen at the time of World War I (1914-1918). In 1940, it earned the designation of a naval and air base.

In Lisbon, the naval base is on the bank of the River Tagus, the Alfeite Military Perimeter. It was established in December 1958.

Fraser also came to Brazil to organize the trip of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, planned for mid-April. The visit is the reciprocation of Jobim’s trip to New York in February. On the agenda is the two countries’ strategic military cooperation, the purchase of fighter planes by Brazil and the U.S. interest in acquiring training aircraft – Embraer produces the Super Tucano. The American Boeing makes the F-18 Super Hornet, which is among the three models being considered in the FAB [Brazilian Air Force] plan for a big purchase.

Apr 05
U.S. and Peruvian vessels perform tactical maneuvers last week in Peruvian territorial waters. (Source)
  • Two popular former mayors turned presidential candidates, Antanas Mockus (two terms in Bogotá) and Sergio Fajardo (Medellín), will combine on the same ticket for Colombia’s May 30 presidential election, making theirs the most formidable opposition (non-uribista) candidacy.
  • In the past 24 months, Colombian authorities have intercepted more than 6,000 arms and more than 3 million rounds of ammunition that were made in China. Nearly all belonged to “new” paramilitary groups.
  • China just donated US$2.6 million in vehicles and parts to Bolivia’s armed forces. A Chinese corporation is also building Bolivia’s first telecommunications satellite, which will cost La Paz about US$300 million. Chinese President Hu Jintao, meanwhile, will visit Brazil, Chile and Venezuela in mid-April following his attendance at the nuclear summit President Obama is convening in Washington.
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met in Caracas with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He agreed to expand Russia’s energy investment and defense ties with Venezuela. Morales said he asked Putin to “increase its presence in Latin America, to return in force to Latin America.”
  • Citing the Brazilian daily O Estado de São Paulo, Spain’s El País reports on a U.S.-Brazilian plan to open a joint drug-trafficking-monitoring center in Brazil. The center, the article indicates, would be modeled on Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South, a small facility in Key West that monitors suspicious air and boat traffic in the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific. According to the report, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Brazil in the middle of this month.
  • Senators Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) introduced legislation that would significantly change the priorities and strategies of U.S. counter-drug programs in the Americas. As Abigail Poe notes on the Just the Facts blog, this legislation bears little resemblance to the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act that the House of Representatives passed last year.
  • Thanks to stepped-up registration efforts that legalized 28,000 Colombian refugees in the past year, Ecuador now has 50,000 registered Colombian refugees in its territory (at least 100,000 more remain unregistered). Notes the BBC, “Colombia has given the UNHCR funding of US$600,000 over the past 10 years – an average 50 cents per refugee per year – to help pay for integration projects.”
  • Mexico’s army will begin gradually pulling its 6,000 troops out of violence-torn Ciudad Juárez. “This means the beginning of the end for the polemical military deploment to the zone, approved in 2006,” reported the BBC. March was the most violent month of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s more than three years in office, with 958 murders.
  • The U.S.S. Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier with more than 3,000 servicepeople on board, just spent a week in Peru carrying out joint maneuvers and other activities.
  • Costa Rica’s outgoing president, Nobel Laureate Óscar Arias, suggested in a TV interview that Uruguayan President José Mujica abolish his country’s armed forces, as Costa Rica did in 1948. Mujica said no.
Apr 01

In our December report on U.S.-funded counterinsurgency programs in Colombia, we discussed a major threat to these programs’ success: populations’ fear of a “land grab.”

Much hinges on land tenure in places like the Montes de María, a region near the Caribbean coast where USAID has been supporting a Colombian government “Fusion Center” for about a year. This small zone saw some of Colombia’s most intense violence in the early 2000s, when paramilitaries carried out a string of massacres whose names (El Salado, Chengue, Mampuján, Macayepo, and dozens more) remain notorious today.

The paramilitary offensive displaced most of many communities’ populations; nine or ten years later, only a minority have returned to their lands.

These lands are fertile, and with the near-total disappearance of leftist guerrillas from the zone since 2007, the Montes de María have become much less violent. As a result, land prices are skyrocketing, and speculators are looking to buy up the small parcels held by displaced, or recently returned, farmers. According to a March 6 article in Colombia’s Semana magazine:

Some years ago, large investors – the majority from Medellín – arrived in the Montes de María to buy parcels from campesinos who had been displaced and had become indebted to banks. In a town-hall meeting with President Álvaro Uribe in El Carmen de Bolívar, several farmworkers denounced that intermediaries are massively buying land at low prices. The campesinos said that the buyers or middlemen arrive shortly after visits from bill-collectors announcing to them that their lands could be foreclosed upon. Cornered, with no other choice, the campesinos were selling.

At the August 2008 town-hall meeting, President Uribe exhorted the local citizenry, “Don’t sell your land!” Meanwhile Colombia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that loans to landholders who were displaced should be renegotiated or forgiven. But this rarely happens for a variety of reasons, from the lack of necessary paperwork to farmers being unaware of their rights.

In response to this situation, the authorities in Montes de María have temporarily prohibited the sales of thousands of hectares of landholdings. Most of these are small parcels handed out in the 1970s-1990s by Colombia’s normally ineffective land-reform agency. Semana reports:

As an official of the Bolívar departmental government explained, the intention of these restrictions on land sales is to keep land from concentrating in few hands, thus affecting thousands of campesinos’ return after being expelled by paramilitary violence in the zone. And the philosophy of protecting those lands not only has to do with legal buyers; it also seeks to keep illegal groups from obligating campesinos to sell at low prices. Throughout the country about two million hectares are protected for the same purposes.

This “freeze” in land sales has modestly allayed farmers’ fears that the U.S.-funded “Integrated Action” program might pose a threat to their landholdings. Although the stated goal of the U.S.-supported “Fusion Center” is to assist the return of displaced communities, fears of a “land grab” are rife in the Montes de María. For many, the prospect of a stronger state presence in the zone implies the stronger presence of institutions not only tied to the elites who sponsored the paramilitaries 10 years ago, but also tied to the shadowy groups of investors who are buying up land right now. The freeze in sales offers some security from the threat of a “land grab.”

But that freeze may not be in place much longer. At the beginning of March, a judge in El Carmen de Bolívar, one of the biggest municipalities in the Montes de María, set a very troubling precedent. At the request of a group of displaced campesinos who wanted to sell their lands, the judge lifted the “freeze” for 40 landholdings, totaling about 1,000 hectares, so that they could be sold to two Medellín investors from a company called Agropecuaria Tacaloa.

Semana warns:

With the decision of the El Carmen de Bolívar judge comes the possibility of the massive sale of thousands of hectares that until now were protected by the Departmental Committee [for attention to the displaced], and the possibility of these lands ending up in the hands of large businesses or, even worse, warlords, while the idea of these campesinos’ return, or of their reparation as victims, is truncated.

The Montes de María are at risk of witnessing an all-out land grab, at the expense of victims who were forced to flee the region for their lives a decade ago. If that happens, the stated goals of the U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” program will be undermined. Displaced populations will not return, the region will undergo a “reverse land reform,” and the population will be even more distrustful of the state. Last month’s court ruling sets a dangerous precedent.

Mar 30

4,483 days after the FARC guerrillas took him hostage, Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo has been freed. The FARC handed him over to a commission of Colombian church representatives, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba.

However, as of this writing bad weather has prevented their helicopters, provided by the Brazilian armed forces, from leaving the handover site in rural Caquetá department. The 30-year-old Moncayo’s family, who have not seen him since he was 18 back in 1997, must wait a few more hours to see him.

The FARC continues to hold 21 more soldiers and police to pressure for a prisoner exchange. While President Álvaro Uribe recently said he was open to negotiating such an exchange, this does not represent a significant departure from his earlier positions. A “humanitarian exchange” dialogue probably remains far off, not least because Colombia is in the midst of a presidential campaign.

Top: Moncayo moments before his release. Bottom: Colombian Sen. Piedad Córdoba meets with FARC members at the site where Moncayo was freed.
Mar 27
El Tiempo’s website has very detailed results of the Datexco presidential-election poll in a PowerPoint file.
  • If all goes according to plan, Brazilian helicopters will pick up two soldiers who have been held by the FARC for years. The guerrillas are releasing Josué Daniel Calvo Marín on Sunday and Pablo Emilio Moncayo. Moncayo, whose father has become famous in Colombia for his campaign to free him, has been a FARC hostage since late 1997. He was 18 when the guerrillas took him after a battle in Patascoy, Putumayo; he is 30 now.
  • The head of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, told reporters that according to “high-quality intelligence,” the FARC are planning a campaign of high-profile attacks between now and the May 30 presidential election. This week saw several FARC attacks in southwestern Colombia: Cauca, Huila, a car bombing in downtown Buenaventura believed to be the work of the FARC, and a package bomb unwittingly delivered by a 12-year-old boy in Nariño.
  • Meanwhile violence attributed to “emerging” paramilitary groups escalated in the northwestern department of Córdoba. Seven people, among them three teenagers, were massacred in a bar in Puerto Libertador. Radio journalist Clodomiro Castillo, a critic of politicians tied to paramilitary groups, was gunned down on the front porch of his house in Montería.
  • The two pro-Uribe candidates lead the polling for the May 30 elections.
    • Gallup March 20-22: Juan Manuel Santos 34.2%; Noemí Sanín 23.3%; Antanas Mockus 10.4%; Gustavo Petro 6.4%; Germán Vargas Lleras 6.2%; Sergio Fajardo 6.1%; Rafael Pardo 5.1%
    • Datexco March 20-23: Juan Manuel Santos 34.1%; Noemí Sanín 21.7%; Antanas Mockus 8.9%; Gustavo Petro 7.1%; Germán Vargas Lleras 6.6%; Rafael Pardo 5.5%; Sergio Fajardo 4.4%
    • Both polls were taken before the first televised presidential debate, which took place the evening of March 23.
  • In Venezuela, you can now be arrested for offending the president, as Guillermo Zuloaga, the owner of opposition-oriented television network Globovisión, found this week. Zuloaga was arrested (and later released pending trial) for comments he made at the Inter-American Press Association mid-year meeting a week earlier. The arrest came days after the detention of opposition politician Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, a former governor of the western state of Zulia, for comments he made on Globovisión alleging that President Hugo Chávez’s government is aiding narcotraffickers and guerrillas.
  • A week after Cuban police roughly dispersed a protest by the Ladies in White dissident group, tens of thousands gathered in Miami for a demonstration led by musician Gloria Estefan. President Obama released a strong statement about the human rights situation in Cuba.
  • The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party, apologized on behalf of the Salvadoran state for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed by an assassin linked to pro-government death squads 30 years ago March 24.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headed a delegation to Mexico March 23 that included the secretaries of defense and homeland security, among other officials. The “Mérida High-Level Consultative Group” meeting made official some changes to the framework that has guided about $1.4 billion in U.S. aid to Mexico since 2008. From now on, the “Mérida Initiative” will be far less military in nature, reports Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations: “most of the requested $330 million for the program’s 2011 budget will be targeted to Mexico’s judicial reforms and programs on good governance.”
  • “Mexico is only one part, though probably the most important one, of a theater of operations that stretches from the Venezuelan-Cuban-Iranian alliance and the Andean Ridge, through Columbia and the FARC, up the cartel-controlled drug routes through Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, and into the United States,” writes Col. Bob Killebrew of the influential Center for a New American Security, on the Foreign Policy blog of former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks. “The Venezuelan alliance is almost a classic geopolitical attempt to deny the US access to Latin America — probably including Mexico — and to gain access to our southern border.”
  • José Miguel Insulza was reelected to a second five-year term as secretary-general of the Organization of American States. He faced no opponent.
Mar 24
Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, in 2008, telling a FARC commander, “We are with you. Be strong.”

In an unusual moment last week, the four-star general who heads the U.S. Southern Command had to clarify his comments after questioning from members of Congress.

On March 11, Gen. Douglas Fraser, asked by Sen. John McCain about linkages between the Venezuelan government and Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

We have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We have not seen any connections, specifically, that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection. We are concerned about it, I’m skeptical, I continue to watch for it. …

There has been some old evidence, but I don’t see that evidence, I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.

A week later (March 18), under similar questioning in the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Fraser said something different:

We do see a long-term relationship that exists between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. That has been evidenced, if you go back and look at the computer records that came out of the Rafael (sic.) Reyes— capture of that computer. That continues on. There is safe haven, there is financial, logistic support, there’s safe haven for the FARC provided. And all the evidence I have says that continues— the evidence I have doesn’t say that it— that I can explicitly say it’s continuing, but I can’t say it’s explicitly not continuing. So based on the evidence to date, I would say that support still continues.

The following day, Southern Command posted a clarification to its blog.

Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement:

There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the Government of Venezuela and the FARC.

This recalls the February “Annual Threat Assessment” testimony [PDF] of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

[Chávez] has restricted Colombian imports, warned of a potential military conflict, and continued his covert support to the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

So does the Obama administration believe that Hugo Chávez and the government of Venezuela are helping the FARC? Do the words “linkages” and “support” mean military assistance with lethal consequences? It is very important to be precise about this, because of what it implies.

“Hugo Chávez is helping the FARC” means “Hugo Chávez is helping a group that kills Colombians on Colombian soil and seeks to overthrow the Colombian government.” Or, more simply, “Hugo Chávez is helping to kill Colombians and overthrow Colombia’s government.”

Wars — “just” wars — have been fought over less than that. By this interpretation, a Colombian military response on Venezuelan soil would not even be preemptive. It would be retaliatory.

Words matter. Colombia could interpret (misinterpret?) the administration’s message as a “green light,” a signal that Colombia would be justified in taking military action in Venezuelan territory, and that Colombia would have U.S. support in the political and military firestorm that would follow such action.

Precision is important, because it will determine what actions follow. The question the Obama administration needs to answer unambiguously, then, is: does it believe that Venezuela’s government, as a matter of policy (as opposed to the actions of corrupt or rogue elements), is aiding and abetting the FARC today?

In Venezuela’s interest?

The FARC is widely hated in Colombia, condemned internationally for abuses ranging from massacres to narcotrafficking to the use of landmines and child soldiers, and militarily weaker than it was a decade ago, with no chance of taking power by force of arms. Given all that, it’s hard to argue that it would be in Venezuela’s self-interest to aid them. (And Hugo Chávez has not stayed in power for more than 11 years by neglecting his self-interest.)

Why, then, would Venezuela want to help the FARC? Perhaps out of misplaced ideological solidarity. Or perhaps Hugo Chávez still hopes to win a diplomatic victory by helping to broker a peace in Colombia. Perhaps out of a desire to balance out U.S. power by aligning with all declared enemies of the United States (including Iran). Perhaps out of a belief that the FARC would be a first line of defense against a hypothetical U.S. invasion via Colombia. Or perhaps merely out of corruption.

The evidence we know about

But all of this is pure speculation. What follows is the evidence about Venezuela-FARC ties that we have seen through open sources. If there is more — imagery, documents, communications intercepts, corroborated witness testimony — we don’t know about it.

  • Evidence from files recovered from the laptop computer of Raúl Reyes, the FARC Secretariat leader killed in a March 1, 2008 Colombian Army raid into Ecuador. These files point to discussions between FARC representatives and Venezuelan government officials about financial support and the provision of identity cards and weapons. These discussions seem to have increased in 2007, during President Chávez’s short-lived tenure as an authorized facilitator of talks to free civilian hostages in FARC custody. According to an indictment [PDF] issued recently by a Spanish judge, the files also mention FARC cooperation with Spain’s ETA terrorist group via an ETA member working in the Venezuelan government. Colombian officials believe that a Venezuelan referred to in the files as “Angel” is Hugo Chávez.

    These two-year-old computer files remain the strongest evidence indicating a FARC-Venezuela tie, and Venezuela’s insistence that they are a fabrication has not been a convincing response. However, the Reyes files are not sufficient evidence on their own. They contain some inaccuracies and wild fabrications, and often appear to be the words of far-flung guerrilla leaders relying on secondhand information to make inflated claims of their own success. There is no reason at all to doubt that the FARC has asked Venezuelan interlocutors for support. What remains unclear — in part because the Reyes computer claims have not been corroborated — is whether Venezuelan officials truly complied, and if so, whether they had President Chávez’s authorization.

  • Words of support for the FARC from President Chávez and other Venezuelan officials. In the days after Raúl Reyes was killed, President Chávez held a moment of silence in his honor on Venezuelan national television. Participating in a 2008 unilateral hostage release, Venezuela’s interior minister at the time, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, shook a guerrilla’s hand and told him on camera, “We are with you. … Be strong. We are following your cause.” (The U.S. Treasury Department later called Rodríguez Chacín “the Venezuelan government’s main weapons contact” for the FARC.)

    These and other words of support for the FARC have yet to be explained away. But Chávez has, on other occasions, also called on the FARC to release all of its hostages and disband. So statements alone prove nothing beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • The Swedish rockets. Last July, the Colombian government announced that it had recovered from the FARC a number of AT4 shoulder-fired rockets, manufactured by Saab in Sweden. The rockets’ serial numbers corresponded to those Sweden had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. Chávez later claimed that the rocket launchers had been stolen from a Venezuelan port in 1995, years before he became president.
  • The freedom with which the FARC operates on Venezuela’s side of the border. Colombian officials frequently contend that the FARC maintains encampments in Venezuela, that top FARC leaders spend much time there unmolested, and that Venezuelan officials routinely issue Venezuelan identity cards to FARC members. It is unclear whether this is a result of official Venezuelan policy or local-level corruption. No matter what, though, it is absolutely certain that Venezuela is doing almost nothing to prevent the FARC from using its territory, or punishing officials who assist, or fail to confront, the Colombian guerrillas.

    One could say the same, however, about other illegal Colombian groups that operate in Venezuela, both “new” paramilitaries and narcotrafficking organizations. Paramilitary groups are active in the northern part of the border region (across from Norte de Santander, Cesar and La Guajira). And one of Colombia’s most powerful narcotraffickers, Wilber Varela alias “Jabón,” was killed by a rival gang in the resort town of Mérida, about 100 miles from the Colombian border, in early 2008.

    Is the FARC’s latitude on the Venezuelan side of the border, then, a result of a Venezuelan policy to aid and abet them? Or is it part of a general lack of control of territory, and dysfunction in the security forces, that extends from the greatly increased flow of drugs across Venezuela to the alarming murder rate in Caracas? (Either way, it’s a huge problem for Venezuela.)

The response

If the U.S. and Colombian governments conclude from this (or from classified evidence) that Venezuela continues to aid the FARC, then both countries have an important choice to make. Ambiguity and vague accusations are not a proper response to such a serious charge.

Nor, however, should the response be military. War between Colombia and Venezuela is in nobody’s interest. It could escalate, with significant loss of life. It could destabilize the Andes. And it’s hard to define what a military “victory” in such a scenario would even look like.

Instead, if Washington and Bogotá have evidence that Venezuela is sponsoring killing and attempted state overthrow in Colombia, they must go to the UN Security Council. Article 39 of the UN Charter says the Council “shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken.” Sponsorship of the FARC would certainly qualify as a threat to peace and an act of aggression.

Unless the evidence presented is clear beyond a reasonable doubt, going to the UN — much less the OAS General Assembly — might not succeed. But such a decisive step would be preferable to the ambiguity and — as we saw last week — apparent contradiction in the administration’s message.

Instead of confusing signals that Colombia could misinterpret as a green light for military action, it’s time for more precise language. And if the precise language leads to more direct and decisive diplomatic action, then so be it.

Mar 19

  • The Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, presented his annual “Posture Statement” to the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, a week after doing the same in the Senate. This document (PDF), presented to the oversight committees every year, explains how the regional unified command views threats in the region, and how it plans to address them. This was the first such testimony for Gen. Fraser, who assumed command in July. (Video of his House testimony is here, and video of his Senate testimony is here.)
  • The two testimonies were most notable for conflicting responses on Venezuela — a country that is only mentioned in 2 paragraphs in Gen. Fraser’s entire 42-page Posture Statement. Asked about Venezuelan support for Colombia’s FARC guerrillas in the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11, the general responded that there was no solid evidence indicating that Caracas is, as a matter of official policy, supporting the group.

    “We have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We are concerned about it. I’m skeptical. I continue to watch for it. … But I don’t see that evidence. I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.”Yesterday, however, according to Reuters, “Fraser said Venezuela continues to provide the FARC a safe haven and ‘financial logistical support’ based on information found on a laptop computer of a FARC commander seized by Colombian soldiers during a raid on a guerrilla camp in Ecuador in 2008.”

  • More than his predecessors, the general’s statement directly links organized-crime activity with a potential terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland: “the same routes and networks by which illicit traffickers smuggle 1,250-1,500 metric tons of cocaine per year around the region could be used wittingly or unwittingly to smuggle weapons, cash, fissile material or terrorists.” This quote is also notable because it clashes strongly with State Department estimates, presented in the March 1 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, that the entire region produced only 705 tons of cocaine in 2008.
  • Colombia’s Supreme Court has refused to extradite Daniel Rendón, alias “Don Mario,” to the United States to face narcotrafficking charges. Rendón is the brother of Freddy Rendón (alias “El Alemán”), former head of the AUC’s Élmer Cárdenas Bloc, and is widely accused of being a chief sponsor of the new generation of “paras” that is proliferating throughout the country. The court denied the extradition because it determined that “Don Mario” is cooperating with prosecutors in the “Justice and Peace” process, which was designed for paramilitaries who demobilized willingly.
  • Two FARC hostages, Pablo Emilio Moncayo and Josue Daniel Calvo, could be released by the FARC sometime this week. Moncayo has been a guerrilla hostage since 1998. Brazilian helicopters are standing by near the Colombian border as they await coordinates for the handover.
  • Days after the murders of 3 people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Mexico City on March 23rd for the “Mérida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group.” A long list of top Obama administration officials will join the Secretary. The Washington Post editorial board, however, writes that the United States is not doing enough to help Mexico, calling on the Obama administration and Congress to expand funding for the Merida Initiative and to make “stabilizing a neighbor and major trading partner” a higher priority.
  • At the behest of President Evo Morales, Bolivia’s armed forces are adopting a new coat of arms incorporating the wiphala, the checkered-rainbow flag used by the country’s indigenous groups. The new shield also includes the slogan “patria o muerte, venceremos” (“fatherland or death, we shall overcome”), a saying most frequently associated with Fidel Castro.
  • The Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing Thursday on “Next Steps for Honduras.”
  • Just days before the 30th anniversary of the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the “Latin Americanist” blog shares a video from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show depicting the Texas School Board’s recent decision not to include Romero in its history textbooks. Apparently Romero was not “famous” enough to make the cut.
Mar 18

Here’s how the results of Sunday’s legislative elections look, with nearly all ballots counted. The numbers don’t yet total up to the total number of legislators in each house, because the counting is not complete.

It appears that pro-Uribe parties will continue to have a very solid majority in both houses of Congress. Opposition and non-aligned parties’ share will remain about the same as they did in 2006.

A key part of the government coalition is the National Integration Party (PIN), many of whose members are related to, or from the same political groupings of, legislators imprisoned for ties to paramilitary groups. The PIN party, says Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, was “designed in jail.” However, the La Silla Vacía website notes, several other parties had candidates suspected of ties to organized crime and armed groups, and most of them won.

For the first time, two leaders of Colombia’s non-governmental human rights movement did well, both as candidates of the leftist Polo Democrático party. Iván Cepeda of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes was elected to the Congress, and Gloria Flórez of Asociación Minga was elected to the Andean Parliament.

Senate (102 members; 94% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 58

La U 27 (20 in 2006) – the party headed by President Uribe’s former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the front-runner in polling for the May 30 presidential elections.
Conservative Party 23 (18 in 2006) – the Conservatives also held a presidential primary pitting former ambassador and minister Noemí Sanín against former agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias (known as “Uribito” for his loyalty to the President). The final result is not yet known.
PIN 8 - the party most associated with the “para-politicians.”

Opposition 26

Liberal Party (center-left) 18 (18 in 2006)
P
olo Democrático (left) 8 (10 in 2006) – the Polo lost seats in part because of internal infighting, and in part due to the unpopularity of Bogotá’s current mayor, Samuel Moreno.

Other 15

Cambio Radical (center-right) 8 (15 in 2006) – the party of right-wing politician Germán Vargas Lleras, part of the pro-Uribe coalition until Vargas Lleras broke away in early 2009. Many members of Cambio Radical defected to “La U.”
Green Party (center-left)
5
– the party of three popular former Bogotá mayors, Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Luis Eduardo Garzón. The Greens also held a presidential primary on Sunday, which Mockus won.
MIRA (evangelical) 2

Chamber of Representatives (166 members; 90% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 101

La U 49 (30 in 2006)
Conservatives 37 (29 in 2006)
PIN 14
Alas Equipo 1 (8 in 2006) – a small party many of whose members were caught up in the “para-politics” scandal.

Opposition 39

Liberals (center-left) 34 (35 in 2006)
Polo Democrático (left) 5 (10 in 2006)

Other 24

Cambio Radical (center-right) 15 (20 in 2006)
Green Party (center-left) 3
Apertura Liberal 2 – tied to DMG, a failed pyramid scheme
Unidad Liberal (regional / Huila department) 2
MIRA (evangelical) 1

Indigenous Social Alliance 1 – allied with center-left former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, whose movement made a surprisingly weak showing.