Oct 30

  • We’re all waiting to see whether the Honduran Congress (following an advisory opinion by the deeply anti-Zelaya Supreme Court) will approve an agreement reached late yesterday to allow Manuel Zelaya to return to the country’s presidency, four months after being deposed by a coup. The main points of the agreement between Zelaya and acting President Roberto Micheletti are laid out in Micheletti’s statement from last night. If the agreement is accepted, and Zelaya gets to serve out his term, the November 29 elections will receive international recognition. And the U.S. diplomats who traveled to Tegucigalpa this week to put pressure on both sides (mainly Thomas Shannon of the State Department and Daniel Restrepo of the National Security Council) will deserve a big congratulation. But let’s make sure this actually happens first.
  • In a private ceremony this morning, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield and Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez signed the “Complementary agreement for cooperation and technical assistance in defense and security,” which formalizes a U.S. presence at seven Colombian military bases for ten years. We still do not know what else is in this agreement, which was negotiated in secret and will not require the approval of either country’s Congress, though in the United States it will be shared with both houses’ foreign relations committees before it goes into effect. (We will add a link to the agreement here if we manage to obtain a copy.) Recent press reports include a few clues, however.
    • El Nuevo Herald: “U.S. government officials told El Nuevo Herald that it was the Colombian government that requested that the details of the agreement be kept secret.”
    • El Espectador, which had a chance to see the secret opinion filed by the State Council, one of Colombia’s high courts, reports that the judicial body found the agreement, “both in its objectives and in its obligations, to be very broad and unbalanced for the country [Colombia].” Other excerpts:
      • “The United States determines the activities to be carried out, and Colombia is only a cooperating party.”
      • The accord “mentions the use of, and access to, military bases, without determining the form and limits of either.”
      • “No valid reason exists for why the United States can establish satellite receiving stations for radio and television broadcasts, without any licensing procedures or concessions and at no cost.”
      • “In addition, the State Council characterized as ‘imperious’ the renegotiation of immunity terms, ‘whose inequality is derived from the offering of this immunity to U.S. personnel without discrimination.’”
    • Semana: “Asked what changes in U.S.-Colombian military relations would justify the signing of a new treaty, a Defense Ministry source said that operations will take place where they have never operated before, and there will be sharing of sophisticated equipment not included in the accords signed under the “Plan Colombia” umbrella.
  • Contravía, an investigative program on an independent Colombian television network, broadcast a show about Eudaldo Díaz, the mayor of El Roble, Sucre (in 3 parts [1 | 2 | 3]; part 1 is embedded below). At a 2003 televised meeting with President Uribe in Sucre’s capital, Díaz took the microphone to denounce that the paramilitaries, in league with many of Sucre’s top politicians present at the meeting, were going to kill him. A week later, Díaz was dead. The governor of Sucre at the time, Salvador Araña, is under investigation for allegedly ordering the murder. This week, days after the Contravía episode aired, a judge ordered that the chief of Sucre’s police at the time, Norman León, be investigated.

  • The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing Tuesday about Iran’s role in Latin America. Bloggings By Boz tries to discern patterns in this subcommittee’s hearings since the Democrats took control of the House in 2007.
  • The Puerto Rican band Calle 13 had a concert in Manizales, Colombia cancelled after its lead singer showed up on MTV Latino wearing a T-shirt with messages accusing President Álvaro Uribe of supporting paramilitaries and criticizing Colombia’s U.S. base agreement. The band played Venezuela this week, where Hugo Chávez offered to sing with them. Politics aside, here’s a good song: “No Hay Nadie Como Tú,” by Calle 13 and the Mexican band Café Tacuba.

Oct 12
Picture from El Colombiano’s coverage of paramilitary properties in Urabá, Colombia.
  • Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will draft a new bill, H.R. 2134, the “Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009.” The bill would establish a blue-ribbon panel to rethink the U.S. approach to drug interdiction in Latin America and the Caribbean. The House committee will then hold a 2:10 PM hearingAssessing U.S. Drug Policy in the Americas.”
  • Three articles in three days last week covered Washington conservatives’ intense lobby effort in support of the June 28 coup in Honduras. In them, we learn that former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis has been paid at least $350,000 so far, and that former Bush official Otto Reich thinks Honduras is “not the first time all the countries in the world have been wrong.”
    • Most thorough is Art Levine’s piece on the Daily Beast site, which appeared October 10.
    • Mary Beth Sheridan in the October 9 Washington Post.
    • Ginger Thompson and Ron Nixon in the October 8 New York Times.
    • Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal from two of the coup’s allies, Davis and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina). Floor speech by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), who traveled to Honduras with DeMint in early October.
  • Al Giordano publishes the results of a poll of Hondurans showing overwhelming opposition to the coup, albeit with tepid support for Manuel Zelaya.
  • Charges that Honduran landowners have been recruiting former Colombian paramilitaries, presumably to defend the coup as mercenaries, first appeared in Colombia’s El Tiempo in mid-September, and were raised by a UN working group last week.
  • With five months to go for congressional elections in Colombia, Semana magazine reports on how legislators who have run into trouble for ties to paramilitary groups are planning to keep control of their seats. Many are arranging for close associates, often family members, to run in their place.
  • FARC leader Iván Márquez says that the organization will finally release two hostages – including Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo, whom it has held for nearly 11 years – “as soon as the Colombian government publicly ratifies that the guarantees and protocols,” presumably for security, are in place.
  • Highly recommended: this investigation, in the Medellín daily El Colombiano, of the lands owned by top paramilitary leaders in the northwestern region of Urabá, which was one of the AUC’s centers of operation a decade ago.
  • By a 44-24 vote, Argentina’s Senate on Saturday passed a controversial new media law tightening regulations on the press and limiting the number of outlets a single company can own. The vote is seen as a victory for President Cristina Fernández and a blow to the country’s biggest media conglomerate, the opposition-tilting Grupo Clarín.
  • Writing in Tal Cual, Rocío San Miguel expresses concern about a new paramilitary body, the “Bolivarian Militia,” to be created by a law just approved by Venezuela’s nearly unanimously pro-government National Assembly.
  • Venezuela is not allowing the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission to pay a visit to the country, despite repeated requests from the country’s opposition that the Commission report on recent actions that erode democracy. Leaders of President Chávez’s political party say that the Commission is not welcome in Venezuela as long as it is presided by human rights lawyer Santiago Cantón, whom they say supported the failed April 2002 coup attempt in Caracas.
  • “So how’s the uranium for Iran going? For the atomic bomb.” – Hugo Chávez, joking to his mining minister during a televised cabinet meeting last week.
  • Bolivia’s government says it has surpassed is 2009 goal of 5,000 hectares of coca manually eradicated.
  • U.S. oil company Chevron, which has been fighting an environmental contamination lawsuit from communities in Ecuador’s Amazon, is pushing to move the case from an Ecuadorian court – where it had been moved at Chevron’s request – to the World Court in the Hague. “This reframes the case as between Ecuador and Chevron,” writes a Los Angeles Times editorial. “And if it succeeds — shifting liability from the company to the Ecuadorean government — it could have a chilling effect on people all over the world who are engaged in legal battles with multinational corporations.”
  • From the New York Times, reason to doubt that the Obama administration plans any dramatic changes to Cuba policy: “The New York Philharmonic scratched its trip to Cuba at the end of October because the United States Treasury Department said it would deny permission for a group of patrons to go along. Without them and their donations, the orchestra said on Thursday, it cannot afford to go.”
    • Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) protested this outcome on the floor of the Senate.
    • Despite this, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Marifeli Pérez-Stable sees the United States and Cuba “inching toward each other.”
  • I just realized: we missed this blog’s 5th anniversary. The very first post appeared on October 6, 2004. You are reading post number 823. Thank you for visiting.
Sep 13

  • The Defense Council of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) will meet in Quito on Tuesday the 15th. Mutual confidence-building measures will be high on the agenda. Confidence-building will be ever more important as South America embarks on a wave of arms purchases, including two big ones announced last week.
    • Venezuela announced that it will buy 100 tanks and an unknown number of short-range missiles from Russia. (The New York Times questions whether Venezuela will be able to pay: “[President Hugo] Chávez would have to find a way to pay for the missiles while he struggles to meet other obligations. With oil prices dropping sharply from their peak last year, Venezuela owes an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion to a wide variety of foreign companies, including suppliers of basic items like food.”
    • Brazil will make a multi-billion-dollar purchase of French fighter aircraft. Argentina’s La Nación says that Brazil’s recent purchases from France, including a joint venture for a nuclear submarine, will also help revive Brazil’s nuclear energy program.
    • Meanwhile, Bolivia plans to buy from Russia a new presidential airplane and about $70 million more in military equipment. For its part, Chile may move in the other direction: President Michelle Bachelet has submitted legislation to do away with a legacy of the Pinochet years: the automatic transfer of 10 percent of the country’s copper profits to the armed forces’ procurement fund.
  • In an unexpected move, Colombia’s acting attorney-general, Guillermo Mendoza, ordered the arrest of retired Gen. Francisco René Pedraza. He is charged with aiding and abetting the paramilitaries who carried out the horrific April 2001 Alto Naya massacre in Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments. Gen. Pedraza headed the Cali-based 3rd Brigade, which did nothing to stop Carlos Castaño’s AUC paramilitary organization – particularly Urabá-based paramilitary leader Éver Veloza, or “H.H.” – from forming the murderous Bloque Calima paramilitary front in 1999-2001. “The Sixth Division,” a 2001 report from Human Rights Watch, discusses the 3rd Brigade’s collaboration with the Bloque Calima.
    Note as of 8:30 September 14: El Espectador had this scoop late Friday: Gen. Pedraza was released, and the charges against him dropped, on Friday. It appears to be a technicality: “the prosecutor in charge of the case was not empowered to order his arrest.”
  • El Tiempo shares the proof-of-life videos of ten FARC hostages, military and police officers who have been held for ten years or more. The Colombian Army intercepted the videos by stopping the messenger – believed to be on his way to delivering the videos to Colombian Senator and frequent hostage mediator Piedad Córdoba – on September 5. Global Post has a video about the long struggle of Gustavo Moncayo, father of one of the FARC’s remaining hostages, who does not appear in the intercepted videos.
  • The Christian Science Monitor reports on the FARC’s increased use of homemade landmines, which has contributed to a 15 percent increase in Colombian military casualties since last year.
  • Bloomberg, The Economist, and Semana magazine all discuss the unprecedented recent steps that Venezuela has been taking to reduce trade and travel ties to Colombia.
  • Semana identifies Maximilano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” as the narcotrafficker seeking, through a wave of recent murders, to take control of the drug trade in a broad swath of northern Colombia that had been under the control of now-extradited paramilitary leaders.
  • On September 10, the Mexican daily El Universal reported, Mexico registered its 5,000th organized crime-related killing of 2009, reaching 5,018 by the end of the day. In all of 2008, the newspaper counted about 5,600 such murders – so 2009 is virtually assured to be even more violent than last year. On Monday President Felipe Calderón replaced embattled Attorney-General Eduardo Medina Mora. Medina’s appointed successor, former Chihuahua state Attorney-General Arturo Chávez, has come under fire from Mexican human rights groups and other critics for failing to address two phenomena that marked his tenure: the hundreds of disappearances of women  in Ciudad Juárez, and the growth of the Juárez drug cartel.
  • Two and a half months after the June 28 coup in which its military helped kick elected President Manuel Zelaya out of the country, the armed forces of Honduras are being excluded from U.S. military exercises and cooperation activities. These include the annual PANAMAX 2009 counter-terror exercise, which began September 11 (”Honduras withdrew from the exercise August 10″), and the August 17-21 Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program conference that U.S. Special Operations Command South hosted in Miami for Central American and Caribbean security forces.
  • “August 21 marked the second time an American has graduated from the Brazilian Jungle Warfare Instruction Center (Centro de Instrucao de Guerra na Selva),” reports the U.S. Southern Command.
  • Last Sunday, the UK’s Observer ran a series of 3 articles (1, 2, 3), one by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, arguing that drug policy has failed in Latin America, and that a new policy is urgently needed.
Sep 04
  • The Colombian newsmagazine Semana revealed that Colombia’s presidential intelligence service (DAS) is still spying on judges, journalists and opposition politicians. The shocking revelations come six months after these practices were first revealed. “The wiretapping and surveillance of members of the [Supreme] Court, journalists, politicians and some lawyers are still happening. And if that were not enough, they have extended to some presidential candidates, and, recently, to congressmen. ‘What is happening in the last few weeks that interests us? Simple: the [presidential reelection] referendum. We must know what the politicians are up to and what they are thinking,’ one of the people in charge of these monitoring tasks told Semana while he showed part of his labors. Surveillance using active or retired detectives, the use of vehicles disguised as taxis or telecommunications companies, and the use of wiretapping equipment not in official inventories are among the methods employed.” The response of former President and OAS Secretary-General César Gaviria was strong: “Uribe is a dictator who has turned the DAS into a criminal machine.
  • The Miami Herald ran a disturbing story Wednesday about the Colombian government’s inability to prosecute a U.S. sergeant and a contractor accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in 2007. “The suspects, Sgt. Michael Coen and contractor César Ruiz, were taken out of Colombia under diplomatic immunity, and do not face criminal charges in the United States in the rape in a room at Colombia’s Germán Olano Air Force Base in Melgar, 62 miles west of Bogotá.” Three weeks ago, the girl’s mother was denied the ability to testify about the case in Colombia’s Senate.
  • The head of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, told Colombia’s Caracol Radio that the presence of U.S. troops at Colombian bases would not increase the presence of U.S. personnel in Colombia: “There is a tendency to diminish because better technologies exist every day, and technology reduces the number of men [needed].”
  • The State Department canceled about $30 million in aid to Honduras yesterday, following a meeting between deposed President Manuel Zelaya and Secretary of State Clinton. My take is on the Huffington Post website.
  • The U.S. oil giant Chevron released evidence from a hidden-camera sting operation against the Ecuadorian judge trying a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit demanding that the company pay for Amazon-basin pollution left behind decades ago by Texaco, which Chevron purchased in 2001. In the recordings, Judge Juan Núñez appears to say “Si, señor” when asked by an American businessman whether Chevron will lose the case – even though the judge has yet to return a verdict. “In a newspaper interview, Nuñez denied that he told Hansen [the businessman] a predetermined verdict,” reports Time. “His supporters say it’s unclear in the videos, especially given Hansen’s tortured Spanish, what exactly Nuñez is responding to.” Don’t miss the excellent pair of editorials the Los Angeles Times published about the case last weekend.
  • Mexican President Felipe Calderón gave his third annual State of the Union address on Wednesday. Drug-related violence continued unabated, including the massacre of 18 people at a drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juárez. The U.S. government announced the release of $214 million in Mérida Initiative aid, including funds for five helicopters for the military. President Calderón’s approval rating stands at 68 percent, according to a poll published this week by Mexico’s Reforma newspaper.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is in the midst of an 11-day tour to Libya, Algeria, Syria, Iran, Belarus and Russia. All six maintain distant or unfriendly relations with the United States. Asked about the trip, a State Department spokesman said the United States “respects every country’s sovereign decision” to maintain diplomatic relations with other countries.
  • In Bolivia, three months before December 6 presidential elections, Evo Morales is polling between 41 and 52 percent, far higher than his divided rivals. An Equipos MORI poll revealed 41 percent of Bolivians ranked Morales as Bolivia’s best president since the restoration of democracy in 1982; Víctor Paz Estenssoro was a distant second with 24 percent.
  • Peru’s drug-funded and increasingly active Shining Path insurgency shot down an army helicopter this week. The incident spurred Defense Minister Rafael Rey to appear before Congress for a discussion of the group’s new tactics, which include “well-planned, strategically planned tunnels, bases for antiaircraft guns, and explosive traps.”
  • In Chile, a judge has issued 129 warrants for the arrest of members of the Pinochet regime’s internal security service, the DINA. They are to be charged with killings and disappearances of leftists during the dictatorship.
Aug 08
  • Asked on Thursday about plans to locate U.S. troops on Colombian bases, State Department spokesman Robert Wood simply said, “The United States has no plans to put bases in Colombia,” and went on to the next question. This curt, disingenuous response is terribly unhelpful at a time when Hugo Chávez is scoring political points railing against the ongoing base negotiations, even moderate leaders like Lula and Bachelet are voicing opposition, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe had to spend an entire week traveling throughout South America to explain the base proposal to the region’s presidents. The way the basing deal has been presented to the region – “we’re increasing our presence on your continent, our mission will be broader, but we’re not going to tell you anything about it” – has undone much of the progress that President Obama had been making on U.S.-Latin American relations.
    • Note added 8:30AM August 8: President Obama went beyond the State Department’s reticence in an exchange with Hispanic media reporters late on the afternoon of Friday, August 7: “There have been those in the region who have been trying to play this up as part of a traditional anti-Yankee rhetoric. This is not accurate. … We have had a security agreement with Colombia for many years now. We have updated that agreement. We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia.”
  • This press briefing took place the same day that the Wall Street Journal reported on a letter the State Department sent to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) with the headline “U.S. Decides Not to Impose Sanctions on Honduras.” This inspired the following exchange on Honduras, which hardly needs additional comment.

MR. WOOD: [W]e’re going to continue to try to convince both parties and go from there. But a coup took place in the country, and –
QUESTION: Well, you haven’t officially legally declared it a coup yet.
We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.
Why does it take so long to review whether there’s a military coup or not?
Well, look, there are a lot of legal issues here that have to be carefully examined before we can make that determination, and it requires information being shared amongst a number of parties. We need to be able to take a look at that information and make our best legal judgment as to whether or not –
It seems to be taking a very long time.
Well, things take time when you’re dealing with these kinds of very sensitive legal issues.

  • Indigenous leaders were killed in Putumayo and Cauca, Colombia, this week. At least eight indigenous people have been killed in Cauca since July, and 67 so far this year in Colombia. Following a July 22-27 visit to Colombia, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, issued a press statement placing particular blame on “illegal armed groups, especially the FARC,” for attacks on indigenous Colombians. The statement also notes that “allegations of human rights violations by members of the security forces persist and remain unresolved.”
  • After four years, Colombia’s prosecutor-general (fiscal general), Mario Iguarán, finished his term and left office. Assessments of his performance were generally positive, noting that although Iguarán served as a vice-minister of justice under President Uribe, he frequently showed independence from his old boss by pursuing politically sensitive cases like “para-politics,” “false positives” and other human rights cases against the military. (The prosecutor-general’s office is a separate branch of government in Colombia.) Iguarán’s replacement has not been ratified. President Uribe last month sent a list of three possible nominees for the Supreme Court’s approval, the most prominent among them Uribe’s former defense minister and OAS ambassador, Camilo Ospina. The court has so far refused to approve any of the three. It sent a letter to President Uribe “whether he insists on presenting the same names or whether he would prefer to reconsider them and present a new list of nominees.”
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez got a lot of attention this week for his opposition to U.S. use of Colombian bases, his denial that Swedish-made rockets were smuggled from Venezuela to the FARC during his government, and his intention to buy Russian tanks. Attacks on the media inside Venezuela received less attention. A group of government supporters stormed the headquarters of the country’s remaining pro-opposition television network, Globovisión, and set off tear-gas canisters. (President Chávez condemned the attack and promised to punish the ardently pro-Chávez ringleader.) More disturbingly, as The Guardian and others reported,

The government’s telecommunications agency said it would revoke the licences of up to 240 radio stations, almost 40% of the total, citing irregular paperwork. … The move followed last week’s introduction of a draft law to jail journalists and broadcasters who “harm the interests of the state”, “cause panic” or “disturb social peace.”

  • On the 184th anniversary of the foundation of Bolivia’s armed forces, La Razón, a center-right La Paz daily, published a group of articles looking at the current state of civil-military relations in the country. One of the principal changes during the Evo Morales government has been greater military involvement in social and economic development projects. “At some point we have to change the concept of support for development, which includes them [the armed forces] as a helper. I think they should be the pillar of development,” Defense Minister Walker San Miguel says in an interview.
Jul 20

  • A video released by AP over the weekend shows top-ranking FARC leader Jorge Briceño, alias “Mono Jojoy,” in a speech last year reading a final statement from Manuel Marulanda, the guerrillas’ deceased maximum leader. The statement makes a reference to “aid in dollars to [Ecuadorian President Rafael] Correa’s campaign and subsequent conversations with his emissaries, including some agreements.” (See the 6:23 minute mark in the video embedded here and point (i) in the transcript reproduced by El Tiempo. The statement about payments, which Correa denies ever occurred, have caused a political firestorm in Ecuador just three weeks after the president was re-inaugurated following a strong victory in April elections within a new constitutional framework. The revelation comes just two weeks after an Ecuadorian judge issued an arrest warrant for Colombia’s recently resigned defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, for his role in a March 1, 2008 raid about a mile inside Ecuadorian territory that killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes and, among others, an Ecuadorian citizen.
  • It has been two months since Santos resigned as Colombia’s defense minister, and Gen. Freddy Padilla, the head of the armed forces, has been sitting in the defense minister’s chair ever since, occupying both positions. This is the longest period in which a military officer has filled the defense minister’s position since 1991, when Colombia returned to having civilian defense ministers. (Generals occupied the position between the 1953 military coup and 1991.) With no successor apparent, it is unclear whether Gen. Padilla should still have the word “interim” in front of his title. Asked about this by El Espectador on July 11, the general replied, “This is not a transition from the military to civilians and back to the military. What is happening is compliance with the Constitution, which does not specify whether it should be a civilian or a soldier, retired or active-duty.”
    • Note as of 11:00 AM July 21: The “Confidenciales” section of Semana magazine has a brief note saying that the next defense minister will be Bernardo Moreno, the current secretary of the presidency and one of President Uribe’s closest advisors.
  • Colombia’s Supreme Court votes tomorrow to choose its preferred candidate, among the three proposed by President Uribe, to be the country’s next prosecutor-general (fiscal general), head of a separate branch of government who will serve a four-year term. This post is critically important because of the central role it will play in investigating scandals like “para-politics,” “false positives,” and the DAS wiretaps, as well as other human rights and “Justice and Peace” cases. The odds-on favorite by far is Camilo Ospina, Uribe’s former defense minister and OAS ambassador. Ospina is controversial because of his authorship of directives rewarding soldiers for high body counts, which may have contributed to the “false positives” scandal in which hundreds of civilians were killed and later presented as armed-group members killed in combat. Ospina also faces questions for his relationship with Víctor Carranza, a businessman who controls much of Colombia’s emerald industry and is very widely accused of being a principal supporter of paramilitary groups. It is possible that Supreme Court magistrates, concerned about Ospina’s closeness to the president, will reject him and the other two candidates by submitting a majority of blank ballots – in effect, a “none of the above” vote.
  • Addressing the issue of possible U.S. use of bases in Colombia, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield told reporters that there are currently about 250 U.S. military personnel in Colombia.
  • Talks between Honduras’ coup government and ousted President Manuel Zelaya stalled on Sunday. The president installed after the military ejected Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, rejected a seven-point proposal put forward by the talks’ mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. The U.S. government is supporting Arias and calling for a “Honduran solution” to the dispute. Arias is warning of “a civil war and bloodshed” if dialogues fail. The Costa Rican government says talks may resume Wednesday.
  • Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter reveals that although U.S. military aid to Honduras has been frozen, soldiers attending the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (to which Honduras is a top source of students) and other installations have not been sent home.
  • Mexico’s drug cartel violence is getting ever worse. Last week saw the grisly torture and murder of twelve police in Michoacán state, at the hands of a local cartel calling itself “La Familia.” This organization, media reports indicate, coordinates its violence for maximum impact, and at times resembles a religious cult, espousing evangelical Christianity and carrying out social programs in poor neighborhoods.
  • Nicaragua’s government celebrated the 30th anniversary of the July 19, 1979 Sandinista revolution that deposed dictator Anastasio Somoza. Much foreign press coverage focused on Nicaraguansdisaffection with the Sandinistascurrent hard line and consolidation of presidential power. President Daniel Ortega, who at age 33 was a top leader of the junta that took power in 1979, said that he might seek a public “consultation,” Manuel Zelaya-style, about whether Nicaragua’s constitution should be changed to allow him to run again in 2012.
  • The GAO has posted a report documenting increased cocaine trafficking through Venezuela at a time of decreased U.S.-Venezuelan cooperation on drug interdiction. The report was the subject of several articles in the U.S. and regional press, and generated an angry reaction from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez over the weekend.
Jun 20

  • After more than a year of consideration in Colombia’s Congress, Colombia’s Victims’ Law effectively died this week. The law, which sought to institute a special system of reparations, in line with internationally accepted standards, for the conflict’s hundreds of thousands of victims, went before Colombia’s House of Representatives for its final debate on Tuesday. While the version of the law that Colombia’s Senate approved a year ago made victims of all armed groups eligible for reparations, the House bill – changed under heavy pressure from the Uribe government – declared victims of the government security forces (a small fraction of the total) ineligible.

    The reason for the change was ideological: President Uribe argued that the military must not be placed “on the same level” as the FARC, ELN and paramilitaries. But the House version of the bill would have forced victims of the military – including the relatives of young men killed last year in Soacha – to wait many years for the responsible soldiers to be prosecuted in regular courts before receiving any reparation.

    There was a glimmer of hope on Wednesday and Thursday when the congressional committee reconciling the two bills’ differences chose to go with the Senate version, thus making all victims eligible for reparations. But then the Uribe government then sent a letter from Treasury Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga arguing that the bill’s provision for full reparations would be too expensive to fulfill. This virtually guarantees that the majority uribista legislature will reject the final, reconciled bill. As Semana magazine put it, “The Government Left the Victims Without Their Law.”

  • Interviewed in Semana magazine, the chief of Colombia’s armed forces (and acting defense minister), Gen. Freddy Padilla, makes a revealing comment. Padilla blames Colombia’s difficulty in getting free-trade agreements approved in the United States and Canada not on Colombia’s human rights troubles, but on what he views as FARC guerrilla “diplomacy.”

Interviewer Gustavo Gómez: Are you concerned that the President has recognized that “false positives” have slowed the ratification of free trade agreements?

Gen. Freddy Padilla: There is a diffusion of information that hammers away at the international community’s mind, so that the so-called “FARC diplomacy” has to leave some effects. Canada is one of the countries that has allowed the greatest quantity of refugees. It is crucial to understand that many of them have ideological tendencies, and that is surely one of the means used by organizations interested in diffusing information against the government’s purposes.

  • The House Armed Services Committee has completed its version of the 2010 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647). Section 2873 of that Act includes some intriguing language about the use of U.S. funds to make improvements to the Palanquero airbase in Cundinamarca, Colombia, where many U.S. assets based in Manta, Ecuador, are expected to be relocated.

(a) Congressional Notification of Agreement- None of the amounts authorized to be appropriated by this division or otherwise made available for military construction for fiscal year 2010 may be obligated to commence construction of a Cooperative Security Location at the German Olano Airbase (the Palanquero AB Development Project) in Palanquero, Colombia, until at least 15 days after the date on which the Secretary of Defense certifies to the congressional defense committees that an agreement has been entered into with the Government of Colombia that permits the establishment of the Cooperative Security Location at the German Olano Airbase in a manner that will enable the United States Southern Command to execute its Theater Posture Strategy in cooperation with the Armed Forces of Colombia.

(b) Prohibition on Permanent United States Military Installation- The agreement referred to in subsection (a) may not provide for or authorize the establishment of a United States military installation or base for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Colombia.

The Committee’s summary document [PDF] interprets (a) as requiring the Defense Department to certify “that an agreement has been reached with Colombia that does not hinder Southern Command from executing its counter-narcotics strategy for the region.” I don’t know yet what this means.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies has released an evaluation of the U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” state-building-and-counterinsurgency program in La Macarena, Meta – the subject of three rather long entries to this weblog in May and June. The CSIS report, which also recommends that the program place a high priority on becoming more civilian in nature, is highly recommended.
  • Victims’ leader Joaquín Emilio García Lopera was killed this week by a re-armed paramilitary group in Antioquia’s increasingly violent Bajo Cauca region. García led a group of victims of the Antioquia-based Miners’ Bloc of the former AUC, which was headed by now-extradited paramilitary leader Ramiro “Cuco” Vanoy.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Thursday noting that “about 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced in the last 5 years originated in the United States,” and that the United States, despite recent steps, still lacks “a comprehensive U.S. governmentwide strategy for addressing the problem.”
  • USNS Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital ship, paid a ten-day visit to Tumaco, Nariño, as part of the U.S. Southern Command’s principal regional goodwill effort.
  • Chile is buying 18 U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes from the Netherlands for $270 million.” This is in addition to 10 F-16s that the United States sold Chile in 2005 and 2006. Global Post reminds us, “In addition to the regular annual budget for defense, 10 percent of all copper revenues are automatically transferred to a secret reserve fund for military purchases.”
  • Argentina has legislative elections on Sunday the 28th. Polls seem to agree that the pro-Kirchner Peronist bloc will lose its legislative majority – an outcome that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had sought to avoid by moving the vote ahead by four months.
  • The U.S. group Witness for Peace is taking applications for participants in what looks to be a fascinating visit to Guaviare, Colombia in August. (See blog posts from my April 2008 trip to Guaviare.)
Jun 01
  • The guerrilla group has announced its second “armed stoppage” so far this year in Arauca department. Semana magazine notes that the FARC have failed in all attempts to re-establish a presence near Bogotá’s outskirts.  El Tiempo, citing intelligence sources, contends that twelve FARC leaders are living in other countries, and only three members of the group’s seven-member Secretariat are currently on Colombian soil.
  • Writing in The Nation, investigative journalist Teo Ballvé documents USAID support for African oil palm projects involving companies with paramilitary ties.
  • Pro-Uribe senator Jorge Visbal (the subject of this December 2006 post) was a longtime head of Fedegán, Colombia’s influential federation of cattle ranchers. He went on to become Colombia’s ambassador to Canada from 2004 to 2006, when he was elected to Colombia’s Senate. This month, Colombia’s Supreme Court opened up an investigation of Visbal for alleged ties to paramilitary groups. Last week, Visbal resigned his seat; as a result, his case will pass from the Supreme Court to the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía).
  • Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican and a proponent of aid to Colombia’s security forces since the early 1990s, was in Colombia last week to receive the Colombian government’s San Carlos Medal from President Uribe.
  • Some new non-governmental organization reports:
    • The Americas section of Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of world human rights.
    • The Virtuous Twins: Protecting human rights and improving security in Colombia,” from the International Crisis Group.
    • [PDF] “The War on Illegal Drug Production and Trafficking: An economic evaluation of Plan Colombia,” by Daniel Mejía and Pascual Restrepo, Fedesarrollo and Universidad de los Andes. (Caution: contains calculus.)
  • The Obama administration made two ambassadorial appointments to the region. Thomas Shannon, who since 2005 has been assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has been nominated to be ambassador to Brazil. Vilma Martínez, a California lawyer and former president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has been nominated to be ambassador to Argentina.
May 10

  • In addition to the information about the Obama administration’s 2010 aid request detailed in the last post, we also know the following:
    • Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said, “It is a small reduction that perhaps isn’t a reduction because it goes to a sort of fund or ‘basket’ to which we will have access. The thing is, we’re competing with other countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.” Santos added that Colombia is advancing in plans to send demining and engineer units to support NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
    • If it had its way, the Obama administration would delete the human rights conditions on military aid to Colombia, just like its predecessor wanted to do. See page 883 of the PDF here. On page 895, the White House Office of Management and Budget similarly “brackets out” human rights conditions imposed on aid to Mexico and Central America under the “Mérida Initiative.”
    • We now have the name of at least one facility in Colombia that will replace the U.S. “Forward Operating Location” or “Cooperative Security Location” leaving Manta, Ecuador before November. That facility is the Palanquero airbase in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca. While Manta’s main purpose was to monitor suspect narcotrafficking activity in the Pacific Ocean, Palanquero sits on the other side of the Andes from the Pacific. A major hat-tip to the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay-Poland for finding this eye-popping sentence in a Defense Department budget presentation document released last week (PDF, see page 2-30): “The FY 2010 Base budget includes $46 million for a cooperative security location at Palanquero Air Base in Colombia.
  • In what can perhaps be interpreted as a revolt of Bogotá’s progressive elites, Semana, Colombia’s most-circulated newsweekly, runs a simple message on its cover this weekend: “NO To Re-Election.” The magazine makes clear its opposition to President Álvaro Uribe’s ever-more-apparent desire to change Colombia’s constitution this year to run for a third term next year. The cover story lays out the argument, and a companion story quotes several longtime Uribe supporters who oppose the idea of the president running again.
  • Semana has also posted, for now at least, the 140-page PowerPoint document detailing the findings of Invamer-Gallup’s latest poll of Colombians with telephones in the country’s four largest cities. Álvaro Uribe’s approval rating is still high at 71 percent and his favorability rating is at 68 percent, though both are on the low end of where he has tended to be during his nearly seven years in office. 61 percent think Uribe should be allowed to run for president again. For the first time since early 2003, more of those polled believe that things in Colombia are getting worse than those who see things getting better. The economic downturn is mainly to blame.
  • A week ago, Semana also published a lengthy investigation into the “Office of Envigado,” the powerful narco-mafia network that controls much criminality in Medellín, and which is behind a recent rise in violence in Colombia’s second-largest city. “While the mayor’s office has spent millions on reinsertion [of former paramilitaries], trying to help more than 4,000 demobilized return to society, the mid-level commanders remained on the outside, in the profitable world of crime. The ‘Office of Envigado’ sabotagd the city’s pacification process.”
  • A new report from Human Rights Watch details 17 recent cases of military human rights abuse in Mexico, all of which went to the military justice system. “Not one of the military investigations into these crimes has led to a conviction for even a single soldier on human rights violations. The only civilian investigation into any of these cases led to the conviction of four soldiers.”
  • A long list of Mexican human-rights groups has sent a letter (PDF) to the U.S. Congress asking that it not approve any aid to Mexico’s armed forces.
  • Chile announced that it will purchase 18 used U.S.-built F-16 fighter planes from the Netherlands, a sale that will total US$450 million. Experts in Peru expressed concern, while Peru’s defense minister asked the Congress for a US$123 million increase in the military budget.
  • If you missed the important May 3 60 Minutes segment on Chevron and oil pollution in Ecuador, the video is viewable here.
Mar 29

Apologies for the silence during the latter part of the week. We were accompanying more visitors from Colombia, who were here for Monday’s hearings in the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

  • At the hearings, the head of the “Justice and Peace” unit in Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) declared that some of the paramilitary leaders extradited to the United States would participate in as many as 60 confessions, via closed-circuit television, over the next few months.
  • The Miami Herald ran a front-page story by Steven Dudley about the “Justice and Peace” testimony of Raúl Hasbún, a paramilitary leader in the Urabá banana-producing region who was the key link between the paramilitaries and banana exporting companies like Chiquita Brands.
  • The Washington Post ran a piece by Juan Forero about paramilitary-linked companies’ theft of land from Afro-Colombian communities, and the government’s halting efforts to return some of the land.
  • Highly recommended is “Shoveling Water,” a 25-minute video from Witness for Peace explaining why the drug war has failed in Colombia. The footage and interviews are stunning.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court has served as an important check on executive power, and has issued important decisions limiting the scope of security statutes, the Justice and Peace law, and laws that would have limited small farmers’ land rights. It will also rule over any attempt later this year to change Colombia’s constitution to allow President Álvaro Uribe to run for a third term. As six justices’ terms come to an end, President Uribe has nominated a list of mostly unknown lawyers to replace them, Cambio magazine explains. The effect on checks and balances in Colombia’s state is expected to be enormous.
  • The Colombian newsmagazine Semana presents a jarringly conflicting range of views on the state of the FARC, a year after the March 26, 2008 death of the group’s maximum leader “Manuel Marulanda.”
  • The FARC were certainly more active during this anniversary week. There was fierce combat in Guaviare department, and the guerrillas enforced “armed stoppages” (paros armados) that halted nearly all road traffic in the departments of Arauca and Putumayo. The author of the “Colombian Journey” blog, who lives in Arauca, gives an account of life in the town of Arauquita during the armed stoppage.
  • President Álvaro Uribe’s closest advisor, José Obdulio Gaviria, recently left his post and is now writing columns for Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper. His latest, alleging that the FARC is quietly manipulating the Democratic Party, is so full of paranoid inaccuracies that it would be an amusing parody of extremist ravings – were it not written by someone so close to the country’s president.

“A tiny sector of the Democratic Party defends the points of view of the Latin American extreme left, and defines the FARC as an ‘armed opposition’ party. The FARC (through this tiny sector) influences Democratic policy against Colombia. They have conditioned and limited U.S. cooperation – which they call aid – to, they say, prevent our soldiers from repressing, displacing, and plundering the people.”

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent two days in Mexico this week. Links to her public statements during the trip are here, and links to coverage of the trip are here.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales, incensed about the effect that a maritime border negotiation between Peru and Chile might have on Bolivia’s hope of someday recovering access to the Pacific, once again called Peruvian President Alán García “fat.”
  • Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva absolved brown-eyed people of responsibility for the world financial crisis: “It is a crisis caused and encouraged by the irrational behaviour of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything, but are now showing that they know nothing.”
  • “He goes and accuses me of exporting terrorism: the least I can say is that he’s a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality.” – Hugo Chávez, talking about Barack Obama last weekend.
Mar 20
  • The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Admiral James Stavridis, gave his annual “Posture Statement” testimony [PDF] before the House and Senate this week. One new element was increased expression of concerns about activities of Islamic terrorist groups in the region.

Another threat to the United States is the nexus with Islamic radical terrorism.  In August of last year, U.S. Southern Command supported a Drug Enforcement Administration operation, in coordination with host countries, which targeted a Hizballah-connected drug trafficking organization in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.  Last October, we supported another interagency operation that resulted in the arrests of several dozen individuals in Colombia associated with a Hizballah-connected drug trafficking and money laundering ring. …

Islamic terrorist networks are also active, primarily involved in fundraising and logistical support for parent organizations based in the Middle East, such as Hizballah and Hamas.  Individuals with terrorist training and experience who could support or conduct terrorist attacks in our hemisphere may be present in the region, and our intelligence has demonstrated that pre-operational and operational activities have indeed occurred, as exemplified by the attempt to blow up fuel pipelines at the JFK airport in New York in 2007.

Islamic terrorist networks are present in the Tri-border Area, as well as several other locations in the region.  A robust Hizballah financial support network exists in the region, as well as an active group of sympathizers and supporters of Hizballah.  Also present are Sunni groups, including Hamas, whose members possess operational backgrounds.  Moreover, known al-Qa’ida members have journeyed to Latin America and the Caribbean and other terrorist-inspired Islamic radicals have been arrested in the region.

  • Admiral Stavridis won’t be commanding Southern Command for much longer. The Defense Department on Wednesday announced his nomination to head NATO as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
  • In several Colombian cities at once, “emerging” paramilitary groups posted flyers threatening specific individuals. The newsmagazine Cambio reports that people mentioned in some of the threatening flyers have begun to be killed.
  • Seven fishermen were massacred, likely by an “emerging” paramilitary group, in the northwestern Colombian department of Chocó.
  • U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy continues to place a hold on $72 million in military aid to Colombia, pending progress in prosecuting cases of “false positives”: hundreds of civilians allegedly killed by the military, then presented as guerrillas or paramilitaries killed in combat.
  • Two recent articles in the Colombian newsmagazine Semana indicate that Colombia’s security forces believe they are near capturing or killing one of the FARC’s most powerful leaders, Secretariat member and Eastern Bloc leader Jorge Briceño, alias “El Mono Jojoy.”
  • Semana also published an important three-article series on the conflict’s victims’ frustrating and dangerous efforts to recover land that paramilitary groups stole from them – and the resulting “counter-land reform” that Colombia’s countryside has experienced.
  • Far-right intellectual Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, whom Álvaro Uribe had named to serve as Colombia’s ambassador to Portugal, devoted a column in today’s El Tiempo to attacking Colombia’s attorney-general, Mario Iguarán, for seeking to punish military human-rights abuse. The prose borders on the truly hilarious.

“The Attorney-General’s Office” – I have written – “is the best ally in the judicial warfare being fought against the Army.” I proved that when a member of the office’s Human Rights Unit, an expert in charges against the military, told me in secret: “I’m the only one here who isn’t a friend of the communists.” The FARC’s infiltration of the Attorney-General’s Office and the rest of the judicial branch has been lengthy, slow, and very effective. If Mario Iguarán hasn’t noticed, it is because his advisors and friends move in circles of the old left, supporters of dialogue [with guerrillas] and of Chávez and adversaries of Uribe, for whom any charge against a military officer, orchestrated by a press starving for front-page news, is worth its weight in gold. On the other hand, those of us who denounce the falsehood of these charges are seen by them as representatives of the extreme right. Are they “useful idiots?” That is what Lenin affectionately called those who, without knowing it, helped the Bolsheviks.

  • Bolivia’s government says it is working on a “new framework agreement” to guide future relations with the United States.
  • President Obama called Mauricio Funes, the new president-elect of El Salvador from the FMLN insurgency-turned-political party, on Wednesday. “The President said he looked forward to working with the new Salvadoran administration and expressed his desire for developing an ongoing dialogue to ensure a productive relationship,” read the White House statement.
  • Obama also met last weekend in Washington with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, spoke on the phone with Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and will visit Mexico a week before the April 23 Summit of the Americas.
  • Vice-President Joe Biden will be in San José, Costa Rica on March 30 to meet with Central America’s presidents. Funes will attend. So will Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Mar 19

I’m at an all-day conference today, so this may be the only post here all day. While preparing my PowerPoint, though, a search for a picture of the region’s leaders yielded the above image, which I had to share. It comes from artist “edwheeler” at the deviantART.com website. And it’s brilliant.

Left to right, in the style of Matt Groening’s “Simpsons” cartoons: Bolivian President Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Colombian pop star Juanes (apparently the focus of the presidents’ attention), Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe, Peru’s Alán García, and Brazil’s Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mar 09
  • Colombia had a mini-political storm last week, just over a year after the cross-border raid into Ecuador that killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes but triggered a crisis of relations with Ecuador and Venezuela. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, a longtime political heavyweight who makes no secret of his presidential aspirations, asserted Colombia’s right to “legitimate defense,” eliciting enraged responses from both Quito and Caracas and putting President Álvaro Uribe in an uncomfortable position.  “Unfortunately, and with pain in my soul,” said Hugo Chávez on Sunday, “I would immediately send for the Sukhoi [Russian-made fighter] planes and war tanks to be started up, but I won’t let Venezuela’s sovereignty and dignity be disrespected for anything in the world.”
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual report on Colombia’s human rights situation. This report, like the State Department annual report issued a week earlier, includes an extensive discussion of the Colombian security forces’ practice of extrajudicial executions.
  • The mainstays of the counterinsurgency approach that is working in Colombia could be adapted to Afghanistan,” concluded the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, on a visit to Colombia last week.
  • Paramilitary leader Hebert Veloza, alias “H.H.,” had been cooperating with Colombian authorities, giving a lot of information about his past crimes. That is over now, as he was extradited to the United States last week to face narcotrafficking charges.
  • In an unusually lengthy piece about El Salvador today, the Washington Post says that Sunday’s presidential election there is the FMLN’s to lose.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Caribbean town of Bluefields, Nicaragua, is booming economically thanks to regular arrivals of cocaine cast off by drug-smuggling boats trying to evade authorities. “Even lobster fishermen now go out with the pretense of fishing, but really they are looking for ‘white lobster.’”
  • I published a piece Friday on the U.K.-based site OpenDemocracy.net about the DAS wiretap scandals and Colombia’s turbulent political moment.
Jan 09
  • In an interview with today’s Los Angeles Times, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos declares his intention to “fly to Washington to lobby for continuance of Plan Colombia” shortly after Barack Obama’s inauguration.
  • The National Security Archive has released a series of declassified U.S. documents that make clear U.S. officials knew about the Colombian armed forces’ serious human rights problems during the 1990s. The documents discuss both “false positives” – the practice of murdering civilans and presenting their bodies as guerrillas killed in combat – and collaboration with paramilitary groups.
  • NPR interviews Colombian novelist Laura Restrepo (author of Delirium) about Colombians’ views as the Obama administration begins. “It’s a Pax Paramilitar. I mean, the peace that’s going on now depends on paramilitary forces.”
  • Three weeks after the FARC announced its intention to release six long-held hostages, a time and place has still not been set. The guerrillas are demanding the presence of “some democratic personality from a brother country or the international community” at the release. A piece published yesterday by Inter-Press Service provides a detailed situation report.
  • Ten years ago today, El Tiempo recalls, paramilitary groups carried out their first major massacre in the department of Putumayo, in El Tigre. As many as 3,000 people would be killed or disappeared in Putumayo over the following five years. Nine years ago Sunday, President Bill Clinton introduced the “Plan Colombia” aid package, most of which was first spent in Putumayo.
  • The Economist appears to believe that Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is close to making official his intention to hold a referendum allowing him to run for a third term. “[L]ast month he gave the clearest sign yet that he wants the referendum bill to be approved. During a 17-hour debate in the lower house on the last day of the parliamentary year, he first sent ministers to press waverers and then issued a decree allowing the session to continue past midnight. That was enough to ensure the bill’s passage to the Senate.”
  • In Mexico on Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador announced the delivery of $99 million in new military aid through the “Mérida Initiative.” It will pay for “aircraft and non-intrusive inspection equipment.”
  • The Colombian Coffee Federation wants to sue U.S. comic-strip artist Mike Peters for a “Mother Goose and Grimm” strip implying that Juan Valdez is actually in the coffee beans. We were unaware that you could sue someone for not being all that funny.
  • Along with former Prime Ministers Tony Blair of the UK and Michael Howard of Australia, President Uribe will be in Washington Monday to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush. An unnamed colleague notes that in today’s Washington, this is only a shade better than getting an award from Rod Blagojevich.
Dec 19

  • Colombia’s House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday authorizing a referendum on whether President Álvaro Uribe can run for a third term. But the bill appears to allow him to run for a non-consecutive term in 2014, not in 2010. The Colombian Academy of Language was brought in to decipher the verb tense used in the bill (”a verbal inflection of a pluperfect participle”), to try to determine whether Uribe would have to wait for a third straight term. While Uribe has not yet announced his intentions, there are more indications that he has his eye on 2010, and the Colombian Senate could change the bill in his favor.
  • If Uribe cannot run again until 2014, Reuters provides a short list of political figures who could be leading candidates in 2010. The list includes both opposition leaders hoping for an upset victory, and pro-government politicians who would face a significant likelihood of playing Medvedev to Uribe’s Putin.
  • Leaders of 31 Latin American countries met in Brazil this week to discuss a range of economic and security issues. The United States was not invited.
  • Leaders present at the summit made interesting proposals. Bolivia’s Evo Morales called on the entire region to expel its U.S. ambassadors until the United States lifts its embargo on Cuba. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa called on President Obama to end Plan Colombia and the Cuba embargo. Hugo Chávez brought up the possibility of inviting the DEA back to Venezuela, after ejecting them in 2006. And Cuba’s Raúl Castro offered to release some political prisoners if the U.S. government freed five alleged Cuban spies in U.S. jails.
  • Brazil-based analyst Sam Logan published a very thorough overview of the Obama administration’s likely plans for hemispheric relations on the site of Switzerland’s International Relations and Security Network.
  • Ted Galen Carpenter of the libertarian Cato Institute pokes holes in the Bush administration’s claim that significant progress has been made on reducing cocaine availability in the United States.

And what was the sky-high street price of cocaine that justified such optimism? $170 per gram. Adjusted for inflation, that price was actually higher than the latest price spike to just under $183. Yet clearly that earlier alleged supply-side victory in the drug war was short lived. According to the DEA’s own statistics in the December 2008 report, cocaine prices had declined to a mere $96 per gram by January 2007.

  • In a very long interview with El Espectador, President Uribe’s chief peace negotiator, Luis Carlos Restrepo, says that the FARC are now highly permeable to government infiltration.

At this moment the FARC are a very porous structure. Not the closed, inviolable one that we knew until very recently. The number of people who have demobilized have allowed us to have communication channels to others who remain in the FARC, they allow us to know what is happening on the inside, so that our psychological actions are more effective.

  • The U.S. group Witness for Peace has produced a stirring 13-minute video on extrajudicial executions in Colombia.
  • “In my opinion, many of the recent acts with regard to human rights violations began before Uribe was president, when there was violence with impunity. He is trying to strengthen institutions like justice. Crimes must be investigated, among the military and in other places. That is being done, and nothing was done before. It is impossible to fix everything in eight years, but there have been advances.” – Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York), interviewed in the Colombian magazine Cambio.
  • Panamanian police skirmished with a Colombian armed group on Panama’s soil a week ago. Ecuadorian troops keep finding FARC encampments in jungles near the border.
  • A delegation from China’s Defense Ministry paid a visit to Bogotá this week. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos visited Russia in October. It appears Colombia is no longer putting all of its military eggs in the U.S. basket.
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega spent the week in Russia, where his plans may include a visit to the pro-Russian separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Georgia.
  • Venezuela’s government expressed hope that the massive cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe “will not be used to destabilize politically” the authoritarian government of Robert Mugabe.
  • In Argentina, a court ordered the release on bail of 14 former military officers accused of very serious human-rights abuses during the military dictatorship that ended in 1983. They are still facing trial, but have been jailed for two years or more without trial. Among those freed, at least temporarily, is former naval intelligence officer Alfredo Astiz, the “Angel of Death” profiled in Tina Rosenberg’s 1991 book Children of Cain, convicted in absentia in France for the killing of two French nuns. President Cristina Fernández called their release an “embarrassment.”