Jul 26

Greetings from Medellín, where I’m in the midst of a few days of research, running from interview to interview. The trip is going well so far.

On Monday evening I had an opportunity to visit the "Casa de Paz," a large old house on Medellín’s northern outskirts, set way back from the highway. At the gates, a smiling policeman tried a few English words with me as he took down my information in a notebook.

Police are all around the perimeter of the estate, partly to provide security and partly to keep its occupant from escaping.

The sole resident of the Casa de Paz is Francisco Galán, an ELN guerrilla leader whom the government captured in the mid-1990s. Galán is very unlikely to attempt an escape: from his previous jail cell in Itagüí, south of Medellín, and elsewhere, he has long served as the main conduit between the ELN and the outside world – including the Colombian government.

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Jul 20

Though we’re reluctant to bring up Robert Novak again, we must recall this passage in his June 26 column on Colombia. Here, the columnist cites as a sign of progress the Colombian authorities’ investigation of a military massacre of anti-drug police in Jamundi, near Cali.

During the June 9 House debate, floor manager [Rep. Jim] McGovern and other left-wing Democrats harped on the May 10 drug-related slaughter of 10 crack national anti-drug policemen by the army’s High Mountain Battalion. The unit’s commander, Col. Bayron Carvajal, has been imprisoned and removed from jurisdiction of military court-martial (which has a conviction rate of 4 percent). Carvajal is being prosecuted by Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran, who has evidence of the colonel’s ties to drug trafficking.

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Jul 19

1. Expect few if any posts during the remainder of this week. I’m going to Colombia next week (Medellín, Bogotá and Putumayo, all in seven days) and must prepare for that trip. I hope to post updates to the blog periodically while I’m traveling.

2. I apologize for some odd behavior on the blog lately, like blank posts or posts that appear days later than their posted date. I’ve been updating our blog software, which isn’t an easy task for someone who majored in international relations. It appears to be working well now, though.

3. On another note, I found myself sharing an elevator yesterday with Colombia’s outgoing ambassador, Andrés Pastrana, en route to his lecture at the Center for American Progress. I wish I could say I had the presence of mind to take advantage of those few seconds, perhaps by raising an urgent human rights concern, or at least thanking him for trying to negotiate a peace accord during his presidency.

But I didn’t. All I came up with on this very hot July day was, "I’m sorry you’re leaving. At least you’re going someplace cooler."

How did Pastrana respond to my gloves-off, never-shrink-from-controversy approach?

He agreed that it was very hot outside.

Jul 17

On Thursday we sat in on a hearing held by the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism. We had to leave early due to another meeting, but we wanted to see at least some of an event entitled “Venezuela: Terrorist Hub of the Western Hemisphere?”

The answer, judging from the case made at the hearing, is “not really.” The two State Department witnesses, and most members of Congress who attended, mainly criticized Hugo Chávez’s government for not doing enough against potential terrorist threats, not for promoting or spreading terrorism. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Illinois), for instance, said that Venezuela’s “clearest link with terrorism is a blatant lack of cooperation” with U.S. anti-terror efforts. Witness Fred Urbancic of the State Department’s counter-terrorism office summarized it thus [PDF]:

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Jul 12

Andrés Pastrana has left us, after less than a year as Colombia’s ambassador in Washington. He quit in a storm of anger: the very moment that President Uribe named another former president, narco-money-tainted Ernesto Samper, to be ambassador in France, Pastrana canceled all his appointments, flew to Bogotá, held a long meeting with Uribe and quit his job.

Pastrana and Samper could not be worse enemies. After Samper defeated him in the 1994 elections, it was Pastrana who leaked evidence that Samper had received large amounts of campaign cash from the Cali cartel. This evidence did not lead to Samper’s impeachment or punishment, but the U.S. government found it sufficient to deny Samper a visa, and it touched off a huge scandal that essentially destroyed Samper’s presidency.

Naming Samper to the embassy in Paris was the latest of several moves the Uribe government has taken lately that no doubt displease the Bush administration. These include:

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Jul 11

Here is an English translation of a column published on Sunday in Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper. While energy supplies are not a topic we’ve worked on closely, this is an important security issue.

Energy integration, seen from Washington

Adam Isacson

The U.S. government is not very worried about the construction of a new natural gas pipeline between Venezuela and Colombia. Likewise, Washington did not complain publicly about the gas-sector nationalization carried out by Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The reason is simple: the United States does not depend on natural-gas imports. According to the Natural Gas Supply Association, the United States only imports 15 percent of the gas it uses, and almost all of that comes from Canada. In fact, the United States is a net exporter of gas to Mexico.

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Jul 08

It sounds like an inappropriate joke, but it’s not. Colombia’s government wants to silence – not strengthen, but weaken – a UN office that monitors and reports on human rights. And it proposes to do so amid a wave of threats against human-rights defenders, growing allegations of soldiers killing civilians, and scandals involving paramilitary infiltration of the state. And the U.S. government is backing the Colombians.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has had a field office in Colombia since 1996, when the Colombian government, in response to petitions from Colombia’s human-rights community, allowed it to have a presence. The office’s mandate, which has been renewed several times, allows it to offer advice and technical support to Colombian government bodies with human rights responsibilities, to monitor the country’s human rights situation, and to issue publicly available reports and recommendations.

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Jul 03

The FARC are often described as “hermetic” or even “autistic.” Analysts are generally unable to explain why, where politics and the fight for public support are concerned, the guerrillas have not only lost the battle, but have largely failed to show up.

It could be that the guerrillas lost most of their best political cadres when the Patriotic Union party was systematically exterminated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leaving behind a rump army that – while well-armed and trained – is unable to express itself convincingly or win supporters for its cause. Also to blame could be the FARC’s income from the drug trade: their wealth made it less necessary to seek the population’s support, while the struggle for control of drug money caused them to act with great cruelty toward the same poor citizens whom a more ideologically disciplined insurgency would pledge to protect.

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