- 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 ChÃ¡vez is scoring political points railing against the ongoing base negotiations, even moderate leaders like Lula and Bachelet are voicing opposition, and Colombian President Ãlvaro 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]eâ€™re going to continue to try to convince both parties and go from there. But a coup took place in the country, and â€“
QUESTION: Well, you havenâ€™t officially legally declared it a coup yet.
MR. WOOD: We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally canâ€™t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Why does it take so long to review whether thereâ€™s a military coup or not?
MR. WOOD: 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 â€“
QUESTION: It seems to be taking a very long time.
MR. WOOD: Well, things take time when youâ€™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 IguarÃ¡n, finished his term and left office. Assessments of his performance were generally positive, noting that although IguarÃ¡n 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.) IguarÃ¡n’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 ChÃ¡vez 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, GlobovisiÃ³n, and set off tear-gas canisters. (President ChÃ¡vez condemned the attack and promised to punish the ardently pro-ChÃ¡vez 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 RazÃ³n, 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.