The beginning of the new year is a slow news time in South America, as most of those who make the news have yet to return from vacation.
There are sad exceptions, though, such as the group of FARC fighters who massacred four civilians in rural Yarumal, Antioquia, on New Years’ Day, and whoever killed paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso’s right-hand man on December 27, in an apparent attempt to intimidate and silence his boss, who is giving testimony to prosecutors.
Here are a few interesting links, however.
- The Colombian newsmagazine Semana, which has done some of the most aggressive reporting on paramilitary groups’ influence on the country’s politics and society, named â€œThe Paramilitary Phantomâ€ its â€œPersonality of the Yearâ€ for 2006.
- In Bolivia, the government of Evo Morales decreed that visitors from the United States, including tourists, from now on must apply for visas. This is an increasing trend: Bolivia is the third Latin American country (after Brazil and Paraguay, though – interestingly – not Cuba) to add a visa requirement for U.S. visitors in the past few years. They are calling it â€œreciprocityâ€: if their citizens have to apply way ahead of time and meet lots of requirements to visit the United States (everything from passport-sized photos to proof of financial status to a $100-plus fee), then U.S. visitors should have to go through a similar process. (For its part, Chile has begun charging U.S. citizens $100 upon arrival in the Santiago airport.)
This reasoning is very sound, and these countries are well within their rights to demand reciprocity. But U.S. travelers who have become accustomed to traveling throughout the region without worrying about visas must now do their homework ahead of time. If you are a U.S. citizen, be sure to check whether the country you plan to visit has added a reciprocity requirement; if so, you may have to go through a long visa-approval process. Don’t get caught unaware and find yourself barred from boarding a plane. This happened to me in Santiago in November, when I tried unsuccessfully to visit Paraguay, which had started requiring visas in May.
- Aldo CÃvico, an Italian analyst who worked on anti-mafia efforts in Sicily before becoming a PhD candidate at Columbia University in New York, wrote an interesting column in the December 23 El Espectador. He compares Colombia’s experience with its own paramilitary mafias to Italy’s effort to rid itself of La Cosa Nostra.
- On a much lighter note, Colombian band Aterciopelados played two wonderful sets, with much from their great new album, on Nic Harcourt’s radio show back in November. Listen to it or watch it here.