Congress takes back some military aid A complicated president en route to Washington
Apr 272007
  • Even if your command of Spanish is only partial, do look at the series of stories in Tuesday’s El Tiempo about the paramilitaries’ mass graves and forced disappearances. Colombia’s main newspaper is to be congratulated for an important and necessary piece of journalism. Let’s hope that this vivid reminder of the horror the paramilitaries perpetrated will help ease the polarization that the so-called "para-politics" scandal is generating.
  • The situation remains serious in Medellín’s poor Comuna 13 neighborhood, which the Colombian government liberated from guerrilla influence – but apparently not paramilitary influence – with a high-profile 2002 military offensive. (Allegations of paramilitary participation in that offensive have touched the head of Colombia’s army, Gen. Mario Montoya.)

On Monday, Comuna 13 community leader Judith Vergara, a member of the opposition Polo Democrático, was shot to death while riding a bus. Paramilitaries are believed responsible.

Medellín authorities note with concern that 15 people were murdered in Comuna 13 during the first two months of this year, compared to just four during the first two months of 2006.

  • In an interview last weekend, Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer asked several times, but was unable to get Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to promise not to seek a third term in 2010. Oppenheimer’s surprisingly ominous conclusion:

    If he doesn’t understand that the future of Colombia’s democracy depends on being able to continue without him, the difference between him and his messianic populist neighbors will begin to fade.

  • Fernando Londoño, a right-wing stalwart who was President Uribe’s first "super-minister" of interior and justice, had this to say about Colombian politicians and human-rights defenders who have traveled to Washington recently to educate about paramilitary power and the impacts of trade and aid:

    What’s happening in the United States is even more irritating. Those who burn the flags of the Union [the United States], those who receive that country’s president with bombs and insults, those who yell insults against the gringos in the Congress, those who make common cause with Hugo Chávez against them, have sought – and found, in clueless Democrats – an incredible alliance against the only sincere friend that the North has in these complex Americas.

Oh, those poor clueless Democrats. Who will keep them from falling under the spell of those wily Colombian politicians and human-rights activists?

  • Retired Colombian Army Col. Julián Villate, a former instructor at the School of the Americas, is now connected to three human rights cases. In August 2004, he was accused of masterminding "Operation Dragon," an operation that spied on – and allegedly planned to kill – union leaders in Cali. He worked as a security consultant for Drummond, the U.S. coal company accused of conspiring with paramilitaries to kill union organizers. Now, opposition Senator Gustavo Petro says that Col. Villate may be involved in a plot to assassinate him, which investigators in the attorney-general’s office uncovered earlier this year.

But it gets worse. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Col. Villate came to be employed by the U.S. embassy in late 2004. This was several months after his name came up as part of the Operation Dragon allegations. Why did the U.S. government hire someone who had been publicly accused of a very serious crime only a few months earlier?

  • Meanwhile, the office of the White House "Drug Czar" announced on Wednesday that it could not detect any increase in coca cultivation in Bolivia during 2006, Evo Morales’ first year in office. The surprising announcement sought to cast doubt on its own findings: "The accuracy of the estimate was degraded because of the extremely mountainous terrain in the largest single cultivation area, the Yungas."

No 2006 coca-cultivation figures are yet available for Colombia or Peru. El Tiempo reporter Sergio Gómez, however, had this bit of intelligence in a piece published on Thursday: "Official statistics about coca cultivation in Colombia for 2006 are still forthcoming, but according to what El Tiempo has been told, it diminished by nearly 10 percent."

3 Responses to “Friday morning links”

  1. jcg Says:

    *The EL TIEMPO coverage was impressive, but also obviously quite chilling, given the subject matter. It is, nevertheless, part of a necessary process that should continue and intensify.

    *This could just be me, but something tells me that the increased murder rates in “Comuna 13″ may be paramilitary backlash against the public criticism of their past-to-present actions there, and also seems to be a worrying sign of what may happen elsewhere if authorities and community members won’t fight it.

    *Mr. Oppenheimer should at least mention that Uribe has already made less ambiguous statements about the matter, after his 2006 re-election, even if he doesn’t want to do so now.

    That said, that criticism does touch on an important point, and I truly hope those ominous fears don’t come to pass.

    Still, I don’t think the current landscape in Colombia would favor Uribe’s running for a third term, including all the political maneuvering it would imply.

    The atmosphere doesn’t seem so favorable, not even among his own followers and, most importantly, his political allies and ambitious would-be successors aren’t going to wait forever.

    *What can be said about Mr. Londoño (and his misleading rhetorics) that hasn’t been said before, I ask? The sad fact is that some people do listen to him, admittedly.

    * More on the Col. Villate case…I guess that those accusations flew over their heads, or they simply didn’t mind.

    *Even in the event that those findings were truly representative of current trends, they still don’t change what is essentially a flawed policy with no real way out.

  2. rainercale Says:

    Just a quick anecdote on the 6 page El Tiempo piece.

    On the night of the 17th I was discussing the Petro debate with a very close old friend, a Colombian lady who grew up in the years of La Violencia and spent her mornings before school counting the bodies that were brought into the local church every day for burial. Petro’s revelations of paramilitary cruelty had clearly shaken some deeply-held convictions. She ranted on and on about the cruelty of the M-19 movement, about the M-19 seizure of the Justice Department and so forth (which she witnessed firsthand, having worked in a nearby building at that time). I eventually interjected that the M-19 guerrillas killed only a small fraction of the people the paramilitaries killed, and that paramilitary methods of torture were in fact much more grisly. This only set her off more. Finally she got to the heart of the matter: “I don’t think there is any Colombian who doesn’t thank the paramilitaries in the depths of their soul.”

    The El Tiempo article came out the following Tuesday. After reading it her attitude was completely changed. In my earlier discussion with her I had touched upon much of documented subject matter presented in the article, but she didn’t hear it until it came from El Tiempo’s mouth. So, thank you very much El Tiempo.

    As Rudolph Hommes, ex-rector of Los Andes University, put it in his Friday editorial: “The publication of these images and stories of the paramilitary massacres…is going to make people think twice before repeating again, like parrots, that paramilitarism is a necessary evil and a [legitimate] defence mechanism for those who found themselves abandoned by the state and threatened by the guerrillas…”

  3. morayleon Says:

    Alan Garcia got himself new drugfighting powers today, on the heels of his visit to Washington. Do you suppose that means drug cultivation is on the upswing in Peru? The sudden ‘rule-by-decree’ powers, although much more specific and limited than anything Hugo Chavez rules by, did surprise me. I am looking for evidence that the problem is Peru, particularly with the new alliances recently forged in the past year between Peruvian drug lords and Mexican dopers.

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