Friday Links Uribe’s “Emmanuel” hypothesis
Dec 292007

Here is a quick overview of what happened in Colombia and Latin America during 2007. Best wishes for a happy – and better – 2008.

January

Newly re-inaugurated Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announces his intention to re-nationalize key businesses in his country’s telecommunications, oil and electricity sectors.

The congress, made up completely of Chávez supporters thanks to an opposition boycott of parliamentary elections, gives the president the power to rule by decree for 18 months.

Salvatore Mancuso becomes the first top Colombian paramilitary leader to give a “confession” as part of the right-wing militias’ demobilization process. He prepares a grim PowerPoint presentation explaining his role in 336 murders and kidnappings.

Gunmen in Montería, Córdoba kill Yolanda Izquierdo, leader of a group of campesinos who had organized to claim land that they allege Mancuso stole from them.

February

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe says that political opponents who are demobilized guerrilla leaders – some of whom want to investigate claims that Uribe had past ties to paramilitary groups – “have simply gone from being terrorists in camouflage to terrorists in business suits.”

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

March

President George Bush pays a visit to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, and Uruguay. The President has little new to offer on his trip, however, other than words about the importance of regional partnerships. A month earlier, his 2008 budget request to Congress called for a reduction in U.S. assistance to the hemisphere.

The visit fails to usher in a new era of engagement and cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean, or to make the region either a top foreign-policy priority or a fixture on the front pages of U.S. newspapers.

The U.S. Justice Department fines Chiquita Brands $25 million for making $1.7 million in extortion payments to AUC paramilitaries in Colombia over a period of several years.

To their (very small) credit, Chiquita executives voluntarily provided U.S. authorities with information about these payments. No other fruit company operating in the same regions – either domestic or international – has admitted to paying a cent to Colombian terrorist groups.

April

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore refuses to appear at an environmental event in Miami where he would share the stage with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. Gore’s office cites concerns about the “para-politics” scandal as the reason for the snub.

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

At a House International Relations subcommittee hearing [PDF], Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) cuts through the complexity of how the United States should deal with Venezuela.

“Every time I see a Citgo station I try to pass it by because I know that money is going straight down to President Chavez who is now President for as long as he wants to be because he got that through the legislative branch down there. So we need somebody that is a real strong supporter and friend of the United States to help be a bulwark against the leftist movements in Central and South America.”

May

The Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela refuses to renew the broadcast license of RCTV, the nation’s oldest and one of its highest-rated television stations, whose news coverage has been quite critical of President Chávez.

Students take to the streets to lead several days of protests. The following month, the OAS General Assembly will refuse to address the issue.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe pays two visits to the United States in just over a month. In the presence of key Democratic Party leaders and legislators, Uribe says that human rights groups’ reports of soldiers committing “extrajudicial executions” are guerrilla propaganda, and tells the head of Human Rights Watch / Americas that “many people in my country think you support the FARC.”

Soon afterward, Congressional Democratic leaders announce that they will not bring a free-trade agreement with Colombia up for consideration anytime soon. Uribe pays no further high-profile visits to Washington in 2007.

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

June

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe inexplicably releases over 100 FARC guerrillas from Colombian prisons, including guerrilla “foreign minister” Rodrigo Granda. Uribe later says that the unilateral move owed to a request from newly inaugurated French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made the release of FARC hostage Íngrid Betancourt a top foreign policy priority. The releases, which yield no response from the FARC, are questioned by both proponents and opponents of a “prisoner exchange” with the guerrillas.

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

The U.S. House of Representatives proposes to cut military and police aid to Colombia by $160 million, moving $101 million of it into alternative development, judicial reform, and aid to displaced people. The failed aerial fumigation program would be most affected by the cuts.

The final version of the 2008 budget bill, signed into law at the end of the year, ends up cutting military aid by $142 million and restoring $97 million of it as economic aid.

The FARC announces that 11 of its hostages – state legislators from Valle del Cauca department – were killed under circumstances that have yet to be clarified.

Later analysis of the bodies shows that the deputies were executed at pointblank range, and not in a combat crossfire.

July

Colombian government officials announce their intention to put more emphasis on manual coca eradication and less on U.S.-backed aerial fumigation.

They vent frustrations following a U.S. government announcement that it measured more coca cultivation in Colombia in 2006 than it did in 2000, when Plan Colombia began.

August

In a surprise move, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe authorizes Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and a leftist Colombian opposition senator, Piedad Córdoba, to serve as “facilitators” of a hostage-for-prisoner exchange dialogue with the FARC.

Chávez pays a jovial visit to Bogotá at the end of August, leaving even some conservative Colombian analysts hopeful that he can move the hostage situation forward. Colombia-Venezuela relations, historically cordial but distant, appear to be better than at any other time in recent years.

September

Colombian security forces capture Diego Montoya, “Don Diego,” the paramount leader of the North Valle drug cartel, the country’s largest.

With untold numbers of criminals willing to take Montoya’s place, world cocaine supplies fail to dwindle.

Colombia’s Supreme Court orders an investigation of Sen. Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin, as part of a broadening scandal involving political leaders – nearly all of them supporters of the president – charged with supporting murderous paramilitary groups.

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

Chile extradited former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to Lima, where he will stand trial for past human-rights offenses.

In his first court appearance two months later, Fujimori will launch into an arms-waving tirade denying all charges and defending his government’s actions. It will be unclear whether he is unhinged or laying the groundwork for a future re-election bid.

October

Mexico is beset with a wave of violence by criminal syndicates using weapons easily bought in the United States, and funded with money from U.S. drug addicts, much of it laundered in the United States.

The Bush administration responds by proposing to send Mexico a grab-bag aid package with items like helicopters, scanners, database software and new forms for immigration authorities. Little action is foreseen on domestic gun control, drug treatment or money-laundering prevention.

Pablo Escobar’s former girlfriend publishes a book claiming that the drug lord was quite fond of the young Álvaro Uribe, who allegedly turned a blind eye when he shipped drugs northward in the early 1980s. President Uribe angrily denies the allegations and blames them on Gonzalo Guillén, a reporter from Miami’s El Nuevo Herald. Guillén says that he has not even read the book in question.

An ensuing wave of death threats forces Guillén to leave the country. Within days Uribe has a vicious, hourlong argument on live radio with another journalist who has questioned his past, Semana magazine columnist Daniel Coronell.

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a veteran politician and wife of popular Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, is elected to succeed her husband.

Reflecting the state of U.S relations with one of the hemisphere’s largest nations, the Bush administration sends Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to head the U.S. delegation at Kirchner’s December inauguration ceremony.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe refuses once again to rule out seeking a constitutional change that would allow him to run for a third consecutive term in office in 2010. This time, he says that he will only seek to run again if Colombia faces a “catastrophe.”

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

November

In Guatemala, Álvaro Colom wins a second-round victory in presidential voting, making him Guatemala’s first president who could be described as “center-left” in more than half a century. He narrowly beats a retired general, Otto Pérez Molina, a former head of the Guatemalan Army’s highly feared Presidential General Staff (EMP), who promised to fight crime with an iron fist.

The violent, corrupt elite that has Guatemala in its grip does not appear to be particularly concerned by the election outcome.

The Justice Department’s National Drug Threat Assessment states that prices of cocaine went up in many U.S. cities during the first half of 2007, indicating a temporary shortage. The same report, however, notes that the Andes are producing as much of the drug as ever, and that U.S. cocaine prices are already beginning to fall again.

That same month, White House “Drug Czar” John Walters goes to Bogotá to trumpet the price rises as evidence that U.S. drug policies are working as never before.

President Álvaro Uribe “fires” Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez from his role as a facilitator of possible hostage-for-prisoner exchange negotiations with the FARC. Relations between Colombia and Venezuela plummet to their worst level in decades amid harsh exchanges of insults. The hostage situation, meanwhile, goes back to square one.

Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs.

Observers in Colombia and worldwide are shaken by “proof of life” images of some of the FARC guerrillas’ high-profile hostages, showing more than a dozen haggard faces that had not been seen for several years. Especially moving is a letter to her mother from Íngrid Betancourt, a former senator and presidential candidate who is the best known of the captives.

Mamita, there are so many people whom I want to thank for remembering us, for not having abandoned us. For so much time we have been like the lepers who spoil the dance, we hostages aren’t a ‘politically correct’ subject, it sounds better to say that one must be strong against the guerrillas, even if some human lives are sacrificed. Against this, silence. Only time can open consciences and elevate spirits.”

December

Venezuelans voting in a referendum narrowly reject a package of constitutional reforms that would have consolidated the power of President Hugo Chávez.

Many observers at first praise Chávez for avoiding social conflict by quickly accepting defeat. Within a few days, Chávez quiets those observers by calling his opponents’ win a “victory of sh*t” on national television and promising to try to ram the reform package through again in the future.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa reiterates that he will not renew a 10-year agreement to allow the U.S. military and U.S. contractors to use an anti-drug air base at Manta, on Ecuador’s Pacific coast, when it expires in 2009.

In fact, Correa adds, he hopes to see the facility become a hub for Chinese commercial flights entering Latin America.

As the year ends, Bolivia is on the brink of social conflict. Protesters violently oppose a new constitution approved by backers of President Evo Morales while most opposition deputies were absent. Several provincial governors increase their demands for autonomy from the central government.

With the situation polarizing rapidly, it looks like 2008 is going to be a very difficult year for Bolivia. While civil war is highly unlikely, increased political violence is very probable.

As the Iowa Caucuses draw near, not a single Democratic presidential candidate favors approval of a free-trade agreement with Colombia.

It appears almost certain that the Colombia FTA will be on hold until at least 2009.

3 Responses to “So that was 2007”

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    In short:

    Colombia remains the world’s largest cocaine producer and the supplier of 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States, while the latter remains the largest cocaine consumer.

    Colombian polls show Uribe’s approval rating near all-time highs. :lol:

  2. Global Voices Online » Americas: Year in Review Says:

    [...] Colombia and Beyond reviews what took place in Colombia and Latin America in 2007. Share [...]

  3. Global Voices amin´ny teny malagasy » Blog Archive » Americas: Tamberina nandritra ny taona Says:

    [...] Plan Colombia and Beyond no manao tamberina mitsinjara isam-bolana tamin’ny zava-dehibe nitranga tao Kolombia sy Amerika …. [...]

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