- Gallup has released its latest bimonthly poll of Colombians with telephones in four major cities. (1.7 MB PDF file) They give President Uribe a record approval rating of 80 percent. In fact, the poll shows an upward boost for just about every Colombian institution, and just about every prominent Colombian working within the system. The reason appears to be the continuing crisis between Colombia and Venezuela: Hugo ChÃ¡vez’s verbal attacks on Uribe and expressed support for the FARC have caused Colombians to rally around their president and their institutions. The approval ratings of ChÃ¡vez and pro-ChÃ¡vez Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba dropped sharply, while only 1 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of the FARC.
- The Spanish verb rodear means both “rally around” and “surround.” Semana columnist Antonio Caballero recalls a joke attributed to humorist Jaime GarzÃ³n (killed by paramilitaries in 1999): “hay que rodear al Presidente… Â¡para que no se escape!” (”We must rally around/surround the President… so he can’t escape!”)
- Speaking of ChÃ¡vez, Miami Herald reporter Gonzalo GuillÃ©n published a piece Monday alleging that “Venezuelan-made ammunition is regularly reaching Colombia’s FARC and ELN guerrillas.” It is unclear whether these transfers are the result of border-zone corruption or a ChÃ¡vez government policy. Visiting Colombia, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen worried about Venezuela providing “strategic support” to the FARC. If any of this is true, it is quite alarming. There are very few examples worldwide of a country supporting an insurgency in a neighboring country. Semana columnist HÃ©ctor Abad compares the situation to wars in Africa (such as that in the DRC) where neighboring countries actively support rebel forces.
- Don’t miss Juan Forero’s piece in today’s Washington Post on the seventh anniversary of the barbaric paramilitary massacre in Chengue, Sucre. (Read a harrowing 2001 account of the massacre, and the Colombian military’s likely complicity in it, by Scott Wilson, Forero’s predecessor at the Post BogotÃ¡ bureau.) The town’s inhabitants still seek justice, as almost all the people who killed Chengue’s inhabitants – in some cases by beating them with clubs and stones – still walk freely and unpunished among their fellow Colombians. “The truth, as villagers see it, is that the paramilitary commanders who carried out the killings received uniforms and armaments from the military, and passed unmolested through this region, which was controlled by the navy.”
- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in MedellÃn right now, trying to convince a delegation of Democratic House members to support the free-trade pact with Colombia. Here in Washington, many are speculating about whether the Bush administration actually plans to force Congress to vote on the agreement this year. According to the rules of “fast track” trade-promotion authority, once the administration “drops” the accord in Congress, the House and Senate have ninety “session-days” (probably four or five months) to bring it to a vote. (Some refer to this as the “nuclear option,” since it risks seeing the agreement defeated.) In an interesting piece last Friday, however, Reuters reporter Doug Palmer notes that Congress could always change the rules, using a parliamentary maneuver to strip out the “fast track” language and postpone consideration of the Colombia FTA until 2009 – or indefinitely.
- While Colombia’s Supreme Court continues to try dozens of “para-politics” cases against prominent pro-government politicians accused of helping paramilitaries, President Uribe this week filed slander charges against the court’s chief justice. According to Uribe, Justice Cesar Julio Valencia lied when he told the El Espectador newspaper that Uribe had asked him about the case against his cousin, accused former Senator Mario Uribe.
- Is FARC leader “Manuel Marulanda” dying of prostate cancer, as has often been rumored? A Brazilian newspaper this week published allegations that Marulanda is near death, and that FARC leaders are embroiled in a vicious internal power struggle to replace him. Meanwhile Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos says that “the government knows the area” where Marulanda is located, “but it is better not to tell” where it is. “When we grab him, we will take him by surprise.”
- Meanwhile in Mexico, a top defense official made an absolutely stunning admission: more than 100,000 soldiers have deserted Mexico’s army in the last seven years – and many of them are now in the service of narcotraffickers. Yet Mexico’s police are at least as troubled: in three important border towns this week, the Mexican Army forced municipal police to cede control, citing widespread allegations that local law-enforcement was deeply infiltrated by drug cartels. Meanwhile Congress is still considering a Bush administration proposal to give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Mexico’s security forces.