Colombia in a bubble The February 4 march
Jan 252008

  • 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 Chávez’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 Chávez and pro-Chávez Senator Piedad Córdoba 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 Garzón (killed by paramilitaries in 1999): “hay que rodear al Presidente… ¡para que no se escape!” (”We must rally around/surround the President… so he can’t escape!”)
  • Speaking of Chávez, Miami Herald reporter Gonzalo Guillén 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 Chávez 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 Héctor 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 Bogotá 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 Medellín 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.

5 Responses to “Friday links”

  1. boz Says:

    It was interesting to read Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon downplay the weapons smuggling report earlier this week even as others were playing it up. His quote was:
    In regard to Venezuela and Colombia, I think all parties to this issue would acknowledge that weapons and munitions do flow across that border. However, at this point in time, we have nothing to indicate that this is the result of a policy by the Venezuelan Government. It seems to be contraband that moves either with the knowledge of officials in the region who have been corrupted and who are benefitting from this or in some instances done by weapons trafficking organizations.

    As I mentioned, this is a porous border and it’s a fairly wild area. Things move back across – back and forth across that border quite easily. And the way this kind of phenomena has to be addressed, whether it’s precursor chemicals, whether it’s cocaine and other narcotics or whether it’s weapons and munitions, is through cooperation along the frontier.

  2. David Holiday Says:

    “There are very few examples worldwide of a country supporting an insurgency in a neighboring country.”

    Of course, the example of Honduras and the contras vis-a-vis Nicaragua comes to mind, or Nicaragua supporting the FMLN, but that was a long time ago, wasn’t it….

  3. Cayman Says:

    Ever heard of Syria?

  4. William deB. Mills Says:

    Your brief note on Mexican soldiers joining narcotraffickers looks like the canary in the mine and deserves real attention.

    Speaking as someone who spends most of his professional effort examining Islamic politics, it is, to put it mildly, disconcerting to see in Mexico hints of Iraq or Pakistan, i.e., a social dynamic of economic problems leading to declining security and rising narcotrafficking and (sooner or later) terrorism.

    Politicians will have a hard time trying to blame this on Islam or Iran.

    Seriously, I think we need an academic effort to take a comparative look at the causal dynamics of what is occurring in Latin America and the Islamic world: “a cross-cultural comparison of the roots of social collapse in, say, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mexico.”

    If anyone is interested in this, please consider it an invitation and get in touch with me (

  5. Sergio Méndez Says:

    “Of course, the example of Honduras and the contras vis-a-vis Nicaragua comes to mind, or Nicaragua supporting the FMLN, but that was a long time ago, wasn’t it….”

    Or The United States giving weapons to the contras in NIcaragua

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