President v. Chief Justice Stump the ambassador
Feb 012008

  • Wílber Varela, alias “Jabón” (”Soap”), appears to have been killed Wednesday by hitmen in the western Venezuelan town of Mérida. Varela was one of the last remaining leaders of the North Valle cartel, Colombia’s largest of the past few years. After the September capture of his arch-rival Diego Montoya, Varela was the most notorious of Colombia’s still-at-large drug lords.

His feared personal army, the Rastrojos, exerts much influence throughout Colombia’s Pacific Coast, and he was believed to be making inroads in and around Medellín. Along with other at-large narco-paramilitary figures like Vicente Castaño and the Mejía Múnera brothers, Varela was believed to have been one of the main sponsors of re-armed “emerging” paramilitary groups in Colombia. While not a victory for Colombian or Venezuelan law enforcement, the death of “Jabón” is likely to cause a significant shake-up in Colombia’s narco-underworld.

  • Colombian media outlets published the disturbing testimony of a sergeant whose unit killed civilians and presented them as guerrillas killed in combat, in order to reap rewards. Sergeant Alexánder Rodríguez of the 15th Mobile Brigade told Semana, “at the beginning of November Sergeant Ordóñes went around collecting 20,000 pesos ($10) per soldier, to pay for the pistol that he had planted on the person they had killed … Ordónez said to them: ‘if you want to give the money, good, if not, let’s leave it like that, but remember that it means five days off [for every guerrilla killed]…’” Sgt. Rodríguez’s order from the captain who commanded him, he told Caracol, “was to clean up. What each unit was doing was supposedly cleaning the town of people who were guerrilla collaborators.”

Three days after testifying to authorities, Semana reports, “the whistleblower was punished: a committee of generals headed by the Army commander, Mario Montoya, decided to retire him from active service; meanwhile Col. Santiago Herrera, who commanded the Brigade where the acts occurred [in Catatumbo, in northeastern Colombia], was transferred to Bogotá to take up duties as Montoya’s own official aide.”

  • Monday’s Los Angeles Times tells the story of one of thousands of Latin American nationals recruited by U.S. firms to serve as private security guards in Iraq. Peruvian citizen Gregorio Calixto was wounded in Iraq while employed by a U.S. contractor called Triple Canopy. “He lives on $492 in monthly disability checks provided through the Triple Canopy insurance. But he says he doesn’t know how long that’s going to last. Nor does he consider it sufficient: The injury has severely limited his prospects in a country where the maimed can often be found begging in the streets. He also says he is owed two months’ back pay.”
  • On the Colombia free-trade front, President Bush mentioned the accord in his SOTU speech Monday, warning Congressional Democrats that failing to ratify the agreement would “embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere.” Key Democratic leaders made clear that they think the FTA has to wait. House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said passage of the FTA is “doubtful,” while Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), who was a bit more enthusiastic about the FTA last year, said Wednesday that the accord should not be considered until the administration first expands a program that helps U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, put out an eight-page letter to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab recommending delay of FTA approval until a series of conditions are met.
  • The 2009 foreign aid budget request will be issued next week. Watch this space on the State Department website to find out whether or not Latin America will be cut back once again – and whether the Bush administration will seek to undo the changes Congress made to this year’s Colombia aid package.

13 Responses to “Friday Links”

  1. Camilla Says:

    Boy, what a bunch of micromanagers they are at Human Rights Watch. Unless Colombia (a sovereign state with a popular democratically elected leader) does what HRW wants, in the minute detail HRW wants, HRW will continue to call Colombia a bigtime human rights violator (right up there with Burma) and ignore the realities on the ground. HRW should be concerned with RESULTS on the ground, not writing another country’s laws and commanding its ally too. They really do want to run the world, don’t they? All so they won’t heap criticism on others. I got news for HRW: having a job is HUMAN RIGHT! The fact that HRW would DENY large swathes of Colombian people JOBS all because they want something done this way rather than that way really does speak ill for them. There needs to be increased scrutiny on this Soros- and Sandler funded group. They want to bypass democracy and run the world themselves and too bad about the needs and economic interests of the public. To hell with them.

  2. Randy Paul Says:

    I didn’t get the impression that HRW was micromanaging and, frankly see nothing unreasonable in their recommendations.

    The US is also a sovereign country with a congress that ratifies trade agreements and as a US citizen I want my country to enter into trade agreements in return for reasonable commitments such as ensuring the protection of trade unionists, disbanding of criminal organizations such as the AUC and their component criminal enterprises and lucre.

  3. Christopher Colbow Says:

    I don’t understand how we can categorically deny a FTA to Colombia based on the killings of unionists by illegal paramilitary groups. The AUC is a criminal enterprise and is being dealt with by the government as best it can. Yes there is a lot of sympathy for the paramilitary among some in the govt, but we can’t punish Colombia as a whole for that.

    Of all the things we could do to support Colombians today, a FTA is among the best options. It will increase trade and commerce and create numerous jobs in Colombia. Let’s solve the labor and union rights issues separately. If you try and lump everything into one big mess, you won’t get anything done.

    In my opinion, everything that HRW says is suspect. You can’t do anything in Colombia that isn’t pro-leftist/socialist without HRW screaming their heads-off about some violation.

  4. Camilla Says:

    I don’t understand why 44 million people should be penalized for the deeds of a few criminals that everyone wants in jail anyway. To deny that many people a livelihood or an advanced standard of living just because someone else committed a crime seems out of proportion. HRW has no business seeking to make innocent people pay for the crimes of the few. That’s what makes their actions so politicized, partisan and outrageous. They need their tax-free status pulled.

  5. Randy Paul Says:

    Wow, some serious bloviating here. Might be worth one’s while to examine thoroughly the specific terms of the IRS regulations before making such thoroughly ignorant claims.

  6. LFM Says:

    I know this doesn’t go to the heart of the discussion here, but it might add some perspective. I’m too busy right to check the specific data but the following numbers might be within the relevant order of magnitude:

    Let’s suppose that Colombia exports about 10% of its GDP. I doubt in any country this size the percentage is above 20%. Roughly half of it, that is about 5% goes to the US. In turn, the US is a relatively open economy; the FTA is unlikely to make a huge dent on tariffs that are already pretty low which means that Colombia’s exports will not just shoot through the roof. It would be quite a feat if Colombia’s exports to the US increase by, say 20%, which would come to 1% of GDP. Now, that extra 1% is not going to produce itself out of thin air. It will come from resources currently spent elsewhere. But, being generous, let’s assume that, producing for the US market, those resources will be 50% more productive than what they currently are. So, we’re talking of an aggregate impact of about 0.2-0.3 % of GDP.

    In other words, the FTA is not going to pull Colombia out of poverty. Furthermore, the impact of the FTA will be rather asymmetric, some sectors winning and others loosing.

    Look, I’m not entirely against the FTA. I would like to see the details before coming to an opinion, although people whose judgment I trust do not quite like it. The point of my comment is not to conclude if the FTA is good or bad. I don’t know. It’s just to say that the rhetoric encouraged by the government, and mirrored in this discussion thread, of 44 million Colombians pinning their hopes for a better tomorrow on the FTA is vastly inflated.

  7. Camilla Says:

    Randy Paul: Makes the case precisely. Amazing how you seem to enjoy undercutting your own specious arguments.

  8. Camilla Says:

    LFM: Your stats and analysis are so off and you seem so absent of malice that I thought it worth my time to look them up for you.

    Anyway, you are underestimating the importance of exports in Colombia’s economy. Colombia exports were about $30 billion in 2006. Its GDP was $125 billion. Forty percent of its exports, or $9.6 billion, go to the US. But only 26% of it imports come from the US Why? Because tariffs are charged on US goods to Colombia while Colombian goods roll into the US dutyfree. That’s right, there’s one-way free trade with Colombia, and Colombian companies pay nothing to get their cut flowers, underwear, emeralds, coal, blue jeans, bananas and other stuff they ship us to the US. Why is that? Because Colombia helps the US in the war on drugs. Dropping tariffs on nearly all Colombian goods was the tradeoff. So that means a cup of coffee coming in from Colombia to the US pays no tariff but a bottle of Pepsi going down to Colombia pays tariffs of 20%.

    In theory Colombia has it good, no? But not if you talk to real Colombians and I don’t mean NGOs, who have no connection to the economy, but to real business people who will lose their jobs if they don’t have FTA opportunities. To them, it’s awful. Colombian businessmen tell me that they laid off thousands of their labor force last year because there was no free trade pact. The absence of an FTA means they can’t get long term contracts, can’t get capital goods, can’t get FDI. So, they lose business and see it now snapped up by Peru as well as better capitalized China. These private-sector Colombians say that Colombia will gain tons of foreign investment and capital goods that will help them expand and grow far more than a measly mere 0.1%. Mexico’s economy expanded fourfold in its first decade of NAFTA and its per capita GDP rocketed upward to $7000, the highest in all Latin America. Colombia’s by contrast remains a pathetic $3000, something HRW insists stay that way. I’d like to see them try to live on $3000 a year. Free trade is critical for Colombia’s economy. A stronger private sector means more money for NGOs, too, but not many NGOs ever make that connection. You’d think they would.


  9. Camilla Says:

    Anyone appalled at the news that ‘Jabon’ was being protected by FARC-worshipping Hugo Chavez? A former Venezuelan drug chief named Mildred Camera now says Jabon was being protected by Venezuelan officials, who provided him with all the passports, false identity papers, safe houses and transit he liked. He was their boy.

    He also was the biggest cocaine lord in Colombia, so effectively, he moved the world headquarters of drug trafficking from Colombia to Venezuela. Implication: Venezuela is becoming the narcostate, taking the ‘honor’ away from Colombia, which has been knocking them down like bowling pins. I sometimes wonder if Uribe’s agents were the ones who rubbed out Jabon, it would be interesting if they did, but I don’t know.

  10. lfm Says:

    Well, I didn’t have “stats” just ballpark figures more or less similar to the ones of other countries. Now that Camilla put the stats up I can see and, guess what? I was right! 9.6 out of 125 is actually 7.68%. My ballpark estimate was 5%. My armchair never looked so comfy.

    Of course there will be several business people screaming bloody murder about the FTA. That happens all the time, in every country. But that’s the beauty of the tyranny of numbers. That 7.68% is not going to balloon until all Colombians are fat and rich. Some businesses will win handsomely. Good for them! I have nothing against that. But in macroeconomic terms, the FTA won’t make a big difference. You want the FTA? Fine. I don’t really have much of a dog in that fight. But then defend it on the merits of what it will really do, namely, helping some specific sectors in the economy. Don’t say that it will catapult Colombia into First World status, or that not signing it will send Colombia to the Sub-Saharian doldrums.

    Oh! And Mexico? Well, the story is much more complicated than that. I’m too busy right now, but take a look at what defenders of NAFTA like Brad de Long have been saying recently. It’s a pretty nuanced and rather jaundiced view… and this from somebody that fought tooth and claw for NAFTA!

  11. Randy Paul Says:


    En sus sueños. 501(3)(c) organizations are allowed to devote some of their resources to involvement with legislative concerns via lobbying. What they are expressly forbidden to do is advocate on behalf of a specific candidate for elective office.

    I have every reason to believe, your visceral distaste for HRW and tendentious cluelessness notwithstanding, that the personnel at HRW know exactly where the line to be crossed is and stay well away from it.

  12. lfm Says:

    And another thing. Just because I love the noise of a baseless meme being squished by common sense, let’s take a look at the “fourfold expansion of the Mexican economy in a decade.”

    I’ve spoken to several Mexicans, some of whom actually defend NAFTA and no one, not even in their most rapturous delirium will claim that the economy expanded fourfold during the past decade. Probably Carlos Slim’s fortune did, but that’s another story.

    If something wants to multiply by four in ten years, it has to grow at around 14% per annum. Now, in the case of Mexico, the economy tanked for a few years around the 94 crisis. In effect, its growth rate for a period of three years was 0%. Because of the genius of compound, if the Mexican economy wanted to pull the same feat of quadrupling, this time in seven years, it would have had to grow at around 22%.

    Those growth rates would have put to shame the Chinese economy. They would have been the most spectacular growth rate experienced by any economy of that size in the better part of the 20th century.

    Apparently, sometimes if you spend too much time listening to people with axes to grind, you end up believing really outlandish stuff. But what do I know… after all my calculator is a well-known Communist agent.

  13. Randy Paul Says:

    Mexico’s economy expanded fourfold in its first decade of NAFTA and its per capita GDP rocketed upward to $7000, the highest in all Latin America. Colombia’s by contrast remains a pathetic $3000, something HRW insists stay that way. I’d like to see them try to live on $3000 a year.[my emphasis]

    Given that this is a per capita GDP figure, your comparison is patently false.

    In any event, if you want to be intellectually honest, you look at GDP in terms of purchasing power parity, not per capita GDP. As you can see here Colombia is comes with a GDP PPP ranging from $6,458 to $8,260 depending on who is figuring the GDP.

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