Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category
America’s ‘backyard’ has never been so united and independent of U.S. influence.
Steve Ellner, In These Times, April 14, 2011
In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama pressed for quick passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia, and since then has followed up on the proposal. In doing so he has delighted Republicans who had been accusing him of failing to prioritize the issue. In his January speech, Obama made no reference to his unequivocal concern over human rights violations which he had raised in his third presidential debate with McCain.
Since 2008, little has improved to justify Obama’s reversal. Human Rights Watch has reported a 41 percent increase in the number of victims in 2010 over the previous year, including the murder of 44 trade unionists. In the first six weeks of 2011, death squads assassinated three more labor activists.
In an attempt to assure members of U.S. Congress that progress is being made, on April 7 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Obama announced from the White House the approval of an “Action Plan,” whereby the Colombian government pledged to take stringent measures to curb abuses. Many Colombian trade union leaders, however, refused to buy into the arrangement and expressed skepticism about their government’s resolve. Tarsicio Mora, president of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT), objected by saying, “It just can’t be that respect for a basic right established in the constitution, such as the right to life, has to be required by a commercial transaction.”
Obama’s new stand has also failed to win over U.S. trade unionists. In January, Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen argued against the agreement by pointing out that 15 million Colombians representing 82 percent of the working population are not recognized as workers and thus under the law “have no rights.”
Obama’s change–from opposition to the free trade agreement with Colombia, to lukewarm endorsement of it, to vigorous support–is just one example of his turnabout on Latin American policy. His modified stand distances Washington from an important bloc of Latin American governments and contributes to the decline of the U.S. leadership position in the hemisphere.
Venezuenanalysis.com note: In the past both the U.S. and Colombian governments have used the alleged presence of FARC members in Venezuela to demonise the Bolivarian government. Recently, in 2009, the Colombian government insinuated that Venezuela was providing weapons to the FARC to help justify the presence of U.S military bases in the Colombia and as part of tensions and disputes between the two countries at the time.
Edward Fox, Columbia Reports, April 12, 2011
President Juan Manuel Santos told Spanish television Tuesday he is confident that FARC encampments in Venezuela have been dismantled.
“We are satisfied that the camps that we had previously located are no longer there,” the head of state said, adding that Venezuela had provided Colombia with details on Monday of two FARC guerrillas accused of killing two Colombian marines who had escaped across the border. This move, Santos stated, was an “unprecedented” gesture in relations between the neighboring countries, Terra reports.
Venezuela has been the focus of accusations in recent years for harboring the terrorist organization within its border, culminating in the filing of a complaint before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) by former President Alvaro Uribe last August.
Since Santos came to power however, there has been a significant thawing in relations between the two countries, something the Colombian president praised his Venezuelan counterpart for on Tuesday.
Santos said, “We are advancing each time on the different fronts [security, economy] we agreed upon eight months ago,” adding that Hugo Chavez has so far complied with everything he said he would and that he, Santos, acknowledges that.
The current spat with Ecuador is symptomatic of Washington’s failure to grasp that it no longer exercises regional hegemony
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, April 8, 2011
Yesterday the United States expelled the Ambassador from Ecuador, in retaliation for Wednesday’s expulsion of the U.S Ambassador from Ecuador. This now leaves the United States without ambassadorial relations in three South American countries – Bolivia and Venezuela being the other two — thus surpassing the Bush Administration in its diplomatic problems in the region.
U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges was declared “persona non grata” and asked to leave Ecuador “as soon as possible,” after a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks showed her saying some disparaging things about Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. In the cable she alleges that President Correa had knowledge of corruption by a former head of the national police.
Although the Bush Administration intervened in the internal affairs of countries such as Bolivia and even Brazil, it was somewhat better at keeping its “eyes on the prize,” and avoiding fights that would distract from its main goal. The prize, of course, is Venezuela – home to the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey at 500 billion barrels. Washington’s goal there for the last decade has been regime change. The Bush team understood that the more they fought with other countries in the region, the less credible would be their public relations story that Venezuela was the problem.
It’s nothing personal, really – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could have chosen to be the perfect diplomat and he would still be treated in much the same manner by the U.S. government. And it’s not the oil itself, since Venezuela still sells us more than a million barrels a day and there is a world market for oil in any case. It’s just that any country with that much oil is going to have regional influence – and Washington just doesn’t want to deal with someone who has regional influence and doesn’t line up with its own goals for the region – not if it can get rid of them. And they have come close to getting rid of Chávez, in the 2002 coup – so they are not giving up.
But Washington is losing ground there too. A big blow was the change in Colombia’s foreign policy last summer, when President Juan Manuel Santos took office. An important part of Washington’s strategy in Venezuela is to maintain tension between Colombia and Venezuela. They have a head start on this project since the 2000 kilometer border between the two countries has been plagued by paramilitary and guerrilla violence for decades. Conflict between Venezuela and Colombia is also important to Washington’s electoral strategy in Venezuela. When there is trouble between the two countries, as in 2009, when Venezuela cut off bilateral trade in response to the U.S. effort to expand its military presence in Colombia, it has a negative impact on a lot of Venezuelans in border states. This helps garner some anti-Chávez votes in border states, as in last year’s congressional election in Venezuela. And accusations of Venezuelan support for the FARC guerrillas in Colombia – despite Washington’s failure to offer any evidence – are a key element of bringing its anti-Venezuela efforts under the “war on terror” umbrella.
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Jim Glade, Colombia Reports, March 31,2011
The Colombian internal conflict cost the country an average of $2.67 billion each year annually between 1980 and 2005, according to Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry, newspaper El Espectador reported.
With specific reference to Colombia’s fight against guerrilla groups the FARC and the ELN, the minister said that from 1980 to 2005 the government spent $74.9 billion.
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Hispanically Speaking News, March 31, 2011
An Ecuadorian court provisionally dismissed Santos from the investigation concerning the 2008 bombing of a FARC camp inside Ecuador.
Sucumbíos justise Daniel Méndez announced that Juan Manuel Santos has been provisionally exonerated, since as president of Colombia he enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Six members of the Colombian armed and police forces however, do not have immunity, and Ecuador has given them three days to come up with some kind of appeal, though Colombia does not recognize the competence of Ecuadorian justice in this case. The accused include the then-commander of the military Freddy Padilla, Police Chief Oscar Naranjo, former army commander Mario Montoya, army General Jorge Ballesteros, the then-commander of the navy Guillermo Barrera and Lieutenant Colonel Camilo Alvarez.
On March of 2008, then defense minister Santos approved an operative in which bombs were dropped into a FARC camp in Agostura, Ecuador.
During the operative FARC’s number 2, Raul Reyes was killed, as well as an Ecuadorian citizen, and five Mexican college students.
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Samuel Thomson, Colombia Reports, March 31, 2011
Yet while 298 members of the military have so far been convicted for these extrajudicial murders, this is said to represent “only a fraction of the outstanding cases” against the perpetrators of the “false positives” scandals. The report indicates that the resolution of these cases is hampered by the requirement of “100 additional prosecutors and 500 more investigators.”
The British government commended Santos for changing the perception of human rights defenders, noting that they had previously been portrayed by senior government officials as “guerrilla sympathisers” and faced hostile public opinion. This praise was tempered though by the fact that 40 human rights defenders and 25 trade unionists were murdered last year.
The plight of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian population also remains far from resolved according to the report, as they continue to suffer from “displacement, threats and massacres,” with impunity levels still high. The report stated that any government attempts to resolve the problems are hampered by “corruption [and] the worst winter floods in Colombia’s history,” as well as the government’s “lack of control over many remote areas.”
Colombia’s Santos Seeks to Increase Economic Ties with China, Pressure U.S. to Pass Free Trade Agreement
Sebastian Castaneda, World Politics Review, April 1, 2011
A number of recent overtures by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos toward China have caused concern in Washington and put pressure on Congress to finally pass the free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia. Although this is probably Santos’ intention, the highly publicized moves should actually be understood in the context of his broader efforts to diversify Colombia’s foreign policy posture.
In September 2010, one month after his inauguration, Santos accepted $1 million in aid from China to be used to acquire Chinese logistical military equipment. The Chinese government also invited several senior military officers to participate in training courses in China. Although the deal is insignificant when compared to the more than $7.3 billion Bogota has received from Washington under Plan Colombia, the optics of the agreement are far more important than the dollar amount involved. Santos is well aware of the impact that such a deal will have in Washington given China’s efforts to become as a major arms supplier to Latin America.
A more recent example of Santos’ strategy to capitalize on the “China threat” rhetoric prevalent in Washington is illustrated by his comments on what he characterized as a “real proposal” by China to build a so-called dry canal to connect ports on the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by rail. The $7.6 billion project would threaten the U.S.-built Panama canal’s monopoly on trade passing through the region. At least on paper, the 136-mile link would turn Colombia into an important regional hub for trade with the world’s No. 2 economy.
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