Monday, March 31, 2008

It's in the hole!

So Cuba wants more golf courses. I was trying to think of sports more associated with capitalism, and there aren’t many—a large amount of water used to create grass on which to hit a little ball with expensive sticks, with some villas and apartments on the side to boot.

The Cuban government has made various market-oriented reforms over the years, but this one struck me as symbolically relevant.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The U.S. and crisis in Bolivia

Miguel and Blog From Bolivia note that the National Electoral Court (CNE) has not authorized any of the previously announced referenda, but that Santa Cruz is ignoring that fact and wants to push ahead with an autonomy vote. If it goes forward, it will almost guarantee violence.

I found it interesting that the EU very clearly said it would respect the CNE’s decision, and not recognize an illegal vote. The U.S. government, however, has said nothing (or at least I cannot find anything). When we think of the negative image of the U.S. in Latin America, this is a good example. The EU takes an unambiguous stand about a critical issue and the U.S. remains mum.

While searching, I ran across an interview Evo Morales just did with Al Jazeera. Here is his take:

You recently said that the United States government was pushing to try to turn Bolivia into a kind of Kosovo. What proof do you have of that?

First the American congressmen that visited me recently asked me to support that division of Kosovo. It's impossible that we can support the division of a country. Secondly, the conspiracy against my government is headed by the US ambassador.

USAID, with funds that come American tax payers, who think they are helping the Bolivian people, is using the money in a dirty campaign against my government and especially against me. They meet with NGOs and other groups here, always with the intention of conspiring. They offer them money on condition that they take part in the campaign against Evo Morales.

The mayor of a city, who recently visited me, told me he was offered money by the USAID agency to run as an opposition congressman. They even offered to pay for his campaign.

And the mayor told me that the people who work for the US agency go from house to house telling people that if they get rid of Evo Morales, they will have more money. If we wanted to document this we could. We are going to present the documents to prove this to the US Congress.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

We are now robo-worthy

North Carolina's primary is on May 6, and a May primary has usually meant the state's vote doesn't matter. This year, of course, is different, and polls show that Hillary Clinton has to work very hard to catch up to Obama in the state for our 134 delegates.

Accordingly, yesterday I received my first robo-call from the Clinton campaign, and this morning read that Chelsea herself will be visiting the Tar Heel State. Both candidates are starting to spend more time here, but Clinton is working extra hard. It's nice to matter for once!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Ecuador and the FARC

Ecuador says that Franklin Aisalla, the Ecuadorian who was hanging out with Raúl Reyes, was in fact a member of the FARC and not just a poor locksmith who happened to be vacationing with guerrillas in the jungle. Ecuador’s own military intelligence carried out the investigation, so there is no conspiracy theory. Rafael Correa remains angry, saying that even though he was a member of the FARC, nothing justifies being killed by an attack from a foreign country.

Correa came out of the original crisis in a very strong position domestically. To what degree will the average Ecuadorian remain indignant given the revelation?


Thursday, March 27, 2008

U.S.-Colombia FTA or the end of life as we know it

It looks like the Bush Administration will soon push Congress to approve a free trade agreement with Colombia, and so more pro-FTA commentary is flowing.

It seems to me, though, that the administration is shooting itself in the foot with hyperbole. I am interested in hearing real debate about the FTA, but there won’t be any. President Bush himself has linked the FTA to defeating the FARC and countering Hugo Chávez. He even laid it out in his typical black and white terms:

As the recent standoff in the Andes shows, the region is facing an increasingly stark choice: to quietly accept the vision of the terrorists and the demagogues, or to actively support democratic leaders like President Uribe.

So pass the FTA or you support terrorism. What kind of monster would vote to “accept the visions of the terrorists”?

The U.S. Trade Representative is even more apocalyptic, to a degree that must make even FTA supporters cringe:

Leaders in the hemisphere and Latin America have said that the single most destabilizing factor in Latin America today may be the U.S. Congress's failure to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. That is more destabilizing today than anything that Colombia's neighbor Venezuela is doing or threatening to do— and that is saying a lot.

I don’t know who these “leaders” are, as I’ve not heard anyone making that sort of claim. But it seems that not passing an FTA with Colombia will destroy Latin America. What kind of a monster would vote “no” when it means wholesale destruction of the region?

By those standards, the WSJ’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady sounds almost rational when she agrees that an FTA will make Colombia just like Ireland, and that failure to approve an FTA will harm Colombia’s national security because other countries will have an FTA and it won’t.

What kind of a monster would refuse to allow Colombia to be just like Ireland and protect its national security?

UPDATE: If anyone is interested, here is a copy of the FTA.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Patchwork laws

A federal court ruled that states cannot pass laws about passenger rights on delayed planes. The reason? Only the federal government has the right to make decisions about certain elements of airline travel.

Immigration falls into a similar category—after all, California’s Proposition 187 was nixed in part because a federal court said it interfered with the federal government’s exclusive right to make immigration policy.

In a statement, the Air Transport Association said the ruling vindicates its position that airline services are regulated by the federal government and that a "patchwork" of state and local measures would not benefit customers.

It is unfortunate that there is not more discussion of the current effects of state “patchwork” measures on immigration, which are definitely not benefiting any “customers.”


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shining Path

Peruvian police were ambushed in the jungle by the “remnants” of the Shining Path. These days the Shining Path’s mission is to protect drug traffickers (and one of its remaining leaders was caught a few days ago).

Viva la revolución.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Exporting obesity to Mexico

Mexico is now the second fattest country in the world. The U.S., of course, is first. This is the result of increased presence of American fast food in Mexico, and a move away from a more traditional--and quite healthy--Mexican diet. U.S. investment can make your country fatter.

Some Mexicans say there's less space on an already crowded Mexico City subway because riders are getting larger. At a flea market in the south of the city, vendors hawk clothes brought from the United States made for overweight individuals.



Sunday, March 23, 2008

The military in Venezuela

Deborah Norden, “Civilian Authority Without Civilian Dominance? Assessing Venezuelan Political-Military Relations under Chávez.” Nueva Sociedad 213 (January-February 2008): 170-187.

Full text is public

ABSTRACT: Since taking power, Hugo Chávez has begun a process of transformation within which the military play a crucial role. In order to ensure his control of the military, Chávez has incorporated military personnel into his government, he has promoted loyal officers, given the military new responsibilities on the domestic front, and he has sought to create a series of shared values related to socialism and anti-imperialism. This has enabled him to consolidate a certain authority within the armed forces and maintain civilian control, but his domination must not be overestimated. The Venezuelan political system is undergoing a period of transition and, until it is completed, there can hardly be a truly stable relation between civilians and the military.

Deborah Norden has been researching civil-military relations in Latin America generally, and Venezuela specifically, for quite some time. I find this article particularly insightful because it looks at the convergence between the military’s perception of its role and what it is asked to do.* One might expect the Venezuelan military to be restive given political polarization in the country and its injection into politics, but Chávez has been very skillful at a) purging dissenting officers and b) explaining very clearly to the remaining ranks what their role in the country’s development will be. As she writes, “When the government has well-developed defense and security policies, and these are compatible with military policy goals, then both are likely to be more successful” (p. 171).

She argues that this can be a highly effective strategy, but it entails more “control” than “management” of the armed forces, because Chávez has not worked to establish solid bureaucratic capabilities to manage the military (it should be noted, however, that this latter point is true of almost every Latin American country). One important question is how Chávez’s strategies—especially the explicit inculcation of socialism into the military—would affect a future, non-socialist president.

She does not mention Bolivia, but I think it could provide useful comparative perspective. Despite its interventionist history the Bolivian military has remained firmly behind Evo Morales. So are there parallels between the management styles of the two presidents with regard to the armed forces? In the past few months, I’ve actually received emails from two separate Ph.D. students starting research on the Bolivian military, which remains woefully understudied—the same is true of Ecuador, yet both countries would help us better understand the military side of the political changes taking place in many Latin American countries.

* The divergence of the two helps explain why Chávez and many other officers became disillusioned in the 1980s.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Coca fumigation in Colombia

The Washington Office on Latin America just published a study about fumigation of coca in Colombia. Here is the main conclusion:

The current strategy of attacking cultivation undermines the already precarious livelihoods of the Colombian peasants, settlers, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians who plant coca to survive, thereby increasing rather than lessening their reliance on coca. Aerial spraying with glyphosate and other chemicals is causing serious environmental, cultural and social damage. Another consequence is the repeated violation of rights that are well-established in international legislation, rights which the government has committed itself to safeguarding.

Are there alternatives to fumigation of crops for illicit use? Projects proposed and implemented by affected communities have shown that reducing coca through the stimulation of productive legal alternatives is possible, particularly when projects are supported by international cooperation and committed stakeholders and are consonant with the interests and know-how of local communities. Guaranteeing the sustainability of such projects is the key to offering a dignified life to thousands of rural Colombian families living in poverty. Only with viable alternatives in place can progress be made in lessening reliance on coca.
It is well worth the read, as it provides a clearly written summary of all the problems associated with aerial spraying, with a primary focus on how it affects the most vulnerable rural populations, and includes specific alternative policy suggestions to create incentives for peasants to grow something other than coca.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Baseball in China

If baseball is going to flourish in China, then the Chinese government needs to figure some things out, as evidenced by events after the Dodgers-Padres game. For example, if a player wants to walk over and give some autographs to adoring fans, you should not instruct security guards to block him and prevent him from doing so, all the while refusing to explain why.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Female voters and Bachelet

Mauricio Morales Quiroga, “La primera mujer presidenta de Chile: ¿Qué explicó el triunfo de Michelle Bachelet en las elecciones de 2005-2006?” Latin American Research Review 43, 1 (2008): 7-32.

Sorry, the full text is password protected.

ABSTRACT: For the first time in Chile, a woman triumphed in the presidential elections. We suggest that Bachelet's victory is explained, primarily, by her personal attributes. Chileans perceived her as the most trustworthy candidate and as one they could relate to, and they valued her qualifications as a possible governor. Furthermore, she was helped by a political and economic environment derived from her association with President Ricardo Lagos and the positive economic growth that Chile experienced during his administration. A crucial theme that spans the breadth of the article is that of "gender solidarity," which maintains that female support was a determinant in Bachelet's triumph. This is corroborated by polls on voting intentions and also by the final, municipal-level electoral results.

The idea that women—and especially poor women who are heads of households—were a determinant in Michelle Bachelet’s victory is not necessarily so earth shattering, though this article does a very nice job of using voting data to do a quantitative study of who voted for her.

For me, the more intriguing issue is to think about the implications. In particular, for the next LASA I will (hopefully) be on a panel dedicated to Chilean politics (in addition to the workshop on blogging) and I plan on doing a paper about the slow crumbling of the Concertación. Since it is well over a year away, exactly how I will approach this remains remains very much in the tentative stage.

In the context of this article, what occurs to me is that if women, and especially poor women, vaulted Bachelet into the presidency, then failing to pass legislation to help that constituency would foster quite a backlash. Many Bachelet supporters may be ambivalent about the Concertación, but support it because they like her personally. So if she doesn’t perform, then they reject both her as president and the coalition.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Unconditional aid

The U.S. is really ticked that China provides aid to Latin America without strings attached. I am trying to sort through the multiple ironies, hypocrisies, and contradictions implied in that criticism, but there are too many and it makes my head hurt.


Recent murders in Colombia

Adam Isacson discusses the spate of threats against and murders of labor and human rights activists immediately following the March 6 protests in Colombia (four were killed that week). The upshot is that since Alvaro Uribe (and particularly his close advisor José Obdulio Gaviria) made a point of rejecting the protests and even equating them with the FARC, they gave the green light to paramilitaries to attack. If you can dehumanize protesters by labeling them terrorists, then you can rationalize doing anything.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The OAS response

The OAS has issued a draft resolution regarding the Colombia-Ecuador incident, which does not say all that much. It “rejects” the Colombian incursion, asserting that it violated Articles 19 and 21 of the OAS Charter, but also “takes note” of Colombia’s apology. It then suggests creating “mechanisms” and “measures” to foster better bilateral relations. All the OAS documents surrounding the incident can be found here.

More interesting is the report of the commission that went to Ecuador and Colombia. Regarding the laptops:

[T]he OAS Secretary General and some Commission members held a brief meeting with members of INTERPOL who had come to Colombia at the request of that country’s government to conduct an expert examination of three computers, three USBs (portable memory), and three hard disks, which, according to the Colombian officials, had been found in the FARC camp. The INTERPOL delegates, accompanied by officials from the Administrative Security Department (DAS), informed the Commission that the results of their investigation would be ready in late April (p. 5).

Now, as for the differing versions of events:

The Government of Colombia indicates that the operation was initially planned to take place in Colombian territory because, according to intelligence information, Raúl Reyes was going to be at that camp that night. At 22:30 hours on Friday, February 29, they received human intelligence information to the effect that Raúl Reyes was at a camp located in Ecuadorian territory. For that reason they decided to carry out a dual operation on both of the identified camps. The two operations were carried out using different planes. During its flight over the area, the Commission was shown the location of the camp on Colombian territory and a map showing where the bombs were released [See Annex 6 – List of documents received by the Commission].

The Government of Ecuador expresses doubts about the –in its view—very short period of time in which the Colombian authorities decided to carry out the operation and regards it as unlikely that it was done on the basis of human intelligence data because of the precision of the bombing. The Government of Ecuador also states that, according to the investigation carried out by its Air Force technical staff, six 500-pound GBU12 bombs were dropped by planes flying from South to North and four more were dropped by planes flying in a North-South direction, from Ecuadorian air space. It also points out that, judging by the remains of the bombs found at the camp, their delivery required advanced technology, which, they say, the Colombian Air Force does not possess (p. 6)

From what I see, however, the OAS is not going to verify which version is accurate. Instead, it seeks to move forward and improve relations. But if we want to establish confidence, isn’t it necessary to determine the truth of the incident first?


Monday, March 17, 2008

Salvadorans in the U.S.

I've mentioned my former student Gabriel Serrano before—here is a short profile of him. It is a great story about fighting for freedom of expression in a country controlled by a very conservative elite.


Getting a Ph.D.

Chris Lawrence has good suggestions for undergraduates considering a Ph.D. in Political Science, with links to some really interesting discussions by people applying to graduate school. One major source of debate is needing to get a Ph.D. from a “top 25” school in order to get a “good job,” which then launched comments about what is “top 25.” In my view, it makes more sense to look at the school’s website and ask their graduate coordinator about what their placement record is—you can then see what types of jobs you would likely get, and make your decision accordingly. So I agree with Chris, who highlighted one response in particular from a long thread:

Whatever the rank of your program, if you have full funding and they have a decent placement record, strong faculty, and you think you can get the kind of training you want, then go.
And always keep in mind that a Ph.D. takes a long time, you’ll have little money for quite a while, and then the job market is stressful and unpredictable. In many ways it’s a weird profession.

Somewhat related, Dr. Crazy has a long post on the dynamics of publishing once you have a tenure-track position. It doesn’t fit me perfectly (i.e. all my journal submissions have been “cold”) but is still worth a look.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

State reactions to immigration

Ever since Congress abdicated its responsibility and refused to pass immigration reform, numerous state and local governments have been passing their own legislation, often restrictive. Now, however, lawmakers in both Arizona and Colorado want to create their own guest worker programs to deal with labor shortage.

Ironically, Arizona and Colorado are two states that have been at the forefront of punitive legislation (Tom Tancredo is of course from Colorado). Therefore some members of the legislature (even Republicans, I should point out, as this is not always a clearly partisan issue) are trying to counter restrictive legislation they already passed.

Labor rights groups oppose the idea because they are concerned that state-level guest worker programs will lack sufficient protection for the workers (some opponents may also be against guest workers programs on principle).

Ultimately, this particular proposal is currently a moot point, because it would entail states taking over federal duties and therefore is not constitutional, unless Congress expressly delegates that duty. This may simply be a trial balloon--after all, it has not gone up for a vote--but it is yet another example of what a mess Congress has made.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Making a list and checking it twice

Some Congressional Republicans have proposed a resolution to put Venezuela on the state sponsor of terrorism list. What we should note, however, is that these particular Republicans are the usual suspects of anti-Castro policy (e.g. Connie Mack and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen). As a result, this doesn’t tell us much about how Congress as a whole will respond.

What virtually no one seems to be discussing is the cost that will be borne by U.S. consumers at a time of recession and in an election year if trade with Venezuela is severely restricted. The average person is only vaguely interested in Hugo Chávez, but is extremely interested in the cost of gas and food. So who will they blame?

Here is the text of the resolution.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Colombia-Venezuela relations

Hugo Chávez called Alvaro Uribe and the two agreed to meet soon, both to discuss bilateral relations but also to improve the personal relationship between the two. The latter is especially important, because at this point Chávez has insulted Uribe in so many ways that he’d need a thesaurus to find a new one.

Bubbling right under the surface are the laptops, which are currently being examined by Interpol, and Condoleezza Rice’s constant hinting about putting Venezuela on the terrorist list (what is the current Vegas line on this?). Doing that will wreck dialogue between Venezuela and Colombia while also strengthening Chávez at home where, as Boz points out, his numbers aren’t currently too high.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Argentina for you!

Condoleezza Rice is heading off to Brazil and Chile, and the NYT notes how she is snubbing Argentina for its ties to Venezuela. Last month Clarín reported that Thomas Shannon would be visiting Argentina before long, but apparently that didn’t pan out (at least yet—the article noted that no date had been set).

I think the U.S.-Argentine relationship is particularly interesting. The two governments are wary of each other but not exactly antagonistic. Each sees a benefit to being proper but not too friendly, but each sends a variety of signals--sometimes positive, sometimes negative--all the time.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Google Reader

Steven Taylor had mentioned using shared items in Google Reader--for a variety of reasons I had been thinking of switching from Newsgator, and finally did so. I am going to experiment with shared items, which are links to blog posts I happen to find interesting but don't necessarily blog about myself--the idea is to give as much exposure as possible to different blogs. You can click here to see them. I imagine I won't generally add more than one a day at most.

Actually, now I see that I can just create a widget on the right.


Framing remittances

There is a new IADB report on remittances to Latin America, reporting that they are up to $66.5 billion, a 7% increase from last year, which is a lower percentage increase than in recent years. Remittances to Brazil actually dropped, and the authors cite a stronger Brazilian economy and currency. However, in Honduras remittances constitute a staggering 25% of GNP (Haiti and Guyana are even higher) and remittances to Central America increased 11% overall.

What I found most curious, though, was the way in which the media chose to frame it. The absolute amount continues to rise, so it is increasingly difficult to keep up the massive percentage increases year to year, regardless of immigration policy or other factors.

So the Miami Herald headline is: “Migrants’ Money Flow Home Slackens”

But the Arizona Republic has: “Migrants Still Sending Vast Sums Back to Latin America”


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Renewed liberation theology?

Thanks to my student Kelby for pointing out that the Vatican has updated its list of deadly sins and that three of them sound surprisingly like liberation theology:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control

2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research

3. Drug abuse

4. Polluting the environment

5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor

6. Excessive wealth

7. Creating poverty

As a staunch defender of “traditional” Catholic values, over twenty years ago Cardinal Ratzinger had made his view on liberation theology clear: “An analysis of the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church.”

But if the last three (or really even four) items are deadly sins, then by extension capitalism—and the U.S. effort to promote it--is also sinful. This is what Latin American priests were saying decades ago. It is, strangely enough, just a tiny step from saying that the only virtuous ideology is socialism, or at least democratic socialism. It is also just a tiny step from asking good Catholics to denounce any government that is sinful, e.g. capitalist.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Venezuela poll

I just discovered that Blogger does not archive polls. Apparently there are free poll services to use, and I may try to figure that out in the future for fun. But I am taking down the old poll, so will just write the results here, and we can see in late April how everyone fared.

Will the U.S. Add Venezuela to the "State Sponsor of Terrorism" List?

No: 33%
Yes: 47%
Yes, but next year: 19%
n= 21


Drip, Drip, Drip

The Venezuelan government notes that the Rio Declaration will go down in history as an example for neighborly relations. There is nothing in the agreement, however, about the dissemination of information, and so the Colombian government’s strategy is to leak documents from the laptops.

Do it all at once, and interest will wane quickly. Do it bit by bit, keep getting attention, and the impact is greater. The current crop of documents has not been too damning of Venezuela, so Hugo Chávez has not responded—I wonder what will happen when that changes.

Regardless, it is important to note that, as far as I have read, no outside experts have yet looked at the laptops. Interpol apparently is sending people who will arrive in Colombia next week.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

George Will on Cuba policy

George Will has written a column on Cuba, which shows relatively little understanding about Cuba itself, but which nonetheless argues for an end to the embargo. Therefore it is notable as another example of Republicans jumping ship on Cuba policy.

The thrust of the article is not to assume that capitalism will bring democracy to Cuba, by comparing it to China. We could, of course, argue all day about the relationship between capitalism and democracy (or polyarchy) but the fact is that Cuba is not much like China, politically, geographically, etc. I am a comparativist, but superficial comparisons (i.e. both countries were “communist” so political outcomes should be more or less the same) sometime obscure more than they reveal.

He also cites a history of Cuba “blaming” the United States, and before it Spain, for Cuban problems. It’s true—you should really blame yourself for colonial rule, slash and burn control tactics, then the U.S. writing itself into your constitution, then periodically occupying you before it stopped and just funded a dictator instead.

But what did I expect from George Will? He did, however, say the embargo is an utterly failed policy, and on that point he’s correct.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

This is the end

The immediate crisis is—amazingly, given the heated exchanges--now over, but it happened so fast that a number of questions remain. As far as I can tell, the “agreement” is as follows:

  1. Colombia apologizes to Ecuador, and Ecuador accepts
  2. Colombia promises (in writing) it will not cross borders in such a manner again (the wording of this will obviously be important)
  3. Venezuela normalizes all relations with Colombia
  4. Colombia will not pursue any charges against Chávez
  5. Ecuador will investigate the charges based on the laptop information
  6. Nicaragua normalizes relations with Colombia

Fidel Castro argues that the only loser is the United States. I agree to an extent—the fact that the Rio Group represented a successful diplomatic avenue demonstrates Latin America’s ability to solve its own problems. The total U.S. support for crossing borders also isolates it (though that is not entirely new). As Boz points out, though, the OAS—and its General Secretary José Miguel Insulza—also comes out a loser to some degree because it emitted platitudes rather than solutions. This won’t be great for him as he eyes the Chilean presidency.

Both Correa and Chávez can claim victory, as they received the promise from Uribe, and can say they talked tough while seeking peaceful solutions. Uribe comes out fine, as for the price of an apology and promise he hit the FARC very hard, and has also called more international attention to the FARC’s activities in Ecuador and Venezuela.

But questions remain:

--What is the status of all that information on the laptops?

--Will Chávez continue to speak well of the FARC and its leaders? If so, would that affect this agreement?

--Is there any sort of agreement about how to patrol the borders?

--If Uribe gets info that a high-ranking member of the FARC is right across the border, what will he do? Does the agreement address that?


Friday, March 07, 2008

Party at the Rio Group Summit

Perhaps because of the seriousness of the meeting, I love this photo (from El Tiempo). It looks like a class photo, where everybody is so joyful.

BTW, Uribe refused to join the fun. I guess when everyone is talking about condemning you, it doesn’t put you in the mood to say cheese and wave at the camera.

I really would like to be a fly on the wall in some of these meetings.


Uribe and a third term

Thanks to Adam Isacson for a reminder (and link to a timeline) about Alvaro Uribe’s comments last November, when he said that—like most leaders who want to stay in power—that he didn’t want to stay in power. But he would if there was some sort of catastrophe and his coalition couldn’t unite around another candidate. So hop on the bandwagon for yet another constitutional amendment for yet another presidential term.

Just anecdotally, yesterday I ran into a former student of mine at the gym—he’s a Colombian-American whose family is very anti-FARC (a cousin in the military was killed by the FARC) but still wary of Uribe changing the constitution to remain in power. A poll from last year had 53.7% favoring a third term (compared to about 80% approval rating). Of course the current crisis may increase that, but there are still many Colombians who agree with many of Uribe’s policies but don’t want him to keep changing the constitution for his own benefit.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Chile gets involved

Chile is now getting more involved in the Ecuador-Colombia-Venezuela conflict.

In comments somewhere (I don’t really want to dig back) Boz mentioned the Chileans photographed with the FARC. That is now hitting the fan in Chile, as a debate has begun about whether they were receiving training or just visiting (is just visiting somehow OK?) The government is putting police at the border on alert.

President Bachelet has criticized Colombia for violating Ecuador’s sovereignty, but when asked about Hugo Chávez also said that countries should not meddle in the affairs of others, and that any initiative intended to increase polarization is not the “correct way.”

It strikes me, actually, that since the Chilean Communist Party admitted the Chileans were there, it is also verifying the accuracy of the photos taken from a FARC laptop.


FARC and kidnapping

From the beginning of this entire affair, a common concern has been that the killing of Raul Reyes jeopardized the continued release of people the FARC is holding prisoner. Fortunately, that may not be the case--they just released four of the six people kidnapped in January in a "humanitarian" gesture.

Today is also the march against violence, including that coming from paramilitaries and the state.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Venezuela, Colombia and the ICC

Given all of Alvaro Uribe’s talk of charging Hugo Chávez through the International Criminal Court, I thought I would take a look at how the ICC works, especially in the context of this particular case. I am not going to bother analyzing the details of the documents that Uribe says came from the FARC, but obviously Colombia would argue before the court that Chávez was aiding and abetting, with money, shelter, etc.

The ICC is governed by the Rome Statute, which entered into force July 1, 2002.

First of all, let’s dispense with the conventional wisdom that you can’t try a Head of State. From Article 27:

Irrelevance of official capacity

1. This Statute shall apply equally to all persons without any distinction based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility under this Statute, nor shall it, in and of itself, constitute a ground for reduction of sentence.

Now, onto the charges:

From Article 6: the ICC defines genocide in the following manner:

For the purpose of this Statute, ‘genocide’ means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

At issue: I don’t see intuitively what group Uribe intends to show as the victim of genocide, and that is the crux of the legal argument. The FARC is horribly violent, but to my knowledge it has not sought to destroy any particular group, unless Uribe intends to argue that it refers to the entire population of Colombia. In fact, he’d be much better off trying for Article 7 “Crimes Against Humanity,” since it covers the FARC more clearly, especially since it includes kidnapping, which the FARC openly uses as a weapon.

According to Articles 14 & 15, Colombia would refer the case to an ICC Prosecutor, who according to Article 42 is “elected by secret ballot by an absolute majority of the members of the Assembly of States Parties.”

According to Article 17, the Prosecutor will determine the case to be admissible if the state is “unwilling or geniunely unable” to prosecute the case on its own.

At issue: No one in Venezuela has ever charged Chávez with genocide. No one, in fact, outside Venezuela has done so either. The ICC is structured to step in when national courts cannot function. It would seem to me that Uribe would have to prove that Chávez’s genocidal actions not only were widely known, but that all efforts to charge him were being blocked in some manner.

From Article 22: “The definition of a crime shall be strictly construed and shall not be extended by analogy. In case of ambiguity, the definition shall be interpreted in favour of the person being investigated, prosecuted or convicted.”

At issue: if there is any ambiguity at all about the genocide charge, the case is dismissed immediately. However, if new evidence comes to light the charge can be revived.

Article 25 lays out how Colombia would likely argue that Chávez should be accountable for the FARC’s activities because it includes language like “aids” and “abets”:

Individual criminal responsibility

1. The Court shall have jurisdiction over natural persons pursuant to this Statute.

2. A person who commits a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court shall be individually responsible and liable for punishment in accordance with this Statute.

3. In accordance with this Statute, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person:

(a) Commits such a crime, whether as an individual, jointly with another or through another person, regardless of whether that other person is criminally responsible;

(b) Orders, solicits or induces the commission of such a crime which in fact occurs or is attempted;

(c) For the purpose of facilitating the commission of such a crime, aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission, including providing the means for its commission;

Bottom line: the basic legal foundation is there, but it is very hard to imagine the case being strong enough to pass the initial prosecutorial phase, no matter what the computer files show.


Tangled Web Part 3

I don’t know how long I’ll continue doing updates on this story, but it’s still far too interesting to set aside.

  • The Venezuelan government says it does not need Colombia for domestic food "sovereignty." Aside from Argentina and Brazil, it can also get its food from powerhouses like Nicaragua and Belarus. If trade remains disrupted, then Chávez will very quickly have to put his money where his mouth is.

  • Rafael Correa’s goal is to get Colombia to admit it violated Ecuador’s sovereignty and apologize, possibly even a censure. Most Latin American countries have expressed “rejection” (which seems to be the most common rhetoric being used) of the incursion in some form or another. They then want the OAS to deal with it.

  • Colombia says it already apologized, but it was one of those “we’re sorry that we’re being forced to apologize, and we would do it again” types of apologies.
  • Correa also made vague threats about “doing what it takes” to “defend ourselves” if Colombia does not apologize.
  • The Ecuadorian Minister of Internal Security suggested having a multinational force patrol Colombia’s border with Ecuador. That might not be such a bad idea.
  • The OAS emergency meeting did not yield a statement on the crisis:

An understanding was beginning to be worked out with Colombia admitting that a country’s territorial integrity in “inviolable” and can not be the object of “force measures by another country”.

However Colombia objected to the last wording and insisted that combating terrorism and terrorism financing is a priority for the (South American) continent and should also be included in the draft.

The Venezuelan delegate said that OAS would have no meaning if it wasn’t able to confirm that a sovereignty violation act has been committed against one of its members.

  • Lastly, the OAS has the laptops. So who gets to check them out?


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tangled Web Part 2

If anything, the Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela crisis is just getting harder to sort out, and a solution seems no closer than yesterday.

  • We have the famous laptops, but so far we only know what the Colombian government is telling us. I’m going to bother speculating until we get more info. Colombia needs to offer up something other than accusations to start ratcheting this down.
  • Ecuador has broken diplomatic relations with Colombia. However, the government said that the wounded members of the FARC would still be handed over to Colombia. Correa is also going on a trip to garner support from around the region.
  • The U.S. government got involved by telling Venezuela it shouldn’t be involved, and said the crisis should be resolved with dialogue. You know, because that’s the way the U.S. always solves things.
  • Venezuela has kicked out Colombia’s diplomatic corps, and government officials continue to criticize the Colombian government. Venezuelan authorities have halted trade at the busiest border crossings, which will obviously have economic repercussions in both countries.
  • The OAS is meeting this afternoon to start addressing the crisis.


Monday, March 03, 2008

What a tangled web

The death of Raul Reyes is having quite an effect on Colombia’s neighbors. Hugo Chávez is trying to portray it as an act of war since Colombia launched the attack into Ecuador. Rafael Correa, meanwhile, has recalled his ambassador, denounced it as a violation of sovereignty, and sent troops to the border, but his rhetoric has been more muted. Even as he criticized the way the attack was conducted, he emphasized that he condemns the FARC's actions and understood the gravity of the Colombian conflict. But we also need to see the effect of the captured laptops that purport to show the Correa government was negotiating with the FARC.

Of course, the Venezuelan government criticized the operation itself, saying it was a setback for any solution to the political conflict in Colombia, since the FARC had just released more hostages.* Chávez himself said the entire affair was all imposed by the United States, and lamented Reyes’s death, calling for a moment of silence for the “good revolutionary.” Lots and lots of references to lackeys, empires, etc. Finally, he sent troops and tanks to the border, and closed the Venezuelan embassy in Colombia.**

I don’t see Chávez’s bluster about war resonating with much of anyone, not even domestically, where I am willing to bet that most Venezuelans are perfectly happy if a violent guerrilla leader is killed (if anyone knows of a poll about Venezuelan attitudes toward the FARC or Colombia in general, please leave a link--Boz has some discussion of this). Does this saber-rattling matter to the average Venezuelan?

One obvious key to this conflict is the dialogue between Ecuador and Colombia. If they reach some sort of agreement, then the wind will be taken out of Chávez’s sails. However, this crisis is constantly evolving--in particular, we need to see how Correa continues to respond.

* Regardless of Chávez’s rhetoric, anyone who cares about the well-being of the hostages should at least ponder this logic.

**Apropos a previous post, we can safely say that Venezuela will not respond to Colombia’s suggestion of having talks…


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Virtual success of the virtual fence

The virtual fence at the border doesn't work. Anyone with a brain saw this coming. The funniest part is the way in which "failure" is phrased: the pilot project "resulted in a product that did not fully meet user needs."


INCSR report for 2008

The State Department’s 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) is now out.

From the Introduction:

The following major illicit drug producing and/or drug-transit countries were identified and notified to Congress by the President on September 14, 2007, consistent with section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107-228):

Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

Of these 20 countries, Burma and Venezuela were designated by the President as having “failed demonstrably” during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements and take the measures set forth in section 489(a)(1) of the FAA. The President also determined, however, in accordance with provisions of Section 706(3)(A) of the FRAA, that support for programs to aid Venezuela’s democratic institutions is vital to the national interests of the United States.

Other highlights:

  • Last year, I noted how coca cultivation in Colombia had increased significantly between 2005 and 2006. In the report this is portrayed simply as the result of increasing the survey area. The 2007 net cultivation numbers are not given, and I cannot find the explanation for why that is the case, though it must be in there somewhere
  • Bolivia comes out quite favorably, though I must say it seems odd to tout the use of the DARE program there, especially since it was even dropped from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system because it doesn’t work
  • Ecuador—and even Rafael Correa specifically--is also discussed in very positive terms. Side note: contrary to initial reports about cooperation, Correa has recalled his ambassador from Colombia in protest of the operation that killed Raul Reyes.
  • Even Cuba comes out looking pretty good
  • The Mexico section is a pure lovefest
  • The language on Venezuela is even more scathing than last year:

Venezuela is a major drug-transit country with rampant high level corruption and a weak judicial system. Lack of international counternarcotics cooperation and a shift in trafficking patterns through Venezuela enable a growing illicit drug transshipment industry. Despite continued USG efforts to sign a mutually agreed upon addendum to the 1978 USG-Government of Venezuela (GOV) Bilateral Counternarcotics Memorandum of Understanding, Venezuela has refused to cooperate on most bilateral counternarcotics issues. Consequently, the President determined in 2007, as in 2006 and 2005, that Venezuela failed demonstrably to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.

  • There is an interesting little nugget in the section on Uruguay: “free trade zones afford relative anonymity for the movement of cargo, including illicit substances.” In other words, the U.S. government is saying that the proliferation of free trade also encourages drug trafficking?


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Referendum conundrum

Both Miguel and Boz have discussions about the intimidation and undemocratic procedures (e.g. not allowing debate) used to pass three laws in Bolivia, which combined create a situation where a new constitution will go up for a vote on May 4, and another vote will determine whether only the national legislature can convoke a referendum, thus making the autonomy votes in Santa Cruz and Beni (on that same day) illegal.

In December, however, Evo Morales announced that he would convoke separate referenda on whether he, the Vice President, and the nine prefects should remain in office. It seems that about two weeks ago, a government spokesperson repeated the possibility in the event that negotiations failed. It seems that negotiations did indeed fail, so what happened to that proposal?


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