Top stories this week are likely to include: Senate Judiciary Committee begins mark-up of the U.S. immigration reform bill; Álvaro Uribe reacts to Nicolás Maduro; Ríos Montt genocide trial is briefly suspended; Barack Obama criticizes the imprisonment of an American filmmaker in Venezuela; and 100 prisoners participate in the Guantánamo hunger strike.
Immigration Reform in the Judiciary Committee: On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the 844-page immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators with amendments to be considered due by 5:00pm on Tuesday. Dozens of amendments are expected to be submitted by members of the Judiciary Committee, including the Uniting American Families Act—an amendment to be offered by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he supported a proposal, calling it the “right thing to do.” If passed in committee, critics say the amendment could erode bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday during his visit to Mexico, Obama said he was “optimistic” that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
Venezuelan and Colombian Heads of State Face Off: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday that he would bring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for putting his life in danger after Maduro accused Uribe on Friday of plotting to kill him. Maduro also alleged that Uribe was involved in the murder of Jhonny González, a sports reporter who was shot to death last week. On Sunday, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana criticized Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for not speaking out immediately against Maduro's accusations.
Guatemalan Constitutional Court Suspends Ríos Montt Trial: Guatemala's Constitutional Court announced on Saturday a "provisional" suspension of the genocide trial of former General Efraín Ríos Montt while it resolves an injunction request filed by Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. However, a definitive ruling on the genocide trial is expected this week after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 30 that the case could proceed. The presiding judge, Jazmín Barrios, granted a week’s recess so that García Gudiel could review the file against his client.
Obama Calls Imprisonment of American in Venezuela "Ridiculous": Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Sunday that American Timothy Tracy was posing as a documentary filmmaker to spy on the Venezuelan government. Tracy was arrested after Venezuela’s April 14 election as he was leaving the country and was charged with conspiracy late last month, saying he was plotting with opposition groups to destabilize the country. U.S. President Obama called the Venezuelan government’s claim "ridiculous” in an interview with Telemundo this weekend. Maduro responded on Saturday by calling Obama the “grand chief of devils.”
100 Prisoners on Strike in Guantánamo: An Afghan prisoner at the Guantánamo military prison in Cuba alleged in a sworn affidavit released Sunday that soldiers roughly searched prisoners' Qurans in February, triggering a hunger strike in which at least 100 prisoners have been participating for the ninth consecutive day. At least 23 prisoners are now being force-fed, though a prison spokesman said that no one is experiencing life-threatening conditions. Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that there was “absolutely no mishandling of the Quran” inside the prison.
An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was discovered yesterday in a Buenos Aires venue slated to host former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe (2002–2010). The device was found at the Gran Rex Theater, where Mr. Uribe was scheduled to speak at a conference promoting dialogue between public- and private-sector leaders on innovation. According to the judge in charge of the case, Norberto Oyarbide, “the symposium will still take place and former president Uribe will attend.”
Uribe’s administration is generally credited with greatly reducing violence stemming from Colombia’s decades-long conflict with left-wing guerilla forces, but his hardline approach has also left him vulnerable to allegations that his administration had ties to paramilitary forces and authorized actions that resulted in widespread human rights violations. Allegations have also surfaced that, on Uribe’s watch, Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) undertook widespread illegal wiretapping on opposition figures, politicians, judges and journalists.
Yesterday’s discovery comes only days after an assassination attempt against Uribe’s former Interior Minister, Fernando Londoño, which left two dead and dozens injured. Londoño is a vocal supporter of current President Juan Manuel Santos’ “Legal Framework for Peace,” a bill that would provide benefits for demobilized paramilitaries and guerrillas and even permit them to run for public office.
El secuestro de un periodista y sus últimos ataques contradicen la idea del término de la guerrilla generada por la liberación de rehenes.
Después de 47 años de lucha guerrillera en Colombia y el secuestro de 2,000 civiles y 250 militares, de acuerdo con el gobierno, las FARC anunciaron en marzo el fin del secuestro y la entrega de los últimos 10 rehenes uniformados. El gobierno interpretó el mensaje como el inicio del fin de la guerrilla, pero sus últimos ataques y el reciente secuestro de Roméo Langlois, periodista francés, demuestran su actividad.
La carta de las FARC con el anuncio del fin del secuestro supuso para algunos la puerta abierta a las negociaciones. “Es un paso impresionante que hay que aplaudir, pero hay una serie de obstáculos sociales, como las mismas fuerzas militares o los ganaderos que no quieren negociar. La comunidad internacional se va a meter y el mensaje con las liberaciones es que se está creando un ambiente de paz. A punta de conflicto, es muy difícil, y los últimos 10 años lo han demostrado”, señaló Ariel Ávila, analista de la Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris.
Mientras la incertidumbre rodea la situación del periodista francés, las FARC prosiguieron esta semana su ofensiva armada con un ataque el jueves a un campamento de carabineros en la frontera entre Colombia y Venezuela, que causó siete uniformados muertos y 12 heridos.
El 20 de febrero, se conmemoró una década de la ruptura del fallido proceso de los diálogos de paz entre las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) y el gobierno del presidente Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002). Esa fecha marcó el inicio del secuestro de políticos, comenzando por el de la excandidata Ingrid Betancourt, rescatada en 2008.
Last weekend, Colombia, headlines announce the worst in a series of military setbacks for the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in its fight against the FARC.
In a rural area of the department or Arauca, 10 soldiers and a corporal were killed when their unit was ambushed by the FARC. Arauca has remained a tough zone for the government to control: even during the heyday of former President Alvaro Uribe’s military offensive, the FARC maintained a considerable military power in Arauca. The ELN, a very weak group, has its only stronghold in that region.
Both groups have benefited from the fact that Arauca has a long border with Venezuela: a few years ago, when Venezuela had a policy of supporting Colombia’s guerilla groups, the FARC and the ELN established a sort of strategic rearguard beyond the border. Now that such policy is uncertain, they nonetheless take advantage of the border to escape the Army’s persecution, and to establish camps in Venezuelan territory.
How will this incident affect Santos’ policies?
“If you want peace, prepare for war” is a strategic maxim first written by Vegetius, a relatively unknown Roman author, who wrote treatises on military strategy and veterinary medicine. Such maxim can be interpreted in two ways. First, if you want your potential adversaries not to attack you, increase your military power so you will deter them. Second, if you are already involved in war, and you want to reach negotiated peace, you must build strength so that your enemy will conclude that talks are the best option to end the conflict; and you will have leverage at the negotiations.
El derecho a la ternura (The Right to Tenderness), a book that argues in favor of treating thy neighbor kindly, was somewhat of a local bestseller in Colombia in the mid-1990s. Its author, Luis Carlos Restrepo, had already been mildly successful with another book, La trampa de la razón (The Trap of Reason), which develops the quite original subject of how excessive reasoning is bad in fields like love, sex and friendship. Restrepo, a psychiatrist, became a somewhat successful public lecturer, and a frequent guest of morning radio and TV shows.
But he is now a prominent fugitive, wanted by the Colombian authorities, after his polemic term as Peace Commissioner during the Uribe administration. Restrepo, however, had fled the country, his whereabouts being completely unknown, and according to a statement released yesterday, is now seeking asylum.
The current situation dates back to 2002 when Álvaro Uribe announced he would appoint Luis Carlos Restrepo to lead his peace initiatives. It was a generally well-received choice: Restrepo’s experience as a psychiatrist and an author, dealing with issues such as friendship, tenderness and reconciliation seemed fit for the job.
What a difference a decade makes. The successful operation on Friday by Colombian armed forces that killed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla kingpin Guillermo León Sáenz—known by his nom de guerre Alfonso Cano—represents another in a series of victories for President Juan Manuel Santos and his counterinsurgency strategy. Santos’s security policy, built on his predecessors’ Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe, has put the defeat of the FARC in sight—after the 1990s when the region’s longest running civil war appeared to have reached stalemate.
While Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements from Guatemala to Argentina put down their arms in the 1980s and 1990s—the result of peace negotiations and democratic transitions—the FARC rebels and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have plagued Colombia for nearly five decades. Both forces claim to represent Colombia’s peasants and at times have managed to control large swaths of territory in Colombia’s rugged rural areas. Though they continue to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of class struggle, both of the groups long ago became little more than armed criminal syndicates bankrolled by the drug trade in cocaine and other illicit narcotics, illicit commerce in gems, extortion, and kidnapping.
But the assassination of Cano, 63, referred to by Santos as “el número uno,” calls into question the long-term viability of the FARC. Shortly after it had happened, Santos’s press office released a statement vowing that the FARC had reached a “breaking point.”
Cano had assumed operational control of the FARC in March 2008 after one of its founders—Manuel Marulanda, also known as Tirofijo (Sure Shot)—died of natural causes. That same month, Colombian troops killed Raul Reyes, the chief FARC spokesman and member of its seven-person Secretariat. Then in July of that year, the Colombian army launched a successful mission that rescued Íngrid Betancourt, a senator and presidential candidate at the time of her capture in 2002, and 14 other hostages.
These successive events illustrated the army’s increasing infiltration into FARC operations. They were the result of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed program of financial aid, military training and intelligence cooperation.
Carlos Molina Tamayo, former national security advisor to President Hugo Chávez, told Miami’s El Nuevo Herald today that the Venezuelan military has, in the past, supplied arms to the Colombian Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). According to Tamayo, former Minister of the Interior Ramon Rodriguez Chacin asked him to help send rifles to the FARC, when he was in charge of the Venezuelan armed forces’ armory.
Mr. Tamayo claims that Mr. Rodriguez Chacin asked him for 300 FAL rifles for an irregular operation and asked how they could be shipped out of Venezuela without being detected. Though Tamayo was never directly asked again to send more weapons, he claims that rifles, mortars and grenades and even anti-tank AT4 rockets would regularly “disappear” or were “stolen” from the Venezuelan caches.
Tamayo’s on-the-record statements come only a month after former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe accused President Chávez of harboring 1,500 FARC guerrillas and funding the FARC movement in Colombia. Chávez responded by cutting all diplomatic ties with Colombia, raising the threat of a military clash along the countries’ shared 2,300km border. The tensions finally eased in mid-August when Juan Manuel Santos met with Chávez in the Colombian city of Santa Marta, shortly after succeeding Uribe.
An agreement between the U.S. and Colombian government, which allows the U.S. military access to and use of at least seven military bases in Colombia has been ruled unconstitutional in a 6-3 decision by Colombia’s constitutional court. The court ordered the government to submit the agreement to the Colombian congress for ratification as an international treaty subject to congressional approval to comply with constitutional rules.
The ruling comes after a group of lawyers filed in March 2010 a complaint with the court arguing against its validity based on the fact that it was approved by the government of former President Álvaro Uribe without the consent of Congress. The Uribe administration had countered the accusations by calling these accords an extension of a 1974 military pact and not a new pact. It also increased tensions between Colombia and neighbors Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia who were all highly critical of the pact fearing a shift in the balance of power of the region.
The court’s decision does not affect the use of bases permitted by previous agreements and any U.S. personnel at the seven bases in question may be transferred to those bases while the government decides whether or not to send the latest accords to Congress for approval.
Muchas cosas pasaron el sábado por primera vez en el cambio de mando presidencial en Colombia. Es la primera vez que un presidente se posesiona ante unas tribus indígenas: En la mañana el electo mandatario Juan Manuel Santos fue investido en una ceremonia espiritual en un territorio llamado Seyzhua, tierra sagrada para cuatro pueblos indígenas asentados en la norteña Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta: Los kogui, los wiwas, los kamkuamo y los arhuaco. Los aborígenes le entregaron un bastón de mando y cuatro "Tumas", piedras sagradas que representan el mar, la tierra, el agua y la comida, al tiempo que lo comprometieron con la defensa de sus etnias y del medio ambiente.
Es la primera vez también que se pone una alfombra roja en la Plaza de Bolívar, al frente del Capitolio Nacional y que se invita al presidente saliente a estar en la ceremonia de asunción pues éste generalmente espera a su sucesor en la Casa de Nariño, donde se da el relevo. Semejante reconocimiento al ex mandatario Álvaro Uribe fue potenciado por espacio de unos minutos en los discursos que dio tanto Santos, como el presidente del Senado, Armando Benedetti, quien fue el encargado de poner la banda presidencial. “Quiero hacer un homenaje desde el fondo de mi corazón a un hombre que brillará en la historia como aquel que devolvió la esperanza al país, un colombiano genial e irrepetible”, dijo el primero. “Los colombianos han sido seducidos por el nivel de compromiso que Uribe asumió. No hay caso así en Latinoamérica. Uribe es un fenómeno universal de opinión política literalmente irrepetible”, sostuvo el segundo, quien no obstante le advirtió a Santos que “sentirá el rigor y el riesgo de parecer distinto al carisma arrollador de Uribe, pero no hay clones en política”.
Cinco mil personas invitadas, entre las que se encontraban 15 jefes de Estado, rompieron en vítores ante lo que Uribe se puso de pie y agradeció. La reverencia al mandatario que deja el poder después de ochos años, no podría ser de otra forma: Juan Manuel heredó directamente su capital político y sus votos, pues nunca antes había aspirado a un cargo de elección popular. No obstante en los discursos que dieron comienzo a la era Santos, en medio del sol y la lluvia de una Bogotá vigilada por 22 mil hombres, las promesas no fueron más que el sinónimo de los fracasos del gobierno Uribe.
Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will meet in Colombia with newly inaugurated President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday to discuss their countries' diplomatic and trade relations.
Chávez expressed hopes of restoring the neighbors’ ties. “We have much hope that the new government will begin to construct all that Uribe's government destroyed.” Mr. Chávez severed ties with Colombia in July after accusations were brought forward by then President Uribe that Venezuela is giving refuge to Colombian guerrillas.
In his efforts to show some support for Santos, Mr. Chávez announced on his weekly radio and television show, “Just as one proposes that Colombia's government seek the path to peace, the guerrillas also must do it.”