Santos to Lead Colombia’s U Party Ticket with Garzón as Vice President

March 10, 2010

by AQ Online

Colombia’s Partido Social de la Unidad, a coalition of parties that support President Álvaro Uribe, officially presented former Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos as its candidate for the May 2010 presidential elections on Monday.  The next day, Santos chose Colombian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Angelino Garzón as his vice president and said he would offer Uribe a ministerial position if elected president. Garzón and Santos worked together in former President Andrés Pastrana’s cabinet between 1998 and 2002.   

A poll conducted by Ipsos Napoleon Franco had Santos leading with 23 percent of the vote on February 27, the day after Colombia’s Constitutional Court blocked a referendum that could have allowed Uribe to seek a third consecutive term. Other candidates include Senator Gustavo Petro, former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo and veteran politician German Vargas Lleras.  The Conservative Party has not yet named a candidate. Since it is unlikely that a single candidate will secure the requisite 50 percent in the first round of voting on May 30, a second round in June will likely determine Uribe’s successor.

Tags: Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia election 2010

Opposition Still Hopes to Block Referendum in Colombia on Uribe Candidacy

January 26, 2010

by AQ Online

A Colombian opposition party called for candidates in the May 2010 presidential elections to work together to prevent President Álvaro Uribe from seeking a third consecutive term in office.  In a January 25 statement on Caracol Radio, Jaimie Dussán, director of Polo Democratico Alternativo party, asked fellow opposition leaders to sign a letter rejecting Uribe’s possible candidacy. 

The letter would be delivered to Colombia’s Constitutional Court, which is reviewing a bill calling for a national referendum on the issue.  The bill passed Colombia’s lower house in September after the Senate approved it in August. 

Dussán, who considers the referendum illegal, wants conservative politicians including German Varags Lleras and Noemi Sani to join left-leaning politicians in opposing it.

Uribe’s supporters hope the referendum can be approved and passed in time for his name to be on the May ballot.  Uribe previously circumvented a constitutional ban on reelection through a national referendum in 2006 before winning his second term by a landslide. 

Tags: Colombia, Uribe, Presidential Term Limits

Colombia-Venezuela: ¿Vientos de guerra fría en la Frontera?

November 9, 2009

by Jenny Manrique

Lo único que le faltaba al clima de guerra fría que se desató entre Colombia y Venezuela por una reciente serie de asesinatos, deportaciones y capturas de ciudadanos de ambos países—señalados algunos de ser espías y paramilitares—era la propuesta del presidente Hugo Chávez de levantar un muro en la frontera que une a los dos países.  Mientras el mundo se prepara para conmemorar hoy los 20 años de la caída del muro de Berlín, en Latinoamérica los ánimos belicistas desatados por la ampliación de personal militar estadounidense en siete bases colombianas—documento que por cierto fue suscrito el pasado 30 de octubre aquí en Bogotá—vuelven a poner en el centro de la polémica, un cierre de fronteras en pleno siglo XXI.

Hay que ver a los ciudadanos que trabajan en Cúcuta y Villa del Rosario (Colombia) y San Antonio y Ureña (Venezuela) cruzando por el río Tachira y por trochas antes solo conocidas por los pimpineros (vendedores informales de gasolina) para llegar a sus destinos. El  bloqueo de los puentes internacionales Simón Bolívar y Francisco de Paula Santander por parte de la Guardia Venezolana como respuesta al asesinato de dos de sus efectivos, les está generando a los comerciantes de la zona pérdidas diarias cercanas a unos US$4 millones, según cifras de la Federación de Cámaras Empresariales de Venezuela (Fedecámaras).

Muchas de las amenazas incumplidas de Chávez, como la de ampliar en número los 515 efectivos de la policía castrense que resguardan la zona tachirense, o desplazar tropas militares hasta allí, parecen tener más asiento esta vez. Aunque en los últimos 10 años no se ha suscrito ningún convenio de cooperación militar fronteriza entre Colombia y Venezuela, este viernes en la mañana comenzó el desplazamiento de los primeros efectivos de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) de un total de 15.000 movilizados, que llevarán a cabo la "Operación Centinela" en los estados de Amazonas, Apure, Bolívar, Barinas y Táchira.

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Tags: Chavez, Uribe, Colombia-Venezuela relations, DAS Colombia, Masacre de Chururu, Operacion Centinela, Guerra fronteriza

Uribe Before the Canadian House of Commons Trade Committee

June 12, 2009

by AQ Online

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe answered questions before Canada’s House of Commons trade committee on Thursday, appealing to legislators to approve the pending Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). The agreement was signed on November 21, 2008, and on March 26, 2009, the Canadian government introduced legislation to implement it.

The session was at times contentious, with Uribe raising his voice and employing animated gestures to defend his administration’s record in promoting human rights. Not only would passage of the FTA improve his government’s ability to improve and protect human rights, argued Uribe, but “the approval of the free-trade agreement will allow Colombia to overcome poverty, build equity, have a dynamic economy and integrate the country to the largest economies of the world.”

Although both the Left and the Right in Canada agree that human rights can be improved through trade linkages, “an agreement on the trade deal is not imminent.” A similar FTA with the United States stalled in Congress last year, but President Obama has vowed to get it passed.

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Tags: Canada, Colombia, Uribe, FTA

Daily Focus: Colombia’s Defense Minister Resigns, Eyes Possible Presidential Bid

May 20, 2009

by AQ Online

In the latest in the ongoing saga of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s potential third term, Defense Minister and loyal Uribista Juan Manuel Santos­­ resigned from his position Tuesday to prepare for a possbible presidential bid in 2010. That bid, however, comes with an important caveat; "if the president decides to run, he can count on my support,” said Santos. “If he does not do it, I will be a candidate."

Although Santos has an “intuition” that Uribe will seek a third term, he has doubts about the prudence of such a move. Back in January, he told the Washington Post that “history will judge him [Uribe] much better if he leaves now than if he risks staying for four more years.” Uribe, for his part, is still playing coy on the issue.

AmericasQuarterly.Org will continue to follow this story in-depth. Look for a blog post tomorrow from Liz Harper, our DC correspondent, on the implications of a third term on U.S.-Colombia relations, and a forthcoming web exclusive article from our Colombia correspondent, Anastasia Moloney, will offer on-the-ground perspective on recent developments.

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Tags: Colombia, Uribe, Santos

How the Media Misinterpreted the Summit of the Americas

April 28, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

I swore I wouldn’t write another blog on the Summit.  In fact, I had even urged the AQ staff to move on—that it wasn’t that important.  And yet here I am with an insatiable desire to slake my thirst for just one more blog post. 

And it is this: the media sorely missed the story of the Summit.  Despite what you saw in the media, the real events that indicate the direction hemispheric relations are heading were: 1) Obama’s side-by-side lunch with Uribe in which they chatted like allies and swapped notes; 2) Obama’s priority of the issues of human rights and democracy in his volley back to Cuba’s Raúl Castro (to which Raúl’s big, bearded brother, Fidel, responded significantly, “Did we say everything was on the table? Democracy, human rights, political prisoners?  We take that back"); and 3) the U.S. President’s last-minute finger wagging at Venezuela’s most powerful book club leader.   

Everyone twisted themselves into contortions interpreting the handshake between Presidents Obama and Chávez’ stage-stealing handing of the book to President Obama.

Even the Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady jumped into the fray on Monday, April 27th with an unnecessarily-long denunciation of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins.  Most 30 and 40-something Latin Americanists recognize it for what it is: a cartoonish screed that places all responsibility for Latin America’s ills on colonialists and imperialists.  And I suspect that it will be gathering dust (if that) on Obama’s bookshelf much as it is on everyone else’s who was forced to read it. 

And then there’s the whole over interpretation of the Obama-Chávez handshake. Everyone’s a twitter with whether he should have or shouldn’t have.  Honestly what else could he have done?  To paraphrase the famous saying, “Sometimes, Mr. Freud, a handshake is just a handshake.” 

But here’s the real story.  Out of the public spotlight or the media’s scandal-mongering eye, there were moments of real significance. 

First, Obama’s lunch date with President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia.  President Obama didn’t grant any bilateral meetings, but he made sure he was seated next to President Uribe and they passed notes, which President Uribe waved proudly around afterwards to the media with Obama’s signature.  Not coincidentally President Obama later urged that there be a review of Colombia and its free trade agreement.

Second, beyond the atmospherics the topic of Cuba really had little bearing on the Summit.  It was really only pushed by a handful of countries, and was never officially on the agenda.  As I’ve said before, it’s sad to see Latin American countries who for decades have complained about how the U.S. filters its relations with the region through the prism of Cuba, do the exact same thing—but with less noble means.  Their goal: normalize relations with a country that hasn’t budged an inch on democracy and human rights—two conditions for admission to the OAS and the Summit.

And for those reasons, Obama’s riposte to Raúl’s public relations thrust was subtle and wise.  As he said: “They are certainly free to release political prisoners….They're certainly free to stop skimming money off the top of remittance payments. They're free to institute greater freedom of the press.” 

The ball was back in their court.  And that’s when Fidel stepped in to return it with an over-the-top swing that sent the ball out of the court, saying that really they weren’t interested in democracy and human rights. 

But that doesn’t mean the U.S should give up. Quite the opposite, it should continue pushing.  Truth is: Cuba doesn’t want opening, under any conditions.  The regime would wither. And the Castros know that.  So let the U.S. offer.  And when the Cuban regime refuses to reciprocate, point that out.  The world will soon be disabused of the notion that Cuba’s the victim of a U.S.-imposed isolation.

The third is the much-overlooked final encounter between Obama and Chávez. Take a look.  There is clearly some serious message delivery there.  That isn’t about his disagreement over the book the Chávez delivered to him (“Characters were underdeveloped!” “Filled with old canards.”  “Improper footnotes!”) Instead it’s clear that he’s saying that hand shaking and book clubs aside, there are serious disagreements.   We don’t know what really transpired.  But this is where the rubber of diplomacy hits the road.  Shame it didn’t hit the presses—which preferred to focus on a handshake and a ridiculous book.

So for now, out of frustration for the silly way the media covered the event, I’m forced—despite my better intentions—to post another blog about the Summit.  But this will be my last. I swear.

Tags: Summit of the Americas, Chavez, Obama, Uribe

Daily Focus: Uribe 2010

April 23, 2009

by AQ Online

Colombia's President Álvaro Uribe can't seem to decide if he's going to run for a third term.  His most recent pronouncement, following a conversation with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, is that he is "convincing his soul" not to run for re-election and that he considers the issue a "personal dillema."

In January, it was reported that the president would not run again. But by March, he began clearing the way for a constitutional reform. Earlier this month, he took those moves further.  But now, he appears to be wavering again.  For Uribe to run again, he would have to push for yet another amendment that would require approval from the Senate, the Constitutional Court and the Colombian people. Let's see which way the winds will blow come May.

Tags: Colombia, Uribe, Elections

IDB 50th Anniversary Meeting to Showcase Medellín Urban Renewal

March 17, 2009

by Anastasia Moloney

When 4,000 foreign visitors, top bankers, and member heads of state of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) descend on Medellín next week for the bank's annual meeting and 50th anniversary, they will encounter a city very different to the one it was two decades ago.

Medellín, Colombia’s second city and industrial hub, has transformed in recent years. From a city with the highest murder rate in the world in 1991 (a staggering 381 per 100,000 inhabitants) and once home to the world’s most powerful drug cartel headed by Pablo Escobar, Medellín has now become a leading example of urban regeneration in Latin America and a model for other cities in the region to follow.

Medellín’s makeover started with the then-mayor Sergio Fajardo five years ago. Fajardo, a mathematician and currently a presidential candidate, made a commitment to improve the lives of the city’s poor through a series of bold infrastructure projects and public works programs. He believes architecture is a tool that can bring about social transformation by bridging the gap between rich and poor.Fajardo’s signature idea is that provoking and cutting-edge architecture constructed by renowned architects gives people dignity and fosters respect, community sprit and civic pride. Moreover, architecture can build hope.

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Tags: Colombia, Uribe

Presidents Calderón and Uribe Go on the Economic Offensive

January 30, 2009

by Jason Marczak

For Latin American leaders, the place to be this week was either Davos, Switzerland or Belém, Brazil. For Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the choice was the World Economic Forum in Davos. Joining his Venezuelan, Bolivian, Paraguayan, and Brazilian counterparts, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa—scheduled to be in Davos—instead opted for what is often termed the “anti-Davos”—the annual meeting of the World Social Forum. And although both forums are making headlines, the real question remains: How can Latin America best confront the global economic crisis?

In its latest report, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates that the region’s combined GDP is likely to expand by only 1.9 percent this year—the lowest in seven years. For Mexico, the news got even worse this week. Guillermo Ortiz, the Central Bank governor, told reporters in Mexico City that the GDP may shrink 0.8 percent to 1.8 percent in 2009. This after growing 1.5 percent last year.

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Tags: Mexico, Colombia, Uribe, Financial Crisis, Calderon

Pyramid Schemes in Colombia

January 6, 2009

by Anastasia Moloney

In Colombia, everyone seems to know someone who has been affected by the recent collapse of bogus pyramid investment schemes. An estimated 4 million Colombians, from the political elite, members of the armed forces, to small businessmen and the poor invested in pyramid scams. Some have lost their life savings.

The biggest pyramid company, DMG Group Holdings, boosted high-profile investors, including local celebrities and offered its customers too-good-to-be-true interest rates of up to 200 percent. The government eventually closed down DMG in November, sparking widespread protests among investors who looted its offices in a desperate attempt to withdraw their savings. Local mayors, taken by surprise, issued curfews to stem civil unrest.

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Tags: Colombia, Uribe