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Thursday, March 2, 2006
Always Good to Know…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:35 pm

Via Reuters: Uranium found in Colombia not weapons grade:

Two Colombians caught trying to sell uranium might have tried to offer it to Marxist rebels but the metal was depleted and unsuitable for making a nuclear or dirty bomb, according to a preliminary government report and the Attorney General’s office on Thursday.

Soldiers and police arrested a man and a woman in an industrial neighborhood of the capital Bogota on Feb. 24 and seized 29.7 pounds (13.5 kg) of uranium sitting on a lead base beneath polystyrene foam containers full of water and ice, according to a news release by the Attorney General’s office.

One wonders if they thought that they could defraud the FARC, or someone else, into buying the stuff.

Of course, as the article notes, one doubts that a WMD would be useful to a group like the FARC:

The FARC has been waging war against the state for socialist revolution for more than four decades and its earnings from the cocaine trade could conceivably give it the money for buying uranium. But it says it tries to avoid causing unnecessary casualties — which would be hard to avoid with an atomic bomb.

Indeed.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
ELN Pledges Cease-Fire for Elections in Colombia
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:19 am

Via CNN: Colombian rebel group OKs cease-fire for elections

Colombia’s second-largest rebel group announced a cease-fire for this month’s congressional elections, the group’s military chief, currently in Cuba, said Thursday.

Antonio Garcia of the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym ELN, confirmed in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that his troops would refrain from any attacks or aggressions when Colombians go to the polls March 12.

The news out of the ELN peace talks continues to be good, but I remain cautious in any serious degree of optimism.

Of course, this is mostly symbolic, as I do not recall any serious election-related violence perpretrated by the ELN in recent elections-that has primarily been the domain of the FARC.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
US and Colombia Sign Trade Deal
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:41 am

Via the BBC: Colombia seals trade deal with US

Colombia has clinched a free trade deal with the US after nearly two years of talks, US officials have confirmed.

The deal is designed to advance free trade, promote economic development and combat cocaine trafficking, US trade representative Rob Portman said.

The focus appears to be on agricultural products. It should make Alabama’s poultry farmers happy.

More from the NYT: U.S. and Colombia Reach Trade Deal After 2 Years of Talks

The deal with Colombia is important because the country’s economic output, which tops $100 billion, is bigger than that of any other country in the region that has a trade deal with the administration. Two-way trade between the countries was $14.3 billion last year — with American exports to Colombia at $5.4 billion.

The United States, which has provided Colombia with nearly $5 billion to fight drugs and Marxist rebels since 2000, also has an interest in seeing President Álvaro Uribe succeed.

However, Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, part of the advocacy group Public Citizen, said the deal battered generic drug makers in Colombia and important agricultural sectors like chicken, wheat and rice. It also permits American companies to bid on public services contracts, a delicate issue in Latin America, where there has been criticism of foreign conglomerates running services like water.

[…]

While some Colombian producers, like growers of flowers, would benefit, several sectors worry that American agricultural products would swamp Colombia. That could displace farm workers, who might turn to illegal drug crops, like coca, the leaf used to make cocaine.

Rice growers, who are found in much of the country, say they expect to be put out of business eventually.

The deal still has to go to the respective country’s congresses.

Filed under: US Politics, Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
FARC Attacks Town Council
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:57 am

First a civilian bus, now this (via the BBC): Colombia rebels kill councillors

Suspected left-wing rebels have burst into a town councillors’ meeting in Colombia and opened fire, killing at least seven people, police say.

The attack happened at a hotel in the village of Rivera, several hundred kilometres south-west of Bogota.

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebel group dressed as police carried out the attack, the authorities said.

I wonder if they are feelong bad that the ELN is getting all the press these days?

In all seriousness, these kinds of acts continue to baffle me insofar as I can’t see how such actions further the revolutionary goals of the FARC. Of course, they may simply underscore that the FARC is nothing more than a thuggish gang of drug runners. A large, well-armed, well-funded gang of drug runners, but drug runners nonetheless.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Monday, February 27, 2006
Mexico’s Dirty War
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:40 am

Report on Mexican ‘Dirty War’ Details Abuse by Military - New York Times
A secret report prepared by a special prosecutor’s office says the Mexican military carried out a “genocide plan” of kidnapping, torturing and killing hundreds of suspected subversives in the southern state of Guerrero during the so-called dirty war, from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s.

The report, which was not endorsed by the government of President Vicente Fox but was leaked by its authors last week, says that the genocide plan was ordered by President Luis Echeverría in 1970, and devised by Hermenegildo Cuenca Díaz, who was defense minister at the time.

[…]

In those towns, soldiers rounded up all the men and boys, executed some on the spot and detained others, and then used violence, including rape, to drive the rest of the people away, the report says. Most of those detained suffered severe torture, including beatings, electric shock and being forced to drink gasoline, at military installations that were operated like “concentration camps.”

[…]

The government’s National Human Rights Commission reported that up to 74 government officials could be liable for the disappearances of about 275 people. The unedited draft of The White Book lists more than 500 missing people.

While not on the same scale as such dirty wars in Argentina, Brazil and Chile during the same period, a chilling tale nonetheless. And a cautionary one against the mistake of becoming overly zealous in trying to root out the “bad people” from within one’s own population in the name of protecting the national interest.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
CAFTA Update
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:30 am

Via the BBC: El Salvador in US free trade deal

The US has formally agreed a free trade pact with El Salvador but has told five more Central American nations that they must do more to finalise similar deals.

Congress sanctioned a Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta) last year but official implementation has been delayed by a series of legal wrangles.

The US complained that Cafta partners were failing to harmonise key laws and regulations, as obliged by the treaty.

But the US-El Salvador agreement will now come into force on 1 March.

A major sticking point: meat inspection rules.

Costa Rica has yet to ratify the deal.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | EU to fill Palestinian funds gap
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:19 am

Via the BBC: EU to fill Palestinian funds gap

Europe will give 120m euros ($140m; £83m) to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority to meet people’s basic needs.

The European Commission says the money will be enough to keep the authority running for a couple of months.

[…]

The 25-member European Union has refused to indicate whether it will maintain its funding for the PA with Hamas running the government.

European foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss the issue, although officials say no decision is expected until a Hamas-led cabinet is formed.

Hamas has been urged by donors to change its policies towards Israel, including recognising its right to exist and renouncing violence.

This strikes me as a wait and see approach as the new cabinet is formed. Indeed, the US has yet yo cut off humanitarian aid.

One would like to think that Hamas, seeing its dire financial situation, might be forced into concessions, but that remains to be seen.

Of course, things like this aren’t encouraging (via Reuters:): Hamas denies suggesting it may recognize Israel. Although the possibility of a “long-term truce” exists-which is an odd concept if one isn’t willing to recognize the state with which the truce would be declared…

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Sunday, February 26, 2006
FARC Attacks Civilian Bus
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:13 am

Via BBC: Eight die in Colombia Farc attack

At least eight people were killed in an attack on a civilian bus by left-wing rebels Farc in southern Colombia.

Rebels shot at the bus tyres, causing it to crash, and then opened fire on passengers and attempted to set the vehicle ablaze, the military said.

The bus was travelling in a convoy under army escort but had fallen behind as it stopped to pick up passengers.

The Farc has tried to impose a ban on the movement of all vehicles in Caqueta province for the last 10 days.

These types of actions always are especially striking to me when the group that perpetrates them is allegedly fighting for social justice.

Given that the people on that bush were almost certainly of the lower classes, I can’t see what the FARC thinks justifies the slaughter in question (not that it would be justified no matter who was on the bus).

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Arrest Order for ELN Leaders Suspended
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 4:54 pm

Via the BBC: Colombia lifts rebel arrest order

Colombia has suspended capture orders for two leaders of the country’s second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The move is expected to pave the way for formal peace talks.

The decision was announced in Cuba, where representatives of the ELN and the government are holding a second round of exploratory talks.

It would appear that the talks are proceeding well, which is encouraging.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Friday, February 24, 2006
Colombian Senate Candidate Killed in Helicopter Crash
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:58 pm

Via Forbes/the AP: Colombian Senate Candidate Killed

A leading senatorial candidate and former adviser to President Alvaro Uribe was killed along with three other people Friday in a helicopter crash in a mountainous rainforest region of northwest Colombia, authorities said.

Pedro Juan Moreno, a candidate in congressional elections March 12, was one of four people aboard the chartered helicopter that went down near Mutata, 220 miles northwest of Bogota, said Martin Gonzalez, spokesman of the government’s civil aviation regulator.

All those aboard were killed, including Moreno’s son, Juan Gilberto Moreno, the official said.

No word yet as to the cause of the crash.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Still no Winner in Costa Rica
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:01 am

Via the BBC: Costa Rica completes vote recount

Costa Rica has completed a manual recount of the votes cast in the election more than two weeks ago - but there is still no official winner.

The recount was ordered after the first count put Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias, less than 0.5% ahead of his left-wing rival, Otton Solis.

New results show Mr Arias with a 1.1% lead. But Mr Solis has filed legal challenges which need to be settled.

Whether we are talking about this case, Florida 2000 or Washington state in 2005, it is clear that there needs to be a rule in place that results in a re-vote if the margin is sufficiently narrow. Ideally there would be a run-off if not one received 50% +1 of the vote, which would almost certainly eliminate this kind of problem. However, even in that situation an especially close vote needs a predetermined, legal mechanism by which to settle the dispute. Going to the courts to figure it out ex post always leads to problems.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Fruits and Votes linked with Ruoffs, re-votes, and Costa Rica
Monday, February 20, 2006
A Shocker!
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:40 am

Via Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez may end presidential term limits.

The reason? because the opposition parties have threatened a boycott for December’s presidential elections.

Says Hugo:

“I might sign a decree calling for a popular referendum — do you agree that Chavez should run for a third term in 2013?” Chavez said during his weekly Sunday broadcast. “It’s not a firm decision, it’s something I’m thinking about.”

One guesses it is something he has been thinking about for quite a while.

Of course, he sees the whole thing as a lesson in politics (which, after a fashion, I suppose it is):

He said the current debate was meant to teach the opposition “a lesson about true politics, so they’ll stop being so ridiculous.”

Ah, the irony.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Militarization in Venezuela
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:10 am

Via the BBC: Venezuela gets 2m reserve troops

Army high command spokesman Col Herrera Jimenez said that around one-and-a-half million Venezuelans had recently signed up to become reservists.

He said the kind of war Venezuela wanted to fight was a people’s war like in Iraq, “where an entire population is rising up against a foreign aggressor”.

[…]

“We fully expect these reservists be armed and to be able to fight in the front line if and when required,” he said.

Whenever governments, especially personalistic, quasi-authoritarian ones like is evolving in Venezuela, start militarizing to face enemies that don’t exist, it can’t be a good thing. Who exactly is going to be invading? Colombia? Brazil? Guyana? Yes, there has been some FARC-linked activity on the Colombian border, but nothing to present a major military threat.

No doubt that the rhetoric will be to protect the homeland from the imperialistic yankees.

However, the real reason to do this is to further consolidate Chavez’s grip on power by appealing to nationalism and to enhance the connection to the state of 1.5 million Venezuelans-no doubt from the lower economic stratum.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Pros and Cons » If at first you don’t succeed, threaten violence and change the election rules. linked with [...] national phone monopoly in return for kickbacks. Let Hugo Chavez (speaking of which, see here) subsidize them for a change. Then we can contrast Haitians in North America - thrifty, industrious, reas [...]
Election Watch: Haiti-Preval Wins
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:57 am

Via the BBC: Preval declared Haiti poll winner

Rene Preval has been declared president of Haiti, following last week’s vote marred by claims of irregularities.

He gained 51% of the vote after the authorities reached a last-minute deal to remove thousands of blank ballot papers from the count.

[…]

“Rene Preval… is declared the winner,” Max Mathurin said.

His comments came after officials agreed to subtract more than 80,000 blank votes - or just over 4% of the total tally - from the election, taking Mr Preval over the winning threshold.

The decision followed late-night talks between the electoral council, the interim government and the Organization of American States.

I wonder what Haitian electoral law states about blank votes, and if these are “blank” in the sense that there were no marks on them whatsoever, or if they were official “blank” votes. In terms of the latter, for example, in Colombia one can vote “en blanco” on a ballot, which is an official vote essentially for “none of the above.”

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
US-Colombian Trade Talks
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:37 am

Via the FT: Uribe heads to US to salvage free trade negotiations:

Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s president, is expected to roll up his shirt sleeves in Washington on Wednesday on a high-stakes mission to personally salvage stalled but crucial free trade negotiations with the US.

[…]

Peru signed a free trade deal with the US in December, while a pact between Central America, the Dominican Republic and the US was approved last year. Bogotá’s warm relations with the Bush administration, which views the Uribe government as its leading Latin American ally in the arena of security and anti-narcotics co-operation, have not paved the way for smooth negotiations

The FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) one-piece-at-a-time process continues-although I doubt that a true Americas-wide free trade zone is likely in the near term.

The relationship between US farm subsidies and US anti-narcotics policy in Colombia is noteworthy:

Talks that began in 2004 stalled at the end of last year amid rising opposition from Colombian farmers who fear a flood of US subsidised agricultural goods would jeopardise jobs. Agreement is important because existing US trade preferences to steer farmers away from illegal drugs crops expire at the end of the year, and their renewal in Congress is not guaranteed.

Andrés Pastrana, Colombia’s ambassador to the US, said Mr Uribe’s priority would be to seek an agricultural agreement that would prevent a reversal of hard-won successes in the war on drugs.

Since part of the strategy of coca eradication is crop substitution, anything that might send agricultural prices downward significantly could damage an already precarious program.

I am not especially sanguine that crop substitution is a viable solution to the cocaine problem, but certainly subsidized farm products coming from the US could jeopardize whatever gains have been made. Of course, it also leads to the question of why we continue to subsidize farm products if those products could be produced more cheaply abroad and imported to our markets. That would help US consumers and the economies of developing states. And, of course, if developing economies improve, they become more capable of buying US products. Further, the more developed an economy, the more stable the state and the less likely that political extremism is to develop.

As a side note: Pastrana was Uribe’s predecessor as President, although they were not direct political rivals in 2002, since at the time it was unconstitutional for a president to seek a second term, they were members of different political parties. Certainly the notion of appointing as ambassador to one’s most significant foreign partner a former president from a different party would not be likely in the US context.

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