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Monday, March 13, 2006
Messing with National Symbols
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:29 am

Via the BBC: New Venezuela flag divides nation

Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez has officially unveiled the country’s controversial new flag.

Parliament last week approved changes to the 200-year-old design, including the addition of an eighth star to honour the province of Guayana.

A white horse on the national coat of arms that appears on the flag now faces left instead of right.

The opposition has condemned the new flag as illegitimate, saying there had been no proper consultation.

As far as new flags go, that isn’t exactly a radical set of changes. Still, it is Chávez seeking to assert control over a national symbol and claim it for himself after a fashion. It both provides further symbolic edification to his regime, while also dividing out those opposed to the change as “them” versus Chávez’s “us”-and while in some ways authoritarians need to have an internal “Us” v. “Them” one wonders have far he can push that division.

Filed under: Latin America | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Uribe Wins Big in Colombian Senate Elections
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:20 am

Via El Tiempo we find that with 88% of the vote counted, the coalition of parties openly supporting President Uribe (the Partido de la U, the Conservatives, Cambio Radical and a number of smaller parties) have won 70 seats in total.

This also marks the first time in Colombian history that neither the Conservative Party nor the Liberal Party has gotten the most votes in a Senate election. La U has earned at this point 1,529,896 votes for 20 seats, with the Conservatives coming in second at this point with 1,405,911 votes for 18 seats. The Liberals, once thought to be a near-permanent majority party, is third with 1,371,403 votes and 17 seats.

There are a number of significant results here, not the least of which being the resuscitation of the Conservatives, which looked near extinction in the 1990s, and the diminution of the Liberals. Further, a number of new, or revamped anyway, parties, have won election and the radical fragmentation of the party system that had been manifesting in recent Senate elections, especially in 2002, has been revered in large measure (I suspect I will post more on that shortly).

I would argue that this change in the system have been brought about by the general evolution of the party system brought about by the 1991 constitution, the effects of Uribe himself on national politics, and the recent electoral reforms.

There can be no doubt that the Liberals were the party that had most benefited from the personal-list PR system that approximated an SNTV (single nontransferable vote) system in Colombia, and further that mismanagement of that system by smaller parties that had led to the great difficulty in new parties achieving s solid foothold in the electoral system.

(As an utter side note: does anyone else find it ironic that a party that is committed to the status quo (i.e., Uribe) is called “Cambio Radical”-i.e., “Radical Change”?)

The BBC notes that turnout was historically low for this election:

But the abstention rate among Colombians reached a record 66%, and 15% of the cast ballots were deemed invalid.

This was blamed on fears of violence that proved largely unfounded, increasing public apathy, and confusion over recent changes in the electoral system.

The number is not, however, a substantial deviation from the long-term participation patterns in such elections in Colombia. If there is a single factor to blame for the diminution, I suspect it is the change in the electoral rules, as based on what I have read to this point, the election-related violence was not especially different this cycle.

Much more, I suspect, on these elections later.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections, Colombia, 2006 Congressional Elections | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Election Watch: Colombia
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 4:07 pm

Today Colombians vote on the congress for the 2006-2010 term and in presidential primaries for the Liberal Party and the Democratic Pole (the first time a party other than the Liberals have used a primary in Colombia).

Via Reuters: Colombian voters, despite violence, elect Congress

Colombians went to the polls on Sunday despite fear of rebel violence to elect a new Congress that will rule on legislation pushed by President Alvaro Uribe such as a U.S. free trade deal and other measures.


Polls close at 4 p.m. (2100 GMT) and preliminary results are expected later in the evening. About 26.5 million Colombians are registered to help elect the Andean country’s 268-member Congress, which includes 102 senators and 166 members of the lower house.

These elections are especially interesting, given that they are being conducted under new electoral rules (also here), which should consider to forward the evolution of the Colombian party system that has been underway since the constitutional reforms of 1991.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
On Pinochet
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:52 pm

(Speaking of Chilean politics):

Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money asks: Why Pinochet?

Why is it that Augusto Pinochet gets lefties into such a lather?

I mean this question in all seriousness, and I’m looking for serious answers. Pinochet has always struck me as a kind of middling dictator, not worthy of the hatred that the left holds for him. From what I understand, Chile under Pinochet was somewhat less bloody than the Philippines under Marcos and Argentina under its military junta. He certainly didn’t approach the level of brutality found in Guatemala, El Salvador, or the Dominican Republic under Trujillo. Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, and the various leaders of China make him look like a rank amateur in the tyranny game. Yet, the invocation of Pinochet lets loose the rage. I don’t understand.

Speaking as someone who would be considered as coming from “The Right” (as crude a dichotomy as that is) let me attempt to provide something of an answer. And I will preface my comments by stating that I am appalled by the degree to which some on the right ignore the brutality of the regime. I recall, for example, Bob Novak on The Capitol Gang one night lauding Pincohet for his economic reforms and utterly ignoring the nature of his government.

I will state that in general I view the overall neoliberal policies of the Pinochet regime in a positive light, but cannot accept the method by which that regime was installed and the way it conducted itself in power.

There is something haunting and chilling about the idea of the presidential guard removing itself from the protection of a democratically elected president, and then having the presidential palace bombed by the air force and assaulted by the army. That is something that should be wholly inconceivable in a a democracy, yet it happened. No amount of positive economic policy can erase those events.

I will confess to never having done a quantitative comparison of the death tolls in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. However, my generic understanding is that the basic attacks on the left were similar in all three states. Further, in Chile, unlike Brazil, political society was essentially shut down during the Pinochet era (in Brazil one could say that political society was controlled, but it was not shut down during the military era). We are talking here not just about assaulting the armed left, but the rounding up of professors, poets, musicians and intellectuals who were considered sympathetic to communism (which echoes what happened in Brazil and Argentina). We are also talking about the attempt by the state to utterly quell political organization and activity (which echoes Argentina).

In a review of literature on Pinochet, Todd Landman writes:

In the early years of the Pinochet regime, dissidents and suspected subversives were routinely detained, tortured, exiled or killed. Such a pattern of repression continued into the early 1980s, when it was replaced by a strategy of forceful intimidation of civil society through the use of arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture (Foweraker and Landman 1997: 246-247). The main perpetrator of the violations was generally seen to be the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), which was replaced by the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) in 1977. In response to increasing social mobilization in the early 1980s, the regime declared a state of siege and used emergency powers under the 1980 constitution to suspend guarantees of civil and political rights. Violations of human rights have been variously documented by the Vicaría de la Solidaridad (a human rights NGO) and the Chilean Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. While the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation confirmed a limited number of extra-judicial killings (3,428), estimates by other groups of these and other violations are much larger (Reiter, Zunzunequi, and Quiroga 1992: 116-124).

Now, why might it be the case that left-leaners in the US go apoplectic over Pinochet, and not over the Brazilian military regime (which ruled for a longer period of time) or the Argentine, whose Dirty War may have been worse than that in Chile? There may be a simplistic explanation, which is actually pretty compelling: there was no single military leader in either of those cases.

The Brazilian military regime had regular, institutionalized rotation of the presidency amongst various generals. Here’s the list-and I suspect none of them leap out at anyone save a Brazilianist, or perhaps someone who regularly teaches Latin American Politics:

-Alencar Castelo Branco (1964-1967)
Artur da Costa e Silva (1967-1969 (died in office))
Emílio Garrastazú Médici (1969-1974)
Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979)
João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (1979-1985)

Similarly, the Argentine case did not have a single dictator during the 1973-1983 period: first a junta, than Videla, Viola, Lacoste, Galtiere, Saint John and Bignone. All but Videla and Bignone served for less than a year. Videla as in office the longest-roughly five years.

As such, of the big three authoritarian regimes in South America, only Chile had a long-term “face”-the sixteen-year rule of Pinochet, which was followed, even after the transition to democracy, with his continuance as Commander-in-Chief of the military until 1998 when he then assumed a seat, under the constitution he had penned, as a Senator. This may add to the reaction-there is no sense that Pinochet received even a modicum of justice-he wasn’t even forced to resign in disgrace and hide from the public. Quite the contrary, he maintained himself as a political force even after the first presidential elections. It wasn’t until his arrest in London in 1998 that it even looked as if he might face justice in some capacity. As such he was in the public eye for a quarter of a century as either dictator, or the ex-dictator who got away with it legally.

So another reason that Pinochet may raise the hackles of many is that he didn’t go away, even after democracy returned to Chile. Indeed, one could argue that full democracy was not restored until the constitutional reforms of 2005 removed the military’s political powers.

Take the personal identification issue, the fact that he never “went away” and add it to the following list, and I think Robert’s question is pretty much answered:

  • Pinochet’s neoliberal program (viewed as anti-social justice by many on the left).
  • The fact that Allende was an elected leftist.
  • There was US CIA involvement in trying to destabilize the Allende regime. However, I think that calling the coup a “CIA-led” one is an overstatement-I think it was lead by the Chilean military. I do not think that the evidence suggests that it was a CIA coordinated event, like, for example, the removal of Arbenz in Guatemala or the installation of the Shah in Iran.
  • The Nixon administration was the one that was supporting the regime destabilization of Allende.

I would note that all three cases illustrate the folly of promoting dictatorship over democracy during the Cold War, and is one of the reasons I applaud the notion that our foreign policy in the Middle East (and globally) should be to promote democracy over dictatorship in the fight against terrorism (i.e., that the stability promised by authoritarians isn’t everything). Much harm came out of the US’s devotion to stamping out communism at all costs during the Cold War and I would not want to see similar mistakes made in the war on terrorism. However, I will further note that some of our policies in place like Guantanamo, or our usage of rendition, do put me in the mind of the national security attitudes of many Latin American governments during the Cold War: the need to be “getting the bad people” even if it violates our basic views of human rights and proper application of governmental power.

As such, we Americans need to be cautious about the way in which fear can drive policy, but in the way we treat foreign nationals, but how we seek to protect ourselves from our own citizens. The zeal of the administration and law enforcement to catch terrorists (such as the NSA wiretap program or the mistake in the Madrid bombing case noted in WaPo today) illustrate the degree to which lives can be severely damaged even when the intentions are good.

Update: Matthew Shugart makes some excellent points in the comments section. First, just as Pinochet is the most well-known of the dictators, so too is Allende the most well-known of those who were overthrown. Second, and more significantly, of the three cases, Chile was the most democratic-making the coup all the more dramatic and shocking.

Filed under: Global Politics, War on Terror, Latin America | Comments (9) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Chile’s New President Sworn in
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:26 am

Via the BBC: Chile inaugurates female leader

Former torture victim Michelle Bachelet has been sworn in as Chile’s first female president.

Ms Bachelet, 54, who claimed a convincing poll win in January, smiled broadly and waved after taking her oath in the coastal city of Valparaiso.

There is something special about a person who was once a prisoner of a dictatorship being elected to office, especially to the highest office of the land. Especially significant is that the former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, is under house arrest and the constitution was amended last year to remove the lingering political prerogatives of the military.

And she got a Bolivian guitar as well:

Ms Bachelet was pictured laughing as she received a gift of a charango guitar from Mr Morales on the eve of the inauguration, and the two exchanged compliments.

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

PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » On Pinochet linked with [...] Sunday, March 12, 2006 On Pinochet By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:52 pm (Speaking of Chilean politics): Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money asks: Why Pinochet? Why is it that Au [...]
Condi and Coca Guitar
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:14 am

Via Reuters: Bolivia’s Morales, Rice discuss coca policy

Bolivia’s new president, Evo Morales, discussed his country’s fight against illegal drugs on Saturday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then gave her a guitar decorated with coca leaves.

The horror!

And, amusing:

He said Rice had strummed the lacquered Bolivian instrument but it was unclear whether the top U.S. diplomat could take it home because of U.S. customs laws.

Somehow, I think it will make it home.

In all seriousness, this is an interesting trip, and a positive one, given Morales’ rhetoric during the campaign and my concern that the US administration would take that rhetoric too seriously, especially given the concern over a Morales-Chavez friendship.

The development of the US-Bolivia relationship over the next several years will be interesting, especially since US pressure on coca cultivation in Colombia is likely to increase the incentives for illicit cultivation in Bolivia coupled with Morales’ view the licit coca cultivation should be unmolested.

Further, the degree to which Bolivian ties to Venezuela deepen with will be of issue, however, Bolivia, which is quite poor, needs its ties to the US, and, as such, I do not see Bolivia becoming uncooperative with US policy.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, War on Drugs | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Friday, March 10, 2006
More on Colombian Elections and Paramilitaries
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:25 pm

The links of paramilitaries to the Colombian congressional elections seem to be the story of this election year. I noted a Miami Herald yesterday, here’s more from the CSM: Paramilitaries still sway Colombian votes

despite the progress on demobilization, and the drop in election-related paramilitary violence, a wide variety of observers here say paramilitary efforts to influence politics have not ceased. Paramilitary leaders have merely taken a subtler tack, analysts say, using coffers flush with proceeds from the drug trade to finance favored candidates.


even when the votes are tallied after Sunday’s election, it won’t be easy to measure how many seats will be under paramilitary control. Claudia López, a political analyst for the newsweekly Semana tried to gauge paramilitary influence in the last congressional elections by studying atypical voting patterns. In areas where the paramilitaries had consolidated their power through massacres in the preceding years, she found, candidates often won by overwhelming landslides of as much as 96 percent of the vote.

That last comment is interesting, given the way that Congressional seats are filled in Colombia, it isn’t as if this would be a case of Candidate X beating Candidate Y 96-4. It is possible that a candidate won 96% of the vote in a given municipio/set of municipios (analogous, more or less, to a county). I have never done analysis of congressional elections in Colombia at that level, so I can’t say off the top of my head if the statement above makes sense or not (most of the specific analysis I have done has been focused on Senate elections).

The same theme (paras in politics) is continued in a Houston Chronicle story this morning:

You need permission to run for Congress in this steamy northern Colombian town where right-wing militias hold sway _ that is, if you value your life.

Juan David Diaz canceled a campaign stop ahead of Sunday’s national elections after receiving a warning that he would be assassinated if he set foot in this town of 160,000.

The opposition candidate says he is under threat for helping expose ties between outlawed paramilitary groups and a powerful businesswoman who is a powerbroker in Magangue. Earlier this month, one of his campaigners was found decapitated.

And then there’s this, which makes one wonder how one gets anyone to run:

Diaz worries that even if he is elected to Congress, he will not be safe.

His father, Edualdo Diaz, the mayor of nearby El Roble, made headlines in 2003 when he took the floor in one of Uribe’s townhall meetings and claimed plans were afoot for his murder. He named those he suspected in the plot and begged the president for help.

Two months later, he was killed.

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Thursday, March 9, 2006
Plea Bargain in Cali Cartel Case
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:06 pm

William Rodríguez Abadía, the son of Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, one of the two main leaders of the Cali Cartel, has accepted a plea bargain in a Miami court, and will testify against his father, and his uncle, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela.

It should make for some intriguing testimony.

Rodríguez Abadía took over the operation of the Cali Cartel in 1995 when the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers were arrested.

Source: El Tiempo: William Rodríguez Abadía declarará contra su padre y su tío, jefes del cartel de Cali

Colombian Elections: Paramilitaries and Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:26 am

Via the Miami Herald: Paramilarities’ control of candidates is feared

Eleonora Pineda, a 39-year old congresswoman seeking a second term in the coastal region of northern Colombia, said the president of the Democratic Colombia party, Mario Uribe, dropped her and a candidate for the Senate, Rocío Arias, after Mario Uribe met with U.S. Ambassador William Wood.

‘’He said I couldn’t be [a candidate] . . . because he had met with the ambassador and, more or less, he had felt that they were threatening to take away his [U.S.] visa,'’ she told The Miami Herald between campaign stops in the city of Monteria. Arias told The Miami Herald the same story.


Still, Pineda and Arias have been viewed as ad-hoc representatives of the paramilitaries for years.

The two were the most vocal supporters of a controversial amnesty law that paves the way for paramilitary commanders to spend minimal time in jail for any crimes they committed, and they are adamantly against extraditing paramilitaries suspected of drug trafficking to the United States.

Pineda’s home is in Santa Fe de Ralito, the small town where the government created a safe haven for paramilitary leaders while the peace talks go on.

Leftist guerrillas, she says, killed her grandfather, father and brother.

Part of Arias’ political movement included a former high-level paramilitary commander who had demobilized. The revelation in the media forced that candidate, Jovani Marín, to withdraw from the race.

This all raises a remarkably tricky question (and balancing act): should armed actors be coaxed into the electoral realm, even if they do not fully renounce arms, or should the policy be one of zero tolerance for even links to armed actors?

On one level it may seem a simple question, but is it?

In short: do connections between armed groups and electoral politics ultimately liberalize violent actors, or do violent actors ultimately subvert the broader electoral process? Certainly the preference would be for arms to wholly removed form politics, but if one is dealing with a situation where the reality of political violence is unavoidably entrenched, how does one deal with that violence, especially if direct military defeat is elusive, if not impossible?

Such questions resonate beyond Colombia, to places like Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.

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

PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » More on Colombian Elections and Paramilitaries linked with [...] ongressional elections seem to be the story of this election year. I noted a Miami Herald yesterday, here’s more from the CSM: Paramilitaries still sway Colombian votes despite the progress on [...]
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Rice to Meet With Morales
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:40 pm

Via Reuters: Rice to meet Bolivia’s Morales

“I have asked that the meeting deal fundamentally with economic matters,” Morales told reporters, saying it would take place this weekend in Chile, where both he and Rice are due to attend Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration as Chilean president.

Morales — who has called Rice ‘The Condoleezza’ — added that the agenda included preferential trade tariffs and global poverty-eradication goals. Bolivia is South America’s poorest nation and the United States is its top aid donor.

Along with fellow Andean countries, Bolivia receives preferential trade tariffs from the United States as long as it cooperates in the war on drug-trafficking. But that deal expires at the end of the year and Bolivia has not taken part in free-trade negotiations with Washington.

Filed under: US Politics, Global Politics, Latin America | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Seventy Members of the FARC Lay Down Arms
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:04 pm

Via Reuters: Colombia rebels defect, hand in arms to government

Seventy members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia handed in their arms and light aircraft to the government on Tuesday in the biggest rebel defection since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002.


The rebels handed in 63 weapons and an Aerocommander propeller aircraft they used to traffic weapons and narcotics, he said, adding that the FARC had bought the plane during failed peace talks with the previous government of President Andres Pastrana.

An initial response may be that 70 isn’t very many, and I suppose that it isn’t. However, given that only 53 members of the FARC have gone to the government to quit their fight since 2003, this is a rather significant number.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Purple Fingers are All the Rage
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:09 am

I can’t read the print, so am not sure if this a government poster or a graphic from the newspaper.

The context is the upcoming (3/12) congressional elections in Colombia.

Via El Tiempo

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Monday, March 6, 2006
Electioneering, FARC Style
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 5:17 pm

Colombian rebels kill three, try to sway voters

Colombian rebels killed three civilians with a bomb intended for soldiers on Monday, the latest in a series of attacks President Alvaro Uribe called a “cowardly” attempt to erode his support ahead of elections.

The bomb blew up a house, killing a 8-year-old boy and two women nearby and injuring three soldiers in the southern jungle province of Caqueta. The blast came a day after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, made another electoral gambit by agreeing to a request from an opposition politician to release hostages.

The candidate in question is at .2% in the polls, so hardly likely to gain much by the gesture.

In general, this is senseless:

“These massacres appear timed to spread terror before the elections and undermine the democratic process,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Monday. “The FARC has once again displayed complete disregard for the lives of the people it claims to represent.”

Indeed-and a point I frequently make.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, March 5, 2006
Election Watch: Colombia-Uribe Lead Slips
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:02 pm

Via El Tiempo we find that the number of voters planning to vote for Uribe for re-election has slipped fom 65.2% to 53.9%-while his nearest rival, likely Liberal candidate Horacio Serpa, is at 20.1%.

Here’s the story: Intención de voto por el Presidente Uribe se redujo en 11 puntos en última encuesta de EL TIEMPO

Uribe bajó de 65,2 a 53,9%, mientras que Horacio Serpa, precandidato del Partido Liberal, subió de 12 a 20,1 por ciento.

Es decir: la distancia entre los dos, que antes era de 53,2 por ciento, ahora es de 33,8 por ciento. La gran encuesta de EL TIEMPO fue contratada con la empresa Datexco.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Friday, March 3, 2006
Second Round in Haitian Parliamentary Elections Delayed
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:25 am

Via the BBC: Haiti parliamentary polls delayed:

Haiti’s electoral council says the second round of parliamentary elections will be delayed.

Council head Rosemond Pradel said it was impossible to keep to the 19 March date because complaints from the first round were still being dealt with.

This means that in the absence of a parliament, the inauguration of President-elect Rene Preval, set for 29 March, must also be delayed.


The second round of the legislative polls will pit the two leading candidates from the first round in each of 30 Senate seats and 99 Lower House seats against one another.

But the electoral council has not yet set a date for the polls to take place, blaming the delay partly on demonstrations which took place while first-round vote-counting was underway.

Filed under: Global Politics, Latin America, Elections | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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