Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Quick Hits

I have a longer and more detailed diatribe forthcoming, but I wanted to recount a few quick things.

First, we had a bit of a riot/protest yesterday afternoon outside the office. It was a student riot in protest of a new transfer law that I won´t pretend to understand since El Tiempo apparently has no intention of explaining.

We went up to the roof to see what was happening and we saw that the students had armed themselves with molotov cocktails and bricks. The police had riot police out, roads blocked off, and the riot car with the water cannon (like a tank). I even saw a riot cop halfheartedly hitting a student with his beating stick although it wasn´t terribly forceful. The tear gas was heavy, even 10 stories up, so we didn´t stay that long (our viewing angle wasn´t great).

The riot went on for about 2.5 hours. Sounded a bit like a war zone. There were lots of explosions, sounds of gunshots (I imagine rubber bullets), and of course, the roar of angry voices. It was all very interesting.

Of course, it wasn´t very interesting to the Vice Education Minister who received a mail bomb yesterday. He´s ok, just some minor injuries. It was a small bomb. But this protest is obviously quite serious.


In other news, coca production is up again in Colombia. The UN and US are saying that the rise in measured coca plants has to do with the size of the survey area. Either way, this quote is telling:

"Rapid crop reconstitution, a move to smaller plots and the discovery of previously unsurveyed coca growing areas, have posed major challenges to the techniques and methodologies used to understand Colombia's coca cultivation and cocaine output,"

It´s become increasingly obvious that Plan Colombia isn´t substantially effecting coca production. Of course, the White House has been withholding this data since February, but there´s no surprise there.


I saw President Uribe on TV last night. He gave a very strange speech explaining and justifying the release of some FARC prisoners. He had written his notes on a very small pad and on several occassions he took a moment to jot something down during the speech. Very bizarre.

At any rate, I believe there are at least 4 reasons why he made this move:

1. This move, in cooperation with the new French government, should strengthen Colombia´s relationship with the EU. This is very important because given the perceived instability between Colombia and the US, a closer relationship with the EU can be a balancing or stabilizing force for Uribe. Moreover, when everyone laughed at Vice President Santos´claim that Colombia could terminate US aid, it became obvious that a threat to seperate Colombia from the US was empty absent an alternative. A closer relationship with Europe provides some teeth to that threat.

2. This move, something Uribe deemed a humanitarian effort to reintegrate the FARC into civil society, also serves as a ploy to placate Democrats concerned with human rights violations here in Colombia. Uribe has, in at least a small way, demonstrated that he is serious about finding a peaceful, long-term solution to the conflict, a way that respects the rights of the enemy.

3. This move will clearly demonstrate that the FARC is not a political organization, only a narco-terrorist organization. This isn´t terribly important to the Bush administration and probably not important to the Democrats either (the US has labeled the FARC a terrorist org) but it could make a difference in the EU. By making a good faith effort to treat FARC prisoners humanely, to integrate them into civil society, and to attempt to make peace is in stark contrast to the concentration camp-like imprisonment that the FARC is undertaking. Uribe made this comparison last night and I believe his gambit is intended to reveal that the FARC won´t reciprocate or respond in any way except to reject negotiations.

This should help convince the "pro-peace" crowd (mostly European) that the FARC isn´t serious about peace, just as they weren´t in the 90s when they used the "demilitarized zone" to reconstitute their forces. Some may think that given recent history, no further actions are necessary to convince the world that the FARC is just a terrorist organization. Unfortunately, politics has a short memory and in this is no exception.

4. I have the sense that Colombian presidents get tired and/or desperate. The demilitarized zone in the 90s was a horrid idea and one incredibly hard to justify. But they did it anyway. And, given Uribe´s tone last night, I got the sense that he wanted to try something different and see if it could make a difference. I didn´t get the sense that there was more than a smidgeon of optimism in his voice and manner, but at some level, I think he felt he had to try something.

At any rate, I fully expect Uribe´s gambit to fail to bring peace negotiations. The FARC is not interested in peace. Their business is chaos and war. It serves their interests. Peace does not help them. So instead, I expect more of the same.



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