Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peru: A trip worth retaking

Over the next several posts, I’ll be talking about our trip to Peru but today I wanted to start with general reactions. As the title suggests, we had a great trip and I would go back. Seven days is really not enough time as we barely got to know Lima and there are many more ruins than just Macchu Pichu. Plus, I think hiking the Inca trail would be an incredible experience in itself.

At any rate, I’ll get to the specifics of each site we visited in subsequent posts but for today, I have the following thoughts. As always, these thoughts reflect my personal experiences over the course of seven days and should not be taken as universal truth.

1. I felt safe. This is a big one. In Bogota I have non-clinical paranoia to avoid any and all crime. It’s essentially a siege mentality that has been programmed into my brain by everyone I interact with here (particularly my wife and her grandfather) and by the fact that in Colombia, “a fool and his money are easily parted”. Not so in Lima. The city is well policed and it has a vibrant “city life” in that at night time its common to see couples walking in parks, people in the streets, etc. In Bogotá, due to climate and crime, people generally scurry to their homes or to Parque 93 or the Zona Rosa.

But more than just that, Lima is terror free at the moment as is the rest of Peru. The country is not in the midst of a guerrilla war. It’s not besieged by kidnapping terrorists who have only weak affiliations to a political ideology. And there is virtually no mafia to speak of. That all makes a difference and it’s something I felt acutely.

2. It’s clean. Lima, or at least the barrios we were in (San Isidro and Miraflores), is a very clean city by any standard. It’s noticeable. They have legions of city employees cleaning the streets at all times and it works. This stands in stark contrast to London or Bogotá.

In addition to clean streets, however, is the relative lack of pollution. I make no claims that Peru pollutes less than Colombia (or any other developing nation) but it is aided by its geography. Lima rests on a desert plateau next to the Pacific. The winds coming off the ocean are strong and relentless and this helps the city stay relatively cool and blows noxious fumes and toxic emissions to the east. Bogotá is less fortunate. It straddles a vast green valley and to some extent, experiences the “LA Effect” of trapped emissions.

3. The desert means less food diversity. Peru has a reputation of having some of the best food in South America. That reputation is not without merit. We did not have a bad meal while we were there and on several occasions had excellent meals. The flip side of that, however, is that Peruvian geography does not permit the type of food diversity that is found in Colombia. Fresh fruit juices found in Peruvian restaurants, for example, are mostly limited to Papaya, Orange, and Pineapple, with the occasional Strawberry or Mango. I’m accustomed to having no less than six choices in Bogota (and that’s on the low side). Even the fruit they do have is a shadow of what one finds in Colombia. The papaya is almost mango colored (it’s pink in Colombia) and not as sweet as I’ve come to expect while everyone knows that Orange pales in comparison to mandarin. But deserts aren’t so hot for agriculture and they grow what their climate and geography permits.

I imagine that this is also the reason why they didn’t appear to have any really good meats. Colombia has spoiled me. When I go for a steak in Colombia I know that it will not only be excellent in quality, it will be cooked to perfection. In Peru, there is much less of a “cattle culture” (where to raise them?) meaning that the quality of the meat isn’t as good and the institutional knowledge of how to cook a steak properly has not disseminated throughout the culture. The one exception to this would be Lomo Saltado which is a sort of national dish (ceviche being the real national dish – and damn tasty) that is prepared with cubed steak, red onions, tomatoes, garlic, a bit of hot pepper, vinegar, and soy sauce (I guessed the ingredients correctly and confirmed them on the internets). It’s a very tasty dish.

At any rate, the specialty in Peru, for obvious reasons, is the seafood. The ceviche is very good, probably the best in the world (I only say “probably” on the unlikely chance that some other country does it better), and they have a seafood soup that is excellent (tried it the last night I was there – doh!). That being said, I found the normal seafood to be lacking in creativity. I had fried shrimp once which I expected to be very good but was really just…fried shrimp. And the menus weren’t particularly inspiring. I had Trout al Ajillo (which is a garlic sauce) once which was good, but nothing compared to the Colombian equivalent (and I mean like single-A ball compared to the Bigs here) and that was at a good restaurant. I guess, given the reputation and my experiences in Colombia and the great quantity of seafood they consume, that I was expecting more.

The one thing that did not disappoint, however, was Alpaca. I wanted to try it (always try exotic meat I say), especially after it was described as a kind of “white steak”. Fantastic. Very tasty meat. Allegedly has zero cholesterol. Sort of like a combination between chicken and steak. I had it twice. I would eat it again. Today. For lunch. Or mid-morning snack. So, if you get a chance to eat Alpaca, go for it.

4. An overall lack of diversity. As I mentioned earlier, I have been extremely spoiled by Colombia. It’s not only the first South American country I’ve visited and lived in, but it’s in the family, so to speak, and I’ve come to love Colombia like a second home. And one thing about Colombia, it’s not boring. Every region is different. Different races, different food, different music and dance, different festivals, etc. Peru, by comparison, is lacking in such diversity. It’s essentially and “Incan” nation in that most of the people look the same and there is no apparent diversity in music, food, festivals, etc. Some people suggest that Peru has an African heritage like Colombia and that has enriched the country. I didn’t see it. Aside from the giant doorman at our last hotel, I don’t think I saw a single other person of African descent the entire trip. It’s very odd seeing such a homogenous culture after living in Colombia.

5. The people are extremely friendly. This is probably a truism across Latin America but Peruvian people, from the street vendor to the waiter, were extremely nice. They would offer you goods in a very polite way and then once you refused they would say, “maybe later” and let you go on your way.

They are also very stubborn. In our limited experience, Peruvians want to offer you something in only the package that they present it. Any changes are either to incomprehensible to fathom or resisted for resistance sake. This was a bit annoying at times. Bottom line, in Peru, it’s not “your way, right away”.

6. English and dollars rule. Virtually everyone except the taxi drivers spoke some English. The language is so pronounced there that I think English speakers would have zero problems. It’s incredible. I’m so used to hearing Spanish only that I almost felt like I was in Miami.

The dollar thing is a little bizarre. The Peruvian currency is the Sol. It’s about 2.75 Soles to the Dollar. But everyone accepts dollars and gives change in Soles. I think we only changed dollars for soles twice – once to pay a taxi driver and the other time to pay the one shopkeeper in all of Lima that doesn’t accept dollars. I don’t know what this means aside from the obvious – if you go to Peru, just take dollars.

7. It’s less developed than Colombia. There’s no doubt that Peru is on the way up but they’re not in Colombia’s league at the moment. Ever wonder what happens to all the used Japanese cars that the Japanese don’t want to keep? They don’t have space on the island so they convert the steering wheel to the left side and sell the in Peru (and probably other countries). Lima, for example, is dominated by second hand Celicas and Corrollas. It’s almost like walking back into the 90s. But beyond cars, the buildings, roads, infrastructure, etc are all lagging. I don’t say this to criticize. Peru has its own problems (terrain and earthquakes among them). But it is shocking to see some of the hovels where people live.

I’ll stop here for now and conclude with this: I really liked Peru in general and Lima in particular. I could live there. And I’m sure that living there, I would find that some of my observations are not entirely accurate. But even with these observations, I felt comfortable in Peru and I would definitely go back.


Monday, March 17, 2008

The Stupidity of Windows Vista

Windows Vista is, in some significant ways, fairly cool. But, that doesn't mean it is without utter idiocy from time to time. This is typical Microsoft. Don't make a product that is more or less perfect. Make one with tons of problems that your customers will discover and then issue hundreds of updates to fix the problems as they come along.

At any rate, the problem I have is that Vista does not support the Cannon Powershot SD110 Digital Camera. I have searched for answers to this problem and needless to say there is a compatability issue that I won't pretend to understand and which has no solution. Even the Cannon website says that there is no driver to enable communication between this model camera and Windows Vista.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I hooked up the camera to my work computer, which is also Windows Vista, and it connected and downloaded all the pics without nary a problem. Maybe it's the spanish version or something. Either way, at least I have a temporary solution (especially important since we go to Peru tomorrow on holiday). Now, if anyone out there is more tech savvy than I (not a particularly high hurdle to cross these days), I'll welcome any explanation or assistance in this matter.


Yesterday, there was a big, free concert on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Not sure if it made the news in the US but it was a "Peace without Borders" concert and it featured 7 of the most prominent Latin artists. We watched a good bit on Teevee.

This was sort of like South America's Live Aid (which really should have been called "Africa Aid") and received the coverage you would expect for such an event. Notably, and this is something you have to love about South America in general, the concert was organized in a mere 10 days, there was no real schedule for who was going to play when (aside from Juanes last), and the artists joked about that while on stage. I think that's awesome. Live Aid was a "global" event so I get why it took longer to organize, but these artists basically said the cause is more important than the BS in between and perfect or not, they can still be awesome. One artist (Miguel Bosé I think) even cancelled a concert in NY yesterday to join in the cause.

At any rate, this concert has important symbolic value in Colombia as well as in South America in that the people, for the first time in a long time (or ever according to various Colombians I talked to about this) are taking a public, active, cultural interest in ending the war and working toward peace. In the last two months we've had an anti-FARC rally, an anti-Violence (anti-Paramilitary) rally, and now a free concert that achieved regional coverage.

These types of civic actions are important. Yesterday, each artist (most notably Juanes and Carlos Vives) gave short, periodic speeches about peace with the FARC, about freeing the kidnapped people, and about regional cooperation. These messages are important in that many people, poor and uneducated people that would not hear these messages or listen to them if they heard them from Uribe or some other politician, heard them loud and clear yesterday from the very heroes that dominate their airwaves. In the short term, this type of cultural, community activity won't have a great effect. But over the long run, if these activities, these public discussions become part of the norm, it's very possible that there could be a spillover effect on the culture of violence that seems to dominate some parts of this country. One can hope.


Tomorrow we're off to Peru for a week's holiday. We're going to Lima, Cusco, Macchu Pichu, Ica, Islas Ballestas, and back to Lima. This represents a dream trip if for no other reason than just to see Macchu Picchu. Full report and pics to follow.


Friday, March 14, 2008

The earliest St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

Easter comes early this year and that means that Bogotá will be emptying out starting Saturday morning. That puts a crimp in one of the great moneymaking festivals of the year for the Irish Pub in the Zona Rosa – St. Patty’s Day. It falls on Sunday this year anyway, which isn’t a great day for out of control green beer drinking. So, The Pub decided to hold the “holiday” on Wednesday night. Attendance of this event is, of course, mandatory.

It goes without saying that partying on a Wednesday night is not the greatest idea in the world. Not only does one have to work the next day, but dealing with a hangover in a non-English speaking environment is much, much more complicated than one would expect. Language aside, there is a cultural aspect that bears mentioning. In the UK, when one chances to be hungover on a Thursday, the entire office knows it, understands it, and provides one a wide berth. But in Colombia, in a culture in which it is considered rude not to greet fellow co-workers warmly (over the top in many cases), there is no amount of hiding and/or dodging that can avoid the exacerbation of alcohol induced pain.

Therefore, I pledged to take it easy. Fatigue I can deal with. But I learned my lesson in the old job re: hangovers. Plus, last Friday I went out with a different mate to a British Pub in Usaquen, ate food, and spent the next 24 hours in bed or at the porcelain goddess retching my guts out. I will not be returning to the Eight Bells. Ever. Again. (Second time I’ve gotten food poisoning from that place.)

My friends, however, were of a different mind. When I arrived at a fashionably late 6:40 pm, I found my friends had already drunk half a bottle of Jamison. Now I don’t mind drinking Scotch – down here it’s the “sophisticated” drink of choice. And I have drunk my fair share (there are more varieties of Scotch available down here, on average, than you’ll ever find in the US – specialty shops excluded). But I wouldn’t say Scotch is my preferred beverage and I wasn’t particularly excited by it. That actually turned out to be a good thing because I drank very slowly which fit in with my “do not get FUBB” strategy. Later, we had the obligatory pint of green beer.

The Pub (its actual name) was packed, just like last year. It’s a great moneymaking event. Anyway, here are a few observations:

1. Once again, the security guard sized me up and let me pass without giving me the metal detecting wand. The one situation where being a gringo is an advantage.

2. At 730 pm, a friend went to the toilet. When he came back he told me that some bloke had puked green beer right in front of him, all over the bathroom floor. At 730. Way to party all night there tiger.

3. The Pub had a promotion on Jamison (we actually won a free bottle which my friend took home) and the promotion worked. Conservatively estimated, they moved 100 bottles that night if not more.

4. Virtually everyone at The Pub spoke some level of English. That’s generally what you find when you go to Zona Rosa anyway, but more so for the Irish Day of Drinking. It’s the closest one can come to an English speaking environment in a non-US Embassy event in Bogota, if you’re into that sort of thing.

5. My friend (the Costeño) talks louder and more gregariously than pretty much anyone I’ve ever known. He is royally entertaining and is the only English speaking friend that I have here that speaks like a native. He’s also a spitter in that when he gets all animated, the spittle flies forth from his mouth. Unpleasant.

6. In the middle of the night (say around 10:30), a “band” walks through the whole pub banging on drums and things of that nature. It’s about the least Irish thing one could see on St. Patty’s Day (or whatever). I’m guessing it’s prohibitively costly to get Irish music.

7. I’ve never seen the Zona Rosa so entirely deserted as I did Wednesday night. Aside from The Pub (which was overflowing), nary another bar or restaurant looked to be open at 11 pm, not to mention have patrons. Some people, it seems, have the good sense to spend Wednesday night at home with the family.

8. I genuinely miss the pub culture. Here in Bogotá, it’s essentially feast or famine. It goes without saying that I prefer the British way of meeting for a pint after work and then heading home. London makes that culture work in that it has the necessary public transportation system. Bogotá not so much. And that is a problem in that it’s basically a huge risk to take a taxi on the street (which I nervously did) and there is essentially no way I’ll ever ride a bus at night (exceedingly risky, especially for a gringo).

I think, however, that this isn’t particularly unique to Bogotá. US cities which do not have excellent public transportation (like say, Atlanta) also have a problem. In place of crime, it’s driving. And this highlights one of my general preferences. I like cities in which I can walk or ride, in comfort and with little concern, especially after having a pint or two after work. That partially explains why I love London so (ask anyone who’s lived there what they miss and invariably “The Tube” will come up, expensive or not). And it partially explains why I like some things about DC. And, ultimately, it partially explains why I feel a bit of a “siege mentality” here in Bogotá.

Overall it was a good night. I avoided the craziness, my friends got hammered, and at midnight we went to a nearby restaurant and ate a “picada” which is essentially a mountain of grilled, chopped meats. I got home around 1 am and was very tired yesterday but had not even a whiff of a hangover (3 scotches and 2 beers won’t do that much). And now the week is almost over, the wife returns tomorrow, and we leave for Peru on Tuesday. All in all, I can’t complain.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Numbers don’t lie

For the Delegate Count:

“States” Won: Obama 29 (incl. Texas, DC, US Virgin Islands, and Democrats Abroad), Clinton 13 (incl. American Samoa)

Tie: New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan, Missouri

Delegate Count (Average): Obama 1556 (1405 Pledged), Clinton 1435 (1202 pledged)

Average Lead for Obama: 121

Total Pledged Delegates Distributed (or awaiting distribution): 3006

Percent of Pledged Delegates won by Obama (with Edwards): 46%

By Clinton (with Edwards): 39%

Percent of Pledged Delegates won by Obama (post Edwards): 52%

By Clinton (post Edwards): 46%

Pledged Delegates Remaining: 566

Percent that Clinton would need to tie Obama in pledged delegates: 60%

For the Popular Vote:

“States” won: Obama 29.5, Clinton 14.5 (Texas is split since I have not the data)

Not relevant: Florida, Michigan

Popular vote estimate: 13,278,372 Obama, 12,576,210 Clinton

Difference: Obama +702,162

States still to announce vote totals: Iowa, Nevada, Washington, Maine

States Remaining Estimate:

States Remaining: PA, Guam, Indiana, NC, WV, KY, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Montana, SD

Delegate estimate based on previous results (without Edwards): Obama 294, Clinton 260

States Obama expects to win: Guam, NC, Indiana, Oregon, Montana, SD

States Clinton expects to win: PA, WV, KY, Puerto Rico

States that could swing to Obama: Puerto Rico (caucus)

States that could swing to Clinton: Indiana

Obama has won every month. He is leading in the pledged delegate count and the combined count (including super delegates). He has won more than twice as many states. His lead in delegates is essentially insurmountable. He is winning the estimated popular vote with a lead that is also likely insurmountable. Of the states remaining, Obama will likely win 6 of 10. Failing someone catching Obama in bed with a live boy or a dead girl, this race is over.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Something you would have known if the media wasn't biased in favor of Hillary Clinton

From DailyKos:

"So officially, Obama has a 13-delegate advantage for the week even before Mississippi votes tomorrow. Throw in the unpledged delegate in Wyoming who will certainly be an Obama delegate, and unofficially, Obama notched a 14-delegate gain in this "week from hell" for him."

Yeah, she like, totally won last week.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Crisis Diplomacy: The need for a regional counterterrorism mechanism in South America

Here's an article I sought to publish but was rejected. The editors didn't really like my policy recommendations. They may be right. It's a complicated moment in Colombia and while I think my policy prescriptions are generally what's necessary, now might not be the right moment. Anyway, I'm posting the article anyway since I did the work to write it and all.

In the early morning hours of March 1, the Colombian military crossed into Ecuador without permission and attacked a FARC camp. From a military perspective, the attack was a complete success. Colombia killed Raúl Reyes, generally considered the second in command of the terrorist organization. The military also captured four laptops which contain what the Colombian military calls vital intelligence. The political fallout, however, has been a disaster as both Ecuador and Venezuela have closed their embassies in Bogotá and cut off all diplomatic contact.

While the details of Saturday morning’s raid are still in dispute, one thing is becoming clear – the intelligence information captured by the Colombian military speak of linkages between the FARC and Venezuela and Ecuador that are much greater and more overt than previously believed. Venezuela has long been dogged by rumors that they provided direct support to the FARC (in particular, ammunition) but until now, there was no evidence. Today, those rumors seem to be backed by with credible evidence.

As reported in the NYT and numerous other sources, one of the laptops confiscated by the Colombian military describes a transfer of $300 million USD from Venezuela to the FARC (although this is disputed by Venezuela). There is also evidence that the FARC aided Chavez as far back as 1992 when he was in prison for an unsuccessful coup attempt. The Organization of American States is meeting in Washington to evaluate this event and the evidence collected by the Colombian military will be reviewed by an OAS body. Only the Guardian provides some meaning to this data point:

“The leftist affinity between the Chávez government and Farc is no secret but, if proved, the allegation potentially makes Chávez a sponsor of terrorism.”

This is a serious issue. Currently, there are five nations on the State Department Terrorist List, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Each of those nations face a certain degree of US and international sanctions and are virtual international pariahs. Going on the list hurts them economically and diplomatically and virtually guarantees that they will face a very tough road to repair their reputations and to develop economically.

Further, the Terror List is a brutal tactic that doesn’t seem to work particularly well and is arbitrarily applied and/or maintained on states that don’t seem to merit the label (Cuba seems an odd candidate to remain on the List, south Florida politics notwithstanding). Terror List designation means restrictions on US foreign aid, a defense sales and export ban (products that have military applications), controls over the export of dual-use technology, and financial and other restrictions. These sanctions can also punish 3rd party nations or individuals that trade with the Terror List designee, meaning that, in some situations, the US could seek to penalize nations that trade with state sponsors of terror.

The State Department explains the qualifications for the list as follows:

Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria, however, continued to maintain their ties to terrorist groups. Iran and Syria routinely provide unique safe haven, substantial resources and guidance to terrorist organizations.

State sponsors of terrorism provide critical support to non-state terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have much more difficulty obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations.

If the allegations that Colombia has leveled against Venezuela are proven true, then Venezuela would clearly fit the US Government’s criteria as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The question, then, becomes, will the State Department place the country on the List?

Over the course of the next week, the OAS will conduct an investigation to verify the authenticity of the information obtained by the Colombian government. Subsequent investigations will be undertaken to confirm that information from other sources (likely conducted in cooperation with the US Government). Most observers, however, would not be surprised if overt linkage between Chavez and the FARC were proven true. Ecuador probably has no overt linkages and will escape castigation in this matter (as the victim).

If the OAS investigation reasonably demonstrates that Venezuela is actively supporting the FARC, the US will be put in a tight spot. By law, the US would have the authority to place Venezuela on the Terror List. However, US sanctions on Venezuela have four potential negative implications that will likely stay the US hand:

1. A more hostile stance toward Venezuela plays into Chavez’s primary reason for being – to counter the “gringo empire”. He learned this from Castro and if history is any guide, placing sanctions on the Red Republic could keep Chavez in power for a long, long time.

2. The US buys a significant portion of Venezuelan oil (in the neighborhood of 80% or more) and in a time of rising oil prices, sanctions would hurt. The Bush administration has been nothing if not brash, but it seems unlikely that the President would be willing to further destabilize the US economy by further reducing oil imports.

3. Colombia exports enormous amounts of goods to Venezuela and it’s possible that US sanctions would curtail or end that trade. While the twin step of blocking Venezuelan oil exports and ending cross border trade would likely ruin the Venezuelan economy, the effects on the US’s only South American ally would be devastating as well. Bush would likely be unwilling to do that to a friend (unless asked).

4. The US is heavily invested in Venezuela and any sanctions regime would be strongly resisted by the domestic business lobby. In addition to the Oil & Gas industry, a great number of large, powerful US enterprises have significant stakes in Venezuela. It would be difficult for Bush to levy sanctions and jeopardize those investments given that that very business community vaulted him to 8 years in the Oval Office.

No matter the outcome of the specifics of this case, it has clearly highlighted a failure in regional cooperation. The question, then, is what can be done about the lack of regional cooperation in fighting terrorism and the overt role that some regional powers appear to be playing? It’s not an easy question to answer but I offer the following:

1. The US should quietly approach Ecuador and inform them of the grave risks of sponsoring or collaborating with terrorists. Ecuador should also be reminded of the value of US economic assistance. At the same time, the US could extend an offer of more economic assistance to Ecuador in exchange for their cooperation in this matter.

2. The US should quietly reassure the Colombian government of its support (if it hasn’t already done so) and specifically offer some level of diplomatic guarantee in the unlikely case of a Venezuelan attack (a pledge to take the issue to the UN Security Council, for example). This could be seen as a controversial move, but with one ally in the region, the US stands more to gain by supporting Colombia, with force if necessary, than by standing on the sidelines.

3. The US should take a leadership role in the OAS to create a regional forum and/or security body that coordinates counter-terrorism efforts across borders. As is, the system is broken. OAS counterterrorism cooperation is extremely limited and the conditions for cooperation are poorly defined. Ecuador’s President Correa claims that Uribe should have informed him and then he would have moved troops to capture the FARC. Colombia, justifiably, has no confidence that Ecuador would not tip off the FARC or that the Ecuadorian army could arrive in time to do any good (it took them 24 hours to show up after Colombia’s attack). The result is that one nation’s sovereignty, no matter how justly, was violated and there is a diplomatic firestorm to deal with in the short term.

A regional counter-terrorism working group should seek to establish a mechanism for undertaking cross border activities, for facilitating joint military cooperation, and for creating guidelines for future action. This effort should also include crisis communication options for all participating nations in order to take the verbal back and forth out of the press and into the crisis management centers. Standard, regular consultations related to the FARC would help deescalate cross border tension and settle a framework for greater regional cooperation as well as prevent further unauthorized border incursions.

Further, by trying to internationalize the conflict, the US could turn back its reputation as an empire seeking colonial power that infects vast portions of South America’s liberal community. As an equal, not dominant partner in a regional counter-terrorism coordination effort that plays a facilitator (and financing) role, the US would functionally be on the same status level as any other nation and the leftists in the region, in particular Chavez, would have much less fuel for their fire. To make the US role completely transparent, the newly formed organization could formally establish in its bylaws that the US would be nothing more than a facilitator.

In all likelihood, this effort would be shunned by Venezuela and that would limit its success to only Colombia’s southern border. However, even in this scenario, the initiative would have value for it would provide clear evidence that Venezuela is not serious about fighting terrorism. That would give Colombia the moral high ground, potentially building support for placing Venezuela on the Terrorist List or for future UN Security Council action.

There is no magic bullet that will solve the problem of the FARC and its 45 year vendetta against the legitimate authority in Bogotá. However, over the last seven years, the Uribe government has been very successful at pushing the FARC out of big cities and to more remote regions of the country. Now, with the FARC on the ropes and actively seeking refuge across borders, there is a great need for regional cooperation. A failure of the region to step up to the challenge of cross border narco-terrorism would further justify unilateral actions by Colombia and increase the likelihood of accidental or intentional war.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Deep Thought of the Day

The democrats will do anything to screw up the silver platter that has been handed to them.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Deep thought of the day

In Braveheart terms, Hillary Clinton would be Robert the Bruce and Barack Obama William Wallace.

Happy voting.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What’s going on down here

As some of you may have heard, there was an incident between Colombia and the FARC on Saturday that happened in Ecuadoran territory. While reports are still sketchy (never trust anything that the Colombian military says, at least not until confirmed by multiple sources), it looks like the Colombian military detected the presence of a guerrilla camp just on the other side of the border with Ecuador. This is a fairly common thing. The guerrillas know that they can hide across international boundaries with virtual impunity and it makes the war that much more difficult to prosecute.

For reasons that are still unknown, Colombia decided to launch an attack (precision munitions) against the camp. In all probability they were motivated by their intelligence which pointed to the presence of a high level guerrilla leader, Raúl Reyes (the #2 in command by most accounts). So, using clever George Bush style interpretations of international law, the Colombian air force launched the attack from their side of the border into Ecuador. Reyes and others were killed in what is being hailed as the greatest victory against the FARC in the history of the 40 year struggle.

The impact of this event is still being sorted. However, several things are clear. First, President Chavez went totally insane and made a number of saber-rattling declarations and brashly and dramatically (on national TV and radio) ordered several battalions and tanks to the Colombia-Venezuela border. He also closed the Venezuelan embassy in Bogotá. This sort of thing is to be expected from Big Red. It also raises all sorts of questions, one of which I’ll discuss below.

On the Ecuadoran side, they too expressed outrage and sent troops to the border. They also claim that Colombia went deep into Ecuador to carry out the attack, violating the nation’s sovereignty. The Colombian military denies this of course. And now the president’s of Chile and Mexico are offering to mediate.

Those are the facts. If you read the links, you’ll find any number of absurd quotes from both Ecuador’s President Correa and Hugo Chavez. These quotes would be shocking except by now, we’re all used to Big Red blabbing on and on with idle threats. At any rate, I think there are several important points that need to be made:

1. I get Colombia’s motivation in this and I can’t disagree with it. It’s virtually impossible to prosecute a war against guerrilla terrorists when they can find safe haven in neighboring countries.

2. That doesn’t mean that they were justified in breaking international law. These sorts of things should be negotiated in advance. But we don’t know the behind the scenes aspect. We don’t know if the Colombian government has tried negotiating (I assume they have) and it seems likely that Ecuador isn’t willing to help or give them permission to cross the border.

3. This would be a very interesting issue to ask the Democratic presidential candidates since Obama has said he would cross the Pakistani border to chase the Taliban if necessary.

4. Should Venezuela belong on the State Department’s Terrorist List and be subject to US Sanctions? Consider the following quote from the AP article linked above:

“This is saber-rattling, trying to make a point," said Adam Isacson, an analyst for the Washington-based Center for International Policy. By holding a moment of silence in honor of the slain rebels during his program, Chavez "has all but said that the FARC will be safe in Venezuela, and that the Venezuelan armed forces would respond to a similar Colombian incursion into Venezuelan territory."

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is it not the purpose of the terrorist list to sanction those countries that either sponsor or abed terrorists? Sounds like Venezuela is a MUCH more significant state sponsor of terrorism than say, North Korea (especially if the very credible reports that FARC ammunition is supplied from Venezuela prove true).

Politics intervenes, of course, because Venezuela has a lot of oil and we want it. But there’s also cross border trade between Colombia and Venezuela that is extremely important and putting them on the Terror List would truncate that trade, in addition to causing other problems.

5. This event both proves the FARCs weakness and the Colombian military’s strength. Chavez blames the US for this event and to some, extenuated degree, he is correct. Had it not been for Plan Colombia, the Colombian military would never have had the intelligence technology and training necessary to find the guerrillas and bomb them. They have gotten much, much stronger over the last 7 years.

So too has the guerrilla gotten weaker. This is an embarrassing defeat for an organization that has been increasingly pushed around by the military. The war, for better or worse, has made a huge impact on the FARC’s ability to conduct attacks and operate as a unit (although it’s not just the war).

6. This likely ends any other hostage releases for the near future. The FARC will undoubtedly try to retaliate as well. It remains to be seen if they have the capability, but there can be no doubt that their organization is now going to be in a bit of disarray and they’ll be unlikely to welcome the idea of more negotiation or good faith efforts. Not that I think they were going to do that anyway. Reyes was the classic “negotiate about everything, do nothing” style negotiator and never had any real interest in peace talks. So it remains to be seen what comes next. There is a possibility that his replacement will be more interested in negotiation and genuine peace efforts, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Until the old guard truly expires, the FARC will never make peace

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