SEMANA INTERNATIONAL / Roundup Report | 2/9/2009 12:00:00 AM
Jan. 23rd – Feb. 9th — What does the Old Continent think about Colombia? Read every week in Semana International a roundup report on what the major European press says, thinks, feels, and does about our country.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, ‚Farc’, released six of their political hostages last week, in what has been considered a unilateral signal of approach to the government as well as a strategic act to gain political elbowroom. The European press assiduously covered the events, especially in major online services. However, in contrast with other times, comments and analysis have been missing.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT — Jürgen Vogt, Latin America correspondent of Germany’s major independent, leftist daily “Tageszeitung” (taz), wrote an article shortly before the releases took place. In the story, published last Friday (January 30th), Mr. Vogt informs about the announcement of the “independent” Senator Piedad Córdoba that six hostages would return to liberty “in three stages”, starting on Sunday. “taz” points out that, already in December, Farc had “announced the unconditional and unilateral liberation of the hostages”. Mr Vogt writes: “War between the army, right-wing paramilitary militias, and various guerrillas has lasted for more than forty years.”
THE INTERRUPTION — The German weekly magazine “Focus” centered on the suspense-laden hours in which the release operation had to be aborted. In an article published on its website on Monday (February 2nd), “Focus” writes: “the release of two politicians has been postponed by Farc, but will take place soon. The guerrilla had announced the liberations (…) as a gesture of good will.”
THREE POLICEMEN AND A SOLDIER — “Die Welt” , one of Germany’s major newspapers, also referred to the liberations. In an article published on Sunday (February 1st), “Die Welt” reports on the release of three policemen and one soldier as a “unilateral action” of Farc, and it reminds: “Farc have been fighting against the government for forty years, and still have several hundred hostages in its power. In 2008, troops killed various leaders and weakened the structure of the organization decisively.”
THE EX-GOVERNOR — “Focus” also reported on the release of Alan Jara, former Governor of the region Meta, held kidnapped by Farc during seven and a half years. In an article published on Wednesday (February 4th), the German newsweekly writes: “Jara was liberated in a rural zone in the South-East of the country (…), and flew immediately to his home-town Villavicencio. After his liberation the 51 year-old engineer appeared emaciated, but relatively fit.” According to “Focus”, great pressure has come onto Farc during the last seven years, especially after Colombian soldiers were able to free in a secret mission fifteen hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. “Farc’s recent releases seek political dialogue. Yet, President Álvaro Uribe persists on its hard-line policy against the guerrilla. He labeled the releases as a farce, with which the rebels want to create confusion among Colombians.”
THE HOSTAGE’S SKEPTICISM — With a quote of former Farc hostage Alan Jara, Germany’s major daily newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ) begins its article about the releases last week in Colombia: “Farc are not defeated”. In the story, published on Thursday in the print edition of “SZ”, Latin America correspondent Peter Burghardt points to the critics against President Álvaro Uribe made by Mr. Jara. “The former Governor of the region Meta is not especially enthusiastic about the head of state of the South American conflict country. ‘Uribe didn’t help us at all’, said Jara after his release”, Mr. Burghardt writes. According to the “SZ” reporter, the release is a signal that the guerrilla has the will to start a dialogue, but Uribe, so Mr. Burghardt, wants to force them into negotiations through military pressure.
THE TEACHER — Pilar Lozano, Colombia correspondent of Spain’s major daily “El País”, wrote an article about the releases last week in Colombia with the title “I will work for the liberty of the ones who remain in the jungle”, a quote of the former Governor Alan Jara. The article was published in the print edition of “El País” last Tuesday (February 3rd), and in it Ms. Lozano writes: “Skinny, pale, but with an open, almost contagious smile, Alan Jara returned to liberty after seven years and seven months in captivity.” “El País” underscores the role of Senator Piedad Córdoba, “the author of the six releases promised by Farc since last December.” According to “El País” reporter, Mr. Jara’s hostage companions called him “The Teacher”. He gave them English and Russian classes in the middle of the jungle, since he had studied Engineering in Ukraine.
THE DEPUTIES — Salud Hernández-Mora, a famous Spanish journalist living in Colombia, wrote for Spain’s major conservative daily “El Mundo” an article about the releases. In the story, published on Friday (February 6th), Ms. Hernández-Mora focuses on the case of Sigifredo López, a regional Parliament member, who returned to liberty after years in captivity. Along with eleven other deputies of the region Valle, Mr. López had been kidnapped by disguised Farc fighters who evacuated the Parliament after having faked a bomb alarm. In April 2007, his colleagues were killed while kept as hostages in the jungle, an act of which both Farc and the government had repeatedly incriminated each other. According to “El Mundo”, Mr. López has now revealed the truth of what happened: “Farc were responsible of the killings”, reporter Hernández-Mora quotes the former hostage. She writes: “The whole country expected him to tell the truth (…). In a press conference which took place a few hours after the release, López explained that the guerrilleros who watched after the deputies shot them after members of another Farc front approached their camp without prior notice.”
ALL ARE FREE NOW — The German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” reported on the releases, too. It writes: “Relief in Colombia: with a one day delay the liberation of two more hostages has finally begun.” The article published by its web service “Zeit-Online” informs: “On Sunday, Farc had already released three policemen and one soldier without perceivably demanding a trade-off.”
THE ‘RFI’ AFFAIR — In an article published in its print edition on Tuesday (February 3rd), France’s major newspaper “Le Monde” referred to the case of the “Radio France International” (RFI) Colombia correspondent Hollman Morris, who interviewed the three policemen and the soldier shortly before they were released by Farc on Sunday. “Le Monde” writes: “RFI announces it has not published any interviews with the hostages (…), nor has any interview been either proposed by or assigned to its correspondent”. Minister of Defense Juan Manual Santos had accused Mr. Morris of having interviewed the hostages “under pressure” with the intention of misusing the material. According to “Le Monde”, “RFI” reminds that Mr. Morris is also the director of a TV program “devoted to Human Rights”, and that ”RFI has always supported the liberty of information around the world, and respected the principle of impartiality”.
THE MEANING OF HUMBUG — Spain’s major conservative daily “El Mundo” also informed on the debate concerning Hollman Morris and Jorge Enrique Botero, two journalists engaged in a controversy for their actions before and during the releases. According to “El Mundo”, the government publicly condemned both reporters of playing a “dirty game”. Quoting Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, the Madrid-based newspaper points out that while the delicate mission was taking place, “reporters suddenly appeared at work”. On the other hand, the journalist Jorge Enrique Botero accused the government of having jeopardized the mission’s success by ordering air-force jets to supervise the “secret” zone where the releases took place. “El Mundo” quotes Mr. Santos labeling this version as “humbug”. A few days after, he had to admit it was true.
THE BOMBING (I) — While Europe was celebrating the hostage releases, according to most recent reports, Farc militias detonated a bomb in the center of Cali, Colombia’s third most populated city, in the West of the country. In the explosion two people were killed, and thirty more were injured. The German newsweekly “Focus” wrote an article about the incident on its website last Monday (February 2nd). It quotes Cali mayor Iván Ospina saying that the “terrorist attack” was perpetrated through a car bomb, and that it tended to destroy a police station.
THE BOMBING (II) — “El País” also reported on the bombing in Cali. In an article published on its website that same night, Spain’s major daily quotes mayor Iván Ospina: “We are at war, and in a war like ours such things happen. According to our investigations, one of the deadly victims is the person that set off the bomb.”
THE LADY WITH THE TURBAN — The conservative German daily “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ) published an article on the releases, in which it emphasizes the role of Piedad Córdoba, a left-winged Senator that led the NGO in charge of coordinating the liberations. The article, called “Unwavering”, was published in the print edition of “FAZ”, and signed by its Latin America correspondent Josef Oehrlein. He writes: “Every time the Colombian guerrilla frees hostages, a dark-skinned woman is always there. Senator Piedad Córdoba covers her head with cloth converted into a turban, whose designs constantly vary. As flickle as her turban is the political figure she embodies.” Mr. Oehrlein points out that Ms. Córdoba is one of the only public persons in Colombia with direct access to Farc, and that the recent releases can practically be credited to her. Yet he affirms: “Ms. Córdoba’s weakness is her impulse of self-profiling and spreading information. (…) But in the meantime she has developed an astonishing degree of prudence.” “FAZ” reminds that Córdoba shares parts of Farc’s ideology, and that she is entangled in accusations coming from the government related to a supposedly obscure e-mail exchange with Farc leaders. “Until now, her political enemies have tried to accuse her of conspiring and betraying her own country. However, her best protection is the gratefulness of the hostages, who due to her actions have returned to liberty.”
URIBE AND HIS FRIEND
A day before the announced release of the first four hostages, President Álvaro Uribe seized the opportunity of being in Europe (he had been in Davos assisting to the World Economic Forum), to make a call on Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and good friend of his. Mr. Uribe was received with official honors in the imposing building where Ms. Merkel works, the Kanzleramt. They took lunch, and chatted about Colombia—Ms. Merkel was thrilled.
NICE WORDS AMONG FRIENDS — After meeting her friend Álvaro Uribe for lunch in the post-modern Kanzleramt in the heart of Berlin, Angela Merkel, Germany’s head of Parliament, prized democratization in Colombia, so Germany’s major national broadcasting service “Deutsche Welle” (DW). In an article published on its online platform, “DW” reports that Merkel also praised the improvement of Human Rights conditions in Colombia. “During the meeting (…), the Chancellor acclaimed the hard hand of the government in Bogotá against drug trafficking, right-winged paramilitaries, and leftist guerillas”, “DW” writes in its article published on Saturday (January 31st). According to “DW”, Uribe pointed to the fact that with German support the development of justice agencies could be pushed on.
AN EXOTIC TALK — President Álvaro Uribe’s meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel took place one day before the releases of the prisoners; lunch was served for Ms. Merkel’s guest of honor. Hours earlier, Mr. Uribe had been at the Colombian Embassy, in the western part of Berlin, where he met Germany’s Minister of Economy Michael Glos, and talked exclusively with local media. One of them was the country’s major conservative daily “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (“FAZ”), who sent two journalists and a photographer to interview Mr. Uribe. The exotic result of the meeting was an article published in the print edition of “FAZ” with the title: “”Uribe: Twice As Much Money For Micro-Credits”. “FAZ” reporters Daniel Deckers and Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger devoted their story to Mr. Uribe’s plans to overcome the global financial crisis, and how he will “proceed against inequality of income” in Colombia. “FAZ” quotes Mr. Uribe saying: “Like in every other crisis, in this one hide chances, too.” According to “FAZ”, he thinks that capital cannot become an object of speculation, but that it must be invested, and that the economy of his country is doing “substantially better” than it did at the beginning of his presidency in 2002. The extensive article published on Monday (February 2nd), contains only two (not especially creative) phrases related to the war in Colombia: “According to Mr. Uribe, Farc is weakened, but not destroyed.” And on the drug conflict, “FAZ” paraphrases him theorizing about social policy: “Certainly, drug production is not the only danger on our region. Similar danger emanates from a social policy that focuses on consumptive public expenditure, and not on the growth of social cohesion as a consequence of a solid economic policy that relies on private initiative.”
THE MINISTER ON TOUR, TOO — Jaime Bermúdez, Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, has been travelling through Europe this week. In Madrid, he met Maite Rico, a reporter from Spain’s major daily “El País”, who published an article on Saturday (February, 7th), based on their meeting. The title of the story quotes Mr. Bermúdez saying: “We will continue to combat Farc if they insist on terrorist attacks.” According to Ms. Rico, the Minister admitted being “tired, but happy”. The recent hostage release took place while Mr. Bermúdez toured Germany, Belgium, France, and Spain, after accompanying President Uribe to Davos. Nonetheless, he blamed Farc of seeking “political oxygen” through the releases, so Ms. Rico. Then she quotes Mr. Bermúdez: “Farc is not doing us a favor: releasing hostages is a moral obligation. Kidnapping is a crime against humanity. (…) What we don’t want is people’s liberty being used politically. Extortion hostages are freed without problems after they pay. In the case of political hostages, Farc needs guaranties.”
Judging from the total of articles written last week about Colombia, the release of Farc hostages seemed to be at least as relevant as the most recent zoological discoveries in the country. The carcass of the longest serpent in Earth’s history was dug out on Wednesday in a northern region of the country. On the other hand, ten new frog species were found in rain forests at the border with Panamá. Europeans could read about “the bus-sized snake” in several print as well as online headlines.
IN THE NAME OF CERREJÓN — France’s major newspaper “Le Monde” writes in an article published on Wednesday (February 4th): “The intervertebral discs of a serpent that was 13 meters long, that weighed over a ton, and that lived some sixty million years ago have been found by paleontologists in Colombia.” Jonathan Block, an expert from the University of Florida, is quoted saying: “This enormous snake really defies imagination, it’s a piece of reality that overrides any of Hollywood’s ghosts.” According to “Le Monde”, the species has been called Titanoboa cerrejonensis, honoring the name of the Cerrejón coalmines in the North of the country, where bulldozers accidentally unearthed the giant bones.
GOOD NEWS FOR THE COUNTRY, AT LAST — In a story called “Noa’s Arch in Colombia”, Italy’s most popular newspaper “La Repubblica” wrote about the frogs observed by an expedition of the Conservation Institute, an American environmental organization, in the thick jungles of Tacarcuna in El Darién, a protected region in the West of the country. The article was written by reporter Alessia Manfredi, and was published on Tuesday (February 3rd). The reporter underlines the fact that the ten new species are endangered. “The discovery had caused enthusiasm in the scientific world”, “La Repubblica” writes. “The place they were found in has been revealed by scientists as an utterly rich Noa’s Arch.” According to Alessia Manfredi, Colombia maintains the record as the world’s widest amphibian community with 754 species. Reporter Manfredi adds: “the new discoveries bring good news for the country: they are perfect signals of the good health of Colombia’s ecosystem.”