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| 11/20/2008 12:00:00 AM

A European View

Report 3rd week: Nov. 13th – Nov. 20th -- What does the Old Continent think about Colombia? Read a roundup report every week in Semana International on what the major European press says, thinks, feels and does about our country.

Falling Pyramids
News about the fall of pyramid schemes throughout Colombian cities—and the financial perils millions of people will now have to face—rapidly reached the headlines of major European newspapers.

THE GREAT IMPOSTURE — Salud Hernández-Mora, a famous Spanish journalist living in Colombia since 1998, wrote about the collapse of the pyramid schemes in an article called “Creole Pyramids Fall Down”, published last Sunday (Nov. 16th) on the website of El Mundo, Spain’s main conservative daily. According to Ms. Hernández-Mora, the fall of companies that offered such investment possibilities by “promising the impossible and complying with the first unwary clients” has caused “an economical earthquake” within the working class in Colombia. After reconstructing the swift rise and fall of Dinero Fácil, Rápido y Efectivo (Money Easy, Fast and Cash, DFRE), one of the biggest pyramids that collapsed leaving approximately 2 Mio. citizens financially affected, Ms. Hernández-Mora writes: “People are screaming for vengeance, yet not against the pyramids, but against journalists and against the government, because—so they assure—if these hadn’t put their oars in the business, it wouldn’t have failed. A monumental sham.”

MAKE THE SYSTEM SHAKE — Miguel Ángel Bastenier, Deputy Director for International Relations of El País and one of the newspaper’s star columnists, translated the collapse of pyramid schemes in Colombia into a more general question darted directly to the heart of President Álvaro Uribe: “Is Uribe’s impressive pyramid starting to collapse?”, Mr. Bastenier asks at the beginning of “Uribe’s Pyramid”, an article published on Wednesday (Nov. 19th) in the print version of Spain’s major daily. For El País, there is no doubt that Mr. Uribe’s success is one of the “most notable political phenomena of the 21st Century”, but “the critics of his second term in office haven’t ceased to predict the near end of his exceptional fortune”. Although Mr. Uribe has indisputably improved national security—so Mr. Bastenier—he has been “horseback riding away from every single crisis”. Mr. Bastenier reminds of the so-called para-politics scandal; the failed demobilizing of paramilitary organizations; the lost “multi-use” referendum; the decline of Mr. Uribe’s justice reform; and Human Rights violations within the military. “However, the happenings in the last weeks that have now ended with a gigantic national scam, the so-called pyramid—well known to the Spanish and Portuguese credulity—, should at last unhinge Uribe’s imposing pharaonic work.”

Peace in Colombia… according to Fidel
Fidel Castro’s first public appearance in a long time has taken place in the shape of a book: La paz en Colombia, presented last week in Havana and accessible all over the globe at a Cuban website. The reactions in the European press were quick to come.

FIDEL’S FIRST BOOK — There are many ways of starting an article about Fidel Castro’s newly published book La paz en Colombia (Peace in Colombia), and the phrase that Junge Welt’s author André Scheer chose was: “Fidel Castro has written his first book.” In “For Peace”—a story published last Friday (Nov. 14th) in the print edition of Berlin’s second biggest independent, left-winged daily Junge Welt—Mr. Scheer reports on what he depicts as “a book in which the Cuban leader presents several previously undisclosed documents and explains his historical connections with the Colombian people and its struggle”. Mr. Scheer also paraphrases José Arbesú, member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, saying that “the documents collected in the book prove one more time that claims about Cuba supporting Colombian guerrillas are false.” The words of Cuba’s Minister of Culture Abel Prieto are also quoted in Junge Welt’s report: “(for Mr. Prieto) it is important to depict the ‘devilish pact’ of American imperialism with governments and paramilitaries in Colombia. (…) He predicts that, for intellectuals truly standing on the left, Castro’s book will become a standard work on the long-enduring conflict in Colombia.”

STRIDING AWAY FROM FARC — Le Monde’s author Paulo A. Paranagua also commented on the very first book written by Cuba’s ex Chief-in-Command, in an article published last Saturday (Nov. 15th) in the print edition of France’s major newspaper. According to Mr. Paranagua, the book is a “compilation of previously unrevealed documents, peppered up with commentaries”, that tries to deal with “Cuba’s activity as a factor of peace within the Colombian armed conflict”. Le Monde’s reporter underscores Mr. Castro’s attempt of maintaining his thesis by evocating Cuba’s actions for obtaining the liberation of hostages retained by M-19, a now vanished guerrilla, in the Dominican Embassy in Bogotá as well as the liberty of former President César Gaviria’s sister. Mr. Paranagua points out that, although Mr. Castro offers, at the beginning, a “warm portrait” of Farc’s legendary commander Manuel Marulanda, the book “accounts for the differences” between the two leaders. After underlining that the Cuban leader “expresses his ‘opposition’ to ‘humiliate war-prisoners or subject them to hard conditions in the jungle’”, Mr. Paranagua reminds that, after ten years now, some Farc prisoners are still retained.

Farc and Eta’s Long Marriage Faces Prompt End
The announcement of a Spanish Prosecuting Attorney involving Farc and Eta in a relationship of more than 15 years was diligently commented on the other side of the Atlantic, this time in Spain’s major newspapers. See: ABC, La Razón, El Mundo, El País.

HOW TO MAKE THE BOMB — In the pages of El País, the major daily for Spanish-speakers around the globe, Manuel Altozano reported that, according to a document presented by a Public Prosecuter last Friday (Nov. 14th), Eta and Farc have maintained “more or less intense” contacts since 1993. The prosecution had originally been directed against five suspected members of Eta, so El País. “But after an analysis of documents from Farc’s former second commander-in-chief Raúl Reyes’ computer, information about courses on making and handling bombs shared by members of both organizations as well as twenty-one e-mails that give evidence of their relation were found”, writes reporter Manuel Altozano. He adds: “(The accused ‘Martín Capa’) and Iñaki Domínguez Atxalandaburo gave lessons to twenty guerrilleros in the Colombian jungle on the handling of C4, an explosive of more destructive power than dynamite and easy to find in the neighboring Venezuela.”

Dutch Guerrillera, Wanted
Colombian authorities emitted an arrest warrant against Tanja Nijmeijer, the Dutch member of Farc, last Friday (Nov. 14th). Reactions in her home country dispersed that same day all over the press.

THEN TANJA, NOW ‘EILLEN’ — Groningen was the city where Tanja Nijmeijer, whose nom de guerre at Farc is ‘Eillen’, studied Spanish Linguistics before definitely heading to Colombia. The town’s local newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden published an article with the title “Colombia wants to arrest Tanja”, which informed that the former Groningen student had been accused of infiltrating into universities in order to develop clandestine political work for Farc. Quoting the daily El Tiempo, Dagblad van het Noorden reports that, according to the attorney Guillermo Mendoza, now a total of 55 members of Farc are to be arrested, after new findings from the laptop of Farc commander Carlos Lozada have lead to judicially sufficient proofs.

It’s Coal Or Life
Social representatives of the region of El Catatumbo, rich in coal mines, are travelling around Europe and knocking on every door they can to make public that cheap coal-mining in Colombia is not only boosting up global warming, but also wrecking the lives of thousands of native communities. The German media-network Deutsche Welle published an extensive interview this week.

CHEAP COAL, HIGH COSTS — Germany’s global news-service Deutsche Welle (DW) received last Tuesday (Nov. 18th) social representatives of the region of El Catatumbo, in the northeast of Colombia, at their editorial headquarters in Bonn. The result of this visit was an audio-interview published on DW’s website, accompanied by an article called “Coal Will Expel Indigenes From Their Land”. “El Catatumbo is rich in resources and poor regarding Human Rights”, DW’s reporters Luna Bolívar and Mirjam Gehrke write. Ten percent of charcoal imported to Germany comes from Colombia—so the DW—, a country in which mined space is expanding and cornering indigenous communities, disrupting their survival chances, if not their lives. The representatives from El Catatumbo touring around several European countries in these days and interviewed by DW were Judith Maldonado, Director of the lawyers collective Luis Carlos Pérez, Juan Carlos Quintero of the Farmer Association of El Catatumbo and Ashcayra Arabadora, representative of the Association of Motilón Communities in Bari, a town in the region.

Another Triumph For Colombian Literature
Despite the general crisis that has subdued the selling of new Latin-American literature in Northern European countries during the last years, the reception of Tomás González’ books is becoming better and better.

HORNS TOOT FOR TOMÁS GONZÁLEZ — There are two things that every Spanish-speaking writer could only wish for his books if they were to be translated in German: first, that the translator’s last-name is Schulze-Kraft; and second, that a review swiftly appears in the pages of the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). The Colombian writer Tomás González may now be happy for having these two wishes fulfilled: In an extensive recension written by Andreas Platthaus and published in the print edition of FAZ last Saturday (Nov. 15th), Mr. González’ novel Los caballitos del diablo is praised. In the article called “The Heaven Over Medellín”, Mr. Platthaus begins: “This book of no epic dimensions at all bears, however, an epic tone.” And after reviewing the whole content of the book, he concludes: “The language is not excessive or feastful enough for satisfying the appetite for exotism of a broad European public; yet it exhibits a precision in word-choice that seems to follow the school of the Mexican Juan Rulfo rather than his landsman Gabriel García Márquez.” The work of the translating duet Peter und Ofelia Schulze-Kraft—whose giftedness has produced German versions of three of Tomás González’ four novels—is highly acclaimed by Mr. Platthaus.

Colombians In Exile
385 Colombian citizens applied for political asylum in Spain in 2008—compared to other years, the numbers have dropped. Yet Colombia remains at the head of asylum petitioners, and one of them could soon be poet Eva Durán, according to a report of the German regional daily Kölner Stadtanzeiger.

CONDEMNED TO ASYLUM — “Writer Stranded. No Work, No Homeland.” This is the title of Helmut Frangenberg’s latest article published in Cologne’s local daily Kölner Stadtanzeiger (KSta) about Eva Durán, a Colombian poet who came to Germany several years ago after suffering political persecution by paramilitary death-squadrons. According to Mr. Frangenberg, Ms. Durán is now even afraid of being politically traced inside Europe—and this time the problem is, so Mr. Frangenberg reports, that her permit of stay will probably not be renewed, and she may have to return to Colombia. “Somewhere in the world there must be a place for me”, the 34 year-old poet told KSta’s reporter. A journalist and writer since age 18, Ms. Durán was given several awards and scholarships including support from the German Heinrich-Böll Foundation and the Pen-Club, so the KSta. “The lawyer commended to her by Amnesty International has suggested to start the procedure for obtaining asylum. (…) Yet she is afraid of the asylum-seeker status”, Mr. Frangenberg writes.

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