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| 11/27/2008 12:00:00 AM

Sincerely Yours, Europe

Nov 20 – Nov 27 -- 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.

Washington's puppet against Caracas
 
El negocio de la guerra“ (The War Business) is the name of a book written by the Italian journalist Dario Azzellini. An extended and updated edition of it will be published in Caracas at the end of this year, for the first time in Spanish. This week (Nov. 22nd and Nov. 24th), the German left-winged daily Junge Welt printed extensive parts of the book.

ALL AGAINST CHÁVEZ — The title given to the published excerpts by Berlin’s second major independent, leftist newspaper Junge Welt (jW) is “Tod aus Kolumbien” (Death Comes From Colombia). In the texts, Colombia appears as in the midst of a supposed strategy of the US-government to diminish, and ultimately rip off political power of president Hugo Chávez’ hands. “Due to its great richness in resources Venezuela is in the spotlight of the United States”, writes Mr. Azzellini.
 
“But the special attention of the hegemonic power is aimed at the Bolivarian process in Venezuela, for this country is playing an important role in the integration of the Continent and in the possibility of fundamental change offered by Venezuela’s international policy.” For Mr. Azzellini, one of the US-strategies for halting this process seeks to provoke a reaction in Caracas to the constant incursions of Colombian troops in Venezuelan territory.
 
Another, “more promising” option—so Mr. Azzellini—has been the constitution of “a counter-revolutionary power that emanates from paramilitarism, similar to the Contras in Nicaragua during the 80’s”. “This maneuver takes place with the complicity and support of institutions of the Colombian government”, writes Mr. Azzellini.

Drifting around the block

And talking about Mr. Chávez… The visit of Russia’s President Dimitry Medvedev to Venezuela and other Latin-American countries, was not missed by European commentators—and Colombia, of course, was mentioned.

NO POLICY, NO PLAN — Michael Ludwig, Moscow correspondent of the German prestigious, conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) wrote an article called “Aló, Presidente Medvedev”, published in the print edition of FAZ last Friday (Nov. 21st). Mr. Ludwig comments on the simultaneous visits of two high-rank Russian politicians to Latin-American countries: President Dimitry Medvedev undertook trips to Perú, Venezuela, Brazil, and Cuba in less than a week; on the other hand, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Bogotá.
 
The FAZ paraphrases Alexander Dogadin, Director of the South-America Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, saying that Moscow is not only focusing in work with states rivaling with Washington, but that Russia has a great interest to eliminate this prejudice, for instance, by visiting Brazil and Colombia.
 
However, reporter Michael Ludwig also points out the opinion of Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia Global Affairs, who seriously doubts that his country has really elaborated a concept of its policy towards Latin America. Mr. Ludwig writes: “(Lukyanov) assigns the policy of the last years to the pursuit of eliminating blind spots in Russia’s foreign relations, reaching beyond Latin-America—or, in other words, of regenerating and developing relations that existed during Soviet times.”
 
Francisco Santos' show
 
Last Thursday, the Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos perorated in front of the European Parliament about cocaine consumption in Europe and its consequences for the environment. Yet he didn’t imagine that prestigious experts on the topic were hearing him—and ended up scandalized.

WRONG NUMBER, MR. VICE-PRESIDENT — Germany’s leading independent newspaper is the leftist, Berlin-based die tageszeitung (taz), and one of the most visited blogs on Latin-American topics in Europe is taz’s “Latinorama”.
 
Last Thursday (Nov. 20th), Gaby Küppers, a prominent expert at the European Parliament and co-founder of the Institute for Latin-American Studies in Berlin, wrote an entry called “Bizarre Performance of Colombia’s Vice-President”. That same Thursday morning, in the plenum of the EU-Parliament, Álvaro Uribe’s second man Francisco Santos “campaigned for the long ago failed ‘War Against Drugs’ of his administration”, Ms. Küppers writes.
 
According to her, “in a pretty Power-Point presentation” Mr. Santos assessed that coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia were the major cause of environmental damage in the country, and then demanded the Parliament members to “support his government’s repression course, which he called ‘frontal fight against drug-trafficking”.
 
Ms. Küppers laments that Mr. Santos “unfortunately” kept quiet about the fact that his government unilaterally narrowed the cooperation with United Nations, after the UNODC had reported on the increase of cultivated territories by 27 %. Besides—Ms. Küppers writes—that according to UN experts, not coca plantations, but the export-oriented agriculture is the number one cause of environmental damage in Colombia. “All across the political-spectrum of parties in the Parliament, its members found the Vice-President’s performance quite strange”.

Colombia at war
 
When war becomes a habit, the vividness of its cruelty seems to blur within the minds of its most proximate spectators. Yet for outsiders who now and then visit Colombia, war in the country keeps on arousing intense impressions. A proof of this is Nuria Amat’s column published last Monday in Spain’s major daily El País.

THE RIVERS AND THE DEAD — “Every time I go to Colombia, I return with my soul divided by the suffering of a country that has already been four decades in civil war and, on the other hand, by the happiness and generosity of its people, who survive violence with a stoic smile on their faces”. This is the beginning of this week’s column ‘Tribuna’ written by the Barcelona-born author Nuria Amat and published this Monday (Nov. 24th) in the print edition of El País under the title “Your Dead, My Dead, Our Dead”. Non-stopping violence in Colombia makes out the historical retrospective presented by Ms. Amat in an elegant, but austere tone. She enumerates series of death tolls and Human Rights violations that have taken place in Colombia during the last years, and that have been condemned by countless media reports, cited by Ms. Amat. Death has been imposed, so Ms. Amat, on citizens of all ages, sexes, and social classes by all sorts of illegal organizations and by the military. Yet, Colombia—in whose rivers thousands of dead have been thrown throughout the years—may never understand the dimensions of its war. “It is true that many rivers get to swallow their dead completely. These are Colombia’s new water cemeteries”, she writes.

Bye Bye, Mr. President
 
Not only in El País, but also in Spain’s major conservative newspaper El Mundo harsh words rain down on the Colombian government. Its star-columnist Salud Hernández-Mora published this week an article on the collapse of President Álvaro Uribe’s pursuit of a second re-election.

HAND-BRAKE IS ON — On Wednesday (Nov. 26th), the famous Spanish journalist Salud Hernández-Mora published an article called “Congress Stops the Aspirations of Colombia’s President” and argues that the crisis created by the fall of pyramid schemes all around the country has “shut the door” to a second re-election of Mr. Uribe. “It is the first time in six years that we don’t see Álvaro Uribe triumphantly riding on horseback”, Ms. Hernández-Mora writes. Once eager up to support his candidacy for a second re-election, conservative congressmen from southern regions of the country severely affected by the crisis—so El Mundo’s columnist—decided last Tuesday to step back and reject the President’s plan.

On Social Emergency and Fraud

France’s major conservative daily Le Figaro also commented the social financial crisis overwhelming Colombian citizens since pyramid schemes, where hundreds of thousands had invested their money, collapsed during the last weeks.

A NEW SOCIAL CHALLENGE — Journalist Lamia Oualalou has written a report called “A Gigantic Fraud Ruins Millions of Colombians”, published last Friday (Nov. 21st) in the French newspaper Le Figaro. In it, Ms. Oualalou tells the story of the pyramid “cynically called” Dinero Rápido, Fácil y Efectivo (Money, Easy, Fast, and Cash; D.R.F.E.).
 
According to Le Figaro’s reporter, a sign recently hanging at the door of one of D.R.F.E.’s offices in Colombia, read: “Because you are stupid and believed in magic, you will now have to work very much to recover your money”. In this way, the company was mocking the victims of one of the major frauds in the country’s history, so Ms. Oualalou. For her, Colombia’s challenge is now “social”, for between two and three million people, belonging to the working class in the most part, have lost everything.

The dark side of Facebook

He is certainly not the first victim of violence through Facebook, but the Italian journalist Simone Bruno, Colombia correspondent of Peace Reporters, is indeed the first European to publicly denounce death threats made against him through the world-famous network. This week, he was interviewed in the Italian website Agora Vox.

VIOLENCE, EVEN IN THE WEB — The cable sent by the Italian free-journalist alliance Peace Reporters travelled all around Europe: it condemned the death threats received at Facebook by its Colombia correspondent Simone Bruno. In an interview published in the web this Wednesday (Nov. 26th), Mr. Bruno declared having been intimidated after witnessing the violence of policemen against indigenous protesters in La María-Piendamó, in Cauca, a western region of the country.
 
Mr. Bruno stated that the Facebook-user by the name of Sol Dussant wrote to him the following message: “shitty communist, you are messing with people who say you, very courageously, throwing stones and attacking state-agents at La María. If you want to play the martyr, it will be our pleasure to make your wish come true. Pray for yourself, asshole.”

Juan Valdez goes global

Juan Valdez coffee shops want to enter the ring and battle against coffee-giant Starbucks around the world. The announcement of negotiations for opening a Colombian coffee shop in Sweden, woke the interest of Germany’s Spiegel-Online, Europe’s biggest web-based news-center.

DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH — “It is the fight of small against big.” This way, Tobias Käufer, free-lance journalist and author of Germany’s major online news-service Spiegel-Online, depicts the plan of Gabriel Silva, President of the Colombian Federation of Coffee Producers, to overthrow the coffee-selling giant Starbucks. In an article published on the web last Monday (Nov. 24th), Mr. Käufer, currently in Bogotá, comments on the international expansion of Colombia’s leading coffee shops Juan Valdez, which is taking place now that Starbucks experiences a deep crisis after the global financial break-down.
 
Mr. Käufer said the increasing consumption of coffee around the world as well as the diversification of demand of coffee-drinkers have given the branch new development possibilities: Up to 15 different specialties of coffee exist in modern coffee shops around the globe. Juan Valdez—currently operating in the United States, Chile, El Salvador, Panamá, Costa Rica, and Mexico—is looking forward to opening shops in Europe, too. After arriving to Spain, new business will be made with investors in Sweden, as Mr. Käufer quotes Catalina Crane, a chief executive of Procafecol.
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EDICIÓN 1844

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Francisco superstar

La esperada visita del papa a Colombia tiene tres dimensiones: una religiosa, una política y otra social. ¿Qué puede esperarse de la peregrinación del sumo pontífice?