Obama, the US, and Colombia
Colombia was frequently mentioned in European reports regarding Barack Obama’s victory in the US-presidential elections last Nov. 4th and its consequences for Latin-American nations.
FEAR OF PROTECTIONISM — Spain’s major daily El País offered a comment on the topic in an article called “Fear of Democrat Protectionism” published in its print edition last Thursday (Nov. 6th). According to reporter Soledad Gallego-Díaz, together with Brazil and Mexico, Colombia is one of the countries whose relations with the United States will be at stake after Mr. Obama takes office next Jan. 20th. The pending ratification of a free-trade agreement between the two countries had kept Colombian lobbyists intensely occupied with accelerating negotiations before the end of George W. Bush’s term in office. Now, worries in Bogotá will only be worse. “The fact that the democrats have always had a more protectionist view of their own market and that they have been closer to trade-unions in their own country is a source of major concern”, writes Ms. Gallego Díaz.
DEAFEAT FOR URIBE — As a “defeat” for President Álvaro Uribe considered the distinguished French journalist Jean-Pierre Boris, Americas-Editor of Radio France International (Rfi), Barack Obama’s victory. In an extensive article published last Friday (Nov. 7th) in Rfi’s website, Mr. Boris sustains that the Colombian president ought to be “anxious”, because “with an amplified majority (in Congress) and the White House in their hands, US-democrats will venture to make Álvaro Uribe’s life complicated.” Mr. Boris reminds that Mr. Uribe’s battle against guerillas and cocaine cartels is built upon the absolute support of the White House under George W. Bush. “But the democrats don’t like Uribe”, Mr. Boris adds. “The muscular methods of Alvaro Uribe—his cynicism, his lack of respect for Human Rights, his contempt for organizations that defend them, his indifference towards trade-unionist struggles and towards the great number of assassinated unionists in Colombia, make an impact on Democrat congressmen”, he adds.
ON THE LOSING SIDE — The prestigious German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) classified President Álvaro Uribe’s government as being “on the losers’ side” in an article commenting the effects that Barack Obama’s triumph in presidential elections will have for Latin-American countries. The report—called “Like Lula, like Morales”, signed by FAZ Latin America correspondent Josef Oehrlein and published in the paper’s print edition (Nov. 8th)—points out that, like George W. Bush, Mr. Uribe focuses on military pressure and expects aid from the US in its fight against drug-traffic and terrorism. Yet, according to Mr. Oehrlein, Mr. Uribe will have to “definitely abandon his hopes” on such matters (including the free-trade agreement), “because now less than ever will he be able to impose these issues on the democrats.”
A TURNING POINT — Not very different is the opinion of Germany’s major daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), whose correspondent Peter Burghardt reported on the great expectations that Latin-American left-winged governments are now nourishing after Barack Obama’s victory in the US-presidential elections. Mr. Burghardt writes in his article “A Continent Hopes”, published in the print edition of SZ (Nov. 7th): “Almost the whole region hopes for the beginning of a wonderful friendship, although Mr. Obama neither knows Latin-America nor considers it a priority.” An exception in this case would be Colombia, George W. Bush’s closest ally in the region, “whose battle against guerillas and drug mafias has been supported by millions of dollars coming in from the State Department”, writes Mr. Burghardt. And he adds: “However, there is turning point in the horizon for Colombia, too.”
Following last week’s intense reporting on the scandal over the killings of civilians by Colombian military forces and the dismissal of 27 high rank military officials, Europe’s major newsweekly Der Spiegel published an article last Sunday (Nov. 9th).
FORCED TO ACT — A brief, but substantial report published in the international section of Der Spiegel under the title of “Cynic Tactic” underlines the fact that Álvaro Uribe was “forced to act” after numerous cases of extrajudicial executions captured the attention of the international community. Der Spiegel reminds that, before the scandal emerged, Mr. Uribe had always defended members of the Colombian army against charges of forging statistics in his government’s fight against guerillas. The report also refers to the fact that it was only after a United Nation’s commissioner had accused the Colombian military of “systematically and rampantly” applying the “tactic cynically called ‘false hits’” that Mr. Uribe finally responded. The German news-magazine concludes that financial aids from the US and the signing of a free-trade agreement between the two countries are, after this scandal, at risk.
The Swiss Emissary
The case of Jean-Pierre Gontard, Switzerland’s former special envoy in the so-called ‘international facilitation process’ with FARC, remains at the center of Swiss-Colombian diplomacy. The prestigious Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) published an article this week (Nov. 7th) regarding Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey’s most recent declarations.
A LETTER ROGATORY — Quoting a report of the Associated Press, the NZZ informs that the Colombian government has brought forward a so-called Letter Rogatory—a formal, internationally valid judicial request—regarding the case of Jean-Pierre Gontard, Bern’s former mediator between FARC and so-called European ‘friendly’ countries such as Spain, France, and Switzerland. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Micheline Calmy-Rey confirmed this information in an interview, and added that “Gontard’s case now lies in the hands of the Federal Attorney”, so the NZZ reported. The Swiss daily also quoted a statement by the spokesman Folco Galli of the Federal Office of Justice, according to which the Letter of Request was received in Bern on Sept. 10th. In the letter, the Colombian government refers to a criminal proceeding against Mr. Gontard regarding the administration of resources related to terrorist activities, so the NZZ. “Colombia requests the interrogation of Mr. Gontard and attached a questionary to the petition.” According to spokesman Galli, the latter was forwarded “for execution” to the General Attorney’s Office on Oct. 2nd.
Children at War
Le Monde’s correspondent Marie Delcas writes a story on how minors are forced to enroll in FARC and paramilitary organizations. The report was published last Sunday (Nov. 10th) in Le Monde’s print edition.
A STORY FROM VISTA HERMOSA — “In Colombia, FARC-Guerilla and Paramilitary Militias Force Under-aged to Enroll” is the title of an extensive report written by Marie Delcas, correspondent of France’s major daily Le Monde and special envoy to Vista Hermosa, a small town in the department of Meta, located in the center of the country. The article includes interviews with several children living in Vista Hermosa, who claim to be or have been part of either FARC or paramilitary groups. The case of ‘Jeyson’ and his soccer mates is one among various depicted by Ms. Delcas. According to Le Monde, ‘Jeyson’ had enrolled into FARC when being a 14 year-old boy, and all other players of his soccer team had taken up arms either for the guerilla or for paramilitaries—“voluntarily”, as ‘Jeyson’ told Le Monde. Nevertheless, Ms. Delcas quotes Marta Zapata, of the German NGO Diakonie, according to whom “the notion of voluntary recruiting cannot be sustained when talking about children: a young man under age 18 does not have a free choice. Such recruiting is a war crime.”
Obama, the US, and Colombia