It’s now been five years since I stopped driving; that is, since I stopped owning and using a private, personal car. Instead, I walk and use public transportation (far from perfect in Bogotá, my city). This is a decision I reaffirm almost everyday, in spite of the occasional inconveniences it might produce. I certainly reaffirm it today, and I hope to explain convincingly the reasons behind it.
Why have I decided to write this explanation? For one, it will come in quite handy every time I’m asked why I don’t drive a car. People ask me this question very often; some ask nicely, some don’t. Here, the latter represent a culture I hope will disappear with time: people who view car ownership as a symbol of status, of social differentiation. I also expect to persuade others.
I’ll start with a basic premise. I believe, out of scientific reasons, that each one of us should make a contribution to the preservation of the environment. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not an environmental activist or an anti-capitalist. On the contrary, I’m strongly in favor of technology and economic development. In my view, however, there is a convincing and solid body of evidence which shows that, to conserve a society that benefits from technology and progress, we should take care to eliminate or reduce all unnecessary stresses on the Earth’s balance. We need to evolve toward a society that enjoys the fruits of a vibrant economy while preserving the environment.
Upon assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, the Colombian government stated that addressing the violence in Syria will remain a priority in the agenda of the inter-governmental body. Speaking with reporters in Ibague over the weekend, Santos said that “the country reaffirms its full willingness to facilitate a quick solution that will reduce the violence [Syria] is suffering.”
Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security in the world at large. Its presidency rotates among the 10 non-permanent and the five permanent member nations with each assuming the top post for one month based on the English alphabetical order of the country name.
The Security Council established the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) in April 2012 for an initial period of three months to monitor a desired cessation of violence in Syria, as well as monitor and support the full implementation of a six-point peace plan put forward by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his role as the special envoy for Syria. In July the initial period will come to an end, and the Security Council must decide whether to extend the resolution, and if so, under what conditions.
Although there is no consensus about the extent of violence and number of victims in Syria, it is believed that between 14,000 and 15,000 people have died in the last 13 months, said Colombia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Nestor Osorio. "The worsening of violence, repression, and the state of ‘semi-war’ that exist are dramatic," Osorio added.
Ya ha hecho eco en distintas oportunidades el poder que tiene la sociedad civil en la transformación de las decisiones políticas. Indignados en Egipto, España, Estados Unidos y México han sido el ejemplo claro de ciudadanos inconformes que de manera masiva toman las calles y protestan por aquellas desventuras que sus gobiernos emprenden. El resultado a largo plazo de sus consignas puede ser objeto de discusión, pero es innegable reconocer que en una era donde los nuevos medios congregan inconformismos, las sociedades son cada vez menos pasivas. Lo que acaba de suceder en Colombia con el hundimiento de la reforma a la justicia, que no en vano fue tildada por varios sectores como un “esperpento jurídico”, es un reflejo de ello.
En una semana en la que se habló de referendos, asambleas constituyentes y hasta revocatoria del Congreso, el ente legislativo decidió hundir la reforma que pese a que en el papel pretendía hacer un cambio en el sistema judicial, en realidad era una contrarreforma política.
Periodistas, congresistas opositores (los del Polo Democrático en su conjunto), observadores ciudadanos, estudiantes, abogados, cibernautas, tuiteros, se unieron masivamente bajo la consigna “Justicia sí, reforma no”, reclamo que luego se materializó en las calles a través del entusiasta Comité Promotor del Referendo por el NO A LA REFORMA A LA JUSTICIA.
Entre jueves y viernes este Comité promovió plantones en varias ciudades del país (Bogotá, Medellín y Cali las más masivas) para recoger firmas que revocaran el acto legislativo. Aunque a la iniciativa le faltaba aún el control de constitucionalidad de la Corte, paralelamente el Congreso colombiano convocó sesiones extras en las que los parlamentarios no tuvieron otro camino que hacer lo que les demandó el pueblo: archivarla. 73 Senadores y 117 Representantes votaron por hundirla aún cuando solo una semana atrás en las conciliaciones aprobaban, lo que según ellos, el gobierno de Juan Manuel Santos les había pedido.
Speaking in Santiago, Chile, in March of last year, President Obama called Latin America “a region on the move,” one that is “more important to the prosperity and security of the United States than ever before.”
Somebody forgot to tell the Washington brain trust.
The Center for a New American Security, a respected national security think tank a half-mile from the White House, recently released a new series of policy recommendations for the next presidential administration. The 70-page “grand strategy” report only contained a short paragraph on Brazil and made only one passing reference to Latin America.
Yes, we get it. The relative calm south of the United States seems to pale in comparison to other developments in the world: China on a seemingly inevitable path to becoming a global economic powerhouse, the potential of political change in the Middle East, the feared dismemberment of the eurozone, and rogue states like Iran and North Korea flaunting international norms and regional stability.
But the need to shore up our allies and recognize legitimate threats south of the Rio Grande goes to the heart of the U.S.’ changing role in the world and its strategic interests within it.
Here are three reasons why the U.S. must include Latin America in its strategic calculations:
Top stories this week are likely to include: the Mexican presidential election pushes forward after last night’s debate; Chávez to file presidential candidacy today; Fernández de Kirchner to visit UN on Thursday; new UNASUR Secretary-General takes over; Brazil responds to lowered GDP projections; and B-20 business summit in Los Cabos.
Mexican Presidential Election: After last night’s second and final debate between the top four contenders for the Mexican presidency, the final weeks of the campaign are likely to see continued discussion over the candidates’ positions on how to fight nacrotrafficking and insecurity. Each candidate sought to spell out how their approach would differ from President Felipe Calderón’s heavy reliance on the military. According to the New York Times, the candidates, “while vowing to continue to fight drug trafficking, say they intend to eventually withdraw the Mexican Army from the fight,” pledge “to devote more attention to programs that address the social inequality that leads young people to join criminal groups.” In polling, PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto continues to hold a steady lead while PRD challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has moved into second. On AMLO, AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes that “despite his recent rise in polls, credible surveys still put him a very distant second and well outside the margin of error.”
Chávez to File Today: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will register his presidential candidacy in person today for re-election to a third term in the October 7 contest. Henrique Capriles Radonski, opposition challenger, filed his candidacy yesterday after a 6.2-mile (10 kilometer) march through Caracas flocked with tens of thousands of supporters. Chávez’ debilitating health after nearly a year of cancer treatment raises a constant red-flag. Notes Sabatini, “Capriles Radonski’s march through the city was intended to be a demonstration of strength, a counterpoint to Chávez’ absence and the mystery of his health. But will it work? Many of the old wedge issues remain, irrespective of perceptions of Chávez’ health: What will happen in a post-Chávez scenario both in terms of political turmoil and the still-popular misiones?”
Brazil Reacts to Lower GDP Projections: Economic forecasters have lowered Brazil’s projected 2012 GDP growth from 2.72 percent to 2.53 percent, according to Reuters. The revised figures are due to problems in the manufacturing sector and the European debt crisis, according to a poll from Brazil’s central bank. “While Europe and a slowing in Chinese demand are adversely affecting Brazilian manufacturing, the long-term challenge is to reduce the ‘Brazil cost’ of excessive bureaucracy, inadequate infrastructure and other manufacturing hurdles that companies face,” according to AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
CFK at the UN on Thursday: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) will attend the UN Special Committee on Decolonization meeting, known as the Committee of 24, this Thursday. According to Argentine Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina, CFK “expects a strong definition in terms of advancing in the path of dialogue and reaching an agreement to recover our Malvinas Islands.”
New UNASUR Secretary-General: Today, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) secretariat shifts from Colombia to Venezuela. All chancellors of UNASUR countries are currently in Bogotá for a ministerial-level meeting at the Casa de Nariño, where María Emma Mejía, former Colombian foreign minister and current UNASUR secretary-general, will hand over the secretariat to Venezuelan businessman Alí Rodríguez Araque, who was formerly the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) secretary-general and president of Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.
B-20 Summit to Precede G-20: The B-20 business summit will convene on Sunday and Monday in Los Cabos, Mexico, as an antecedent to the G-20 next week. The B-20’s objective, according to its website, is to promote dialogue between governmental and business leaders, enrich the discussions of the G-20 and facilitate the G-20’s objectives such as economic growth and social development. A sample of working groups in this year’s B-20 will include food security, green growth, employment, anti-corruption, and trade and investment.
It is almost tautological to say that Colombians desire peace. Who wouldn’t, especially in a country that has suffered decades of internal confrontation?
Desiring peace, however, is not the same as desiring a peace process, or desiring any peace process. Rushing into peace talks lacking a clear strategy, proceeding upon false assumptions and believing that good will alone is enough to secure peace has been the fatal flaw of all recent attempts to end Colombia’s conflict by agreement rather than by force. High enthusiasm followed by bitter disappointment has been the mark, at least in the most prominent cases: the peace talks conducted under President Belisario Betancur in the 1980s, and the infamous process that took place during the term of President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).
Common sense would indicate that President Santos is not bound to repeat these mistakes, as he walks toward what seems to be his greatest personal goal: to preside over a successful peace process with the FARC and the ELN, Colombia’s remaining left-wing guerilla organizations. Lessons from the past must have been learnt, and, in any case, Santos has proved to have a more strategically oriented behavior than some of his predecessors.
Nonetheless, at times it seems like the Santos administration is again rushing carelessly: proof of this would be the so-called “Legal Framework for Peace,” a constitutional amendment introduced in Congress by the Administration, which is close to being approved. The “Framework,” which aims at removing legal obstacles for the demobilization of guerilla members and commanders, has drawn criticism from many corners. From the Right, former President Uribe and others regard it as an excessive concession since it would grant perpetrators of horrific crimes the possibility of even being elected to public office. From a different perspective, Human Rights Watch has severely criticized the amendment, claiming that its outcome would be full impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The “Framework,” many others claim, is premature: it should be introduced at the final stage of a negotiation, not before it has even started.
Local markets are one of the more quintessential Colombian scenes. Strolling through one, a visitor will find colorful and juicy fruits, aromatic species and herbs, fresh produce and diary. Due to its tropical location, Colombia is privileged to be able to produce these goods all year long. But today most of these products come from abroad. In Bogota's Corabastos, the largest wholesale market in Colombia and second-largest in Latin America, it is hard to find the label "Product of Colombia."
Beans, lentils and chickpeas come from Canada and the United States. Canned sardines and tuna are products of Ecuador and Peru. Apples, prunes, cherries, and peaches arrive from the U.S and Chile. Garlic and onions are from Japan and Mexico.
Even bocachico and bagre, two landmark fishes from the Magdalena River, now come from Argentina and Vietnam. Even coffee, Colombia's most famous export and international trademark, is imported.
The picture is worsening for local producers. Last week the government revealed that the country’s food imports climbed 52 percent in the first trimester of 2012 versus the same period last year—from 253 tons to 385 tons. The most dramatic rise in imports included milk, whey and dairy products, skyrocketing 543 percent. Sugar imports jumped by 217 percent.
Why is this happening? Not even local officials seem to know. Luis Fernando Salcedo, head of the Cámara Gremial de la Leche, a local daily producers’ guild, told the Colombian business newspaper Portafolio, “I don’t have any explanation for this increase,” adding, “My guess is that the Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales [Colombia’s customs administration] is not controlling the approved import quotas."
After being held hostage for 33 days by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Romeo Langlois was handed to a humanitarian mission on Wednesday afternoon in the department of Caquetá. The mission was composed of delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a representative of the French government and members of the organization Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz.
The capture of Langlois came just two months after the FARC’s February 26 statement in which the guerrilla group declared it would no longer engage in kidnapping as a source of revenue, the first time an announcement of this kind had been made by the FARC. AQ blogger Jenny Manrique notes that the kidnapping “was an example of the power that the FARC maintains in one of its strongholds in the south.”
Langlois, 35, has lived in Colombia for 12 years covering the armed conflict. For him, the situation does not end there. “The [Colombian] Government advertised the idea that the conflict was over, and that is not true,” he stated during the ceremony that followed his release. Langlois was to meet with French government representatives in Florence, Colombia.
Tal y como habían anunciado el domingo, las FARC liberaron al periodista francés Roméo Langlois quien terminó en su poder en medio de un combate de guerrilleros y unidades del Ejército que adelantaban operaciones antinarcóticos, el pasado 28 de abril. Lo que por supuesto no se había anunciado es que el operativo de la liberación iba a ser como ningún otro antes en el país: al menos una decena de guerrilleros de las FARC escoltaron al periodista en medio de las calles de la vereda de San Isidro, en el municipio de Montañita, Caquetá, al sur del país.
A su lado pobladores de todas las edades le daban con júbilo la bienvenida al periodista, mientras subversivos armados se confundían entre la población civil como en las épocas de los diálogos de paz en San Vicente del Caguán (2001-2002) cuando varios municipios fueron despejados de fuerza pública. Niños y ancianos se acercaban a tocar las armas de los guerrilleros, mientras algunos comandantes lucían uniformes diferentes al tradicional camuflado y más parecidos al del ejército israelí. Momentos previos a la liberación que comenzó a las 4:30 a.m. y se realizó por tierra y río sin el apoyo helicoportado que Brasil prestó en otras ocasiones, los guerrilleros hicieron requisas y retenes para acordonar el área donde Langlois sería liberado. Los civiles eran obligados a bajarse de sus carros antes de pasar hacia el casco urbano del municipio.
Aunque mediadores como delegados del Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja (CICR) y Colombianos y Colombianos por la Paz a través de Piedad Córdoba fueron claves garantes de la liberación, no tuvieron el protagonismo que en otras ocasiones a excepción de Piedad a quien se le vio en gestos de camaradería con algunos guerrilleros, gestos que seguramente la pondrán como es usual en la picota pública del país.
Es cierto que en toda liberación se exige el cese de operaciones militares para garantizar la integridad de los rehenes, pero lo sorprendente es que incluso en el fin del secuestro de connotados políticos, y de militares y soldados que estuvieron más en el recuerdo de las familias que en el del Estado, las FARC llegaban hasta cierto punto de la selva, entregaban a los liberados a la comisión humanitaria, conversaban con los mediadores y se internaban en la selva.
An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was discovered yesterday in a Buenos Aires venue slated to host former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe (2002–2010). The device was found at the Gran Rex Theater, where Mr. Uribe was scheduled to speak at a conference promoting dialogue between public- and private-sector leaders on innovation. According to the judge in charge of the case, Norberto Oyarbide, “the symposium will still take place and former president Uribe will attend.”
Uribe’s administration is generally credited with greatly reducing violence stemming from Colombia’s decades-long conflict with left-wing guerilla forces, but his hardline approach has also left him vulnerable to allegations that his administration had ties to paramilitary forces and authorized actions that resulted in widespread human rights violations. Allegations have also surfaced that, on Uribe’s watch, Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) undertook widespread illegal wiretapping on opposition figures, politicians, judges and journalists.
Yesterday’s discovery comes only days after an assassination attempt against Uribe’s former Interior Minister, Fernando Londoño, which left two dead and dozens injured. Londoño is a vocal supporter of current President Juan Manuel Santos’ “Legal Framework for Peace,” a bill that would provide benefits for demobilized paramilitaries and guerrillas and even permit them to run for public office.