Friday, June 17, 2011

Uribe's Much-Anticipated Testimony Postponed in Wiretapping Case

Just hours before former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was scheduled to face the congressional Accusation Comission on Thursday to defend against allegations that he ordered the illegal wiretapping of opposition figures, his testimony was postponed indefinitely.

According to El Tiempo, the delay was caused by ex-Senator Piedad Cordoba, whose lawyer requested on her behalf that those affected by the wiretapping scandal be allowed to directly question Uribe about his testimony. Cordoba, herself a victim of illegal monitoring, did not attend the proceedings in person, apparently as an act of protest. Additionally, Cordoba’s lawyer claimed that two of the commission’s members were (Heriberto Escobar and Acuña Yahir) were "unfit" to participate.

In response to these concerns, it seems that the commission has adjourned to assess the matter, and now has to decide whether or not to accept the accusations against Escobar and Yahir. This is likely to occur after July 20th when the new legislative term begins, El Tiempo reports. If the body decides to accept the objections, then it will have to replace the two representatives with new investigators, which could draw out the process even longer.

For his part, Uribe seemed determined to cast himself as the victim of a politicized process by FARC-sympathizing elements. As El Espectador details in its minute-by-minute coverage of the event, he dismissed prosecutors’ concerns about the safety of victims who might testify against him, calling this a "habit" of those who wish to defame him. "Today they assign me blame for murders, when it was the government that protected the human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists," he said. "This is the continuation of a long string of outrages against those who recovered security.”

Uribe has little reason to worry, however. As Colombia Reports has pointed out, the commission is made up largely of pro-Uribe legislators, and a number of withdrawals from the body have put its objectivity into question.

Despite the setback, if and when Uribe finally gets his “day in court,” it will be interesting to see where he places the blame for the wiretapping. Although it is likely that he’ll claim the scandal was simply the work of officials in the intelligence community acting on their own accord, recent events have made this claim less politically easy for him. Recently, the beleaguered former intelligence director Jorge Noguera told a court on Monday that he is only a stool pigeon for Uribe, who wants him to be convicted in order to take the pressure off of him.

More on this in the coming months.

News Briefs

·         Venezuelan authorities have been tracking the private e-mails of thousands of Venezuelans both in the country and in Miami with the help of Cuban intelligence specialists since as far back as 2005, says El Nuevo Herald. The newspaper allegedly has a copy of a list that officials used from 2005-06 which details email addresses, passwords and IP numbers of these individuals, many of whom are opposition activists. According to James Bosworth over at Bloggings by Boz, the country is home to large numbers of hackers-for-hire, who sell this kind of material to intelligence agents. While the article cites members of the Venezuelan opposition who maintain this is the work of Cuban intelligence, Bosworth claims it is “more likely they're just buying it from the black market.”

·         Voices from El Salvador has published an extremely helpful rundown of the development of Decree 743, the controversial new law which requires the country’s Constitutional Court to make decisions unanimously rather than by majority vote, which many say weakens the Salvadoran judicial system. As El Mundo reports, the bill continues to be a political hot potato, with the FMLN now accusing the PCN of “hijacking” the wording of the law after it was voted upon.

·         The former marketing chief of Cuba’s Bucanero beer shares insights with Ad Age Hispanic on what advertising would be like in a post-Communist Cuba. As he puts it, Cuban consumers respond better to inspirational ads, rather than those that “reflect reality.” According to IPS, Cuba’s recent economic reforms are disproportionately harming Cuban women.

·         The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled this week that recent attempts by authorities to quell public protests in favor of cannabis legalization are unconstitutional, says the AP.

·         An analysis of Brazil’s 2010 Census has revealed that more and more Brazilians are self-identifying as “pardo,” reports CNN. As a result, the white population in the country is now below 50%.

·         The Office of National Drug Control Policy released updated data regarding cocaine production in Latin America. According to the statement, Colombia has reduced the amount of cocaine produced in the country from an estimated 700 metric tons potential cocaine production in 2001 to 300 metric tons in 2010, which amounts to a 57 percent drop.  However, the statement fails to mention that coca production in Peru and Bolivia is on the rise, making up for this decrease.

·         Meanwhile, a new RAND Corporation report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force reinforces the stunningly obvious: U.S. drug policy has not significantly reduced the overall level of narcotics production in Latin America. The report also details the harmful effects that aerial spraying has on legitimate crops, and recommends that officials stop encouraging this practice. Ironically, these conclusions are exactly what WOLA researchers have been arguing for years.

·         Former President Jimmy Carter offers his two cents regarding the drug war debate in a recent op-ed in the New York Times.

·         Honduran police have discovered at least 13 bodies in a mass grave located in the northwest department of Cortés.  El Tiempo claims that the grave was allegedly used by the Mara 18 gang to bury their victims. As InSight points out, this significantly undermines recent calls by M-18 to negotiate an end to street violence with authorities.

·         Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom extended the “state of siege” in the Peten region on Wednesday, going against the recommendation of his Defense Minister, Juan Jose Ruiz.  La Prensa Libre claims that Ruiz publicly denounced the move, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate considering the “political period in which we live,” which is a clear reference to the upcoming September elections.  According to the Guatemalan paper, local officials, neighborhood groups and civil society organizations have all backed the extension, due to a noticeable decrease in the amount of crime. CNN says that Mexican and Guatemalan prosecutors on have agreed to share more information on relating to the Zetas, the main criminal organization in the Peten.

·         Good news for the region’s oil producing countries: according to the International Energy Agency, world consumers will become increasingly dependent on North and South American crude oil in the next half decade. As the New York Times reports, the vast majority of the growth in demand  is expected to come from Asia and the Middle East, while the agency predicts that demand in Europe and the United States will stay flat through 2016.

·         Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala left Chile for home on Thursday, wrapping up his weeklong trip to Latin American countries. According to Chile’s La Nacion, Humala and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera promised to improve relations between the two countries, with Humala promising to engage more directly with Chile regarding their maritime border dispute at The Hague. As AFP reports, next week the future president begins another regional tour, this time to Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia. Although meeting with Chavez, Morales and Correa is likely to set off media hysteria about the region’s “pink tide,” it will be interesting to see if these encounters will in fact provide Humala with an opportunity to show just how much of a lefty he’ll be in office.

·         After rumors emerged that Humala was considering pardoning Alberto Fujimori, Human Rights Watch has issued a statement urging Peru not to afford the former president any special treatment.  According to La Republica, although Humala has said he would consider pardoning him if he were mortally ill, freeing Fujimori is “not on the agenda.”

·         In what is sure to be an uncomfortable get-together, El Comercio reports that Alan Garcia and Humala will meet this afternoon for the first time since the elections. No word on the specifics of their discussion.

·         Time published a piece on the Bolivian government’s lax attitude towards mining safety in the country with a focus on Cerro Rico, one of its oldest mines.

·         The New York Times highlights the recent series of nationwide protests in Chile against the country’s plan to construct a hydroelectric dam in the unspoiled Patagonia region.

·         The prosperous Mexican city of Monterrey continued to be afflicted by drug violence this week, with 33 murders committed on Thursday alone, according to El Proceso. Two of those killed were bodyguards working for the governor of Nuevo León, Rodrigo Medina. Apparently the bodies were left with a note from the Zetas which threatened Medina and claimed that the two – who were members of Nuevo Leon's state police – took money from them. Historically Monterrey has long been considered one of Mexico's safest urban area, and has only recently become caught up in the country’s drug war. As Reuters reports, more than 650 drug-related homicides have occurred in the city so far this year, which is more than occurred in all of 2010.

·         Meanwhile AP reports that Union Pacific, the largest rail shipper on the U.S.-Mexico border, is refusing to pay more than $388 million in fines for failing to prevent drug cartels from hiding drugs and other illicit goods in its train cars. 

·         On a more humorous note, Mexican authorities arrested “El Brad Pitt” on Thursday, who is not to be confused with the Hollywood star. AP says that the man, whose real name is Marco Antonio Guzman, led the security wing of the Juarez Cartel in northern Mexico.