Frances’ foreign minister initially said that French journalist Romeo Langlois had been taken prisoner during a clash between the Colombian army and the FARC rebels, buton Monday clarified that this was not known for certain. Langlois was embedded with troops on a mission to destroy cocaine labs in the southern Caqueta province. The unit came under fire from the guerrillas as they descended from helicopters on Saturday morning. Three soldiers and one police officer were killed and eight others wounded,according to the Colombian authorities.
Colombia’s Defense Minister Pinzon said that, according to army personnel, Langlois was hit in the arm by a bullet, and then removed his bulletproof vest and helmet and ran towards the guerrillas, identifying himself as a civilian.
Several soldiers went missing during the clash, but were later found by the army. The Colombian government has called on the rebels to respect the life of Langlois, as a war correspondent, and has launched operations to find him. RCN Radio reports that the authorities think Langlois may be liberated after completing a “journalistic project” with the group.
A friend of Langlois, who has worked with him on journalism projects in Colombia for more than a decade, told French media that Langlois “knows the FARC perfectly” and has many contacts amongst them -- “he knows the codes, the language.”
The AP notes that the last case of Colombian rebels taking foreign journalists hostage was 2003, and that they were released safely within days. The FARC recently pledged to cease the practice of kidnapping for ransom, and released their last remaining political hostages. The BBC said that the rebels may be stepping up attacks -- having killed another eight people in the same region the previous day -- in an effort to force the government into negotiations. The WSJ, in contrast, said that the latest attacks could hurt hopes for peace.
The case is particularly sensitive for France, given the kidnapping of Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who also held French citizenship. She was held by rebels for six years from 2002 after being captured in the same province as Langlois, and was then rescued by the Colombian security forces. One analyst pointed out to French news site Atlantico that Betancourt had also held discussions with guerrilla leaders before her kidnapping, and said that, despite their promises to cease kidnapping, the FARC could still find a French citizen a valuable hostage.
- A journalist with Proceso magazine was found murdered in her home in Veracruz yesterday. Regina Martinez, who often wrote stories on organized crime, had been asphyxiated and received heavy blows to her face and body,reports the AP. The city of Veracruz saw one of the biggest surges in violence in the country last year, with a 20-fold increase in murders in the first nine months of 2011. This was triggered by a battle for control of the key port between the currently-dominant Zetas and a group called the Matazetas (Zeta Killers),” thought to be a spin-off of the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation.
- Brazil’s Congress has passed a bill which has been criticized as loosening regulations on the protection of the Amazon rainforest. It stipulates that some deforested land must be replanted, but leaves the amount in state government’s hands, which could mean replanting will be minimal in certain states where farmers’ lobbies are powerful, reports Reuters. The legislation is causing difficulties for President Dilma Rousseff, who has promised not to pass legislation decreasing protection for the rainforest, but must balance this against exploiting the country’s natural resources and expanding the economy. The WSJ notes what it calls “an unsettling fact for environmental groups;” that “Much of the Amazon forest slashed and burned in past decades is today extremely productive farmland.”
- Meanwhile, the country’s Defense Minister Celso Amorim announced Thursday that they would increase military presence in the Amazon region to stop foreign powers trying to seize its resources, reports AFP.
- Following the scandal over Secret Service agents using prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, the service has tightened its rules on behavior abroad,reports the NYT. Agents are now banned from having foreigners in their hotel rooms, except law enforcement agents or hotel staff, and from drinking alcohol in the 10 hours before their shifts. One of the Secret Service agents accused of wrongdoing before the Americas Summit has been reprieved. The agent had repeatedly insisted that he had not had anyone in his hotel room that night, and now investigators have found that a member of the military falsely gave the agents’ room number when required to register his guest, reports the NYT.
- The NYT has a slideshow on life in a Cartagena brothel, which it describes as “a place of routines, including weekly tests for sexually transmitted diseases.” It notes local anger over the Secret Service agent’s reported treatment of the woman at the center of the scandal, refusing to pay the agreed price and swearing at her. “Just because you come from another country and you work for Obama, you shouldn’t be able to come here and treat someone with disrespect,” said one sex worker.
- A Brazilian woman alleges that a group of three US marines and an embassy staffer ran her over in a van after a disagreement about buying sex in December. She says they “broke her collarbone, punctured her lung and left her lying in a Brasília nightclub parking lot,” reports the LA Times. The US government admitted last week that the men had been punished for the attack, though it did not give details of her injuries.
- The NYT looks at dirty campaigning in the race for Mexico’s presidential election, where politicians are defying tight rules on negative ads by using social networking sites. “The weighty problems facing Mexico -- the drug war, feeble job growth, persistent poverty and the failings of the police and judicial system -- have received little attention and generated only vague pronouncements. Instead, the campaigns expand and refine their digital attacks, often using hard-to-trace and easily disavowed volunteers and supporters to do the dirty work.” A piece in the LA Times says that new reality TV-style videos featuring front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto and his family are a new blurring of the lines between politics and pop media in the country.
The PRI candidate is considered something of a lightweight, and the WSJ profiles his campaign manager Luis Videgaray, who it says is generally seen as “the brains behind the candidate,” notes the piece.
- The NYT reports on the massive support in Argentina for the government’s partial expropriation of Spanish-owned oil and gas company YPF, with some opposition senators coming “close to tears” in the legislature while expressing their gratitude for the move. It points out that the move taps into public resentment over the free-market policies of the 1990s which preceded the economic collapse.
- The WSJ reports that the move owes a lot to Keynesian Deputy Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, who urged President Cristina Kirchner to go ahead with the nationalization.
- Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office will open an investigation into allegations that Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary paid $24 million in bribes to allow its expansion through the country, reports the NYT.
- One of two Peruvian police officers who went missing during combat with Shining Path rebels following the kidnap of 36 oil workers earlier this month has been found alive, reports the AP.
- The Miami Herald interviews a man who was removed by Cuban officials for shouting anti-government slogans during the pope’s visit to the island. Anotherpiece assesses economic reforms on the island.
- Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ congratulates Chile’s government for “holding free university education at bay” in the face of the political pressure from the student movement. She says that this movement has been so successful because the government has failed to stand up for “freedom” against leftist “invitation[s] to tyranny,” such as the principle that “economic inequality is immoral and the state has an obligation to correct it.”
- The LA Times looks at the career of Colombia’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, known for his chubby figures.