Thursday, May 31, 2012

FARC Free French Journalist

After 33 days in captivity, yesterday the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) freed French journalist Romeo Langlois in a release overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, former Senator Piedad Cordoba and a representative of the French government. Langlois was then flown to the village of San Isidro in the southern department of Caqueta, where he addressed members of the press.

The journalist spoke relatively highly of his captors, saying he had never been mistreated or tied up, and told those gathered that the guerrillas had always treated him “like a guest.” El Tiempo notes that, upon returning to Bogota, the reporter said the only thing he missed during his time in the jungle was the feeling of being cold.

His lack of harsh words for the guerrillas did not go unnoticed by ex-President Alvaro Uribe, never one to miss out on an opportunity to speak his mind. Uribe spoke out against Langlois via his Twitter account yesterday, accusing him of “identifying with terrorism.” “Langlois: One thing is journalistic curiosity and another is identifying with terrorism,” wrote the former Colombian president in one tweet, following it up with “Langlois, what were you doing in Colombia, what relationship did you have with the Farc? Some of us are aware that you know how to lie.”

He did offer some criticism of the armed group for using his release as a propaganda tool, however. According to the AP, the FARC freed Langlois “on their movement's 48th anniversary on a specially built stage, hanging pro-peace banners in this remote southern hamlet and organizing a barbecue.” Langlois also vehemently denied reports that he had been wearing a military uniform at the time of his capture, rumor the rebels initially used to portray him as a “prisoner of war.”

On the whole, Langlois used his time in the spotlight to advocate for peace, reminding the press and members of the humanitarian team of the brutal reality of war in Colombia, which he characterized as “the poor killing the poor." “The conflict has become invisible, we [as journalists] have to think about how to cover it” he said, adding that “the government has sold the idea that this conflict is over, but it isn’t. He also told reporters that the guerrillas are “tired of war,” and had given him a letter to present to French President François Hollande, presumably asking for his help in pressuring the Colombian government to begin peace negotiations.

News Briefs

  • The New York Times covers an emerging scandal in Brazil, in which a Supreme Federal Court justice has accused former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of trying to postpone a trial over a vote-buying scandal in Lula’s Worker’s Party.  In turn, Lula accused Mendes of having potential links to imprisoned gambling kingpin Carlinhos Cachoeira, who is accused of paying off numerous officials in turn for political favors. The paper notes that this latest scandal is yet another obstacle to President Dilma Rousseff’s attempts to change public perception of widespread corruption in the government.
  • The Times’ Room for Debate Forum has a series of short op-eds featuring differing answers to the question: “Should Latin America end the war on drugs?” Guatemalan President Otto Perez, Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope, and the Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann are among the debaters.
  • While Mexican drug cartels have attempted to address the public though narco-banners and YouTube videos, it seems a new medium has been adopted in Culiacan. Suspected drug traffickers dropped thousands of leaflets from an airplane on the northern city yesterday, reports the AP. The leaflets accuse the governor of Sinaloa state of links to drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
  • The Sabritas company, which distributes snack products like Ruffles, Doritos and Cheetos, may have been targeted by organized crime. Five of the company's distribution centers were attacked and set on fire in the states of Guanajuato and Michoacan over the weekend, according to CNN.
  • Peruvian police on Wednesday arrested the mayor of Espinar for his role in leading heated anti-mining protests in the area, which resulted in the government declaring a state of emergency this week. Some 50 police stormed City Hall to arrest Mayor Oscar Mollohuanca while he sat in a meeting with local community groups, Peru’s RPP reports.
  • The Andean Information Network as a nice overview of the current divisions in Bolivia’s police force. Although President Morales appointed Víctor Maldonado as the new national police commander on May 21st, he does not have widespread support in the institution.
  • Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather has entered the Chavez health speculation game, reporting that the Venezuelan leader’s has a terminal form of cancer. Citing “a highly respected source close to Chavez” who has had access to his medical records, Rather wrote on the website for his HDNet show Dan Rather Reports that the president has an aggressive form of metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma cancer that has “entered the end stage.” Meanwhile, the International Business Times takes a look at the figures who might follow Chavez if he dies or is too weak to run in October’s election. The paper quotes Venezuela expert David Smilde, who says that the weak point in Chavez’s governance style may be his insistence on concentrating too much power at the top, much like another well-known leftist revolutionary. "Just look at Lenin," Smilde said. "Chávez has done the same thing, concentrating power at the top and expelling political opponents. When Lenin got sick and Stalin took over, he realized he had created a monster, but by then it was too late."
  • Reuters profiles the work of Guatemala’s bold attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, in prosecuting civil war-era human rights abuses and drug trafficking networks alike. While the number of cases resolved by the country’s traditionally rickety justice system has nearly doubled under Paz y Paz’s watch, she has made herself a number of enemies among the political and military elite.
  • The Guardian reports on how Haiti’s rush to develop its mineral resources could have a minimal effect on poverty in the country, as mining projects in the country have a history of benefiting only a wealthy few.

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