Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Colombia, an Ex-President Uses Twitter to Cling to Power

Since he left office in 2010, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has converted into the biggest opponent of his handpicked successor, launching fiery attacks on government policy via his Twitter account, and traveling the country on a permanent campaign.

The New York Times has an essay by Hector Abad, which says that, though his presidency “restored his country’s faith in the future,” Uribe has now become a nuisance, “tweeting and sowing trouble and rejoicing every time the FARC tries to assassinate a political figure or plants a bomb.”

Uribe held the presidency for eight years (2002-2010), winning important victories against the FARC rebel group and brokering a peace deal with the paramilitaries. After changing the constitution to allow himself a second term in power, he was forced to leave office in 2010 when a court overturned his attempts to get a third term. His defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, took over the presidency, with Uribe’s backing.

Despite his close association with the Uribe presidency, Santos has shown his independence, pursuing cases against close allies of the former leader accused of corruption and of illegally wiretapping critics of the government. He improved relations with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, and is pushing through legislation that could allow FARC commanders lenient sentences in a future peace deal. In less than two years, according to Semana magazine, Santos “has achieved the impossible: a successful ‘de-uribizacion’ of the country,” carrying out a historic number of reforms and distancing himself from Uribe’s record.

This did not please the micromanaging former leader. After leaving power, Abad says, Uribe should have retired to his cattle ranch, but he instead chose to live in a police barracks in Bogota. “There, he can get together with officers, among whom he has always been popular for his harsh stance against the guerrillas, and dash off criticisms of his successor.”

Most of these criticisms are made via his Twitter account (@AlvaroUribeVel), which has nearly 3 million followers. “Mr. Santos has sold his soul to terrorists and Hugo Chavez, the tweets say, and is driving the country into chaos.” Semana reports that the former president has sent 10,000 Tweets in two years, or an average of eight a day. Many of these are innocuous, but some are head-on assaults on the government -- on Sunday, for example he said: “the government is imposing the election of Timochenko,” referring to the leader of the FARC. As the magazine puts it, “Uribe is doing the same as he did while in government: he lives on a permanent campaign.” He enjoys traveling from place to place across Colombia, and doesn’t care how big the crowd is or what he is giving a speech about, says Semana. “Practically everywhere he is met with applause and carried out on people’s shoulders.”

Abad blames Uribe’s invective for the recent reports that some retired military figures have talked of staging a coup. Though this is unlikely to take place, he predicts that Uribe will try to regain power, either through another constitutional amendment to allow him to stand again, or by running alongside a pliable figurehead, “This means that in two years we won’t be moving forward, but back: the election will be a plebiscite, yet again, in favor of Mr. Uribe or against him.”

News Briefs

  • The NYT reports that global financial turmoil could cast a shadow over the Rio+20 Summit currently underway in Brazil, raising old conflicts between developed and developing countries and limiting donor’s ability to give aid or make new environmental commitments. Economist Jeffrey Sachs told the newspaper that the euro crisis would dampen prospects for the summit; “Europe has been the great leader of environmental action, but Europe is hardly functioning right now.”
  • Meanwhile at the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, world leaders are set to release a joint statement promising coordinated action to safeguard global economic growth in the face of the eurozone crisis, reports the AP.
  • A Colombian police general who headed the security detail of former President Alvaro Uribe has been accused by US prosecutors taking bribes from drug traffickers. Mauricio Santoyo is suspected of protecting traffickers in exchange for some $5 million between 2000 and 2008, reports the NYT.
  • Rio Real analyzes an interview with Rio de Janeiro’s security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame in which he says that social programs are not moving quickly or effectively enough to provide social underpinnings after police invasion of favela neighborhoods. One interesting point he makes is that failures in transport planning can help boost illegal groups: “If we have 5,000 people in a housing program and there isn’t adequate transportation for them, chances increase that militias or other clandestine groups will create alternative transportation.” It also gives some statistics on the favela pacification program: There are currently 23 pacification units installed, with five to come soon. By 2014 there will be at least 40.
  • Bloggings by Boz notes that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has seen his approval ratings drop to under 50 percent, with three recent polls putting him in the 43-46 percent range. This is due to the president’s handling of conflicts over projects to extract the country’s natural resources, as well as the ongoing fight against the Shining Path rebels. Boz says that, more broadly, Humala’s falling popularity reflects “a wider sense of disapproval among Humala's base of supporters over whether he is completing promises to improve the lives of the poor.” This week, Humala spoke out against a planned march of pregnant women against the Conga mining project, source of some of the biggest social conflicts in recent months, saying “It doesn’t seem right to me,” as El Comercio reports.
  • The Atlantic Wire goes behind the scenes on two recent New York Times stories about Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, asking how the authors dug up such sensitive information without falling foul of the bloody drug gang. It says that Patrick Radden Keefe did not visit Sinaloa state for his in-depth profile of the group, instead digging through court documents and talking to experts in Mexico City. “Looking at the reporting from people who have gone to Sinaloa, generally what people come back with -- and this is gringo reporters who go up there and ask around -- they come back with color,” he says, pointing out that they run high security risks but do not get an interview with “Chapo” Guzman himself.
  • The NYT has a story on the reverse migration of Mexican nationals from the US back to Mexico, driven by increased deportations, tougher state laws and rising unemployment in their adopted country. It says that many of these are children born north of the border, who have never visited Mexico before; “The result is an entire generation of children who blur the line between Mexican and American.”
  • Newsweek asks if former Brazilian President “Lula” da Silva will run for the presidency again. It notes that the popular politician has come back to center stage after his bout with cancer, but says that regaining power could be difficult for the “living legend” with his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff enjoying a successful premiership; “While Lula talks, his protégé is quietly reshaping policy and politics.”
  • Colombia’s president has condemned the murder of a peasant leader agitating for the return of stolen lands, reports EFE. Jairo Martinez, who was gunned down in northern Colombia on Friday, was the leader of a group of farmers campaigning to get back their land in the Montes de Maria region. EFE quotes figures saying that at least 50 land activists have been murdered in the country since 2002. President Juan Manuel Santos has pushed through a land reform law which is supposed to give thousands of hectares of land stolen by illegal armed groups or economic interests back to its original owners.
  • Borderland Beat looks at conspiracy theories around the former leader of the Familia Michocana drug gang, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, “El Chayo,” who supposedly died in 2010. His body was never found, and a new, suspiciously well-organized splinter group quickly sprung up in the place of his decapitated cartel, leading to rumors that he faked his own death and now heads the Knights Templar gang.
  • Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim is investing in recently nationalized Argentine oil company YPF and in European telecommunications, suggesting his business empire might be outgrowing Mexico, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ warns that Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli could be moving the country towards authoritarianism. She says he is “out of control,” appointing allies to posts that should be independent, hinting he may change the constitution to allow himself another term, and possibly using public funds to win allies in Congress. Although “some might be tempted to tolerate him because he is not left-wing,” his undermining of the country’s institutions could open the door to Chavez-style leaders.
  • The AP has a story on a man who earns his living by posing as superman on the streets of Lima.

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