Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Colombia’s Senate to ‘Debate’ Uribe-Paramilitary Ties

A supposed “debate” between former President Alvaro Uribe and leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda over Uribe’s links to drug trafficking and paramilitary groups has become front page news in Colombia. But due to limits placed on the debate by his supporters, and because Uribe’s attendance is in doubt, the event may have a limited impact.

The debate is the result of a long bureaucratic battle waged by Ivan Cepeda, who has attempted to force a formal legislative examination of Uribe’s alleged dirty past ever since the former president assumed a Senate seat in July. He submitted a proposal to the full Senate soon after the current term began, and while Uribe himself voted in favor of it, the measure was ultimately defeated by a 52-30 vote.

But Cepeda was not dissuaded, and instead pressed for a debate in a side committee, the “Second Commission,” which was ultimately arranged. However, an Uribista think tank known as the Centro de Pensamiento subsequently presented a challenge to the proposal to the Senate Ethics Committee. In an absurd twist, earlier this month the committee ruled that the debate could go forward, but only if Cepeda did not mention Uribe by name.

The event is slated to take place today on the Senate floor at 9am Bogota time (10am EST). Nearly every major paper in the country has coverage of the debate this morning. El Tiempo reports that as of last night, Uribe had not confirmed whether he will be attending the debate, and that he is under no obligation to do so. According to El Espectador, several leading figures in his Centro Democratico party have come out in support of Uribe ahead of the event, insisting that the numerous, repeated reports that he had ties to the AUC paramilitary coalition are false and defamatory.

Even if Uribe fails to show, the debate should draw further attention to these allegations, which the ex-president has found hard to shake since leaving office. Yesterday Cepeda told RCN Noticias that he intends to mention Uribe by name in his remarks today, and to focus his arguments on specific evidence of paramilitary collusion, regardless of the Ethics Committee’s resolution. According to Semana magazine, the head of the Ethics Committee himself has also softened the ban on mentioning Uribe, saying that in practice it only prevents Cepeda from touching on “issues of a personal nature.”

News Briefs
  • O Globo reports that yet another public opinion poll has been released in Brazil which shows Marina Silva and President Dilma Rousseff in a dead heat in a second-round matchup. According to pollster Ibope, Silva has 43 percent support compared to 40 for Rousseff, making them statistically tied. The Wall Street Journal also reports on the new poll, but seems to overlook another interesting finding. Compared to the last Ibope survey, support for conservative challenger Aecio Neves increased four points, to 19 percent.
  • The AP has a nice overview of Silva’s foreign policy positions, as laid out in her platform and according to statements made by top advisor Mauricio Rands. While a Silva victory would almost certainly mean improved relations with the U.S. and Europe, some analysts believe it would not necessarily mean that Brazil would become more critical of human rights abuses in Venezuela or Cuba, an issue for which Rousseff has been criticized.
  • The government of Guatemala is being criticized by freedom of the press advocates this week after it released a rebuttal of a story on suspicious business dealings of Vice President Roxana Baldetti before the story had even been published. The El Periodico piece linked a property owned by Baldetti to businessmen who have received lucrative government contracts in recent years. In response to the government’s preemptive denial of any wrongdoing, the paper has accused officials of spying on it. Earlier this year, Baldetti targeted El Periodico editor Jose Ruben Zamora with charges of blackmail and defamation, but the suit was dropped in response to international pressure.
  • News and commentary site Vox has an interesting overview of the impact that the U.S. embargo on Cuba has on Major League Baseball, describing how many Cuban baseball players often become victims of criminal human trafficking networks in third countries, who extort them for cuts of their future earnings. The easiest and most complete solution to this problem, according to the author, would be to put an end to the U.S. embargo.
  • Yesterday’s New York Times featured a report on the hysterical warnings by some conservative groups that ISIS militants are plotting to infiltrate the U.S. via the Mexican border. Despite officials’ repeated insistence that there is no proof of this, nor any cause for alarm, the narrative has proven difficult to squash.
  • Acting U.S. ambassador to Argentina Kevin Sullivan has come under fire by the government of President Cristina Fernandez, after he remarked to newspaper Clarin that “that it was "important for Argentina to exit default as soon as possible to return to the path of growth and attract the investment it needs." The statement was interpreted as a criticism of the Fernandez administration’s battle with holdout creditors, and La Nacion reports that Foreign Minister Hector Timerman summoned him to convey the government’s disapproval and threaten him with revoking his diplomatic credentials.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Timothy Gil identifies the primary actors in Washington that are calling for a shift in U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela. While he notes that the State Department has on multiple occasions demonstrated a willingness to increase dialogue with the Venezuelan government, these efforts have been significantly undercut by jockeying in the Senate over a bill to impose targeted sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses.
  • The Associated Press has more on the video released on Monday by a pro-government television show in Venezuela, which purports to show two opposition activists plotting to stockpile weaponry and launch armed attacks from neighboring Colombia. The two activists, who made international headlines recently after they were deported for allegedly violating the terms of their visas, have been placed under arrest by military intelligence, as El Nacional reports. The AP suggests that the arrests could “further embolden government hardliners who accuse Maduro's opponents of trying to violently overthrow his 17-month-old socialist administration.”
  • Haiti’s seemingly unsolvable delays over a bill to hold overdue local and legislative elections have earned criticism from U.S. lawmakers this week. According to the Miami Herald, a bipartisan group of 15 legislators have sent a letter to Haitian Senate President Simon Desra, urging their counterparts in Haiti to put aside their differences and schedule the vote.
  • The New York Times reports on the increasing dangers of mining the silver-rich mountain of Cerro Rico, regarded by many in Bolivia as a national symbol. Because the mountain has been mined for centuries it is beginning to cave in at the top, posing a safety threat to an estimated 1,500 workers.
  • In Foreign Policy, Sibylla Brodzinsky looks at the laudable decision by Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay to welcome refugees and asylum-seekers from Syria, who are finding it far easier to resettle in Latin America than in North America or Europe.