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October 28, 2013

Peace, Politics clash in Colombia as presidential race heats up

Ever since President Juan Manuel Santos announced last year his intention to pursue peace talks with the country’s largest guerrilla group, he’s been under attack from his predecessor and former boss Alvaro Uribe. Over the weekend, Uribe unveiled his latest weapon in the war: a candidate to face Santos in the April 25 presidential race.

Óscar Iván Zuluaga, 54, a former mayor, senator and minister of finance, beat out two rivals to clench the nomination for Uribe’s Democratic Center party. He called himself Uribe’s most loyal pupil and made it clear where he stands on the peace talks taking place in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

“Peace is not in Havana,” he said in his nomination speech. “The national agenda isn’t up for negotiation with the FARC.”

“I have never believed in this [peace] process because it’s based on a mistaken premise,” he told El Tiempo newspaper. “A legitimate state cannot sit down on equal terms with an organization that commits terrorist acts and finances itself through narco-traffic.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/10/28/3717257/peace-and-politics-clash-as-colombia.html#storylink=cpy

October 27, 2013

Four month ordeal of US veteran held by Colombia's FARC comes to an end

A few weeks ago, we wrote this post about Kevin Scott Sutay, the former US soldier who has been in FARC custody since June 20. Today, Cuba and Norway announced that Sutay had been released in good condition. 

This was a win for President Juan Manuel Santos who was trying to keep Sutay's release from becoming a high-wattage media circus, despite the FARC's insistence that they would only free the young man to former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba or US Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Ultimately, just as the government had been calling for, Sutay was handed over to the International Red Cross with little fanfare. He's now in US custody. It will be interesting to see if he speaks to the press.

Finally, I have to wonder if the timing of his release has anything to do with Alvaro Uribe's new party, Uribe Centro Democratico, picking its horse yesterday to face Santos in next year's election.

Oscar Ivan Zuloaga -- Uribe's former minister of finance -- got the nod and has vowed to stay true to his former boss and oppose ongoing peace talks. That cranks up the pressure on the FARC and the government to prove their getting results in Havana. 

October 16, 2013

Ecuador's Chevron trial goes on trial, as plaintiffs' lawyer faces RICO allegations

IMG_3479One of the hemisphere’smost contentious and longest-running environmental trials is going on trial. On Tuesday, a New York judge will begin hearing testimony that a $19 billion judgment against Chevron for polluting Ecuador’s Amazon decades ago was the product of fraud.

The oil giant claims that Steven Donziger, a lawyer for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, engaged in racketeering by manufacturing evidence and bribing judges in the Andean nation to win the record-setting verdict.

Donziger and his legal team say Chevron is trying to evade its responsibility. Since it couldn’t win the pollution trial on its merits, they say, it’s going after the lawyers.

The case has dragged on — in one form or another — for 20 years, has produced more than 200,000 pages of evidence, spawned documentaries and television programs, and dragged celebrities and politicians into its wake. Movie star Daryl Hannah has dipped her hands into oily muck for the cameras, and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has called the case a matter of national honor and asked for a Chevron boycott.

Read the full story here

October 15, 2013

Leaders of Dominican Rep. and Ecuador top new ranking, US and Uruguay at bottom

Mexico’s Consulta Mitofsky recently put out its annual ranking of regional leaders, which found Dominican Rep. President Danilo Medina on top and US President Barack Obama at the very bottom. The ranking is based on approval ratings in each country and they’re not strictly comparable, but let's not let the small print get in the way of a good list.

Two interesting points:

1)      Ecuador’s Rafael Correa remains hugely popular. (Compared to last year he fell one spot in the rankings but his approval numbers are actually up.)

2)      Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro debuts on the list at #8 after his late boss, Hugo Chávez, exited the rankings at #4 last year.

Check out the full report here.

Otherwise, here are the takeaway numbers:

#1 Dominican Republic  - Danilo Medina 88%

#2 Ecuador  - Rafael Correa 84% [He was ranked at #1 with 80% last year]

#3 Panama – Ricardo Martinelli 69%

#4 Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega 66%

#5 El Salvador – Mauricio Funes 64%

#6 Bolivia – Evo Morales 59%

#7 Mexico – Enrique Peña Nieto 56%

#8 Venezuela - Nicolás Maduro 48% [The late Hugo Chávez was #4 last year with 64% approval]

#9 Guatemala – Otto Perez 48%

#10 Uruguay – Jose Mujica 45%

#11 USA – Barack Obama 44%

October 11, 2013

Colombia tie guarantees nation World Cup slot; Ecuador moves one step closer

Colombia tied Chile 3-3 tonight and Ecuador beat Uruguay 1-0. The outcome guarantees Colombia a slot in Brazil, ending its 16-year World Cup drought. Barring an upset, Ecuador is almost certain to have a slot, also.

Here are the South America standings as of Friday night:

Argentina 14 8 5 1 30 11 29
Colombia 15 8 3 4 25 12 27
Ecuador 15 7 4 4 19 14 25
Chile 15 8 1 6 27 24 25
Uruguay 15 6 4 5 22 23 22
Venezuela 16 5 5 6 14 20 20
Peru 14 4 2 8 15 22 14
Paraguay 15 3 3 9 16 29 12
Bolivia 15 2 5 8 16 29 11

Breaking Bad comes to Latin America but will the chemistry work?


Do you recognize this man in his underwear? 

Walter White of Breaking Bad is dead and gone in the United States, but Latin America is getting ready for a major dose of the chemistry teacher turned meth don.

Sony and Teleset are remaking the entire series in Colombia. It sounds like it will be more of a re-shoot than an adaptation. The producers say they went to great lengths to match the series in terms of storyline, relationships, dialogue, look  and feel. Walter White is Walter Blanco, his wife Skyler will be Cielo.

At any rate, here's a story I wrote about it a few weeks back. It seemed like good weekend fodder. 

BOGOTA -- As the camera pulled back during Sunday’s final episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White — the chemistry teacher turned meth king — was sprawled in a pool of blood. But in Latin America, Walter Blanco is just being born.

Sony Pictures Television and Colombia’s Teleset are remaking the Emmy award-winning show in and around this bustling capital. Here it will be called Metastasis, but that’s virtually the only change the producers are making.

The new show is “very, very close” to the original, said Angelica Guerra, senior vice president and managing director of production for Latin America and the Hispanic market in the United States for Sony Pictures Television.

“You won’t see a new character, you won’t see different relationships, you won’t see huge dialogue differences,” she said. “In essence, it’s exactly the same.”

As many U.S. television viewers know, Breaking Bad follows the story of White, a New Mexico chemistry teacher who reacts to a cancer diagnosis by cooking up the Southwest’s purest methamphetamine to pay his medical bills and leave his family a nest egg. Over the course of five seasons, the audience watched White devolve from mild-mannered, sweater-vest-wearing schoolteacher into a sociopath with a knack for making blue crank and rubbing out his rivals.

“It’s a story that could happen anywhere in the world and especially in [Latin America],” Guerra said.

Read the full story here

October 10, 2013

Venezuela inflation just shy of hitting 50% for year


Annual inflation in Venezuela hit 49.4 percent in September, up from 18 percent a year ago, and basic goods became harder to find, the Central Bank reported Thursday.

The soaring consumer price index gives Venezuela the highest inflation in the hemisphere and one of the highest in the world.

In September alone, inflation spiked 4.4 percent, driven by agricultural goods, transportation, education expenses and a 19.3 percent hike in electricity prices, the government said.

The new figures are ammunition for an opposition that is trying to turn December’s municipal election into a referendum on the six-month administration of President Nicolás Maduro. Inflation is a pocketbook issue as it saps consumers’ purchasing power.

The Central Bank also reported that the “scarcity index,” which measures the availability of basic goods, hit 21.2 percent in September versus 13.6 percent a year ago. The bank said that excluding auto parts, corn oil and sunflower oil, the scarcity index would be at 15.3 percent.

Maduro has blamed rising prices and chronic shortages on hoarding, speculation and an “economic war” waged by his rivals. The government raised minimum wage 20 percent in May and 10 percent in September. Wages are going up an additional 10 percent next month. Earlier this week, Maduro asked parliament for the right to rule by decree for 12 months to the fight the economic battle and squash corruption. The National Assembly is expected to vote on the measure in coming weeks.

Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of Miranda State, is asking his colleagues at the National Assembly to keep Maduro from seizing more power.

“Decree powers are not going to help bring down inflation, or raise salaries, or guarantee that hospitals are stocked,” he said Thursday. “It’s just a smokescreen to keep us dizzy.”

October 09, 2013

US veteran kidnapped by Colombia's FARC "speaks" from captivity


US Army vet Kevin Scott Sutay was kidnapped by Colombia’s FARC guerrillas in July as he wandered outside the city of San Jose de Guaviare – against local advice and, some would argue, common sense

The rebel group is in the process of hammering out a slow-motion peace agreement in Havana and kidnapping tourists – even if they are former soldiers – is bad PR.

 The FARC have repeatedly offered to set him free as long as the government sends the right emissary – first, former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and now former US presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson. President Santos, not surprisingly, has rejected both ideas, saying the guerrillas should skip the fanfare and release Sutay to the Red Cross.

 Now, the guerrillas have put out a lengthy “interview” with Sutay.

 In the FARC’s telling, the young man sounds like he’s on a fabulous eco-adventure.

“Before I go I have to see a tiger,” they quote him as saying. “ I'm enjoying my time here in the jungle, it's a pity you tell me that I will not be able to stay here any longer, you are really good people, I would like to stay longer, but if you say that the best thing for me is to go, I believe you. Will you visit me?"

Before you read the full conversation, keep in mind that this is one-sided, unverifiable account put out by a group that has executed hostages in the recent past and held others for more than a decade. Also, the FARC are considered a terrorist organization by the US and Colombia, so clicking below is likely to  get you flagged.

See the full transcript on the FARC’s website here

October 08, 2013

US and Venezuela: Anatomy of a diplomatic breakdown

When Venezuelan diplomat Calixto Ortega arrived in Washington this summer, he was on a difficult mission: to repair a bilateral relationship strained by decades of mistrust and heated rhetoric.

He appeared to make some headway. In June, his government tapped him to head talks to exchange ambassadors with the United States for the first time since 2010. There was reason to hope that the nations, with deep trade and cultural ties, might overcome some of their differences.

But last week, Ortega was headed to the airport — one of six U.S. and Venezuelan officials expelled in the latest round of diplomatic bloodletting that put hopes of a rapprochement on ice.

What happened during the months since Ortega’s arrival depends on what capital you’re in.

For the beleaguered administration of President Nicolás Maduro, the United States delivered a series of diplomatic insults and provocations at a time when both were tiptoeing into the relationship.

From shutdown-showdown Washington, Maduro’s decision to throw in the towel at the first tap on the jaw and then eject three diplomats on flimsy “sabotage” charges is a sign that he’s looking for scapegoats — not solutions — as his country spirals into an economic crisis.

Read the full story here


jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

Feel free to send a story suggestion. Read Jim's stories at MiamiHerald.com.

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