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

July 24, 2013

Report: Colombia’s conflict has claimed 220,000 lives since 1958

BOGOTA, Colombia -- At least 220,000 people have been killed, more than 5,000 have disappeared and 4.7 million have been forced off their land during Colombia’s 54-year civil conflict. The chilling numbers, presented Wednesday by a government commission, are the most thorough accounting ever made of this nation’s ongoing struggles.

The report, which took six years to compile, comes as the country is in the midst of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the nation’s largest guerrilla group, even as it engages the rebels in pitched battles.

Among the study’s findings: Civilians accounted for 82 percent of all conflict-related deaths, and one out of every three violent deaths can be blamed on the conflict. Of the 1,982 massacres — defined as the killing of four or more people — from 1980 to 2012, right-wing paramilitary groups were responsible for 59 percent of them. Of the 27,023 kidnappings from 1970 to 2010, guerrillas were to blame 91 percent of the time.

While the nation’s armed combatants took the bulk of the blame, the armed forces were also put in the spotlight. The military and police were responsible for 8 percent of all massacres, 42 percent of all forced disappearances and 6.5 percent of all selective killings, according to the report.

“The numbers force us to revise the true cost of the armed conflict,” the report states. While many believed the conflict caused one out of every 10 violent deaths, the true figure is triple that amount.

“Likewise, it’s possible to refute claims that there’s symmetry between the number of civilian and combatant casualties,” the report said. “On the contrary, civilians are more affected. For every combatant killed, four civilians died.”

Check out the full story here. 

Or you can download the 434-page report here.

July 02, 2013

As Ecuador backtracks on Snowden asylum, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba emerge as potential safe-havens

Stranded in a Moscow airport, NSA-leaker Edward Snowden is casting his asylum net wider as he hopes to elude capture by U.S. authorities on espionage charges.

With a number of countries backtracking on support , including Ecuador, Snowden’s options seemed to be dwindling, but might include Venezuela, Bolivia or Cuba.

On Tuesday, whistleblower website WikiLeaks said it had submitted asylum papers on Snowden’s behalf with at least 19 countries, in addition to Russia and Ecuador.

Among the Latin American destinations are Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. But it’s still unclear how Snowden might get out of Russia. The United States has revoked his passport and Ecuador says that any documents he might have from that country are not valid.

The impasse raised speculation that Snowden, 30, might hitch a ride with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who is in Russia for a meeting with leaders of gas-exporting countries. Asked by reporters Tuesday if he would leave with the U.S. fugitive, Maduro avoided the question.

“We’re going to take back many accords that we’ve signed with Russia,” he said, according to the Venezuelan presidency, “that’s what we’re going to take back to Venezuela.”

Read more here

January 16, 2013

Venezuela: Is this Chavez signature proof of life?

As most people know, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez hasn’t been seen or heard from since he traveled to Cuba on Dec. 10 to undergo another round of surgery for an undisclosed form of cancer.

His prolonged silence has fueled all sorts of rumors that he was in an induced coma, on life support, etc. Those suspicions only grew deeper last week when Chávez purportedly wrote to the National Assembly to say that he would not be at his Jan. 10 inauguration. That letter, however, was not signed by Chávez, but by his VP Maduro. 

But now a Chávez signature has turned up. On Tuesday, Maduro said the ailing president had appointed Elías Jaua as his new foreign minister. Today, VTV has running with this image of the Official Gazette, which show’s the president’s signature as part of the Jaua designation. 

Still, most people want to see or hear their leader, but this does seem to support the  administration’s claims that Chávez is making a recovery. 

December 17, 2012

Chavez's PSUV party crushes in regional elections, but Capriles is left standing

 Venezuela’s ruling party had vowed to sweep the nation’s key governors’ race as a tribute to their stricken leader President Hugo Chávez who is convalescing in a Cuban hospital.

On Sunday, it made good on that promise, winning 20 of 23 states and punching into opposition strongholds, according to preliminary results.

“Chavismo, the force of the nation, won a crushing majority,” said Jorge Rodriguez, the head of the national campaign for the ruling Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela. “This is a victory for all of Venezuela but particularly a victory for Chávez.”

But there were some bright spots for the battered opposition. Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, won reelection in a critical race that may give him a second-shot at leading the country.

December 10, 2012

Chavez heads back to Cuba for cancer surgery, leaving questions in his wake

News has a way of breaking into your holiday. I've been on furlough for the last week, but had to rush home as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he was returning to Cuba for more surgery to treat his cancer.

This is his second relapse and fourth surgery, and it raises an interesting question: how was his health - really - when he was on the campaign trail just a few weeks ago and telling crowds that he was completely cured?

On Sunday, his rival in the Oct. 7 presidential race, which Chavez won with a commanding 55 percent of the vote, said many people had voted for the presdient  because they had been reassured that he was healthy enough to take office Jan. 10 and fulfill the six-year term.

Did Chavez know his cancer had returned while he was still on the trail? Did he put his health at risk to win the election? We'll likely never know, but they're interesting questions.

At any rate. Here's a video of Chavez leaving for Havana early this morning. And here's the story Andrew Rosati and I wrote last night about the reaction in Caracas.

When things slow down, I want to tell you about this place and these trees:



November 08, 2012

The US elections as seen from south of the Rio Grande

I spent election day on Colombian naval base on the Pacific. Military men are pretty circumspect when it comes to politics, but everyone said it wouldn't have mattered who won the vote, because US-Colombia relations are so institutionalized and far-reaching that they're immune to politics. I'm not sure that's completely true, but thought it was an interesting sentiment.

My colleagues Mimi Whitefield and Tim Johnson take a deeper look at the Latin American reaction to the US vote in today's Miami Herald.  

MEXICO CITY -- There’s agreement across the region that Latin America wasn’t a priority during the first term of President Barack Obama but analysts say there are issues that might raise the profile of Latin America and the Caribbean during the president’s second term. Among them: trade, potential political change in the region, the potent voting bloc U.S. Hispanics have become, immigration, changing U.S. attitudes toward drug policy and security. But, in general, regional expectations for meaningful change in U.S. Latin American and Caribbean policy during Obama’s second term were muted. The campaigns of both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney “proved that Latin America is not a priority for the United States,’’ said Simon Pachano, a political science professor at the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences in Ecuador. “Latin America existed when they were looking for Hispanic votes, but it wasn’t present in their foreign policy proposals.”

Read the full story here.


October 01, 2012

Venezuela election quiz: Which of these men is actually a woman who wants to give everyone $1 million?


When Venezuelan voters hit the ballot box this weekend, they will have 22 ways to vote for opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles — but four of them won’t work.

Late changes to the ballot might turn the day into a guessing game for voters after four political parties that previously supported Capriles changed their minds.

As a result, anyone who checks the Unidad Democrática box, which has a picture of Capriles, might actually be voting for Reina Sequera — a dark-horse candidate who has vowed to give every Venezuelan $1 million and free Internet access. (You can read her platform here.) Votes for three other parties, which also have Capriles’ picture, will result in nullified ballots.

Read the full story here

To help those going to the polls, I've created a cheat sheet below. The crowned Capriles is the vote that will go toward Sequera (in a Christmas hat). The bearded Capriles are the null votes.

Speaking of hats, a hat tip is due to Russ Dallen and his excellent BBO Financial Services newsletter, which first alerted me to the issue. 


September 25, 2012

"Gringo journalist" unloads on La Razon after being misquoted on Venezuela

Prolific author and The New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson unloaded on Spain's La Razon newspaper over the weekend for misquoting him about the upcoming elections in Venezuela. The article in question has since been taken down, but Anderson says that the story, about potential fraud in the upcoming race, quotes him as saying that Chavez is too "delusional" to believe that he will lose the Oct. 7 vote.

On his Facebook page, Anderson says that  he did, in fact, say that Chavez cannot imagine losing the race, but that there's nothing "delusional" about it since he's "won every election and Plebiscite" he's faced. 

(Chavez did narrowly lose the 2007 push to change the constitution, but that's not the point.)

"This is what drives me nuts about this type of Spanish journalism: that they ask for an interview, you give it, and then they put words in your mouth," Anderson writes. "I will never give an interview to that sh**** paper again."

The interesting thing about this, to me at least, is that it's Venezuela's Ministry of Information and Communication that's been letting reporters know about the whole mess. Their headline: "They fabricated an anti-Chavez quote for a gringo journalist."  It seems like a strange use of government resources, but I suppose all is fair in election season. 

Here's Anderson's full post from his Facebook page:

Esto: Me saca de quicio este estirpe del periodismo espanol: Que te piden la entrevista; lo facilitas, y luego, te meten palabras en la boca. Lo que aca me "cita" el periodico La Razon simplemente no es cierto. Es decir: yo si dije que Chavez no se imaginaba perder las venideras elecciones jamas. Tal cual. Ni fa ni fu, ni mas ni menos. Pero nunca lo caracterize como un "delirio" de el. Porque seria delirio si siempre ha ganado todas las elecciones y plebescitos que ha propuesto? Pero el hecho que sea delirio o no, no es el lio. Es que no lo dije yo. Lo dijo La Razon. Poner esa caracterizacion en boca mia es burda, tabloidista, tendencioso y falso. En algunos paises, daria pie a una querella. No se si en Espana existen leyes ya, pero por si las moscas, nunca mas dare declaraciones ni entrevistas a ese diario de mierda.

Ecuador, Venezuela lead ranking of hemisphere's most popular leaders

Mexico's Consulta Mitofsky just put out their regional leadership list. The ranking is based on approval ratings so they're not strictly comparable nation-to-nation, but let's not let that get in the way of a good list.

Approval ratings are usually a good indicator of a candidate's election chances, so we'll have three opportunities in coming months to test that thesis. Hugo Chavez (ranked No. 4) is facing reelection Oct. 7, Rafael Correa (ranked No. 1!) faces reelection in February, and, of course, Barack Obama (ranked No. 10) has his chance Nov. 6. 

Without further ado: 

Top 5 Leaders in the Region based on approval ratings

#1 Ecuador - Rafael Correa 80%

#2 El Salvador - Mauricio Funes 72%

#3 Guatemala - Otto Perez 69%

#4 Venezuela - Hugo Chavez 64%

#5 Brazil - Dilma Rousseff 62%

...And the Bottom 5:

#16 Canada- Stephen Harper 37%

#17 Paraguay - Federico Franco 36%

#18 Chile - Sebastian Pinera 36%

#19 Honduras - Porfirio Lobo 14%

#20 Costa Rica - Laura Chinchilla 13%

To see the full list click 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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