Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fundamental Change in Colombia Unlikely with President-elect Santos

This analysis of the June 20th Colombian presidential election results was my most recent article published by the Women's iInternational Perspective.

Juan Manuel Santos as Defense Minister. Photograph courtesy of the Center for American Progress and downloaded under a Creative Commons license.
Fulfilling expectations after a solid showing in May’s first round, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos handily won Colombia's June 20th presidential run-off election. Though Santos and his contender, Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of the capital city Bogota, had been neck-in-neck in opinion polls leading up to the first round of elections, the May 30th results gave Santos a substantial lead that he never lost. On June 20th Santos won 69% of the vote.

Mockus’ defeat may be seen as a combination of several factors. For one, opinion polls are unreliable in Colombia. Pollsters tend to reach only middle and upper class urban residents. Poor and rural Colombians, who tend to not have access to landlines or other standard survey methods, are rarely surveyed.

Presumably, much of Santos’ hidden support came from the countryside. As former Defense Minister for outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Santos represents Uribe’s hard line on security in Colombia’s decades-old internal armed conflict. Those security policies are often credited with a reduction in violence in recent years (though strong evidence indicates violence may again be on the upswing.) Santos’ direction of high-profile events like the 2008 rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors created an image of competence against the principal guerrilla group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC.)

Read the rest of the article

Thursday, June 17, 2010

See for yourself: Military Bases, Human Rights & Free Trade Delegation

Last Chance to Apply! There are still a few spaces left on this unprecedented delegation, taking place July 24 - August 2, hosted by Fellowship of Reconciliation and Witness for Peace.
Last fall, the governments of Colombia and the United States signed an agreement to grant the Pentagon use of seven military bases on Colombian soil. The agreement bolstered the United States' military presence in the Andean region at a time when progressive movements in Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia struggle to reorganize their societies more equally, and victims of Colombia's dirty war demand accountability. It also intensified the contentious mix of militarism and free trade that has characterized U.S. Latin American policy. 
What role do the bases play in upholding free trade orthodoxy and advancing the counterinsurgency, anti-narcotics program known as Plan Colombia? How does the increasing militarization of Colombia affect grassroots politics? 

  • Visit several U.S. military bases
  • Talk with Colombians who live and work near the bases
  • Meet with human rights, labor, peasant, and community groups
  • Meet with U.S. and Colombian government and military personnel
DELEGATION LEADERS: The delegation will be led by Susana Pimiento Chamorro and by Lesley Gill (Ph.D. 1984, Columbia); Vanderbilt U., Department Chair, Anthropology. Lesley's research in Latin America focuses on political violence, human rights, global economic restructuring, the state, and transformations in class, gender, and ethnic relations. Her books include The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence (Duke, 2004). Susana Pimiento is a Colombian-American attorney who co-directs Fellowship of Reconciliation's Task Force of Latin America and the Caribbean. Based in Bogotá, she has undertaken research on military bases and played a very active role in the formation of the Colombia No Bases Coalition.

CONTACTS: Lesley Gill 615-322-2851,
Ken Crowley 202-423-3402,
COST: Full Delegation Cost $1,225

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hostage rescue is good news, but no excuse for impunity

Four FARC hostages were released over the weekend. While I rejoice for them and their families, I can't help feeling cynical about the timing of the release.

The rescue, code-named "Chameleon", occurred exactly two weeks before the country elects a new president. The front runner in the June 20th runoff, Juan Manuel Santos, is outgoing-president Uribe's heir apparent and served for several years as Uribe's Defense Minister, including presiding over another cinematic rescue, Operation Check, in 2008. He also presided, however, over the "false positives" scandal in which young men were captured from poor urban neighborhoods, taken to the countryside, killed, dressed up as guerrillas and claimed as combat kills. Could this latest rescue have been timed to divert attention from that macabre practice condoned under Santos' watch (and the wire-tapping scandal I wrote about recently) and generate support for his style of leadership?

This style of leadership certainly seems, after all, to seek out impunity for the military. Last week ex-Colonel Luis Alonso Plazas Vega was sentenced to thirty years in prison for his role in the disappearance of eleven people in the violent re-capture of the Justice Palace in 1985 from the now-defunct M-19 guerilla group. Now Uribe, Santos and the military leadership have been circling the wagons around Plazas Vega, claiming his sentence horrible affront to the military. Uribe made a public announcement after the sentencing claiming that the sentence "generates profound pain and disincentive among the members of the Armed Forces, responsible for protecting Colombians." The judge who handed down the sentence has since received death threats. So much for separation of judicial and executive powers, which Colombia's 1991 Constitution seeks to protect.

I do hope that I don't sound unfeeling or callous about the suffering of the FARC kidnapping victims or their families. That is an ordeal no one should have to endure, and the FARC should definitely be condemned for such a practice. In fact, for a heart-wrenching but insightful look into that experience, check out a recent episode of This American Life about being held hostage. I was on a walk listening to the podcast and nearly starting sobbing on the sidewalk during the section about the families of FARC kidnapping victims.