Colombia

Betancourt’s tin ear

What is wrong with Ingrid Betancourt? The most charitable explanation is that she is absolutely terrible at public relations. Her first act upon being rescued from six years in FARC captivity last year was to leave her faithful, long-suffering husband. Then she moved to France – her other nationality – and now she’s asking the Colombian government – the government that mounted a hugely complicated, daring operation to rescue her – for US$6.8mn in damages for the kidnapping ordeal.

There are plenty of people who would be within their rights to demand monetary compensation from the Colombian military, but Betancourt? And really, is this the best she’s got?

A smart person and a good politician would have been able to leverage her kidnapping experience into a few speaking engagements, a visiting professorship, several seats on the boards of NGOs, and a profitable book about a humbling journey that made one spiritually stronger, etc.

And then, who knows? Public office? A UN Rapporteurship? A lobbying position?

But when Betancourt stepped off that helicopter and onto the public stage, she spontaneously combusted, and she’s been burning ever since. La Silla Vacia tries to argue that this latest tone-deaf move is part of her history of chasing after money. But as I just noted, there are all sorts of ways Betancourt could have turned her ordeal into money had she been so inclined. Sell the movie rights, for Christ’s sake.

Only someone who feels both completely indifferent to the opinions of average people and totally entitled to special treatment from authority could do something this boneheaded. This isn’t Betancourt the almost-martyr presidential candidate, Colombia’s angel of suffering before FARC brutality and the gaze of all the world.

This is Betancourt the aristocrat, and it makes one think that maybe the gringos were right.

(Original image courtesy Fabio Gismondi, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Also posted in Human Rights, Politics, War on drugs | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Acid-throwers linked to contest opponent

María Fernanda Núñez is a Colombian model who was poised to win the title to represent North Santander in the Miss Colombia competition. Then someone threw acid in her face.

Now the Colombian authorities say they know who did it, and the suspect is linked to another participant in the competition. From Semana:

The suspect is Fabián Sáez Ibáñez, a young man who identified himself with his ID card on June 10 in the chemical store where he bought the bottles of acid. Sáez is the boyfriend of Yesid Ramón Gómez, who is himself the cousin of Carolina Gómez Gómez, one of the eight candidates who were competing against ‘Mafe’ for the title of Miss North Santander and to represent the region in [the Miss Colombia competition] in Cartegena. Carolina Gómez [is] a favorite together with the candidate who was attacked.

Buying acid with your ID card on the day you plan to attack someone with said acid does not strike me as a brilliant move. Anyway, Caracol is reporting that the suspects, whoever they are, have fled, which is a bit smarter.

The Semana article seems to indicate that María Fernanda is recovering well, and she appeared on CNN the other night. Here’s a video of her from 2009. Get well soon.

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Mockus: Smoked


The count is in for the first round of Colombia’s presidential election, and Mockus didn’t do nearly as well as his earlier popularity might have suggested. Incumbent party candidate Manuel Santos smoked him, hauling in 46% of the vote to Mockus’ 21%.

In order to win in a second round on June 20, Mockus will have to capture basically everyone who didn’t vote for either candidate, which is, to say the least, unlikely.

The take-away from the voting is either that electoral opinion polling in Colombia doesn’t work or that about 40% of Colombian voters changed their minds roughly three times over two months. Or that someone was buying votes.

Anyway, the analysts who warned that Mockus’ Green Party does not have the necessary infrastructure to win anything on a national level seem to have been right.

It’s certainly an accomplishment to make it to the second round, but unless something extraordinary happens, I have to think the well-oiled Partido de la U machinery is going to finish Mockus off next month.

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Bringing on the nasty

But he looks so harmless.

Santos, the heir apparent to Uribe’s throne, is now in the fight of his life (that is, the only fight of his life, since he’s never run for public office before). So what does a former minister of defense do when he’s back on defense?

Go on offense, of course.

The Colombian media is reporting that Santos has brought into his campaign a character variously known as Rasputin, a master of “dirty war,” and someone who I’ll go ahead and characterize as the Karl Rove of Latin America.

Juan José “J.J.” Rendón is supposedly a master of the whisper campaign. A Venezuelan who worked for the opposition in 2004 during the recall referendum, he was involved in the latest presidential campaign of Honduras’ Porfirio Lobo, as well as other shenanigans in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. He’s also had business in Colombia, working on behalf of Uribe’s party and helping it take the legislature in 2006.

Apparently he plays dirty. Once he threatened to destroy the career of a rebel Colombian senator by linking him to prostitution. Another time he allegedly smeared a Mexican politician by spreading pamphlets claiming the man was a pederast.

He says he’s won all but two of the 22 campaigns he’s been involved in. From a 2007 Semana article:

Political circles accuse J.J. Rendón of having been behind the defamatory campaigns against former candidates for president Rafael Pardo Rueda (liberal) and Carlos Gaviria (Polo Democrático). He denies the reports and says that he’s always acted within the law. In an interview with María Isabel Rueda he said, “If it’s within the law, then I don’t have any misgivings.”

Spoken like a true sociopath. Really, though, the media reports seem a little overblown, as if we’re supposed to believe that in Latin American politics, you have to bring in an evil wizard from abroad to play dirty. More like an evil wizard you can throw under the bus if the plan backfires.

Anyway, the report in La Silla Vacia cites an unnamed source claiming that Jota Jota has been in Santos’ campaign for awhile now, which might explain the rumors that circulated about Mockus’ Parkinson’s before he admitted publicly to having the condition. I hope he’s watching his back.

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Whales? What Whales?

Humpback whales are big.

Congratulations, Colombia, for selecting the single most inappropriate spot in Latin America for an industrial port capable of handling (low-impact?) Post-Panamax ships.

Malaga Bay, on the country’s Pacific coast, is the most important whale breeding ground in the entire world, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and home to 148 species of fish, 114 species of reptiles, and 400 species of trees.

Never mind that endangered humpback whales, the largest of marine mammals, travel up to 8,000 kilometers (from the Antarctic!) just to give birth here, or that the people who live in the communities along Malaga Bay have fought tooth and nail for almost a decade to protect them and make these waters a park.

But Post-Panamax ships are bigger.

A heartfelt congratulations, too, to the good folks at the Asociación Nacional de Industriales del Valle (ANDI), who apparently did the impossible, convincing the Environment Minister Carlos Costa to hold off on signing the park’s declaratory papers. Back in September, National Park Director Julia Miranda declared “The Minister has decided…it would take a presidential counter-order to stop this from becoming a park.”

We here at Lat/Am Daily checked for the counter order but didn’t find it.

Fortunately for the whales, the Colombians have hired a group of trustworthy Spaniards from the University of Cadiz to do the environmental impact study.

Nice one.

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The Economist on Mockus

The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: “His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor… He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts.” [link]

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Mockus running away with it

This is almost ridiculous. According to the latest polls, Mockus leads Santos 38% to 29%, and in a runoff he would absolutely dominate, with 50% to Santos’ 37%. I think it might be time for Chávez to start squabbling with someone else, and for the rest of us to start wondering what a Mockus presidency would actually look like.

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Santos and Mockus tied

Folks, we have a race. According to the latest poll results, Santos and Mockus are technically tied for first place, polling with 35% and 34% of the vote. Also?

If the second round of the presidential election were between Santos and Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá would win the election with 50%, over the former defense minister’s 44%.

And that’s from El Tiempo, which is owned by Santos’ family. Hot damn.

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Pecados de mi Padre

This looks like a fascinating movie: Pecados de mi Padre – Sins of my Father – purports to be a documentary on the life of Pablo Escobar’s son, Sebastián, but it also appears to have a healthy bit of good clean footage and storytelling about Pablo himself.


However, I have to say that having read Killing Pablo the whole thing seems a little weird. According to my foggy recollection, during Pablo’s final days, 16-year-old Sebastián was Pablo’s communication link to the world and to his troops, such as they were by that point.

And he took to the job pretty heartily.

That would make Sebastián a little more than just the innocent bystander he appears to be portraying himself as. Of course, many of us at 16 would have done something similarly craven if given the chance, but I still wonder if this documentary is an attempt at laundering the past.

Anyway, lots of questions. Hope I can find this somewhere other than HBO.

(Thanks to Anahí for the tip on this one.)

Also posted in Arts and Culture, History, War on drugs | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Untethering

Everyone seems to agree that the economies of Latin America are experiencing a nice little recovery. The IMF, for example, just raised its forecasts for the region and is now projecting 4.1% GDP growth for the region, with 4.2% growth for Mexico and 5.5% for Brazil. Oh boy, numbers.

But here’s something interesting.

In an analysis of the region’s sovereign debt prospects (PDF), Fitch Ratings divides the region’s economies into three “camps.” One camp includes countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, whose recovery will be slower than that of the rest of the world for reasons that should surprise no one (high inflation, weak institutions, poor fiscal discipline, if you must know).

In a second camp are countries like Chile, Peru, and Brazil, whose good fiscal discipline, low political risk, and safe investment environments mean their economies will be growing like weeds this year and next.

Then we have the middle camp, which is basically countries that cast their development lot with the United States: Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador. And here’s the interesting part. Fitch projects this group will see only a moderately-paced recovery specifically because they’re tied to the US.

Meanwhile, Fitch says the Chile/Peru/Brazil group is doing particularly well partly because it does more business with China.

So I ask you: At what other point in recent history has easy access and close ties to the US economy been seen as a disadvantage?

(Original image courtesy H. Langos via Wikimedia Commons.)

Also posted in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Economy, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela | Tagged | Leave a comment
  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]