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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Week in Review

This week, the world's most wanted drug trafficker was captured in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation, U.S. Southern Command said it didn't have enough money to interdict the majority of drugs at sea, robots started patrolling drug tunnels at the border and Venezuela announced a new ambassador to the United States. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday the State Department released its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013” The Colombian government was particularly upset by the report, which cited impunity and inefficiency in the justice system as principle human rights infractions in the country. Vice President Angelino Garzón responded by saying the report was an “intrusion” into Colombia’s internal politics and that the United States had no place to preach about human rights given its maintenance of the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

    Some other topics touched on in the report include Mexico’s negligence in accounting for thousands of “disappeared” citizens, extrajudicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, and rampant corruption in government institutions and security forces in Honduras and Guatemala. For Politico, Dana Frank examined the United States’ continued to security relationship with Honduras despite these abuses and current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s own shady past.

  • The heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) gave their posture statements at a hearing before the House’s Armed Services Committee. Northcom commander General Jacoby underscored that the U.S.-Mexico security relationship remains closer than ever despite recent grumblings suggesting a distancing, pointing to the recent capture of Mexican drug trafficker “El Chapo” Guzmán in a joint military operation as evidence. General Jacoby’s posture statement can be read here (PDF).
  • Among several other topics, Southcom commander General Kelly discussed the effect of budget cuts, claiming he now watches 74 percent of cocaine passing through Honduras’ maritime corridor go by due to insufficient vessels and equipment. He touched on human rights vetting and noted his ever-growing concern over shifts in the drug trade towards the Caribbean. The video can be watched here and General Kelly’s posture statement can be read here(PDF).
  • The Associated Press reported on budget cuts to the Coast Guard, despite an increase in maritime trafficking routes. The article noted, “While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.” InSight Crime argued this indicates a politicization in funding for the drug war. An example of this increased border funding can be seen in the recent deployment of remote control robots to patrol tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In another hearing this week, “The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” Colombia was heralded as a military and human rights success story, particularly given that it is now training other countries’ security forces.
  • Colombia's military will soon send "senior officials from the Army specialized in education, training and protocols” to help train national police officers in Guatemala, reported U.S.-Southern Command-sponsored news site InfoSur Hoy.
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón was in Washington D.C. this week for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, including “High-Level Partnership DialogueSemana published part of a leaked copy of his agenda, noting that he would ask for continued U.S. support in programs like aerial fumigation and other counternarcotics operations.

    While in town Pinzón gave a talk at Center for American Progress where he “laid out an extremely expansive vision of the role of the armed forces post-peace accord, ranging from border security to confronting drug trafficking, transnational crime and continued armed violence in an accord’s aftermath; and from addressing climate change to expanding the military’s role in development,” according to Lisa Haugaard, director of Latin America Working Group. He also strongly emphasized increasing Colombia’s role in security training particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, some of which is done with U.S.-funding. See here for concerns about Colombia’s exportation of training.

  • There were two informative English-language explainers this week about the amassing corruption scandals rocking the Colombian military, one from Reuters and the other from the Latin American Working Group. The latter noted that the Army's new commander, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, oversaw a unit implicated in the false positive scandal.
  • Brazil and the European Union approved an undersea communication cable with the stated purpose of reducing dependency on U.S. fiber optic cables and to “guarantee the neutrality of the internet,” protecting Brazil Internet users from U.S. surveillance.
  • An article in Foreign Policy questioned the Pentagon’s support for Suriname’s government, given President Desi Bouterse has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands and is accused of maintaining links to traffickers currently. His son, Dino Bouterse, was arrested by the DEA and extradited to the United States after he stuck a deal with “Mexican smugglers” (undercover DEA agents) to allow “Hezbollah militants” to train in Suriname. See Just the Facts’ Suriname country page for more information on security assistance to the country.
  • The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it had given three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to exit the country in response to last week’s expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Venezuela. That same day, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he would be appointing an ambassador the United States. Though Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 they have maintained embassies. See here for more detailed information on Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, the new Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.
  • As the protests continue to rage throughout Venezuela, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution “asking the administration to study and consider putting in place strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S.”
  • The Congressional Research Service published a new report: “Gangs in Central America.”
  • “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, was captured this weekend in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation. While Guzmán’s capture was a huge win for the Mexican and United States governments, the general consensus is that it will have little impact on the drug trade while another leader in the Sinaloa cartel will step up to fill his role. Several analysts weighed in on what comes next for narcotrafficking in Mexico -- particularly InSight Crime, which posted a series of good analysis on what his capture means. See our Mexico news page for links to these articles.

    According to reports, the United States’ main contribution was providing intelligence and technology leading up to the capture, while the Mexican Navy, the United States’ main security partner in Mexico, carried out the final capture. Although several indictments have been filed in cities throughout the United States, it is unlikely that Guzmán will get extradited any time soon as lawmakers want him to first face justice in Mexico. President Peña Nieto said he extradition would be possible later. On Thursday the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kingpin Act sanctions against the financial networks of several of Guzmán’s associates. Prensa Libre published a timeline of OFAC sanctions on the Sinaloa Cartel from 2007-2014.

  • Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Latin America Security by the Numbers

  • Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
  • The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
  • El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
  • Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
  • On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
  • So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
  • Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
  • The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
  • Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
  • The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
  • Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    In Colombia, disagreement on Venezuela

    ELN guerrilla leaders pose in an area near the Venezuelan border, in a photo from a captured guerrilla computer revealed last week.

    Colombia’s armed-forces chief and defense minister contradicted each other yesterday on the question of FARC guerrilla activity in Venezuela.

    Admiral Édgar Cely, head of Colombia’s armed forces, told Colombia’s Caracol radio:

    “The truth is that what was shown at the end of the government of President Uribe holds.”

    The Admiral referred to former President Álvaro Uribe’s government’s denunciations of Venezuela before the OAS [PDF] in July 2010, made just before Uribe left office. The outgoing president accused Venezuela’s government of harboring FARC leaders and guerrilla encampments in its territory.

    Since taking office a year ago, Uribe’s successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, has sought to patch things up with Venezuela. Hugo Chávez’s government has extradited, or may soon extradite, some mid-ranking guerrillas to Colombia, and President Santos has said that the FARC rebel camps in Venezuela no longer exist.

    Admiral Cely clearly disagrees. He was quickly contradicted, though, by Colombia’s civilian defense minister, Rodrigo Rivera. According to Rivera, who before taking his current job was an ardent Uribe supporter and critic of Venezuela:

    “The relationship with Venezuela has changed substantially and positively during the past year with regard to security and cooperation to confront all transnational crime phenomena at the border. … We have received repeated public and private expressions from the highest levels of the Venezuelan government, in the sense that they don’t tolerate the presence of criminals from Colombia in their territory.”

    Possible new revelations of guerrilla presence in Venezuela, like the ELN photos released by Colombia’s police last week, are the greatest threat to President Santos’s attempted rapprochement with Caracas. The Santos government is thus determined to downplay concerns about guerrilla activity on the Venezuelan side of the border. Admiral Cely apparently didn’t get that memo.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Podcast and more: Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas

    Greetings from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the Ninth bi-annual Conference of Ministers of Defense of the Americas has just ended. It was four days of discussions and meetings between defense delegations from every country in the region except Cuba and Honduras, the two countries currently suspended from the Organization of American States.

    The main issues discussed were

    • Ways to increase transparency over defense expenditures in a region where defense budgets and arms purchases have been growing; and
    • Ways to improve coordination in the responses to natural disasters.

    Ministers could not agree on proposals to establish new mechanisms for either transparency or disaster response. However, the final declaration praises efforts that member countries have taken in both areas, and commits the members to study how to make both work better.

    A common theme in many of the discussions was the military’s involvement in internal roles like crimefighting, counter-drugs, and development projects. Some countries, especially in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay), came out in favor of a strict division between external defense and internal security, with the military restricted to the former. Others, especially in the Andes and Central America, both left and right, favored giving the military large internal roles and duties.

    • Adam Isacson from WOLA offers a few observations in a podcast.


    • Here is the final document from the conference (PDF), issued this afternoon in English (crudely “scanned” with a digital camera; a true digital version isn’t yet available).

    • Here is the document published by eight non-governmental and academic organizations from the region who attended the summit as observers (PDF in English and Spanish).

    • Here is the text of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' speech at the conference.

    • Here are a few pictures from the event, taken with Adam's point-and-shoot camera.

    Defense ministers of the Americas line up for a photo
    Defense ministers of the Americas line up for a photo

    Bolivian President Evo Morales
    Bolivian President Evo Morales

    Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera; U.S. Southern Command Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton, Ecuadorian Defense Minister Javier Ponce, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
    Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera; U.S. Southern Command Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton, Ecuadorian Defense Minister Javier Ponce, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

    Costa Rican Vice-Minister of Security Mario Zamora, Chilean Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobin
    Costa Rican Vice-Minister of Security Mario Zamora, Chilean Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobin

    Defense Minister of Argentina Nilda Garré
    Defense Minister of Argentina Nilda Garré

    Defense Minister of Brazil Nelson Jobin
    Defense Minister of Brazil Nelson Jobin

    Defense Minister of Colombia Rodrigo Rivera
    Defense Minister of Colombia Rodrigo Rivera

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs Frank Mora
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs Frank Mora

    WOLA's George Withers and Adam Isacson at the IX CDMA in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
    WOLA's George Withers and Adam Isacson at the IX CDMA in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    New U.S. Ambassadors to Latin America

    This month, three new U.S. ambassadors to Latin American countries were confirmed. On August 5th, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Rose Likins to be Ambassador to Peru and Peter Michael McKinley to be Ambassador to Colombia. On August 19th, President Obama announced four recess appointments to key administrations posts, including Maria del Carmen Aponte, Obama's nominee to be Ambassador to El Salvador. Aponte's confirmation had been on hold for almost one year after Republican Senators Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and Jim Risch (Idaho) blocked her nomination because of a past relationship with a Cuban-American who allegedly had contact with the interests section in Washington, according to the Los Angeles Times. "At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent," President Obama said upon announcing the recess appointments. "Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people."

    Larry Palmer, nominated by President Obama to be Ambassador to Venezuela, however, must wait to be confirmed until after the U.S. Senate returns from recess on September 7th. Even if the Senate confirms his appointment, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez may not allow him in the country. On August 8th, President Chávez said it was "impossible" to endorse Palmer, due to his responses to a questionnaire from the Committee on Foreign Relations in which Palmer claimed that the FARC maintain camps in Venezuela and that he is concerned about "Cuba's influence within the Venezuelan military."

    The United States does not plan to withdraw Palmer's nomination. "We believe that Larry Palmer, if confirmed by the Senate, will in fact be an effective ambassador and an effective interlocutor between our government and Venezuela," said U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley at the press briefing yesterday. He also noted that Venezuela had not withdrawn their prior agreement to accept his nomination.

    Below are brief biographies of the four ambassadors recently confirmed, or awaiting confirmation, to take up posts in Latin America.

    Michael McKinley - Colombia

    On August 5th, the U.S. Senate confirmed career Foreign Service Officer Michael McKinley to serve as Ambassador to Colombia. McKinley served as Ambassador to Peru from 2007 to 2010.

    McKinley joined the Foreign Service in 1982 and has held various international posts throughout his career. According to his biography on the State Department website, Ambassador McKinley

    served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels between 2004 and 2007. From 2001-2004, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Between 1994 and 2001, Ambassador McKinley was Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d'Affaires at U.S. Embassies in Mozambique, Uganda, and Belgium. Earlier assignments include U.S. Embassy London (1990-94), three tours in Washington (1985-90), and Bolivia (1983-85).

    Ambassador McKinley was born in Venezuela and grew up in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. He did his undergraduate and graduate studies in the United Kingdom, and has a doctorate from Oxford University.

    McKinley is considered to be an expert on Venezuela. His history of colonial Venezuela was published by Cambridge University Press as part of its Latin America series, and has also appeared in a Spanish edition.

    Rose Likins - Peru

    Rose Likins' appointment to take Michael McKinley's place as U.S. Ambassador to Peru was also confirmed by the Senate on August 5th. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Likins was deputy director of the Foreign Service Institute prior to taking over McKinley's post. According to the White House press release announcing her nomination, Ambassador Likins

    was previously Dean of the Foreign Service Institute's School of Professional and Area Studies. She also served as the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. Washington assignments include Honduras Desk Officer, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State, Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, Director of the Department's Operations Center, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs. Overseas posts include Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico, Chief of the political section at the U.S. Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. She received a BA in Spanish and International Affairs from Mary Washington College.

    As Ambassador to El Salvador under the George W. Bush administration, Likins was said to have interfered in the 2004 presidential elections in El Salvador by stating that the U.S. would "re-analyze" relations with the country if the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), who during El Salvador's 12 year civil war fought against the U.S. backed government, won the presidency.

    Maria del Carmen Aponte - El Salvador

    Maria del Carmen Aponte was nominated by President Obama to be Ambassador to El Salvador in late 2009. Aponte is an attorney, former board member of the National Council of La Raza and former president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. As noted above, her confirmation was put on hold in late December, by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and other Republicans, over her past relationship with a Cuban-American with an alleged link to the Cuban interests section. Last week, President Obama used a congressional recess appointment to bypass the Senate confirmation process and ended the eight-month long hold on Aponte.

    Here is the White House's official bio for Maria del Carmen Aponte:

    Maria del Carmen Aponte is currently an attorney and independent consultant with Aponte Consulting and serves on the Board of Directors of Oriental Financial Group. From 2001-2004, Ms. Aponte was the Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA). Prior to that, she practiced law for nearly twenty years with Washington D.C. based law firms. Ms. Aponte also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council of La Raza, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the University of the District of Columbia. She is also a member of the Board of Rosemont College. She served as president of the Hispanic National Bar Association; the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia; and as a member of the District of Columbia Judicial Nominations Commission. In 1979, as a White House Fellow, Ms. Aponte was Special Assistant to United States Housing and Urban Development Secretary Moon Landrieu. Ms. Aponte has a B.A. in Political Science from Rosemont College, an M.A. in Theatre from Villanova University, and a J.D. from Temple University.

    Larry Palmer - Venezuela

    Larry Palmer, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, is awaiting confirmation from the Senate to be Ambassador to Venezuela. As described above, his recent remarks on Venezuela angered Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who said on television that "he can't come here, he has disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy, by prejudging all of us, even our armed forces." The United States government, however, does not plan to choose a new nominee for the post, stating that Palmer "is still the best candidate for the job."

    According to the White House, Palmer

    is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He is currently serving as President and CEO of the Inter-American Foundation. Prior to that he served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Honduras and as Charge D'Affaires in Quito, Ecuador. He also served as President of the 41st Senior Seminar and as Assistant to the President of the University of Texas at El Paso. Overseas posts include the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay, Korea, and Sierra Leone. Born in Augusta, Georgia, Palmer received a B.A from Emory University, an M.Ed. from Texas Southern University and a Doctorate (Ed.D) in Higher Education Administration and African Studies from Indiana University, Bloomington. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Palmer served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Politics behind Argentina's diplomacy

    In a provocative article published yesterday in the Argentine newspaper La Nación, Carlos Pagni analyzes political and power interests behind diplomatic relations in South America. The article highlights the “new” role Argentina is playing in the Western Hemisphere’s political scene.

    Argentina has been criticized, since Nestor Kirchner’s administration and continuing through Cristina Kirchner’s government as well, for not having a coherent foreign policy. However, events from the past week provide evidence of the contrary. The role played by Nestor Kirchner as UNASUR’s Secretary General during the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela and last week’s joint press conference by Secretary Clinton and Argentina’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Hector Timerman, reveal that Argentina is playing a more active role in hemispheric politics. Drawing on these two episodes, the Argentine journalist reveals a network of relationships and motives underlying the mere fact of Argentina’s desire to have a more predominant role.

    Argentina, Brazil, U.S. and Iran

    The meeting between Clinton and Timerman and the subsequent press conference have deeper political implications than just strengthening ties between the United States and Argentina.

    The origins of the Clinton-Timerman meeting go back to the Global Nuclear Summit in Washington, in May of 2010. Back then, Timerman, then Argentine Ambassador to the United States, was negotiating to get a photo opportunity for President Cristina Kirchner with President Obama.

    General James Jones, Obama’s national security advisor, explained to Timerman the importance to the United States of restricting Iran’s illicit enrichment of uranium. Argentina’s support against Iran was not difficult to obtain. Argentina holds an international dispute with Iran over a 1994 terrorist attack against a Jewish Society building in Buenos Aires. In 2007, the Argentine government issued a request for the arrest of a group of Iranians, among which was the current defense minister of Iran. Timerman therefore suggested to Jones that it would be good for Obama to mention this to Cristina Kirchner at the Summit. This made Cristina and Obama’s picture finally possible.

    In light of this, Timerman’s recent meeting with Secretary Clinton seems to confirm the tie between these two countries and the Argentine support for U.S. demands against Iran. This goes against Brazil’s posture on the issue, even though Argentina and Brazil are regional allies. However, in retrospect, Argentina’s and Brazil’s history of disputes and competition over regional leadership could indicate that Argentina has something to gain also from aligning with the United States in opposition to Brazil’s softer position toward Iran. In this sense, Argentina could regain some leverage over its ally and also more influence over regional issues.

    The United States knows that Argentina’s support could also work as leverage over Brazil’s relationship with Iran. Brazil’s tie with Iran, sealed this year with the Brazil-Iran-Turkey negotiation agreement, was viewed with skepticism and mistrust by the Obama administration.

    From Brazil’s perspective, its relationship with Iran is part of a bigger plan. Brazil wants to be a global player and a rule maker. To achieve this, Brazil knows that it has to get a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. This has been a longstanding objective of Itamaraty, Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. In addition, Brazil’s traditional stance in foreign policy has been one of neutrality and independence: Brazil will never be to the US either the type of ally that Colombia is or the type of opponent Venezuela currently is. Brazil’s link with Iran has to be viewed in light of this.

    Lula’s political game with Iran puts Brazil at the center of international attention. Lula received Ahmadinejad in Brasilia in November 2009, and in May 2010 Brazil allied with Turkey to propose the suspension of sanctions against Iran in exchange for a nuclear fuel swap deal in Turkish territory. This strategic maneuvering, in which Brazil advocated against sanctions against Iran, placed it in an independent position and in a defiant role against the United States. But it also allowed Brazil to be seen as a mediator trying to bring Iran to improve relations with the western world by suggesting a solution to the problem, something the UN had tried before without success. In addition, Brazil has other motives in supporting Iran’s nuclear program: Brazil has one of the largest uranium deposits in the world and seeks to exploit this resource. In the end, the Security Council issued sanctions against Iran because the Brazil-Turkey-Iran agreement did not include an Iranian commitment to suspend its nuclear program.

    Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela

    Nestor Kirchner’s role in the agreement between President Santos and President Chavez was based on a series of off-the-record negotiations initiated from Buenos Aires to enhance relations, specifically with Colombia. On June 24, Alvaro García Jiménez, Colombia’s Ambassador to Argentina, invited Nestor Kirchner to a lunch with ambassadors from other Latin American countries. It was an intelligent move, according to the Argentine journalist, since it would not make the outgoing government of Uribe uncomfortable about getting together with a close friend of Chavez.

    After Santos’ triumph in the presidential elections, the designation of María Angela Holguín, who until then had been Representative for the Andean Development Corporation in Argentina, was another step forward. The Kirchners sympathized with her, in part due to her friendship to one of Nestor Kirchner’s advisors, Juan Manuel Abal Medina.

    Holguín and García Jiménez convinced Santos to include Buenos Aires in his tour around the region after his election. Santos and Kirchner met on July 26 at the Colombian ambassador’s residency, together with Kirchner’s advisors in UNASUR, Abal Medina y Rafael Follonier. They discussed Uribe’s accusation against Venezuela at the OAS.

    Kirchner understood Uribe’s accusations, as many others did, to be a message sent to incoming President Santos of what future Colombian foreign policy should be. However, Venezuela chose to await Uribe’s exit to ease the tension between Venezuela and Colombia and avoid armed conflict. Carlos Pagni writes that Kirchner had several telephone conversations with Chavez in which he confirmed these concerns. Kirchner later traveled to Caracas and from there to Bogotá, where he met both presidents, during a five day tour. The August 10 Santa Marta meeting between Santos and Chávez, at which Colombia and Venezuela agreed to improve their relationship, followed shortly afterward. As a gesture, Santos named José Fernando Bautista, one of his main advisors during his campaign, as Ambassador to Venezuela. Chavez demanded that the FARC abandon their fight, when only six months before he had asked to grant them belligerent status.

    Friday, July 30, 2010

    Podcast: The Colombia-Venezuela Crisis: the Options and the Timing

    Adam talks about Colombia's charges that Venezuela is helping the FARC guerrillas, the validity of Colombia's appeals to the OAS and UNASUR, and the reasons why Colombia may have brought its complaint now. This podcast was recorded the evening of July 29, while UNASUR foreign ministers were meeting – and ultimately failing - to resolve the crisis.

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


    Friday, July 23, 2010

    New tensions between Colombia and Venezuela

    On July 15, Colombia’s Defense Ministry abruptly held a press conference to denounce that high-ranking leaders of the FARC guerrilla group are present in neighboring Venezuela. This announcement, coming just over three weeks before the end of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s term in office, immediately reversed what had been a slow warming of relations between both countries’ governments.

    Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos had invited Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to attend his inauguration, and Chávez had authorized a meeting between Venezuela’s foreign minister and Santos’ minister-designate. Neither Chávez’s attendance nor the ministerial meeting are now likely.

    Yesterday (July 22), Colombia took its case to the OAS, showing satellite photos and videos indicating a presence of FARC and ELN camps within Venezuelan territory. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez responded by giving Colombian diplomats 72 hours to leave Venezuela.

    If we have to go to war with Colombia, we’d do it in tears, but we’d do it. I hold responsible President Uribe, who is sick with hatred, because he is headed to the dustbin of history, he’s going directly there, as a token of Yankee imperialism. He ended up isolated in this continent, he didn’t defeat the guerrillas or narcotrafficking, and Venezuela is a victim of all that. I hold him responsible for any aggression against Venezuela.

    Added Venezuela’s defense minister, Gen. Carlos Mata Figueroa:

    We hold responsible the Colombian oligarchy and its current government … if these brother nations should stain their history with blood.

    Tensions between the two countries are dangerously high, though they may subside once Uribe leaves office on August 7, say analysts like Colombian newspaper columnist Laura Gil.

    This is above all a breaking of relations with Álvaro Uribe. The political relationship between the two countries is now very deteriorated. The problem for Colombia may come if Chávez concludes that what Uribe did was agreed upon with Santos.

    Added former OAS Ambassador Álvaro Tirado Mejía:

    Santos will find himself, next August 7, in a situation that paradoxically will be very difficult, but he will also find the way clear to say ‘let’s start over.’

    Regarding Santos, Chávez was more conciliatory:

    Let’s hope Santos inundates himself with Latin American spirit and understands that governments of the right and left can live together here. We’re obligated to do that.

    For his part, the Colombian President-Elect refused to comment.

    I think the best contribution we can make is to say nothing. President Uribe is the President of the Republic until August 7. Thank you very much.

    Vice-President-Elect Angelino Garzón also took a softer tone, saying that the next government will seek

    all diplomatic mechanisms to improve and strengthen relations with all countries in the region, including Venezuela. In the end, the message that we have to give, as governments and as peoples, is the message of unity, of friendship, of cooperation and of peace.

    In its lead editorial today El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-circulated daily, warned of the risk of armed confrontation.

    All along this lively border, good relations are not an alternative but an obligation. If it is otherwise, those who would pay the consequences are the hundreds of thousands of people who live on both sides of the dividing line. This is without even mentioning the risks of an armed confrontation, since under the current circumstances, a simple spark could ignite a conflagration. This, then, is the occasion to ask the Colombian armed forces to exercise maximum prudence and to avoid falling into traps and provocations.

    The U.S. government, through State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, has correctly called on both sides to work together to reduce tensions.

    It would be good for the region if those tensions were eased, and it’s a matter of dialogue between Colombia, Venezuela, arrive at a common understanding of how to work cooperatively on the challenges that we face, among them, security challenges. But we certainly support greater interaction, cooperation, dialogue between Colombia and Venezuela to reduce those tensions and increase mutual cooperation.

    In a written communication to Agénce France Presse, however, the State Department also called on Venezuela to respond to Colombia’s allegations of FARC presence.

    Colombia’s allegations need to be taken very seriously. Venezuela has an obligation to Colombia and to the international community to fully investigate this information and move to prevent the use of its sovereign territory by terrorist groups.

    OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza called for the two countries to renew dialogue on their own.

    We succeeded in overcoming serious crises some years ago. I hope they can make it now as well, but the steps should be taken by Venezuela and Colombia, and I expect they can come to terms over the next months.

    But Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, had very strong criticisms for the Secretary-General who, he said, ignored Ecuador’s calls to delay yesterday’s OAS discussion, which ended with a heated exchange that increased tensions.

    I insisted, in the letter sent by the government of Ecuador to OAS Secretary General, I told him that the issue should not be discussed in such a precipitous manner, but let’s change precipitous for irresponsible. This is the result of not paying attention to what is going on in the region. Unfortunately who was called to avoid the severing of diplomatic relations and who was also warned about what could happen was not up to his duty. And that gentleman is OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.

    In the latest development, the secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, announced that he will meet separately with presidents Uribe and Chávez on August 4 and 5.

    The Washington Office on Latin America has posted a statement about the crisis.

    While the U.S. has long been a close ally of the Colombian government, we believe that it is most in the interest of the United States - indeed, of all parties involved - to reduce tensions and resolve this crisis through even-handed diplomacy and communication. Our policy over the next several weeks must place the greatest priority on a peaceful resolution of this crisis, and must take great care not to fan the flames.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    U.S.-Bolivia relations: Valenzuela goes to Bolivia

    Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, where he met with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca. Valenzuela's quick trip sought to start talks about the bilateral framework agreement that could lead to the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

    The United States and Bolivia have not had diplomatic relations since September 2008, when when Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled then-U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg. Morales was angered by Goldberg's meetings with opposition political figures. As we noted on this blog in January, the United States and Bolivia have been working on and off to improve bilateral relations, with the goal of exchanging new ambassadors, since May 2009. Then, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time, Thomas Shannon, traveled to La Paz to begin the dialogue. At various junctures ever since, both sides have appeared optimistic that relations would soon be renewed. Yet the two countries were never able to take the final steps.

    This time, it was Assistant Secretary Valenzuela's turn to travel to Bolivia and work with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca to develop the framework of a bilateral agreement between the two nations. And after the meeting, the two officials announced that an agreement to consolidate a new phase of diplomatic relations between both nations would be signed within the next few weeks.

    During the press conference, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela said, "I am in Bolivia because President Obama wants the relationship between the United States and Bolivia to move toward a new phase of cooperation and mutual respect, where we can work to benefit both of our countries."

    Foreign Minister Choquehuanca said, "We are working, there are not only good intentions, there are also concrete advances with the United States. I am excited to say that we have advanced more than 99 percent toward signing this new framework agreement of mutual respect." After the meeting, Valenzuela also appeared positive about the meeting, posting to Twitter that he "Just had an excellent discussion with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca." (He also linked to the above picture that was posted on Flickr).

    While Valenzuela and Choquehuanca were meeting in La Paz, Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his hope that relations would resume between his country and the United States. "I hope this new framework agreement of diplomatic relations, commerce, and investment can advance (...). We hope that the visit of the representative of the United States government allows for negotiations to resume."

    As reported by La Razon, the new agreement will cover topics such as political dialogue, shared responsibility in the fight against narcotrafficking, international trade agreements and the economic cooperation of the United States. Maybe the third time will be a charm, and the encounter yesterday between Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and Foreign Minister Choquehuanca will actually lead to a signed accord and the reinstatement of ambassadors.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Just the Facts Podcast: The week

    Abigail and Adam discuss the Cancún summit, human rights in Venezuela, reelection in Colombia, and Hillary Clinton's trip to the region next week.

    The "Just the Facts" podcast is available here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.