Politics and Democracy

The U.S. and Colombian Role in the Honduran Crisis

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy, US Foreign Policy
By · October 27, 2009 · Comment

Many analysts and sectors of the mainstream media have suggested that the apparent ineffectiveness of the U.S. government to resolve the crisis in Honduras is evidence that the influence wielded by the region’s superpower is waning. They argue that the assertiveness of Brazil in its efforts to have Honduras’ coup regime step down and re-instate the country’s democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya illustrates how the balance of power in the region has shifted. But such conclusions might well be premature. After all, given the stubbornness of the coup regime headed by Roberto Micheletti, it could be argued that it is the United States, and by extension its ally Colombia, that are getting their way in Honduras and not Brazil and its leftist allies Venezuela and Bolivia. Read more»

Africa in Colombia: The First Free Black Community in the Americas Continues its Struggle

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy, Race and Gender
By · August 31, 2009 · Comment

Four hundred years ago, Afro-Colombians living along Colombia’s Caribbean coast would cry when a child was born because the youth was destined to suffer a life of slavery under Spanish colonial rule. And when an Afro-Colombian died, people would engage in a nine-day and nine-night wake to celebrate the deceased’s return to Africa. Back then it appeared that death was the only path to liberation. But today, parents in the remote village of San Basilio de Palenque no longer cry when their children are born thanks to the bravery and resilience of their ancestors, who successfully gained freedom from the Spanish crown in 1603. The contemporary residents of San Basilio de Palenque—simply called Palenque by locals—claim to live in the first free black community in the Americas and earlier this year they sent a letter to Barack Obama inviting the first black president of the United States to visit their village. “We are inviting Barak Obama and we hope he will visit us,” explains community leader Enrique Marquéz. “We are not going to ask him for anything. We only want him, and all the blacks and all the people of the world, to learn about Palenque.” Read more»

Interview with a Colombian Political Prisoner

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy, Race and Gender
By · July 13, 2009 · Comment

On August 8, 2008, Colombia’s National Police arrested Liliany Obando and charged her with the crime of rebellion and providing funding to a terrorist group. Ten months later, Obando had yet to have her day in court and remained a prisoner in Bogotá’s Buen Pastor Prison. Her work for the international relations commission of FENSUAGRO (The National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions) included speaking and fundraising trips to Canada, Europe and Australia during which she openly and repeatedly criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record. Obando was the first person arrested as part of the so-called FARC-politica scandal that resulted from alleged evidence found on the laptop computer of FARC Commander Raúl Reyes, who was killed by the Colombian military in March 2008. I recently interviewed Obando in her prison cell. Read more»

20 Questions: An Interview with Garry Leech

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights, Politics and Democracy
By · May 15, 2009 · Comment

As a connoisseur of Colombia, Garry Leech has released a new book about his journalistic adventures titled Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia.

1. Describe your first encounter with a place called Colombia.

I first visited Colombia in 1989 and spent my first night in the country in Medellín.  A Colombian from Bogotá who was staying at the same hotel insisted on taking me out for an amazing night on the town and paying for everything because, as he kept telling me, “You are a guest in my country.” I quickly came to realize that his warmth, generosity and hospitality are not uncommon among Colombians. Read more»

Anatomy of an Investigation: The Colombian State’s War Against Civil Society

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy
By · January 26, 2009 · Comment

Aidee Moreno Ibagué recently learned that the Colombian government is investigating her for the crime of rebellion. But Moreno Ibagué has not taken up arms against the state. She does not plant bombs in Colombia’s cities. Nor does she carry an AK-47 assault rifle in the jungles of rural Colombia where leftist guerrillas have been fighting to overthrow the government for more than four decades. She is a lawyer who lives in the capital Bogotá. More specifically, she is a human rights lawyer for the country’s largest peasant union federation Fensuagro (The National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions). She is also an outspoken critic of the government’s security and economic policies and the dirty war it is waging against those who struggle for social justice. According to Moreno Ibagué, it is her work and her political views that have made her a target of the state. “I will not be silent when there are so many atrocities,” she declares emphatically. “They have not been able to assassinate me, so now they want to put me in prison.” Read more»

U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela and Colombia Will Change Little Under Obama

Category: Economics and Globalization, Politics and Democracy, US Foreign Policy
By · January 23, 2009 · Comment

Recent comments by President-elect Barack Obama, Secretary of State appointee Hilary Clinton and leading congressional Democrats suggest that the incoming U.S. administration will not significantly differ from the Bush administration in its approach towards Venezuela and Colombia. In an interview with the U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision, Obama fired an unprovoked opening salvo across the bow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez that will likely ensure a continuation of the verbal sparring that has marked relations between the Bush administration and the Venezuelan government. Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton echoed her future boss’s view of Chávez in her confirmation hearings. Meanwhile, the new House majority leader, Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, lauded the achievements of Colombia’s President Uribe and, along with leading Democrat Charles Rangel, endorsed the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Read more»

Two Colombia’s in 2008: Which One Will Be Remembered?

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights, Politics and Democracy
By · January 19, 2009 · Comment

olombians could be forgiven for waking up in the year 2009 with a slightly larger hangover than the guayabo usually associated with drinking too much aguardiente during the festive season. The country now faces the challenge of moving on from arguably the most momentous year in its modern history. While 2008 brought with it the euphoria of the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the process of national mutual backslapping that accompanied periodic confrontations with Colombia’s leftist neighbors, it also revealed previously ignored cancers of Colombia’s politics and society: primarily the scandalous massacre of innocent youths to present them as “enemy” casualties, and the country’s time bomb of pyramid schemes and money laundering activities. The year 2008, therefore, revealed two Colombia’s: one being the swaggering and reveling in the government’s achievements against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the country’s role as the continent’s bastion of free market capitalism; the other dark and shady, highlighted by the “false positives” scandal and the pyramid scheme crisis. Read more»