Winds of Change.NET Regional Briefings run on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays too. This Regional Briefing focuses on Latin America, courtesy of Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons. TOP TOPICS * The Venezuelan Electoral Council rejects the Chavez recall signatures, while Chavez himself continues to unravel and the opposition girds for another recall effort. * JK: Brazilian police have arrested an "important member" of Colombia's biggest guerrilla group (FARC) who was involved in a major drug-trafficking operation in Brazil, as well as an alleged accomplice who may be Canadian. The Brazilians have concluded that FARC is probably trying to revive the Cali Drug Cartel. Today's Topics Include: More Chavez irrationality; 11,000 child soldiers in Colombia; Colombia President Uribe's unwise amnesty; Washington's divided response; OV-10 plane downed near Venezuelan border; British hostage's tale of escape; Lula's Brazil sells out, embraces Cuba; Bolivia cutting of its wallet to spite its neighbour.
Venezuela * JK: Whoa! terrorist connections to the Middle East. Not good. But not surprising, either, given Chavez's known links with Colombia's FARC. (P.S. Thanks for the link, Glenn!) * Chavez demonstrates further Captain Queeg-like traits when he decides to Suspend oil sales to the Dominican Republic, claiming coup plotters are affiliated with a Dominican company. * Chavez also accuses former Venezuelan President Carlos Andre Perez (a notoriously corrupt and discredited politician) of plotting against him and seeks to put an end to pot-banging protests against his rule. Meanwhile, Venezuela becomes an even more divided nation. Colombia * More than 11,000 children are reported to be fighting for armed groups in Colombia, according to a September 18 report by Human Rights Watch. 80% of the children under belong to one of the two left-wing guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or the National Liberation Army (ELN), while the others are being recruited by the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The State Department has put all three groups on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. * JK: An OV-10 Bronco plane being piloted by a Costa Rican working for DynCorp was shot down over northeast Colombia near the Venezuelan border, killing the pilot. Looks like a standard CIA setup to me. Now, the kicker: there are hints that it may have been deliberately attacked by Venezuelan authorities. If true, that's a whole new level of escalation. CNN has a different report. * Colombian President Alvaro Uribe plans to implement an
impunity amnesty program for the right-wing paramilitaries such as the AUC and initially seems to get Washington's approval.
* A week later, however, after the media, the US Congress and human rights NGOs got a hold of the story, the White House is much less sanguine about the plan. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was prepared to offer another caution. "Colombia has a long history of impunity," warning the Bush administration that "the United States should not support a policy of leniency for those who gave orders to commit atrocities." By Wednesday 56 members of the U.S. Congress had sent a letter to Uribe expressing "doubts" about his government's willing to prosecute paramilitary leaders.
* Uribe's plan is a truly bad idea that will reward indicted alleged drug dealers and murderer's and has already led to some allegations of paramilitaries seizing land and businesses in advance of the anticipated impunity amnesty. One can only hope that with enough convincing, he'll give it up.
* JK: Fox has a piece on 3 U.S. military contractors being held hostage by the narco-Marxist FARC guerillas.
* Hostage Taking is very popular in Colombia. British traveler Matthew Scott tells of his 12-day jungle escape from FARC hostage takers. His companions weren't so lucky.
* Brazil's President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva visits Cuba and in advance of his trip when asked by the dissidents in Cuba and those outside Cuba if he will meet with the dissidents, responded that "I don't give opinions about the internal political conditions of other countries." Well, I guess that begs the question of his efforts in the Friends of Venezuela group earlier this year. Let's be candid: his comments are pure weasel words, made all the worse coming from someone who, like the dissidents in Cuba, was once imprisoned for the non-violent expression of his beliefs.
* Here's the real reason for his silence: "Presiding over the signing of $200 million in new business deals in Cuba by private Brazilian enterprises, the Cuban leader put his arm around President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as they talked about future trade between their nations." So despite all the posturing, Lula's just the sort of capitalist after all who will put money above justice.
* Bolivia has the second largest reserves of natural gas in South America, and this desperately poor country could use the revenues from exporting this gas. But the citizens seem squarely against this.
* The understandable reason has to do with several privatization efforts that have been very unsuccessful, including an attempt in Cochabamba to privatize the water supply which led some people to accuse the Bechtel Corp. of trying to buy the rain. The less understandable reason has to do with Bolivia's loss of its seacoast to Chile in the War of the Pacific. The less costly route for the pipeline would take it through Chile. I understand the concerns about privatization, but the Chile issue is self-defeating. One hopes that cooler heads will prevail. Bolivia could really use the money from this.
The next installment of Randinho's Latin America Briefing will be October 28. Meanwhile, regular updates concerning Latin American events can be found at Beautiful Horizons.