Archive for the ‘Venezuela’ Category

The US-Colombian Alliance

December 9, 2009

Colombian-Venezuelan relations are severely strained.  Venezuela is opposed to the Colombian alliance with the US, including the military cooperation agreement signed in October.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a vocal critic of American foreign policy, recently dispatched 15,000 troops to the Colombian border as a show of strength.

In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, the confict over the stationing of US forces in Colombia was discussed by Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela’s ambassador to the US, and Carolina Barco, Colombia’s ambassador in Washington.  Not suprisingly, Mr. Herrera argues that the US presence in the region is destabilizing and Ms. Barco says that is beneficial.

The Venezuelans claim that US assistance to Colombia will cause Colombia’s internal conflicts, such as the government campaign against the FARC, an insurgent group involved in the drug trade, to spill over into neighboring countries.  Venezuelan officials point to the Colombian air force’s bombing of rebel bases inside Ecuador earlier this year as evidence of this.  But it is very hypocritical of Venezuela to make that argument considering the government of Hugo Chavez has provided assistance to the FARC, including weapons, and given the group safe haven.  As for the attack inside Ecuador, the Colombian military would likely have bombed insurgents there regardless of its relationship with the US.

Although Ms. Barco cites statistics that joint interdiction efforts have put a major dent in the international drug trade, it is uncertain if they have actually impacted drug usage in the US and other places.  However, American counterinsurgency/counterterrorism assistance, which includes money, training, equipment and intelligence support, has certainly helped the Colombian government reduce the level of violence in the country compared to the 1990s when drug lords wreaked tremendous havoc and seriously threatened the political establishment in Bogota (Mark Bowden’s book “Killing Pablo” provides an interesting account of the situation in Colombia when drug kingpins like Pablo Escabor were at the height of their power).

It is understandable why many in Latin America are wary of US involvement in the region given America’s history of imperialistic behavior in that part of the world.  It is also obvious why Latin American politicians use anti-American rhetoric to drum up popular support.  But US involvement in Colombia has been beneficial overall, even though elements of the counternarcotics strategy might have been counterproductive.  America should continue to support the efforts of Colombian officials to secure their nation because doing so serves US and Colombian interests and has a positive humanitarian effect.

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Fight Breaks Out in South Korean Parliament

July 22, 2009

Earlier today, a fight broke out in South Korea’s parliament over a media reform bill that would loosen restrictions on ownership of television networks.  Opposition parties attempted to block legislators from the ruling National Party from entering the assembly room by stacking furniture near the entrance to the chamber.  National Party members managed to overcome the obstacles and enter the room, where they successfully passed the bills and precipitated a melee.  Injuries were reported and one woman was taken to the hospital.

This is not the first time that legislative contoversy has resulted in violence among South Korean parliamentarians.  Last year, opposition party members pounded their way into a committee room with sledgehammers in an effort to prevent the ruling party from drafting a bill to ratify a free trade agreement with the US.

Major confrontation is much more prevalent in legislative assemblies in many foreign countries than it is in the American Congress.  Multiple fights have occured in South Korea.  Earlier this year, there was a physical clash between lawmakers in Malaysia.  Scuffles also broke out in Japan and India last year.  In 2007, Turkish lawmakers got in a fistfight, and a Ukrainian politician was attacked by a member of a rival party after complaining about the vote for prime minister.  In 2006, a fight broke out in the Afghan legislature and violence occured in the Iraqi parliament over a politician’s ringtone on her cell phone.  In 2003,  Venezuelan assemblymen came to blows.  These are just a few examples of literal legislative fights.

There have been no serious physical altercations in the US Congress since the 19th century.  The most infamous one occured in the 1850s, when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane over the issue of slavery and almost killed him.

Dealing with the Crisis in Honduras

July 10, 2009

The ongoing political crisis in Honduras, which began after President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by members of the Honduran military at the behest of Congress and deported from the country, will likely soon force the hand of the Obama administration to decide whether to apply diplomatic and economic sanctions against Honduras.  The Organization of American States has already suspended Honduras from that body, and the UN has condemned what many consider a coup against Zelaya.  President Obama has called for the interim government to allow Zelaya to return and negotiate a solution to the problem, but the US has yet to withdraw its ambassador from Tegucigalpa or impose economic sanctions.  Venezuela has stopped oil shipments to Honduras, which had been supplied at a discounted price, and called for military action to restore Zelaya.  Although the Obama administration would not condone military attacks, sanctions might eventually be applied.  But the US hopes that the crisis will be resolved before the issue is brought to a head.

It is unclear if sanctions imposed by America would compel the interim government to reach an agreement with Zelaya.  The US military has already temporarily suspended cooperation with the Honduran military and Washington has exerted some diplomatic pressure, but thus far that has proved unsuccessful.  If Honduras were isolated diplomatically and economically the new government might back down, especially if street protests get worse and social instability increases significantly.  But the situation is complicated by the history of unwelcome US intervention in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, and the Obama administration would undoubtedly prefer the conflict be resolved quickly by the Hondurans without too much American meddling lest the US be perceived as acting imperialistic.

I am not sure what the Obama administration should do if the crisis goes on much longer.  I welcome readers’ comments.

Military Coup in Honduras

June 29, 2009

The name of this blog was derived from a Warren Zevon song called “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, which contains the following verse:

Now I’m hiding in Honduras/I’m a desperate man/Send lawyers, guns and money/The shit has hit the fan!

So it would be very apropo for me to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Honduras.

On Sunday morning, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by military personnel and then forcibly taken to an airbase while still in his pajamas.  From there, a waiting plane took him to Costa Rica where he is still in exile.  The Honduran Congress announced that it received and accepted a letter of resignation from Zelaya, but the ousted president claims he never wrote or signed such a document.  Roberto Michetti, who was serving as the president of the National Congress, has taken over Zelaya’s position.

Prior to the coup, Zelaya had alienated conservative segments of Honduran society with his leftist policies at home and abroad.  He also angered powerful people when he recently called for a national referendum to alter the constitution and get rid of presidential term limits, an act which the Supreme Court said was illegal.  When Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the head of the armed forces, refused to help organize the referendum Zelaya fired him, but Velasquez was reinstated after the Supreme Court and the Congress declared his ouster unlawful.  The military is politically influential in many Latin American countries, and the Honduran military may have come to see Zelaya as a political threat and decided he needed to be removed from office.

The Obama administration joined the international community in condemning the coup and refusing to recognize the new government.  Nevertheless, some have suggested that the US secretly supported the removal of Zelaya, who has allied with leftist regimes hostile to the US (such as Cuba and Venezuela) and critized some American policies.  The US has military ties with Honduras as it does with many Latin American countries, a fact which conspiracy theorists point to as evidence of US involvement or acquiesence in the putsch. 

Given the history of US involvement in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, it is understandable why some are automatically suspicious whenever a leftist government is overthrown in the region.  However, it is difficult to see why the Obama administration would risk its international standing at this moment in history merely to effect regime change in Honduras, a country with almost no strategic or ideological significance.  It would be much more plausible to blame an attempted coup in Venezuela, an oil rich nation with a vehemently anti-American president who is believed to be supporting communist insurgents in Colombia, on the US (there was a failed coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002 and Washington was accused of being involved).  Like most conspiracy theories, the one about Ameircan involvement in this latest coup is not very credible.