Quinta-feira, 2 de Setembro de 2010

First stop: Brazil

By Pedro Seabra


The first trip abroad for any newly-elected president usually holds an added symbolism and brings with it an important political message that will probably mark a country's foreign agenda for the duration of an entire term. With such a distinction, one intends to make a statement that will surely produce ramifications at any diplomatic level, with particular resonance in the surrounding region.

What, then, can be said about Colombian President Juan Manuel dos Santos' first official trip to Brazil? First and foremost, it shouldn't exactly come as a surprise. True, the past years have shown a preference by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva for Colombia's old foe, Hugo Chávez. But in reality, the former has always refrained from publicly supporting the Venezuelan President in the endless row of public spats with former President Álvaro Uribe, in the name of local stability. This attitude inevitably led to a middle-ground positioning which gave Brazil enough political clout to end up being courted by both parties. Therefore, Santos's choice has to be primarily understood as an official recognition of such a coveted status.

Secondly, security needs and trade relations easily trump any ideological differences or opposing regional views. Indeed, the porous borders of the Amazon jungle – ideal for FARC's operations – are a problem shared by both countries, and the 90% increase in trade between Brazil and Colombia in the first quarters of 2010 alone is enough to foresee an extremely favourable business environment. In that order, the benefits of close cooperation between the two countries are increasingly visible and bilateral relations are likely to continue to be deepened.

However, at the end of the day, the magnitude of this visit surpasses Colombia, for in that part of the world no one can ignore the facts: bluntly put, Brasília is now considered a full member of the restricted elite of unavoidable and mandatory political stops.


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publicado por IPRIS às 15:21
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Segunda-feira, 2 de Agosto de 2010

FARC's move

By Pedro Seabra


With Hugo Chávez’s rants on a roll, a border on high-alert and regional endeavours to bring all parties to the table, it was only a matter of time until Colombia’s own long-time guerrillas FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) had a word to say in all of this. They have done so, with a curious video message from top leader Alfonso Cano, apparently opening up the door to a political and peaceful way-out of the local enduring conflict – while at the same time, recurring to the usual string of accusations regarding Uribe’s government.

As in any conflict, time is of the essence, and in this case, FARC could not have chosen a better opportunity to make its move. Indeed, it comes at a time when Chávez is trying to amass regional support for comprehensive talks with the insurgents, while at the same time deflecting Colombian accusations of hosting its presence in Venezuelan territory.

Since Álvaro Uribe took office, his “democratic security policy” – with the unavoidable help of the $4.7 billion U.S. backed Plan Colombia – led to a robust surge that has essentially increased the presence of the security forces throughout the country and drove back the FARC to the Colombian jungle. Although still a credible threat, FARC’s grip is currently far form what it used to be.

Calls for a constructive engagement by newly elected-President Juan Manuel Santos will likely increase in the coming weeks, as hopes for a definitive ending to this internal strife – of significant importance to the surrounding region – will inevitably grow. But he would be wise to remain sceptic as such apparent openness only arose after military cornering and politically discrediting the narco-terrorist group. Indeed, FARC’s options are currently limited and taking advantage of the recent Chávez-Uribe rife allows for the perfect opportunity to politically present itself as a worthy negotiating actor. However, FARC’s track record has already proved such dilatory tactics wrong in numerous occasions and this time is not likely to be any different.


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publicado por IPRIS às 02:42
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Sábado, 24 de Julho de 2010

Warming up a freezing South America

By Pedro Seabra


Venezuela has cut ties with Colombia ... again. The reason? Colombia finally presented to the OEA evidence that allegedly showed 1,500 FARC elements, hiding in the Venezuelan jungle, under the harmless auspices of the Chávez government. Significant as it may be, this apparently extreme political measure – usually a sign of an impeding deeper crisis – has long lost its desired effect, especially in this particular region.

Indeed, from Colombian incursions on Ecuadorian soil to U.S. military bases agreements, inflamed call to arms and personal animosities, both countries have pretty much exhausted the “crisis rhetoric textbook” to its last breath, during the past two years. Elevated tensions have therefore always been a constant in the bilateral daily life.

As Michael Shifter points out, “this is vintage Chávez, and vintage Uribe, playing out their last act together”. No one really believes this latest episode could result in an open conflict. Although Chávez could definitely use the boost in social support, both countries now understand that they have much to lose if they choose to go down that road. The $7 billion slashed trade that resulted from the previous “severe crisis” will surely be taken into consideration.

Ultimately, this latest spat will fall on Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos – who will only take office on August 7 – to resolve. However, hopes that he will take on a more conciliatory tone towards its frequently-enraged neighbour are bound to be dashed by a good dose of realism. Chávez’s grip is fuelled by crises and unfortunately, Colombia is just over the border.


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publicado por IPRIS às 12:10
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