Pablo Escobar: Robin Hood or Dastard and Crook?

After the Western Hemisphere’s most wanted man, a Drug Lord named ‘Shorty’ Guzman, got nabbed by Mexican Marines this week, different perspectives whirred through the media.

The question is whether or not his capture signals progress in the War on Drugs, or chaos for Mexicans as his drug empire – the Sinaloa Cartel – splinters in the wake of his absence.

A little further south, in Colombia, the question was over Pablo Escobar, the country’s Drug Baron of the 1980s. Was a country post-Pablo Escobar really a better one? Violence continued after his death. And vigilante groups – the same ones that are cropping up across Mexico – were usually the perpetrators.

Pablo Escobar remains a controversial figure in Colombia. Many remember him as a dastard and a crook. But others view him as a Robin Hood or a Savior for the poor more than a criminal.

The AFP reports on how the citizens of Medellín, Escobar’s home city, remember him…

How now (if he doesn’t escape from prison by some tricky scheme like last time) will Mexico – and the world – remember ‘Shorty’?

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Ahead of Election, Colombia’s Santos Signals Tough Stance on Mining

World Politics Review

When he took office in 2010, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos trumpeted mining as a “locomotive” that would drive the economy forward.

Recently though, the Santos administration dealt a series of harsh blows to the country’s No. 2 coal exporter, Alabama-based Drummond Co., in response to a series of legal blunders committed in 2013. Coming down this hard on a company like Drummond is an unprecedented move for Colombia’s government, signaling that from here on out, multinationals that come to mine the country’s natural resources could face a new, hard-line stance when they don’t play by the rules. Continue reading on WPR…

Venezuela expats are tweeting the way for embattled protesters

Global Post

BOGOTA, Colombia — As anti-government protesters descended on Caracas’ main plaza this week, marcher Eiker Ramirez called a Venezuelan living in neighboring Colombia and asked her what was happening.

His friend here, 24-year-old university student Yoselie Gonzalez, checked her Twitter feed. Continue reading at Global Post…

How China’s Appetite is Changing Latin America

Ozy Magazine

Protesters fed up with rising prices and cheapening currencies march by the tens of thousands in Caracas and Buenos Aires.

Others tired of woeful public services fill Brazilian cities, decrying the billions of dollars being spent to host the World Cup this summer. A year of discontent is rolling out across Latin America, with a new middle class demanding more from their leaders and hitting the streets to make their voices heard.

Yet behind all the instability sits an unexpected force on the other side of the globe: China’s domestic appetite. Continue reading at Ozy…

Who is Aida Avella?

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Aida Avella is not just the woman who will be running for Colombia’s Presidency under the banner of a leftist political party called the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union party). Her candidacy – and in fact her very presence in the country – represents a big test for Colombian politics as an election nears.

Ms. Avella fled Colombia in 1995, when assassins fired a rocket at her car, trying to kill her. It was the third failed attempt on her life. She went into exile in Geneva, Switzerland, where she lived for the next 17 years. Ms. Avella returned just last year.

Ms. Avella told Colombia Reports in an interview that her political work never stopped during her time in exile:

“All of it is political work […] it’s work that comes out of the soul. No one was paying us. We do work to live in the morning…but in the evening, we do work that is very special, very special because we were doing it for the political participation [of] marginalized [Colombians].”

… for years, Avella hosted people in her home or with friends.

“When the political asylum seekers are not here… indigenous people are here, when the indigenous people are not here, the workers are here, when the workers are not here, the women are here, when the women are not here the Afro-descendent Colombians are here, where the Afro-descendants are not here, the artists are here […] There are always lots of people here from Colombia […] it’s extraordinary,” she said.

Why is Ms. Avella’s presence in Colombia a test for Colombian politics?

Ms. Avella’s party was the birth-child of the first attempt of peace talks between Colombia’s government and the marxist rebel group, the FARC.

In an effort to bring communist party members, FARC sympathizers and other rebel groups into a political arena they claimed they had been marginalized from, the Patriotic Union party won 9 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate a minority vote for their Presidential candidate: 4.6%.

But the rocket that nearly killed her was just part of a wave of violence brought against members of the leftist Patriotic Union party from 1987 through the early 2000s. The Patriotic Union party was tolerated in theory, but not in practice.

The question of whether or not leftist rebels should be and can be brought back into politics is a question Colombians are asking themselves as the fourth attempt at peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels drags on in Havana, Cuba.

Tolerating the Patriotic Union party and letting it come back into politics peacefully will likely set some tone toward the peace talks.

The history of violence against her political movement is something Ms. Avella will probably be unable to forget as the campaigning takes off for elections set for May of this year.

But she seems more focused on future plans:

“There are so many things we could do,” she told Colombia Reports. One thing, though, is high on the list: “We’re going to fight corruption.”

Other sources related to Aida Avella & The Patriotic Union Party

Aida Avella Esquivel – La Silla Vacía

Profile of Aida Avella – Colombia Reports

Patriotic Union Party – Colombia Reports
photo credit: Unión Patriótica

Who is Garry Neil Drummond?

Gary Drummond

Who is Garry Neil Drummond? Is he H.E.’s boy, the son of Drummond Co.’s founder, H.E. Drummond, who started the company in Jasper Alabama by putting up his 3 mules for collateral on a $300 bank loan in 1935? Is he Garry, the young civil engineering student who graduated from the University of Alabama in 1961 and became the company’s first engineer?

Or is he Mr. Drummond, the man who owns 100% of the U.S.-based coal mining company, whose majority of assets are made up of a series of open-pit coal mines sprinkled across Colombia’s Northern Caribbean coast? Is he Mr. Drummond, the man who directs a volume of mining activity in Colombia that turns out most of Drummond’s $3 billion in revenues (2012), pays some $278 million in royalties to the Colombian state, and accounts for 25% of Colombia’s total mining royalties?

Most in Colombia recognize him as the latter man. And since 1986, when Drummond Co. acquired its first mine in Colombia, Garry Neil Drummond has earned more and more attention for the controversy surrounding his company.

Recently, Mr. Drummond’s company has been fined more than $100 million and got its shipping license revoked for a a series of blunders, including failure to pay taxes and intending to cover up an environmentally hazardous coal spill through 2013. From Colombia Reports

The Alabama-based company was forced to close its private Caribbean port two weeks ago when it failed to meet the January 1st deadline for the implementation of a direct-loading conveyer belt system. The deadline was set by the Colombian Environmental Ministry after a company barge dumped almost 2,000 tons of coal into the Bay of Santa Marta last year. The regulation outlawing crane-and-barge coal loading had been in place for six years prior to the incident.

But the company has also come under attack in the US for alleged links to paramilitaries and funding the murder of several union leaders who represent Colombian miners at Drummond. From Business and Human Rights

In 2002, the families of three deceased Colombian labour leaders and the union they belonged to, Sintramienergética, filed suit against Drummond Company, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary Drummond Ltd. in US federal court.  The plaintiffs alleged that Drummond hired Colombian paramilitaries to kill and torture the three labour leadersin 2001.  Sintramienergética represents workers at Drummond’s coal mining operations in Colombia…

Drummond Co. seems generally quick to dispute the legal matters it faces in its Colombian operations. But it’s hard to know exactly what Garry Neil Drummond really thinks about any of the complex matters surrounding Drummond’s coal mining in Colombia. For example, in 2012, beset by accusations that he sponsored murder in Colombia, Garry Neil Drummond reportedly confessed,

“I was never in charge of anything in Colombia.”

photo credit: Portafolio

John Carlin reaches at reconciliation in Colombia

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John Carlin has a big mission in Colombia: he wants to bring reconciliation to the country’s conflict, adding a new dimension to the peace talks that have been going on for over a year now in Havana, Cuba, a negotiations intended to end a half-century of conflict between FARC rebels and the Colombian government.

Carlin’s project, called Reconciliación Colombia, wants to get people from around the country talking about the silent progressive they have made in overcoming the conflict. In a sense it’s a way to cut through the blaring noise over the drama of conflict that continues under the hum of the talks, something that often soaks up the media’s attention.

From the project’s site…

Medios de comunicación y ciudadanos –a través de las redes sociales– decidieron sentar su posición frente a la iniciativa Reconciliación Colombia… una alianza de 35 organizaciones sociales, empresariado y prensa en un intento por resaltar procesos y experiencias que han avanzado en el camino hacia la reconciliación, a pesar de la adversidad.

News outlets and citizens – through social networks – decided to set out their position through the initiative Reconciliación Colombia… an alliance of 35 social, business and press organizations in an attempt to highlight processes and experiences that have advanced in the road toward reconciliation, despite all the adversity.

John Carlin, born to a Scottish father and a Spanish mother, developed chops early on for diplomacy when his father was stationed in Buenos Aires as a diplomat. He worked around Latin America as a reporter in the 1980s before turning his attention to South Africa’s struggle for reconciliation. In South Africa, as a journalist, Carlin studied Nelson Mandela’s tactics for reconciling a nation torn apart by apartheid.

The project Carlin is behind might sound like a big PR event to promote the peace talks – a government policy many on the right in Colombia oppose. But the man behind the project might be worth listening to for getting through a half century of fighting. After all, of this Mandela had to say to him:

“What you wrote and the way in which you carried out your task in this country was absolutely magnificent…it was absolutely inspiring. You have been very courageous, saying things which many journalists would never say.”

More about the project in Colombia media:

Reconciliación Colombia

El proceso de paz, la lucha entre la reconciliación y la venganza: John Carlin

photo: johncarlin.eu

Chrysanthemums for Colombia?

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In a story published last week, the AP made sure President of Uruguay José ‘Pepe’ Mujica’s tirade got the color it deserved when it went to press.

From the AP’s story

War! Imperialism! Tyranny! The Business suit!

In a full throttle attack on ties and suits, Uruguay’s President went off on an angry tirade at the Economic Congress for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) held last week. Sitting before Latin America’s leaders, his rhetoric, though a bit grumpy, was at least very honest.

After the business suit, President Mujica is honest about other things he likes and doesn’t like: he doesn’t like the wasteful consumption patterns found in modern cities. He refuses to live in the Presidential Palace in Montevideo, resorting instead to a small farm outside of the city, where he farms Chrysanthemum flowers. Why? It’s what he likes. He drives an old sky blue Volkswagen Beetle on weekends, and gives away about 90% of his salary to charity.

After peeling back his eccentric lifestyle and poetic rhetoric though, Uruguay’s President is promoting concrete progressive social reform at home – like legalizing cannabis consumption – and abroad, like his offer to participate in a peace process between the Colombian government and its second largest guerrilla faction: the ELN.

From an interview with Al Jazeera

“Colombia has one of the strongest militaries in Latin America, with notorious backing from the United States, which means interference in the region. From afar it seems like a war without a solution, and like a long sacrifice for the country. So when a President appears who supports a path to peace, I think that deserves support. Because there’s a lot of pain, and if they try to settle the scores, war will never end.”

So far, it’s unclear to what extent Colombia is interested in having President Mujica’s voice at the negotiating table. But for the leader of one of Latin America’s least corrupt, least violent societies, and with a personal history as an urban guerrilla, having been shot, jailed and sentenced by military tribunal to more than a decade of prison with solitary confinement sprinkled in, his experience – and maybe even his views – might be worth hearing about.

photo source: NA