After 12 years in captivity (or as Plan Colombia and Beyond writes, 4,483 days, to be precise), Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo was released by FARC rebels Tuesday. The group which received Moncayo in the hand-off included a Colombian priest, the International Red Cross, and Sen. Piedad Cordoba. A Brazilian military helicopter again provided the exit transport.
Moncayo, just 19 when he was captured by the FARC, was eventually flown to the city of Florencia, Colombia where he was reunited with his family (the exact location of his release by the FARC was not disclosed, says the AP). Moncayo’s father drew international attention in 2007 for walking in chains across the country to raise awareness about his son’s situation. In a public statement following his release, the Colombian soldier thanked the efforts of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Brazil who he said helped secure the hand-off. According to Sen. Cordoba, a long-time negotiator with the FARC, the rebel group has said the release of Moncayo would be the last unilateral release of a FARC hostage (21 additional soldiers and police officials still remain in the guerrillas’ hands while the government body Fondelibertad says at least 79 individuals in total remain held in captivity by the FARC and other armed groups). And while Alvaro Uribe said he was open to a humanitarian agreement that might include prisoner swaps for remaining FARC captives, as Adam Isacson notes, the words do not represent any significant change from earlier positions taken by the president on the issue.
To other stories this morning:
· The UN Haiti reconstruction conference begins today in New York. The Wall Street Journal reports that Rene Preval will be presenting an “action plan” to individuals gathered for the talks and representing some 120 countries from around the world. The plan would include an initial pledge of $3.8 billion over the next year and a half (note: Reuters differs slightly, saying just $1.3 billion is being requested for the first 18 months, and nearly $4 billion over the first 3 years, but most reports use the figures quoted in the WSJ). The plan estimates $11.5 billion will be needed in total. This aid money would first go toward the immediate short-term needs of the country—particularly the issue of shelter—while also helping to rebuild the country’s damaged port, schools, and hospitals. The statement Mr. Preval will present reads, “We see Haiti as an emergent country by 2030.”
· The Washington Post’s coverage of Haiti focuses on the US end of the aid issue, saying Sec. of State Hillary Clinton is expected to pledge an additional “$1 billion or so” for reconstruction efforts. But, say US officials, this time the aid will go toward “building up Haiti’s fragile government, instead of working around it.” “We are completely focused on how to build the capacity of the Haitian government effectively, Clinton’s chief of staff and Haiti point woman, Cheryl Mills, tells the paper. As the Post itself writes:
“In an emergency spending request sent to Congress last week, the administration says it will help reconstruct the Haitian government, paying for new ministry offices. More broadly, the goal is to develop the framework of a modern state -- spending money to help Haiti create building codes, regulatory systems and anticorruption standards. U.S. funds would be used to train and pay Haitian officials. “
· In the New York Times the focus today is on how little of the aid already pledged to Haiti has actually been given to the Haitian government thus far. “More than $1.35 billion has been committed to Haiti in humanitarian assistance…,”the paper writes, “but less than $23 million in cash has been given to the Haitian government so far…” The report also focuses on the creation of a special reconstruction commission through which donors and the Haitian government would be required to sign off on reconstruction projects and expenditures. The government said Tuesday that such a commission would be led by Bill Clinton and President Rene Preval (note: in the past the name of PM Jean-Max Bellrive has been more frequently associated with the commission, not Preval). The Times’ piece also notes that some European diplomats are getting frustrated with the US State Dept.—and the Clintons in particular—who appear to be running the UN conference that some are calling “The Bill and Hillary Show”. A second NYT report looks at the issue of decentralization away from Port-au-Prince, also central to the government’s action plan.
· And in a piece at the Huffington Post by longtime UN reporter Evelyn Leopold there is also word of an idea being floated by some UN officials, including new UN Haiti mission head, Edmond Mulet, which would see large donors (Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, and the EU) pledge support for specific sorts of reconstruction in a geographical area or on a thematic project (land registration, fixing power grids, repairing roads etc). The goal of such a plan: reducing a duplication of tasks.
· In the LA Times this morning, more about ongoing violence against journalists in post-coup Honduras. As mentioned yesterday, five journalists were killed this month alone with 0 arrests coming out of the murders. The paper writes: “The violence illustrates the depth to which Honduras remains unsettled and on edge, even after a new president was elected in November and installed in January amid promises to heal national divisions.” The paper notes all the reporters killed were shot in drive-by attacks. Some were opponents of the June coup; others had few known political leanings; and still others who have been targeted supported the coup.
· More on crackdowns against freedom expression in Venezuela by Time’s Tim Padgett this morning. In talking about the detainment (and later release) of Globovisión’s Guillermo Zuloaga last week, Padgett’s intro is an attention grabber.
“Guillermo Zuloaga isn't exactly a paragon of responsible journalism. In 2002 he and his Venezuelan television network, Globovisión, backed a military coup against democratically elected President Hugo Chávez. Since then, Globovisión has been so gratuitously and vociferously anti-Chávez it makes Rush Limbaugh's attacks on Barack Obama seem even-handed.”
But Padgett goes on: “So who could make a media martyr out of a guy like Zuloaga? Chávez may well have done it on March 25, when his left-wing government arrested Zuloaga for making comments ‘offensive and disrespectful’ to the President.” Those words included Zuloaga’s comments at a media freedom conference in Aruba that it was a shame Chavez had not been overthrown for good in the 2002 coup. Zuloaga also stated that the 2002 putsch occurred because Chavez first ordered anti-government protestors be fired upon—an opposition charge that has never been proven. Padgett also goes over the case of Oswaldo Alvarez Paz and says “It's not due process of law that's being criticized in these cases. It's the law itself (namely, the idea that criminalizing free speech is not compatible with the notion of human rights) that's under international scrutiny, even in judicially challenged Latin America.” There’s a lot more excellent—and very even-handed—analysis in the article, so I recommend giving it a full look.
· From the AP, the suspect arrested in the murder of three individuals with US consulate links in Juarez is saying assassins were targeting the vehicle of a Texas jail guard who was killed in one of the two vehicles attacked just over two weeks ago. The words hint that El Paso jail officer Arthur H. Redelfs, husband of a US consulate employee also killed in the attack was the primary target of the hit.
· In Guatemala, Carlos Arago Cardona was convicted of “illicit association” in the murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg last year and sentenced to two years in prison. The verdict was the first in the bizarre Rosenberg murder case. Seven others are still on trial.
· Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas rejected an asylum offer from Spain earlier this week—an offer which Spain hoped might prevent another dissident death and further steps backward in the international community’s relationship with the island.
· A Miami Herald piece today looks at how women—particularly former “beauty queens”—are becoming key participants in the world of drug trafficking. As if from a movie, the most recent case involves Colombian model Angie Sanclemente who has allegedly been transporting large amounts of cocaine from Argentina to the EU in her suitcase at a price of $5000 per trip.
· The New York Times reports on another externality of sorts, associated with the drug trade: the rescue (and re-locating in “sanctuary houses”) of exotic animals from drug traffickers and paramilitary leaders in Colombia. With Camels, lions, and tigers, the animals offer what Simon Romero calls a “strange window into the excesses and brutalities carried out in this country’s endless drug wars.”
· A correction on something I reported here yesterday. The “short-list” of candidates for a top human rights position at the UN is for a new assistant secretary general position on human rights—not for the position of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (that position continues to be held by Navanethem Pillay who will lead the selection process for the new ass’t. secretary general position). For more, see Colum Lynch at FP’s Turtle Bay blog.
· Finally, a few opinions. In the Miami Herald, Andrew Selee, David Shirk, and Eric Olson write on “five myths about the Mexican drug war.” A Wall Street Journal editorial denounces the detainment of Guillermo Zuloaga and Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, as does a piece by conservative columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner (who connects the arrest to Venezuela-Cuba links) in the Herald yesterday. And at Foreign Policy in Focus, John Feffer, publisher of World Beat (one of the best and most entertaining weekly foreign policy columns around), compares the Haitian and Chilean quakes ahead of today’s UN conference. According to Feffer, “mundane indicators, such as national income equality, marginal tax rates, and number of government building inspectors” tell us the most about the difference between the two cases—words international donors would be wise to consider. “Neither politics nor economics alone determined outcomes but, rather, political economy: the way political structures and actors interact with economic forces,” says Feffer.