Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

From a diplomatic point of view, the U.S. military’s Joint Forces Command did the incoming Obama administration no favors with the stark warning it issued in November 2008.

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Democracy Corpse

Many South American politicians have laid claim to the spirit of Simón Bolívar, but very few have actually communed with it. At meetings, Hugo Chávez is said to leave an empty chair for the continent’s nineteenth-century liberator. When Chávez ordered the exhumation of Bolívar’s corpse from its grave in the National Pantheon last month, he took to Twitter and exclaimed, “Rise up, Simón, as it’s not time to die.” This latest escapade returns us to the eternal question: Is Hugo Chávez just a buffoon or something more dangerous? Certainly, the evidence for his buffoonery is strong.

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Bogota Brouhaha

Venezuela and Colombia are the original odd-couple of Hemispheric diplomacy. With the former run by a rambunctious socialist autocrat and the latter by a U.S.-aligned hard-right hawk, the two countries have been on a collision course for years. The proximate cause and biggest irritant has long been the Venezuelan government's tacit alliance with FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest Marxist guerrilla movement.  This week, tensions just about boiled over as Colombia presented detailed evidence of Venezuelan collusion with FARC and a smaller rival guerrilla, the ELN.

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What were two members of a violent Basque separatist group doing with 11 members of Colombia's narco-Marxist insurgency in a remote corner of southwestern Venezuela in August 2007? According to a blockbuster indictment handed down by a Spanish judge last week, they were participating in a kind of intercontinental terrorist training camp held under the aegis of the Venezuelan military.

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Speculation as to who will succeed Ted Kennedy is proceeding apace, with his nephew, former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II, the likely frontrunner in the January 19 special election. The eldest son of Robert Kennedy, Joe held the House seat once occupied by his uncle John and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, representing Boston from 1987 until 1999. If he does run, Kennedy would start with a financial disadvantage.

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Contra Expectations

On his first day in office, President Barack Obama will head to the situation room for a video conference with his most important commander, General David Petraeus. If the conversation is chilly, it is not just the awkwardness of virtual chatting. Obama and Petraeus have a history. While Obama has called for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, Petraeus oversaw the deployment of more than 30,000 additional troops. To win support from the left, Obama postured as a skeptic of the general's Iraq strategy during congressional hearings.

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In February 2001, while I was doing research for my book on the forgotten wars, I met Iván Ríos, the FARC commander who was recently executed by his own security chief and bodyguard somewhere on the border between the Columbian provinces of Caldia and Antioquia. This morning's newspapers say he was 40 years old at that time.

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I'm familiar with Caguan, the part of Colombia where Ingrid Betancourt was taken almost six years ago. She is still being held there in appalling conditions. I also happen to know Ivan Rios and Joaquin Gomez, the mafioso Marxist leaders of the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), because I went to Caguan to interview them, first for Le Monde and then for my book on "forgotten wars." So.

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Air America

Editor’s Note: Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was convicted last November of four counts of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and provide material support to terrorists. Last week, Bout’s lawyer filed papers requesting that the judge dismiss the indictment—and cited this January 2006 TNR article as a reason. “As a result of the embarrassing New Republic disclosure of the incompetence—or worse—of the Departments of Defense and State in their dealings with Bout, someone in the government decided it was time to ‘get’ Viktor Bout,” the lawyer wrote.

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ON A RECENT Saturday morning, President Álvaro Uribe held the Colombian equivalent of a town-hall meeting in Málaga, Santander Province. Tieless in a casual plaid shirt and standing before a gigantic seal of Colombia, Uribe praised the locals for their generous hospitality that "increases our love for the great Colombian people" and then lauded Málaga's efficient new airport. After a brief speech, Uribe introduced Transportation Minister Andrés Gallego to the crowded room.

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