June 28, 2006 [LINK]

Peru ratifies free trade with U.S.

The Peruvian Congress voted to approve [the free trade treaty with the United States that was signed last year.] All 28 members of the Aprista party, of which President-elect Alan Garcia is the leader, voted in favor of it. President Toledo pushed to have the vote taken before his term ends on July 28, after which the leftists allied to Ollanta Humala will gain a substantial number of congressional seats. Some of those legislators-to-be barged into the chambers during the late-night debate and staged a noisy anti-trade demonstration. This may be a grim foretaste of what is to come in Peruvian politics. CNN.com. In any case, the vote in favor of free trade marks an amazing turnabout from APRA's historical nationalistic stance, and it also demonstrates the party's strong parliamentary discipline. Some of the old guard Apristas must have cringed as they cast their affirmative votes.

Politics as usual in Colombia

Former justice minister Alberto Santofimio is on trial for plotting to kill Luis Carlos Galan, the charismatic presidential candidate, in 1989. It was a particularly gruesome scene as pistol shots were fired at close range on a crowded rally platform. Santofimio was a rival of Galan, and is accused of conspiring with the late drug lord Pablo Escobar to eliminate the crusading anti-narcotics politician. See BBC.

There are rumors that Ingrid Betancourt, who has been held hostage by the FARC rebels since 2002, may be released soon as part of a prisoner exchange. A FARC official says she is in good condition, but her family has had no contact with her since 2003. She was abducted while running for president, but the sweeping reelection victory by President Alvaro Uribe last month seems to have undermined the rebels' negotiating position. See CNN.com.

Brazil's war against gangs

Police in Brazil launched a preemptive attack against gang strongholds on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, killing at least 13 gang members. Another wave of violence was anticipated. See CNN.com. The possibility that this organized crime wave might spread to other cities and evolve into some kind of bandit-terrorist campaign poses a big threat to the government, and may hurt President da Silva's chances for reelection.