December 2, 2008
For the first time since she was dramatically freed from captivity last July Ingrid Betancourt has paid a return visit to Colombia. She said it is part of a tour of several Latin American countries. Fears about her safety, and the safety of her children, caused her to deny only a day before that she would make such a visit, but she decided to go ahead with it after all. See BBC. The people of Colombia recently organized a series large-scale marches to demand that FARC put an end to taking hostages. That would indeed be an appropriate gesture of peace and reconciliation for the holiday season, but is not very likely.
About a month ago, the commanding general of Colombia's army resigned after acknowledging that his forces carried out a series of civilian killings. This followed numerous reports of corrupt ties between armed forces and the "self-defense" militias who have been accused of human rights abuses. See the Christian Science Monitor.
The fact that the Colombian armed forces are starting to take more responsibility for their own actions should be recognized by the State Department, and one can only hope that the incoming Obama administration does not turn a cold shoulder to one of our few remaining friends in the region. Pass the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement now!
In Peru, President Alan Garcia was obliged to disavow a remark a general made about Chileans being sent home in body bags. What is interesting is that it took so long for the tiff to develop. The remarks were made in late 2006 or early 2007, and were uploaded to YouTube this past March, and only now has it come to broad public attention. Here is the offending quote, as reported by CNN.com:
We are not going to let Chileans pass by. ... [A] Chilean who enters will not leave. Or will leave in a coffin. And if there aren't sufficient coffins, there will be plastic bags.