The King tells Chavez to shut up… and more

Adventures at the Ibero-American summit of leaders. Chavez was talking about how the Spanish right-wing including the prime minister at the time, Jose Maria Aznar, supported the coup against his government in 2002. He called Aznar a “fascist”, and the King of Spain said to him: “Why don’t you shut up?” Then Bachelet of Chile tried to moderate while Zapatero, Spain’s current prime minister, told Chavez that Aznar had been elected and deserves respect, even though he (Zapatero) doesn’t agree with him. Ortega of Nicaragua spoke in Chavez’s defense. Reflections about the symbolism of that little moment are left to the reader.

On to more serious business – the humanitarian accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, which was the subject of a long meeting between Chavez and Colombia’s president Uribe at the Ibero-American summit.

Recap: The FARC are asking for the government to withdraw from two zones and leave them to FARC control and release 500 prisoners in exchange for 45 prisoners who had been kidnapped by FARC, mostly civilians. Last night I had the chance to hang out with Colombian journalist Hollman Morris, a pretty-well informed fellow who is in North America to receive an award from Human Rights Watch, and he thinks the deal is likely to go through, because Venezuela, France, and the US are all supportive. I suggested that US support could be fickle and withdrawn at any point on the old “don’t negotiate with terrorists” argument. But Hollman didn’t think that’s the way the wind is blowing.

One important Colombian in the humanitarian accord is senator Piedad Cordoba, who was important back in 2003 in defeating Uribe’s referendum. She revealed the other day that shortly after she met with FARC leader Raul Reyes, the Colombian Army attacked and almost killed the guerrilla leader. Uribe told the press at the Ibero-American summit that “actions against the guerrillas will continue irrespective of their meetings with senator Cordoba”.

The governments and FARC are being sketchy about the details of the humanitarian accord and the ongoing negotiations in order to give themselves room to negotiate, obviously. But it could happen…

Bhutto arrested

Musharraf’s self-coup regime has put Benazir Bhutto under house arrest. 5000 of her supporters were rounded up too. The judiciary protests continue as well. Before her house was surrounded by military, Bhutto had announced her intention to reinstate the ousted judiciary that was the main target of the coup. The general announced that he intends to allow elections by February 15, but there is no reason to take that seriously.

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Pakistan reacts!

Let no one say that the people of Pakistan took this coup lightly. Let no one say that the courts and the human rights activists in the cities, who were the coup’s principal targets, went gently. They are taking incredible risks in the streets and their courage has already forced Musharraf’s regime to back off somewhat and the international community to say a few obvious things. Lawyers have been rounded up en masse, beaten and gassed, not for the first time. They are boycotting court proceedings, which will make it difficult for this government to run.

There is a chance the US might exert some genuine pressure on Pakistan if this can keep up. The Americans have suspended defense talks with Pakistan and are threatening more. Some European countries have suspended aid. Pakistan’s government is still fighting, and not very effectively, against militants on the border with Afghanistan, using artillery. Meanwhile the Taliban in Afghanistan itself is succeeding militarily, capturing parts of western Afghanistan and taking on defectors from the Afghan military. NATO is relying increasingly on a combination of Afghan forces and airstrikes to hold territory because they don’t want to take casualties on the unpopular mission. The result is Afghan civilian casualties from the airstrikes and Afghan military casualties from battles with the insurgents, which of course feeds the insurgency.

As I mentioned before, part of the reason Musharraf may succeed (though if the Pakistani people can hold on and the international pressure increases, he could still fail) is because of a lack of alternative to the series of unsolvable problems that he and the Americans have entered into in his country and Afghanistan.

Even those who seek an Islamic revolution in Pakistan can’t believe that that would be a way out – such a regime would kick off first the total isolation and then the possible disintegration of the country.

Any military officer who overthrew Musharraf would then find himself in the same impossible situation Musharraf is in. He can line his pockets, he can control some of the army, but there are still the Americans, there are still the Indians, there are still the Islamists, there are still the insurgents, and there are still the constitutional, political, and economic problems. On the other hand, the military is plenty strong enough to prevent a civilian politician like Benazir Bhutto from holding power without their sufferance.

There is an unlikely path to genuine democratic reform and transition, which is what the people are on the streets of Lahore getting beaten and gassed and rounded up and probably tortured to fight for. They will need help from the outside in the form of political pressure, pressures that are making noise of possibly starting, and they need much more of that and fast.

More on the FARC-Venezuela-Colombia humanitarian negotiation

The ‘senior FARC official’ in Venezuela, Rodrigo Granda, said that the FARC would be providing ‘proof of life’ on its kidnapped prisoners, including Ingrid Betancourt, the green presidential candidate who was kidnapped many years ago, to the Venezuelan (and therefore Colombian) governments. He also said that FARC’s supreme commander, Manuel Marulanda, is interested in meeting Chavez to discuss the possibility that Venezuela could mediate more profound negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC, but awaits guarantees from the Colombian regime.

Chavez’s public statement is that FARC’s minimum conditions for a humanitarian accord, which would trade 45 FARC kidnapped prisoners for 500 government guerrilla prisoners, are the withdrawal of government troops from two provinces, Pradera and Florida. Without this withdrawal, no humanitarian accord.

By way of evaluation, I repeat that it seems very unlikely that this will succeed, and even if it does, it won’t really change the political or military balance at all. It could potentially benefit FARC politically and Chavez regionally, two reasons the Uribe/Bush/paramilitary regime are likely to reject it. Still, it is a genuinely humanitarian issue and deserves support, and those participating in it deserve respect for doing so.

Musharraf strikes

In trying to decide where to focus some of my analysis in the coming weeks and months, the interface between South and West Asia keeps coming up. Readers may have seen that Musharraf has made his move in Pakistan, declaring a state of emergency, and dismissing the Chief Justice. Presumably this is to pre-empt a political process in which he might lose power.

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