They say that a bad agreement is better than a good fight. But not, it seems, in Bogotá. Last September, President Juan Manuel Santos launched a formal peace process with Colombia’s Farc guerrillas. This sparked hopes that the hemisphere’s longest internal armed conflict might finally draw to a close. As the Farc has also funded itself with drug-smuggling (although it denies this), the process has other international implications too. The talks, held in Havana, have already proved a hard slog. But over the Easter holidays, they suffered a series of unexpected and damaging attacks – not from the guerrillas themselves, as you might expect, but from two former Colombian presidents.
Álvaro Uribe, who led an all out offensive on the Farc while president from 2002 until 2010, fired off a series of withering tweets, lambasting the peace process as an attempt to “cozy up to terrorists”. Then Andrés Pastrana, who ironically led a failed peace process in 1998, joined the fray, saying that Mr Santos had no mandate to seek peace. Further souring the mood, both former presidents attacked the person and family of Mr Santos. To outsiders, this can look odd as he served with a distinction in both Pastrana’s government (as finance minister) and Uribe’s (as defence minister). Either way, the attacks have fed growing pessimism that the peace talks will succeed. Many Colombians were anyway sceptical at the outset. Read more
Hugo Chávez is in Havana. Venezuela’s cancer-ridden president may be alive in the elite CIMEQ hospital, or he may simply be being kept alive on a life support system as rumours suggest, or he may be getting better, as the Venezuelan government insists. Although he remains, officially, the country’s head of state, nobody really knows the current state of his health – except for the Castro brothers and a handful of close family and government associates. Indeed, since Chávez underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11, there has been no video of the usually loquacious socialist leader smiling from a hospital bed, no record of him cheering on loyal supporters, no photograph, no tweet even from a president much given to social media (he has 4m followers on Twitter). The only evidence presented that Chávez is still alive, so far, has been a scanned photograph of Chávez’s signature underneath an official decree. But the signature was datelined Caracas, although even the government admits Chávez remains in Havana. Read more
2013 may well be the year that biology trumps ideology – if not in attitudes to global warming then in the increasing actuarial possibilities that both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez will soon die, writes JP Rathbone. Read more
FARC commander Mauricio Jaramillo, is flanked by FARC rebels Ricardo Tellez (left) and Andres Paris, during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on Sept. 4. Photo AP
For many FT readers, the guerrilla conflict that Colombia has suffered over the past 50 years, and the possibility that it may now end, probably seems like a sordid tropical war taking place in a corner of the world of little interest, and less importance. It is otherwise. In this corner of the Americas there is, in fact, a great and complex geopolitical game at work, in the same way that there was a great game at work in central Asia in the 19th century.
Only 12 years ago, Colombia was considered an “almost failed” state. That is why the United States – under an initiative begun under President Bill Clinton, and continued under President George W Bush and President Barack Obama – launched “Plan Colombia”: a program of military and development aid that constitutes one of the US’s biggest, and one of its most controversial, foreign policy initiatives. To date, the US has committed some $8bn under this plan, which is designed to combat insurgent guerrilla forces in Colombia and curb drug trafficking. Read more
Teofilo Stevenson at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. (AP Photo)
Havana has just lost a hero. Teofilo Stevenson, perhaps one of the world’s greatest boxers, has died of a heart attack. He was 60. Ironically, the 6ft 3-1/2 inch super heavyweight is most famous for a fight that never happened: a bout with Muhammad Ali.
Stevenson was reputedly offered $1m by Don King, the promoter, to fight Ali after he won his first Olympic gold medal in Munich in 1972. Stevenson said he didn’t want to go professional, and replied, “I would rather the affection of eight million Cubans.” Sports Illustrated ran the headline: “He’d rather be red than rich.”
Inevitably, Stevenson’s reputation was carefully cultivated by the Cuban government. Yet sport, they say, transcends politics and so I don’t suppose I really care about that. Instead, what I remember best is of holidays in Miami in the 1970s and 80s with my Cuban family, when we would all gather round the television and cheer Stevenson along. Read more
Cuba's one-time richest man, Julio Lobo, wearing a bow tie and guayabera. Havana c.1955
Fidel Castro may be old and infirm, but he hasn’t lost his ability to provoke and amuse. The Cuban caudillo’s latest sally is against Barack Obama and his plans to wear a guayabera – a tropical shirt that is Cuba’s official garment – during this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia. The irony is that the Communist-ruled island will not be represented at the meeting as it does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States. Ecuador is skipping the meeting in protest.
“The curious thing, dear readers, is that Cuba is prohibited in that meeting; but the guayaberas, no. Who can stop laughing?” the 85-year old former president wrote in the latest of his rambling “Reflections”, which are published in Cuba’s official media.
The item has been picked up by several news wires. What none of them mention however (although it may be implicit) is that this time the joke is on Mr Castro. Read more
Cuban President Raul Castro (left) welcomes Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to Cuba last Friday for cancer treatment. Photo: AP
One of the more interesting lines of speculation about Hugo Chávez’s deteriorating health and possible death is what it might mean for the socialist Venezuelan president’s many foreign allies. These include Cuba and Nicaragua in the Venezuelan near abroad, to further-flung friends in Syria and even China. Read more
February is the month of balmy summer days in Latin America, although the season of beach holidays hasn’t stopped a delicious diplomatic storm from brewing.
At the heart of the thundery electrostatic is the perennial problem. Will Cuba attend the “Summit of the Americas” this April? Read more
Havana may be a looking-glass kind of place. Still, occasionally its
topsy-turvey view of the world can force you back to first principles.
Take the eurozone crisis. One country, Germany, wants to assume the role of budget overlord in the economic area. Member states will also be subject to strict economic criteria set from an unelected central authority – in this case Brussels. Read more
Chevron’s oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro last week will have many repercussions. For the company – a $28m fine. For Brazil, perhaps, a re-consideration of the development of its massive deep-sea oil reserves. And, for Washington, a reminder of potential problems closer to home – in fact, less than 30 miles outside US waters, namely Cuba’s looming “oil crisis”. Read more