The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, June 09, 2003

Colombia: political strife, economic success

While I'm interested in Colombia mainly from the viewpoint of US strategy - so the detailed stuff here will mostly be related to security matters, the country does not lack interest in other respects.

[As regular sources of information, the daily El Tiempo and weekly Semana are user-friendly (both technically and content-wise [1]) and have a deal of solid, useful information.]

On the political side, President Uribe is attempting a comprehensive reform (via Ley 796 de 2003) of the electoral and legislative system, as well as various fiscal reforms, involving a good many amendments to the country's constitution. I can't say I really grasp the mechanics, let alone can assign positions on each issue to the multifarious factions within the Congress (a very good reason to avoid getting into the subject). The fog is gradually starting to clear - and perhaps by the time the process comes to a head (a case taken before the Corte constitucional is pending) I'll have got it down.

Meanwhile, the economy is on the up: growth in the first quarter of 2003 of 3.8% [2]. A piece from Semana (June 8) goes through the reasons; and then takes the shine off the stat by pointing out that
hay que recordar que el ingreso per cápita de los colombianos fue en 2002, 23 por ciento más bajo de lo que era en 1998.

That is a hell of a gouge out of living standards (from memory, the reduction in US national income over 1929-32 was around about 50% - and that was the Great Depression!) [3].

On the security front, there have been negotations (now stalled) between GOC and elements of the paramilitaries (AUC); talk of civil war within the ranks of the paras; offers by Uribe to set up a system whereby terrorists (from whatever side) can be freed on licence as part of any peace deal that might be agreed; and, naturally, the violence continues.

With such matters, the difficulty is, naturally enough, in trying to distinguish between the casual faits divers and events which might have longer-term significance for the security situation. And, again, if I can't explain it (to the modest degree that, at best, a rank amateur can manage), the sage motto (honoured in the breach, it seems, in more professional outfits than this one!) should apply: When in doubt, leave it out.

On the great territorial punch-up with Nicaragua in the International Court of Justice, nothing yet on the ICJ site of the text of Nicaragua's formal complaint (which was duly filed on April 28). And, relations with Venezuela seem to have calmed down in recent weeks.

  1. There are 101 ways in which news sites screw up: empty bytes, popups, screwy site layout, registration requiring inside-leg measurement, pieces disappearing behind pay-only firewalls after five minutes - perhaps I might scribe a list some slow news day....

  2. I assume that's an annualised rate. Otherwise, we're in parting of Red Sea territory!

  3. There is also a piece on why finance minister Roberto Junguito should have resigned just at the moment when things within his brief have started to go well.


Some further links on the economic situation.

A 20 page paper (PDF) by an insurance company (by the look of it) on Colombian national finances in 2002 and 2003 (written in early 2003, I'm guessing). And the Ministerio de Hacienda homepage has a link to a recent (May 29) Powerpoint presentation entitled CONSTRUYENDO CONFIANZA : Política Económica 2003-2004 - which, indeed, has a goodly number of graphics (always useful for financial info) which, if they're to be believed, confirm the generally upbeat story [1].

There is also a piece on the gratis section of the Economist site (June 5) on Uribe's first ten months in office. Useful in a way, it also illustrates the wilfully unlinked nature of (what passes for) grown-up journalism online. (The image comes to mind of an operator at an old-style telephone exchange yanking handfuls of cords (?) at a time out of their sockets (?).) The piece is full of facts trotted out in the rag's usual jaunty tone - none of which is linked to corroborative material.

One fact at random:
Mr Uribe plans to raise defence spending (including police and pensions) from 3.5% of GDP to 5.8% by the end of his term in 2006.

The 5.8% number is not in any material that I've seen. I suspect it might take a good couple of hours to verify. Yet I'd be fairly certain that the hack got the number online in the first place! But through sheer cussedness - or is there a jobsworth lawyer arguing that links = liability? - this information, with zero marginal cost, is denied the poor punter. I'd damn all such journos and their rags to hell, if I believed in it! As it is, I merely fume.

And blog, of course.

  1. Statistical information is one of the types least amenable to Mr Google's winkling methods. Getting the same information by searching would, I suspect, be the work of days rather than hours.

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