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to/from economist re colombia

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Post Post subject: to/from economist re colombia Reply with quote

Sir ,
I challenge you to state your source for the following claim made in your recent article on Colombia, "The Children's Stories" (Sept 20-26 issue):
"José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, admits that human-rights abuses have actually declined during Mr Uribe's year in office. The president should use this fact, he thinks, to disarm his critics".

I find it very hard to believe that Vivanco would say such a thing because it would contradict what Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have reported. There is no record of such a statement by Vivanco on the Human Rights Watch web site. In fact just this week Human Rights Watch published a scathing critique of Uribe's proposal to allow paramiltaries who committed atrocities to escape prison for a fee [1]

There has indeed been a drop in the number of political killings since Uribe took office. That was clearly documented in the report "The Authoritarian Curse" that provoked him to equate the authors with terrorists. But there has also been an increase in other types of human rights abuses: disappearance, torture, death threats, arbitrary detention. The net result has been an INCREASE in human results abuses since Uribe took office. [2]

This does not even take into account the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes. The report does not provide figures for the number of people displaced since Uribe took office, but the figures provided for 2002 reveal that the numbers remain in the hundreds of thousands as in previous years. Most people have been driven from their homes by paramilitaries that openly celebrated Uribe's election. [3]

Even if human rights abuses had really declined you should still not be so eager to praise Uribe as you have consistantly done. A repressive regime does not have to murder, imprison, or torture the same number of dissidents every year. As the regime successfully terrorizes people into submission the number of abuses may indeed come down, but that is hardly something for which we should rush to congratulate the government.


Joe Emersberger
Windsor, ON, Canada

[2] "The Authritarian's Curse"Chpt 11, pg 115
[3] Http://,; "The Authoritarian's Curse" chpt 12, pg 124;
For a qoute from paramilitaries celebrating Uribe's election see Http://

Dear Mr Emersberger,

Belatedly, you might be surprised to find that reality is sometimes more subtle and complex than your script. Our source was of course Vivanco himself. I challenge you to consider the realities of life in Colombia rather than your own prejudices.

Michael Reid,
Americas Editor,
The Economist,
25 St James's St,
London SW1A 1HG.

Mr. Reid:

Thanks for replying. If I understand you correctly your reference is a verbal communication with Vivanco himself. I suspect he told you political killings have come down. To say more generally that the human rights situation has improved under Uribe doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I've refernced readily available documentation to support this, not my personal prejudices.


Joe Emersberger
Windsor, ON, Canada
Tue Jan 20, 2004 6:12 am
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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Joe,
Very good letter and follow-up; it's precisely the conflation (as you suspect) of political assassinations wt an overall reflection of human rights that's at core here - would you consider contacting Vivanco/HRW for clarification?
I liked the "subtle and complex reality" decipherable, one presumes, only by people like Reid who are not hindered by any prejudices Smile
Tue Jan 20, 2004 12:25 pm
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Joe Emersberger

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the encouraging words.
I did leave a phone message for Vivanco and also sent e-mails to HRW but they never responded. At any rate there is nothing on their website (or AI's) that justifes the praise the Economist gives Uribes regime.

Here is another letter I sent them recently about a more recent article on Colombia. We'll see what kind of nonsense reid and Co. repsond with this time, if theydeign to respond at all

RE: Colombia's Security Policy: You do the Maths: Jan 10, 2004; pg 30

Dear Michael Reid (or whoever wrote this article):

Why did you not mention that every year Colombia's paramilitaries murder more people than the leftist guerrillas? Have you ever noted this basic fact? Wouldn't it be appropriate to mention this in most, if not all, articles about the conflict?[1]

Why did you write that the guerrillas are financed by drug money but write nothing about the paramilitaries' role in the drug trade? Human Rights Watch stated in October that "40 percent of the country's total cocaine exports are controlled by paramilitaries and their allies in the narcotics underworld" [2]

You wrote that the paramilitaries have "links to some army officers". That understates the level of complicity, especially when the "links" are left unexplored. Why do you never go into any detail about the level of support and co-operation between the paramilitaires and the government? Human Rights Watch 2003 report on Colombia stated that "Throughout Colombia, paramilitaries continued to move uniformed and heavily armed troops unhindered past military installations." They also said that the army "rarely" responds to pleas for help from communities who have well founded fear of being victimised [3[ Paramilitaries openly celebrated the election of Uribe. [4] Uribe's government recently pardoned paramilitaies in a ceremony on national television. Human Rights Watch official Jose Vivanco decribed the broadcast as a "spectacle of impunity".[5]

Why didn't you mention that though murders are down from previous years that other forms of human rights abuses (disappearances, death threats, torture) have increased, more than offsetting the decrease in murders?[6]

You can help Colombians achieve a "peaceful democracy" by including these facts in your articles.


Joe Emersberger
2360 Kildare Rd.
Windsor, ON Canada

[1] Reports from Amnesty international and HRW dating back to 1996 are available on line.





[6] "EL EMBRUJO AUTORITARIO"("The Authritarian's Curse") Chpt 11, pg 115
Wed Jan 21, 2004 4:40 am
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David Bracewell

Joined: 14 Jan 2004
Posts: 41

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to say, your letters are so very good. Thanks for posting them here.
Wed Jan 21, 2004 7:50 am
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joe emersberger

Joined: 24 Jan 2004
Posts: 513
Location: Windsor, Onatrio, Canada

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Here is another one in response to another Economist article on Colombia. I hope some of you are prompted to write as well.

RE: Colombia, the EU and Human Rights Feb 12, 2004


Why do insist on whitewashing Uribe's murderous regime?

You write that "polls say that 80% of them approve of their president". Polls may say that, but from what the Economist itself has reported on Colombia you must know Uribe doesn't have anywhere near that level of popular support. He won the presidential election by receiving the votes of about 25% of the electorate. He further revealed his narrow base of support in a recent referendum on his policies. Only 25% turnout was required to make the results binding. Despite campaigning aggressively before the referendum he failed to achieve the ridiculously low turnout required.

You are aware of all this but chose to uncritically cite polls that exaggerate his level of support. More importantly, as I've noted in the letter below [I forwarded the letter above that they never responded to], you fail to explore the alliance between his regime and Colombia's most murderous terrorists.

You approve of Urine's neoliberal policies. Is that why you ignore the blood that is on his hands? Would you not have harsh words for Hugo Chavez if he were linked to the murders of thousands of people? You see no need to mince words with Chavez even though his record on human rights is vastly superior to Uribe's, and among the best in Latin America.


Joe Emersberger
Tue Feb 17, 2004 2:04 am
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joe emersberger

Joined: 24 Jan 2004
Posts: 513
Location: Windsor, Onatrio, Canada

Post Post subject: to Economist Mar 29, 2004 Reply with quote

RE: Uribe's barrage Mar 18, 2004

Your journalists asked Uribe "his view on the despotic behaviour of his Venezuelan neighbour, Hugo Chávez? Will he speak out against him and in favour of democracy?"

The Economist is usually more subtle in demonstrating its contempt for democracy. Uribe's regime murders thousands of people through paramilitary groups clearly linked with the government and wealthy elites [1]. Against Chavez there are unconfirmed allegation's about the deaths of several protesters [2] Why do you ask the head of a government that routinely murderous political opponents to denounce a government whose record on human rights and democracy is vastly superior?

I'll answer for you since I doubt you'll reply. Uribe is a reliable guardian of privilege. He implements neoliberal policies and is therefore given a licence to kill. Chavez, on the other hand, is out of favour with the wealthy in Venezuela and abroad.

The Colombian government's most significant contribution to Latin America is the tactic of atrocity outsoucing to keep the poor obedient.
In June 2002, the Autodefensas Unidas de Venezuela (AUV) was created with the support of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Paramilitarism is reviving in Argentina. In Haiti, paramilitries overthrew Aristide with US assistance. In Brazil, paramilitaries have stepped up attacks on the Landless Rural Worker’s Movement.

The struggle of the poor in Latin America will be increasing waged against paramilitaries as neoliberalism is further discredited. It is obvious whose side the Economist is on.


Joe Emersberger

[1] See my letter to you of Jan 17, 2004 Re: "You do the Maths"
[2]links below from HRW
[3] Hector Mondragin; Znet:
Tue Mar 30, 2004 6:35 am
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