Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thank you Mr. Uribe.

By Nicole M. Ferrand.*

Those of us who have been following the news about the hostages’ inferno at the hands of the narco-terrorist group known as the FARC are still amazed by the brilliant rescue of fifteen of them last week by the Colombian military, including eleven policemen and armed forces personnel and their most valuable captives: Ingrid Betancourt and the three American contractors. Although most world leaders are praising President Uribe and the Colombian armed forces for the stunning outcome, there are some who received the news as a blow. These include the Venezuelan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Nicaraguan and Argentinian Presidents, leftist Colombian Senator, Piedad Cordoba and others, including family members of one particular hostage who seem incapable or unwilling to thank or apologize to the people responsible for the release; I am talking about Mrs. Betancourt’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, sister, Astrid Betancourt, and husband Juan Carlos Lecompte.

Although she is now free, I cannot forget the attitude of her family during the last few years she was held captive. Led by Chavez and Piedad Cordoba they all said that Mr. Uribe didn’t want to rescue Ingrid and that he was a warmonger who didn’t care about her. They accused the Colombian President of being the devil saying he would only provoke Ingrid’s death and that he should not attempt any military rescue. They actually said that Uribe would sabotage any attempt to free her because he feared she might run for President and ruin his chances. Then when Uribe ended Chavez’s role as a mediator because he was illegally contacting the armed forces of Colombia, Chavez and the above mentioned leaders and her family were up in arms saying that he had just sealed Ingrid’s fate and that she would be killed because the only one who could free her was Chavez.

Well, last Wednesday, Mr. Uribe, his minister of defense, Juan Manuel Santos and the brave military personnel achieved what the people mentioned above said was impossible: the successful rescue of these hostages. All the credit goes to Uribe for not caving into international pressure from people who wanted a negotiation to allow the FARC to become a political force in return for the liberation of the captives. Moreover, the best part is that not one shot was fired and nobody was injured or died. Therefore, none of the human rights NGO’s or groups can accuse operation “Checkmate” of abuses.

Immediately after being handed a microphone, Ingrid began to praise the Colombian President, the Defense Minister and the Armed Forces of her country, and you could see in her face and in the expression of the other hostages, complete gratitude and relief after years of living in nightmarish conditions in the dense Colombian jungle. She was generous in saying that it was great for Colombia that current President Alvaro Uribe was elected and then re-elected and that his second term was a great blow for the FARC. She described the operation as ‘impeccable and perfect,’ while her mother didn’t know where to look and seemed incredibly uncomfortable. But the rescue was also daring. If things would have gone wrong, just imagine the reactions against Uribe. However, the Colombian President not only acted with dignity but demonstrated that he is a great statesman and leader, while at the same time showing humility about his role in the rescue. He did just as he had done when he decided to get FARC leader, Reyes who was hiding in Ecuador under governmental protection: Uribe made a bold decision, planed the operation very well, and achieved a successful outcome.

Ingrid’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, and her sister and husband became very close to the enemies of democracy and peace who in reality were using her suffering politically to achieve for the FARC the status of “belligerent forces” selling them the idea that this would mean the immediate release of her daughter. A lie, of course, but they decided to go along. Astutely, the Colombian government bitterly protested saying that the people who were lobbying for this outcome might take the further step of recognizing the FARC as a “state in formation,” a status that France and Mexico granted the Sandinista rebels during the Nicaraguan civil war in the late 1970s. “Such a move would mean giving the FARC diplomatic immunity, asylum rights, Venezuelan passports, and freedom from extradition, said former Colombian Defense Minister Rafael Pardo, now a consultant based in Bogota. “They would be giving the FARC legitimacy, and that’s very grave.”

So what did Mrs. Pulecio who believed her new found “friends” say about Uribe before her daughter’s liberation? The following words of hate: “I’ve only hated one person in my life: Presidente Alvaro Uribe Vélez.” “Uribe has only wanted to humiliate me, taking advantage of my pain as a mother.” “If my daughter is still not free, it’s Uribe’s fault.” “I’ve opposed Ingrid’s children living in Colombia, for fear that Uribe, his army, or his paramilitaries would harm them.” “I’ve never spoken badly of the FARC, because I understand their struggle.”

On April 12, in Caracas, Mrs. Pulecio said, verbatim, in the presence of President Chávez, and a gathering of almost a hundred people who attended the Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity: “Señor Presidente, for me it’s a great honor that you should hear me here. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you’ve done for those who’ve been kidnapped and what you’ve done for my daughter. So I already don’t know what else to do. I feel confident in everything that you’ve done, and I feel much safer here than in Colombia. As you know, I’ve had to suffer all the lies, all the deception during these six years in which we’ve been permanently deceived, naturally I’ve had to suffer the fact that there is no true press. This morning when I heard that we need to recover truth in the media, that the media should tell the truth, and that all of us must be vigilant, this hit me in my soul. Because in Colombia all I read are lies, I read the papers and say: ‘This is false, this is false, this is false.’ Even the polls deceive the people. But, okay, I don’t want to get into political things but I do want, Presidente, to give you infinite thanks for what you’ve done and may do for my daughter and for all those who are kidnapped. To all of you I ask for your solidarity, this I wouldn’t wish on anyone, I’ve endured an ordeal, but my daughter has endured a worse ordeal, going on seven years now. I give great thanks for the help that you may give us, Mr. Chavez, for your support right now, for something that for me, is really, Presidente, as you know, very hard. Thank you very much.”

This February, at a massive world rally against the FARC where millions went to the streets wearing white shirts saying “No more FARC” and “No more kidnappings,” demonstrators flooded the streets of 125 capitals around the world. “I feel the pain of the families of the hostages rotting in the jungle ... and I want all the nations of the world to realize that the FARC is not Colombia,” one demonstrator said. Outrageously, Astrid Betancourt, Ingrid’s sister said: “We condemn this, it is propaganda, which while pretending to be against the FARC is completely organized by the government.” She also commented “all attempts at bringing the government and Farc together were always frustrated by Uribe,” adding “We must end this policy of confrontation with Farc and negotiate a humanitarian pact with them. Bush’s re-election has, unfortunately, had effects in Colombia since it has encouraged Uribe in his war mentality rejecting any dialogue with Farc who to him are ‘terrorists.’ This policy is not compatible with respect for human rights. But the president is standing firm on his position of confrontation with Farc. He could, however, show that his government is in a strong position, by showing that it is amenable to signing a humanitarian agreement with the guerrilla fighters. I am convinced that it is with such a pact and not through military confrontation, that the hostages’ lives can be saved. It is not just Ingrid’s life but that of the 3,000 hostages, that are at stake.”

Incredibly, adopting the vocabulary of a FARC defender Astrid continued “The issue of a hard line is placed in the international context of ‘combating terrorism.’ But FARC’s fight should not be compared with the terrorist attacks of New York or Madrid. There has been guerrilla warfare in Colombia for more than 40 years. I cannot say that my mother or I feel hatred towards Farc: Who are they? The leadership comprises a secretariat of about 15 people. But there are thousands of ordinary soldiers who got involved because they have no other chance of earning their living. We know families where a son is in Farc and another serves in the Colombian army. The brothers are trying to survive. The country can only be united again by dialogue, not by military confrontation.”

Months before “Checkmate,” Betancourt’s husband, Mr. Lecompte had accused the Colombian president of ordering the capture in Venezuela of a prominent member of the FARC after having learned that he was taking steps with Switzerland to have Ingrid liberated. Lecompte was referring to the case of Rodrigo Granda, arrested on 13 December in Caracas in an incident that caused a diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela that the two governments are currently trying to put behind them. He did not reveal the source of his information. Then in December after the FARC’s and Chavez’s blunder with the hostage liberation, Mr. Lecompte said: “We are going to insist that the government abstain from doing any military operations to rescue Ingrid,” as if Uribe had any fault in this. When Lecompte was told about the recent rescue, he quickly said “I am so emotional and so happy…I don’t have words” He forgot to thank the President, the minister of Defense and the brave commandos for the release for his wife.

The only words that Ingrid Betancourt had for the enemies of Colombia and friends of terror were: “Don’t meddle in Colombian democracy; respect our government” or in other words “Don’t continue helping the FARC.” Now the world will listen: Ingrid has conveyed to the whole world the horror of her captivity and how her captors required her to perform forced labor in order to get medicine.

Mrs. Pulecio, Astrid Betancourt, J.C. Lecompte and others who have accused, insulted and blamed everything on Uribe should understand that the Colombian President did not kidnap Ingrid; the FARC did. Uribe didn’t advise her to enter into FARC territory against the wishes of Colombian military personnel. In fact, while she was campaigning she met with the FARC leadership including Reyes and thought they respected her. She made a grave mistake and paid a very high price for trusting them. Uribe rescued not only her, but three Americans and eleven members of the police and the armed forces. He is the one to thank, not blame. For the sake of all those rescued, apologize and say a public and loud ‘Thank you’ to the ones responsible for the hostages’ new found freedom.

One more thing, let’s hope that Ingrid has learned her lesson and doesn’t forget who her real rescuers and friends are. She should stand by her government and the armed forces of her country: Colombia. She is now in Paris, praising Sarkozy, talking to Chavez over the phone, and is being treated like a queen. Perhaps this new found ‘celebrity status’ may be going to her head. She has said she may run for President and perhaps is now calculating her chances. Just yesterday, surprisingly, for the first time since her release she said: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should soften his tone when dealing with the Marxist FARC, and urged him to break with the language of “hatred.” “President Uribe, and not just President Uribe but Colombia as a whole, should change some things,” Betancourt told RFI radio, making her first public criticism of her one-time political rival. “I think the time has come to change the language of radicalism, extremism and hatred, the very strong words that cause deep hurt to a human being,” she said, adding that tolerance and respect were needed. Let’s keep an eye on her.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. ( She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Soccer and Politics in Argentina: Mauricio Macri.

By Nicole M. Ferrand.*
Our previous two articles on Argentina focused on the growing problems the country is now experiencing. This includes a high rate of inflation (23%), an ongoing farmers’ strike against an unfair government tax that has led to millions of dollars in losses, huge protests for and against the current regime which have sometimes turned violent and a general feeling of discontent amongst most Argentinians. In fact, there are voices that are convinced that Mrs. Fernandez’s regime won’t last and are talking about the formation of a coalition government and even the possibility of holding elections at an earlier date.
Although some say it might be too soon to be thinking about elections, many analysts are already considering possible candidates to replace Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Argentina is a country with such potential that it is a shame to witness how administration after administration has led the country to where it is now: chaos. Argentina needs a change of direction and many analysts are convinced and hope that the person capable of doing that is the current Head of the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri.
Who is Mauricio Macri?
Mr. Macri was born on February 8, 1959 in Tandil, in the province of Buenos Aires. He is a relatively new politician who studied at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), where he received a degree in Civil Engineering. He also attended Columbia Business School, Wharton Business School and Universidad del CEMA.[1] His professional career in business includes management positions in various successful companies since 1985 such as Sideco, SOCMA, and Sevel. These companies were part of a larger family business corporation managed by his father, Franco Macri.

Boca Juniors
If you have been to Argentina, you know by now that football or soccer (fútbol in every country except the USA) is more than a religion there. Argentinians are real fanatics of the sport and whenever the country’s team plays a game, Argentina literally stops functioning: everybody is in a stadium, glued to a TV, the phones stop ringing and businesses close. Don’t even bother calling for a taxi: they disappear from the streets. People, especially men, actually sob whether it is a victory or a loss. It is quite a spectacle. One of the most revered squads in Argentina is Boca Juniors and Mauricio Macri was its President for twelve years. He was elected in 1995 and reelected in 1999 and 2003, to complete one of the most successful periods of Boca, winning several international competitions.[2] He is viewed by many Argentinians as the man who saved the club and many say that “if he did that that with Boca, he can do the same with the country.” They are tired of the same old politicians and desperately want a change. They know Macri is a no nonsense guy who will do well for his country because of his experience as a successful businessman and his pro-market formulations and ideas.
Mauricio Macri belongs to one of the wealthiest business families in the county and is popular with both the working and business classes who view him as an example to follow; he also has the support of millions of Boca Junior fans and other fútbol followers who admire how he managed the club; the upper class as well as big business view him as an equal and one that understands a market economy. Small firms feel in tune with him because he understands their language and he doesn’t run on ideology: left or right mean nothing to him; he is focused on progress and open markets and is passionate about this approach.

Brief History of Boca Juniors
Boca Juniors was born on Monday April 3rd, 1905, when five young boys who lived in the La Boca neighborhood got together with the intention to start a football club. Without even imagining it, this group of Italian immigrants wrote the first pages of the rich history of Argentina’s most popular football team. The name of the club was taken from that of the neighborhood but the word “Juniors” was added to give it an English tone and enhance it with more prestige, in order to counteract the “difficult neighborhood” fame La Boca had at that time. Boca Juniors players wear the classic blue and golden yellow jersey. Throughout almost one hundred years of history many players such as Gabriel Batistuta, Martín Palermo, and Juan Román Riquelme have been Boca Juniors players. However, the most renowned figure of all times in Argentina as well as in world football, who played for the team and is still a fervent fan, is Diego Armando Maradona. The enormous popularity and the successes in sport events harvested in the last years at the international level have positioned Boca as a solid brand mark at the world level. Boca is one of the brands with the greatest symbolic content in the world of football. The institutional evolution attained in the last years, in the sportive aspect through its excellent technical staff, as well as economically, achieved thanks to the management headed by Mr. Mauricio Macri, has allowed the Club Atlético Boca Juniors to be placed at the head of the world ranking of clubs.[1] Macri significantly increased the club’s net worth and annual revenues.
Macri’s Political career
In 2005, after his success at Boca, Macri made his political debut when he ran for Head of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires with his neo-liberal party “Compromiso para el Cambio” (Commitment to Change). He won the first round of the election with 33.9% but lost the runoff election with 47% of the popular vote to his opponent Aníbal Ibarra.[1] In the 2005 legislative elections he won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, representing the city of Buenos Aires, with more than 33% of the votes.[2] He joined fellow politician and economist Ricardo López Murphy of Recrear to create an electoral front called Propuesta Republicana (known as PRO) and sat in the PRO block of the Argentina Chamber of Deputies.[3] He was also in discussions with conservative Jorge Sobisch, governor of Neuquén Province, ahead of the 2007 elections. The group he founded in 2005 to oppose President Kirchner intentionally avoided using the word party in its name. Instead, it called itself “Republican Proposal” as a way of representing an alternative to what Macri has described as an authoritarian government.

In 2006, Mauricio Macri was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina against Malnutrition, IIMSAM, which works to promote the use of micro-algae Spirulina (Spirulina platensis) to counter malnutrition and its severe negative impacts especially in the Developing and the Least Developed Countries (LDC).[4]

In February 2007 Macri announced that he would run once again to be Head of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires in the 2007 elections, heading the PRO team with Gabriela Michetti as his running mate. In the first round of the election on June 2nd, 2007 he won with 45.6% of the votes over the government-backed candidate, Daniel Filmus, who received 23.8% of the votes. The incumbent Jorge Telerman came in third place. The runoff election between Macri and Filmus took place on June 24th, 2007 and resulted in Macri’s victory with 60.96% of the votes.[5] Given the city’s budget of some $3bn and population of nearly three million, the post of Buenos Aires mayor is seen as the third most important political office in Argentina, after the country’s president and the governor of the province of Buenos Aires (currently Daniel Scioli). Macri’s victory was largely analyzed as a defeat for President Néstor Kirchner and turned him into de facto leader of the right-wing opposition, which has remained fractured after the Argentine political crisis of late 2001.

His victory was seen by many as the emergence of business as an active protagonist in hemispheric politics at a time when populist programs here and elsewhere in Latin America seem to be running out of steam. Macri has made no secret of his intention to re-install neo-conservative politics and economics at center stage. Mr. Macri is a rare breed of politician in Argentina, someone who has not risen through the ranks of a traditional political party but instead comes from the business world. He is considered a center-right politician, and is a staunch critic of left-wing President, Cristina Kirchner.[6]
He is seriously considering the possibility of participating in the next presidential race. That interest was clearly expressed when he said: “We are going to take our time to study what we can do to consolidate national politics.” As opposition leader, he has said that a victory of conservative forces in the presidential elections is on the books if diverse opposition candidates force a run-off in which they could then work together.

Macri is constructing his political career brick by brick with solid marketing techniques and a non-ideological approach to public affairs, appealing to large numbers of “porteños” (people from the city of Buenos Aires) who are tired of politicians prone to more promises than solutions. His slogan is “less talk and more action.” Boosted by his charismatic appeal, during his campaign for Head of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, he went from neighborhood to neighborhood explaining his proposed policies, accompanied everywhere by his also charismatic vice-mayor candidate, Gabriela Michetti, confined to a wheel chair due to an accident. His supporters covered the city with posters reading, “Buenos Aires is going to be great,” “More free education” and “More free medical care,” plus others related to garbage collection and public safety. His clear inclination for neo-conservative economics suggests that as head of state, he will follow a plan of efficient government and pro-business policies. He has made it clear that he will encourage foreign investors to return to Argentina.[1] He certainly has the international connections to succeed at this.
Despite his economic status in a country where some 26.9% of the population lives below the poverty line, Macri has tried to portray himself as an average man concerned with everyday problems. His years as president of Boca Juniors have helped him strengthen this image. Some consider Macri a political outsider who is bringing a breeze of fresh air to Argentine politics. He has stated “We want to offer an alternative to Argentines... We really want to show there is a new way of doing politics.”

Future President?
Macri has repeatedly said he wants to be the next President of Argentina. He stated that he is already working towards that purpose and is confident enough to say that he will achieve his objective. “I am working to be President. When we achieve power, we’ll have the chance to demonstrate that when things are done correctly, things work”. Mr. Macri said this after another possible candidate, Roberto Lavagna, announced he was going to run for President in 2011.

About PRO’s future, he hopes that it serves as a bridge so that civil society can participate in politics in order for it to stop being an inactive compartment where no one wants to participate because they perceive it as a forbidden environment. We want to end that because we all have to participate since it’s our future. We want to implement a long term model of harmony and national cohabitation and better relations of Argentina with the rest of the world. Our only ally cannot, and I emphasize, cannot be Chávez…we are on the wrong path. I wasn’t born a politician and I started to dedicate myself to it for conviction. I feel that our country deserves a better future. I firmly believe we can make an important contribution by talking less and doing more. I have a business background but I know that with words I won’t change anybody’s mind. I hope that the facts show that the country can take a different and better direction. I also know that you cannot run a country as a business but there is important knowledge that one acquires in the business world that is very useful for improving public management. For example, if someone doesn’t work, that person shouldn’t receive a salary because in the private sector this doesn’t happen.

The bottom line
As Luis Fleischman wrote on July 20th 2007[1], Macri has an agenda that is in many aspects the total opposite of the Kirchner’s style and content. He runs on a platform that promises greater efficiency in the provision of government services (mostly in public education, health and transportation). He repudiates political clientelism, a practice that has characterized most governments, including Kirchner’s. Macri is seen to represent values which the average Argentinian consider important for the functioning of a good government. In a society characterized by a lack of legal security, corruption, chaos, impunity, and economic uncertainty, Macri presents what Argentine journalist Eduardo Aliverti defined as non-ideological programs: law, order, stability, and security.

Many of his critics say that his only experience as an administrator comes from working in his father’s business empire and from running the Boca Juniors football club and therefore he doesn’t have what it takes to become President. But they are wrong. In Argentina, managing the biggest soccer club will give one the experience needed to be able to handle the internal problems of a public office with great responsibilities. Macri decided to run for the Head of the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires in order to attain more experience in public office and the fact that he is being successful as mayor has turned him into one of the most important figures in the nation. Many think he is ready to run the country and they might be exactly right.
*Nicole M. Ferrand. Ms. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

[1] Macri, de La Boca al Congreso. October 12, 2005. Terra.
[2] Ibid.
[3] PRO Official website.
[4] Goodwill Ambassadors / Envoys. IIMSAM. United Nations.
[5] Macri Expects Run-Off Election Win After First Round Victory. June 4, 2007. Bloomberg.
[6] Soccer Team President Wins Mayoral Race. July 3 2007. WorldPress.
[1] Club Atlético Boca Juniors. Official Site.

[1] Mauricio Macri. Curriculum Vitae. Fundación CEMA.
[2] The unofficial biography of Mauricio Macri. Mundo Andino.