International Papers

Guerrillas in the Midst

Colombia drew closer to war this weekend after President Andrés Pastrana rejected the latest negotiating offer from leftist guerrilla group FARC, demanding that the rebels respond more unequivocally to his call for a cease-fire. Pastrana was widely criticized for his generous peace overtures to FARC—especially after the handover of “Farclandia,” a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone, in late 1998—but last Wednesday he decided that since the guerrillas had broken off peace talks three months ago, they no longer deserved a safe haven. On Saturday, he instructed FARC to leave the enclave by 9:30 p.m. ET Monday, at which point the army will move in. According to Britain’s Independent, “Most Colombians feel the Farc have flagrantly abused the demilitarised zone, using it as a hideaway for kidnapped hostages and a corridor for arms and drug trafficking.” FARC’s withdrawal won’t solve the area’s problems, however; the Independent reported that residents “fear that ultra-right paramilitary death squads will enter the rebel haven behind the military and launch a bloody retaliatory purge.”

Colombian papers were remarkably calm about the likelihood of war. The conservative El Paísof Calí blamed FARC for the breakdown: “Not only did they lose out on a big opportunity, they also displayed their arrogance and inability to understand the changes that are occurring in the world. … In these circumstances, it is our duty and that of all Colombians to answer the president’s call for unity, support him fully, and rally behind the armed forces.” El Espectadoralso supported Pastrana’s ultimatum: “If FARC set off the events of recent days, it’s because it wanted to intimidate the government and the citizenry to gain concessions to offset its continuing loss of popularity, the growing power of the armed forces, and the loss of support from the international community after Sept. 11.” An op-ed in El Tiempo compared the relationship between Pastrana’s government and the guerrilla group to a marriage of convenience:

In negotiations, just as in marriage, the most important thing is respect, and here there was none. … The process has been handled so badly, the two sides understand each other so poorly, that they can’t even agree how to break up. Each one blames the other. And just like a couple that is separating, one doesn’t know when the other is leaving nor if they really want them to go.

Clarín of Argentina suggested that both the government and the guerrillas had used the last three years of negotiations to rearm. In 1999, the Colombian armed forces had four heavy artillery helicopters and 72 choppers for transporting troops and materiel; by March 2002, they’ll have 16 artillery and 154 troop helicopters. The army has also more than doubled its manpower. Meanwhile, FARC used the hundreds of millions of dollars it earns each year from narco-trafficking, kidnap and extortion, and “investments in various sectors of the economy” to update its weaponry.

U.S. vs. them? The transfer of alleged Taliban/al-Qaida members from Afghanistan to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, set off the international press’s outrage meter this weekend. It didn’t help that the Bush administration apparently intends to try the prisoners in military tribunals, with execution as a possible outcome. The Independent cried, “Spare us wild west justice,” and the Sydney Morning Herald likened a U.S. cable channel’s display of prisoners “shamed in defeat” to the ancient Roman tradition of parading captives through the streets. (The first batch of prisoners sent to Guantanamo included an Australian and a British citizen.)  For the Observer, the treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners is “a scandal of international proportions. Brutalised, often tortured, these are men who have been stripped of their most basic rights under international and US law, rights guaranteed at the International Tribunal in the Hague even for the alleged architects of the genocide in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.” The Independent declared that because the Guantanamo treatment was reserved for foreigners (American jihadi John Walker will be tried in the United States), a legal “double standard” was in play. It continued, “Not only are such double standards offensive in themselves, but they spread like a virus around the world and erode the rights of those feeling the sharp edge of state power under regimes less sensitive to human rights and their legal protections.” Similarly, a Sydney Morning Herald op-ed headlined “The land of the free becomes the land of the hypocrite” predicted that this year’s U.S. State Department report on human rights (click here for the 2000 report) will be undermined by recent events in the United States: “The trouble is, as any parent knows, nothing undermines a reprimand more than the realisation that the accuser has behaved like the accused.”

Service journalism of the week: Charles Laurence of the Sunday Telegraph answered what seems to be the most pressing question for Brits planning to attend next month’s Winter Olympics—where to get a drink in Salt Lake City. Among Laurence’s recommendations: Use the Internet to find bars (advertising is forbidden), ask for wine to accompany your meal (that advertising ban again), and drink in your hotel (many include club membership in the room rate, allowing key-holders to booze in peace).

Expense account abuse of the week: An intrepid Guardianreporter traveled to French Guiana, “a French département d’outre mer sandwiched between Surinam and Brazil on the Amazon delta,” in order to … spend a euro. Apparently, the “most exotic and farthest-flung corner of the European Union” has embraced the new European currency with nary a complaint. Well, there was a “ragged Rastafarian beggar in women’s underwear … [who] complained that the one-euro coin I gave him wasn’t worth nearly as much as the 10-franc piece I might have handed over a couple of weeks ago.”

Vale, Maharajah Mac: According to India’s Economic Times, McDonald’s has “chickened out” and given the Maharajah Mac, a mutton burger, “the big chop.” Since opening its first Indian outlet in 1996, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported, “McDonald’s has been pandering to finicky palates, Hindu religious sensitivities over beef, a strong preference for vegetarian food and a pan-Indian aversion to high prices.” Beef (Hindu objections) and pork (Muslim objections) are permanently off the menu, and the McMutton has been retired for “re-engineering,” but chicken and spicy vegetarian burgers are still doing well.