Apocalypse Averted: “The Colombian Success Story”

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CSIS: “Colombia has successfully avoided the Apocalypse.” But see also Colombia: Uribe Warns of the Apocalypse.

Plata still attaches importance to the fact that the Colombian government had hired Burston-Marsteller several months ago to help it with its public relations in the U.S. in favor of the FTA. Burston-Marsteller’s president is Mark Penn, one of the principal advisers to Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, who last week came out publicly against the treaty. “When you hire an expert like this, you do not buy a presidential candidate,” he [Plata? Penn?] indicated to this magazine. Nevertheless, that same afternoon, the government was reviewing its relationship with Penn and Burston-Marsteller, a company that gets more than $25,000 a month from the Foreign Ministry.

Prestigioso ‘think tank’ de EU dice que los progresos de Colombia desde 1999 son ‘la historia de un éxito’: “Prestigious U.S. think tank says Colombia’s progress since 1999 is a ‘success story.'”

Semana reports, and hosts a copy of the report, “Back From Brink: Evaluating Progress in Colombia, 1999-2007” (PDF), on its own server.

Un extenso informe elaborado por uno de los institutos de pensamiento más prestigiosos de Washington, hecho público hoy en esa ciudad, concluye que, pese a todos los problemas que ha enfrentado en los últimos años, Colombia progresa. El estudio, titulado ‘Back from the brink’ (‘De regreso del borde’), se presentó ayer en el Center for Strategic and International Studies (Centro para los Estudios Estratégicos e Internacionales, CSIS) con la presencia del ministro de Comercio de Colombia, Luis Guillermo Plata, y de la embajadora en Washington, Carolina Barco, y será utilizado por el gobierno de Álvaro Uribe como una herramienta más para convencer al Congreso de los Estados Unidos de que apruebe el Tratado de Libre Comercio suscrito por ambos países el pasado 22 de noviembre.

The extensive study … was presented at the CSIS yesterday in the presence of Colombian trade minister Plata and Colombian ambassador Barco, and will be used by the Uribe government as a tool to convince the U.S. Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement signed by both nations last November 22.

Según confirmó SEMANA en el CSIS, el estudio fue pagado por la oficina del United States Trade Representative (Alto Representante Comercial de los Estados Unidos, USTR por sus siglas en inglés). Preguntado por esta revista si eso no vicia la objetividad de la investigación, un portavoz del think tank dijo desde Washington: “En absoluto. La idea del gobierno era precisamente buscar a una entidad independiente y reconocida como es ésta”. En el USTR reposa uno de los textos originales del TLC firmados por el entonces ministro colombiano de Comercio, Jorge Humberto Botero, y por el ‘número dos’ del USTR, John Veroneau, con quien Plata se reúne el jueves. El USTR no lo ha enviado al Congreso porque sabe que no cuenta con los votos suficientes. Requiere 218 de los 435 de la Cámara y 51 de los 100 del Senado.

As SEMANA confirmed with the CSIS, the study was paid for by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Asked by this newsweekly if this does not undermine the objectivity of the study, a spokesperson for the U.S. think tank said from Washington: “Absolutely not. The government’s idea was precisely to find an independent and reputable organization such as we are.” At the USTR, one of the originals of the free trade agreement, signed by then Commerce minister Botero and the No.2 man at the USTR, John Veroneau, with whom Plata is meeting Thursday, lies in repose. The USTR has not sent it to Congress because it knows it cannot count on the needed votes: 218 in the House and 51 in the Senate.

The report’s authors:

  1. Peter DeShazo, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State until September 2004
  2. Tania Primiani (formerly of the UN and Siemens Management Consulting)
  3. Phillip McLean (career foreign service guy to 1994, “served as an adviser to OAS secretary Cesar Gaviria until 1997”)

[DeShazo] also directed the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department, was area director for the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Information Agency, and served at U.S. embassies and consulates in La Paz, Medellín, Santiago, Panama City, Caracas, and Tel Aviv.

Forward by CSIS CEO John J. Hamre.

Por otra parte, Luis Guillermo Plata le restó importancia al factor de que el gobierno colombiano haya contratado desde hace varios meses para que se haga cargo en Estados Unidos de las relaciones públicas a favor del TLC a la firma Burson-Marsteller, cuyo presidente es Mark Penn, uno de los principales asesores de la senadora por Nueva York y precandidata del partido demócrata a la presidencia Hillary Clinton, que la semana pasada se declaró contraria al tratado. “Cuando uno contrata a un experto de estos no compra un candidato presidencial”, le indicó a esta revista. No obstante, el gobierno revisaba esta misma tarde la relación con Penn y con Burson-Marsteller, empresa que recibe más de 25.000 dólares mensuales del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores.

On the other hand, Plata still attaches importance to the fact that the Colombian government had hired Burston-Marsteller several months ago to help it with its public relations in the U.S. in favor of the FTA. Burston-Marsteller’s president is Mark Penn, one of the principal advisers to Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, who last week came out publicly against the treaty. “When you hire an expert like this, you do not buy a presidential candidate,” he [Plata? Penn?] indicated to this magazine. Nevertheless, that same afternoon, the government was reviewing its relationship with Penn and Burston-Marsteller, a company that gets more than 25,000 a month from the Foreign Ministry.

The report cites the Transparency International Transprency Perception Index to support the notion that progress has been made in this area since 1999.

On which see also

According to well-regarded international standards of measurement,Colombia’s record on corruption has improved substantially during the 1999– 2007 period. By the Worldwide Governance Indicators of the World Bank, this improvement tracks closely with a similar positive trend in government effectiveness (see figure 9). In the case of corruption, the positive trend begins in 1998, picking up strength with a very pronounced uptick from 2002 to 2004, a period when the Government Effectiveness Index also rises strongly. Transparency International’s (TI) Transparency Perception Index from 1999 to 2006 also presents a very positive trend. In 1999, the index listed Colombia at 2.9 on a scale of 1 (highest corruption) to 10 (lowest corruption), 11th overall among Latin American nations. TI’s 2006 Index shows Colombia rising a full point to 3.9, now fifth-best among the Latin cohorts, the largest improvement of any Latin American country except Uruguay during that period. Some 65 percent of Colombians surveyed in February 2007 approved of the manner in which President Uribe was handling corruption.

Invamer lists the U.S. Department of State as one of its clients.

Recall that in the Costa Rican FTA referendum, one polling firm was showing an advantage for NO while another was showing a “technical tie.”

The polling firm whose results showed a technical ties lists the [pro-FTA] Costa Rican government as one of its clients.

See also

You really think the USTR has any credibility after that?

I was just watching an interesting segment on Globo News here in Brazil last evening in which they interviewed the guy who ran the NED programs in Venezuela, the subject of an FOIA expose by a pro-Chávez journalist, Eva Gollinger — whose credibility is sharply questioned by the folks at VCrisis, of course.

Everything’s a crisis.

It was interesting what the guy said: After that astonishingly undiplomatic moment in which the spokesman for the U.S. Deptartment of State appeared to gloat over the 2002 coup — and other disastrous unilateral adventures — the U.S. simply no longer has any moral standing for unilateral action in the curious case of the Boliviarian blowhard.

It will have to let other nations take the lead in a multilateral process.

And other interesting thoughts, such as the significance of the fact that, post-Bush, Chávez will lose the principal Punch to his Bolivarian Judy.

Deprived of a plausible pretext for governing in a permanent state of shrieking emergency, he may well wind up having to actually collect the garbage and make the buses run on time.

Which can often cut a firebrand down to size over time. I tend to think that way, too. Not that my opinion means much, but a guy is entitled to speculate on his own time. Perpetual states of emergency tend to provide such people with a plausible argument for their own personal indispensability. Just look at The Beard. And even Le Monde Diplomatique is warning of the risk of Hugoist “personalism” these days.

People’s perceptions, as a recent really quite thorough review of corruption metrics I was reading, by some guy from UNAM in Mexico, observed, tend to be based on what they read in the newspapers.

Media coverage of published corruption rankings may influence people’s perception of corruption in the country. Also, perceived corruption may “overweight” well-publicised corruption scandals compared to more colloquial cases of bribery (“headline bias”). This is true even if the respondents have significant personal exposure to corruption. For instance, in constructing their Bribe Payers’ Index, Transparency International asked business leaders what their main sources of information on corruption, unfair competition and anticorruption treaties were. “The press media” was the preferred response, chosen by 79% of respondents. “Personal experience” was only third at 59%. –Erlend Berg, “How Should Corruption be Measured?” London School of Economics, May 2001

In Colombia, what people read in the newspapers is reportedly subject to coercion that produces self-censorship.

Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to operate. In particular, journalists working outside the capital, Bogotá, who attempt to investigate corruption and drug trafficking, or report on the country’s decades-long civil war, continue to face threats, harassment, and physical attacks at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries, members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), corrupt officials, drug traffickers, and other common criminals. Frequently, the groups involved in Colombia’s civil war single out journalists or media outlets as “military targets,” using intimidation and violence to ensure they are portrayed favourably by the press. The impunity that has accompanied these crimes has led to widespread self-censorship among Colombia’s journalists. —International Press Institute, 2006

This sort of coercion is cheerled loudly by Uribe personally — who can scarcely be said to lag his Bolivarian blowhard neighbor in this regard.

Case in point:

There is not a single mention of freedom of the press, or the status of the right to complete and accurate information, in the CSIS report.

(No Colombian press sources are cited in the report that I could find, either. Only official government (U.S. — overwhelmingly USDoS — as well as Colombian) and multilateral (World Bank and the UN, principally) sources.)

Which treats the “parapolitics” problem as if it had to do with “some Uribe supporters” and “pro-Uribe forces,” but not Uribe himself. The name Noguera does not appear. No allusion to the mass sacking of National Police generals is to be found, either. It is as though nothing had happened in Colombia in the last 12 months.

Given Colombia’s history, the parapolítica affair is not surprising. Drug traffickers and paramilitary criminals constituted a rising middle class in many parts of rural Colombia and in small towns. They used their new wealth to buy political influence at a time when their power was on the rise and when the legitimate institutions of government appeared incapable of stopping them. Just as the JPL is leading to greater understanding of the entire paramilitary phenomenon, so it is exposing the corruption and political links that it engendered. The charges underscore the remarkable independence that Colombia’s newly reformed judiciary is exercising.

Which begs the question of which came first, paramilitary prosperity or political sponsorship of paramilitary groups, and is otherwise a little hard to swallow, given recent headlines. See, for example,

Unhappy with the charges brought against the other Uribe — Mario Uribe Escobar — Uribe went on talk radio and conducted an astonishingly rabid smear campaign against senior members of the judiciary, accusing them of corruption, dishonesty and hidden agendas.

Uribe tends to have many such Putin-Musharraf-(Hugo, if you wish) moments while screaming into the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone of friendly forums.

Meanwhile, people from that independent judiciary and press are tending to get assassinated here and there.

The report fairly forthrightly lists what it terms “remaining challenges” in its executive summary, but tends to soft-pedal them in the body of the report.

As PR for the “Yes on the Colombian FTA” proposition,” it makes a not utterly dishonest and certainly very competent case.

But the problem is that, in setting itself the task of “measuring progress” — assuming in advance that progress has been made — it is still reads just like PR for the “Yes on the Colombian FTA,” paid for the USTR, rather than the “independent judgement of a reputable institution that the government sought.”

The interesting thing, from a rhetorical point of view, is how the argument plays both sides of the apocalyptic theme.

Uribe’s proxies in Washington breathe a sigh of relief at an Apocalypse Averted.

For domestic audiences, Uribe breathes fire over an Apocalypse Impending — especially if his policy agenda, including the FTA, is abandoned or altered.

Which is really just the Happy Talk phase of the same argument from fear, uncertainty and doubt.

As Eric S. Raymond writes: “The idea, of course, was to persuade buyers to go with safe IBM gear rather than with competitors’ equipment. This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors’ equipment or software. After 1991 the term has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.

The case here is less one of outright disinformation than it is of partial information and tactical omission or glossings-over.

And its overall literary thematic is highly consistent with the FUD campaign deployed in Costa Rica, too:

Does $25,000 seem like a lot of money to you? That is like the salary of a small team, with a partner-level account exec billing it very part-time.

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