Josh, who has traveled to over thirty countries, started by saying that Colombia is the most heavily militarized and weaponized country he’s ever visited – more than Israel. For instance, he hired guy to show him the city and they both went to ATM in a nice, clean convenience store. Standing next to the ATM was a man with an open-carry shotgun, wearing a bandolier belt. The man behind the counter was also wearing an open-carry gun.
There’s open army presence in La Candelaria, the old city.
It’s obvious that in Colombia law & order are kept by police & actual military presence. They use old US equipement, which you can see because the webbing still has “US” stamped on it.
Josh was there during the week that Chavez was about to declare war on Colombia. The Colombians made a point of not mobilizing, and not calling any reserves.
Pre.s Uribe’s popularity is sky high; even the leftists like Uribe, and also are strong supporters of Pres, Bush. Colombia is the most pro-American place in Latin America Josh has visited. There is a sense of of optimisim about Colombia, which four or five years ago was not the case. Now you can walk around at night in nice neighborhoods.
If you look at some of the photos, you’ll see posters about the FARC kidnappings. There’s an active popular conscience about the kidnapped and the killed by FARC. Civil groups are making an effort to stop the violence.
Colombians are absolutely convinced that Chavez is manipulating the entire region. The Colombians are convinced that there is a nexus of organized crime and guerilla movement, and that Chavez had moved into a leadership role by dint of funding it and bankrolling it. Colombians believe that Chavez has purchased the Ecuadorians & the Argentinians.
Colombia & Brazil were only 2 countries standing against Chavez.
Colombia is the only contry of meaningful importance standing against Chavez and they frightedned that they can’t do it without US help.
The US Congress’ not passing the Colombia FTA was seen as disastrous, and that we let them down. As Josh pointed out, Plan Colombia was a Clinton plan – which Bush has continued. Now the consensus on that has died and Congress will not support it.
To summarize, Josh said, “Colomgia is like Iraq: both are on the cusp of being OK but all the gains are reversible.”