Geopolitics

Ideology Over Interests, Why Latin American Leftists Broke With Brazil

The withdrawal of the ambassadors of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela from Brazil to protest Dilma Rousseff's ouster is a good example of partisan zeal harming the national interest.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales in Caracas on March 5
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales in Caracas on March 5
Marcelo Ostria Trigo*

-Analysis-

LA PAZ â€" The 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously declared that states do not have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Circumstances and interests bring states closer or push them apart. I was reminded of the quote after the recent decision taken by Bolivia's President Evo Morales to recall his ambassador in Brazil in protest at the Brazilian senate’s dismissal of the country's now former president, Dilma Rousseff. Fellow socialist states, Venezuela and Ecuador, soon followed suit.

This attitude is a long way from Bolivia's long-established policy of maintaining good relations with its neighbors (this being a land of "contacts not enmities," as one of the country's presidents, Luis Fernando Guachalla, said some 70 years ago). And Brazil is certainly a neighbor with many shared interests that transcend the two countries' political orientations.

Recently, Latin American populism has taken verbal spats to a whole new level. This time, the barbs have skipped their usual target â€" the United States "empire" â€" a state whose governments and policies really do alternate and yet which is routinely blamed for all our ills, including those that have yet to appear. But verbal attacks on Washington are one thing, especially when it is "distracted" with more important problems, and quite different from leveling charges against a powerful neighbor that also happens to be a key customer of Bolivian gas.

Beyond economic interests, there is an international principle to be respected: that of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was sacked in late August at the end of an impeachment process that was, from the start, governed by established laws. Insisting on calling the move a coup is unjustified, even if one doesn't agree with the outcome of that political trial.

If defending democracy was the reason for the Bolivian government recalling its ambassador in Brazil, it would be far more understandable for it to back implementing the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Venezuela, where a fellow leftist regime is busily striking at laws and institutions, and refusing to recognize the overwhelming majority of votes won by parliamentary opponents. In fact, President Nicolás Maduro is the man behind the collective hostility shown by the ALBA group of states toward the new Brazilian government.

It is never good to apply double standards: one of complaisance toward friends, whatever their bad habits, and another, stricter standard for those who do not share your politics.

Brazil shares permanent and convergent interests with its three neighboring states but, for now, they have distanced themselves from the beleaguered nation. By the time this unfortunate episode ends, however, these interests will re-emerge, provoked by a lapse in common sense so typical of populist regimes.


*Marcelo Ostria Trigo is a Bolivian attorney, government official, diplomat, university professor and writer. He served as Bolivia's Foreign Minister in 1975 and ambassador to Uruguay, Venezuela and Israel.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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