BOGOTÁ â€" On Sunday, Colombians will decide whether to ratify a peace deal that makes the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, lay down their arms. But if that happens, what will the future of FARC look like? Will it become a socialist party like the one that has driven Venezuela into an economic crisis?
It's a frightening prospect if FARC's top leader, Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño, dons the presidential sash. It conjures up images of thousands of Colombians queuing, like their Venezuelan neighbors right now, for eggs, bread and toilet paper while newborns are placed in cardboard boxes due to a dearth of hospital beds. Are we about to dig our own grave by voting to approve the peace deal?
In 1998, Hugo Chávez won Venezuela's presidential elections with 56% of the vote, breaking up the two-party system the country had had since the end of a military regime in 1958. A portion of Venezuelans saw Chávez, who died in 2013, as a radical leftist, backward in many ways, a man who despised democracy and would do anything to hold on to power. But the majority in Venezuela did not see him that way. They didnâ€™t ostracize him for his failed coup attempt in 1992. Indeed, many came to take a romantic view of him, seeing him as a kind of Robin Hood fighting on the behalf of ordinary people.
In a 1998 expand=1] interview with Univisión's Jorge Ramos (a senior journalist more recently thrown out of a Donald Trump news conference), Chávez lied that he would hand over power after his five-year term ended. Staring straight at the camera, he said, "I am not the devil.â€ He added that "Cuba is a dictatorship" but said he couldnâ€™t condemn its leaders because countries have a right to determine their own fate.
Is FARCâ€™s future leadership headed toward such a dictatorship?
In 1998, Venezuela was going through a deep recession. When Chávez swore the oath of office the next year, a barrel of oil cost about $19. This rose to $66 by 2006, then touched a shocking high of $124 in 2008. Floating in an ocean of cash, Chávez's regime allowed itself the luxury of despising and intimidating private firms, and letting them leave. The curse of oil money was that it turned the Chávez establishment into a powerful mafia that felt invincible.
We do not have that kind of oil in Colombia. But we do have plenty of drug money. FARC has been one of the chief beneficiaries of drug trafficking in recent years. Itâ€™s conceivable that FARC has billions of dollars stashed away, enough to buy itself a presidential election result.
Venezuela isnâ€™t the only example of left-wing authoritarianism in Latin America. In Brazil, many cabinet ministers and leader Lula da Silva of the former government have been charged with stealing money from state oil firm Petrobras. In Argentina, allies of former presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner have gone from being bank cashiers to building construction empires. Most hilarious perhaps is Nicaragua, where a dead man is now the speaker of parliament. Except in Ecuador, left-wing governments in Latin America have been failing (even if the right-wing hasn't fared much better).
The political party that could emerge from the disarmed FARC will likely have a presidential candidate in 2022. The challenge at the time will be not to denounce the arrival of Castro-style communism but to defeat their party at the polls. That is, to say, with political debate, not gunshots.
Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.
[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.
• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.
• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.
• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.
• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.
• Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.
• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."
— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.
🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS
Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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