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Aquí una crónica publicada por la revista sobre la guerra antidrogas en el país, una realidad triste pero bien cierta. Es curioso que los artículos sobre Colombia en The Economist pasan por sus relaciones con Estados Unidos y la Droga...
Tomado de http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9025655
The roots of cocaine
Apr 20th 2007
Our Americas editor joins the war on drugs
EVEN with earplugs, the noise is deafening. I am sitting on a canvas seat in the back of a Blackhawk helicopter-gunship, with a soldier’s shoulder jammed into my knee. Through the Blackhawk’s open door, above the heavy machine gun, I watch as a large sweep of south-western Colombia opens up beneath us. We fly down a broad valley, the main Andean cordillera to our left, before swinging right into the coastal range.
Half an hour after taking off from the airport at Popayán we clatter down to a spur half way up a mountain. The dozen heavily armed soldiers and police of the Jungle Command jump out as the helicopter touches down. Bent double, they sprint to the perimeter, where they crouch, automatic rifles pointing at the void.
But nothing moves in the surrounding valleys. There are no guerrillas in the immediate area. We have come to the district of Balboa, in Cauca department, to watch a government effort to eradicate coca, the shrub from which cocaine is extracted.
For several years Álvaro Uribe’s government, with American aid and contractors, has used crop-spraying light aircraft to dump weedkiller on coca fields. That policy is controversial. Critics say that the weedkiller drifts on to food crops and that it can damage human health (thought there is no clear evidence of that and it is fiercely denied by Colombian and American officials).
In addition, spraying is ineffective. Last year, according to Mr Uribe, the government sprayed 160,000 hectares. The UN Drug Control Office thinks that 100% of the coca crop is sprayed. But the farmers replant, in the same place or elsewhere.
The UN reckons that the total area under coca in Colombia has fallen from a peak of 160,000 hectares in 1999 to 86,000 in 2005 (the latest year for which figures are available). Whether or not those figures are right, the reality is that the flow of cocaine has continued without interruption, and the trend in its street price in the United States and Europe is stable or even declining.
As a result, in the past couple of years, Mr Uribe’s government has started to do more manual eradication of coca, in which gangs of workers yank out each bush by hand. Last year, they ripped out 43,000 hectares. This year, Mr Uribe told me, the government expects to eradicate 50,000 hectares by hand. The aerial spraying will continue against larger plantations and in areas where the guerrillas make manual eradication impossible (more than 20 police and 10 civilian workers were killed trying to eradicate by hand in La Macarena National Park last year). The plan is to eradicate small plots in safer areas by hand.
Awaiting us at the improvised helipad is a pick-up of the Anti-Narcotics Division of the National Police. We drive down a rutted dirt road. After a puncture obliges us to transfer to another police truck we reach the tented camp where 680 workers recruited by the government’s Social Action agency are based. Jorge Hernández, a Social Action official, explains that his teams have eradicated some 4,000 hectares of coca in the valleys of Balboa in the previous seven weeks. Only 500 hectares are left.
We drive on through the majestic Andean canyon. Here, nature is on a vast scale. From the small but frothing Rio Turbio (literally “cloudy and turbulent river”) on the valley floor to the peaks above is a span of around 2,000 metres. The farms, small huts with corrugated iron roofs, are insignificant specks. Tall, silvery cachimbo trees line the river’s banks, their rich red blossoms like a spurt of blood.
We cross the river and stop. A steep path leads up the mountainside. Thirty metres in, but invisible from the road, edged by banana and papaya trees, is a small coca field. The coca bushes, distinguished by their pale green leaves, have been neatly planted in lines marching up the mountainside. The field tilts at an angle of almost 45 degrees. Its surface is of rocky scree. We slither and slide across it and watch as the Social Action workers, dressed in gumboots, jeans and blue T-shirts, use spades with handles two metres long to lever out deftly each bush. It is backbreaking work.
Is it also pointless? Back in the hamlet near the helipad, I had talked to some local people. With the police looking on they refused to give their names. But their anger was clear enough. “Coca didn’t make us rich, it was just to get by,” said one. “First the government should send something else, seeds or some project. They just come and yank the coca out.”
Some people have moved on, to plant coca elsewhere. Unlike coffee, for example, coca will grow on poor land, with little water, gives at least four harvests a year, and has a ready market.
Government officials say they plan to spend more on rural development and to co-ordinate it more closely with eradication, so that coca farmers are offered an immediate alternative. But in a country such as Colombia, more than twice the size of France and where geography places huge obstacles in the way of development and the rule of law, the likelihood is that farmers will always find somewhere else to grow coca. Because cocaine is illegal, drug traffickers will always find sufficient reward in going to isolated plots to buy semi-processed coca paste for refining. There is no profit in going to such lengths to buy coffee or cacao, or other alternative crops.
Can you really finish off coca in Colombia, I ask a major from the anti-narcotics police. “Yes”, he said quickly. Then he laughed, and added. “But it will go somewhere else.”
I HAVE been waiting more than half an hour for an opposition senator to turn up for an interview, when I get a phone call. My appointment with Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe, scheduled for that evening at the presidential palace, has been brought forward. I must be at the military air base next to Bogotá's international airport in precisely 40 minutes.
I try to suppress my irritation that my perfect agenda of carefully selected interviews is being thrown into chaos. I run to a car-park six blocks away where my taxi driver is waiting, and we crawl through the lunchtime traffic.
We make it just about on time. But the taxi is not allowed into the base. I ring the presidential press secretary, who is supposed to be waiting for me, and there follows a pantomime in which we wave frantically until we see each other. He drives me through to the terminal.
Mr Uribe strides in. First thing that morning he had gone to Medellín, Colombia's second city, to comfort families that had lost their homes in a gas explosion. Informed of a guerrilla bomb attack which almost killed the mayoress of Neiva, a southern city, he changed his plans for the rest of the day. From the air base, he will fly to Neiva to show solidarity.
The president's face is grey with permanent exhaustion, but his eyes dart brightly behind his glasses. He is a short, slim man of frightening intensity.
In his first term he pursued a tough “democratic security” policy, involving a big build-up in the army and police, which drove the FARC guerrillas from Colombia's heavily-populated central triangle. It persuaded most of the right-wing paramilitaries to disarm, and cut the murder rate by some 40%.
But now, having won a second four-year term, he is running into problems. Through a series of scandals, the extent of the paramilitaries' penetration of politics and the state is becoming clearer. A half-dozen politicians have been jailed on suspicion of collusion with them. Although the politicians are now Uribe supporters, at the time relating to the allegations they were not. One of them is the brother of the former foreign minister. After the president had defended her for months, the minister resigned in February.
More damaging still for Mr Uribe (pictured left) is the case of Jorge Noguera, a young campaign organiser put in charge of the state intelligence service. Mr Noguera is accused of providing information to the paramilitaries—in one case, about trade-unionists who were subsequently murdered. He denies this, and there is no evidence at all that he acted at the president's behest. But the case is obviously worrying, if true.
I ask Mr Uribe for his reaction to opposition claims that his administration is in cahoots with the paramilitaries. As in my previous interviews with him, we start in Spanish and he quickly switches to English. He is self-taught (he practises by reading The Economist aloud), and he has diligently acquired a wide vocabulary. He speaks slowly and deliberately, searching for the exact words he wants.
“Colombia was dominated by paramilitaries and guerrillas,” he says. “My administration began the process of recovering the country. Before, many people knew about the paramilitaries, but they grew and grew with no government action against them. My administration has killed 1,700 of them and demobilised 30,000.”
Some of the left-wingers in Congress who criticise his government, he points out, are former guerrillas who “were beneficiaries of previous peace processes, never confessed their crimes, and were given amnesties or pardons.” He says that he supports the investigations of the Supreme Court and the attorney-general into paramilitary links. “This country needs to know in depth the tragedy, to realise what is the future we need—a country of institutions, without guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug-trafficking and corruption.”
That, say his critics, is self-serving spin from a president who has often aggressively criticised media outlets and opposition figures when they have unearthed the claimed paramilitary penetration. But with Mr Uribe, what you see is what you get. He asks for and gives no quarter. His defects are his qualities. He is belligerent, stubborn, and has a fierce—and sometimes misplaced—loyalty to subordinates. He is also tireless. Ministers privately complain that he will ring them at home at 1.00am and then again at 6.00am.
In half an hour, in a series of polished soundbites, he has given a robust defence of his policies. A couple of ministers turn up. For their benefit, he gives a word-perfect summary in Spanish of what he has just told me in English. And then he is on his way, to Neiva and yet another meeting to discuss security policy.
I remember an occasion during Mr Uribe's first presidential campaign in 2002. We talked in his armoured 4x4 as he travelled to a television studio for a live campaign broadcast with supporters. He invited me to watch the programme. He promised the viewers that he would be “the first soldier of Colombia”. He still serves.
WHEN I first began reporting from Colombia as a penniless freelance in the mid-1980s I used to stay in faded hotels in downtown Bogotá. The surrounding streets were edgy, with vendors of all kinds plus the occasional distant bomb blast. Government offices were conveniently close by. But Bogotá's business centre was relentlessly moving northwards and getting to appointments often involved hour-long taxi rides through choked and chaotic streets.
Once The Economist began paying my way, I graduated to the city's more exclusive establishments up north. A few years ago they tended to be half-empty. One would book a few days before, confident of a reasonable price and charmingly attentive service. But when I planned this latest trip to Colombia I found that the first five hotels on my list were all full, some three weeks ahead. That is a tribute to economic boom-times. A country depressed by violence and recession in the late 1990s has experienced a remarkable turnaround. The economy grew by 6.8% last year—the highest rate since the 1970s.
hotel. Friends in the security business told me it was very safe. Álvaro Uribe's campaign team had used it as a base during his first successful run for the presidency in 2002. As a result, I was told, the hotel's windows were bullet-proofed.
That was comforting, I thought, as I lay down jet-lagged after an endless journey from London via Miami. But I was soon made aware that the walls lacked sound-proofing of any kind. Everything that happened in the room next door was as audible as if it had happened in mine. I won't bore you with more details.
It occurred to me as I awoke to the sound of my neighbour's ablutions that this was another sign of progress: I needed protection against sound more than I needed protection against bullets. Bogotá had become relatively safe—which is to say, it was less violent than Caracas, or Rio de Janeiro, or São Paulo, for example. That partly reflects a general decline in violence in Colombia in recent years. But it is also a consequence of a municipal renaissance.
A series of reforming mayors, including Jaime Castro and Enrique Peñalosa, both liberals, Antanas Mockus, an independent, and Lucho Garzón, a moderate socialist, has transformed Bogotá into one of the best-governed cities in Latin America.
Mr Mockus launched civic-education campaigns aimed at reducing violence by means including stronger regulation of alcohol and firearms. Earlier, Mr Castro had sorted out the city's finances. Mr Peñalosa began a modern mass-transport system, something that had been sorely lacking in a city of almost 7m people. The Transmilenio, as the system is called, uses articulated buses running on dedicated carriageways with fixed stops resembling railway stations. It has cost about $10m per kilometre to build—much cheaper than a metro. It has cut travelling times, congestion and pollution significantly.
The city government has also created new parks and libraries. It has built new secondary schools in poorer districts, and got private schools to manage them under a scheme similar to charter schools in the United States. Mr Garzón, the current mayor, has improved social provision in the city's poorer southern end. A former golf caddy, he is talked about as a possible president in 2010.
The result is that Bogotá has led Colombia's economic revival. Everything indicates that this will continue, with growth forecast at over 5% for the next two years at least. Next time I'll book my hotel weeks ahead, in the hope of a quieter life.
IN MARÍA La Baja, a swelteringly hot but otherwise unremarkable cattle town on Colombia's northern coast, it is not hard to find a leader of the “paramilitaries”, as the country's feared right-wing militias are called. You go to the town hall and ask.
The paramilitaries, along with their left-wing guerrilla foes, were responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians in Colombia. America considers them a terrorist group, and is seeking to extradite a number of their leaders to face extradition on drug-trafficking charges.
But under a law passed two years ago by the conservative government of Álvaro Uribe, some 30,000 paramilitaries have disarmed and demobilised. The hundreds that have committed crimes against humanity face reduced sentences if they confess. The others are supposed to “reintegrate” into society.
In places such as María la Baja, there are fears that the paramilitaries are returning to action. Some 7,000 people displaced from their farms in the nearby hills have taken refuge in mud huts on the outskirts of the town. Some recount how paramilitaries killed family members or robbed them of their farms at gun point. There is nervous talk of threatening graffiti appearing in the town from a new death squad called the Black Eagles. To make matters worse, the paramilitaries are said to control the local government. “They've handed over their weapons but not their power”, says a local priest.
At the town hall, there is a power cut. The municipal government has failed to pay the bill, admits Alejandro Marimón, the mayor. But this is not because the paramilitaries have looted the town's budget, he insists. Mr Marimón, an Afro-Colombian like most people in this part of the north coast, sweats gently as he contemplates the motionless fan on his desk. The leader of his faction of the Liberal party is one of half a dozen Colombian congressmen now in jail on charges of collusion with the paramilitaries.
In Mr Marimón's view there has been too little government help for former paramilitaries. “For there to be peace we have to give employment and opportunity to people”, he says.
I ask if he can put me in touch with one of them. I wait in the courtyard, watching a security man knock unripe mangoes from a tree with a long stick. He throws them up to bored young secretaries on a second floor balcony rendered workless by the power cut. Coquettishly, they catch them and eat them.
In the main square, squads of young men in T-shirts, jeans and dark glasses rev their motorbikes. A funeral procession leaves the church, the coffin borne aloft on half a dozen shoulders. As the mourners snake across the square their numbers swell with those in search of diversion.
Pedro Vásquez, also known as El Negro ("Blackie"), arrives in a pick-up truck and greets us. A burly former policeman, for seven years until July 2005 he was a leader of the “Northern Block” of a paramilitary group called the Heroes of Montes de María.
He still inspires respect, or maybe just fear. For our conversation he commandeers the office of the municipal secretary for education, who troops out meekly with his mango-eating secretary even though the electricity has finally come back on.
Mr Vásquez says he joined the paramilitaries after guerrillas raided his farm and stole all his 70 cows. He expresses no remorse: “What the Northern Block did was protect the area from the guerrillas. The people will tell you that.” But, he continues, “as in all organisations, there were mistakes.” Allegedly, he threatened to kill someone. Did he actually kill anyone? “No”, he says, firmly.
Some of his former subordinates, frustrated with civilian life in María La Baja, have approached him saying they want to take up arms again. Mr Vásquez insists he will not do so: “I'm 49 now and I have grown-up kids.” The government gives him a monthly stipend of 358,000 pesos ($165). He has done a training course in book-keeping and marketing. He has restocked his small cattle ranch.
He takes a call on his mobile phone from someone offering to sell him a cow. He says he'll go and take a look. We prepare to leave. Everyone we have spoken to in María La Baja says that things are much better than they were in the recent past. But it is clear that peace still hangs by a thread. And it may be a long time before the town's education secretary commands more respect than Mr Vásquez.
WALK around the backstreets of the old town of Cartagena de Indias in the evening and you feel like you have stepped into the pages of “Love in the Time of Cholera”, Gabriel García Márquez’s novel set partly in the city.
The clammy heat is freshened only by a Caribbean breeze that bends the tops of the palm trees permanently to one side, so that the leaves of each resemble a child’s plastic windmill. In the embrasures of the city walls, where Spanish cannon once deterred British fleets, young couples are clinched in passion. In the quiet back streets of the old town, open doors reveal large women in rocking chairs recovering from the day’s labours.
Back at my room at the Hotel Santa Clara, a 17th-century former convent, I look down from the balcony and through the window of a house opposite, where a near naked couple are lying on the bed, maybe in post-coital calm or perhaps just resting.
But these timeless scenes are deceptive. Cartagena is changing fast. The first time I visited the city was in the 1980s, at the height of a terrorist war waged against the Colombian state by the Medellín drug mob of Pablo Escobar. I stayed at the Hilton resort hotel at the end of the sandspit known as La Boca, for about $50 a night. The usual clientele of Canadian tourists had been scared off after Escobar’s people had fired a rocket at the hotel, killing two doctors attending a medical conference.
Now security has improved, tourism is booming again, and the city has clawed its way on to the international literary and conference scene. In January, for the second year running, a version of Britain’s Hay-on-Wye literary festival took place in Cartegena. This year it featured Bob Geldof, Wole Soyinka, and a British TV historian called David Starkey, as well as Latin American writers of various generations including Jorge Edwards and Jorge Volpi.
Last month Cartagena played host to the bi-annual Congress of the Spanish Language, a jamboree organised by the official academies that safeguard the western world’s second-most-spoken tongue. It turned into a week-long 80th-birthday party for Mr García Márquez, with King Juan Carlos of Spain and Queen Sofia among the guests.
Mr García Márquez keeps a house in the old town, an elegant structure of layered decks overlooking the ocean. Officially, he is the town’s favourite son. But locals I spoke to had mixed feelings. He may bring glamour—Bill Clinton swung by for the birthday bash—but for the most part, they say, he has turned his back on Cartagena, preferring to spend time at his other homes in Mexico City and Havana.
There are mixed feelings, too, about the invading foreigners—especially Americans—who are buying up and doing up colonial houses in the old town. They bring money, but they attract resentment. Away from the restored colonial gems of the old town, and the concrete towers of La Boca, there is much poverty in Cartagena.
Still, the property boom rolls on. A Spanish friend who works in the city tells me that a large unrestored house in the old town can go for up to $1m, three times what it might have fetched three or four years ago.
We visit Manga, a district of belle époque mansions where Cartagena’s wealthier citizens established themselves a century ago. My friend’s Colombian wife grew up there before moving to Bogotá as a teenager. Her family home is rented out now. The three of us stand on the opposite pavement, admiring the elegant one-storey house of tall, shuttered windows, backing on to mangroves and an arm of the sea. A local man out for a Sunday drive with his family stops his car, winds down the window and talks to us. In heavily-accented English, he says: “Hey, wanna buy this house?”
Igualente encontré un artículo relacionado con la comunicación más que todo que muestra el desarrollo de la comunicación virtual a través de las comunidades en internet, simplemente impresionante.
Face to interface
Oct 18th 2007
TO MANY, the vague geek term “Web 2.0” means using social-networking websites to communicate with friends (and, indeed, anyone you've ever met). With some 78m unique visitors in August, News Corporation's MySpace is the biggest such network, and it hopes to grow some more. This week it said it would let outsiders put programs on its site, following the lead of Facebook, its fast-growing rival. Such programs range from the useful, for example to allow users to compare movie tastes, to the inane. Those outsiders would also get to keep any advertising revenue that such programs might earn.