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THE INDEX — September 2, 2009

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Peter Wilson: A Chávez/Obama Showdown?

Peter WilsonU.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duffy resumed his post in Caracas last month after being expelled by President Hugo Chávez in 2008. But he better not unpack his bags just yet. Rising tensions between the two countries are growing again, making a fresh rupture possible. There are two flash points threatening to bring promises of better relations tumbling down. One is Colombia; the other is Chávez's moves against the country's press. Both pose challenges to U.S. president Barack Obama's policy of seeking a less confrontational accommodation with Chávez. Colombia, for now, is drawing most of the attention. Chávez has yet to explain how anti-tank arms acquired by the Venezuelan Armed Forces in 1988 ended up in the hands of Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombia said last week that three of the weapons had been confiscated last year when a FARC camp had been overrun. Colombian officials have repeatedly accused Venezuela of providing assistance to FARC, which is classified by both the U.S. and European community as a terrorist organization. Until now, they lacked a "smoking gun," directly linking Venezuela to the rebel group.

Jodi Liss: Peruvian People Power

This past month, two resource-rich countries saw political protests turn deadly as the people tried to reign in the autocratic dictates of an incumbent government. One country was, of course, Iran—where every day it seems the government strangles a little more life out of the people’s protests. With 24/7 news coverage of that disastrous election, you might be forgiven for not having heard about what happened in Peru, where for a change, the people won. Beginning in 2008, Peru’s president, Alan Garcia, issued a series of executive decrees to open up 210,000 square miles of the Amazon region, including some land legally protected, to foreign oil, gas, logging, and agribusiness investment. Garcia aimed to develop a multi-billion dollar industry to aid Peru’s growth (not in itself a bad thing) and saw the fertile and resource-rich Amazon as a golden opportunity, simply too good to waste. The president oversaw the signings of dozens of contracts with a wide variety of foreign officials and companies. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Garcia underestimated the vociferousness of his opposition. The Amazonian region is home to only 330,000 indigenous people (roughly 1 percent of Peru’s population) arrayed in some 60 tribes. In general, these Amazonians live in remote areas, speak different dialects, are much poorer than the national average, and lack political or social cohesion. But this time around, the indigenous people were organized and determined. They had spent years getting ready for Garcia's assault on their native land. Decades of negative experiences with oil extraction companies had forced them to come together, and to plan ahead. Past protests had not been taken seriously by Peruvian elites and legislative leaders, who merely ignored their claims or temporarily suspended action until the furor died down. Then, as always, they returned to business as usual.

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