Colombia This Week -- April 28, 2004

Fri 16- Drug cargo discovered in Navy flagship; Government fails to report on Guaitarilla killings.

An intelligence operation turned up 36 pounds of heroin and 22 pounds of cocaine in the engine room of the Colombian Navy’s flagship, docked in the Caribbean port of Cartagena. The discovery preceded a planned six-month sail, scheduled to begin in May, to improve Colombia’s image in the United States and Europe. In a news conference, Navy commander Adm. Mauricio Soto said authorities detained three crewmembers in connection with the find. In a press release, President Uribe Velez ordered a suspension of the ship’s entire 75-member crew and a postponement of ship activities, BBC reports.

Following much speculation by the media regarding the case of Guaitarilla in which seven policemen and four civilians were accidentally killed in a friendly fire incident, the Colombian Defence Ministry reports that “the Army's Major Ernesto Coral Rosero, has been relieved of his position for “being undisciplined in the management of information” and Captain John Jaime Yepes Mejía, Commander of Police Gaula in the department of Nariño, was also retired from military service for authorising the operation without carefully considering the circumstances in which it was going to be executed. These administrative decisions do not affect the disciplinary and penal processes that the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office are developing, SNE reports.


Sat 17- Castaño missing according to the authorities; labour rights group to sue Coca Cola .

The whereabouts of paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño is unknown after he reportedly survived an assassination attempt on his farm in Uraba. According to El Tiempo, Castaño, -the top political leader of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, AUC- fled the farm near Necocli as armed men arrived in three trucks and opened fire. One unidentified informant told authorities Castaño was killed in the attack, while a person with close ties to the paramilitaries said he was alive, the daily said. Castaño recently accused leaders of the Central Bolivar Bloc, a rival paramilitary faction, of having strong links with drug trafficker and early this week withdrew from negotiations with the government aimed at the disarmament of his coalition by December 2005.

US-based International Labour Rights Fund reports that Coca-Cola should be held responsible for the death of a worker who was murdered by paramilitaries at one of the soft drink maker's bottling plants in Colombia.

The charge was part of an amended lawsuit filed in a Miami court by this group that has been pursuing the firm and its Colombian bottlers in U.S. courts for nearly three years. The suit filed by the relatives of Isidro Gil and a group linked to the SINALTRAINAL union in Colombia accuses Coca-Cola and its bottlers of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate union activists at bottling plants in Colombia.


Sun 18 - Poll: most Colombians would re-elect Uribe; Church threatens to leave peace process.

According to a poll published in El Tiempo, most Colombians would vote to re-elect Uribe. The Colombian Congress rejected a re-election proposal last year after the referendum failure, but the latest bill seems to have “a better chance”. Uribe, who has remained “conspicuously mum” on the issue of whether he will seek re-election in 2006, broke his silence: "Let the Colombian people decide," he told RCN radio in an interview. He also warned he would not "buy the vote of congressmen" to pass this reform.

Monseñor Vidal, the Bishop from the Diocese of Monteria and facilitator of the peace process between the government and the paramilitary groups, reports that if the paramilitary commanders do not explain what happened with Carlos Castaño, the Catholic Church could abandon the peace negotiations, El Tiempo reports.

Indigenous Senator Gerardo Jumi denounces the recent attacks made by all the armed groups across Colombia against the indigenous communities. Jumi says that under the “so-called democratic security policies”, these communities feel more vulnerable because of the increased presence of armed people in their communities, denouncing the abuses by “some units of the Colombian army” against the Embera settlements in the Atrato River in Choco, El Colombiano reports.

RAND, the US-based National Defence Research Institute publish a report entitled, "Arms Trafficking and Colombia.” Citing National Police figures, the report says that 85% of Colombia's murders are committed with small arms. There are more than 3 million illegal small arms in addition to 1 million legal ones. The proliferation of small arms is fuelling the violence in Colombia. RAND concludes that all armed groups in Colombia obtain arms from the Colombian military itself: the ELN and FARC through theft and force, and the paramilitaries through voluntary donations by the military The U.S. is providing assistance to the Colombian military at record levels, over $2.5 billion in military aid since the year 2000, ZNet reports.


Mon 19 – FARC kill four officers and two drug traffickers; 10 FARC members killed in clashes.

Members of the FARC detonate a roadside bomb near the village of Puerto Rico. The roadside bomb exploded as a convoy carrying 49 counterinsurgency police and two civilians were driving past, killing four officers and two suspected drug traffickers they were transporting to jail, the authorities report. Eleven police officers were wounded in the attack. The Colombian army also announces that 10 suspected rebels were killed in scattered fighting across Antioquia, AP reports.

Before the announcement of a strike in the state oil company Ecopetrol, the company reports that the situation in its refineries is normal and that if a strike occurs, there is a contingency plan in place. For Ecopetrol, a strike would be illegal because the company provides an essential public service, SNE reports.

The wife of paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño asks the Colombian government and Church officials for protection after a paramilitary faction attacked her husband. A brother and two associates of Castaño were killed in the attack in the city of Monteria (Cordoba), El Colombiano reports.


Tues 20- Amnesty: Arauca, the war laboratory; Conservative Party postpone vote on re-election.

In a new report, Amnesty International condemns the Colombian government's counter-insurgency strategy in Arauca, which has turned the department into a violent testing ground for many of its new security policies, which form part of its so-called "Democratic Security" strategy. "These policies have led to increasing levels of human rights violations and impunity, and as is usual in Colombia, it is the civilian population that is suffering the most," said the report. The Colombian armed forces, paramilitaries, and guerrilla groups have significantly boosted their presence in the department, turning Arauca into the most violent region in the country.

Colombia's Conservative Party reports it has postponed a decision on whether to back a bill to allow President Alvaro Uribe to stand for a second term. The Conservative Party, which does not hold a majority of seats in Congress but has significant legislative clout, said in a news release it would send a delegation to meet with Uribe to discuss ways of reaching a "political accord." A "yes" vote by the Conservatives would boost chances of approving the re-election bill, currently being discussed in Congress, El Espectador reports.

Armed men with machine guns kill five members of the same family in the city of Bucaramanga. The victims were relatives of Coca-Cola union leader Efrain Guerrero's wife. According to Sinantrainal, this happened in the context of the labour conflict against Coca Cola, where unions are trying to avoid the firing of workers due to closing production lines, calling upon the authorities to investigate and find the material and intellectual authors of this massacre.

According to the Colombian government, the US authorities have donated US$ 0.6m to fund the activities of the Vice-President’s Human Rights Office. Vice-President Santos reports that the money will be invested to reinforce the national human rights observatory and the follow up of the UN recommendations made last year by the UN Human Rights Office in Colombia.

Fabiola Perdomo, spokesperson for the families of the kidnapped, criticises President Uribe Velez for putting their relatives at risk after he announced that the Colombian army will attempt forceful rescues across the country, El Espectador reports.

The Colombian XI Army Brigade reports that they are guarding the family of Carlos Castaño, after he disappeared days ago and there are no further reports from his colleagues in the Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, AUC, El Pais reports.


Weds 21 – Attorney Osorio faces resignation calls; bishop fails to mediate in USO-Ecopetrol.

In a public statement Colombian judicial system employees call for Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio to resign due to allegations that his agency has collaborated with paramilitaries. Luis Fernando Otalvaro, president of the Judicial Branch Employees Association (Asonal), said in a statement Osorio should step down “so the image of justice in the country does not continue getting tarnished.” To protest Osorio’s performance, the association is planning a strike, Colombia Week reports.

The Bishop of Barrancabermeja, Monseñor Jaime Prieto blames the government for “not doing enough” in the negotiation to avoid the strike in Ecopetrol. Together with the Director of the Magdalena Medio Peace and Development Programme, Francisco de Roux, the bishop has been facilitating the process between Ecopetrol and the Oil Workers Union (CUT), in a dispute that has lasted for almost two years, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

According to a report made by the Colombian Red Cross at least 3,863 newly displaced Colombians in the Choco region did not receive emergency food aid last week. The organisation says that the firm control of the armed groups is stopping the humanitarian aid from reaching the affected communities.

The US-based NGO Latin American Working Group reports that they are seeking to collect 50,000 signatures in the United States against the military aid that the US administration is providing to the Colombian conflict, El Tiempo reports.

Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper urges President Alvaro Uribe Velez to negotiate a prisoner exchange with guerrillas, El Tiempo reports.


Thurs 22 – Mancuso denies any attack on Castaño and US ambassador denies any contact.

Paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso denies his group has split into warring factions and says talks with the government will continue. The long-time close associate of missing Carlos Castaño reports that no one tried to assassinate the latter. Mancuso said the alleged assassination attempt could have been a ruse by Castaño to disappear, and possibly even surrender secretly to U.S. authorities, claiming that Pacho Casanare, one of Castaño's oldest friends, spoke by telephone with Castaño on April 21. According to Mancuso, Castaño told Casanare that he was leaving Colombia for the U.S., El Colombiano reports.

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William W. Wood said that the U.S. government "definitely does not have any contact" with Castaño or any knowledge of where he might be. Mancuso said the AUC lost all direct contact with Castaño and his bodyguards after April 16.

US-based Occidental Petroleum announces that it has signed an agreement with Colombia's national oil company, Ecopetrol, to extend the exploration in Cravo Norte. The contract, which was due to expire in 2008, was amended to extend through the economic life of the field, currently estimated to last at least through 2018. Occidental will remain the operator of the Cano Limon field and Ecopetrol will continue to operate the Caño Limon-Coveñas export pipeline.

The Colombian government raises its economic growth forecast to 4% -from a previous 3.8%- reflecting improved investor confidence and greater private investment, Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla reports.


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