InfoBrief- December 1, 2003
InfoBrief is a weekly news summary of events in the U.S. and Colombia produced and distributed by the U.S. Office on Colombia. Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London. Other sources include U.S. and Latin American newspapers, and reports from non-profit and grassroots groups. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Office on Colombia. If you would like to receive InfoBrief please contact email@example.com indicating why you would be interested in this weekly news service.
U.S. Current Affairs & Media
U.S. Reacts to Television Broadcast of Paramilitary Demobilization On November 25, some eight hundred right-wing paramilitary combatants, members of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc, of the AUC, laid down their weapons in a nationally televised demobilization ceremony in Medellín. Human rights groups condemned the broadcast of the ceremony, while the Colombian government hopes that disbanding the Bloc will be the first step in the demobilization of the AUC. The United States, which helps fund the Colombian military, welcomed the event. Phil Chicola, director of the U.S. State Departments Office of Andean Affairs, stated we hope the process continues and those who demobilize stay demobilized. Human Rights Watch, however, found the governments broadcast of videotaped statements from paramilitary leaders who have been convicted of murders a travesty. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, noted that, Instead of handing these criminals a microphone, the government should be concentrating on arresting them and bringing them to justice. More information is available online at: http://famulus.msnbc.com/FamulusIntl/reuters11-25-064547.asp?reg=AMERICAS. The press release from Human Rights Watch is available at: http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/11/colombia112503.htm.
FARC Commander Identifies U.S. Troops as Military Targets In an interview on November 29, Raul Reyes, a commander of the FARC guerrillas, warned that U.S. military personnel who train and aid Colombian government troops will face attack. Criticizing the United States for training and contributing to counterinsurgency tactics and actions in Colombia, Reyes stated that, The invasive foreign troops are a military target for the FARC. Reyess warning comes just two weeks after the November 16 grenade attack upon two Bogotá bars, which the U.S. Embassy reports was intended to kill and injure Americans. More information is available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-3445727,00.html.
U.S. ONDCP Reports Drops in Coca Cultivation in Andean Region According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), there has been substantial progress in coca eradication efforts in the Andean region, which supplies much of the worlds cocaine. New figures reportedly show a drop in total coca cultivation in Bolivia and Peru combined since 2002 and a simultaneous drop in Colombia. While the area covered by coca cultivation in Peru decreased by 5,450 hectares since 2002, however, Bolivian coca cultivation encompassed 4,050 more hectares in June of 2003 than it did in 2002. ONDCP director John Walters maintained that due to Colombias extraordinary success in eradicating coca in the past year, cocaine traffickers are desperate for new havens for coca. They must not be allowed to exploit Peru or Bolivia, which have greatly reduced illicit cultivation in recent years. More information is available online at: http://usinfo.state.gov/admin/011/lef203.htm.
United States to Initiate Free Trade Talks With Andean Countries On November 18, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick informed Congress of the Bush Administrations intent to begin negotiations for a free trade agreement with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Negotiations will begin with Colombia and Peru in the second quarter of 2004 with the stated aim of creating higher paying jobs in the United States by reducing and eliminating barriers to trade and investment between the Andean nations and the United States. A bilateral trade agreement with the United States has been a central Colombian government objective in recent years. The USTR press release is available online at: http://www.ustr.gov/releases/2003/11/03-74.pdf.
Colombian Alliance of NGOs Forms in Wake of London Donors Meeting Following the International Donors Conference for Colombia, which took place in London in July of 2003, a number of Colombian non-governmental organizations has formed La Alianza, a coalition of social, womens, human rights, environmental and peace groups. La Alianza seeks a democratic, negotiated solution to the armed conflict and aims to work with the international community to promote human rights, respect for international humanitarian law, peace, democracy and social justice in Colombia.
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Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London
Colombia This Week editing date: 12/01/03
Fri 21-Colombian priest found dead in Arauca; Embassy bars US citizens from areas of Bogota.
The Catholic priest Jose Rubin Rodriguez, who has been missing for a week, is found shot dead near Arauca. According to Archbishop Carlos German Mesa, the kidnappers had identified themselves as members of the FARC group. Rodriguez is the second Catholic priest killed in Arauca in three weeks, after an armed group killed priest Saulo Carreno in Saravena, Reuters reports.
U.S. Embassy officials announce that for security reasons they have barred all their employees, their families and embassy contractors from Bogota's two trendiest shopping and dining districts, the Zona Rosa and Parque 93 district, declaring them "temporarily off limits" after the grenade attacks last week, El Espectador reports.
The Regional Human Rights Committee Joel Sierra from Arauca denounces the killing of Miguel Angel Anaya Torres in the city of Saravena. He was a worker of the citys public services company (ECCAS) and was a special concern of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) after armed actors killed four members of the Trade Union this year.
Inspector General (Procurador) Edgardo Maya reports that his office will not investigate the botched rescue attempt of kidnapped Governor of Antioquia Guillermo Gaviria and Peace Commissioner Gilberto Echeverri in Urrao (Antioquia). The report says there were no mistakes in the military operations carried out in the area. 10 people, including 8 officials kidnapped by FARC, were killed in the attempted rescue, El Tiempo reports.
Sat 22 UN condemns Colombian State on torture; Uribe attacks police for collusion with paras.
The UN Committee Against Torture in Colombia reports its recommendations underlining the problem of torture in Colombia in the context of the internal armed conflict. The report says that the practice of torture is becoming more widespread, degraded and dehumanised, and increasingly affecting the civilian population, adding that the attacks on life and person, acts of terrorism and hostage taking are common occurrences.
While attending a community meeting in Rionegro (Antioquia), President Uribe Velez accuses the local police officers of carousing with paramilitaries, who were then seen extorting protection money from local businesses in clear view of the police, calling the collusion a mortal sin according to Reuters.
The Association of Relatives of Detained- Disappeared (ASFADDES) reports concerns for the safety of Daniel Prado, one of its lawyers. According to the reports unknown people shot through the windows of his office in Bogotá while he was away; they are calling on the authorities to protect him and his family.
In an interview in El Tiempo, Colombian Senator and co-president of the Liberal party, Piedad Cordoba criticises the demobilisation process of the paramilitaries. It opens a window to the impunity of its commanders, most of them charged with crimes against humanity, she said, arguing that the government did not guarantee any process of reparation to victims.
A Colombian military court rules that soldiers who pocketed millions of dollars of guerrilla cash after stumbling on it in the jungle will not be imprisoned. According to the defence attorney, Jaime Lozada, the court ruled that the incident was not a crime in the penal code and therefore not punishable by prison sentences.
Sun 23 - UN urges protection for human trafficking victims; 3000 women march in Putumayo.
In a conference organised by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Embassy of Sweden in Bogota, experts stress that human trafficking is an issue of growing concern in Latin America, with numerous networks operating to smuggle migrants from the region into North America, Europe and Asia. The Conference urges governments to provide special protection for victims of human trafficking who are willing to testify, rather than sending them back to their countries of origin.
More than 3,000 members of Colombian Women for Peace march in solidarity with the inhabitants of the Putumayo department. According to the organisers the objective is to open humanitarian corridors for these victims that have been affected by the armed conflict and the consequences of the fumigation campaign of Plan Colombia.
El Espectador reveals a new scandal involving the misuse of public money by the National Police. According to an investigation, some of the money paid by Colombias oil company ECOPETROL to the Metropolitan police in Bogota for protecting their premises from violence was diverted for buying Christmas presents for some 1,158 policemen in Bogota under the authorisation of Gen. Castro Castro.
Mon 24 Agreement between Government and Indigenous on eradication of crops in Amazonia.
The Minister of Government Juan Carlos Vives and the indigenous representatives of the provinces of the Amazon sign a final agreement establishing the periods, action mechanisms and support for the execution of programmes of alternative development in the Colombian Amazonian region. The agreement has been reached at the end of the consultation process on the policies of eradication of illicit crops, carried out by an order of the Constitutional Court, Amazonian News reports.
The Bogota-based lawyers NGO Humanidad Vigente reports that over the weekend eight people were killed and seven injured in the city of Saravena, (Arauca), calling on the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia to monitor the abuses that armed actors are committing in Arauca.
President Uribe is pushing legislation in Congress to allow the government to strike deals with the leaders of the United Self-Defence Forces (AUC), suspending jail sentences for top commanders. Several commanders of this armed group are wanted for some of Colombia's worst war atrocities. "There's no transparency and no accountability, how can we trust this process? Not a single international agency is participating, says José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch. The Nutibara Block leader, Diego Murillo, alias "Don Berna," described by U.S. officials as Colombia's biggest drug trafficker, remains on the run, El Colombiano reports.
The Inspector Generals Office (Procuraduria) dismisses the allegations made by ex-commander of Colombian Armed Forces Gen. Mora Rangel against the ex-Minister of Defence, Martha Lucia Ramirez, concerning irregularities in contracts on food packs for the army.
British Petroleum (BP) reports that it is closing the exploratory well in Niscota (Casanare) after the company drilled 19,000 feet down and spent US $45 million. Niscota was the government's most-prized prospect well and government officials had said there might be up to 900 million barrels of crude oil there, BBC reports.
Tues 25 850 paras lay down arms in Medellin; HRW criticises the TV broadcast as travesty.
After a minute of silence, 850 fighters from an urban paramilitary faction of the 13,000-member United Self-Defence Forces (AUC) group laid down their weapons in a disarmament ceremony. The government says the process could bring the country closer to ending its 39-year-long war. If successful, it would be the first time in Latin America that a far-right anti-guerrilla force has demobilised through a formal process before the end of a conflict. The government's hope is that this will in turn put pressure on two rebel groups that are the paramilitaries' long-time adversaries, FARC and ELN, to negotiate peace accords.
The Colombian government's television broadcast of the paramilitary demobilisation risks becoming a showcase for impunity, argues Human Rights Watch (HRW). The ceremony, which featured stirring music, finger-painting by displaced children and calls for peace from all sides, angered human rights groups, which criticised the government for broadcasting the paramilitary speeches. "The broadcast is a travesty," said José Miguel Vivanco of HRW.
Reinhilt Weigel of Germany and Asier Huegen Echeverria of Spain have been released after being kidnapped by the ELN group in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near Santa Marta. The hostages were taken by helicopter from the jungle and handed over to a humanitarian commission. Five other tourists kidnapped with them remain in the hands of this armed group, El Espectador reports.
The Colombian army reports they found the body of Japanese businessman Chikao Muramatsu near the municipality of San Jose de Riosucio (Cundinamarca). Army commander, Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina said that the rebels likely killed Muramatsu after discovering that an army patrol was in the area, the Guardian reports.
Weds 26- EU supports demobilisation without impunity; Senate passes 7th antiterrorist bill debate
In a public statement, Diego Ojeda, spokesperson for the EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten reports, although the EU welcomes the disarmament of armed groups, nevertheless this cannot be at the expense of impunity for those responsible for human rights crimes and for a full process of truth, justice and reparation for its victims.
The first commission of the Colombian Senate approves the seventh debate of the antiterrorist bill proposed by the government to grant judicial powers to the armed forces. The bill has been strongly opposed by the UN office in Colombia for contravening international agreements signed by the Colombian government.
US Ambassador in Colombia William Wood reports that the agro-chemicals used by Colombian peasants to speed up the growth of coca crops are dangerous. In an article in El Tiempo he also comments that the use of gliphosphate in Colombia is safe and that this has been proved in other countries, including United States.
According to the President of the Colombian Senate, Mauricio Vargas, the government does not plan to approve the bill proposal for alternative sentences for combatants who disarm voluntarily, this year because of the lack of support from Congress. Human rights groups and the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights say the measure would amount to impunity for persons responsible for massacres, kidnapping and torture.
Army officials criticise ELN rebels for posing with a German hostage holding an assault rifle before her release, saying guerrillas were trying to improve their image after kidnapping foreign backpackers.
Thurs 27 Death threats against 15 Trade Union leaders ; Colombias economy grows by 3.4%.
Colombian Trade Union Federation (CUT) reports the death threats made by the Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) in a letter sent to the union headquarters in Bogotá. The letter declares that 15 of the most prominent leaders of Trade Unions across Colombia are "immediate military objectives.
The Director of Colombias Planning Department, Santiago Montenegro predicts that by the end of the year the Colombian economy will grow by 3.4%, CNE reports.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) approves US$ 12.4m for programmes in Colombia for two years.
According to the figures presented by the Minister of Defence, Alberto Uribe Echavarria, the government has achieved the target for demobilisation this year, after 3,000 people have given up their arms, CNE reports.
According to the authorities, remittances -the money Colombian nationals living abroad send home- totalled US $652 million in the first three months of 2003. The government estimates about US $3 billion will be sent to Colombia by way of remittances this year.
Colombian NGO Lawyers Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo reports new threats against journalist and member Adriana Cuellar. She has been the victim of phone call threats, a suspicious robbery on her premises and harassment by unidentified people. The Collective is calling on the Colombian authorities to protect her and her family.
Colombia This Week is a news summary produced and distributed by ABColombia Group. Sources include daily Colombian, US, European and Latin American newspapers, and reports from non-governmental organisations and the UN System. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of the ABColombia Group.
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