Colombia This Week -- December 13, 2004

Fri 03 - UNHCR voices concerns re Choco combats; Cali Cartel boss sent to US on drug charges.

  The UN High Commission for Refugees voices concern about the situation of indigenous communities in Choco, where these groups are under attack from armed groups and cut off by a blockade. The UNHCR said its mission in Andagoya was informed that clashes between paramilitaries and guerrillas from the FARC had resulted in the deaths of 12 civilians, including a 7-year-old girl, as well as injuries to 13 others. "As a result of these clashes, the almost 800 inhabitants of the town of Bebedo tried to flee the area, but a group of paramilitaries stopped them," UNHCR noted, adding that 127 of them had taken refuge in the local cultural centre. The spokeswoman also noted that a grenade exploded a few metres from UNHCR offices in Quibdo. Three people died and six were injured in the attack, for which no group has claimed responsibility.

  The former boss of the Cali drug cartel, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela is sent to the United States to face drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He is alleged to have "trafficked in illegal drugs that tear at the fabric of society and draw the innocent away from safe and productive lives," US Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a written statement. Rodriguez Orejuela faces life in prison. He was scheduled for his first appearance in a US federal court on Monday. "This is a watershed moment in our nation's war against drugs," said Marcos Daniel Jimenez, the US Attorney in Miami whose office will prosecute Rodriguez Orejuela, Reuters reports.

  Evelio Muñoz, Mayor of the municipality of Florencia (Cauca) and 19 local functionaries have been displaced to Popayan, as a result of the death threats made by paramilitaries. After meeting with the Governor of Cauca, Juan Jose Chaux, they made public denunciations that a group of paramilitaries camped in the outskirts of the village were patrolling the village, 'making extortion threats and terrorising the inhabitants', El Tiempo reports.


Sat 04 - UN rapporteur for indigenous calls for action as more Colombian leaders are killed.

  Special UN rapporteur for indigenous peoples Rodolfo Stavenhagen reports that "Governments, inter-governmental organisations and civil society must work to empower indigenous peoples and ensure their participation in decisions that affect their lives. Despite the progress made over the past 10 years, at the national and international levels, indigenous peoples continue to be among the most marginalized and dispossessed sectors of society, the victims of perennial prejudice and discrimination". He also said that brutal killings of indigenous leaders are happening every week in Colombia, calling upon the Colombian authorities to investigate and protect the vulnerable people, UN News reports.

  President of Sintraminercol (the Colombian Union for Mining Workers) Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, presents his book 'The Profits of Extermination'. The book looks at the links between foreign corporations and human rights violations in Colombia, concluding that in many of the cases where corporations have sought access to Colombia's resources, (oil, coal, gold, and emeralds), they have used paramilitary violence, -forcing displacement, massacres, and disappearances - as tactics to remove populations and secure their investments. This book gives a more complete picture to the widespread belief that the 'drug wars' are the main factor behind Colombia¹s violence, and explains the role that the United States and Canadian governments and their corporations have played in the Colombian conflict.


Sun 05 - Mancuso threatens Government on extradition; trade talks to resume next January.

  Days before its reported demobilisation, paramilitary commander and suspected narcotrafficker Salvatore Mancuso threatens to scuttle demobilisation if the government doesn't reject the US extradition requests. The Colombian government is alienating all parties in the process by starting mass demobilisations of paramilitary fighters without a valid existing legal framework, El Espectador reports.

  Relatives of the hostages of the FARC urge the government to accept the latest offer made by this armed group to demilitarise two south-western municipalities of the department of Cauca to hold the talks between the government and the FARC envoys and agree an exchange of prisoners, El Tiempo reports.

  After the Colombian Congress finally approved a constitutional amendment allowing presidential re-election last week, several Congressmen announce three suits against the bill, saying that the whole process has been full of irregularities and hoping the Colombian Constitutional Court will address them, El Tiempo reports.

  Union federations push for a minimum-wage hike of 10 percent, much larger than the 5 percent proposed by the government's central bank, El Pais reports.


Mon 06 - Mine explosion kills seven workers; armed group kills 4 civilians in Aguachica Cesar.

  Seven workers are dead and three injured in a mine explosion in El Zulia, (Norte de Santander). According to reports, the miners were working at a depth of 400m when a short-circuit in their equipment caused the explosion, El Tiempo reports.

  In an interview in daily El Nuevo Siglo, the Director of the Colombian Police, Gen. Castro reports that the guerrilla groups are 'cornered' in isolated areas of the country and as a result of operations the police forces in 2004 have captured a record figure of 58 tons of cocaine and half a ton of heroine in Colombia. He added that 78 people were detained with extradition charges and that this mechanism appears to be working.

  Authorities from Aguachica (Cesar) report that gunmen killed four people and injured two others in an incident that took place in a shop when a group of gunmen apparently shot these people randomly. Mayor of the city David Alberto Simancas reports that the police are investigating this crime and the first investigations suggest that paramilitaries acting in this city were responsible for the attack, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

  In an interview broadcast on Monday but taped shortly before he was extradited to Miami over the weekend, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela claims credit for the 1993 killing of rival drug lord Pablo Escobar, saying he supplied police with a tracking device that allowed them to hunt down the Medellin drug cartel leader. Rodriguez Orejuela's comments marked the first time anyone has said the Cali cartel provided the equipment that led to Escobar's death. Retired Gen. Hugo Martinez, who headed the elite police unit that killed Escobar, said he was unaware of any equipment provided by Rodriguez Orejuela, Reuters reports.

  In a public statement the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) proposes demilitarizing Florida and Pradera, two municipalities in the south-western province of Valle del Cauca for talks on a captive exchange. The statement also warns against extradition of jailed commander 'Simon Trinidad', El Colombiano reports.


Tues 07 -Three Emberas killed in Apartado; 56 narcos and paramilitaries arrested in drug-ring.

  The Indigenous Organisation of Antioquia (OIA) denounce the killing of three leaders of the Embera community. They report that an armed group wearing military gear entered the community in Ibudo, (Apartado), terrorising the inhabitants and killing Horacio Bailarin, Arturo Domico and Misael Domico, three well-known leaders of the indigenous movement, El Espectador reports.

  The Colombian authorities have arrested 56 members of the paramilitaries involved in the drugs trade. The arrests come as the peace process with the paramilitary AUC, enters a sensitive phase. The men came from a unit known as The Liberators of the South, well known for its involvement in the drugs trade, running cocaine shipments from the Pacific coast. Authorities attribute more than 100 murders to the group of paramilitaries over the last 18 months. Two officers and a sergeant in the security services were among those arrested. Salvatore Mancuso - one of the AUC leaders with a US extradition warrant for drugs - has said that, should the government not give him immunity from extradition, he will take up arms again, BBC reports.

  Bishop of Tunja and member of the Commission to facilitate the humanitarian exchange of prisoners Mon. Luis Augusto Castro reports that the Catholic Church is asking President Uribe Velez to hold off on extraditing FARC commander 'Simon Trinidad' to the US, El Pais reports.

  The Colombian government decides to withdraw a key tax bill after opposition from major political parties. A pro-government congressman said President Uribe and the country's finance minister had decided it would be better to withdraw the reform, which aimed to boost taxes by about $700 million. The government has promised the International Monetary Fund to boost tax revenues and investors have expressed fears that Colombia's fiscal imbalance would worsen if the bill were not passed, Reuters reports.


Weds 08 - Priest Joakin Mayorga detained by DAS; giant coca plants found in Santa Marta.

  US-based Colombia Support Network (CSN) reports the retention of father Joakin Mayorga. Police in the city of San Gil detained the director of the Justice and Peace office of the Diocese of Magangue, (Bolivar). He was taken to the San Gil police station and told that his detention was due to a judicial investigation into his work as a priest and human rights defender in the Diocese of Magangue. He was charged several weeks ago with calumny and injury by the Narino Batallion of the Colombian Army because he publicly denounced the arbitrary detention and murder of three minors and a juvenile, CSN reports.

  Giant coca plants have been found in Colombia and studied by scientists amid reports that drug traffickers are developing genetically modified cocaine bushes. Camilo Uribe, a toxicologist who has studied the large plants for anti-drug police, said that while genetic modification was "technically viable" there is no evidence that the larger plants are a result of scientific manipulation: "I have not heard of any study that proves genetic modification. It could just be excess fertiliser or some natural mutation", Guardian comments.

  Six people are killed in the municipality of La Macarena, (Meta), after a small plane crashed in circumstances that are under investigation. A local company privately owned the plane, a Cessna that was flying toward Villavicencio, capital of the department, El Espectador reports.


Thurs 09 - Demobilisation of paramilitary group in Catatumbo; Uribe to decide 'jail sentences'.

  Colombian authorities announce the demobilisation of 1,500 fighters from the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia. There is no clarification on what will happen with the demobilised fighters or their commanders - amnesty, prison or something in between - and there are many lingering questions regarding who will control the AUC's turf once its fighters demobilise. Paramilitary units abound in the regions surrounding Catatumbo, and some AUC commanders have already said they will fill the void if needed, which leads many to wonder whether this is really a demobilisation at all, Houston Chronicle reports.

  Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt de la Vega reports that the government's proposed bill for demobilisation will give the President a major role in justice for paramilitaries guilty of atrocities. According to the reports, the government is planning to present a proposal in which the President would decide for how long and where the demobilised commanders need to spend the jail sentences with a maximum of ten years of house arrest. Senator German Vargas Lleras reminded the government that is the Colombian Congress not the executive that proposes and passes legislation in Colombia, El Pais reports.

  The Colombian Penitential Institute (INPEC) is investigating claims of the payment of bribes by narcotraffickers to some of its functionaries. The transfer of a jailed inmate, -with an extradition request from the United States- from one high security prison to another of lower security has resulted in the resignation of Amanda Abello, Director of Penitentiary Issues, after the discovery that she had been paid 120 m pesos (US$ 50,000) for the transfer of the prisoner, El Pais reports.


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