Colombia This Week -- November 29, 2004

Fri 19 - Ingrid Betancourt: kidnapped for 1000 days; BBC: Uribe defends security policies.

· Colombian politician and one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt marks her 1,000th day as a hostage of the FARC. The 42-year-old Betancourt was abducted in February 2002. The captive candidate has since become an icon of sorts abroad, particularly in Europe where some see her as a leader in the fight for social equity. In France, Betancourt is considered a "citizen of honour" in hundreds of cities, Efe reports.

· During an interview with the BBC, President Uribe rejects concerns regarding his bid to seek another term in office by changing the national constitution, adding that "Colombians have matured a lot": "four years is a very short time and we have to trust in the maturity and the good sense of our electorate", he said. The Colombian President has been criticised for neglecting social development in his fight to crush the conflict.

· The US House of Representatives' International Relations subcommittee holds a hearing entitled "Aid to Colombia: The European role in the fight against narco-terrorism". During the hearing, officials called for increased aid from European nations that previously pledged support for counter-narcotics operations in Colombia. Assistant Secretary Robert Charles cited low levels of involvement from European nations and the EU while indicating that drug-trafficking is having an increasing impact on Europe, AP reports.

· Colombia's worst rainy season since 1996 and a Pacific earthquake have devastated the country this month. The rains have led to floods and mudslides that have displaced more than 300,000 people in 24 of the country's 32 provinces. The worst flooding has occurred along the Caribbean coast, including the port of Cartagena. Elsewhere, the mighty Magdalena and Cauca rivers and their tributaries have overflowed. After houses were destroyed, 600 families left homeless and three people injured, hundreds of angry people marched in southern Bogota demanding government aid to relieve their losses, El Tiempo reports.

· Backtracking on previous proposals made in Congress, President Uribe Velez supports a new tax reform that would cap the sales tax at 16 percent and leave food exempt, El Pais reports.


Sat 20- Ombudsman condemns raids on NGOs; paramilitaries have killed 1,900 people during cease-fire.

· Colombian human rights ombudsman Wolmar Perez reports his concern for the recent assault on the premises of the Permanent Assembly of the Colombian Civil Society for Peace, calling upon the authorities to provide security for those organisations defending human rights. He also said that these actions are premeditated as the same offices have been raided twice in three weeks, El Espectador reports.

· During the last two years in which they have been in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, paramilitaries from the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) units have carried out 1,899 murders and disappearances since declaring a 'ceasefire', according to a report launched by some prominent Colombian NGOs, El Pais reports.

· Colombian President Uribe sends a note to the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, condemning the killing of the Venezuelan Attorney General Danilo Anderson, saying that "a country that has suffered from terrorism like Colombia will always condemn terrorist acts in neighbouring countries", SNE reports.


Sun 21 - Killing of trade unionists focus of TLC talks; Court may reject re-election proposal.

· Concerns regarding the assassination of trade unionists in Colombia have become an issue at recent free trade talks between Colombia and the United States, according to the New York Times. The Times reports that this issue is now on the table for discussion due to the fact that both labour rights groups and members of Congress have called on the Bush Administration to reevaluate labour rights compliance in Colombia. The South American nation had the highest global number of trade union assassinations in 2003 and nearly 2,100 labour leaders have been killed since 1991 according to the National Trade Union College (ENS).

· The Constitutional amendment allowing presidential re-election is likely to pass its final Congressional vote within days. According to an article in this week's SEMANA magazine, the re-election bill may stumble before the Supreme Court because of the legality of the measure and the fairness of the process. The article also predicts future obstacles for the proposal, adding uncertainty to a government that seems to be already in an electoral campaign.

· Beginning a wave of paramilitary demobilisations, the 400-strong Banana Bloc begins concentrating in a farm located in the municipality of Turbo, (Antioquia), El Colombiano reports.


Mon 22 - Bush promises more 'Plan Colombia'; Ombudsman reports urban displacement.

· US President George Bush stops in Cartagena to visit President Uribe and discuss the possibility of future aid for the Andean nation. During the meeting, he supported Uribe's hard-line approach to fighting narcotrafficking and the country's 40-year internal conflict by promising to ask Congress for a renewal of the support provided by Plan Colombia. According to the Center for International Policy (CIP), the United States has committed $3.93 billion to Colombia between 2000 and 2005, 80% of which is used for the Colombian military, police, and aerial fumigation campaign to eradicate illegal crops of cocaine and opium, Infobrief reports.

· According to the latest report published by the Colombian Ombudsman, urban displacement is on the rise in the main Colombian cities, and is particularly bad in Bogota, Medellin and Barrancabermeja, where armed groups, and particularly the paramilitaries, are increasing their military control by blocking access to strategic areas and displacing entire families to different areas of the city, and using their houses. The report also says that civil liberties have been reduced in these areas and local people are being extorted, Colprensa reports.

· The Pan-American Health Organisation warns the Colombian government that the conditions proposed by the US authorities during the negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement, protecting and extending the period of the corporate 'intellectual property' of the US pharmaceutical industry, would have a negative effect on Colombians' health, El Tiempo reports.

· The Trade Union Congress (CUT) reports that a new death threat has been delivered to the headquarters of the regional CUT in Bucaramanga (Santander): "This threat is directed towards those trade unionists who oppose the governor, the mayor and those private companies who are supporting the policies of the government of Dr Alvaro Uribe Velez. We inform you that we have made a military judgment to force you from the areas under our influence, or to kill you. We will show no mercy to those trade unionists who have initiated legal proceedings against government or private company officials" The threat names seven CUT trade Unionists in the city as military targets. The document is signed by the Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), who are currently in peace talks with the government and supposedly are in ceasefire.


Tues 23-Anti-drugs policy in Colombia far from successful; four FARC rebels killed in Antioquia.

· Colombian expert Ricardo Vargas reports that after analysing the data provided this year by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the fumigation of illicit crops in Colombia, in order to eradicate one hectare of cocaine leaf it is necessary to fumigate 11.33 hectares, at a cost of US$ 700 per hectare, making this an extremely costly and environmentally-disastrous strategy for tackling the problem, Dutch-based TransNational Institute reports.

· The Colombian army reports the death of four FARC members during combat in the municipality of Argelia (Antioquia). Troops from the IV brigade encountered the 47th front of the FARC group in the settlement of La Playa, killing the rebels when they were reportedly planting landmines, El Mundo reports.


Weds 24 - UNHCR warns of potential new mass displacement in western Colombia.

· Civilians in western Colombia could face another wave of mass displacement sparked by the increased presence of armed groups, warns the UN refugee agency after a recent mission to the municipality of Bojaya, (Choco). UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters that the mission confirmed deteriorating humanitarian conditions and an increasingly fearful civilian population alarmed by reports that FARC and paramilitary forces are again massing in the area. Armed groups are increasing their presence, notably near the Afro-Colombian and indigenous Embera communities along the Bojaya and Opogado rivers.

· Colombian NGO MINGA (Association for the Promotion of Alternative Social Development) reports that paramilitaries under the orders of Salvatore Mancuso are still acting in the area of Catatumbo, (Norte de Santander) days before they are due to give in their arms and demobilise themselves. MINGA also reports that this armed group has been threatening peasants in the area and has killed four people. They call upon the OAS mission in Colombia to verify the cease-fire of this armed-group.

· The Colombian armed forces have reportedly killed the commander of an elite guerrilla unit blamed for a string of high-profile attacks and kidnappings, officials said. Humberto Valbuena, reportedly the second in command of the Teofilo Forero unit of the FARC group, was killed along with three other rebels during an offensive in remote jungles in Caqueta state. Valbuena, alias "Grass," was one of the rebels who "carried out the largest number of kidnappings and extortion in the country," said Gen. Carlos A. Fracicca, Houston Chronicle reports.


Thurs 25 - Supreme Court YES to extradition of Mancuso; demobilised paras give up 350 arms.

· The Colombian Supreme Court authorises the extradition of two top paramilitary leaders and a guerrilla commander to the United States. Only one of the men, who are accused of drugs trafficking and money laundering, is in custody. The court ruled that the extradition request complied with Colombian law. The wanted men are Carlos Castaño, Salvatore Mancuso and Ricardo Palmera, better known by his guerrilla alias, Simon Trinidad, Reuters reports.

· Some 450 far-right Colombian paramilitary fighters turn in their weapons as part of a government-negotiated demobilisation to eliminate this illegal armed group by the end of next year. "After 10 years of horrible fratricidal war I come with my loyal troops to lay down our arms before the Colombian state in a humble gesture of peace," Hernan Hernandez, commander of the AUC's Banana Front, said. The gun collection was held in a football stadium in the city of Turbo. The ceremony was overseen by government peace negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo. Meanwhile, Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice approved the extradition to the United States of AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso on drug smuggling charges, El Colombiano reports.

· Medellin-based NGO Corporacion Juridica Libertad (CJL) reports that a year after the demobilisation of the paramilitary 'Cacique Nutibara bloc', this armed group still has an armed presence in the city and the outskirts of Medellin. They also say that many of the demobilised members last year were not truly paramilitary fighters but common delinquents and that the real paramilitaries remain armed and patrolling the streets of the city but now legalised under the name of Corporacion Democracia and with the socio-economic benefits that their victims never had a chance to have.

· Women's peace organisation Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres reports that a caravan of women travelling to Quibdo (Choco) to celebrate Women's International Day against Violence in support of the Afrocolombians suffering in the armed conflict was stopped near the municipality of Carmen del Atrato, when an armed group, reportedly the Guevarist Revolutionary Army (ERG), fired at several trucks and blocked the road in an armed-strike affecting the department of Choco this week.


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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