Colombia This Week -- January 19, 2004

Fri 09 – Police: coca fumigation in 2003 on track; Commander of the Military Police sacked

· National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro announces that antinarcotics forces fumigated 100,000 hectares of coca crops in 2003, a 2 percent increase over 2002. Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer and the major U.S. source of heroin. The US has funded much of the eradication through Plan Colombia, a largely military aid package that has totalled $2.5 billion since 2001. Plan Colombia seeks to reduce coca production by 50 percent by 2006, Associated Press reports.

· Colombian Army Colonel and Commander of the 13th Batallion of the Military Police, Alfonso Quiñones is sacked as a result of the illegal raid carried out in Bogota in which 16 soldiers were detained for stealing a shipment of cocaine, El Tiempo reports.

· The Colombian military has seized 5 tons of cocaine since the United States resumed its support of an aerial interdiction programme against drug-smuggling planes last year. Gen. Edgar Lesmez, the commander of the Colombian Air Force, denied a news report that the United States had suspended the aerial interdiction programme last fall after the Colombian military forces downed a plane without US permission, El Espectador reports.

· An article in The Economist reports that results of the Democratic Security Policies in Colombia last year were "positive" and that the Colombian Congress approved a new anti-terrorism law that gives the army judicial powers, of arrest and search, as well as phone-tapping. It also reports that human-rights groups say this law will lead to an increase in torture and forced disappearances. Uribe already faces criticism for a hasty effort to give an amnesty to right-wing paramilitaries, who have a murderous past and links to some army officers.

· The Colombian Central Bank creates options allowing it to buy $200 million in U.S. dollars, the latest in a string of so-far unsuccessful attempts to reel in the local currency. The government will also buy greenbacks to pay interest on foreign debt. The co-ordinated action was announced in a joint news conference by the government, which has pressured for a relatively low exchange rate, and the Central Bank, wary that a cheap peso could ignite inflation. The peso gained 2.1 percent against the dollar in 2003, a year in which the government initially forecast depreciation of 6-8 percent.


Sat 10 –Report says US aid to Andes is ineffective; Colombia to add troops on Venezuelan border

· In a report called "Andes 2020", US-based Council on Foreign Relations reports that the US government has a narrow focus on security and fighting drugs in the Andean region and must redirect aid programmes toward social and economic reform to avert a collapse of democracy in the region. The reports also criticises what it calls the "U.S. government's overemphasis on combating "drugs and thugs" in Colombia at a time when the region's fragile democracies are at risk from economic uncertainties and social unrest". The region is in a more perilous condition than ever due to a lack of equivalent emphasis on development, democracy building and efforts to decrease drug demand within consuming nations, says the study. The problem, the study concludes, is not neglect but "myopia."

· Army chief Gen. Martín Orlando Carreño reports that Colombia will add three mobile army brigades to its patrol of the border with Venezuela. The announcement followed clashes in previous weeks between Venezuelan troops and Colombian paramilitary groups. Most recently, Venezuelan National Guard officers entered San Luis Beltrán, a hamlet in the Norte de Santander province, on 1st January, United Press International reports.

· The establishment of the National Refugee Commission provides an opportunity for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help displaced Colombians in obtaining formal refugee status in Venezuela. During 2004, UNHCR and its implementing partners, Caritas and the Jesuit Refugee Service, intend to expand a Registration Awareness Campaign by organising concerts and fairs in refugee-hosting communities in the neighbouring Venezuelan border states of Zulia and Apure, UNHCR reports.

· Senior FARC member Ricardo Palmera, alias Simon Trinidad is transferred to the high security prison in Combita (Tunja) following his capture last week. Mr. Palmera faces dozens of counts of murder, kidnapping and rebellion. His lawyer says he denies most of the accusations, but intends to plead guilty to charges of inciting rebellion, BBC reports.


Sun 11 – US Senators call for more US money; continuing mass detentions across Colombia.

· Concluding their visit to Colombia, US Republican Senators John McCain, Susan M. Collins and Lindsay O. Graham report that despite the US Senate having reduced this year the military aid budget to Colombia, the US Defence Department «would find » additional money for this purpose.

· Mass detentions of rural activists and officials have continued since President Uribe Vélez took office in 2002. Last month, (December), the government detained at least 105 people in four provinces. In a case protested by Colombian rights groups, police arrested indigenous leader Carlos Dario Tote Yace and his 80-year-old mother in Popayan (Cauca) on 26th December. Tote is a member of the Colombian Communist Party's central committee. Also, officials detained Amaury Padilla Cabarcas, Bolívar Province's International Cooperation director, who leads efforts to bring U.N. aid to the province, Colombia Week reports.

· According to an Army spokeswoman, 177 mid-level guerrilla commanders have been killed, captured or turned themselves in during 2003. The government also reported that 6,967 guerrillas were captured during 2003, -an increase of 85 percent over 2002 - and that 1,919 were killed. Some experts dismiss these figures as absurdly high. U.S. Special Forces have trained the Colombian ''snatch teams'' on matters such as quick assaults, night operations, and co-operation within units, Miami Herald reports.


Mon 12 – European MEPs against Uribe visit to Brussels; US Congress: Uribe to protect rights.

Francis Wurtz, President of the United Left at the European Parliament, reports that they oppose the presence of Colombian President Uribe Velez at the European Parliament during his visit to Brussels next month because of his poor record on human rights. Wurtz is backed by the Green and the Liberal groups, numbering in total 147 MEPs, AP reports.

Members of the US Congress urge President Uribe to protect union leaders. Rep. Lane Evans and 28 other members of Congress sent a letter to President Uribe expressing concern about the difficult conditions for workers to organise within the Colombian Ministry of Defence. The letter cites attempts on the lives of leaders of ASODEFENSA, -the union of Ministry of Defence workers- urging President Uribe to ensure that ASODEFENSA's right to organise is respected, as allowed by Colombian law and international worker rights standards.

According to the Colombian government, 16,796 families are already working as « Familias Guardabosques », a programme financed by Plan Colombia that employs families affected by aerial fumigation in alternative rural livelihoods.


Tues 13 – 5 paramilitaries killed in Antioquia; FARC: "Simon Trinidad was setting up a meeting".

Suspected FARC members using a grenade launcher and guns kill at least five paramilitary fighters in a bar in the town of Anza (Antioquia). Five other suspected paramilitary fighters were wounded in the attack, police Col. Dagoberto Garcia told Caracol Radio.

In a statement on their website the Secretariat of the FARC reports that Commander Simon Trinidad was detained in Quito (Ecuador) while searching for a location to meet with UN General Secretariat Kofi Annan and his envoy for Colombia, James Lemoyne. It also says that French representatives were due to meet FARC commanders with the purpose of finding a definitive solution for the hostages being held by this group, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Assailants in Medellin kill a former paramilitary fighter. The man was the second member of the Cacique Nutibara bloc to be killed since the militia group disbanded last November when its 870 fighters put down their arms. The bloc operated in and around Medellin, battling rebels but also allegedly committing murder and kidnapping, El Colombiano reports.


Weds 14 – Attorney accuses Wolmar of Barranca massacre; bomb blows up Caño Limon pipeline

The Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General's Office accuses detained paramilitary commander Wolmar Said Sepulveda alias "Oscar" of responsibility for the killing of seven people and the disappearance of 25 others in the city of Barrancabermeja on 16 May 1998 and the killing of radio journalist Emeterio Rivas which occurred last year in a massacre in which 5 other people were killed, Vanguardia Liberal reports.

According to Governor of Arauca Julio Acosta, FARC members reportedly attacked the Caño Limon- Coveñas pipeline in the rural area of Arauquita (Arauca), temporarily suspending the daily piping of 6,000 barrels of crude oil, El Espectador reports.

Coordinator of the International Committee for the Red Cross (CICR) in Colombia Juan Pedro Shaerer reports that the right of the victims and their relatives to know the truth can never be an obstacle for a peace negotiation, underlining that under International Humanitarian Law the Colombian State is obliged to guarantee that perpetrators of gross and massive human rights violations are brought to justice.

A statement made by the French Foreign Ministry reaffirms that this country is willing to help facilitate a humanitarian agreement in Colombia but denies that any contact has been made with the FARC in recent times, El Tiempo reports.


Thurs 15 – Colombian Congress holds public hearings in support for paramilitary demobilisation.

Under the new proposed version of the "alternative penal law" presented by the government in a public hearing in Colombian Congress, paramilitary members participating in the demobilisation process are not obliged to confess or acknowledge their past actions. Last year the Government withdrew the proposal because of the lack of support in Congress and the pressure coming from the international community, El Tiempo reports.

Panama's Foreign Ministry reports that suspected Colombian drug lord Arcangel de Jesus Henao Montoya, accused of being second-in-command of a top Colombian cartel, was sent to the US from Panama to face narcotics charges. Henao Montoya was deported after a request from the US under an agreement between the two countries aimed at combating drug trafficking. The indictment also accused Henao of employing members of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary organisation, the Self-Defence United Forces, (AUC) to protect its drug routes and drug laboratories. In January of last year, the Colombian press reported that Leon Montoya, Henao and two other Norte de Valle kingpins offered to surrender to Colombian authorities in exchange for a promise that they would not be handed over to the United States.

While announcing his visit to the Andean region, European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Chris Patten reports that the Colombian government needs to fulfil its commitments regarding the implementation of the UN Recommendations on Human Rights agreed in March 2003, EL Espectador reports.




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