InfoBrief- June 16, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org indicating why you would be interested in this weekly news service.
U.S. Current Affairs & Media
· U.S. Official Meets with Emissary to Colombian Paramilitary Group A memo made available to the Associated Press last week details a secret meeting that took place on May 3 between U.S. Embassy political officer Alexander Lee and a representative of Salvatore Mancuso, the military chief of the right-wing paramilitary group known as the AUC. According to the memo, Lee told the emissary that the Bush Administration still wants to capture and extradite Mancuso and the AUCs political chief, Carlos Castaño, but the Administration could be lenient if the leaders cooperate after they are placed in custody. The two men were indicted for drug trafficking in September. U.S. Embassy spokesman Jim Foster chose not to comment on whether the meeting took place, but he made it clear that even if it did, no negotiating was involved. More information is available online at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/ 20030613/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/colombia_paramilitaries_us_1.
· Powell Urges OAS Members to Support Colombia Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the Organization of American States (OAS) last Monday in Santiago, Chile. In his speech, he emphasized that the support of democracy in the Western Hemisphere requires regional cooperation, citing Colombia as an example. Powell identified the narco-trafficking attacks against the people of Colombia as a threat to the values and safety of the entire hemisphere and concluded that all OAS members should support and stand in solidarity with Colombia. The speech is online at: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2003/21330.htm.
· Colombian Heroin Presents a New Challenge for the War on Drugs The New York Times reported last week that Mexico and Colombia have become the main suppliers of heroin to the United States, as Colombian poppy fields are believed to account for 80% of the heroin on U.S. streets. Because the heroin is purer and cheaper than what was available in past years, use is on the rise; the number of hard-core users reached nearly one million in the United States during 2002. Although analysts reported that opium fields decreased by 25% last year, the same analysts have also found that Colombia produced more than three times the amount of heroin previously thought during that time. Such trends threaten the success of U.S. efforts to curb the illegal drug trade, which has focused mostly on cocaine to date. More information is available online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/08/international/americas/08 HERO.html.
· Refugees International Bulletin Highlights Colombias Failure to Protect IDPs Refugees International has published a bulletin entitled No Refuge: Colombias IDP Protection Vacuum, which seeks to draw attention to concerns relating to the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia. According to the report, the government does not allocate sufficient funds to IDP programs, nor does it do enough to stop the paramilitary activities that harm and displace civilians. The situation is exacerbated by the steadily growing number of IDPs and the Uribe Administrations erosion of protections that are in place. The bulletin offers a variety of recommendations, including that IDPs be made a matter of national priority and a senior official be appointed to focus on IDP issues. The bulletin can be found online at: http://www.refugeesinternational.org/cgi-bin/ri/bulletin?bc=00593&spotlight=1].
Upcoming Events and Seminars in the U.S.
· AJAs traveling exhibit, Lives in Transition: Expressions of Refugee Youth, a series of photos and testimonies by refugee youth from Colombia, Thailand and San Diego, comes to National Geographic Societys Explorer Hall in Washington D.C. on June 19 and will remain there until August 6. Admission is free. See www.ajaproject.org/travelingexhibit.html for details
Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London.
Colombia This Week editing date 06/09/03
Fri 30 Bishop from Tolima detained in army raid; UN to get more involved in Colombia.
· The Attorney Generals Office has accused Catholic Bishop Jose Luis Serna Alzate and Mayor of Vistahermosa (Tolima) Jesus Giraldo alongside 17 others of collaboration with armed groups. The Governor of Tolima protests that armed groups sometimes force local officials to meet commanders in humanitarian missions and kidnap ransoms.
· UN Secretary General Koffi Annan shows interest in the request made by the Head of the States in the Rio group meeting for a proposal for a peaceful way out of the armed Colombian conflict.
Sat 31 Doubts on extradition processes to the US; FARC criticises Uribe for manipulating news
· According to El Colombiano, 25% of the people extradited to United States during the Uribe presidency have returned to Colombia with no charges. Lawyers say the government is violating basic human rights by extraditing people with no proof of their guilt.
· In a statement on their website, FARC criticises President Uribe Velez for manipulating the international community with regard to the peace initiatives and the possibility of a humanitarian agreement with this armed group.
· According to police figures, 9,881 violent killings took place in Colombia between January and May 2003.
· Following the attack on an Ecopetrol pumping station in Teteyé (Putumayo) and subsequent confrontation between the Colombian army and FARC, 238 people flee to Pueblo Nuevo in Ecuadorian territory
Sun 01 Indigenous organisation reports displacement to Ecuador; number of refugees rising.
· According to the figures of the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), 500 families from 12 indigenous towns of Putumayo have abandoned their lands as a result of the fumigation campaign and the presence of armed groups in their communities, crossing the border to Ecuador as refugees.
· The Annual Report of the Jesuit Refugee Service states that Colombia has the second highest number of IDPs in the world, with 400,000 new IDPs in 2002, and 100,000 more people who left the country to escape violence. NGOs in Colombia are calling on the government for a plan to tackle displacement, Reuters reports.
Mon 02 - Bomb explodes in Granada, four killed; peasant soldiers targeted by armed groups.
· A bomb explodes on the streets of Granada (Antioquia) as police and soldiers pass by, killing four people. Eleven civilians and two soldiers are wounded. Police blame FARC for the attack.
· Three months after the launch of the "peasants soldiers" into the isolated rural areas of Colombia, indigenous Senator Efrén Tarapuez denounces irregularities and abuses concerning the forced recruitment of 250 indigenous people in the Cauca region. Colombian NGO Planeta Paz says that those involved in the initiative and their families are being threatened by armed groups.
Tue 03- Paramilitary spar on peace talks; Londoño threatens Congress regarding political reform.
· Colombia's main paramilitary group attacks a paramilitary faction that refuses to participate in the cease-fire and ongoing peace talks with the government. The leader of the dissident group, known as Rodrigo, reports two fighters were killed in combats in Montebello (Antioquia).
· Colombian government threatens members of Congress that if they approve the political reform, the government will call for an alternative popular referendum to challenge this.
· Days after the Rio Group Meeting held in Cuzco (Perú), Venezuela's ambassador in Bogotá, Carlos Rodrigo Santiago says that the final declaration of Cuzco assumes support for an international military intervention in Colombia. President Hugo Chavez says that his country would oppose any reopening of the issue in the upcoming meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) General Assembly.
Weds 04 - US Congress reluctant to pay anti-drug campaign; Colombia defends it despite costs.
· Colombian officials fear the Bush administration may come under pressure from US Congress to cut back on Plan Colombia. Visiting the US, Vice-President Francisco Santos says at the US Senate that aerial spraying has eliminated 30% of coca cultivation in 2002 and should cut it by 50% this year.
· A report by the General Accounting Office, US Congress' investigative arm, has queried the cost-effectiveness of Plan Colombia. The report cited "unanticipated problems" in training army pilots and mechanics to operate and maintain US-supplied helicopters. The cost of aerial spraying has doubled over the last five years, and ongoing programmes alone may cost up to US$ 230 m a year, Financial Times reports.
· French citizen Sylvie Cabero and Colombian Angela María Medina are freed by the Colombian Army in a routine traffic stop near Bogotá after been kidnapped by an unknown armed group. Three men were arrested.
Thurs 05- Anti-narcotics patrol to resume; Bishop announces progress in paramilitary talks.
· US officials are to re-start the anti narcotics air patrols programme in Colombia. Legislators and watchdog groups fear that a private company, Arinc, will serve as a key participant once the programme gets underway. Jason Hagen from the Washington Office on Latin America argues that accountability will become muddled if a contractor is involved in decisions about whether to shoot down a plane, .the Miami Herald reports.
· The Bishop from the diocese of Montería, Julio César Vidal, announces that paramilitaries are de-mobilising 100 under-age soldiers. According to the Bishop, this could lead to the next stage of the peace talks with the government.
Colombia This Week editing date 06/16/03
Fri 06 - Finance minister hands over to deputy; paramilitary group accuses army of massacre.
· Colombian Finance Minister Roberto Junguito resigns from the Colombian government. His deputy Alberto Carrasquilla is replacing him, promising to continue with the policies of his former boss. The Colombian economy grew by 3.8 percent in the first quarter of 2003, Reuters reports.
· Commanders of the self-defence Peasant Forces of Meta and Vichada say in a statement that the group ended informal peace talks with the Colombian government after accusing army troops of massacring 12 young, unarmed paramilitary members in Puerto Gaitán, El Espectador reports.
· An article in the Economist says that human rights groups are criticising the security policies of Uribe Vélez because they are targeting civilians living in guerrilla-controlled areas with mass arrests. It says that they also criticise the new legislation because it weakens independent oversight of the security forces, by granting judicial powers to the army.
· Uribe Vélez signs a presidential decree ordering the Commander of the II Brigade, General Gabriel Ramón Díaz Ortiz, to immediately resign from his position. He has reportedly been found responsible for the disappearance of 2 tonnes of cocaine last year, El Tiempo reports.
· 400 policemen raid an urban settlement in Villanueva (La Guajira), arresting 34 alleged militia members of armed groups.
· Defending the referendum proposal, Uribe Vélez says at the Colombian Constitutional Court that International Agreements are not "perpetual" and that he is ready to abolish some international commitments signed by Colombia if the public gives the government a special mandate for this.
· In an unprecedented move, Piedad Córdoba and Juan Manuel López Cabrales are designated co-presidents of the Colombian Liberal Party, El Tiempo reports.
Sat 07 - Colombia congressmen react to slur by Londoño; increase in number of deserters.
· Members of the Congress are fired up over a comment made by Colombian Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londoño after he insinuated that lawmakers had been smoking drugs when they pushed through an electoral reform law.
· According to the authorities, 640 members from the guerrilla and the paramilitary groups have turned themselves in this year, 40% more than in 2002. In a proposal to be put to Congress in July, even deserting rebels accused of serious crimes would receive a form of "government-monitored" parole, instead of prison sentences. Critics from civil rights say that this would promote more impunity in the conflict.
· Members of Congress are considering impeaching Interior Minister Fernando Londoño for allegedly being involved in fraudulent activities. Senator Piedad Cordoba reports that the minister purchased a large share of stocks in Colombia natural gas Company at a preferential rate while he was the president, BBC reports.
· Colombian NGO REDEPAZ condemns the killing of Tirso Mendez, member and co-founder of this Colombian network of peace organisations. He was also mayor of Tibú and Governors' candidate for the department of Norte de Santander.
· Eleven jewellers are detained in New York accused of helping Colombian drug lords launder money. According to the authorities they converted drug money into items that could be safely taken back to Colombia and then converted back into cash, AP reports.
Sun 08 - Five people massacred in Viotá; human rights groups worry over prisoner releases.
· The bodies of five people have been found in San Martín, municipality of Viotá (Cundinamarca). An armed group kidnapped three of them earlier in the week. Locals called on authorities to guarantee the safety of the population, the Collective of Lawyers José Alvear Restrepo reports.
· Robin Kirk from US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that international NGOs support Colombia's efforts to negotiate an end to the war in Colombia but are opposed to measures that would "enshrine" impunity on human rights violations.
· Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes says that the government' plans to send a bill to Congress to allow the release of jailed combatants would open "a dangerous window to impunity", adding that under International law there cannot be amnesties or pardons for crimes against humanity.
· The US State department reports on the Colombian Early Warning System (EWS) to the US Congress. This programme helps Colombian civil authorities to avert massacres and massive violations of international humanitarian law. The reports says that in 2002, 194 warnings have identified threats against communities across the country and have resulted in 154 responses by the military, police and relief agencies.
· According to the Colombian authorities, so far this year they have arrested 696 suspected members of armed groups, more than double the number captured last year.
· Venezuelan army units kill Teofilo Ramirez, a Colombian rafter, when he was found crossing the Arauca River that separates the Venezuelan border near Arauquita (Arauca).
Mon 09 - Colombia most dangerous country for Unionists; Panama violates refugees' rights.
· At a meeting in Brussels, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions reports that last year Colombia was the most dangerous nation for labour unionists yet again, with 184 of the world's 213 confirmed killings.
They also call on the international community to respond to the "appalling toll of murder, beatings, disappearances and intimidation carried out with virtually total impunity."
· Presenting the results of the joint investigation between the Ombudsman Office of Panama and Colombia, Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes concludes that Panamanian officials violated the basic rights of the
109 Afrocolombians forcibly expatriated from Panamas territory after being displaced by armed groups, El Espectador reports.
· Under the "Kingpin Act" President George Bush bars US banks from doing business with illegal armies in Colombia, introducing the FARC and paramilitary groups into the list. This is the first time that foreign groups are targeted for sanctions under the act.
· Former residents of the community of Tabaco, close to the coal mine at El Cerrejon (La Guajira) still await relocation settlement from the mining company. In May 2002 the Colombian Supreme Court ordered the European-based companies Anglo-American, BHPBilliton and Glencore to provide land and funds to rebuild the village in another location.
· In an interview at El Tiempo, former presidential candidate Luis Eduardo Garzón says that due to increasing problems with Congress, Uribe Vélez is preparing to launch a right-wing party. He also says that the proposals made regarding the release of prisoners will favour impunity for paramilitaries.
Tues 10- British Embassy to finance Ombudsman programme; fears for safety of Afrocolombians
· British Ambassador in Colombia, Tom Duggin and Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes sign a contract for funding the costs of four "defensores comunitarios". This programme aims to assist and protect isolated communities in Putumayo, San Vicente Del Caguán, Chocó and Popayán affected by the presence and abuses of armed actors. The programme will cost US $147,645.
· The Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission for Justice and Peace reports that Ronaldo Ramos Arboleda and José Joaquin Mosquera, both peasant farmers from the communities of the Jiguamiandó River Basin area, have been abducted by army-backed paramilitaries operating in the area, calling on authorities to protect the communities from armed actors.
· PDPMM (Programa de Paz y Desarrollo del Magdalena Medio) reports in the bulletin Pertinentes that a commission made up of members of 26 national and international NGOs visited the River Cimitarra Basin to verify the effects of the fumigation campaign. They learned that from each hectare of coca crop sprayed there are two hectares of legal crops and forest fumigated as well as natural sources of water.
· According to the figures of a UN Agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), last year the prostitution of under-age girls increased by 100% in Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla. .
Weds 11 - UN reports killings of Indigenous; Geneva hosts the International Labour Conference.
· The office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Colombia condemns the attacks carried out against the indigenous communities Embera-Chamí after four leaders were killed and four others injured in Riosucio (Caldas). Among the victims are Gabriel Angel Cartagena, who was running for Mayor of Riosucio. The statement also reports that most of the killings were carried out by paramilitaries that control the area.
· At the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Amnesty International reports that most violations against trade unionists in Colombia take place at times of labour dispute, amongst those campaigning against the privatisation of health, education and municipal services. During 2002, 170 trade unionists were victims of extrajudicial executions, six were disappeared and 164 received death threats, most of them carried out by paramilitaries.
· Un-named US officials report that the suspension of the aid assistance to a Colombian Air Force Unit, banned under the "Leahy Amendment" due to lack of responsiveness in an important human rights case, will remain effective until the Colombian Government provides a credible account of what occurred and takes action against those responsible.
· The International Monetary Fund (IMF) completes the first revision of the agreement with the Colombian government and approves a new credit of US $ 274 m. IMF representative, Anne Krueger, reports that the economic reforms introduced by the Colombian government are helping foreign investment in Colombia.
Thurs 12 - British Government to host Colombian Conference; contacts between US and AUC
· The British government is hosting the "London Meeting on International Support for Colombia" in July. United Nations representatives, United States, the European Union members, Canada, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico have been invited to the meeting together with the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A Colombian delegation from the government and representatives from Civil Society are also expected to attend this meeting.
· According to El Colombiano contacts have been made between the US Embassy in Colombia and representatives of the paramilitary groups. The reports say that AUC commanders Castaño and Mancuso are looking for an exemption in their extradition process.
· The Confederation of Trade Unionist (CUT) calls upon Colombian public workers to participate in a general strike on Thursday 19 June. The Colombian government is planning to close down and reform Telecom, the State-oil Company ECOPETROL and the Institute for Social Security thanks to the special powers given by the Congress.
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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