InfoBrief- June 23, 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. Ambassador to Colombia Outlines the Future of U.S.-Colombia Relations Anne Patterson, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia in Bogotá, announced that the United States will continue to support Colombia in the "new international context." When she spoke at a conference of the Foundation for U.S.-Colombia Relations last Thursday, she reported that the U.S. government remains dedicated to backing anti-narcotics efforts, particularly aerial fumigation, and will support President Uribe in bringing about his proposed national security plan. The Ambassador praised the Uribe Administration for its consistent support of the U.S. position during the war in Iraq, but she did warn that U.S. involvement in Colombia will not last forever, urging Colombia to take ownership of aid projects. The speech is available online at: http://usembassy.state.gov/colombia/ wwwsa046.shtml
· Human Rights Groups Criticize Proposed Anti-Terrorism Measures Colombia's Defense Minister, Martha Lucía Ramirez, defended the country's proposed anti-terrorism measures in an impromptu debate with José Miguel Vivanco, the Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, on June 20 during a press briefing in Bogotá. President Uribe has proposed amending the constitution to permit the military to make arrests, conduct searches without warrants and detain suspects for 36 hours without the presence of judicial authorities. The constitutional reform bill is currently making its way through Colombian Congress. Vivanco voiced concern that these new statutes may lead to increased human rights abuses by the military. More information is available online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17537-2003Jun20.html
· Striking Workers Object to U.S. Influence in Colombia's Domestic Affairs On June 19, thousands of Colombian workers marched on the Presidential Palace to protest the conversion of the country's public services into multinational corporations. The strike was prompted by the dissolution of the public company Telecom, which strikers view as evidence of excessive U.S. influence in Colombia's domestic affairs. Many charged President Uribe with catering to the wishes of the Bush Administration and international financial institutions. More information is available online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A144122003Jun19.html
· Former Colombian Army General Blames U.S. for Dismissal At a Colombian congressional hearing last week, General Gabriel Ramon Diaz, who was dismissed from the Colombian Army on June 6, blamed U.S. pressure for his dismissal. The General was a former commander of the 24th Army Brigade in Putumayo, the focus of U.S. counter-narcotics efforts, and had been linked to the disappearance of two tons of cocaine earlier this month. He reportedly had ties to right-wing paramilitary groups, but military officials denied that any of these factors played a role in the retirement. The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá declined to comment on the case. More information is available online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7086-2003Jun17.html
Upcoming Events and Seminars in the U.S.
· AFSC Delegation to Communities in Peaceful Resistance in Colombia From October 5-12, an American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) delegation will travel to Valle del Cauca, Colombia to assess the impact of the armed conflict on communities that peacefully seek to resist the war. Specifically, the delegation will visit an Afro-Colombian community and a community of indigenous peoples. Applications to join the October delegation are due August 1 and are available online at: www.afsc.org/central/stl/wi0202.htm.
Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London
Colombia This Week editing date 6/23/03
Fri 13 - Uribe meets with Colombian NGO representatives; Government dissolves Telecom.
· After 10 months in government, Uribe Vélez meets for the first time with delegates of Colombian civil society. A US State Department envoy and the UN Human Rights Office on Colombia also attended the meeting. Despite some commitments in response to human rights demands, there is a growing concern among the Colombian NGOs regarding the presidential view of the distinction between combatants and civilians, and his willingness to undermine International Human Rights obligations.
· Communications Minister Marta Elena de Pinto announces the dissolution of Telecom, allowing the company to fire its employees. Telecom's force of 10,000 workers, including 3,000 contractors, might be halved. Labour leaders call for protest marches and walkouts as the government announces that other state-owned companies may receive the same treatment in coming weeks.
· According to the government, 367,649 new people have been incorporated into the Network of Informers in 2003. Based upon these figures, the total number of the network members reaches 1,421,936 people, CNE reports.
· Commander of the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), José Contreras reports that FARC group is sending its members to Bogotá to kill its deserters. Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez reports that members of this armed group have infiltrated the government' reinsertion programme.
Sat 14 - UN envoy Kenzo Oshima visits Colombia; police arrest 55 paramilitaries in Medellín.
· UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima visits Colombia, urging the government of Uribe Vélez to invest more money in relieving the humanitarian crisis that affects Colombians, one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world, El Tiempo reports.
· 55 suspected paramilitaries from the Bloque Metro are arrested as police raid the barrios of Medellín, El Colombiano reports. Clashes between paramilitary factions are taking place in this city since the Bloque Metro refused to participate in the peace negotiations with the government.
· A new "Comite de Impulso" for a Humanitarian Agreement between the government and Colombian armed groups has been set up in Bogotá. Luis Jairo Ramirez, from the Permanent Committee of Human Rights says that rescue attempts like the Urrao proves that the use of force only will contribute towards the polarisation of Colombian society, calling the government to respect the will of the relatives of the kidnapped, El Espectador reports.
· Councilman from Viotá (Cundinamarca) Adelmo Sanchez and three relatives are killed in a massacre carried out by paramilitaries in Buenavista (Cundinamarca).
· Venezuelan expert in International Affairs Carlos Romero says that Colombian President "Uribe Vélez has realised that foreign military involvement is heavily criticised both within and outside of his country and that he is going back to the avenue of UN participation, which could lead to a peace-keeping operation, as occurred in the past decade in Central America", AP reports.
Sun 15 - Six peasants killed in massacre in Cauca; Uribe urged to respect civilians' neutrality
· Six peasants are killed and eight more injured in a massacre carried out by paramilitary forces in Zabaleta, (Cauca). According to Colombia's Ombudsman office nine massacres have been carried out this year by paramilitaries in the rural area of Buenaventura, killing 64 people, El Tiempo reports.
· President of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (FIDH), Marta Altolaguirre reports that the Colombian Government needs to develop legislation based upon the signed international human rights agreements. She also calls on Uribe Vélez to do more to relieve the IDP situation denouncing the fact that under this government the paramilitaries are acting with more impunity in Colombia, El Tiempo reports.
· Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Nina Pacari says "Quito does not believe in any kind of interventionism" and there will be no intervention by any Rio Group country in the Colombian conflict, Inter-press service reports.
· As a way to "gain access to the civilian population", a group of US Army doctors are participating in a programme to assist poor families that cannot afford private doctors. Organisers hope to treat a total of 8,000 women and children before the end of the year. Despite Arauca being wealthier that many other departments in Colombia, unemployment is high and the government of Uribe Vélez is not able to guarantee basic needs and the security of the civilians, Reuters reports.
· According to the Associated Press report on kidnappings, with growing numbers of Colombians fleeing the country or being bankrupted by ransom payments, the kidnapping industry is running out of victims and even elderly people are not safe. According to the article, armed groups in Colombia are holding at least 55 people over the age of 65.
Mon 16 - Colombia failing to meet IDP needs; deployment of 10,000 peasant-soldiers.
· According to Refugees International, Colombia relies heavily on the international community and non-governmental organisations to meet IDP needs. The US State Department reports that the Colombian government itself acknowledged that the International Committee of the Red Cross and various NGOs provide 70 to 80% of humanitarian assistance received by the displaced. The report says that the government does not "adequately combat activities of paramilitaries that adversely affect civilians". Article 284 of Law 589 of 2000 makes forced displacement a crime, but no one has been brought to justice.
· In a ceremony in Guasca (Cundinamarca) Uribe Vélez urges peasant soldiers to fight terrorism. An estimated 10,000 new members of these civilians' brigades are to be sent to isolated rural areas across Colombia. Human rights groups and foreign diplomats are watching whether this government's strategy will lead to human rights abuses, AP reports.
· The killing of four indigenous people in Betoyes (Arauca) and the threats made by the paramilitaries that carried out the massacre provokes the displacement 1,247 indigenous in Arauca and Magdalena. According to the Colombian Ombudsman office, armed actors have killed 37 indigenous people this year.
Tues 17 - UN extends collaborative approach on Colombia's IDPs; General blames United States.
· The UN system has employed a 12-agency "collaborative approach" to address IDP concerns in Colombia and fill gaps in the government's response, including the UNHCR-led and OCHA -supported Thematic Group of Displacement (TGD). In 2002, the Group launched a Humanitarian Action Plan, which focuses on prevention, protection and the socio-economic integration of IDPs. To achieve its aims, the UN doubled its budget goal to US $ 79,4 million, but according to OCHA, as of February 2003 US $48,9 m was still to be found.
· In a hearing in Congress, General Gabriel Díaz blames the United Sates for his abrupt dismissal from the military. President Uribe Vélez fired him with no reason given by any members of his administration or the military. The US Embassy in Bogotá has declined to comment.
· In a message sent to the presidents of the Rio Group the Secretariat of the FARC rejects the mediation of the United Nations system, calling for a meeting with the Rio Group to explain their position with regard to Uribe Vélez's government. The statement also names Raul Reyes as the negotiator of the group, El Tiempo reports.
· In a statement on their website, the paramilitary group Elmer Cardenas, struggling against the FARC for control of the Chocó region, near the border with Panamá, welcomes the arrival of the forcibly expatriated IDPs to the Cacarica River Basin, saying that those refugees in Panama are not collaborators of any armed group, and criticising the Panamanian police for the incident.
· Charles Barclay, spokesperson for the US State Department accepts that contacts have been made between paramilitary delegates and members of the US Embassy in Colombia, adding that the US government will maintain the extradition processes against Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso, El Colombiano reports.
Weds 18 -Congress approves political reform bill; 3rd nationwide strike during Uribe's 10 months.
· Colombia's congress approves the political reform bill that regulates political parties and sets limits on campaign spending. According to El Tiempo this is a defeat for Uribe Vélez, who is sponsoring a wide-ranging referendum with a different political reform.
· Riot police fire tear gas and use water cannons on hundreds of state workers, protesting outside the Bogotá headquarters of Telecom. They are opposing the government plans to continue streamlining state-owned companies, accusing Uribe Vélez of pandering to the United States and international financial institutions.
· Colombian Central Workers Union (CUT) denounces the killing of three unionists in the last week. Luis H. Rolon from Cucuta (Norte de Santander), Morelly Guillen from Tame (Arauca) and Orlando Fernandez in Valledupar were killed by "unknown" armed people. So far this year, 35 unionists have been killed in Colombia.
· In an article in the weekly magazine Cambio, Colombian Senator Rodrigo Rivera reports that Uribe Vélez is changing Colombian legislation in order to negotiate only with one side of Colombian's illegal armed groups, the paramilitaries. Also Senator Max Alberto Morales acknowledges that this government needs to find a juridical solution for Carlos Castaño's extradition process.
Thurs 19 - Ombudsman denounces killings in Cauca; army Colonel condemned for massacre.
· Colombian Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes denounces that, days before the paramilitaries killed six peasants in Zabaleta (Cauca), his office warned the Government and the military authorities, activating the Early Warning System. He also says that the military authorities need to do more to protect innocents from these groups, El Tiempo reports.
· Colombian Army Col. Lino Sanchez and leader of the paramilitaries, Carlos Castaño are condemned to 40 years in prison after been found guilty and "co-authors" of the killings of 30 peasants in Mapiripan, (Meta). According to the judge's ruling, the paramilitary troops arrived in planes at a military airport staffed by anti-narcotics agents and passed check points on the way to Mapiripan, Reuters reports.
· Thousands of Colombians marched on the presidential palace to defend their jobs against what they described as a "drive to turn the country's public services into multinational corporations". This one-day nationwide strike has been prompted because of the dissolution of the public telecommunications company Telecom. The dissolution allows authorities to lay off the group's 10,000 employees.
· Colombian marines seize three tons of cocaine destined for the United States. The drugs were found in an abandoned truck near Tumaco (Nariño). The drugs reportedly belong to a paramilitary group. Police report that no arrests were made.
· Colombia's Constitutional Court reports that it has begun deliberations on whether the referendum vote can be held. The Colombian big business lobby has asked the court to hurry up and decide whether to allow the government to go ahead with the vote. Colombia is the fifth largest Latin-American economy, and under the terms of its US $2.1 billion IMF standby loan, it has agreed to slash its budget deficit to 2,5 percent of GDP in 2003.
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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