InfoBrief - March 3, 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. Reports Coca Cultivation Decreased in Colombia On February 27 the White House announced that Colombias coca cultivation decreased for the first time since U.S.-funded aerial herbicide spraying expanded three years ago, reducing the cultivated area by 15 percent in 2002. White House drug czar John Walters stated that planes sprayed 300,000 acres planted with coca in 2002 and reduced the cultivated area from 420,000 to 357,000 acres. The White House also reported an increase in Bolivia and Peru, though not as significant as the decrease in Colombia. The Latin American Working Group (LAWG) responded that the numbers could not be taken as a sign of a decrease across all of Colombia because the estimates were not designed to measure the replanting of coca in areas outside of the target areas that were fumigated and fumigation only reduces coca temporarily in a limited area. In addition, Earthjustice reports that fumigation is only 20 percent effective and of the fields sprayed 80 percent of them are either replanted or salvaged by workers who enter the fields immediately after spraying to clean off the coca leaves.
* Human Rights Ombudsman Challenges Government Decision to Increase Concentration of Herbicides On February 27 Colombias human rights ombudsman, Eduardo Cifuentes, stated he would contest the Colombian government in court over a decision to increase the concentration of a fumigation herbicide used to kill drug crops. Mr. Cifuentes asserted that the higher concentrations are dangerous to human health and the environment and violate the constitution and human rights. The government increased the concentration of glyphosate from eight liters per hectare to 10.4 liters per hectare. This concentration was used during most of last year according to a U.S. Embassy spokesman.
* FARC Declares Captured Americans as Prisoners of War The FARC guerrillas designated the three Pentagon contractors captured on February 13 as "prisoners of war," who will be turned over only as part of a larger exchange with the Colombian government for some of the 3,000 guerrillas now in prison. The guerrillas demanded that the Colombian government provide a demilitarized zone for any hand-over and denounced a decision by the U.S. to send Special Forces troops to Colombia to rescue the men.
* Chicagos Public Radio Reports on Inter-American Commission on Human Rights On February 27 Doug Cassel recounted the human rights hearings that occurred two days before at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC on Chicago Public Radios World View Program. Massacres Day, as Cassel deemed the day of the hearings, addressed four massacres of Colombian civilians including the Mapiripan, Santo Domingo, La Rochela, and Pueblo Bello massacres.
Upcoming Events and Seminars in the U.S.
· On Monday, March 10 between 12:00 and 1:30pm the Presbyterian Church Washington Office will host a brown bag lunch with Alice Winters, a PCUSA Mission Co-worker in Colombia. Reverend Alice Winters is a professor at the Faculty of Theology of the Reformed University of Colombia in Apartadó and is deeply involved in issues of internally displaced people. The event will take place in the National Council of Churches Conference Room, 110 Maryland Ave., NE.
* Between March 24 and 28 the National Mobilization on Colombia is hosting several events, including teach-ins and lobby days, aimed at changing U.S. policy and corporate practices in Colombia. Events will be held in Atlanta, Hartford, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. More information is available on www.colombiamobilization.org.
Colombia This Week is reproduced with the kind permission of the ABColombia Group in London
Colombia This Week editing date: 03/03/03
Fri 21 UN appeals for funds for Colombia; Colombian businessmen to support Referendum.
· The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) presents its Humanitarian Action Plan for Colombia, with a total budget of US $ 79.4 m for 2003, in an effort to assist more than 2 million people displaced by the on-going armed conflict. Of this amount US $ 48.9 m is still to be raised.
· Fabio Villegas, President of the National Association of Financial Institutions (ANIF) says that Colombian businessmen will support the governments Referendum proposal, adding that by approving this initiative the Colombian external debt would decrease from 49.9%, to 48.8% of GDP El Espectador reports.
· The Associated Press quotes Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez saying that troops would only attempt to rescue three US citizens being held by the FARC after the plane they were in crashed in the Department of Caquetá, if the risk of the hostages being killed was minimal, adding that Colombia is working closely with US officials to locate the three men.
· Adriana Saldarriaga, Administrative Director of the Colombian House of Representatives reports the robbery of important data from the central computer of this institution, including internal investigations on corruption. She also says that this is one more in a chain of incidents related to espionage and violation of confidential information at the Colombian Congress, El Espectador reports.
· The Colombian government offers a reward of up to US $345,000 for information leading to the return of the three Americans in the hands of the FARC, El Tiempo reports.
· After meeting with President Uribe Vélez, Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez, and US Ambassador Ann Patterson, three US congress members on a visit to Colombia report that US Special Forces are participating in the search-and-rescue operation for the three missing US citizens, The Washington Post reports.
Sat 22-US armed forces personnel in Colombia increased; Attorney General orders arrest of General.
· The Washington Post reports that President Bush permits limits established by US Congress on the number of US military personnel allowed to operate in Colombia to be exceeded, as a reported 150 additional troops are sent to join efforts to rescue the three missing US citizens.
· The Human Rights unit of the Attorney Generals Office orders the arrest of retired General Jaime Umberto Uscátegui, accused of failing to act on information of an imminent massacre in Mapiripán (Meta) in 1997, where 30 civilians were killed by paramilitaries, El Espectador reports.
· During a meeting in Cartagena, President Uribe asks foreign businessmen to increase long term investment in Colombia, adding that his government has fulfilled its promises by passing labour and pension reforms, El Espectador reports.
· Suggesting that the kidnapping of the three US citizens may herald an increase in attacks on US citizens, The Christian Science Monitor suggests that a new phase of US engagement with Colombia has begun and says that the US administration should restrict its military role to training only.
· The first 864 peasant-soldiers complete their 10 weeks of training in Aguachica (César). Colonel Orlando Pulido, Director of military training, says that this is a very good opportunity for them to carry out their military service by protecting their own communities, El Tiempo reports.
· The Observer reports that the prospect of US military intervention in Caquetá would constitute a further nightmare for inhabitants. Since the collapse of the peace process last year, the population has been living under a form of martial law. Scores of ordinary people have been tortured and murdered by paramilitaries, and face a constant campaign of bombing and kidnapping by the FARC,.
Sun 23 Concern over the increase of public debt; FARC confirms they are holding Americans.
· The Director of Public Credit, Carlos Alberto Rodriguez, reveals that Colombian public debt has reached approximately US$40bn, equivalent to 53% of GDP, compared with 23% of GDP in 1996, El Espectador reports.
· Despite US Government denials that the three Americans captured by the FARC were CIA agents, US Embassy sources say that the plane that crashed in Caquetá was carrying out electronic Intelligence activities, monitoring the FARCs 15th Front in an attempt to gather information on the whereabouts of guerrilla commanders, CNN reports.
· The Communist Youth Organisation (JUCO) reports that agents from the Attorneys General Office have raided their offices at the centre of Bogotá. They urge the government to respect opposition leaders and organisations.
· In a public statement on their website, the FARC says they have the 3 American hostages in their power, claiming that they shot down the plane, and describing the men as employees of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on a counter-guerrilla spy mission. They also request a military pullback from the region in order to guarantee the lives of the Americans, The Washington Post reports.
· Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo says that the Government has offered a negotiation zone (Zona de Ubicación) to the ELN, and suggests they make the transformation from armed group to alternative political movement, El Tiempo reports.
· Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez asks President Uribe to reinforce security on the Colombian border with Ecuador after visiting the Amazonian region, El Tiempo reports.
Mon 24Files disappear at the Ministry of Defence; FARC: Americans are prisoners of war
· Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez reports that all the disciplinary processes against employees of the Ministry of Defence have been erased from the main computer at the Ministry. The Attorney Generals Office says this was done intentionally, dismissing the possibility of a virus, El Colombiano reports.
· In a website statement FARC declare the three kidnapped Americans to be prisoners of war and say they are willing to release them among other high-profile hostages in a prisoner exchange. They insist on the granting of a demilitarised area if the exchange is to come about, Reuters reports.
· The United Nations launches a campaign to raise funds for Colombias Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities severely affected by forced displacement. The UN Action Plan aims to ensure respect for human rights and the strengthening of state institutions, the rule of law and the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People.
· The Cali Municipal Workers Union, (SINTRAEMCALI) reports the murder of activist Fredy Perilla Montoya, after unidentified assassins shot him six times near his place of work, UK based Colombia Peace Association reports.
· Director of Human Rights at the Central Trade Union Federation of Colombia (CUT) Domingo Tovar, reports that the army attacked oil workers pursuing trade union activities in Barrancabermeja, (Santander). Ten workers were injured and nine detained. Workers blame Isaac Yanovich, the President of the state oil company, ECOPETROL, for ordering the army to deal with a labour dispute as if it were war.
Tues 25 UNICEF report on land mines in Colombia; Colombian Air Force attack kills girl
· According to UNICEF the presence of anti-personal mines is known or suspected in 424 of the 1,119 municipalities of Colombia with an average of 200 people seriously wounded or killed every year, 40 % of whom are children.
· Colombian Air Force admits the killing of an 8-year-old girl in El Carmen (Norte de Santander). A woman and the girls 6-year-old brother were injured, the Associated Press reports.
· In a letter sent to the British Ambassador in Colombia, Tom Duggin, UK based Agency CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) expresses grave concern for the security of the workers at the cooperative Golosinas Amazónicas in San Vicente del Caguán (Caquetá), after two members received phone-threats reportedly from paramilitary groups.
· Defence Minister Martha Lucía Ramirez and Spanish Defence Minister Federico Trillo sign a Protocol of Cooperation to exchange experiences and information on arms control and education, El Espectador reports.
· Citing security reasons, the US State Department strongly recommends US citizens to avoid travelling to Colombia, CNN reports.
Weds 26 Army reportedly kill indigenous in Chocó; Army helicopter crashes with 23 aboard.
· Indigenous organisation the OREWA reports that soldiers from the Infantry Battalion 12 killed two members of the indigenous community of La Meseta in the municipality of Tadó (Chocó); they ask the national government to punish those responsible.
· A Colombian Army Black Hawk helicopter crashes near Pailitos (Cesar) on a counter-insurgency mission, killing all 23 soldiers on board, according to Associated Press reports.
· The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reports that clashes between armed groups in Remedios (Antioquia) caused the displacement of 150 people and killed a beneficiary of the WFPs food-for-work scheme. The spokesperson added that only one quarter of the humanitarian aid could be distributed as most beneficiaries had fled to the mountains, Relief web informs.
· Klaus Nyholm, head of the UN Drug Control Programme in Colombia says coca is currently cultivated in 23 Departments out of 32, compared to 10 Departments five years ago; he added that the more coca production spreads, the harder it is to fight, Reuters reports.
· Members of the IV Army Brigade and the Police in Medellín pay 27m pesos (about US$ 9,000) to 11 members of the Network of Informers for information provided to the authorities, El Colombiano reports.
Thurs 27 Colombias coca production declines by 15%; Local Councillor killed in Risaralda.
· According to the US State Department, coca production declined by about 15% in 2002 compared to the previous year. This is the first decline in a decade. Coca cultivation covered 144,400 hectares in 2002 compared with 169,800 in 2001, Associated Press reports.
· Unknown people kill Antonio Restrepo, local councillor from Mistrató, (Risaralda). This year armed groups have killed 7 councillors in Colombia, El Espectador reports.
· Bogotas Secretary of Transport, Javier Hernandez, says that the streets near the Presidential palace, Town Hall and Congress are to be closed for security reasons; the decision was taken at the request of President Uribe Vélez, Efe informs.
· A military spokesman says seven people who had been kidnapped at different points along the Pan-American Highway were rescued uninjured, El País reports.
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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