Colombia This Week -- March 22, 2004
Fri 12 Attorney's failure to prosecute General; nine people killed in paramilitary massacre.
· Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio announces that he will not file charges against General Rito Alejo del Río. Prosecutors have evidence linking Del Río to support for the paramilitaries who attacked villages, executed local civic leaders, and provoked mass displacement and severe hardship for thousands of residents in the Urabá region. The evidence was compelling enough to prompt then-President Pastrana to sack him. Del Río in 1998. The U.S. government also cancelled his visa to the US on the grounds that there was credible evidence that implicated him in "international terrorism," drug trafficking, and arms trafficking,
· According to the Colombian Ombudsman's office, nine people were killed last week in the municipalities of Cravo Norte and Puerto Rondon, (Arauca). Reporting on a humanitarian commission that visited the area, Ombudsman Volmar Pérez Ortiz also said that paramilitaries were behind the attacks. The killing provoked the internal displacement of several families from the area.
· Colombia's secret police (DAS) and the Attorney General's office reports the detention of Colombian Army sergeant Rogelio Regalado Sierra after they found a stockpile of arms and munitions on his home in Bogota. Army Commander, Gen. Martin Orlando Carreño reports that the army is acting with transparency "in this and all the cases" adding that the military judicial system will "fully investigate if the official was selling arms to the Colombian irregular armed groups, El Tiempo reports.
Sat 13 Santos:"UN does not understand Colombian conflict"; government to build new prisons.
· The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights releases its annual report on Colombia in which it characterized the human rights situation in the country as "critical." The UN criticized Colombia's crackdown on armed groups, denouncing the government's arbitrary roundups and anti-terrorism laws that give sweeping powers to the military. The document expressed particular concern over an increase in reports of torture and mistreatment by government forces, mass arrests of suspected rebels, and allegations that officials were collaborating with right-wing paramilitary groups. Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos refuted the U.N. findings. He said the UN did not understand that Colombia's democratic government faces enormous threats from armed groups financed by drug money, AFP reports.
· Colombian government announces it will build 15 new prisons over the next 10 years, financed in the main by drug-traffickers' assets. The $200m project aims to create places for about 24,000 prisoners. A government campaign has been launched to seize all property and assets gained from the proceeds of drug-trafficking to alleviate massive overcrowding and to make room for the thousands of suspects awaiting trial. So from now on crime in Colombia will pay, but only for new prison cells for the criminals, BBC reports.
Sun 14 Police present in all Colombian municipalities; HRW criticizes Attorney General officials.
· Colombian authorities report that last month, and for the first time in decades, the Colombian national police force maintained a presence in all 1,098 of the country's municipalities across Colombia.
· Human Rights Watch Director Jose Vivanco reports in a public statement that under the leadership of Luis Camilo Osorio the Attorney General's office has been rocked by corruption scandals, including reports of infiltration by paramilitaries, guerrillas, and drug traffickers. Over the past six weeks, three top officials, - the national director, the replacement national director, and the head of the Witness Protection Programme- have been forced to resign or have been transferred because serious questions were raised about their integrity.
· In an interview in El Tiempo, ex-presidential candidate and Ambassador to the Organisation for American States (OAS), Horacio Serpa, reports that he wants to become President of Colombia, suggesting that he would run in two years time. He also defends the 91' Constitution and the existence of the Colombian Constitutional Court, acknowledging that the international community has a negative view of President Uribe Velez because of the attacks he has made against NGOs and civil society groups.
Mon 15- OAS' envoy to participate in negotiations with paras; Coca cola workers in hunger strike.
· The special envoy of the OAS responsible for the verification of the demobilisation of the paramilitaries, Sergio Caramanga, warns that the process is failing because of insufficient resources and lack of support from the international community. He also announces that he would participate from now on in the negotiation process with the commanders of the paramilitaries and the Colombian government. Analysts suggest that the international community would feel his impartiality were compromised if he were to participate in the negotiation process at the same time as independently monitoring that process,
· Coca-Cola union workers in Colombia begin a hunger strike in front of the Coke bottling plants in Barrancabermeja, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Medellín, and Valledupar. Juan Carlos Galvis, vice president of the local union in Barrancabermeja, has said, "If we lose the fight against Coca-Cola, we will first lose our union, next our jobs and then our lives."
· Colombia's peso rose for a third day on speculation that revenue flows from the country's No. 1 export, oil, will rise in April after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries implements announced output cuts. The peso is the second-best performing currency against the dollar in 2004, rising 4.7 percent as the price of oil, responsible for more than a quarter of Colombia's exports, has risen 15 percent.
· The Colombian army reports the detention of Orlando Sepulveda Gomez, alleged leader of a paramilitary faction in the municipality of La Paz (Santander) Vanguardia Liberal reports.
Tues 16 Colombian indigenous caught in conflict, risk extinction; Attorney resigns in Cucuta.
· Rodolfo Stavenhagen, UN representative for indigenous rights reports that remote Colombian Indigenous communities are in danger of extinction as armed groups target them for massacre, torture or forced recruitment. "It seems to me there is a particularly grave threat of extinction, of extermination, for some very small communities,". "If no emergency humanitarian action is taken, they run the risk of disappearing," he said at the end of an eight-day trip to Colombia. During his visit, Stavenhagen met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and indigenous leaders. Colombia's 1 million native Indians, many of whom live in small, poor villages in inaccessible mountains or jungle, are easy targets for armed groups. At least 136 Indians were killed in 2003, mainly by paramilitaries, according to a national indigenous association.
· The Attorney General director in Cucuta (Norte de Santander) Ana Maria Flores Silva resigns after she has been investigated for having links with the paramilitaries in this region. Another 12 people, including a former judicial police officer, have been questioned for the same accusations, Cambio magazine reports.
· SNE reports that the government of Colombia has received an US$85m credit from the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) to continue funding Bogota's Transmilenio mass urban transportation project. The funds are part of a US$150mn credit that includes US$65mn for an urban development programme. The Colombia government provides 70% of the funds with the remainder coming from the Bogota municipality.
· Supporters of the three alleged IRA men accused of training FARC guerrillas in Colombia are to stage a protest during the visit of Colombian vice president Francisco Santos to Dublin next week. Martin McAuley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly are awaiting the verdict of their trial in Colombia, where they were charged with training FARC rebels in the use of explosives and using false documentation. The men were arrested in August 2001 as they left a FARC stronghold, Belfast Telegraph reports.
Weds 17 - Food shortage for 2 million displaced Colombians; Indigenous leader Perdomo freed.
· Senior Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Jean Jacques Graisse voices concerns for the 2 million Colombians displaced by conflict, 80 percent of them lacking access to food. "Colombia has the largest IDP (internally displaced persons) population in the western hemisphere," the, said at the end of a five-day official visit to the South American country. Mr. Graisse discussed the food situation in meetings with President Alvaro Uribe, as well as with donors and partners involved in the fight against hunger in Colombia. "The effects of displacement are devastating when people are forced to leave their homes, their land and their possessions to live without proper shelter or food," he added. "More than half of these people are women and children who are especially vulnerable when living in difficult circumstances", El Tiempo reports.
· Authorities freed Cali leader from the ORIVAC (Indigenous organisation from the Cauca Valley region), Luis Angel Perdomo. He has been in prison since December last year after a police raid the municipality of Cabrera (Valle), detaining 23 people and accusing them of being FARC' sympathisers. Another 14 people remain in custody, and the organisation calls the Attorney General office to publicly announce the charges agaisnt them.
· Police report the killing of Argentinean citizen Liliana Villalba in Barranquilla. According to the authorities this is the sixth victim (all of them women) found in the outskirts of the city in the last two months, Efe reports.
· Two lawyers killed in Cali in 24 hours. Pedro Arboleda was killed on Monday, while shopping in a library in the centre of Cali and Jorge Alberto Nader was killed on Tuesday while leaving the Attorney General's Office in Cali. Authorities report they were both defenders of different bosses of the Norte del Valle drug cartel and their deaths are related to the war between factions within this drug cartel, El Tiempo reports.
· Authorities report the capture of Luis Ospina, an alleged member of the FARC, in the city of Bogota. According to El Tiempo he was training 22 members of the group for suicide attacks on President Uribe Velez. Ospina, known inside FARC as "the Muslim'', is accused of "using the Koran to train potential suicide bombers for attacks on government and police facilities", El Tiempo reports.
Thurs 18 Madrid urged not to drop military aid to Colombia; Top drug lord extradited to the US.
· US military's top officer for Latin America urges Spain not to drop its support for "anti-terrorist policies" in Colombia. Uribe's government saw José María Aznar, the outgoing Spanish prime minister, as its strongest supporter in Europe. In February, Spain pledged to supply Colombia with 40 AMX-30 tanks, - an unusual contribution to Mr Uribe's war effort against rebel groups, deemed terrorist organisations by the US-. Some analysts believe Colombia's AMX-30 tanks - of limited tactical use in fighting rural guerrillas or drugs-traffickers, will be used to shore up defences on the Venezuelan border, Financial Times reports.
· Colombian drug lord Joaquin Valencia is extradited to the United States, the Colombian police reports. Nicknamed "the horseman," Valencia, who was arrested early last year, was sent to Florida to face charges of smuggling cocaine and money laundering. He is a top associate of jailed Cali cartel bosses Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, who also face extradition to the United States, Reuters reports.
· Brazilian conglomerate Grupo Sinergy has agreed to invest $64 million and assume a 75% ownership stake in a bailout of Colombian airline Avianca. Under the agreement, Valores Bavaria, a leading Colombian conglomerate, will hand its 50% stake in Avianca over to Grupo Sinergy, Associated Press reports.
· According to the Colombian Senators Flor Gnecco and Jesús Bernal the total figures of unemployment in Colombia could be as high as 78% -instead of the 17% reported by the government- because the official statistics considers the sub-employment (irregular business like street vendors) as legal, El Espectador 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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