Colombia This Week – May 10, 2004


Fri 30 – Liberal blow to Uribe's re-election; minister reports "proliferation" of NGOs in Choco.

· Colombia's Liberal party reports it will reject a bill aimed at giving Uribe Velez the chance to run for a second term. The Liberals are the biggest party in Congress and their support would have helped the bill to pass easily, but the party said the bill "would further divide Colombian society". A previous attempt to change the law in Uribe's favour was rejected by a Senate commission in October last year, BBC reports.

· In a visit to Bojaya, (Choco), Colombian Defence Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe reports there is a "proliferation of NGOs" working in the Atrato River area. According to the minister, there are around 75 different NGOs working with the afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in the area, some of which are internationals, and the government is planning to carry out a census in order to ascertain the extent of their work. The Choco department is the most under-developed region in Colombia with more than 80% of the population living below the poverty line, according to the latest UNDP research, El Tiempo reports.

· The Association of Indigenous Councillors in the Norte del Cauca region (ACIN) reports the detention of 10 people, including Pablo Andres Tenorio, leader of the community of Tacueyo. According to the authorities, they are detained under the so-called democratic security policy for rebellion. ACIN call upon the state control bodies to guarantee their rights and the reputation and dignity of the indigenous movement.

· The Peasant Association of the Cimitarra Valley (ACVC) reports the detention by the authorities of a paramilitary regional commander called Rodolfo Morales Aguirre in the municipality of Yondo (Antioquia). According to reports, he has been accused of committing several crimes against peasants in the area and displacing hundreds of people. ACVC also denounce that previous police officers based in Yondo have colluded with him.


Sat 01-Peaceful march on International Workers Day; paramilitary commander denies allegations.

· A peaceful march of 10,000 people in Bogotá is held to celebrate International Workers Day. Colombia's labour relations with the Uribe government are tense, El Colombiano reports.

· In an interview in El Espectador, commander of the paramilitaries, Diego Murillo, "don Berna" reports that missing paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño "is alive and well", adding that the accusations against himself and commander Vicente Castaño are perverse. He denied accusations by the US authorities that he is deeply involved in cocaine trafficking. "They (U.S. officials) have received false information, we are not drug traffickers. Here there are no vendettas or criminal groups. We are political actors in the conflict," Murillo said.

· An article in the Economist reports that President Uribe Velez risks losing the reputation gained in the first two years of his mandate by pushing for a Constitutional reform that would allow him to serve for a second term, having promised the opposite during his electoral campaign. His opponents worry that Uribe will devote his time to electioneering rather than running the government, and will give political concessions and appointments such as those already conceded to the Conservative party.

· The Irish government will pay the fines imposed on three Irish men to free them from prison in Colombia. Junior Foreign Minister Tom Kitt reports that the government had given a $19,500 loan to lawyers for James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly, who were convicted this week of travelling on false passports but acquitted of the more serious charges of training anti-government rebels in Colombia. Pedro Mahecha, a lawyer for the men, told Associated Press he would not pay until his clients could be guaranteed security.


Sun 02 - Two bombs explode in a trade union building in Bogota; FARC suspend proof-of-life.

· Two bombs explode in a building belonging to the trade union Minercol. The explosives leave 17 people injured. The first bomb was small, drawing police and onlookers to the scene. A larger second bomb then exploded, causing injuries. Both bombs were triggered by remote control, police said. The Colombian Social Welfare Ministry also uses the building, El Tiempo reports.

· In a message sent to a local television, FARC spokesman Raul Reyes reports that U.S. and Colombian soldiers are in southern Colombia trying to rescue rebel-held hostages: "There's a giant military operation made up of Colombian troops and US mercenaries ... to rescue the prisoners by force". He also reports that this armed group will stop sending proof-of-life information to relatives of those being held, CNN reports.

· President Uribe Velez's pact with the Conservative Party on the re-election bill is polarising debate within the Colombian Congress. The Senate approved the crucial vote in the first debate (of 8 debates in total) last week. Analysts suggest that the priorities underlined in previous months have been jeopardised by this controversial movement, Cambio reports.

· The Juan Valdez coffee shop chain, owned by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, plans to expand to 300 branches worldwide by 2007. The first shop opened in December 2003 and there are now 10 operating in Colombia, with sales of less than $2 million last year, Reuters reports.


Mon 03 – Substantial drop in number of kidnappings; media poll: Uribe is pressing journalists.

· According to the authorities, for the first time common criminals have supplanted FARC as the worst kidnappers, carrying out 27 percent of 314 abductions reported in the first three months of this year. The overall number of kidnappings has dropped 46% from January to March 2004, compared to the same period last year, the government's Planning Department reports. FARC took 66 people hostage, common criminals were blamed for 85 abductions, the ELN was held responsible for 12% of the abductions, while another 12 % was blamed on paramilitary factions. Unknown groups carried out 24%. According to the report, the vast majority of the kidnappings were for ransom.

· A poll presented by the Media Observatory in the University of La Sabana, interviewing the directors and editors of 20 of the most relevant TV, radio and printed Colombian press, concludes that President Uribe Velez is exercising "considerable pressure" to emit and omit information, "getting particularly poor marks" on his handling of the press regarding the humanitarian agreement, unemployment, social investment, international relations with Europe and media relations, Colprensa reports.


Tues 04 – Car bomb explodes in Arauca, 2 killed; 22 USO strike leaders sacked by Ecopetrol.

A car bomb explodes in front of a supermarket in the north-eastern Colombian town of Tame, killing a boy and two adults and wounding 34 others, Mayor Alfredo Guzman tells Caracol TV. The town has been the scene of numerous clashes between government troops, paramilitary groups and leftist rebels. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, but the rebels have frequently used car bombs in the past, BBC reports.

As many as 22 leaders and activists of the Colombian oil workers' trade union, USO, have been dismissed from their jobs because of their participation in the national strike. USO called a general strike in protest against the government's decision to privatise the state oil company ECOPETROL. Among the sacked leaders are Gabriel Alvis, President, Hernando Hernandez, Vice President, Danilo Sanchez, General Secretary and Roberto Schalbach, Secretary. USO calls on the Colombian trade union movement to support the strike.

Ricardo Palmera, also known as "Simon Trinidad", the most senior FARC leader held in custody by the Colombian authorities is sentenced to 35 years of prison for aggravated kidnapping and rebellion. A judge in Valledupar sentenced Palmera after the trial in which the rebel appeared in the courtroom via a videoconference from the ‘Combita' prison north of Bogota. Authorities had deemed it too risky to transport Palmera to court, El Espectador reports.

The Indigenous Organisation of Antioquia (OIA) reports the detention and mistreatment of Jesus Carupia, member of the community Uraudo in Mutata (Antioquia). According to the report paramilitary members of the Elmer Cardenas bloc retained him, accusing him of being a guerrilla sympathiser, , and releasing him hours later. OIA calls on all armed groups involved in the Colombian conflict to respect the integrity of the Indigenous and their communities, El Colombiano reports.


Weds 05 – Armed men raid NGO in Bogota; nine from Attorney General's office prosecuted.

Four masked armed men break into the premises of the Colombian Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace in Bogota. They retained and tied up the people inside, registering the IT systems and stealing money and a mobile phone. The NGO called upon the Colombian authorities to guarantee the security of members of the Assembly, since this is the second time they have suffered a raid in a year, El Tiempo reports.

Justice officials open criminal investigations against nine members of the Attorney General's office and order their arrest for allegedly aiding drug traffickers, paramilitary forces and rebels. The accusations against the officials, including some top prosecutors, indicate drug traffickers have infiltrated the offices of those responsible for bringing the kingpins to justice. Six of the suspected officials have arrest warrants out, whilst three of them have already been detained. "It looks like the Attorney General didn't just find some isolated cases but instead found that there was general favourable treatment, among functionaries of his office, of drug traffickers whose properties were being seized," said Misael Garzon, from La Sabana University, AP reports.

Investigators fail to find the body of paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño, reportedly killed by rival members of his organisation, the Attorney General's office reports. Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt said Castaño's absence was "traumatising and damaging" the peace talks between the government and paramilitary forces. However, negotiations have also stalled over demands by paramilitary commanders that the government guarantee exemption from extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges, AP reports.


Thurs 06- Wayuu massacre reported in La Guajira; Polo Democratico leader killed in Barranquilla.

The Colombian organisation for the Indigenous communities (ONIC) reports a massacre committed by paramilitary members of the AUC group in the community of Bahia Portete and Puerto Nuevo (La Guajira). According to the reports on 18th April, 12 people were tortured and killed in front of their communities. They also denounce the disappearance of 18 other community members, calling on the Colombian Ombudsman's office to visit the area and guarantee the security of their communities, El Colombiano reports.

Elias Duran Rico, trade unionist and leader of the Democratic Independent Pole (PDI) is killed by gunmen in the municipality of Baraona, near Barranquilla (Atlantico). According to figures from the Colombian Interior Ministry, under the government of President Uribe Velez nine trade unionists with provisional protection measures have been killed in the Atlantic department, El Colombiano reports.

U.S. authorities have indicted eight leaders or key members of a Colombian drug cartel suspected of supplying as much as 60 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States, an administration official said on Thursday. The indictments being reported involve the Norte de Valle cartel, believed to be responsible for shipping 100,000 kilogrammes of cocaine with a wholesale value of $1.2 billion since 1990. The accused drug traffickers named in the indictments have been approved by the State Department's Narcotics Rewards Committee for its reward programme, the official said. This means rewards of up to $5 million each will be offered for information leading to their arrest and conviction, Reuters reports.

Police try to break up a labour solidarity demonstration during the Colombian oil workers strike at the National University in Bogota, injuring four students and a professor in the event, El Tiempo 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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