Colombia This Week -- November 3, 2003

Fri 24 – Concern about Arauca detentions; Inspector Gen. call for a recount Senate elections.

· Civil groups denounce the massive and arbitrary detention of leaders in Arauca five days before the elections. Among them is the priest Jose Helmer Munoz, candidate for governor of Arauca state and who seems to be the likely winner according to the latest polls. Human Rights groups are worried that this manoeuvre by the Uribe government and the Attorney General may be designed to favour Uribe's candidate for governor. The massive detentions are not based on independent and impartial judicial investigations, but rather on accusations of the military intelligence and paid informants, El Espectador reports.

· Inspector General (Procurador) Edgardo Maya Villazón called for annulling last year's election results for all 102 Senate seats after an investigation revealed significant irregularities. In an October 16 report, the office cited problems in 20,503 of Colombia's 75,000 polling places. The problems included ballot tampering, voter impersonation and phony election judges. The Procurador's office recommended a recount that excludes results from the polling places cited for the cheating.


Sat 25 – Liberal party concern on Arauca arrests; leaders seek refuge in Pereira

· In a letter addressed to President Alvaro Uribe Velez and printed in El Tiempo, the Liberal Party express concern over the arrests made in Arauca and their proximity to the election date. Party Co-President Piedad Córdoba Ruiz asked for intervention from the inspector general's office, the nation's human rights ombudsperson and the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights. Córdoba said the arrests were "based on testimonies of dubious credibility from informants paid by security forces."

· Around a hundred social leaders, human rights defenders and trade union leaders have taken refuge in the headquarters of the Risaralda Educators' Union of Colombia (SER) to protect their lives as they reject the ultimatum made this week by the paramilitaries of the AUC (United Self-defence forces of Colombia "Cacique Calarca Block"), reports the Permanent Committee for Human Rights (CPDH).


Sun 26 – Colombians did not vote in the referendum; 13 killed as Colombians continue voting.

· President Uribe's office issues a statement asking Colombians to be patient and urging election officials to finish the count "as quickly as possible". Defence Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez acknowledges defeat for the referendum noting, "All Colombians have lost an opportunity to adopt structural reforms". Many people appear to have left some sections of the referendum ballot blank, so rendering the result void, Reuters reports.

· Attacks by armed groups killed at least 13 people as Colombians vote in the referendum, casting a violent shadow over voting on key reforms that President Uribe hopes will help fight corruption and insurgency. Six civilians were killed and nine wounded when a bomb packed inside milk urns exploded outside a milk-processing plant in the town of Yarumal, in northwest Antioquia, El Colombiano reports.

· According to OREWA (Regional Indigenous Organisation), the Embera, Waunnan, Katio, Chami and Tule nations, who inhabit the Atrato river area suffer the greatest abuses and threats from the armed groups who are disputing the territory. This risk is particularly great for the groups inhabiting the headwaters of the rivers Jiguamiando, Domingodo, Chintado and Quiparado. Nine indigenous children have committed suicide between the months of March and October in Choco and their communities have prevented more young persons from committing suicide.

· Defence Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez reports that FARC guerrillas tried to storm a police post in the southwest town of Jambalo, (Cauca). Four policemen died in the fighting. A soldier was killed when FARC members launched a barrage of mortars at the headquarters of the army's 6th Brigade in the city of Ibague (Tolima). In the nearby town of Silvia, two police officers were killed and seven others wounded in a rebel ambush.

· A wave of car bombs, minor explosions and attacks on power pylons are reported in some parts of the country, authorities say, adding that at least eight towns and cities including a wide swath of the Pacific coast are left without power. Suspected guerrilla fighters torched at least 11 tractor-trailers close to the city of Buenaventura, Colombia's largest seaport, El Pais reports.


Mon 27- Lucho Garzon wins Bogota's mayoral race; Barranca: journalist receives death threats

· Mayor-elect Luis Eduardo Garzon pledges to work for Bogota's poor after becoming the first left candidate to win the top office in Bogota, which, according to the Colombian media, represents a political setback for the campaign of violence of guerrilla groups, AP reports.

· The Regional Committee for Human Rights (CREDHOS) reports death threats against Yaneth Montoya, journalist from regional newspaper Vanguardia Liberal. On 22 October, the regional office of the Human Rights Ombudsman received a telephone call from an unidentified man who expressed concern for the safety of Yaneth. He told the Ombudsman's office that her name was on a death list issued by the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). The newspaper recently received a complaint that she was presenting a negative image of Barrancabermeja after writing an article about life in an area of the city.

· The Election Day appeared to have gone remarkably smoothly according to the authorities. Isolated incidents included FARC members kidnapping 12 poll monitors in Trujillo (Valle del Cauca) and setting fire to polling booths. Also in Medellin, a bomb went off near a polling station shortly after voting started, injuring one person. A member of the leftist party Polo Democratico was kidnapped under circumstances that were unclear. A climate of fear in isolated areas of rural Colombia left half a dozen towns without candidates for Sunday's elections, AP reports.

· ELN reports it would release the seven foreign backpackers it took hostage last month but asks the government to allow a United Nations representative and two ELN spokesmen to witness the hand-over. The Roman Catholic Church says President Uribe has reacted favourably to the offer. "There is a green light, there is goodwill" Father Dario Echeverry told reporters after meeting with Uribe at the Presidential Palace.

The international media reports on the referendum and elections results in Colombia as a personal defeat of President Uribe Velez. Spanish conservative daily "ABC" criticises Uribe comparing his political methods with those of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, criticising the populist campaign of the referendum that the newspaper claims was turned into a plebiscite.

El Espectador reports that supporters of the left gathered in Bogota's convention centre to celebrate Garzon's win. "I am 50 years old, and this is the first time that I have celebrated the victory of a candidate", says Carlos Rodriguez of the Colombian Commission of Jurists.


Tues 28 – Referendum's failure deals blow to Uribe; A. Garzon wins race for governor of Valle.

The BBC's Hector Latorre in Bogota reports that in the wake of the apparent failure of the government's political and economic reform plan, President Uribe has prepared an alternative package of measures designed to trim $700m from the government's budget. These measures have yet to be officially announced, but are said to include tax reforms and sales tax increases. Uribe is also trying to stem fiscal fallout from the failed referendum and reports that he would seek better terms for local and international debt.

Argelino Garzon, another candidate of the Polo Democratico, became the governor in the department of Valle. Sergio Fajardo also became mayor of Medellin. Cities like Cali, Pasto and Barranquilla also elected centre-left candidates. Analysts suggests that after the weekend's results parts of Uribe's political agenda have sunk under the weight of the referendum's defeat, including a proposal to allow his re-election to another four-year term that has been rejected by Colombian Senate, El Espectador reports.

Lucho Garzon announces he would oppose some of President Uribe's hard-line tactics in the government's campaign to crush the insurgency, particularly the use of mass arrests, according to El Tiempo.

The Financial Times reports that the referendum's poor voter turnout represents a notable political defeat for Uribe Velez because he had personally promoted the ballot as a "make-or-break plebiscite backing his right-leaning policies". Colombia has projected a fiscal deficit of 2.8% of GDP in 2003, and 2.5% next year, but this assumed approval of the spending cuts. A mission from the IMF is due to visit Colombia this week.

In an open letter Colombia Peace Association publicly express rejection of the way in which the government of Uribe Velez has been conducting his dialogue with paramilitary groups. The document also calls on the Colombian state to apply the Human Rights treaties and conventions to which it is signatory and put into practice the Declaration of the Commission for Human Rights of the United Nations of 1997.


Weds 29 – Government in cabinet crisis; plans to restructure Colombia's mining resources.

Several members of the Colombian cabinet have offered their resignations in the wake of the government defeat in a referendum on political and economic changes. The ministers said they wanted to give President Uribe a free hand by resigning. They include Fernando Londoño, who is both interior and finance minister. He said he was responsible for the result of Saturday's referendum and would go if the measures fail to gain approval, as appears likely, AP reports.

Colombian government has decided to restructure the state mining sector, liquidating the national mining company MINERCOL Ltd and restructuring INGEOMINAS, in order to create a new entity, which will take responsibility for the whole sector. The justification given by the government of Uribe Velez is the ‘saving' of 50,000 million pesos in order to comply with the demands of the International Monetary Fund. Colombian Trade Union mining organisations note that this saving should not be made at the expense of the Colombian people but should be taken from the enormous profits of the mining multinationals.

Victor Torres, political analyst from Radio Netherlands reports, " Uribe now has less political power to negotiate issues in the international community and he has lost credibility among Colombians and some sections of the population and above all the guerrilla movements. They will now say he's an illegitimate president, because the people didn't back him, and this will strengthen their resolve to continue their armed struggle".

The candidate for mayor of Savarena, in Arauca, won the local elections from his jail cell a week after police arrested him on charges of financing the ELN group.


Thurs 30 - Colombians face austerity measures; Medellin ready for paramilitary demobilization.

President Uribe Velez announces plans for new economic austerity measures in the wake of the government defeat in a referendum on political and economic changes. In a televised speech, Uribe reports that the government respected the outcome of the referendum last weekend, but said they would have to find ways of achieving the same objectives, adding that he would present reform plans to Congress and would consider public spending cuts and tax rises, among other measures, BBC reports.

Mayor of Medellin Luis Perez reports that the process to demobilise 800 people form the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) has been 95% completed.

Ejike Uzoigwe, analyst from Van Eck Global, a New York-based emerging market fund reports "the market is getting concerned about Uribe's ability to push through the reforms that he has been promising". The big credit rating agencies said they were not ready to downgrade Colombia yet, but they would listen closely when Uribe outlines his fiscal "Plan B."

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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