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Friday, August 3, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Uribe offers Colombia talks zone

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has offered to create a temporary safe haven for peace talks, if left-wing guerrillas free hundreds of hostages.

Mr Uribe said he would then also be willing to release rebel prisoners.

[…]

The Farc has not responded officially but a website which carries rebel statements rejected the proposal.

“There will definitively be no humanitarian exchange with Uribe,” a statement on the Anncol website began.

The FARC would prefer a demilitarized zone in the southwest of Colombia. However, after the disaster that was the Pastrana administration’s (1998-2002) attempt at such a zone, I can’t imagine any Colombian president ceding such a space again anytime soon, and certainly not Alvaro Uribe.

I also have a hard time seeing the FARC negotiating with the Uribe administration given that the FARC consider Uribe linked directly to paramilitary groups. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the last major peace accord (not the last set of talks, but the last major agreement) between the FARC and the government, back during the Betancur administration (1982-1986) led to the creation of a political party, the Patriotic Union (UP). Over the course of less than two decades, right-wing paramilitary groups (linked directly to the AUC that is in talks with the government to demobilize) assassinated upwards of 4,000 members of the UP, in what has been accurately terms a “political genocide.”

As such, given that the Uribe administration has been negotiating with the AUC (and because there have been credible accusations that Uribe worked with paramilitary groups when he was governor of the department of Antioquia in the 1990s), I have a very hard time seeing the FARC being willing to talk to Uribe. Given that there are also serious problems with the AUC’s demobilization (i.e., not all of those demobilized appear to be remaing demobilized), then one would think that distrust would be high.

Just to add another wrinkle to the story, Uribe’s father was killed by the FARC during a kidnapping attempt.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombia high court wins support in Uribe dispute

Colombian judges rallied around the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday as President Alvaro Uribe seeks to bypass its decision to ban former right-wing paramilitaries from running for political office.

The fight between the president and the high court threatens to unravel a peace deal in which 31,000 former paramilitary fighters have turned in their guns in exchange for pardons and the right to hold public positions.

Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office, the Constitutional Court and other legal institutions met on Tuesday to express their support for the Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the high court said a statement was expected on Wednesday from the institutions “backing the court in this argument with the president.”

Last month it decided that demobilized paramilitary fighters must be charged with common crimes like drug trafficking and murder rather than with sedition.

The ruling shook the foundation of the peace deal, which promises that many paramilitaries will face only political charges, which can be pardoned, in connection to their 20-year struggle against left-wing rebels.

Once pardoned, they would be able to run for political office, an avenue that is closed if they have a serious criminal conviction on their records.

If the Supreme Court decision stands, many “paras” have said they will stop cooperating with investigators and halt the turnover of their illegally acquired wealth.

I would note that it is unclear as to whether they are, in fact, being required to turn over their ill-gotten gains.

This situation is very interesting and has multiple components, not the least of which being a test of the institutional strength of the judicial branch vis-a-vis the executive. There is also the very real issue of the appropriate manner for treating the paramilitaries. While by the numbers it would seem that there has been a substantial demobilization, which is quite positive given that the paras are very much responsible for the lion’s share of the violence in the last decade plus, the problem is that it seems that many of them are not staying demobilized.

Uribe appears headed to the Congress to seek a legislative remedy. One would think that he would have a very good chance of getting it, given his support in the legislature. On the other hand, he has suffered in the eyes of public opinion (although he is still around 66% approval) and one wonders if that will affect some of that legislative support, given that it rests on a coalition of smaller parties, rather than on one large one tied directly to the President. Uribe ran as an independent affiliated with parties who ran in the congressional elections rather than actually joining a party himself.

The issue also has some short-term importance, given that:

Several former militia fighters say they plan to run in October provincial elections, sparking concern that paramilitaries may not only get away with the crimes they committed, but might end up running parts of the country.

[Cross-posted from La Politica Colombiana]

To discuss this article, go here.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia admits army infiltrated

Drug traffickers and guerrillas have infiltrated senior levels of the Colombian armed forces, seriously compromising their work, officials say.

Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the Farc rebels and the main drugs cartel had bribed officials to get information and so avoid capture.

His admission confirms the suspicions of many Colombians, correspondents say.

[…]

Mr Santos’s comments come after two incidents pointed to serious leaks in the security forces.

The first was the arrest of a senior defence department official for allegedly passing information to the powerful Norte del Valle drug cartel.

[…]

The second was earlier this year when sensitive government material was found on guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) who had been killed in combat.

The computer files contained classified information going back several years that would be available only to an informant with very high-level access, officials said.

Sadly, none of this is surprising. The amount of money available to use in bribes is so immense in Colombia that it is a miracle that there isn’t more of this going on.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Farc ‘killed hostages by mistake’

The 11 politicians who died while being held by Farc rebels were killed during an accidental clash between factions, Colombia’s intelligence chief has said.

Andres Penate said intercepted communications showed the left-wing movement had shot dead the hostages after coming across another rebel unit.

Thinking they were security forces, commanders ordered the hostages to be killed rather than let them be rescued.

The Farc said in a statement that they were investigating the incident.

The group had previously insisted the politicians were killed in crossfire when an “unidentified military group” attacked their jungle camp in the western Valle del Cauca region on 18 June.

That is one rather grave mistake. It also demonstrates the ruthlessness of the FARC in regards to kidnapping, as they would prefer to slaughter 11 people instead of letting them be rescued.

The politicians in question were are members of the Departmental Assembly of Valle de Cauca (more or less like a state legislature). They were kidnapped out of the assembly’s chamber in Cali in April of 2002 and had been held until this tragic mistake was made.

This incident may end up having larger ramifications:

The BBC’s Jeremy McDermott in Bogota says that, if it is true, the massacre will pile yet more pressure on the Farc, which after more than 40 years of fighting, has reached its lowest level of public support.

I can see how it might lead to pressure on the FARC to talk to the government, especially since the ELN (the other major guerrilla group) is talking and there has been an ongoing process with the paramilitary group, the AUC. Of course, both sets of talks have some serious issues and it is always dangerous to get overly optimistic about the peace process in Colombia.

Politically this event may redound to the Uribe administration’s advantage as Uribe is suffering some in public opinion over the parapolitica scandal-the linking of the paramilitaries to politicians, including some Uribe appointees. This situation with the FARC diverts, to some degree, a portion of public attention away from the paras situation and also gives Uribe a specific target that he can address with a renewed vigor. Although whether that means expanded military action against the FARC or trying to leverage the situation to try and force talks remains to be seen (the former being an easier route to take).

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Saturday, July 28, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: U.S. coal company not liable for union deaths in Colombia

A jury on Thursday rejected claims that Alabama-based Drummond coal was to blame for the killing of three union leaders in Colombia, a defeat for labor in a test of whether companies can be held responsible in U.S. courtrooms for their conduct overseas.

Jurors sided with Drummond and the head of its Colombian operations, Augusto Jimenez, in ruling against a lawsuit filed by relatives and the union of the dead men, killed by paramilitary gunmen six years ago.

The main issue, as I understand it, is that Drummond officials were accused of hiring paramilitary hitmen to take out union leaders. Sadly, the basic accusation is one that is quite possible in the Colombian context.

The Birmingham News has more on the allegations (Company not liable in slayings):

The verdict in the civil trial means the union and families of three slain Colombian labor leaders failed to convince the jury that Birmingham-based coal mine operator Drummond substantially helped right-wing death squads kill the men who worked at its South American mine.

The families and union claimed Drummond supplied the gangs with fuel, vehicles and a safe haven inside its 23,000-acre mine in the remote grasslands of northern Colombia.

Drummond argued the deaths were just an unfortunate three among thousands of others in a country with warring factions, lawless drug traffickers, roaring poverty and not enough police and soldiers to patrol vast stretches of isolated mountains, savanna and wilderness

The trial itself was a big deal in the sense that its outcome could have had consequences well outside the case itself:

The trial, which resurrected an obscure 218-year-old law that holds Americans liable for their overseas conduct, was a centerpiece for an international human rights community that increasingly is using the statute to attack the behavior of big global corporations. The United Steelworkers and the International Labor Rights Fund each supplied lawyers and thousands of hours of work to the five-year-old suit.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT:Major drug suspect seized in Colombia

The capture of Herrera was one of the most important drug trafficking arrests in Colombia in recent years, a U.S. law enforcement official said Tuesday. Herrera is thought to have worked for various Colombian and Mexican cartels, he said.

[…]

A 2003 indictment in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that Herrera annually managed the shipment of several multi-ton loads of Colombian cocaine, ferrying it by air, land or sea to U.S. markets via Central America and Mexico.

After escaping from the Mexico City jail, Herrera allegedly did anything but retire. Authorities say he became instrumental in repatriating hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profit from Colombian drug traffickers.

Sources said that Herrera was seized while arranging for a single-engine aircraft to carry $25 million from Central America to Colombia.

The piece starts with a story about how he tried to bribe the cops with $5 million. Apparently he can afford it:

After Herrera’s arrest in Mexico in April 2004, police searching his house in Guatemala found $14 million in cash. Herrera has “many properties” in Colombia and was heavily involved in laundering the drug profits he helped bring back here, DAS detectives said.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Cross-posted from La Política Colombiana:

Shockingly, the AP reports that the number of hectares of coca under cultivation has risen, despite the increased eradication effort: Colombia’s president says White House survey shows 8 percent rise in coca

Despite record drug eradication efforts, a White House survey found production of coca in Colombia rose for the third consecutive year in 2006, President Alvaro Uribe said.

Uribe, who travels to Washington on Wednesday to secure the continued flow of U.S. anti-drug aid, revealed the findings of the still unreleased report at the end of a long speech Friday. A transcript was posted Sunday on the president’s Web site.

Uribe said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy survey, which is based on satellite imagery, found that production rose 8 percent last year, to 156,000 hectares (385,484 acres) — an area twice the size of New York City.

I mean, really, who could’ve seen that coming?

This also contradicts statements from the US government from about a month ago.

Certainly when compared to the stated goals, the current policy is an abject failure:

One of Plan Colombia’s main goals was to halve production of coca within five years, but the latest estimate indicates 27 percent more coca is being produced than in 1999, the year before the anti-drug effort went into effect. A recent dip in the U.S. street price of cocaine, and rise in purity, also points to abundant supply.

Despite this, the response is predictable: there will be a call for more money to be spent to try and eradicate more hectares and yet regardless of how much money we spend we are going to be in the same place a few years from now, looking back and saying “well, we just need a few more million, and then we’ll get ‘em”-and meanwhile the cultivation of the coca plant with continue as will the consumption of the drug.

One wonders at what point we stop and actually reassess if this is a smart way to spend the taxpayers’ money.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: President vows to free Betancourt

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has ordered the army to step up efforts to rescue former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from rebel captors.

Ms Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French national, was seized by the rebel Farc guerrilla group in February 2002.

Mr Uribe pledged to release her and three Americans after a fellow hostage fled and detailed the harsh conditions they were kept in.

But Ms Betancourt’s mother and husband both strongly oppose such action.

“It means death for Ingrid,” said her mother, Yolanda Pulecio.

“We’re sure that this order immediately means death for Ingrid and for everyone who’s being held with her.”

President Uribe spoke by telephone with France’s new President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, after he had heard details of the conditions in which Ms Betancourt is being held from escaped hostage Jhon Frank Pinchao.

“Generals, we are going to rescue Ingrid Betancourt!” the president announced.

“I urge you, let’s rescue her! There’ll be no more games with the Farc.”

However, Mr Sarkozy reportedly favoured a negotiated solution.

The sad catch-22 here is that I am not certain that either route will free Betancourt. The notion that an all-out assault, especially a publicly announced one is going to lead to the freeing of hostages is appealing in an action-movie kind of way, but is tactically odd in the real world. In this I largely concur with Betancourt’s daughter:

Ingrid Betancourt’s daughter, Melanie, said President Uribe’s statement was a mere “media show”.

“If you want to free someone by force, will you announce to the whole world?” she said.

“The first thing they will do is to execute their hostages.”

I am not certain that they will execute the hostages immediately, but do agree that they probably wouldn’t survive the assault.

Of course, negotiations are a problematic route as well, given that Betancourt was kidnapped in the first place in the context of wanting a peaceful meeting with the FARC during the period of time in which the Colombian government had allowed a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone from which the FARC could start peace talks with the government. Indeed, it was the Betancourt kidnapping that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading then-President Pastrana to cancel the DMZ and the peace process with the FARC as it was then constituted.

If the FARC was willing to kidnap Betancourt in that context, it seems rather unlikely that they will be willing to negotiate now, with the Uribe administration in particular.

The kidnapping and long-term holding (it has been over five years since her capture) of Betancourt continues to strike me as a strange move by the FARC. Betancourt was a popular politician (her Senate list won the most votes in the 1998 election. Further, her politics were progressive in nature. As such, it is unclear as to what signal that this kidnapping was supposed to send. It can hardly be seen as a move to generate sympathy for the FARC in the general population.

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Friday, May 18, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Reuters AlertNet - Second governor jailed in Colombia militia probe

The governor of a Colombian province handed himself over to prosecutors on Thursday shortly after he was ordered arrested as part of an investigation into ties between politicians and paramilitary death squads.

Hernando Molina is the second governor jailed in the probe that is forcing President Alvaro Uribe to defend his government over charges some of his allies once conspired with militia commanders before they demobilized under a peace deal.

Prosecutors have so far imprisoned 13 lawmakers on charges they colluded with rightist paramilitaries who massacred and controlled swaths of Colombia in the name of countering rebels who are still fighting Latin America’s oldest insurgency.

And the story continues to grow…

Molina is governor of Cesar, which is on the Venezuelan border. Of the politicians arrested (both current and former) in regards to the parapolitics scandal, the preponderance have come from Cesar, Cordoba, Magdalena and Sucre, all in north and northeast Colombia. The current governor of Magdalena is in custody, as is a former governor of Sucre. Numerous Senators from the departments in question are also in jail.

Molina ran unopposed for the position in 2003 as the Liberal Party’s candidate. The likelihood is that other candidates were intimidated into not running by paramilitary groups.

It is worth noting that his matronymic (mother’s last name) is Araújo, which is almost certainly the same Araújo family that has already seen numerous arrests (including a Senator from Cesar and his father, a former Senator).

Technorati Tags: Parapolitics, paras, Parapolítica, Para-política, Araujo, Araújo, Cesar, Hernando Molina

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Thursday, May 17, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Farc hostage escapes in Colombia

A Colombian policeman held hostage by left-wing Farc rebels for nearly nine years has escaped his captors.

Jhon Frank Pinchao said he spent 17 days lost in the jungle before he was found by an army patrol on Wednesday.

[…]

He said he had been waiting for an opportunity to escape for eight-and-a-half years and when his captors finally let down their guard he seized the chance.

He told how he walked, swam and crawled through the Amazon jungle in the eastern province of Vaupes for days before he stumbled on the army patrol.

Mr Pinchao was seized by the Farc - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - when the rebels attacked the town of Mitu in 1998.

The kidnapping and holding of victims for years on end is one of the many insidious features of the violence in Colombia. The notion of spending almost a decade moving from camp to camp as a prisoner, never knowing if one is ever going to return to one’s family and friends is a pretty hideous existence-not to mention what it would mean to have nine years carved out of your life and thrown away.

Pinchao was held, it should be noted, with some high-profile hostages:

He said he was held in a camp with three US intelligence agents and Colombia’s former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

[…]

“The last time I saw them was 28 April,” he said.

Ms Betancourt, who has dual Colombian-French nationality, was seized in February 2002 while campaigning for president in southern Colombia.

The three Americans were captured in February 2003 after their plane came down during a surveillance mission in the south of the country.

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