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July 31, 2007
DefMin: Sensitive Info Leaked to Guerrillas and Narcos in Colombia
By Dr. Steven L. 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 in so immense in Colombia that it is miracle that there isn’t more of this going on.

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July 30, 2007
What to do With the Paras? (Uribe Seeks New Law)
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombia’s Uribe seeks to save peace deal

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe tried to salvage his peace deal with right-wing paramilitaries on Sunday, offering a bill that would allow demobilized militia fighters to run for public office.

The measure is meant to stop the Supreme Court from derailing an accord hailed by the conservative leader as the biggest step toward ending Colombia’s long guerrilla war.

More than 31,000 paramilitaries have turned in their guns over the last three years in a deal promising them reduced jail sentences for crimes ranging from torture to massacre.

The pact was based on the idea that former “paras” would be charged not with common crimes but with sedition, as demobilized left-wing guerrillas have been in the past. This would help them avoid cocaine-smuggling charges and protect their long-held dream of running for public office.

But because the paramilitaries never tried to overthrow the government, and even worked with sectors of the army in their common fight against leftist guerrillas, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that sedition does not apply.

The president over the weekend called it a double standard to allow former fighters with the M19 rebel group to serve in Congress, as some members of the disbanded guerrilla army have done, while barring the paramilitaries from doing the same.

Uribe, who denies accusations that he sympathizes with the paramilitary cause, said the court was “ideologically biased” and proposed a law to guarantee political rights to demobilized paramilitaries who are not directly guilty of atrocities.

This is a difficult and tricky situation. If one is an absolutist on the question of the application of justice, it is difficult to see granting amnesty to any of the various violent actors in Colombia, whether we are talking the paras or the guerrillas. On the other hand, the paras have been far more responsible for massacres and displacement in the last two decades and there is ample evidence of unofficial complicity on part of the military.

There is little doubt that the Colombian Supreme Court has a point: guerrillas picked up arms to foment political change, while the paras picked up arms to exact revenge and to protect land and assets (mostly drug land). By the same token, the guerrillas (specifically the FARC) have, since the early 1980s, been more than willing to utilize the drug industry to fund their activities (kidnapping as well).

As such, neither can claim ideological or political purity. And any reconciliation is going to be messy and unsatisfying in the sense of achieving justice (if, by justice, we include a notion of punishment for past crimes committed). There is also the general issue of whether any group that takes up arms against it own state or citizens should ever be rewarded in any capacity.

Of course, if a way cannot be found to get these actors to lay down their arms the alternative is simply continued violence. It is clear that military defeat/the use of force is not going to solve the problem of political violence in Colombia. If we trace the history of the current conflict based simply of the official founding of key belligerents, the FARC and ELN were both founded in the mid-1960s (hence the frequent formulation in the press of a “four decade civil war” and so forth). However, one can easily trace back the precursor of the FARC to fighting during La Violencia (1948-1958). The paramilitaries, in their current form, can be traced back to the early 1980s (although a law allowing civilian “self defense” groups was issued by presidential decree in 1965 and ratified by the Congress in 1968, although it was repealed in 1989, to be replaced by a different iteration in 1994). At any rate, the idea that brute force is going to solve this problem, or that it can be done with perfect justice, is nothing short of a pipe dream (if I may be allowed to deployed said cliche in this context).

(Just some quick thoughts on a complex situation that deserves greater treatment, but I will leave here for the moment).

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July 29, 2007
FARC Killed 11 Kidnapped Politicians due to a Mistake
By Dr. Steven L. 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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July 28, 2007
In Memoriam: Alberto Villamizar
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

For another (and quite different from that given by the Mancuso piece) glimpse into Colombian strife, read the following obituary (via the NYT: Alberto Villamizar, 62, Foe of Colombian Drug Cartel, Dies.

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Government-ELN Talkes Take a Break Without a Cease-Fire Agreement
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombia rebel talks break without cease-fire deal

Colombia’s second biggest guerrilla army said on Friday it broke off government peace talks without clinching an expected cease-fire deal, but negotiations will resume in a month.

The latest round of talks, held in Cuba, ended in a “difficult environment,” according to a statement posted by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, on its Web site.

The negotiations, which started in 2005, had been expected to yield a preliminary peace accord by the end of this month.

But discussions stalled over the government’s demand that the ELN identify its troops and concentrate them in one area as part of the deal, Colombia’s chief negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo told local radio.

At least the talks continue.

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Speaking of Paramilitaries (Profile of Salvatore Mancuso)
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

The NYT has a brief profile of jailed paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso in today’s edition. It gives a glimpse into the complex, ongoing violence in Colombia: From Jail, Colombian Warlord Ponders Long Years of Conflict.

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Drummond off the Hook in Colombia Union Killing Case
By Dr. Steven L. 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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July 27, 2007
Narcos Recruiting Retired Members of the Military
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: 3 arrested as Colombia investigates drug cartel’s recruitment of retired army officers

Colombian investigators have arrested three people allegedly involved in recruiting recently retired army officers to work for the country’s largest drug cartel, authorities said Thursday.

The allegations are an embarrassment to an army receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid for arms and training to fight the world’s largest heroin and cocaine industry.

True, although hardly surprising. The amount of money at the disposal to the drug traffickers is so immense that they are able to lure people to their payrolls is hardly a shocker.

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July 26, 2007
More on Landmines in Colombia
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Here is the HRW press release: Colombia: Guerrillas’ Landmine Use Takes Heavy Toll on Civilians and a link to the actual report.

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Landmines and the FARC
By Dr. Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia landmines blamed on Farc

Human Rights Watch says more than 1,000 people were killed by anti-personnel mines in Colombia last year, up from less than 300 in 2001.

The Farc rebel group often places landmines in civilian areas.

The group said the number of civilian victims had increased from 66 in the year 2000, to more than 300 last year.

[…]

Every day, Marxist guerrillas battered by the US-backed security forces are sowing more home-made mines, known as foot breakers.

The guerrillas have perfected the production of these mines using household items like PVC piping and syringes with the rubber taken out, which act as plungers.

It means the mines can be made for as little as $15 (£7).

Human Rights Watch has detailed the damage inflicted by these weapons, not just on the security forces but on civilians, especially children who play in the woods and jungles near their home and trigger the explosives.

More than three victims a day were registered last year, making Colombia the country with the most landmine victims in the world.

A tragic situation, to be sure.

Filed under: FARC, Violence | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack
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