Friday, January 30, 2009

World Social Forum, Bolivia, Colombia and the Gaza Crisis Highlighted Today's Wake Up Call

Greetings Folks,

Just to call your attention to some of the stories we dealt with today on the Friday Edition of Wake Up Call on WBAI Pacifica Radio in New York.

This morning, we covered a number of stories related to social movements in Latin America, including the Bolivian referendum last week and the ongoing World Social Forum. We also addressed the horrific conditions facing the people in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s three-week attack on the Palestinian people, and took a look at the growing lies being spread by the right-wing propaganda machine against the new Administration of Barack Obama.

In the first hour of the program, we started off by discussing the 9th World Social Forum, currently being held in Belem, Brazil, in the heart of the Amazonian region. This year’s World Social Forum has particular significance, given that it takes place amidst the global financial crisis which is shining a bright light on the contradictions and the failures of the Neo-liberal economic model and rampant corporate globalization. On Thursday, a number of world leaders attended the forum, saluted by the over 100,000 participants from around the world. We spoke with Maria Luisa Mendonca, a veteran human rights activist, and member of the organizing committee of the World Social Forum, who is attending the event in Belem, Brazil.

Then we discussed the Republican media attack dogs, who are on the offensive less than two weeks into the Obama Presidency. In response to media coverage of President Obama's economic recovery plan, the media watch group Media Matters for America released a comprehensive list of "myths and falsehoods" surrounding the issue. Media Matters has documented these falsehoods, including, most recently, media figures falsely suggesting a partial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis examined the entire bill and falsely claiming that community organization ACORN would receive $4.19 billion as part of the stimulus. We were joined by Karl Frisch, the Communications Director and a Senior Fellow for Media Matters for America.

In the second hour of the show, we looked at the effect of war on Gaza's children. Israeli warplanes attacked what they called a suspected Hamas militant in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, who Israel claims is responsible for the explosion that killed an Israeli soldier on the border Tuesday.

This was happening as the international community was focusing on the devastation of the Israeli attack on Gaza. Speaking from the Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged more than $600-million in assistance to restore essential services to Gaza following Israel's recent three-week-long offensive. Ban toured Gaza last week and says the destruction there is "heartbreaking". The Palestinian Center for Human Rights counted 280 children among the nearly 1,300 dead – and adds that a quarter of the more than 5,000 wounded are children. Psychologists say that the trauma experienced by the 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip is something that will be felt for generations to come. We first heard a report from FSRN's Aya Batrawy, who reported from Gaza about the cycle of violence that has now reached an entirely new generation of Palestinians.

Then we spoke at length with Phyllis Bennis, a veteran analyst of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and author of several books on Mid East affairs. She is a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

And finally, in the third and final hour of Wake Up Call we took a close up look at Bolivia with Producer and blogger Karah Woodward, who hosts the blog Bolivia Transition Project through Digital Warrior Media. She recently spent two weeks in La Paz during the country’s historic referendum on Sunday, where over 60% of the population voted in favor of transforming Bolivia’s antiquated Constitution. It was the third electoral victory for Evo Morales, the indigenous leader and former coca grower. We discussed the significance of the vote, and the impact it will have on the indigenous population of Bolivia. We also examined how it might alter Bolivia-US relations. In our discussion, we were joined by Tiokasin Ghosthorse (see photo).

From there we made the transition to Colombia, to get an update on the state of the Indigenous and Popular Minga, which was launched last October in Cauca. We heard from Manuel Rozental, a veteran human rights activist and community organizer, who is a member of the Communication Team of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN. He made the links between developments in Bolivia with what was unfolding in Colombia, and described how the ACIN was openly discussing these historic events within their communities almost on a daily basis. We also discussed the problem facing the ACIN's Community Radio station, Radio Payumat, which has been off the air since December 13th.

Take a listen if you have some time by visiting the WBAI Homepage, and clicking onto the archives link; or click on the above links related to the first, second and third hours of the show.



Bolivia Looking Forward

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bolivia: Looking Forward

Jan 27 - LA PAZ (digitalwarriormedia) - International observers are virtually unanimous on the conduct of Bolivia’s referendum vote on Sunday, which went smoothly and without any violence.

“We did not see any irregularities that could affect the outcome of the vote.” said Dr. Jennifer McCoy, Director of the Americas program at the Carter Center during a press conference on Tuesday. “This is a very important, democratic experiment for all of the Hemisphere to watch.”

As a special envoy for President Jimmy Carter, Dr. McCoy supervised a mission that sent observers into both rural and urban areas in the departments of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Tarija.

The Carter Center was one of several international agencies that arrived in Bolivia at the behest of the Bolivian government to observe and report on the referendum voting process.

Calls of fraud on the part of the opposition have been virtually quelled by reports issued from the Organization of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Carter Center, Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and the European Union.

About 300 observers attended the vote, which National Electoral Court President Jose Luis Exeni said was “the greatest presence of international observers in Bolivia’s democratic history.”

For the full article for to:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anatomy of an Investigation: The Colombian State’s War Against Civil Society

Here is the latest article from our friends at Colombia Journal. I thought I'd share it with you to draw attention once again to the profound contradictions of Colombia's Democratic Security Strategy.

Anatomy of an Investigation: The Colombian State’s War Against Civil Society

by Garry Leech

Aidee Moreno Ibagué recently learned that the Colombian government is investigating her for the crime of rebellion. But Moreno Ibagué has not taken up arms against the state. She does not plant bombs in Colombia’s cities. Nor does she carry an AK-47 assault rifle in the jungles of rural Colombia where leftist guerrillas have been fighting to overthrow the government for more than four decades. She is a lawyer who lives in the capital Bogotá. More specifically, she is a human rights lawyer for the country’s largest peasant union federation Fensuagro (The National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions). She is also an outspoken critic of the government’s security and economic policies and the dirty war it is waging against those who struggle for social justice. According to Moreno Ibagué, it is her work and her political views that have made her a target of the state. “I will not be silent when there are so many atrocities,” she declares emphatically. “They have not been able to assassinate me, so now they want to put me in prison.”

Read the full article at:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Update on Bolivia: Evo Morales Starts Third Year


Karah Woodward, our producer on WBAI's Wake Up Call, is currently in Bolivia, blogging about today's historic referendum on the new Constitution. Here is her latest post:

Digital Warrior Media reports on Bolivia Referendum

LA PAZ–(digitalwarriormedia) On the third-year anniversary of his inauguration as president of Bolivia, Evo Morales spent Thursday making a case for his administration and closing the national campaign for the constitutional referendum vote on January 25.

Morales began the day by launching a new state-run newspaper, Cambio (Change), before delivering a four-hour address in front of the National Congress.

Some of the highlights of his speech included the increase of Bolivia’s monetary reserves from $800 million upon his election in 2005 to more than $8 billion in 2008, due to the nationalization of Bolivia’s hydrocarbon sector (and also the fortune of record high commodity prices).

The increase in reserves has enabled Bolivia to finance a national literacy campaign, improve health services and provide entitlement payments to the elderly and school-aged children.
Outside the Congressional building, where Morales’ address was broadcast on loud speakers, Plaza Murillo was filled with supporters holding up compact copies of the new constitution and “Si” signs.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

LI SOA Watch and the Cinema Arts Centre will hold a Benefit for Indigenous Community Radio in Colombia

From October 12 to November 24, 2008, Colombia's popular movement, led by the country's indigenous organizations, carried out an unprecedented six-week mobilization and march to protest against the government's economic development and military/security policies, as well as the ongoing violations of the rights of indigenous people. The Minga Popular was the beginning of a nation-wide, popular uprising designed to transform Colombian society through coordinated, non-violent mobilization.

One of the keys to the success of the 1-1/2 month mobilization was the indigenous community's strategic use of communication technology, which, combined with their traditional communication practices of grassroots assemblies and public consultations, was able to construct an alternative (people's) narrative about their broader struggle to the Colombian people.

The heart of this work was carried out on the community station Radio Payumat, the voice of the indigenous people of Northern Cauca. However, since December 13th, the station has been off the air after an act of ruthless sabotage severely damaged its transmitter, a deliberate attempt to silence the indigenous movement.

ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15th, 2009, the Long Island SOA WATCH, in conjunction with the Cinema Arts Centre of Huntington, Long Island, will hold a special benefit brunch and screening to raise funds for Radio Payumat to help get it back on the air!

The event will feature a screening of the Award-winning documentary "We Are Raised with the Staff of Authority in Hand," produced in 2006 by the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, and presented in major film festivals around the world since then.

After the screening, there will be an open dialogue with:
Mario A. Murillo, host of WBAI's Wake Up Call and Associate Professor of Communication at Hofstra University, and Tiokasin Ghosthorse, (Lakota), host of First Voices/Indigenous Radio on WBAI.

Together, with videos and images of the recent mobilization, they will examine the trajectory of the Indigenous and Popular Minga from start to finish, with a focus on the multi-tiered communication practices of the indigenous movement, particularly of the ACIN, one of the leading organizations of the broader national movement.

Sunday, February 15th, 2009
Brunch at 11:00am, Film and Discussion at 12:30pm
Cinema Arts Centre
423 Park Avenue in Huntington, New York
For more information, email: or call (631)423-7611

$25.00 all tickets
For tickets, call 1(800) 838-3006 and ask for event 54041 or go to

Friday, January 23, 2009

WBAI's Wake Up Call Notes - Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Greetings folks,

I am now fully installed, back in New York City after a six-month absence. How do I know this? Because I finally got to go on the air once again at WBAI Radio, my home away from home for the past 20 years. I tell you, despite missing all the people in Colombia tremendously since leaving, it felt good to go back on the radio this was as if I had blown off half a year of therapy sessions!

In any event, we had a productive show this morning, with a major focus on Latin America. Particularly in the 7:00-8:00am block, we covered the upcoming Bolivian referendum on the new Constitution taking place this Sunday, and followed this with a panel discussion on the future of Latin America policy under the new Obama Administration.

On Bolivia, our guests were Wake Up Call Producer Karah Woodward, an independent journalist and blogger who is currently in Bolivia (Blogging at Digital Warrior Media);
Katheryn Ledebur, long-time activist and journalist working with the Cocahbamba-based Andean Information Network; and Forrest Hylton, historian and journalist, author of Evil Hour in Colombia, as well as a newer book with Sinclair Thompson on Bolivia.

The round-table discussion on Latin America policy featured Forrest, who stayed on the line with us; Adam Isaacson, Senior Fellow and Latin America specialist at the Center for International Policy; Gerardo Renique, Historian at the City University of NY; and Christy Thornton, Director of NACLA’s Report on the Americas (see previous post).

To listen to the segment, go to the WBAI Archive on their website.

Obama and Latin America - NACLA

Not Just Change, But Justice: Taking on Policy in the Obama Era

January/February 2009

What Latin America needs is not change that would enhance U.S. interests, but a healthy dose of social justice. The region suffers from astounding inequality. In Bolivia, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP), the ratio of income received by the richest 10% of the population to the poorest 10% is 168 to one, making it the most income-unequal country in the world. Ten Latin American countries are among the next 15 on the UNDP’s rankings, vying for second place among the “most unequal.” Inequality between countries is also immense. According to LatinFocus, about 70% of the region’s GDP is produced by just two countries, Brazil and Mexico. And IMF figures show that GDP per capita in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela is more than double that of most of the countries of Central America and the Caribbean. Any policy agenda for the Americas — one that promotes economic development, inclusive social policies, equal access to resources and infrastructure, and genuine democratic participation—must begin with these hard facts. And it must take into account that all this exists under the careful watch of the United States, whose influence in the region, the Brookings report laments, is slipping away. The long-standing U.S. pursuit of its own interests across the region must be held at least partially responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

For more, go to:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bolivian Constitutional Referendum Analysis: An Overview

FYI: Here's an interesting piece from the Andean Information Network about this week's events in Bolivia.


Written by The Andean Information Network

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

On January 25, 2009 Bolivians will vote to accept or reject a draft constitution promoted by the MAS government, resulting from the conflict-ridden Constitutional Assembly and subsequent multiparty negotiations. The extensive 100-page, awkwardly-worded document has provoked a myriad of mixed reactions in the diverse nation. Opposition groups have voiced stiff criticism of the proposal, although ironically their congressional representatives ratified it. On the other hand, some social movements and progressive groups argue that MAS permitted too many concessions in the document to make it sufficiently reformist. Some of these critiques have proven valid and constructive, and others inaccurate and politically motivated.

In general, the current political atmosphere is marked by unfounded accusations and lies regarding the content of the draft presented in TV spots and other media outlets as the opposition attempts to defeat the proposed constitution. This propaganda takes advantage of the length and complexity of the document, which suggests that most people will not read the draft before voting upon it. Despite the opposition’s campaign, the document will most likely be approved. It will clearly need to be reworked and improved through a long process of legislation, placing a difficult and crucial responsibility in the hands of Bolivian legislators.

For more, go to:

Emergency Action: Protect Rights of Anti-Mining Protesters / Ecuador

Hi folks,

Here's a notice I just received from the Global Response Environmental Education and Action Network about unfolding events in Ecuador.


Emergency Action: Protect Rights of Anti-Mining Protesters / Ecuador

Indigenous organizations and communities affected by mining launched coordinated protests January 20 in nine out of Ecuador's 24 provinces. The protests are in response to passage of a new mining law that favors multinational mining companies and permits large scale mining.

Indigenous, environmental and health organizations fear that large scale mining will contaminate and dry up water resources, destroy the natural environment and cause human rights abuses.

Call to Action:

Protest leaders are asking international citizens to support them by writing to Ecuador's president Rafael Correa, urging him to guarantee the rights and safety of the protesters, whose numbers are estimated over 10,000 and growing. Please see the press reports below, and send messages to President Correa. Model letters in Spanish and English follow the links.

Articles in English:
Ecuador: Mining Protests Marginalized, But Growing
4 Hurt, 10 Arrested in Ecuador Protests
Latin American Herald Tribune, Jan 21, 2009

MODEL LETTERS in Spanish and English:

Please send copies of your letters to:

Sr. Rafael Correa, Presidente de la Republica del Ecuador;

Estimado Senor:

Con todo respeto le pido que durante las manifestaciones de esta semana en contra de la mineria a gran escala, favor de defender rigurosamente los derechos humanos de todos los ciudadanos.

Los amantes del medio ambiente, de los derechos humanos y de la paz a traves del mundo esperamos ver que ni la policia ni el ejercito usen fuerza o violencia en contra de los protestantes.

Esperamos que usted tome medidas adecuadas para prevenir cualquier tipo de violencia estatal. De la misma manera, esperamos que los manifestantes se conduzcan pacificamente, como sus lideres les piden.

Ademas, le ruego de modificar la ley de mineria para no permitir la actividad minera de gran escala donde las comunidades afectadas no esten de acuerdo.



Dear Sir:

I respectfully request that during this week's protests against the new mining law, that you rigorously defend the human rights of all Ecuadorian citizens.

We who care deeply about environmental protection, human rights and peace are hoping to see that neither the police nor the military will use force or violence against the protesters.

I hope that you will take measures to prevent any kind of state violence. At the same time I hope that the protesters also conduct themselves peacefully, in accord with the exhortations of their leaders.

Let me also urge you to modify the Mining Law so that no large scale mining would be permitted unless the affected communities give their prior, informed consent to the project.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here is an Inauguration Day article from Colombia Journal

U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela and Colombia Will Change Little Under Obama

by Garry Leech

Recent comments by President-elect Barack Obama, newly-confirmed Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and leading congressional Democrats suggest that the incoming U.S. administration will not significantly differ from the Bush administration in its approach towards Venezuela and Colombia. In an interview with the U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision, Obama fired an unprovoked opening salvo across the bow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez that will likely ensure a continuation of the verbal sparring that has marked relations between the Bush administration and the Venezuelan government. Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton echoed her new boss’s view of Chávez in her confirmation hearings. Meanwhile, the new House majority leader, Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, lauded the achievements of Colombia’s President Uribe and, along with leading Democrat Charles Rangel, endorsed the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Read the full article at:

Monday, January 12, 2009

NGO's Critical of Alvaro Uribe's Medal of Freedom

In case you missed this, a coalition of US-based human rights non-governmental organizations put out a letter on January 12th, critical of President Bush's decision to reward the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Vélez. With all the things going on in the world, it does not surprise me that few news media really made much of a deal about this story. So I thought I'd share this note with you, posted on the Human Rights Watch website.
Colombia’s Rights Violations Should Bar Its Leader From Award
By Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America

January 12, 2009

(Washington, DC, January 12, 2009) – US President George W. Bush’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia is a disturbing example of the Bush administration’s disregard for serious human rights concerns out of zeal to show unconditional support to governments that it views as strategic allies, seven leading nongovernmental organizations said today.

The organizations include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Bush is giving the award to Uribe at a ceremony in the White House on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

“The Bush administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Colombia’s serious human rights violations,” said the organizations. “Its selection of Uribe to receive this award only further tarnishes the Bush administration’s own reputation on human rights issues in the region.”

The groups pointed out that President Uribe has repeatedly taken steps and carried out policies that are damaging to human rights in Colombia.

Under President Uribe’s watch, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Colombian Army. And while Uribe’s government has strongly confronted the abusive left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Uribe has failed to take a similarly clear stance against equally abusive drug-running paramilitary groups, who have massacred, raped, and forcibly displaced thousands of Colombians in recent decades.

Fundamental flaws in a paramilitary demobilization process under Uribe have permitted many of the groups to continue to engage in abuses under new names. The president's verbal attacks on his country’s human rights defenders have been frequent and disturbing. And Uribe has often opposed efforts to break paramilitaries’ influence in the political system, including by making unfounded accusations against the Supreme Court justices who are investigating more than 70 members of the Colombian Congress for links to paramilitaries

National Security Archives: US Knew of Colombian False Positives

On January 7th, 2009, the National Security Archives posted a report detailing to what extent the US intelligence and diplomatic community was aware of the so-called "False Positives" Scandal involving the Colombian military. Here's more for your information:

"Body count mentalities": Colombia’s "False Positives" Scandal, Declassified

Documents Describe History of Abuses by Colombian Army

Washington, D.C., January 7, 2009 - The CIA and senior U.S. diplomats were aware as early as 1994 that U.S.-backed Colombian security forces engaged in "death squad tactics," cooperated with drug-running paramilitary groups, and encouraged a "body count syndrome," according to declassified documents published on the Web today by the National Security Archive. These records shed light on a policy—recently examined in a still-undisclosed Colombian Army report—that influenced the behavior of Colombian military officers for years, leading to extrajudicial executions and collaboration with paramilitary drug traffickers. The secret report has led to the dismissal of 30 Army officers and the resignation of Gen. Mario Montoya Uribe, the Colombian Army Commander who had long promoted the idea of using body counts to measure progress against guerrillas.

Archive Colombia analyst, Michael Evans, whose article on the matter was published today in Spanish on the Web site of Colombia’s Semana magazine, said that, “These documents and the recent scandal over the still-secret Colombian Army report raise important questions about the historical and legal responsibilities the Army has to come clean about what appears to be a longstanding, institutional incentive to commit murder.”

For more details, go to:

LA Times Piece on Nasa Resistance in Cauca

Colombia Indians face down violence
By Chris Kraul
January 11, 2009
Reporting from Jambalo, Colombia -- After word spread across this Indian reservation that seven people had been kidnapped by leftist rebels, the community's unarmed "indigenous guard" sprang into action.

Within minutes, hundreds of men, women and children were out on roads and pathways searching for the hostages, communicating by radio, cellphone and shouts. Many held lanterns that, as the search continued after nightfall, made the rescue party seem an eerily glowing centipede snaking up and down hillsides.

Soon, the guards had found the hostages. The rebels were holding them in a school, which was quickly surrounded by hundreds of Indians, who, lanterns held high, kept a silent vigil. A guerrilla leader threatened violence and fired his weapon into the air, but no one budged.

After a brief standoff, the unarmed Indians secured the hostages' release.

The incident in November was a dramatic example of how many of Colombia's 92 indigenous communities use a common front and an almost Gandhian stance of nonviolence to coexist with, and sometimes prevail over, the rebels, drug traffickers, paramilitary fighters and government soldiers who for decades have battled one another in the country.

"We forbid violence. All we have is the power to convene," Rodrigo Dagua, leader of the Jambalo tribe, said as he held the so-called staff of command, a ceremonial rod that confers authority on its holder. "It's what keeps us alive."

The peaceful approach doesn't always work for Colombia's indigenous people, who number about 1.4 million, or 3% of the population.

For the last decade, the Wayuu tribe in northeastern Colombia has suffered killings and extortion at the hands of paramilitary bands who covet the Caribbean coastline bordering their reservation. Indians in Putumayo state's Sibundoy Valley have been chased off their ancestral lands to make way for coca plantations.

In October, an Indian marcher here in Cauca state in Colombia's southwest was shot and killed by police as he took part in a protest against the government's failure to deliver 45,000 acres to local tribes as promised in a 1991 land reform plan. Cauca's 18 indigenous communities had declared a minga, or collective movement, and had shut down the Panamerican Highway.

Tensions in Cauca rose last month after soldiers killed Edwin Legarda, the husband of minga leader Aida Quilcue of the neighboring Totoro reservation. The military said the shooting at a checkpoint a few miles north of here was an accident. The Indians and some human rights groups contend that it was a criminal attack and an effort to silence Quilcue.

But nonviolence remains the watchword for how the indigenous deal with the outside world, as shown by the foiled kidnapping by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in November.

The kidnapping victims included four consultants from the state capital, Popayan, who had driven up to this isolated town in Colombia's central mountain range to assist Jambalo leaders with administrative and bookkeeping matters.

The consultants were returning to Popayan with three locals when half a dozen guerrillas stopped their van and took them all hostage. The kidnappers and their captives began marching east up a rugged mountainside toward an area where FARC leaders are known to hide out.

One of the victims managed to make a cellphone call to Jambalo leaders, who ordered out the indigenous guards, a 360-member phalanx of mostly young leaders whose job is to spread the alarm at times of crisis and to organize a community response.

Guard leader Fermin Jembuel said the kidnappings violated a tacit decades-long agreement with the FARC that the rebels leave Jambalo alone in exchange for the community's neutrality in the FARC's quarrel with the government.

"We have 36 villages on the reservation, and all were activated under our emergency plan," Jembuel said. "Checkpoints were set up on every road and path."

After the hostages were released, the guerrillas were allowed to flee. All except for one: a member of the Jambalo community who was a FARC collaborator. In a subsequent trial, he was banished from the reservation for 15 years as punishment, said Dagua, the tribe's leader.

"The level of organization and commitment that the communities have, and how much they resist all external threats to their land, is a clear example of strength," said Mario Murillo, a Hofstra University professor who is writing a book on Colombia's indigenous communities.

"But it also points up the challenges they face, surrounded as they are by forces that pose a severe threat."

It was hardly the first time the Jambalo tribe has had to look down the rifle barrels of armed groups encroaching on its domain. Several years ago, tribe members destroyed five "kitchens" set up by drug traffickers on their land to process cocaine. More recently, they repeatedly have escorted army patrols off their 1,500-acre reservation.

"The army offers to come and deal with the FARC and the traffickers, but we don't want them involved," Dagua said, adding that the presence of armed groups would only ignite a cycle of violence. "We'll take care of our problems our way."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Year Brings More Violence to Indigenous Communities

Greetings friends,

We are well into the new year, and already 2009 is a year of violence directed against indigenous communities in Colombia. Here are some recent developments.

Most dramatic was near the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. On December 31st, the indigenous Kankuamo community of
Atánquez, in northern Colombia, about 90-minutes from Valledupar, in the midst of its year end festivities, suffered a major attack when a grenade was thrown into a hall where the local residents had gathered to bring in the new year. Five people were killed, and 67 people were wounded, many of them severely. Colombian authorities initially said the attack was carried out by a member of the community, a hypothesis that was immediately rejected by the indigenous cabildo. As Alfredo Molano wrote in Sunday's El Espectador, the official response is always designed to shift the focus of the blame when attacks are carried out in areas close to military or police installations (or paramilitary strongholds, as is the case here). In this instance, the site of the attack occurred very close to a Police Station.

The Kankuamos have been the target of systematic violence over the last ten years, with 262 members of the community killed by armed groups. As a result, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has demanded the government provide guaranteed protection to the Kankuamo, something that President Alvaro Uribe has deemed unnecessary. The community is demanding a thorough investigation into the attack.

Further south, in the department of Cauca, the last several days has seen serious confrontations between the government security forces and FARC rebels, particularly in the town of Tacueyó. The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca put out the following press release about these actions, which once again compromises the security and well being of the Nasa people of Cauca, and is a direct threat to their life plans.

Below are communiques from ACIN about the developments in Cauca, followed by ONIC, about the situation facing the Kankuamos. We'll try to keep you posted in the coming days!




Desde el día sábado 3 de enero de 2009, se han presentado combates entre la Fuerza Pública (ejército nacional) y las guerrillas de las FARC, en la Vereda La María. Confrontaciones que continuaron el día domingo 4 y lunes 5 extendiéndose a las veredas de El Trapiche y La Julia, Resguardo Indígena de Tacueyó.

La Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca ACIN denuncia e informa a la opinión pública nacional e internacional, a los organismos humanitarios, ONGs de derechos humanos, instituciones de control del Estado, Defensoría, Procuraduría General de la Nación y comunidad en general, que una vez más nuestras comunidades son víctimas de una guerra que no es nuestra, pero que somos nosotros los que sufrimos las consecuencias, como las que se sufrieron en el territorio indígena de Tacueyó, Municipio de Toribío Departamento del Cauca.

Desde el día sábado 3 de enero de 2009, se han presentado combates entre la Fuerza Pública (ejército nacional) y las guerrillas de las FARC, en la Vereda La María. Confrontaciones que continuaron el día domingo 4 y lunes 5 extendiéndose a las veredas de El Trapiche y La Julia, Resguardo Indígena de Tacueyó.

Las confrontaciones se iniciaron a eso de la ocho de la mañana del día 3, cuando hace presencia el ejército en la zona, transportados en helicópteros. Fueron desembarcados en la cancha de la vereda. De inmediato tomaron posiciones en las viviendas cercanas, como sucedió con la del señor ERIC COICUE y NOLVERTO PEREZ, las cuales fueron impactadas por disparos de fusil en paredes y techo. Lo mismo sucedió con la escuela de la vereda donde encontramos que ha sufrido averías en techo, puertas, vidrios de las ventanas y los asientos de los estudiantes que se encontraban en el interior del aula, causadas por disparos de fusil. Todo esto se pudo corroborar por toda la cantidad de vainillas que pudimos encontrar tanto en las viviendas como en la escuela.

La guerrilla de las FARC, al igual que el ejército se tomaron varias viviendas donde se atrincheraron para realizar el hostigamiento colocando a la población civil en alto riesgo, ya que muchas quedaron en medio del fuego cruzado: los niños, los ancianos y las mujeres embarazadas que se encontraban en el lugar.

Consecuencia de toda esta confrontación que lleva ya tres días hoy lunes cinco encontramos una persona herida que responde al nombre de NEFTALI OPOCUE, quien recibió un rayón producido por un tiro de fusil en su pierna derecha, 150 personas de la vereda que se encuentran concentradas en la escuela por temor a los combates, entre ellos 60 niños, 18 ancianos, 3 embarazadas y 69 adultos.

Una vez mas, vemos con profunda preocupación como en el desarrollo de la acciones de guerra, los actores en conflicto violan los Derechos Humanos y cometen infracciones al Derecho internacional Humanitario en nuestros territorios ocupando las viviendas de los civiles para utilizarlas como trincheras.

Hacemos un llamado a la opinión nacional e internacional a estar atentos por lo que pueda pasar en estos días en todo el territorio de la Zona Norte del Cauca y del Cauca, ya que nos encontramos bajo una creciente ocupación militar con riesgo inminente de combates entre facciones de la guerra contra nuestros pueblos que se libran en nuestros hogares.

Vengan de donde vengan rechazamos las acciones de guerra y terror en nuestro territorio y exigimos que se vayan todos y nos dejen en paz.


Tejido de Comunicación y Relaciones Externas para la Verdad y la Vida
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca - ACIN
Telefax: 0928 - 290958 - 293999
Santander de Quilichao Cauca -Colombia

Comunicado de Prensa de la ONIC - 1o de enero 2009:



El hecho homicida ocurrió aproximadamente a las 11:20 de la noche del 31 de diciembre, a una cuadra de la estación de policía, cuando cientos de kankuamos de Atánquez que se reencontraban para pasar fin de año, disfrutaban en una caseta ´patio fresco´(sitio abierto de baile), en donde presuntamente tiraron el artefacto explosivo, el cual hizo impacto en un árbol de mango, lo que permitió minimizar los estragos de la onda explosiva.

Los hermanos fallecidos son GLORIA LUCIA ARIAS, de 26 años y madre de tres hijos; MARELVIS MINDIOLA DIAZ, de 45 años y madre de 4 hijos; MARIA TERESA ARIAS CACERES, de 24 años , madre de 3 hijos y AZAEL ARIAS PINTO, de 25 años, padre de dos hijos.

Más de 67 heridos KANKUAMOS están siendo atendidos en centros asistenciales de la ciudad de Valledupar, de los cuales a dos de ellos tuvieron que amputarles miembros inferiores y muchos están en estado crítico, pero la mayoría se restablecen satisfactoriamente.

Atánquez, capital del resguardo Kankuamo a pesar de tener dos centros asistenciales, el común denominador de cada fin de año, incluso de fin de semana, es que los médicos no estaban en el pueblo, uno de ellos llegó a las 2:30 de la madrugada desde Valledupar y ante la gravedad de una niña tuvo que partir de nuevo. Al menos la ambulancia tenía gasolina y los conductores de carros públicos y particulares brindaron su servicio oportunamente a pesar del miedo de lo que pudiera ocurrirle en la vía que de Atánquez conduce a Valledupar (a una hora y 20 minutos).

Una vez la solidaridad de la gente y el pueblo Kankuamo salió a relucir, donde enfermeras, practicantes, promotoras, estudiantes de medicinas, hasta periodistas enfermeras y por su puesto médicos tradicionales, acudieron al llamado de la desesperanza para honrar la vida.
La OIK, rechaza y convoca la solidaridad de su pueblo para con las victimas, y SOLICITA a los organismos de DDHH seguir acompañándolos; a las autoridades civiles Y militares EXIGE esclarecer el hecho de manera oportuna y sin dilación.

En las horas de la tarde, en el templo católico San Isidro Labrador, en medio de un río humano que respondía a la convocatoria de sus autoridades tradicionales locales y regionales, en el denominado Kankuamón de la solidaridad, se desarrolló una reunión de autoridades, con la presencia del cabildo gobernador Kankuamo, Jaime Arias Arias; el Gobernador del departamento del Cesar, Cristian Moreno Paneso; el alcalde de Valledupar, Ruben Carvajal Riveira; el Brigadier Paez Barón, comandante de la Policía Nacional; el secretario general de la ONIC, Luis Fernando Arias, quienes ante los reclamos del pueblo, se comprometieron a realizar una investigación pormenorizada, tanto por parte de la policía nacional como de las autoridades indígenas, ante las inconsistencias que reinan en el hecho, tales como: que el ejercito precisamente se hubiese retirado ese mismo día del pueblo, que el sitio de los hechos fuese a sólo una cuadra de la estación de policía, que no se realizara control a la entrada del establecimiento público, y que un artefacto de guerra utilizado sea de uso privativo de las fuerzas militares, en un territorio donde prima supuestamente la seguridad democratica.

Por su parte la Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia – ONIC, repudia el acto criminal, y convoca a la comunidad nacional e internacional a volcar su mirada nuevamente ante el pueblo Kankuamo, que requiere de apoyo directo para seguir perviviendo y fortaleciendo su proceso organizativo. “demuestra esto que es imperativo que se mantengan las medidas provicionales y cautelares de la CIDH, más no su desmonte tal como lo requirió hace menos de un mes el gobierno de Alvaro Uribe y su política de Seguridad Democrática”, puntualizó Luis Evelis Andrade Casama, Consejero Mayor de la ONIC.

Contacto regional: JAIME ARIAS 312-4547704 / 310-8539281 / 311-5042055 / nacional 315-8572995. /

Monday, January 5, 2009

America's Hidden Role in Hamas's Rise to Power

No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America's sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.

So goes the subtitle in this excellent essay posted recently in the U.S.-based website Alternet, written by Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and chairman of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco, who serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.

As we continue watching the horrific images coming out of Gaza, and the deafening silence of the U.S. political leadership regarding this illegal action carried out by the Israelis, I thought you might like to read this important piece that puts U.S. and Israeli policy into the proper context. Too bad our media continue to ignore this long and sordid history.

The article continues:Link
The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.

Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.

For the entire piece, go to ALTERNET, and please, share it with your friends, if you haven't already!

Aida Quilcué Interview

Three weeks after the brutal assassination of Edwin Legarda, the husband of Aida Quilcué, the chief counsel of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, there is still considerable concern about her safety and well-being in the face of ongoing threats against the indigenous movement. Despite being provided government protection as a result of intense international pressure in the wake of the December 16th attack, Quilcué has refused to accept it, citing her own doubts about the government’s intentions, and its role in targeting the indigenous leadership, which include the government’s accusations of CRIC links to FARC rebels. She is now under the 24-hour protection of the Indigenous Guard of the Nasa people.

After six weeks of mobilizations in October and November under the banner of the Indigenous and Popular Minga, the indigenous leadership is considering sitting down with representatives of the government on January 23rd in what the government is calling an ongoing dialogue with the communities – una mesa de concertación. There is still no word from the leadership as to whether or not to participate in this process, with some leaders concerned that it will be used by the Uribe Administration for public relations purposes only, with very little substance vis a vis the movement’s five main points on its agenda. Quilcué recently spoke to El Tiempo, Colombia’s newspaper of record, about the state of the investigation into her husband’s death, who was killed by a unit of the Army in Totoró, Cauca on December 16th, 2008, the 17th anniversary of the Nilo massacre.

Here is a translation of the interview, followed by the Spanish version:

: What is the state of the investigation into the assassination of your husband, Edwin Legarda?

Aída Quilcué: It seems that the soldiers who killed him were on the trail of a leader of FARC. As the Chief counsel of the CRIC, I was being targeted as such. What the government wanted to prove (with this action) was that CRIC and the Indigenous movement in general are part of the FARC. There is one witness who has already testified to the Chief Prosecutor’s office about what actually occurred here. She has been directly targeted by men in unmarked cars, without plates, who apparently have also asked about me.

EL TIEMPO: What are the people who are tracking her trying to silence?

AQ: We indigenous people continue being in opposition to the government, to its development policies, many of which have resulted in direct violations of human rights. We have become a big risk for the government.
EL TIEMPO: The persecution that you are denouncing is coming from the government?

AQ: It is the government, because the public force that assassinated my husband is part of the government.

EL TIEMPO: Do you hold the President or his Minister of the Interior responsible for these actions?

AQ: In the Community Council held by the President on March 13, 2007, President Uribe said directly that the indigenous movement was part of the FARC, and that there needed to be some rewards offered (for capturing those involved). Who else can we hold responsible other than those who have accused us?

Given these developments that you are describing, are you willing to sit down in the negotiation table with the government on January 23rd?

AQ: When we marched (in the Popular Minga of October-November), we did so to clear the good name of the indigenous movement. What did we get in return? The death of my husband. There are no guarantees. I’m not saying that I will not sit down with the government to dialogue, but I need to seriously evaluate it first.

EL TIEMPO: How are you handling issues of your personal security?

AQ: The government, as a result of international pressure, assigned to me some security measures of protection, although I don’t feel so confident with this either. Last week, in the town of La Plata, in the department of Huila, I was surrounded by five police motorcycles as part of a police patrol, and they treated me as if I were a criminal.

EL TIEMPO: Do you have bodyguards?

AQ: I don’t have bodyguards of the DAS (Dept. of Administrative Security) nor of the SIJIN (Internal Police). I would never accept this kind of security. I am with the Indigenous Guard.

EL TIEMPO: Have you thought about leaving the country?

AQ: I wouldn’t consider this, my life is here.

EL TIEMPO: It’s pretty serious that you, as the leader of a social movement have to remain in hiding and in fear for your life…

AQ: It fills me with sadness. I lost my husband, and now, every time I go out, I think of my daughter. I don’t want to leave her alone. I know that the spirits, that God, and that the people close to me will protect me. This is the only confidence I have.

EL TIEMPO: All the attacks are directed at you. Is Aída Quilcué indispensable for the Popular and Indigenous Minga?

AQ: Maybe so, but I am totally certain that if something were to happen to me, rather than being indispensable, many, many other leaders will emerge, and there are many already. It’s not enough to kill Aida, it’s not enough that they killed Edwin, it’s not enough to kill many other leaders, because our communities will continue firm in resistance and in the struggle for life.

There are some who say you would head a list of candidates for the Senate in 2010. Where does this stand?

AQ: I have been extremely respectful of the collective procedures and processes that we have in the community. This will be defined by the indigenous authorities in its proper time.


SPANISH VERSION: Escondida, temerosa por su vida y con protección de la Guardia Indígena permanece Aída Quilcué

Aída Quilcué, consejera mayor del Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (Cric), y su hija, durante el sepelio de su esposo, Edwin Legarda, asesinado por militares en una carretera del nororiente del Cauca.

Tres semanas después de la muerte de su esposo, Edwin Legarda, la dirigente del pueblo nasa habló con EL TIEMPO desde un lugar que ni siquiera miembros de su círculo cercano conocen.

EL TIEMPO: ¿En qué va la investigación sobre el asesinato de su esposo, Edwin Legarda?

Aída Quilcué: Según parece, quienes lo mataron perseguían a una cabecilla de las Farc. Yo, como Consejera Mayor del Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (Cric) estaba señalada como tal. Lo que quería comprobar el Gobierno era que el Cric y el movimiento indígena eran de las Farc. Queda una testigo, que ya habló con la Fiscalía sobre lo que pasó realmente. Ella ha sido objeto de acoso por hombres que también han preguntado por mí, en un carro sin placas.

¿Qué quieren callar quienes la persiguen?

Los indígenas terminamos siendo una oposición frente a las políticas del Gobierno, frente al proceso de desarrollo, que en muchos casos ha significado violaciones a los derechos humanos. Nos convertimos en un riesgo para el Gobierno.

¿La persecución que usted denuncia viene de parte del Gobierno?

Es el Gobierno, porque la Fuerza Pública que asesina a mi esposo es del Gobierno.

¿Usted responsabiliza directamente al Presidente o a su Ministro del Interior?

En el Consejo Comunitario del 13 de marzo del 2007, el Presidente dijo directamente que los indígenas eran de las Farc y que había que ofrecer recompensas. ¿A qué otros responsables puedo buscar además de quienes nos han señalado?

Con estos antecedentes que usted relata, ¿se sentará en la mesa de concertación el 23 de enero?

Cuando marchamos, lo hicimos para limpiar el buen nombre del movimiento indígena. ¿Qué encontramos? La muerte de mi esposo. No hay garantías. No quiero decir que no me vaya a sentar, pero lo voy a evaluar seriamente.

¿Cómo está manejando su seguridad personal?

El Gobierno, por presión internacional, me asignó medidas cautelares, aunque yo no veo seguro tampoco eso. La semana pasada, en La Plata, Huila, me abordaron cinco motos con dos patrullas de la Policía y me trataron como si fuera una delincuente.

¿Tiene escoltas?

No tengo escoltas del DAS ni de la Sijin, nunca los aceptaré. Estoy con la guardia indígena.

¿Ha pensado en salir del país?

No pienso hacerlo, mi vida está aquí.

Es grave que usted como líder de un movimiento social tenga que estar escondida y temiendo por su vida...

Me da mucha tristeza. Perdí a mi esposo y cada vez que me movilizo pienso en mi hija. No quiero dejarla sola. Sé que los espíritus, Dios y quienes están cerca de mí me van a proteger. Esa es la única confianza que tengo.

Todos los ataques son para usted, ¿Aída Quilcué es indispensable para la Minga?

Puede ser así, pero estoy plenamente segura que si alguna vez me pasara algo, a pesar de ser indispensable, surgirán muchos más y hay muchos. No basta con que maten a Aída, no basta con que hayan matado a Edwin, no basta con que maten a muchos dirigentes, porque nuestras comunidades seguirán firmes en la resistencia y en la lucha por la vida.

Hay quienes dicen que usted encabezaría una lista al Senado en 2010, ¿en qué va eso?

He sido respetuosa de los procedimientos colectivos que tenemos. Eso lo definirán las autoridades indígenas en su debido momento.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Shoes are Flying!!!




Enero 3 de 2009

Que el cielo lo juzgue

No puede comenzar mejor el año. El infame habitante de la Casa Blanca regresará a su rancho y observará en la distancia cómo el mundo restaña las innumerables heridas que causó.

Durante sus espeluznantes 8 años de mandato, acribilló la diplomacia, pulverizó los derechos humanos, saqueó la confianza entre los pueblos, azuzó el odio, arrasó una hermosa nación.

Nada ni nadie podrá jamás justificar sus incontables errores, la brutalidad de su mandato, la arrogancia de su gobierno.

Conservo el sueño de verlo sentado en un tribunal internacional, respondiendo por sus crímenes de guerra, como cualquier sátrapa despiadado. Sé que es absurdo porque los imperios imponen sus leyes y sus líderes son intocables. Pero si no es en este mundo, lo será en la otra vida, porque yo, que soy una católica convencida, creo que no podrá esquivar el juicio del de arriba.

Tampoco en la Tierra se irá de rositas. Aquí abajo pagará un precio por sus infinitos pecados, así sea chiquito. Comenzando porque ni él, ni su esposa, ni sus hijas, podrán caminar ni dormir jamás tranquilos. Sentirán a toda hora, cuando salgan de sus guaridas protegidas, el aliento de cientos de fanáticos asesinos que no olvidan.

Quién quita que esa penitencia agite su conciencia y algún día confiese sus crímenes, que la constante zozobra, la misma que padecen por su causa los iraquíes, lo haga recapacitar y admitir que fue una crueldad inadmisible inventarse una guerra. Que nadie tiene derecho a aplastar a sus semejantes por mucho poder y superioridad que tenga.

Ojalá que nadie acuda a sus conferencias, esas que dan los ex presidentes a cambio de unas cifras muy jugosas. Si lo hace, que le arroje huevos, tomates, zapatos, harina, que lo chifle, que no le permita seguir mintiendo.

La democracia es a veces demasiado generosa y permite extender un manto de silencio sobre los que abandonan el trono, como si el hecho de perder el bastón de mando fuese castigo suficiente.

Cuando invadió Irak, le auguré un final político humillante, a él, a Blair y a Aznar, y no me equivoqué, siquiera esa vez. Los tres acabaron con escuálidos índices de aprobación y al inglés y al español les cortaron las brillantes carreras europeas que tenían proyectado emprender. Siguen dando declaraciones y ocupan algún que otro cargo, pero nada significativo comparado con lo que podrían haber alcanzado si un día lejano se oponen a una guerra injusta, imperdonable.

Espero que otros que se sumaron a su salvajada de forma menos activa y los que respaldaron su política por meros intereses particulares, como el gobierno colombiano, lleguen a sentir algo parecido al arrepentimiento.

El tejano sufrirá también el látigo implacable de los historiadores. Las mentiras infames que revistieron de pretendida legitimidad la invasión de Irak serán repetidas hasta la saciedad y los niños las aprenderán en sus libros escolares y en sus paseos.

Gracias al genial y muy generoso maestro Fernando Botero, un colombiano con el que estaremos siempre en deuda por lo mucho que aporta a su patria, dejó para la posteridad y para vergüenza de una política insensible al padecimiento humano, sus lienzos sobrecogedores de las torturas de Abu Ghraib. Nos habremos muerto todos y las generaciones venideras conocerán aquellos horrores por el pincel del maestro, y alguien les explicará que fue un tal George W. Bush el generador de la barbarie.

Y un día viajarán a una Cuba libre, sin dictadores, y visitarán el penal de Guantánamo como atracción turística. Y les relatarán que es un monumento a los abusos que puede llegar a cometer un emperador cruel que desprecia las leyes y a los hombres. Señalarán de nuevo al vaquero como el responsable, y los muchachos empezarán a imaginarlo como un presidente despreciable, y unirán su nombre al de otros déspotas de la Historia.



A President Forgotten but Not Gone

Published: January 3, 2009

WE like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.

For more, go to

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Palestinians in Bogotá Protest Gaza Attacks - from Colombia Reports

Palestinian community protests Israeli raids on Gaza

(From Colombia Reports News Site)

Hundreds of people from the Palestinian community in Bogotá on Friday protested outside the Israeli embassy against Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

The protesters marched from the historic Bolivar Square to the Israeli embassy in northern Bogota, demanding peace for the Palestinian people.

The protest came at a time when the Colombian government condemned, in a statement, the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and expressed its solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza last Saturday, a move it said to retaliate for the firing of rockets into its southern territory by Hamas militias.

The ongoing military operation has left at least 432 people killed and some 2,200 wounded, Mo'aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services in the Palestinian health ministry said. (Xinhua)

New Year, Old Terror

Dear friends,

With this my first post of 2009, I wish you all the very best for the new year, and send you all my warmest, heartfelt greetings from Bogotá, where I will be for the next several days before returning to New York late next week. It's hard to believe it's already been six months, and that the time has gone by so rapidly.

The last few weeks have been somewhat slow around here. It seems as if half of the population has vacated, making it so much easier to get around the normally congested streets of the city. Most people have been on standby, spending the holidays with friends and family, closing shop earlier than usual, putting important work off for a couple of weeks in order to enjoy the holiday festivities.

I haven't been in Colombia at this time of year since 1992, and almost forgot that Bogotá can get this way, with a charming, small-town ambience, at least for a few days of the year. As a result, I must admit that I have gotten very little accomplished over the past two weeks, using the time primarily to catch up with a lot of my extended family, who are scattered throughout the country, but occasionally make their way back to the capital for the holidays.
I am now looking forward to things getting back to normal, in order to continue with the urgent work that needs to be done, here in Colombia, and in New York, upon returning.

Now, to change the subject somewhat drastically.... Despite the high expectations that usually come around this time of year - with thoughts of change, hope and progress for the next twelve months circulating in everybody's minds- on another level I am extremely saddened by the ongoing news and images coming out of Gaza, where the Israeli bombardment is now in its second week. No new year's celebrations for the Palestinians, as almost 500 have been killed in this brutal act of aggression. Yesterday, here in Bogotá, there was a small rally and march to protest the ongoing assault of the Israeli military, and it received some coverage in the local press. It is a crisis that we'll continue paying attention to in the coming days, weeks and months. With this in mind, here is a report posted today in the Al-Jazeera English website about the latest developments from Gaza.


Israel continues Gaza assault

A field commander of the armed wing of Hamas has been killed in the continuing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, a senior figure in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, died of his wounds on Saturday after Israeli jets bombed his home overnight.

His death came as Israel kept up its deadly assault on Gaza for the eighth straight day. Hamas vowed to defeat the Israeli army if it invaded the territory.

"If you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive, then a black destiny awaits you," Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, said in a speech.

"You will soon find out that Gaza is the wrath of God," he said.

Aerial bombardment

Meshaal's warning came as Israeli soldiers, tanks and armoured personnel carriers massed along Gaza's border, preparing for what many speculated could be a ground offensive.


Latest news and analysis from Gaza and Israel

Medical officials say at least 437 people have died in Gaza and 2,250 have been injured since Israel's aerial bombardment began last week.

Four Israelis have been killed in the same period by Palestinian rockets, including longer-range weapons that have hit the port of Ashdod and the desert town of Beer-sheva.

On Saturday, Israel's military said more than a dozen rockets have been fired over the border.

Palestinians also reported more Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip. A school was among the buildings bombed by the Israelis.

Israeli jets have fired more than 700 missiles into Gaza since the assault began last week.

'Psychological warfare'

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said: "The Israeli military continues to pound targets everywhere in the territory. On the eighth days of attacks people here are very much terrorised by what is going on.

"The Israeli military is engaging in very aggresive psychological warfare. They have been dropping leaflets warning Palestinians that they have to flee their homes and warning that anyone who lives in area that could be a possible target that their home will be targeted as well.

"So that is causing a ripple effect of fear, but the question is where do 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza go".

Trucks carrying more than 200 tonnes of Syrian Red Crescent aid left Kura Al Assad for Gaza on Saturday as concerns for a looming humanitarian disaster grew.

Israel says that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that it has increased its shipments of goods into the territory.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Azmi Bishara, an Israeli-Palestinian and former Knesset member, said: "Mostly, the war against such a place – slums and refugee camps - can only be a war crime.

"Whatever the military result, the political situation would be the same. What is called in American language the axis of moderation, or the moderates in the Arab world, have already had a blow, they are weaker than before.

"I think this is the only practical 'achievement' of the war that the people who are for the settlements in the region are less legitimate now and weaker than they were before the war.

Blame game

Meshaal, speaking from the Syrian capital of Damascus on Friday, said Palestinians in Gaza were ready for any land offensive made by the Israelis.

"This battle was imposed on us and we are confident we will achieve victory because we have made our preparations.

"Our position is clear. We will not give in. Our resolve cannot be broken," he said.

"Our demand is also clear. The war must end, the siege lifted, and crossing points open without restriction."

But George Bush, the US president, in his first public comments on the hostilities, said Hamas had "instigated" Israel's war on Gaza, referring to the rocket attacks on Israel's southern towns.

"There must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end," he said in remarks prepared for his weekly Saturday radio address.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, told Al Jazeera that the party to be blamed for the present situation is Israel, not Hamas.

"It's clear now that Israelis are blocking all the political solutions. The main question is supposed to be what will be the right end for this? And the clear answer is ending the occupation."

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nir Rosen, a Beirut-based journalist, said: "There isn't very much [Hamas] can do except resist and withstand the Israeli assaults.

"These attacks are described as an Israeli retaliation which is ridiculous. Every Palestinian act of resistance is a retaliation for 60 years of occupation and dispossession.

"This use of violence is essential to Zionism, in an attempt to crush the Palestinian spirit to crush the Palestinian resolve."


Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, begins a two-day four-nation tour of the Middle East on Monday, hoping to rally key players behind an initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Sarkozy will visit Egypt and Syria before travelling to Jerusalem on Monday for talks with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and to the West Bank to show support for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Abbas and several Arab foreign ministers are flying to New York over the weekend to urge the UN Security Council to adopt an Arab draft resolution that would condemn Israel and demand a halt to its bombing campaign in Gaza.

The US has said the draft is "unacceptable" and "unbalanced", because it makes no mention of halting the Hamas rocketing of southern Israel which led to the Israeli offensive.

Most of the 1.5 million people in the densely populated enclave have no means of sheltering from the raids, and humanitarian groups say supplies of food and fuel are running dangerously low.

Hospitals have reported shortages of even the most basic medicines and say they have no more capacity to deal with the growing numbers of casualties.

Karen Abu Zayed, the commissioner for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said that in eight years of working in Gaza the need for aid had "never been so acute".

"I am appalled and saddened when I see the suffering around me," she said, adding UNRWA has made an emergency appeal for $34m to help the Gaza population.

Hasan Khalaf, Gaza's assistant deputy health minister, described the ongoing assault on Gaza as "an Israeli massacre".

Colombian and Palestinian protesters outside of the Isareli embassy on Friday protesting the attack on Gaza.