Friday, August 28, 2009

Colombia: Investigate Massacre in Southern Region


You may have heard about this latest atrocity carried out in Colombia on August 27th, although you would be hard-pressed to find any mention of it in the US news media. As the Obama Administration finalizes a deal with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to open seven military bases for U.S. military forces, Human Rights Watch is calling on an investigation into the massacre of 12 indigenous people from the A´wa community in the department of Nariño, in southern Colombia. While earlier this year up to 17 A´wa were killed, apparently by FARC rebels, this time eyewitnesses point to the Armed Forces as the culprits, the latest example of state-sponsored terror carried out by the closest US ally in the Western Hemisphere.

Here's the press release from Human Rights Watch:

Possible Army Link to Massacre of 12 indigenous Awa in Colombia
August 27, 2009

(Washington, DC) - The Colombian government should ensure a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation of the killings of 12 members of the Awá indigenous community, and take immediate measures to protect the community, Human Rights Watch said today.

Armed men in camouflage broke into a home early on the morning of August 26, 2009, shooting and killing 11 people, including four children and three teenagers, and wounding three more. The killings took place in El Rosario, Tumaco, in the southern border state of Nariño. The massacre came on the heels of the killing of Gonzalo Rodríguez, another member of the community, on August 23. Rodríguez's wife, Tulia García, who had witnessed his abduction, was among those killed on August 26.

"Initial reports suggest that members of the Army may have massacred these people, with the purpose of eliminating and intimidating witnesses of atrocities," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to make sure there is an effective investigation of this horrific crime."

Official sources who spoke to Human Rights Watch reported that Rodríguez had been killed by members of the Army's Counter-guerrilla Battalion No. 23, who later told prosecutors that he was a member of the FARC guerrillas and that they killed him as he tried to escape. According to news reports, García saw armed men detain Rodríguez on August 23 and later found his body on the side of the road, his head riddled with bullets. She accused the Army of extrajudicially executing her husband. New armed groups linked to paramilitaries are also known to operate in the region, and may have assisted in the killings.

According to reliable sources, the August 26 killings took place in García's home. The armed men killed her two children, a 6-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. They also killed another woman, a 6-month-old baby, a 12-year-old, a 17-year-old, two 18-year-olds, and two men. The three people wounded included the son of the governor of the Gran Rosario Awá indigenous community and an 11-year-old boy.

There is a heavy presence of various armed groups and Colombian military forces in Nariño, creating one of the worst human rights and humanitarian situations in Colombia. Civilians from the most vulnerable sectors of society, including Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups, are among the most adversely affected by the violence there. The government routinely fails to respond adequately to reports of abuses there, Human Rights Watch said.

According to the Awá Indigenous Association (known as UNIPA), 38 members of the Awá have been killed so far this year. In February, at least 11 Awá were killed by the left-wing FARC guerrillas in one massacre. Human Rights Watch has met with Awá leaders in Nariño on several occasions, most recently in July. The Awá leaders reported a wide array of abuses, in addition to the killings, including death threats, the use of antipersonnel landmines in their territory, recruitment of children to serve as combatants in armed groups and massive forced displacement by various armed actors, including the FARC and new armed groups that the UNIPA describes as paramilitaries.

Despite repeated calls on the national government to improve protection of civilians in Nariño, Human Rights Watch has continued receiving complaints that the state fails to act promptly to prevent abuses - even in the face of serious risk reports from the Early Warning System of the ombudsman's office. Human Rights Watch has also received numerous reports of inadequate investigations and insufficient humanitarian assistance by the state once abuses or displacements occur.

"In Nariño, as in many parts of Colombia, the conflict rages on and abuses are rampant, yet often civilians feel ignored by the state," said Vivanco. "Instead of pretending the conflict doesn't exist, the national government needs to do much more to protect civilians, ensure accountability for abuses, and provide assistance to the victims."

Monday, August 17, 2009

COLOMBIA: Indigenous People Troubled by U.S. Military Presence - IPS

By Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Aug 13 (IPS) - The head of Colombia's biggest association of indigenous people is concerned that allowing U.S. troops to use military bases in his country will signal a regression to former times when the United States exercised control over Latin America, while a native activist warned of an increase in the number of cases of sexual abuse of young indigenous women by foreign soldiers.

A recent agreement between Bogotá and Washington for the U.S. to use seven military bases in Colombia, which has caused concern across Latin America, was ignored in discussions about Colombia's record on racial discrimination, held this week in Geneva.

At sessions of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the effects of militarisation in Colombia, which has been torn by civil war by nearly half a century, were examined, but the controversial issue of the bases was not raised, said Karmen Ramírez Boscán, a leader of the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC).

"This issue is a focus of broad debate at the national level, and of course it should have been dealt with here at this U.N. agency," said Ramírez Boscán, a Wayuu indigenous woman.

The fact that it was not discussed is because "we all know that a very sensitive situation is developing," she said.

The agreement between the two countries provides greater access to Colombian territory for the U.S. military, which will operate small stations known as Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) or Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs).

This will create changed circumstances and greater difficulties for Colombian, especially indigenous, women. "I think that, directly or indirectly, this generates violence, and obviously its most immediate effects are on Colombian women," said Ramírez Boscán.

The indigenous leader recalled cases that have been investigated of young single mothers in which "the fathers had been stationed at Colombian military bases. They became pregnant by foreign soldiers, not Colombians," Ramírez Boscán told IPS.

"I believe the greater presence of U.S. troops will definitely bring changes to the local areas near the bases," she said.

Wilbert van der Zeijden, an expert with the Transnational Institute, told IPS in April that "We should not forget that military bases are usually inhabited mostly by young men, who get bored and frustrated, being far from home, family, friends and girlfriends/wives. They seek 'diversion' in town. "The result has been a steep increase in all sorts of crime, including rape, drugs, theft and violent abuse," he said. In the view of Luis Evelis Andrade, an indigenous elder and head of ONIC, the fight against drugs and terrorism is being used as a pretext to wind the clock back to the time when the United States had total control over Latin American countries.

Some of the seven bases are close to villages of indigenous or Afro-descendant people, while others are not, Andrade said.

"The Colombian state and the government are riding roughshod over what I understand to be the feelings and the collective imaginary about the meaning of foreign military bases in any country, and especially in Latin America," he said.

"Bases commanded, operated and administered by the United States are unacceptable, and so are bases operated by the Colombian military with the presence of U.S. military advisers," he said. Neither scenario is acceptable "to us, as indigenous peoples."

Cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking cannot mean interference and the covert abdication of sovereignty to another country, said Andrade, of the Emberá people, who as elder statesman is president of ONIC, the national authority of indigenous peoples living in Colombia.

U.S. forces at the bases will have immunity from the Colombian justice system, and facilities for operating C-17 Globemasters, large transport planes for troops and weapons with a range that extends to half the South American continent. With refuelling and provisioning, these aircraft can reach every part of the Americas except Cape Horn, at the southernmost tip of Chile.

Andrade remarked that the Colombian government acts as if the agreement with the United States had implications only for Colombia. But experts and other governments are well aware that the aircraft and technology involved have implications far beyond the borders of Colombia, and can be used to spy on other countries, he said.

"We're already sick and tired of the internal armed conflict. We think (U.S. access to) these bases should not be implemented, because we believe it will damage relations with bordering countries," he added.

For example, deteriorating relations between Colombia and Ecuador and between Colombia and Venezuela have repercussions on health care and food security for more than 20 indigenous villages along the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan borders.

The ill-feeling between the countries arises because of the mishandling of the Colombian armed conflict, which spreads across national boundaries, Andrade argued.

The issue of the military bases is already causing problems for indigenous people, "and I would say for all the poor who live on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez himself has recognised," Andrade said.

The Chávez administration has frozen relations with Colombia – with which Venezuela has close economic ties - because of the decision on military bases.

Andrade criticised those involved in the debate on the effects of the tension between Bogotá and Caracas for only alluding to the crisis experienced in the dominant economic sectors, such as automobile manufacturers, textile industrialists and beef exporters.

"But no one talks about the problems of the border communities, which normally, as in the case of the border between Colombia and Venezuela, get most of their supplies of food, clothing and even medicines from Venezuela," he said.

Ramírez Boscán said Colombian officials had portrayed the agreement for the U.S. use of the bases as "a necessary evil" in order to combat the guerrillas and drug trafficking. "But we think that it's all part of a strategy to control everything that goes on in Latin America, in countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, from a key geographical position," she said.

She said it was a good thing that Monday's summit meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Quito had decided to hold another summit on Aug. 27 in Bariloche, in southern Argentina, to examine Latin America's reaction to the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.

"It's important for other countries to hold the Colombian state accountable, because we really do not know what our government's intentions are," she said.

The plans for U.S. access to the bases have met with vocal resistance in Colombia on the part of human rights and indigenous organisations, and civil society in general. But "the government has responded with indifference," Ramírez Boscán said. (END/2009)

Time for Transparency on the U.S.-Colombia Military Base Agreement - The Latest from CIP

Hello folks,
The tensions over the US-Colombia military base agreement continue to rise, despite the whirlwind South American tour of Colombian Presiodent Alvaro Uribe two weeks ago, which brought him to every regional capital to discuss the plan with his counterparts. Here is the latest posting from our friends at Center for International Policy, CIP, which has an overview of the UNASUR meetings that took place last week in Quito, Ecuador.



Monday’s meeting of the South American Union (Unasur) presidents in Quito was dominated by concerns about negotiations between the United States and Colombia to allow U.S. military personnel to use several Colombian bases. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe did not attend the meeting.

(Here is an overview of what we know about what Colombia and the United States are negotiating; it hasn’t changed much since we wrote it three weeks ago. The main change is that two more bases have been added to the list of facilities U.S. personnel can access, apparently at the Colombian government’s request. They are the army bases in Tolemaida, Tolima and Larandia, Caquetá. The basing negotiations could conclude as early as this weekend, says Colombia’s armed forces chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla.)

Some of the region’s elected leaders from the far left had hoped the declaration from the Quito meeting would condemn the basing deal. The presidents were unable to reach consensus on that, but some of the region’s more centrist leaders continued to express concern about the arrangement being discussed between Washington and Bogotá.

One of those leaders, Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, made a concrete proposal to Washington: that U.S. government representatives meet with the region’s leaders to explain the agreement and the U.S. government’s intentions. “UNASUR could invite the U.S. government to a detailed discussion regarding its relations with South America. This will be resolved through a lot of conversation, much debate, the speaking of truths. People will have to hear things they don’t like,” Lula said during the Quito meeting.

This is a perfectly reasonable proposal. A joint meeting with high U.S. government officials - or even President Obama himself, perhaps during the UN General Assembly in New York in September - is a good idea.

Such a meeting would help undo the damage done by the Obama administration’s disastrous rollout of the basing arrangement. The approach so far has combined hyper-secrecy from Washington, leaks to the Colombian media mainly from Colombian government sources, and - in a move that cannot make the Colombian government happy - leaving Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to defend the deal on his own, spending an entire week traveling throughout South America to hear each country’s concerns about the proposed U.S. military presence.

Lula’s proposed meeting also makes sense because once you get past Hugo Chávez’s hugely overheated rhetoric, it makes perfect sense for the region’s governments to be concerned about a foreign power increasing its military presence, and mission, on the continent they share. And it makes sense for this concern to grow when the foreign power does not even notify them of its intentions. The United States is creating a new capability in South America, and capabilities often get used.

While South American concerns are important, the Obama administration also needs to be far more transparent to the American people. As things stand right now, the basing agreement can go forward without any need for the U.S. Congress to act to approve it. But that doesn’t mean that we should be in the disgraceful situation of getting most of our information about the impending deal from the Colombian press.

Obviously, we don’t ask that the U.S. government reveal the content of ongoing negotiations. Talks between governments routinely happen in secret. But we need to know more about what our government’s intentions are.

Until Colombian media outlets started revealing more details about the basing plan in early July, we were under the impression that the United States and Colombia were negotiating a deal to replace a capability being lost with the exit of U.S. assets from a base in the Pacific coastal city of Manta, Ecuador. There, since 1999, approximately 200-300 U.S. military personnel and contractors worked on a mission limited strictly to counternarcotics, specifically monitoring the Eastern Pacific off the coast of South America for potential aerial and maritime drug trafficking. The U.S. presence at Manta - itself a partial substitute for Howard Air Force Base in Panama, which the U.S. military vacated in 1999 - has ceased operations and will close for good in October, as the 10-year agreement has expired and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa strongly opposes renewing it.

What we have heard about the Colombia deal, however, indicates that the new U.S. presence there will go way beyond Manta’s limited mission. It will support not just counter-narcotics, but “counter-terrorism,” a very vague term in a country in the midst of an armed conflict.

There is an urgent need for more transparency from the U.S. government. More information and responsiveness to questions would help defuse tensions in the region, and is a necessary element of a foreign policy that is accountable to the American people.

Transparency must begin with clear, specific responses to these seven rather basic questions. So far, none of them has been addressed in public.

1. How close will U.S. personnel stationed at the bases - both military and contractors - get to hostilities in Colombia? What is the risk to them?

2. How will U.S. personnel stationed at the bases be contributing to, or otherwise participating in, ongoing military operations in Colombia’s armed conflict? For example, will it be providing real-time intelligence and targeting information about guerrillas or other illegal armed groups?

3. Will activities based at these facilities be limited to Colombian territory and airspace, or will the United States insist on the right to fly over neighboring countries as well?

4. Does the U.S. government view these bases as “lily pads” that will give it the ability to carry out contingency operations anywhere in the region? If not, how is it different?

(For several years, the Defense Department has indicated its desire to establish informal, flexible basing arrangements like these in order to have a forward presence as a jumping-off point. These have been colloquially calledlily pads,” and arrangements have been made for several such facilities in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa. Instead of a base, widely cited defense analyst Thomas P.M. Barnett wrote this week, “Think of them as the networking equivalent of an ATM: offering some basic services but hardly constituting a bank branch. And like an ATM, these facilities are to a large degree designed to obviate the requirement of a larger, dedicated presence.” Obviously, a frog jumping off of a lily pad is jumping to somewhere else; Colombia’s neighbors see themselves as likely destinations.)

5. What is the likelihood that the administration will be asking Congress to raise or eliminate the existing “troop cap” (800 military and 600 U.S. citizen contractors) limiting U.S. involvement in Colombia within, say, 3 years? Can the Obama administration guarantee that it will not seek to increase or break the troop cap as a result of activities at the Colombian bases?

(As of June 19, the Washington Post reported last week, there were 268 U.S. military personnel and 308 U.S. citizen contractors present in Colombia. If the military presence is currently one-third of the cap and the contractor presence is half of the cap even without the bases, how close will U.S. personnel come to breaking the cap once they move into the bases?)

6. Will the physical assets stationed at the bases in Colombia be different from those that were based at Manta? Will the U.S. military be stationing the same aircraft as before? If not, how will the array of planes and equipment be different?

7. The three air force bases in the seven-base package are all located to the east of the Andes mountains from the Pacific Ocean. How will U.S. assets be able to cover the eastern Pacific drug-trafficking vector - which was the main purpose of the Manta base - without a presence on the Pacific coast? What is the likelihood that this move will actually make it easier for narcos to transship drugs through the Pacific?

(We understand that the Palanquero base, in Cundinamarca near Bogotá, will be the main facility covering the Pacific, as Manta did. Three chains of the Andes mountains lie between Palanquero and the Pacific. How will this contemplate interdiction? For instance, if radars discover a boat or plane suspected of shipping cocaine in the Pacific zone, how long will it take for an aircraft based at Palanquero to respond?)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Revista Cambio: Entrevista con Alfredo Molano

'Me responsabilizo de las opiniones de la gente que entrevisto': Alfredo Molano

En su nuevo libro 'Ahí les dejo esos fierros', el sociólogo analiza el conflicto colombiano desde la mirada de protagonistas rasos.


Alfredo Molano is a sociologist, journalist and commentator who has written over a dozen books about the conflict in Colombia. He has been targeted for years by the entrenched political establishment and the extreme right for his critical commentary about the Colombian condition. Here is an interview, in Spanish, he recently conducted with the weekly magazine CAMBIO, on the occasion of the release of his latest book, 'Ahí les dejo esos fierros'.


1. Después de 14 libros sobre el conflicto, ¿qué hay de nuevo en Ahí les dejo esos fierros?

He reunido seis historias reales, o más bien la de tres parejas: una de la de los años cincuenta de la época de las autodefensas campesinas de 'Marulanda' y 'Jacobo Arenas'; otra del M-19 y otra de paramilitares. Son testimonios reales en los que yo también aporto algo, porque cuando escribo pongo un poco de mí mismo. Me responsabilizo de la gente que entrevisto. Si no, es un texto pálido, sin fuerza. Hay algo de mi propia sensación, así los personajes sean muy distantes a mí, como los paramilitares.

2. ¿Qué halló en esos testimonios?

Personajes que nunca había abordado: el ideólogo de la clase media trabajadora y profesional, cuya lucha revolucionaria se gestó en las aulas universitarias a mediados del siglo XX, y el militante de los grupos paramilitares en la complejidad del conflicto.

3. ¿Qué pretendía al escoger esos personajes?

El conflicto nunca se ha contado como es, se ha contado siempre desde el ángulo de los vencedores. Yo quise rescatar la voz de los derrotados, testimonios en ese sentido. Esa otra historia es útil. A los lectores debe quedarles claro que el conflicto existe, que hay unos elementos que persisten, como la exclusión económica y política.

4. ¿Cómo describiría el libro?

Como un libro profundamente moral, porque muestra tanto el lado moral de la víctima como del victimario. De alguna manera hay una metáfora de carácter ético y político. Un militante del M-19 tiene una óptica del país y lo mismo pasa con el paramilitar.

5. ¿Hay semejanzas entre la violencia guerrillera y la paramilitar?

Hay un tema más político en la violencia de izquierda que en la de los paramilitares. No he entrevistado a Mancuso y me imagino que tiene otra opinión, pero el paramilitar raso anda detrás del dinero, de la vida fácil. Sin embargo, me encuentro con gente que llega a las Auc por necesidad, como la enfermera del libro que termina en la guerra como mujer de 'Doblecero'.

6. ¿Es posible hablar de amor en medio de la guerra?

La esencia del libro tiene una parte más emocional: la de los amores de la gente, unos personajes que hicieron la guerra en distintos grupos armados y en momentos históricos distintos, con contradicciones y sentimientos en medio de la miseria humana.

7. ¿No cansa escribir de lo mismo?

Estos libros son para contar la realidad que no cuentan ni en la televisión ni en los periódicos. Y ventaja es que como es un medio literario no hay responsabilidad judicial, como la que estoy lidiando por una demanda de la familia Araújo por una columna que escribí en El Espectador, que es una situación muy amarga. Si uno apela a la literatura puede contar las cosas metafóricamente, es un viejo recurso que hasta Quevedo, con sus sonetos, utilizó para criticar al rey y a la Corte.

8. ¿En los libros aborda temas que evita en las columnas?

Aunque hoy no hay censura con lápiz rojo como la de Laureano Gómez y Rojas Pinilla cuando incluso había índice de libros prohibidos, ahora la cosa es más complicada porque se impone por la autocensura que tiene dos herramientas: el asesinato de periodistas, sobre todo regionales; y la de los directores y editores con frases como "ese tema no es interesante", "ese tema pasó de moda". Para algunos medios no existen campesinos e indígenas porque eso no vende. Es una censura muy jodida.

9. ¿Los libros son una alternativa?

Sí, hay que buscar alternativas porque muchos medios desconocen el conflicto, dicen que no existe, que estamos en el posconflicto. Y lo impresionante es que esas versiones, esas doctrinas oficiales, van siendo adoptadas por los medios en forma casi mecánica y por tanto por los lectores, los televidentes...

10. ¿Qué opina de ese boom de libros de ex secuestrados?

Entiendo que la víctima de una experiencia tan fuerte como el secuestro tenga la necesidad de escribirla y revivirla. Pero, en general, esos libros me han parecido escritos con un sentido de lamento que me parece aburrido. Me fastidia ese boom, me fastidia el mercachifle del dolor.

¿Quién es Alfredo Molano?

Nacimiento: Bogotá, 1944.
Estudios: Sociología, Universidad Nacional; estudios en la École Pratique de Hautes Études, París.
Cargos: escritor, investigador y columnista de El Espectador, profesor.

Religious and Grassroots Leaders Urge Clinton to Suspend Military Base Talks with Colombia

Bases deal “presents enormous dangers for entire hemisphere” - Fellowship of Reconciliation, FOR

Over one hundred religious, national, community organizations and leaders and academics today called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “suspend negotiations for expanded U.S. military access or operations in Colombia,” a plan that has generated a swell of protest among Latin American countries, including Colombia, the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere.

“It is rational for regional leaders to see the installation of several U.S. military sites in Colombia as a potential threat to their security,” the groups said, because of U.S. support for trans-border attacks from Colombia, reported violations of the expiring base agreement with Ecuador, a Pentagon statement that it seeks access for “contingency operations” in the region, and the painful history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“To broaden relationships with South America and value respect for human rights, the United States should not create a fortress in Colombia in concert with the region’s worst rights violators, the Colombian military,” the letter said.

Signatories included 20 national religious organizations and leaders and 32 U.S. peace and human rights groups, as well as community organizations, academics, and international NGOs.

The leaders wrote to Clinton as many South American presidents have expressed opposition to the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia. Brazilian President Lula da Silva urged President Obama to joined presidents from the South American Union to discuss the issue later this month in Buenos Aires, and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said that “the winds of war are blowing” because of the plan for U.S. troops to operate in seven Colombian bases.


For background documents on the military base negotiations between the United States and Colombia, see

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

State of Uribe's Re-election Campaign in Colombia - CIP

Folks, Link Some of you may be following the controversies around the U.S. military base agreement with Colombia. This situation, which has not surprisingly caused tensions with other regional leaders, has overshadowed the ongoing push to change the Colombian Constitution in order to allow for yet another re-election of President Alvaro Uribe, a measure that seems to be all but dead in the current political context. Our friends at the Center for International Policy, CIP, posted a clear, concise analysis about the status of the Uribe re-election effort. I share it with you below.


Four reasons a constitutional reform referendum allowing re-election is unlikely this fall:

1. The congressional leadership elections during the week of July 20 were, in a sense, the final nail in the coffin. As they began a new session, Colombia’s House and Senate elected new presidents, both of them from center-right parties that have been firmly pro-Uribe since their creation. The Senate is now led by Javier Cáceres of the Radical Change party, and the House is headed by Édgar Gómez of the Citizens’ Convergence party.

According to La Silla Vacía, both politicians are on the verge of leaving the pro-Uribe bloc.

Cáceres is considered to be in opposition. The reason? Within the pro-Uribe bloc they believe that Cáceres will be loyal to Germán Vargas [a right-wing senator, the head of Cáceres' Radical Change party, who supported Uribe until earlier this year, when he publicly opposed re-election], and not to the government, since he needs Radical Change’s approval in order to run for Senate in 2010. … As representatives of this party confirmed to La Silla Vacía, Gómez struck an agreement months ago with César Gaviria [the former president, now head of the opposition Liberal party] to join the Liberal Party, where he began his political career and in which he will carry out his 2010 campaign, during the second half of this year.

La Silla Vacía speculates that Gómez and the Liberals may push hard for approval of a new Victims’ Law - which was overturned by President Uribe in June - because “it will be a popular campaign issue for them in 2010.”

The chambers’ presidents are not as powerful as their U.S. counterparts (the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader), but have significant control over the legislative agenda, La Silla Vacía explains.

Cáceres and Gómez choose who speaks in the plenary sessions, which bills deserve priority and decide when a quorum is sufficient to begin debating a bill. If they turn a blind eye and fail to count attendance at the right moment, they can sink a bill. They also exercise influence over some congresspeople, as they define which senators and representatives deserve a change in their official car or office arrangements. This extra power makes them able to tip the balance when it comes to choosing committee chairmanships.

How did the opposition - still a minority of Congress - carry out this takeover? La Silla Vacía explains:

Many ask how it was that the President lost control of such important positions at such a crucial moment for the referendum. The explanation is the same as always: bureaucratic resentments in the small Uribista parties who feel abandoned by the president. There were also several Uribistas’ concealed loyalties to candidates like “Uribito” [Andrés Felipe Arias, Uribe's former Agriculture Minister and likely Conservative party candidate if Uribe does not run] and Juan Manuel Santos [Uribe's former Defense Minister and a likely candidate of the Unity "La U" party if Uribe does not run], which ended up strengthening the opposition.

2. Time is running out. Semana describes a rapidly closing window for changing the Constitution in time for the 2010 voting.

While it is dead politically, technically it is still in its death throes. According to the Law of Guarantees, November 30 is the deadline by which the President must announce whether or not he intends to be a candidate for a third term. But in these four months two legally required phases must be overcome within very narrow time periods. First, the Constitutional Court’s revision of the bill, which during the last re-election took more than three months. And second, the convening of elections by the Civil Registry which, according to that agency, would take a similar amount of time. In other words, two processes that normally could take between six and eight months would have to be reduced by half. If the Uribista machinery were the steamroller that it was in the past, those two processes could be “railroaded through” in that time, despite the controversy it would inspire. But if anything was clear after July 20 [when the new congressional leadership was chosen], it was that the pro-Uribe bloc in Congress may still be a majority movement, but now it is not a steamroller.

3. The two chambers of Congress are unlikely to resolve a key difference in their referendum bills: the possibility of consecutive re-election. The Senate passed a bill for a referendum on whether to allow Uribe to run again in 2010. The House bill instead is written in a way that has been interpreted to allow re-election only in 2014. The House-Senate committee charged with “reconciling” the two bills does not appear likely to yield to the Senate’s 2010 version, writes Semana.

The majority of the 25 conferees named by the House have refused to serve on the committee, arguing that they fear legal consequences [more on that below]. However, there is an additional, weightier reason that they never invoke in public: that they don’t believe in the referendum anymore. And if the moment to turn the page is to be the reconciliation of the bills, then that moment has arrived.

4. Too many members of Congress fear legal consequences if they support the referendum. The 2004 constitutional change allowing Uribe to run in 2006 passed only because undecided members of a House committee were improperly offered favors. One of those members, Yidis Medina, is now in prison for accepting the power to name her associates to several lucrative positions in exchange for her pro-re-election vote. That scandal, called “Yidis-politics,” has cast a long shadow on attempts to move a second re-election forward. Notes Semana:

The “Yidis-politics” precedent has made it so that not a single government official even dares insinuate that he might be offering any favors to a legislator in exchange for their support of re-election. Those who did this in the last election ended up in trouble with the law. In addition, the 86 legislators who voted for the referendum [in December] before the National Electoral Council approved the signature count [on the petitions for the bill to be considered] are being investigated by the Supreme Court.

What might happen next, then? Key members of the Uribe government and the leadership of pro-Uribe parties insist that they are still trying to get the referendum bill reconciled by the middle of August, despite the obstacles. If that fails, their next options could be:

1. Convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, pushing off the 2010 elections if necessary. This is unlikely According to Semana, “Some recalcitrant ‘Furibistas’ [furious Uribistas, of course] mention the possibility of a legislative act or even a constituent assembly after the referendum sinks. None of that will fly in the Congress. As ex-President César Gaviria affirmed, ‘If the Uribista legislators weren’t able to elect their own congressional leadership, how are they going to process a constitutional reform in such a short period of time?’”

2. Have a referendum to allow a non-consecutive re-election in 2014. “What could happen,” Semana believes, “is a formula that could allow Álvaro Uribe to return to power in 2014. This would be a transaction which would give a little satisfaction to the president and allow everyone to wash their hands.” However, the magazine adds, Uribe’s return would be a poor idea.

Colombian democracy would be more fluid if, after eight years in government, its ex-presidents were unable to return, as is the case in the United States. An ex-president with a possibility of returning would cast a very heavy shadow during the interim. It is hard to imagine the Calvary suffered by Uribe’s replacement knowing that, among his followers, there is an expectation of monarchical restoration.

Will Uribe really just leave power next year? Some analysts are unwilling to believe that the president’s re-election drive is over. “The referendum is moribund, but re-election is alive and kicking,” writes Claudia López in El Tiempo today. “We cannot declare victory,” adds opposition supporter Daniel García-Peña in El Espectador. “Let’s not forget that in this country magical surrealism outweighs institutional reality, and the ‘Rule of Opinion’ kills the ‘Rule of Law’ (in the chess sense of the word).”

García-Peña, along with many other commentators in Colombia, refers to a controversial new rhetorical figure that keeps popping up in President Uribe’s speeches of late. The president keeps saying that the “Rule of Opinion” (Estado de Opinión) “is the superior phase” of the “Rule of Law” (Estado de Derecho). It is not clear what Uribe means by this - his language is rather abstract, poetic and vaguely populist - but it has many observers concerned that it implies a popular president’s prerogative to challenge institutional constraints. Including constraints on re-election?

Nobody knows.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Criticism Grows Over Colombia's U.S. Base Plan- Reuters

THIS NEWS ITEM WAS RECENTLY POSTED IN REUTERS. While it uses some of the typical, narrow-minded language employed by most "Western" news agencies reporting on Colombia, the broader message of how US military plans in Colombia might interfere with regional stability, and how Colombia's neighbors are not pleased, is perhaps more important.

By Hugh Bronstein

BOGOTA, Aug 3 (Reuters) - A plan to increase U.S. troops in Colombia is drawing opposition not just from left-wing populist leaders in the region but from the moderate governments of Brazil and Chile as well.

The spreading criticism threatens to isolate Colombia from its neighbors as it combats a cocaine-funded insurgency.

The government is expected to sign an expanded U.S. military pact this month after a final round of talks. Colombia, Washington's main ally in the region, says the plan is aimed at strengthening anti-drug efforts.

But leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez accuses the United States of setting up a military platform in Colombia from which to "attack" its neighbors.

Chavez allies in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua were quick to blast the plan as well. But Colombia was shocked late last week when Chile, a model of free-market policies, and regional heavyweight Brazil voiced concern about the deal as well.

"I don't like the idea of an American base in the region," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said.

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet called the plan "disquieting" and said it should be discussed at the Aug. 10 meeting of the South American Unasur group of nations.

But Colombia says President Alvaro Uribe and his foreign minister will not attend the summit.

The meeting will be held in Ecuador, which has broken off diplomatic relations with Colombia over a 2008 anti-rebel bombing raid carried out on Ecuador's side of the border.

Ecuador and other socialist governments in the region are deepening economic ties with Russia, China and Iran, while denouncing Uribe for his ties to U.S. "imperialists".

"Colombia is increasingly isolated from its neighbors," said Bogota-based security analyst Armando Borrero.

"This has a snow-ball effect in that it makes the government even more reliant on Washington," he added.

Chavez last week called Venezuela's ambassador back from Bogota over a scandal in which Venezuelan officials are accused of providing Swedish-made anti-tank rockets to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel group.

Colombian and Swedish authorities asked Venezuela for an explanation after the rockets were found in a FARC arsenal.

Chavez denies helping the guerrillas and his response to the rockets scandal has been to threaten to nationalize Colombian businesses in Venezuela and to blast the upcoming U.S.-Colombia military pact.


Ecuador has shut down U.S. drug interdiction flights that had been run out of a base on the country's Pacific coast.

Washington is negotiating a plan to relocate those operations in Colombia, which has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid aimed at fighting the drug trade and the rebels, whose 45-year-old insurgency kills and displaces thousands of people every year.

Colombia is frustrated by the reaction to the talks.

"Where was the hysteria when these operations were being run out of Ecuador," said a high-level official in Colombia's defense ministry who asked that his name not be used.

"Mexico is having the worst security crisis in its history due to the drug trade and people are saying we should not help them by doing interdiction operations in the Pacific. It's ridiculous," the official said.

Police report an increase in makeshift submarines hauling tons of cocaine from Colombia's Pacific coast to Mexico, where violence has increased among gangs fighting over routes used to smuggle the drug into the United States.

Under the existing pact, the United states can have up to 800 uniformed military personnel in Colombia at one time. Those soldiers help plan counter-insurgency missions but they are not allowed in combat, a rule that will not change under the new military accord.

There are currently less than 300 uniformed Americans in Colombia and the expanded deal will not push that number above the limit of 800, according to the U.S. embassy in Bogota. (Additional reporting by Raymond Colitt in Caracas, editing by Philip Barbara)

Colombia’s Deteriorating Displacement Crisis - Colombia Journal

Here is the latest article from our friends at Colombia Journal:

Colombia’s Deteriorating Displacement Crisis

By Garry Leech

Tercer Milenio Park is located only blocks from Colombia’s presidential palace in the center of Bogotá and offers respite from the chaotic city to local residents. But for the past four months, it has also been a refuge from the country’s rural violence for more than one thousand displaced persons. In March, displaced people from every corner of Colombia occupied Bogotá’s Plaza Bolívar to protest the government’s failure to combat forced displacement and to address the needs of internal refugees. Police relocated the protesters to nearby Tercer Milenio Park, where they have lived ever since in makeshift homes constructed of wood and plastic sheets. More than 380,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced from their homes by violence in 2008 and, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 50 families arrive in Bogotá everyday seeking refuge. Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno has publicly stated that the city is losing control of the situation and Health Secretary Hector Zambrano has called on the national government to establish refugee camps.

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