Colombia: opposition figures targeted for supposed links to FARC

On Aug. 8 the Colombian Attorney General’s Office arrested sociologist Liliana (or Liliany) Patricia Obando Villota in Bogotá on charges of organizing events and managing money for the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On Aug. 9 the Attorney General’s Office announced that police had also arrested Dr. Cesar Augusto Arango Garcia, the director of a public hospital in the indigenous municipality of Planadas in Tolima department; Arango was described as the personal physician of Alfonso Cano, who has led the FARC since the death of longtime leader Manuel Marulanda in March. The Attorney General’s Office says it is also seeking William Parra, a journalist now working with the left-leaning Venezuelan-based Telesur television network.

Colombian authorities say the charges against Obando and Parra are based on information found in computers used by FARC spokesperson and negotiator Raul Reyes; the computers were seized in March when the Colombian military bombed and raided a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing Reyes and about 20 other people.

Obando is a consultant with the National Unified Agricultural Union Federation (FENSUAGRO). Founded 20 years ago in the Urabá region, the federation includes 37 campesino unions with a total of 80,000 members, according to an unnamed spokesperson. The authorities say Obando was in frequent correspondence with Reyes and may have had romantic relations with him. Obando told Colombia’s RCN Radio on Aug. 11 that she had not financed the rebels; she admitted she had met Reyes but denied having romantic relations with him. She said she was working on a study for FENSUAGRO of the murders of more than 1,500 of the organization’s members.

Parra was chief spokesperson for former president Ernesto Samper during his second term (1994-1998). He has been ordered to appear for questioning on Sept. 11. Parra lives outside Colombia and hasn’t indicated whether he will respond to the order; however, he has named Sandra Gamboa Rubiano of the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective to be his defense attorney in Colombia. (AFP, Aug. 9; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 10 from correspondent; Peace and Justice For Colombia-Australia announcement, Aug. 13; RCN Radio, Aug. 11; El Pais, Cali, Aug. 12 from Colprensa)

On Aug. 12 Colombian media reported that Carlos Lozano Guillen, director of the weekly magazine Voz, had been ordered to testify on his alleged links to the FARC. Colombia authorities say messages from Lozano appear on Reyes’ computers. Lozano indicated that any correspondence he had with the FARC was in connection with peace efforts or negotiations for the release of hostages. He said he hadn’t been notified of the judicial order and called the situation “a spectacle by means of the media.” Lozano is a member of the Executive Committee of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and the National Council of the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA). On July 11 French president Nicholas Sarkozy awarded Lozano and National Conciliation Commission head Father Dario Echeverri the French government’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honor.

Colombian authorities say Reyes’ computers also implicate at least four opposition members of Congress: Senator Piedad Cordoba de Castro, a member of the Liberal Party and a negotiator for the release of hostages held by the FARC; and Senator Gloria Ines Ramirez, Senator Gustavo Petro and Deputy Wilson Borja, all from the PDA. Investigations of Petro and Borja are already underway, and on Aug. 12 Colombia president Alvaro Uribe called for an investigation of Cordoba, who told the newspaper El Tiempo that she might sue him for libel. (El Pais, Aug. 12; Carlos Lozano Guillen blog, Aug. 5; La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 13 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Several of the people now under investigation were targeted in the past by paramilitary or rebel groups. The right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) kidnapped Piedad Corboba and held her for two weeks in May and June 1997. In December 2000 Wilson Borja, then president of the National Federation of State Workers (Fenaltrase), was seriously injured in an attack by alleged right-wing paramilitaries outside his Bogotá home; a bystander was killed along with one of the assailants. In 2005 unidentified people stabbed William Parra in the rural zone of Nemocon, 60 kilometers north of Bogotá, injuring a lung. (ENH, Aug. 10) Parra has also been the victim of a FARC action: in December 1997, when he was a government official, rebels kidnapped him along with another journalist and held them both for more than a week.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 17

See our last post on Colombia and the parapolĂ­tica/farcpolĂ­tica scandals.