by Weekly News Update on the Americas
FREE TRADE PACT PROTESTED
The seventh round of negotiations for a "free trade treaty" (TLC) between the US, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador began on Feb. 7 in the Colombian Caribbean port city of Cartagena. Opponents of the TLC held a nationwide day of protest in Colombia on Feb. 10. Thousands of workers, campesinos, indigenous people and students marched in Cartagena to protest the TLC. Police reported no incidents. The demonstrators were barred from approaching the convention center where the talks were taking place. At least 1,000 students and unionists marched in Bogota, surrounded by riot police. At least 400 demonstrators marched in Cali. A protest was also held in the city of Pereira.
In Medellin, students began their anti-TLC protest at the University of Antioquia, then moved out to the street, where three armored vehicles of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) police unit were waiting. As demonstrators clashed with police outside, and police sprayed the students with water cannons, an explosion injured 18 students in the university’s pharmaceutical chemistry department. According to university vice rector Martiniano Jaimes Contreras, the accident was caused by homemade explosives which the students were assembling to throw at police. Three of the injured students were in critical condition with burns over 80% of their bodies, said Jaimes. (AP, AFPO, Notimex, Feb. 10; El Universal, Caracas, Feb. 11)
The nearly 1,500 TLC negotiators meeting in Cartagena were meanwhile having their own problems: by the time the talks ended on Feb. 12, no agreement had been reached on any of the 23 areas being discussed. The biggest sticking points include agricultural policy–Andean farmers are concerned about being forced to compete against heavily subsidized US agribusiness–and intellectual property, since the Andean countries are concerned that the TLC will make it impossible for them to produce generic medicines. Other touchy issues are the mobile phone market and used clothing imports from the US. (AP, Feb. 10, 12; AFP, Feb. 13)
The lack of progress forced a new schedule for the remaining talks. The eighth round is still scheduled for March 14 in Washington to discuss investment, textiles, intellectual property, rules of origin, and revision of annexes on service measures. But during March, Washington will also host separate bilateral talks on agriculture: March 9-10 with Peru; March 16-17 with Ecuador; and March 21-22 with Colombia. The Andean TLC’s ninth round has been set to start April 18 in Lima, focused on pharmaceutical patents. (Article from Americaeconomica.com posted Feb. 13 on Colombia Indymedia; Prensa Latina, Feb. 12; AFP, Feb. 13)
On Feb. 10 in Peru, some 7,000 cotton growers protested the TLC with a 24-hour strike, including blockades on the Panamerican highway in Santa province, Ancash department (north of Lima) and marches in the cities of Ica and Chincha, in Ica department (south of Lima). The strike was called by the Association of Small-scale Agrarian Farmers. (La Republica, Lima, Feb. 11)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 13
MORE INDIGENOUS KILLED
On Feb. 3, members of the rightwing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) murdered two young Wayuu indigenous men, Jose Eduardo Boscan Epinayu and Manuel Salvador Lopez Fernandez, in the village of Santa Cruz, Maicao municipality, in the northern Colombian department of La Guajira. Boscan and Lopez were members of the indigenous leadership of the Epinayu clan, and like many members of the community, they made a living peddling gasoline. The bodies of the two were found in the village of La Esperanza near the Venezuelan border; the killers had put AUC insignia on the victims’ clothing in order to sow doubts about the authors of the crime. On Feb. 2, the day before the killing, three AUC members known by the names "Zacarias," "Genito" and "Samir" had entered the home of Francia Boscan, the traditional matriarch of the community and mother of Jose Eduardo Boscan, and had threatened her and her family.
The Communities of the Wayuu People in Civil Resistence, based in the indigenous territory of Media and Alta Guajira, charge that the paramilitaries use violence to exert control over the region and establish a monopoly on gasoline sales and other economic activity. Community members say they even informed President Alvaro Uribe Velez on his recent trip to La Guajira that paramilitary groups were controlling the flow of contraband gasoline from Venezuela. In a statement, the communities ask why the government is seeking funds from the international community to give to "demobilized" paramilitaries, when the paramilitary groups "have accumulated enormous fortunes" and have given up none of the land or properties they control. (Comunidades del Pueblo Wayuu en Resistencia Civil, Feb. 3; National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) Press Bulletin #15, Feb. 3)
The latest killings followed a Feb. 1 communique from the Communities of the Wayuu People in Civil Resistence which marked the first anniversary of the killing of Wayuu youths Roland Ever Fince and Alberto Ever Fince, shot to death on Feb. 1, 2004, by the AUC’s "Wayuu Counterinsurgency Bloc." The communities’ statement decried the impunity enjoyed by the killers, who followed up the double murder with a massacre in Bahia Portete in April. (Comunidades del Pueblo Wayuu en Resistencia Civil, Feb. 1)
In Cauca department, southern Colombia, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) murdered Nasa indigenous leader Ever Cunda on Jan. 29 at his home in the hamlet of El Cabildo, Miranda municipality. Cunda worked as a prosecutor for the La Cilia Miranda indigenous reserve, and in 2003 he served as president of El Cabildo’s Community Action Board. The FARC had recently threatened Cunda, accusing him of being an informer for the army and paramilitaries. The FARC have also threatened two other Nasa leaders, Unidad Paez coordinator Jairo Lasso and Ernesto Cunda, a council member of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN). (ONIC Press Bulletin #14, Jan. 31)
PARAMILITARY MASSACRE IN ANTIOQUIA
On Jan. 29, rightwing paramilitaries apparently murdered seven people in a rural area of San Carlos municipality in Antioquia department, Colombia. The victims were sisters Luz Adriana and Flor Maria Garcia Ramirez; Jose Eugenio Garcia Quintero and his daughters Omaira and Gisela, who were 16 and 15 years old, respectively; and Hector Eduardo Giraldo and Giovanni Gallego. The mother of the Garcia Ramirez sisters survived and made her way with two of her children to the neighboring municipality of San Luis, where she reported the massacre to army troops. The killers had apparently accused the victims of being rebel sympathizers. (Message posted on Colombia Indymedia, Feb. 1)
ARMY KILLS CAMPESINO IN CHOCO
On Jan. 29, campesino leader Pedro Murillo was shot to death by members of the Colombian army’s 17th Brigade in the village of Cano Seco, Jiguamiando municipality, Choco department. The soldiers accused Murillo of being a guerrilla; he was hit with three bullets as he tried to flee, and the soldiers shot him three more times after he was wounded and on the ground. Shortly afterwards, some 500 soldiers from the 17th Brigade entered the town and over the course of Jan. 29 and 30, threatened and mistreated numerous residents of the Afro-Colombian community, accusing them of being leftist guerrillas or guerrilla supporters. The soldiers also detained a local resident for five hours, beating and threatening him and harassing his wife–who was giving birth at that moment–and his children.
The Interreligious Justice and Peace Commission urges human rights supporters to contact Vice President Francisco Santos to demand that a verification team including national and international non-governmental organizations be sent to the area immediately, and that the government respond to community demands for an end to the sowing of oil palm within the Collective Territory of Curvarado and Jiguamiando. Santos can be reached at fax #571-566-2387 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Commission also recommends asking Attorney General Edgardo Maya Villazon (fax #571-342-9723, email@example.com) to investigate abuses by the 17th Brigade, and asking National Defender of the People (ombudsperson) Volmar Antonio Ortiz Perez (fax #571-640-0491, firstname.lastname@example.org) to send a protective presence to the zone. (Comision Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, Jan. 30)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 6
INDIGENOUS PROTESTS IN BOGOTA
On Jan. 20, more than 400 Embera Katio indigenous people from the Sinu and Verde rivers area of Cordoba department in northern Colombia marched with dozens of supporters in Bogota to press the government to resume talks over their demands. The Embera protesters had been camped out in Bogota since Dec. 20, demanding compliance with an April 2000 agreement on compensation for damages caused by the Urra hydroelectric dam. The government insists it won’t negotiate under pressure. Indigenous people from at least 11 different ethnic groups took part in the march, including a delegation of members of the Indigenous Guard of Cauca department, a civilian self-defense group armed only with traditional staffs.
Earlier the same day, a group of Nasa (Paez) leaders from the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), led by the Indigenous Guard and accompanied by other indigenous leaders, held a ceremony in Bogota’s Plaza de Bolivar to honor Colombia’s Constitutional Court for its rulings favoring indigenous rights. Inside the court building, Constitutional Court president Jaime Araujo Renteria accepted the Indigenous Guard’s flag, given to him as a symbol of support. (ONIC, Jan. 18, 20 via Colombia Indymedia; El Pais, CaliJan. 21)
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) organized the Jan. 20 march to support the Embera Katio protesters and also to denounce the murders of at least seven indigenous people since Jan. 6. Also on Jan. 20, the Colombia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) issued a statement condemning the "bloody beginning of the new year" for Colombia’s indigenous communities and urging the Colombian government "to take effective measures to protect indigenous people." (EP, Jan. 21; AFP, Jan. 20)
The UN office specifically condemned the Jan. 18 murders of Wiwa community leader Angel Loperena Montero and his brother Dario Loperena in the town of San Juan del Cesar, La Guajira department. (EP, Jan. 21) Loperena was the general treasurer of the Wiwa Yugumaiun Bukuanarua Tayrona organization, based in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, which straddle the border of Cesar, La Guajira and Magdalena departments in northern Colombia. His brother was a teacher in the community. (ONIC, Jan. 19)
Authorities believe the murders were carried out by rightwing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) under the command of AUC leader "Jorge 40"; the UN office urged AUC "to make a public statement about the killings, to require its members to fully comply with humanitarian norms that demand absolute respect for the civilian population, and to fully observe the declared ceasefire." (EP, Jan. 21)
"This year began very badly for us," ONIC president Luis Evelis Andrade Casama told AFP, "and we predict that the violations of indigenous people’s rights by illegal armed groups and, on some occasions, by government forces, will continue to rise." (AFP, Jan. 20)
On Jan. 6, indigenous leader Saul Marquez Tovar disappeared in Leticia, Amazonas department; his body was found the next day across the border in Brazil (see below). On Jan. 17, four members of an indigenous family from Bolivar municipality in the south of Cauca department were found shot to death. The victims were Hermes Cordoba Samboni, vice president of the Communal Action Board of the Las Cruces neighborhood of the San Juan indigenous community, and his family members John Fredy Samboni, Edgar Samboni and Cesar Samboni. The four went fishing on Jan. 11 and never returned; two of their bodies were found in a rural area of Bolivar municipality, and the other two were found in San Pablo municipality in neighboring Narino department. All had been shot in the head, and two of them appeared to have been tied up before being killed. (Colprensa, Jan. 19 via Colombia Indymedia)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 23
AMAZON INDIGENOUS LEADER KILLED
Saul Marquez Tovar, an indigenous Uitoto leader from Colombia’s Amazonas department and president of the Zonal Indigenous Association of Arica, disappeared on Jan. 6 in the Colombian city of Leticia, which is the capital of Amazonas department and borders on Peru and Brazil. On Jan. 7 Marquez’s body was found in the Brazilian town of Tabatinga; his tongue had been removed, his teeth and fingernails were pulled out and he had five bullet wounds. Marquez had gone to Leticia to carry out financial transactions on behalf of his community. (ONIC, Jan. 12)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 16
GUERILLA ATTACKS ESCALATE
On Feb. 8 or 9, rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacked a patrol unit of the Boltigeros Battalion, part of the Colombian army’s 17th Brigade, killing 19 of the unit’s 28 soldiers and wounding at least five others. The attack took place in the area of Porrozo, on the border between the municipalities of Chigorodo and Mutata, in the Uraba region of Antioquia department. In a Feb. 9 communique, the FARC’s Jose Maria Cordoba bloc reported that it also killed nine soldiers and wounded an undetermined number of others in a Feb. 7 attack on the Bombona Battalion in the hamlet of La Sombra in Anori municipality, in eastern Antioquia. The FARC said no rebels were killed in the Porrozo attack, but two died in the Anori attack. Colombian government sources said 11 rebels were killed in the Porrozo clash. (Communique from FARC-EP Estado Mayor Bloque Jose Maria Cordoba, Feb. 29; El Tiempo, Bogota, Feb. 11)
On Feb. 11, the Bogota daily El Tiempo also reported that four soldiers and 18 alleged rebels were killed in combat in Vistahermosa municipality, in the southern department of Meta; a noncommissioned officer and six rebels were killed and five soldiers wounded in Urrao municipality, western Antioquia; and the FARC burned 10 vehicles on a highway in southern Narino department. (ET, Feb. 11) The latest attack came only a week after the FARC killed 14 marines in a surprise attack on Feb. 1 at the Iscuande naval base in Narino (see below). The wave of rebel attacks has led to much public and press speculation about the success of President Alvaro Uribe Velez’s "Patriot Plan" military offensive against the FARC. [AFP 2/12/05]
On Feb. 10, following the army’s humiliating defeat in Porrozo, Gen. Hector Jaime Fandino Rincon was dismissed as commander of the 17th Brigade and replaced by Gen. Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe, head of the Military Forces Operations Directorate in Bogota. Fandino will remain in the army while the incident is investigated. (ET, Feb. 11) Fandino and Zapata studied together at the US Army School of the Americas, graduating from the same "small unit infantry tactics C-7" course in February 1976, while they were second lieutenants. (SOA Graduates List) The 17th Brigade, based in Carepa–just north of Chigorodo–was recently accused of brutalizing an Afro-Colombian community in Jiguamiando municipality, in neighboring Choco department. (See above)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 13
Early on Feb. 1, some 200 members of the FARC launched a surprise attack on a Colombian navy base in the southern department of Narino, killing 14 marines, including the lieutenant who commanded the unit, and wounding 25 others, most of them seriously. The rebels used assault rifles and homemade mortars fashioned from cooking gas canisters in their attack on the Iscuande naval base, located on the Iscuande river near where it empties into the Pacific, in Iscuande municipality. The attack lasted four hours; the rebels retreated when artilleried helicopters and planes of the Colombian Air Force arrived. A Navy communique said the attack was carried out by the FARC’s 29th Front.
Most of the dead and wounded were participants in the government’s "campesino soldier" program, whose members do permanent military service in the areas where they live. Colombian Navy commander Adm. Mauricio Soto said at a Bogota press conference that government forces–consisting of 60 marines and 40 police agents stationed in the town–"repelled this attack, prevented the taking of Iscuande municipality…"
While the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez has launched a major offensive against rebel forces, especially in southern Colombia, a recent study by the Security and Democracy Foundation, headed by analyst Alfredo Rangel, showed that the FARC launched 900 attacks on government troops in the first two years of Uribe’s administration, compared to 907 over the previous four years. The previous president, Andres Pastrana Arango, pursued a policy of peace negotiations with the FARC. (Miami Herald, Feb. 2; AP, Feb. 1)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 6
BUSH REQUESTS MORE AID
On Feb. 7, US president George W. Bush sent the US Congress his fiscal year 2006 budget request, including $550 in "anti-drug" money for Colombia, of which more than $393 million is direct aid to the Colombian military and police forces. The total amount is about $10 million less than in fiscal year 2005, a State Department official said. The US has spent over $3 billion on mostly military aid for "Plan Colombia" since 2000, but that program is due to expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. The State Department official, who requested anonymity, dismissed the idea that some of the coming year’s military aid could be shifted to social programs: "The intent is indeed to change the focus as the military phase achieves success. We are achieving success, but we’re not there yet." The new Colombia aid proposal comes as part of a $735 million request for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative in fiscal 2006, $4 million more than 2005. Unlike Plan Colombia, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative has no expiration date. (Miami Herald, Feb. 8)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 13
VENEZUELA: KIDNAPPING CONFLICT RESOLVED?
Tens of thousands of supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias marched in Caracas on Jan. 23 to protest the violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty by neighboring Colombia. The march came in response to the Colombian government’s Jan. 12 admission that it paid bounty hunters to kidnap FARC representative Rodrigo Granda Escobar in Caracas on Dec. 13. The marchers also carried banners reading "Bush: Venezuela Is Not Iraq!" Speaking on Jan. 23, Chavez accused the US government of being behind the Granda incident: "This provocation came from Washington, it is the latest attempt by the imperialists…to ruin our relations with Colombia," he said. The US had offered its "100% support" for Colombia’s actions. Anti-Chavez forces tried to organize a march the same day, Jan. 23, but only managed to draw a few dozen people. (Reuters, AFP, BBC, Jan. 24)
The Granda incident sparked a freeze in trade and diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez announced on Jan. 29 that the conflict had been resolved; in a tour of the border department of Arauca, Uribe sent his greetings to Chavez and the Venezuelan people, and thanked the countries which intervened to negotiate a solution. Those countries reportedly included Brazil, Peru, Spain, Mexico and most notably Cuba, whose president Fidel Castro Ruz apparently played a key role. Speaking on Jan. 30 from Porto Alegre, Brazil, where he was attending the World Social Forum, Chavez said the crisis with Colombia was not yet resolved and that its resolution would depend on the results of a meeting planned between Uribe and him in Caracas on Feb. 3. (AP, AFP, DPA, Jan. 30)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 30
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 7, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution