Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers.
- Colombia will not send any cabinet ministers to today’s meeting of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, in Quito, Ecuador. The meeting sought to reduce tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, which remain very high following Colombia’s signing of a military agreement with the United States, warlike rhetoric from Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez, and a series of incidents on the two countries’ common border. According to the Colombian Foreign Ministry’s statement, Colombia’s government will skip the UNASUR meeting because “the attitude and recent escalation of insults that the Colombian government and people have received do not allow us to foresee that the discussions at tomorrow’s meeting will take place with the tone of respect, objectivity and balance that this forum demands.” El Tiempo contends that the decision not to attend was triggered by a recent statement from Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva calling on Uribe and ChÃ¡vez “to understand that war is not constructive, that the insane dispute is not constructive.” In the Colombian government’s view, Lula failed to credit Colombia for its recent policy of refusing to respond to ChÃ¡vez’s provocations.
- The CorporaciÃ³n Nuevo Arco Iris, a BogotÃ¡-based think-tank, has published its annual overview of Colombia’s conflict. They find increases in all armed groups’ activity during 2009, with the “new” paramilitary groups responsible for the largest share of violence. They conclude that President Ãlvaro Uribe’s security policies, which reduced many violence measures since 2002, have “reached the ceiling” of what they were capable of doing.
- Semana magazine and El Tiempo have more bad security news: MedellÃn will surpass 2,000 murders this year, a 76 percent increase over 2008 and the worst level of violence since 2003. According to El Tiempo, 70 percent of those being killed are members of over 160 gangs active in the city.
- More than 12 years after paramilitaries killed up to 49 people in the village of MapiripÃ¡n, Meta, the army general who refused to respond to the town’s pleas for help has been found guilty by a civilian court of murder, kidnapping and falsifying public documents. Gen. Jaime UscÃ¡tegui has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. The paramilitaries’ first major operation in southern Colombia, MapiripÃ¡n occurred with evident support of the local security forces. Still, Gen. UscÃ¡tegui remains defiant, telling El Espectador that he is the victim of a smear campaign by human rights NGOs “because the head of a general is profitable.”
- Cartagena will host the Second Review Conference of the International Treaty to Ban Land Mines. Due to the guerrillas’ use of these devices, Colombia – a signatory of the treaty – has one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises caused by land mines. The United States is not a signatory of the landmine treaty; earlier this week, the Obama administration announced that it would continue the Bush administration’s policy of refusing to sign on. The sudden announcement earned a very sharp rebuke from Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D). On Wednesday the State Department clarified that the decision was not final, and the landmine policy remained under “comprehensive review.”