Oct 29

That the FARC guerrillas actually responded publicly and positively to a communication should hardly be news. Except that it hasn’t happened in a very long time.

On Tuesday the FARC’s top leadership, or Secretariat, made public an October 16 response to a large group of Colombian intellectuals and politicians, most of them left-of-center politically, who had written a September 11 letter calling on them to engage in an “epistolary exchange” – a public written correspondence.

The purpose of this exchange would be to discuss how to move toward a “humanitarian accord” to free guerrilla hostages, as well as a renewed peace negotiation. (Or, as the letter’s incredibly indirect language put it, to “identify elements to allow the definition of an agenda that can clarify the routes by which it would be possible to reach an understanding that could lead to the long-desired humanitarian accord.”)

The guerrillas’ response, and the likelihood of an exchange of public correspondence on these topics, is cause for faint hope. This is so if only because talks between the FARC and the Colombian government are such a distant possibility, and no interlocutors acceptable to both sides have emerged to facilitate communications through any other channels. (In fact, many who served as interlocutors in the past are now under government investigation for alleged guerrilla ties.)

Faint hope is also warranted because this is the first direct FARC reaction in a very long time to what could be considered an expression of public opinion. Analysts have used the word “autistic” to describe the guerrillas’ years of unresponsiveness to regular governmental, non-governmental and international appeals. That they have responded now could be an indication of a course change – however slight – under the leadership of Alfonso Cano, who replaced Manuel Marulanda as the group’s maximum leader in March. Another factor increasing their responsiveness, meanwhile, may be the increased military pressure the FARC is feeling.

The FARC response was written before, but released after, the guerrillas’ latest humiliation: Sunday’s escape of Oscar Tulio Lizcano, a former congressman whom the group had held hostage since 2000 – an escape that was aided and abetted by his FARC captor. Lizcano’s account of beyond-inhuman suffering during his captivity – forbidden to speak to anyone, he whiled away time teaching imaginary classes to sticks -  has further hardened public opinion against the FARC, but has also underlined the need to try any available means to win the remaining twenty-eight political hostages’ freedom.

A public exchange of correspondence is an unusual way to get a serious conflict-resolution effort started. But if no other options exist – and they do not appear to – it should be pursued.

Surely there will be voices in Colombia condemning those who participate in this “pen pal” arrangement as useful idiots, appeasers, or naive individuals helping the FARC to buy time, improve its public image, or achieve an undeserved political status. The Colombian government, however, would do well to let this exchange go forward without attacking it, as long as it continues to take place publicly and transparently. Drawing the guerrilla leadership into a political discussion, including clarity about its conditions for talks, can do little harm and quite a bit of good.

Here are the letters translated into English, presented in reverse chronological order. Both are heavy on run-on sentences and indirect phrasing; key parts are highlighted.

FARC response to letter from Colombian intellectuals, politicians and journalists

Mountains of Colombia, October 16, 2008

Respected Compatriots:

With satisfaction we have received your September missive which invites a collective exploration of pathways to peace, far from the current government’s direction of perpetual war and persisting in the impossibility of a military solution to political, economic and social problems that underlie the bloody conflict that shocks the country.

We greet the flourishing of a current of opinion that diverges from false triumphalism, and from the parameters of a warlike solution to large national problems. We have no doubt that your effort will succeed because it coincides with the majority’s feeling and desire for peace.

This letter is now the beginning of the Epistolary Exchange that you propose to us to discuss a political solution to the conflict, the humanitarian exchange, and peace. We will participate, in the people’s full view, in a wide-ranging and frank dialogue, without dogmatism, without sectarianism and without disqualifications of the issues that you suggest. It is necessary to work to achieve the participation of the greatest possible number of political and social organizations, and independent people.

Continue reading »

Oct 24

Interesting to see that the attack ad that the McCain campaign released today includes an image of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The ad picks up on Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s speculation over the weekend that rogue foreign leaders would seek to “test” an Obama administration by generating an early crisis.

The ad plays Biden’s words over a montage of dangerous-looking foreign threats. We see footage of masked Islamic militiamen, warships, tanks, and fist-waving crowds.

They are interspersed with only two images of menacing foreign leaders: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hugo Chávez.

Oct 22

(PDF, 3.78 MB) A Compass for Colombia Policy

(PDF, 3.95 MB) Un nuevo rumbo para la política estadounidense hacia Colombia

It took a couple of months for four organizations to coordinate, edit, build consensus, and incorporate the input of many other extremely helpful outside reviewers. 32 pages later, though, CIP is very proud to be one of the organizations today launching “A Compass for Colombia Policy.”

This new document is a detailed, carefully crafted and forward-looking set of recommendations that we offer for the next U.S. administration and Congress. We felt a great need to get these principles and suggestions down on paper, especially at this critical time for U.S. policy toward Colombia and the world.

Please read it and share it: (English PDF, 3.78 MB) | (PDF en español, 3.95 MB).

Below is the release that the Center for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the U.S. Office on Colombia are putting out today.


For immediate release

October 22, 2008

New Report Outlines a Just and Effective Foreign Policy toward Colombia

During their final presidential debate, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed markedly different opinions on U.S. policy toward Colombia, an important partner in Latin America. Yet the next U.S. president won’t just be debating policy, he will be making it—and in the case of Colombia, he will need more than minor changes along the margins.  He will need a new approach.

The Compass for Colombia Policy, written by some of Washington’s top Colombia experts, offers a better way forward for one of the main foreign policy challenges that the next administration will face.  This report makes a detailed, persuasive case for a new U.S. strategy that would achieve our current policy goals while ending impunity and strengthening respect for human rights. Instead of risking all by placing too much faith in a single, charismatic leader, the United States must appeal to the aspirations and needs of all Colombians by strengthening democratic institutions, such as the judiciary.  In particular, the United States must stand by and empower the human rights advocates, victims, judges, prosecutors, union leaders, journalists and others who are the driving forces towards a more just and peaceful Colombia.

The Compass details seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.

1.  Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia’s judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

2.  Actively Support Overtures for Peace

The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

3.  Support Expansion of the Government’s Civilian Presence in the Countryside

Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia’s problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.  

4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

The United States can help resolve Colombia’s massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees. 

5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities

The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities’ land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.  

6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia

The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement.  The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers’ dependence on coca and ending the conflict.

7. Get Serious—and Smart—about Drug Policy

The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region.  The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities.   Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers.  Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

“The next administration should use diplomatic pressure to hold Colombia to much higher standards on human rights, labor rights, and protection of the rule of law.”–Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

“The United States must recognize the magnitude of the human rights crisis for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lands and livelihoods to violence.” –Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America

“Nine years after the launch of Plan Colombia, the production of cocaine remains virtually unchanged.  The United States simply cannot afford to continue to pursue this costly and failed counternarcotics policy.  The next President must change course.”  –Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy

“In the last decade, Colombia’s conflict has taken 20,000 more lives and displaced more than 2 million citizens.  Now is the time to make renewed efforts for peace.”  –Kelly Nicholls, U.S. Office on Colombia

For more information:
Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, (202) 546-7010; lisah [at] lawg.org
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171; gsanchez [at] wola.org
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317; isacson [at] ciponline.org
Kelly Nicholls, US Office on Colombia, (202) 232-8090; kelly [at] usofficeoncolombia.org


Oct 21

Senator Gustavo Petro, a leader of Colombia’s main left-of-center opposition party, released two very disturbing documents this afternoon. They are internal memoranda of the Administrative Security Department (DAS), the Colombian Presidency’s security and intelligence service, or “secret police.” Both were published within the past two months.

The first requests that DAS section chiefs send to Bogotá all intelligence that they have gathered about Senator Petro’s “ties … to illegal organizations” and his contacts with para-politics witnesses, or as the memo ominously puts it, “people who have come forward to testify against the government.” Petro has been an outspoken advocate of investigations into ties between paramilitary groups and politicians, most of whom are supporters of President Álvaro Uribe.

The second requests that DAS section chiefs help the agency gather intelligence about Senator Petro’s political party, the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA). The PDA is one of Colombia’s two principal opposition parties, whose members include congresspeople, senators, the mayor of Bogotá and the governor of Nariño.

Though the party is legally constituted, the DAS memo orders agents to spy on the party’s convention, scheduled for this weekend, to seek out evidence of ties to illegal armed groups, plans to “destabilize the National Government,” or – heaven forbid – ties to labor unions or non-governmental organizations.

These documents are frightening because of what they say about the Colombian government’s tolerance of dissent, its ability to distinguish between legitimate political participation and left-wing terrorism, and the amount of political space in which the political opposition can operate.

They should trigger a scandal, and an investigation into possible illegal infringement of Colombians’ right to organize and participate in political movements. They should also inspire the U.S. government to loosen its embrace of a government that is clearly going too far in an undemocratic direction.

Bogotá, August 29, 2008

To: Departmental Directors

From: Political and Social Intelligence Department Director

Subject: Information Request

I politely ask your collaboration in sending me any available information related to the activities of Gustavo Petro Urrego, senator from Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole – leftist opposition party), taking into account:

  • Privileged information of ties or links with illegal organizations.
  • His contacts with people who have come forward to testify against the government.

It is requested that your response be sent to the e-mail politicosocial@das.gov.co by September 4, 2008. Please respond even if you do not have information.


Jaime Fernando Ovalle Olaz

Bogotá, September 16, 2008

To: Departmental Directors

From: Political and Social Intelligence Department Director

Subject: Information Request

Taking into account that the Polo Democratico Alternativo (PDA) is undergoing a series of internal divisions due to differing ideologies present in the various political positions represented in the party (moderate to radical leftist), and given the fact that the PDA will have its Second National Congress on October 26, 2008, I politely request your collaboration in sending available information concerning the following aspects:

1. Internal Division

  • PDA leaders’ alliances with domestic and international political movements.
  • Connections between PDA leaders and clandestine movements or illegal organizations.
  • International and domestic political support for the different political factions within the PDA.
  • Political statements, and public or clandestine activities, that party members are carrying out in the context of the PDA’s current political moment.

2. Second Congress of the PDA

  • The PDA’s alliances with domestic and international political movements.
  • The PDA’s connections to clandestine movements or illegal organizations.
  • Full identification of the delegates to the PDA’s Second National Congress, and their possible connections or ties to terrorist organizations.
  • Identification of terrorist organizations’ interest in the development of the PDA’s Second Congress.
  • Strategic plans to destablize the National Government.
  • Alliances with social organizations (Unions, NGOs, etc.)

It is requested that your response be sent to the e-mail politicosocial@das.gov.co by 5:00 PM on October 1, 2008. Please respond even if you do not have information.


Jaime Fernando Ovalle Olaz

Oct 21

The Colombian network Noticias Uno yesterday broadcast the fascinating video below, which is a guerrillas’-eye view of the impressive military ruse that freed fifteen FARC hostages.

The video adds some new elements to the story. It now appears that the soldier illegally disguised as a Red Cross official was in fact the first to approach, and speak with, the guerrillas, pretending not to speak good Spanish. In an interesting final touch, the delegation left behind a gift for the guerrilla captors: two cases of beer.

At the end of the video, the guerrilla narrator says, “The comrade has gone” – probably referring to one of the captors who accompanied the hostages.

Then one hear’s a woman’s voice off camera, referring to the beer: “Do you know what the guy from the … what’s it called? … the Red Cross said to me? ‘Take care of it, it’s a good gift.’”

Oct 20

Here, from the inside cover of the current Wired magazine, is their “vision of what a typical fridge might look like a few days before Thanksgiving in 2020.”


Zooming in a bit: 


Yeah, hilarious.

Oct 17

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal criticizes Sen. Barack Obama for saying the following about Colombia in Wednesday’s presidential debate:

The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination, on a fairly consistent basis, and there have not been any prosecutions.

This, the Journal says, is an example of Obama “repeating union distortions” about labor violence in Colombia.

It is true that Colombia has seen progress on labor violence according to one measure: the absolute number of labor-union leaders, organizers and members killed. Estimates vary, and labor-rights defenders contend that acts of anti-union violence have, in fact, increased dramatically this year. Nonetheless, killings of unionists have dropped since the worst period of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Journal’s argument, however, cannot overturn Sen. Obama’s second objection: that prosecutions, another very crucial measure, have seen little improvement.

Today’s editorial tries to make the case:

As for prosecutions: In union-member killings, there were zero convictions from 1991-2000 and one in 2001. But from 2002-2007, there were 80.

The argument collapses right here. Eighty convictions in six years is an extremely poor result. It is not a number to celebrate – especially when the total universe of cases from the past twenty years is well over 2,000. This statistic is one of the strongest arguments that opponents of the free-trade agreement could employ.

It shows that even though labor killings are reduced from 2002 or so, the impunity rate for such killings has barely budged. In nearly all labor killings, the murderers – both the planners and the trigger-pullers – are still at large and have little to fear from the justice system.

Until the prosecution rate for unionist killings improves, the Free Trade Agreement will continue to be a hard sell in Washington.

Hopes for improvement hinge on the work of the Labor Sub-Unit of the Colombian government’s Prosecutor-General’s Office, which is trying to make progress on dozens of “benchmark cases.” Observers, notably Rep. George Miller (R-California), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, have questioned whether this Sub-Unit will be able to make significant progress at current levels of funding, political and institutional support.

If it does not, the agreement’s opponents will continue to have a very strong argument.

Oct 16

From the 2007 book Confesiones de un Paraco, published excerpts from the diary of onetime paramilitary fighter Eduin Guzmán.

I went with my bodyguard to El Trincho. I arrived at the ranch where we had agreed to meet with Miguel [Arroyave, then head of the AUC's Centaurs Bloc, operating in Colombia's eastern plains], who had still not arrived. I waited for him about two hours. When he arrived and after greeting each other, he asked me:

“So things haven’t been going so well?”

I explained to him about the many killed [in recent combat with the guerrillas]. …

“Don’t worry, ask for the coordinates of where those dogs are dug in. A politician friend of mine has done me the favor of coordinating with the Air Force so that they can carry out a bombing, the only thing needed to do it is the coordinates. This favor had to be asked directly from Bogotá. Can you believe that those bastards in Apiay [the largest air-force base in Meta] get the money and now they don’t do anything but make excuses and don’t agree to anything.” …

I called Belisario on the radio and asked him for the coordinates. He responded very pleased with the news and he told me that I couldn’t imagine the effect that this would have on our people’s morale. I gave Miguel the coordinates and told him what Belisario said, how the people were hopeful for this aerial support. That this would be the best thing to revive the troops’ morale.

Miguel said:

“Wait and see, these sons of whores are very aggressive and they don’t know what is going to fall on them.”

About 40 minutes after Miguel called, two [Brazilian-made] Tucano planes and four Harpy [modified Blackhawk] helicopters. They started to bomb almost all of La Cooperativa. We saw fragmentation bombs, 500-pound bombs and rockets falling over this village, like nobody could have imagined.

Around 4:00 PM Belisario called me, very contented about the results, and he said to me:

Comandante, we did it! Thank God, we did it! We got rid of all of them, there’s no one left standing there, they’re all dead!”

The happiness also took over Miguel:

“We beat those sons of whores; I’ll kiss that general who helped us on his [reproductive organs] if it’s necessary; those are the people we need on our side!”

Miguel almost hadn’t finished speaking, when one of my bodyguards passed me the radio and, on another frequency, we heard commander “Pólvora,” who said:

“Those sons of whores turned on us, now they’re giving it to us!”

I asked him what was happening, and in a very agitated and frightened state he confirmed to me that he was running, and we hardly understood him:

“Those Air Force bastards turned on us: they’re bombing us, they just dropped a bomb as big as a cow on us, and it made sh*t fly all over the place. I don’t know how what’s left of us are going to save ourselves.”

Miguel immediately made a satellite telephone call to someone who he called “Mi General,” and the bombing immediately stopped; the planes and helicopters vacated the zone.

From a report yesterday from one of Colombia’s main television networks, RCN.

In a video revealed by the RCN Channel, it is observed that, before a Justice and Peace prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Mejía Múnera, alias “The Twin,” testified that some of the paramilitaries’ anti-guerrilla operations were supported by Air Force combat aircraft.

[Mejía Múnera, "the Twin," a major narcotrafficker who later joined the paramilitaries, was captured earlier this year days after authorities killed his twin brother, also a top wanted narcotrafficker.]

According to the words of alias “The Twin,” there were two opportunities when the Air Force supposedly lent support to paramilitaries under his command, when they were being besieged and confronted by guerrilla fronts. The paramilitary chief explained that, supposedly, all he had to do was make a call in order for airplanes and helicopters to appear at the sites where they were.

Continue reading »

Oct 15

The Colombia Free-Trade Agreement got a brief mention in tonight’s debate between Barack Obama and John McCain.

When Obama mentions labor-union killings in Colombia, McCain – perhaps not realizing he was on camera? – grimaces oddly. The liberal blog TalkingPointsMemo.com called it “McCain’s Freaky Eyebrow Moment“:

Oct 15

We are saddened and angered by yesterday’s murder of Walberto Hoyos, a community leader in the Bajo Atrato region of Chocó department, in Colombia’s far northwest. Mr. Hoyos was a leader of the struggle of two afro-Colombian communities, Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó, to recover communally held lands that paramilitary groups, employing the most brutal violence, stole from them and have since employed for large-scale agribusiness projects.

Mr. Hoyos, a survivor of a September 2007 assassination attempt, is one of many Bajo Atrato community leaders who are working in the face of ceaseless threats from the paramilitaries and related large landowners who dominate this region, which is considered highly strategic because of its natural resources and its frequent use as a drug-trafficking corridor.

These threats’ severity has guaranteed a significant amount of international accompaniment for the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó communities’ leaders, including special designations from the Inter-American human rights system and some protective measures from the Colombian government’s U.S.-funded human rights defenders’ program.

But in large part because of the impunity that those responsible for the threats, violence and theft continue to enjoy, these measures were not enough for Walberto Hoyos. His murder yesterday afternoon, in broad daylight before witnesses, was as brazen as it was announced.

This time, the murder must not go unpunished. This time, the network of criminals, greedy landowners, and corrupt officials – including security-force officials – that is violating these communities’ most basic rights must be definitively dismantled. If it is not, Colombia’s claims to have “turned the corner” on its dark past will not pass any reasonable test of credibility.

Here are translated excerpts from the announcement of Mr. Hoyos’s murder posted to the website of the Colombian non-governmental organization Justicia y Paz, which accompanies the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó communities.

Today, October 14, 2008, approximately between 3:30 and 4:00 PM, two paramilitaries murdered Curvaradó community leader WALBERTO HOYOS RIVAS. Walberto was within the Caño Manso Humanitarian Zone, located in the collectively owned territory of Curvaradó, participating in a meeting with the community. Two of three armed men entered the humanitarian place, after dialoguing with the administrator of the Villa Alejandra I hacienda, known as “Pablo Hoyos,” and with the administrator of other lands in El Guamo, which paramilitaries have also usurped illegally and violently from afro-descended communities since 1996.

In the humanitarian area the two paramilitaries, after locating Walberto, took his cellphone as well as the one the community uses to activate early warnings. Seconds later they grabbed Walberto, insulting him, calling him “son of a whore.” The paramilitaries lifted their shirts, he lunged at them trying to protect himself, but they forced him to turn around and shot him repeatedly.

The paramilitaries left the area, and returned five minutes later. They took Walberto’s lifeless body, turned him face upwards, and shot him again in the face and neck.

Later they left the humanitarian area, fleeing on the motorcycles on which they arrived, one a blue Honda and one a black Suzuki, both without license plates.

Thanks to the investigative and human rights defense work Walberto carried out, it has been possible to unmask the paramilitary strategy of usurping collective territories for agro-industrial projects in the Bajo Atrato region: the planting of oil palms, intensive deforestation and extensive cattle-raising, which have been hidden behind “Campesino Associations” like Asoprobeba and the development of the paramilitary economic strategy in the region.

Behind the crime of Walberto are the same armed paramilitary structures, operating with the consent of military and police, that protect and are beneficiaries of palm, cattle and timber enterprises. …

Walberto had protective measures from the Ministry of Interior and Justice, among them a DAS [presidential security service] bodyguard and car. At the moment of his murder these measures were not functioning, due to mechanical problems with the car.

Walberto served as a witness in the case of the police detention and subsequent forced disappearance of Curvaradó community leader ORLANDO VALENCIA on October 15, 2005. This afro-Colombian individual later appeared, murdered by paramilitary structures, on October 24 of that year.

For his testimony about this crime and his encouragement of the creation of Humanitarian Zones in Curvaradó, Walberto Hoyos was the victim of a September 17, 2007 attempt on his life, in which he was wounded together with his brother MIGUEL HOYOS RIVAS. Regarding this double attempted murder, as of today the Prosecutor-General’s Office has neither identified nor charged those who planned or carried it out; these individuals continue to operate as armed structures in the security forces’ midst in Curvaradó. …

Today, October 14, the First Penal Judge of the Specialized Circuit of Antioquia communicated in writing the decision to call WALBERTO HOYOS RIVAS to give three days of testimony in Bogotá in the trial against the paramilitaries JULIO CESAR SILVA BORJA – known as “El Indio” or “El Enano” – and PABLO JOSÉ MONTALVO CUITIVA – known as “Alpha 11″ – for the murder of Curvaradó community leader Orlando Valencia. These people are important within the structure of the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc [the paramilitary group that dominated the Bajo Atrato region].

Walberto was protected by Provisional Measures of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, and within that framework he had a protection plan from the Ministry of Interior and Justice. …

The paramilitary strategy continues in the midst of the presence of the army’s 15th Brigade and the National Police. In the midst of this presence the palm plantings advance, along with large-scale cattle-raising. The crimes, like that of Walberto, continue. The only things that don’t advance are the investigations of crimes committed in Curvaradó, while the criminal and business structures continue operating illegally in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó.

Oct 14

Thousands of indigenous activists gathered yesterday for a protest in northern Cauca department, part of a nationwide day of indigenous mobilizations to commemorate what we in the United States call “Columbus Day.”

By several accounts, as the protests – and accompanying road blockages – entered a second day, the Colombian government has begun responding violently.

The worst case appears to be in La María, in the municipality of Piendamó, in Cauca department. Information received so far has been sketchy, but the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) reports that Colombian security forces have fired into a crowd, wounding as many as twenty-five people, some very seriously.

It is unclear what is going on, but our inbox is filling up with alerts. A main source of information, the website of the Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN), has been down – and reportedly blocked – since late this morning.

We are monitoring the websites of the CRIC, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), and the Colombia Indymedia page.

Meanwhile El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, has nothing about the events in Cauca. Instead, its website is featuring soccer news on its front page, along with an article exhorting readers to wash their hands before eating, and an article about a man in Florida who tried to pay for his food with marijuana.

Update 7:20 PM: El Tiempo is now running an EFE story giving a figure of 30 wounded.

Updates 11:30 AM 10/15: The situation looks pretty bad. “Violent assault on indigenous people in La María – Piendamó,” reads a bulletin posted this morning to the CRIC website:

On October 15 at 5:30 AM, the Army, Police and ESMAD (the National Police’s feared Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron) are violently evicting the indigenous comuneros who had been peacefully waiting in La María for the government to meet with them.

The security forces entered shooting with long-range weapons, and there are already three people seriously wounded. The military forces have already entered the territory of dialogue and negotiation.

It is urgently requested that international organizations work to slow this violence. And that the indigenous communities reinforce the personnel who are being attacked.

It is urgent, compañeros, so far there are 39 wounded since yesterday, one dead and more arriving at the health posts, there is fear for disappeared people, since there are armed civilians surrounding La María.

There is official knowledge on the part of the High Council of the CRIC, the the ESMAD killed, with a machete, an indigenous comunero and left his body on the side of the bridge … also an ambulance carrying several of those afected has been kept from arriving at the health post. The indigenous people are bing chased through the nearby coffee fields by the security forces who are using rifles. This constitutes a SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS AND INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW VIOLATION.

Oct 14

This weekend’s edition of the Colombian newsmagazine Semana ran a troubling article about how the Colombian armed forces are responding to increasing pressure on human rights, including several recent arrests and newly launched investigations into alleged abuses.

These detentions, the Prosecutor-General’s Office’s actions and the [Defense] Minister’s own declarations have the military in a state of high tension. The President has met with some retired generals who have expressed concern that after carrying out a war effort at a time when there was neither money nor resources, now they have to respond on their own before a justice system that does not evaluate the context in which they acted.

Another group of retired officers, among them Gen. Manuel José Bonnett, a former armed-forces chief, have visited media outlets with a similar message: “Society sent us to war and later punishes us without piety,” he says. Bonnett strongly criticizes the government for what he considers a surrender of the military justice system’s jurisdiction to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, ever since it investigated the Jamundí massacre [of a police anti-narcotics unit in 2006], which he believes should have been within the military justice system’s competence.

Other former soldiers go farther. A few weeks ago, an anonymous document circulated in which the prosecutors of the Prosecutor-General’s Office’s Human Rights Unit were accused of being an instrument of insurgent groups’ “judicial warfare.” Several officials in Acore, the retired officers’  association, have even accused prosecutors of roaming the jails looking for prisoners who might testify against high-ranking officers facing charges.

The dissatisfaction is also felt among active military officers. “They abandoned us,” says a colonel, while others say that it all owes to [Defense Minister] Juan Manuel Santos’ ambitions to run for President. The case against Col. Hernán Mejía [highly decorated officer accused of collaborating with paramilitaries] is perhaps the one that has most made evident the tensions and differences regarding human rights within the military institution. While some members of the high command consider that the Prosecutor-General’s Office’s actions must be respected as it investigates alleged homicide and paramilitary ties, others have quietly helped to carry out a media campaign against the Prosecutor-General’s investigators, whom they accuse of paying off witnesses.

The article concludes that there is a sharp division at the armed forces’ highest ranks regarding how much civilian human rights investigation is tolerable. One faction longs for the recent past, when there was little effort to hold the officers accountable to civilian justice or international standards. The other faction – which, Semana contends, includes Armed Forces Chief Gen. Freddy Padilla – contends that the political and international reality has changed, and that the armed forces must adapt.

This is no doubt a painful internal struggle for Colombia’s armed forces. Which faction ultimately wins the day will depend heavily on the attitudes of Colombia’s civilian leaders and international actors, particularly the United States. That is why it is so important that President Álvaro Uribe and Washington be unambiguously on the side of the reformers, and why both deserve the strongest criticism when they are not.

Oct 11
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Interior-Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio on Thursday night, announcing a 90-day “State of Internal Commotion.” The measure gives the President the authority to fire workers in Colombia’s judicial system who have been striking for five weeks to pressure for better wages.
Former Colombian Congressman Óscar Tulio Lizcano has been a hostage of the FARC guerrillas since August 5, 2000. Recent testimony from guerrilla deserters indicates that Mr. Lizcano’s health has seriously deteriorated.
Col. Hernán Mejía, one of the most decorated officers in Colombia’s Army, has been under investigation for a year and a half, accused of colluding with paramilitaries. Two witnesses in his case have been killed and others are too intimidated to provide evidence.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos paid a visit to Russia this week. He discussed possible future counter-narcotics cooperation and arms purchases.
William Johnny Tamayo Hernández, a Colombian narcotrafficker wanted in the United States, was captured in Panama City. I really only include this picture because of the t-shirt.
Citing “irregularities” in their accounting, Venezuelan tax authorities ordered 118 of the country’s 132 McDonald’s restaurants closed for 48 hours this week. Venezuela meanwhile may be facing an economic downturn of its own, as world oil prices fell to $77.70 a barrel Friday – just over half the super-sized price of $145 reached a few months ago.
Oct 10

Investigators from Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) are trying to find out what happened to eleven young men who disappeared earlier this year from the poor slums of Soacha, on Bogotá’s outskirts, only to turn up in a grave hundreds of miles away, presented by the Colombian military as having been killed in combat.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe seemed much more certain about what happened in a statement he gave on Tuesday. The ardently pro-military president repeated the Army’s assertion that the young men, while abducted illegally, were indeed killed in combat. In this version of events, the young men willingly joined an armed group that fought the army, instead of having been killed in captivity, their bodies later presented as evidence of military effectiveness against illegal armed groups.

The Prosecutor-General of the Nation confirmed that the young men disappeared from Soacha were killed in combat, that they hadn’t gone to harvest coffee, they went there for criminal purposes and they did not die one day after their disappearance, but a month after. … The Prosecutor-General specified that the Army allowed the CTI [the investigations unit of the Prosecutor-General's Office] to exhume the cadavers. For its part, the Coroner’s Office [Medicina Legal] said that the bodies had several projectile wounds, but were not executed by the Army.

Uribe cited as his source the country’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal General), Mario Iguarán. Later that day, though, Iguarán – whose office is a separate branch of government from the presidency, although he served as the Uribe government’s vice-minister of Justice until his 2005 nomination – made a public statement of his own, contradicting some of the President’s assertions.

Was there recruitment? Yes, there was recruitment.

Was there recruitment for criminal purposes? Yes. I said and still say that they didn’t go to harvest coffee.

Who recruited them? We don’t know. We are investigating what the macabre recruitment was.

Were they killed by the Army? Yes, the Army itself admits that the troops killed them.

Who carried out the urgent acts, the inspection of the bodies? The CTI of the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

Were they killed in combat? We don’t know. We are investigating. For the moment the Prosecutor-General’s Office cannot affirm, nor can it suppose, that they were killed in combat.

Who must carry out the investigation? Only the Prosecutor-General’s Human Rights Unit can carry it out.

Can the Coroner’s Office conclude or affirm that they were killed in combat? The Coroner’s Office cannot affirm this. Only the prosecutors and, ultimately, the judges can conclude this.

Though the Colombian Presidency has since rectified its position, yielding to the prosecutor-general, it still raises questions that President Uribe was in such a rush to absolve the military in one of the country’s most shocking recent human-rights cases.

Oct 09

Here, from the U.S. embassy website, is an October 1 photo from the recent visit to Colombia of James K. Glassman, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Glassman (third from left) is in charge of all U.S. government efforts to educate foreign citizens about the United States and to improve our country’s severely flagging image abroad.

Glassman has a long career as a journalist and columnist, and as an expert in conservative think-tank circles. His official bio fails to mention, though, that he authored a bestselling 2000 book that, in hindsight, may have one of the most embarrassing titles ever: “DOW 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market.” (Used copies are retailing on Amazon.com at one cent.)

With the Dow continuing to fall vertiginously – it’s at about 9,250 this morning – Undersecretary Glassman may wish to spend less time on market prognostication and more time working on the U.S. image in South America.