- Even if your command of Spanish is only partial, do look at the series of stories in Tuesday’s El Tiempo about the paramilitaries’ mass graves and forced disappearances. Colombia’s main newspaper is to be congratulated for an important and necessary piece of journalism. Let’s hope that this vivid reminder of the horror the paramilitaries perpetrated will help ease the polarization that the so-called "para-politics" scandal is generating.
- The situation remains serious in Medellín’s poor Comuna 13 neighborhood, which the Colombian government liberated from guerrilla influence – but apparently not paramilitary influence – with a high-profile 2002 military offensive. (Allegations of paramilitary participation in that offensive have touched the head of Colombia’s army, Gen. Mario Montoya.)
On Monday, Comuna 13 community leader Judith Vergara, a member of the opposition Polo Democrático, was shot to death while riding a bus. Paramilitaries are believed responsible.
Medellín authorities note with concern that 15 people were murdered in Comuna 13 during the first two months of this year, compared to just four during the first two months of 2006.
- In an interview last weekend, Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer asked several times, but was unable to get Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to promise not to seek a third term in 2010. Oppenheimer’s surprisingly ominous conclusion:
If he doesn’t understand that the future of Colombia’s democracy depends on being able to continue without him, the difference between him and his messianic populist neighbors will begin to fade.
- Fernando Londoño, a right-wing stalwart who was President Uribe’s first "super-minister" of interior and justice, had this to say about Colombian politicians and human-rights defenders who have traveled to Washington recently to educate about paramilitary power and the impacts of trade and aid:
What’s happening in the United States is even more irritating. Those who burn the flags of the Union [the United States], those who receive that country’s president with bombs and insults, those who yell insults against the gringos in the Congress, those who make common cause with Hugo Chávez against them, have sought – and found, in clueless Democrats – an incredible alliance against the only sincere friend that the North has in these complex Americas.
Oh, those poor clueless Democrats. Who will keep them from falling under the spell of those wily Colombian politicians and human-rights activists?
- Retired Colombian Army Col. Julián Villate, a former instructor at the School of the Americas, is now connected to three human rights cases. In August 2004, he was accused of masterminding "Operation Dragon," an operation that spied on – and allegedly planned to kill – union leaders in Cali. He worked as a security consultant for Drummond, the U.S. coal company accused of conspiring with paramilitaries to kill union organizers. Now, opposition Senator Gustavo Petro says that Col. Villate may be involved in a plot to assassinate him, which investigators in the attorney-general’s office uncovered earlier this year.
But it gets worse. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Col. Villate came to be employed by the U.S. embassy in late 2004. This was several months after his name came up as part of the Operation Dragon allegations. Why did the U.S. government hire someone who had been publicly accused of a very serious crime only a few months earlier?
- Meanwhile, the office of the White House "Drug Czar" announced on Wednesday that it could not detect any increase in coca cultivation in Bolivia during 2006, Evo Morales’ first year in office. The surprising announcement sought to cast doubt on its own findings: "The accuracy of the estimate was degraded because of the extremely mountainous terrain in the largest single cultivation area, the Yungas."
No 2006 coca-cultivation figures are yet available for Colombia or Peru. El Tiempo reporter Sergio Gómez, however, had this bit of intelligence in a piece published on Thursday: "Official statistics about coca cultivation in Colombia for 2006 are still forthcoming, but according to what El Tiempo has been told, it diminished by nearly 10 percent."