COLOMBIA: TRADE PACT CONCLUDED, RIGHT SWEEPS ELECTIONS
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Feb. 27 Colombia and the US concluded a trade pact after two years of negotiations. Peru signed a similar accord in December, and the US is seeking an agreement with Ecuador. The US hopes to consolidate the three accords into an Andean Free Trade Agreement (known as the TLC, for "free trade treaty" in Spanish) before the end of the year, when current agreements end. But there are doubts about how quickly the administration of US president George W. Bush can get required approval from its own Congress for the package.
The pact with Colombia is the most significant trade agreement the US has worked out with a Latin American country since the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which included Canada and Mexico. Colombia's annual economic output is more than $100 billion, and trade between Colombia and the US was $14.3 billion last year. But the US--which has repeatedly failed to advance its plan for a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--had problems negotiating even with the pro-US government of right-wing president Alvaro Uribe Velez. Three members of Colombia's "intellectual property rights" negotiating team quit last year over what they called US intransigence. (NYT, Feb. 28)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5
FAR RIGHT SWEEPS CONGRESS
Right-wing supporters of President Alvaro Uribe Velez swept Colombia's March 12 legislative elections, winning 72 of the 100 seats in the Senate and at least 57% of the 167 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Abstention was nearly 60%. Center-left sectors united in the Alternative Democratic Pole won 11 seats in the Senate and now form the fifth largest force in the legislature. Presidential elections are scheduled for May 28. (Inter Press Service, AFP, March 13)
More than half the votes cast for the two Senate seats reserved for indigenous candidates were left blank, so those elections may be repeated. (IPS, March 13) Nasa indigenous leaders blamed a badly designed ballot for the confusing results; they say that the elections should not be repeated, and that the two candidates of the Indigenous Social Alliance--Jesus Enrique Pinacue and Eulalia Yagari--won the vote and should be able to take their senate seats. (Asociacion de Cabildos Nasa, March 16)
A new organization, Daughters and Sons for Memory and Against Impunity, had on March 9 publicly called on Colombians to vote against 13 candidates linked to right-wing paramilitary groups. Six of those 13 candidates did win their seats. Among those who didn't was retired general Rito Alejo del Rio, accused of responsibility for massacres in 1997. Ivan Cepeda of Daughters and Sons for Memory and Against Impunity said that for now, "there are 17 or 18 legislators that come from highly doubtful forces" linked to paramilitary groups.
Authorities did not report any major incidents during the voting but "29 violent acts" were recorded. Blackouts took place along the Atlantic coast and in Cauca department, and in Arauca, an attack on an aqueduct left the town of Saravena without drinking water. The attack was blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (IPS, March 13)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 19
MURDER IN CIMITARRA VALLEY
The Campesino Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC) has reported a recent increase in paramilitary murders, threats and other activities in the Cimitarra Valley of Colombia's Magdalena Medio region, where the departments of Bolivar, Santander and Antioquia intersect.
On Feb. 18, presumed paramilitaries murdered Guido Romero, vice president of the Communal Action Board in the rural community of La Victoria in Cantagallo municipality in the south of Bolivar department. The paramilitaries, said to be from the urban center of Cantagallo, came to La Victoria asking for Romero. The detained him and took him to the community's soccer field, where they murdered him in front of other community members. Romero's murder came two days after he met with ACVC leaders to plan a series of community actions. (Corporacion Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos-CREDHOS, Feb. 22 via Colombia Indymedia; ACVC, Feb. 23)
At a subsequent meeting in Cantagallo, a paramilitary member from Barrancabermeja in Santander department announced that the legalized paramilitary groups known as Convivir must be reestablished in the town. On Feb. 22, in nearby San Pablo, a "demobilized" paramilitary commander called a meeting where he announced that the Convivir groups would be reestablished, and that the community must finance them. The Convivir "security cooperatives" were first established in neighboring Antioquia department by then-governor Alvaro Uribe Velez, now president of Colombia seeking a second term in elections in May. (ACVC, Feb. 23; CREDHOS, Feb. 24)
On Feb. 22, the body of Robinson Alberto Gonzalez was found with five bullet wounds--two in the head--between the rural communities of Campo Bijao and Cano Tigre, at a site known as Cano Panela, in the northeastern area of Antioquia, near the borders with Bolivar and Santander departments. Gonzalez worked as a traveling vendor; he had disappeared on Feb. 6 between the rural communities of Puerto Nuevo Ite and Dosquebradas in Remedios municipality.
No one has claimed responsibility for murdering Gonzalez. The Calibio Battalion of the army's 14th Brigade operates in the area, and is said to collaborate with rightwing paramilitary groups which supposedly demobilized in Remedios several weeks ago. Leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are also active in the area. (ACVC, Feb. 23)
Jose Gustavo Castaneda disappeared on Feb. 15 between the Estrella farm and Puerto Nuevo Ite; as of Feb. 22 he remained missing. On Feb. 13 campesino Albeiro Meza was disappeared in Cantagallo municipality. He remained missing as of Feb. 16. Julio Cesar Aparicio Diaz, a member of the Communal Action Board in Puerto Matilde, was detained in Campo Bijao, Remedios municipality, by six hooded armed men dressed in camouflage. He was tortured for two hours and threatened with death. He was reportedly released, but his whereabouts were unknown as of Feb. 16. (ACVC, Feb. 16)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 5
On March 23, the ACVC said it had determined that guerrillas from the FARC were responsible for the Feb. 18 murder of Romero. The mayor of Cantagallo and the regional newspaper Vanguardia Liberal, based in Bucaramanga, had maintained all along that the FARC's 24th Front was responsible. The ACVC said it "deplores and rejects this murder and demands that the FARC observe the principle of...not turning civilian residents into targets." Since the murder, several families have been displaced from La Victoria. (ACVC, March 23 via Prensa Rural)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 26
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #119
See our last update on Colombia's shift to the hard right:
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution