Tag Archive | "colombia"

Colombia: Most Wanted Drug Lord Arrested in Spain


Spanish police have arrested Colombian drug lord Hernán Alonso Villa, nicknamed ‘El Ratón’, in a joint operation between the two countries.

Prior to his arrest, El Ratón was one of Colombia’s most wanted criminals, head of the military wing of the Oficina de Envigado – a notorious criminal gang that grew out of the Medellín drug cartel led by the late Pablo Escobar.

The gang, which is made up of more than 200 people, mostly drug traffickers and hitmen, has been linked to around 400 murders. It is one of the main cartels behind the import of cocaine into the US, Spain, and the Netherlands.

El Ratón was stopped en route to one of his safe houses in Spain’s Alicante carrying €40,000. He has been transferred to Madrid whilst he awaits extradition to Colombia where he will face 400 counts of murder, as well as charges related to drug smuggling, extortion, and people trafficking.

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Ecuador Signs Free Trade Agreement with European Union


Ecuador's bananas are excluded from the deal

Ecuador’s bananas are excluded from the deal

After four years of negotiations, Ecuador has joined the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union, Colombia, and Peru. The accord means that Ecuadorian exports will enter the EU without duties, providing the Andean nation with a new market of 500m inhabitants.

Ecuador’s foreign trade minister, Francisco Rivadeneira, called the agreement “ambitious”.

He said: “After nearly four years of work, today we finally closed a balanced accord with the European Union, which maximises opportunities, minimises costs, respects the country’s development model, and protects our sensitive sectors.”

President Rafael Correa announced on Monday that an agreement could be signed this week, underscoring that the country had negotiated “higher thresholds” than its neighbours, and adding that the most difficult negotiations had been over agricultural produce. Bananas, one of the country’s biggest exports, are excluded from the deal.

The latest deal means Ecuador now enjoys free trade with 28 more nations, adding to the country’s previous agreements with China, India, Russia, and most of its South American neighbours.

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Colombia: FARC and Government Prepare for New Round of Talks


Representatives from the government and the FARC sign the second agreement in November 2013 (photo: EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa/Télam/dsl)

Representatives from the government and the FARC sign the second agreement in November 2013 (photo: EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa/Télam/dsl)

The Colombian government and the FARC are holding meetings in Havana, Cuba, ahead of the next round of peace talks. The meetings, which began yesterday and were continuing today, seek to address formal issues regarding the participation of representatives of victims of the conflict in the talks.

“We have come with a concrete proposal regarding the way to allow for the presence of the victims in the Havana talks. What we want to discuss is the timing, the procedure, and the date in which this will begin to occur,” said Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the Colombian government. “The central message to the victims is: participate, we’re willing to hear you and to have you here, at the talks,” he added.

Both delegations were meeting separately in the morning, and were expected to hold a joint meeting in the afternoon to finish discussing these points.

Andrés París, representative for the FARC, said that “everything is the same way it was yesterday [Tuesday], nothing will be made public today [Wednesday].”

Some of the complexities lie on the fact that there are different groups of victims left by 50 years of civil war: those who are victims of the guerrilla, of paramilitary groups, and of the Colombian state itself.

The Colombian government and the FARC began the peace talks in Havana, with Cuba and Norway as guarantors, in November 2012. They have so far tackled the issues of land reform (May 2013), political participation (November 2012), and illicit drugs (May 2014).

The remaining subjects are the most sensitive, according to the negotiators themselves: right of the victims, disarmament of the rebels, and the implementation of the peace deal.

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Colombia: Santos Wins Second Term in Presidential Run-Off


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos  (Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
(Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has been re-elected for a second term after winning yesterday’s presidential run-off. With 99.9% of the votes counted, Santos was ahead with 50.9% of the votes, compared to his opponent Oscar Iván Zuluanga’s 45%.

The vote was seen to be a referendum on the peace talks with left-wing guerrilla group FARC. The government-backed negotiations, which began in November 2012, aim to bring Colombia’s five decade-long civil war to an end.

“Colombians with very different options, including many who don’t sympathise with my government, mobilised for the cause, the cause of peace,” said Santos during his celebratory speech. “They came forward knowing that history has its moments, and this is a time for peace, a time to end this long and bloody conflict.”

He called on FARC and the ELN, the country’s second largest guerrilla movement, to listen to the message of the Colombian people and end the armed conflict.

Although the peace talks dominated both candidates’ campaigns, polls prior to yesterday’s run-off indicated that Colombians are more worried about unemployment, crime, improving health services, and the quality of education. This was reflected in the turnout, which was up 10% from the first round, but still only around half of Colombians voted yesterday.

During his second four-year term, Santos will have to tackle these issues as well as keeping his campaign promise of finalising the negotiations with FARC, and also move forward with peace talks with the ELN. As any agreement with the guerrillas will have to be approved in a referendum, so Santos also faces the challenge of having an eventual accord be signed off by Colombians, 73% of whom do not want FARC to be able to participate in politics, and 83% of whom believe the rebels must be sent to jail.

The government also faces a difficult time in the legislature, with a strong opposition headed by former president Álvaro Uribe, who is against the peace talks and will likely attempt to block an eventual agreement.

The new government will also face further issues in terms of poverty as the country has been growing at a rate of 4%, but a third of the population of 47m lives in poverty.

 

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Colombia: Campaigns Close Ahead of Presidential Run-Off


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos  (Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is running for re-election (Photo: Facebook official account)

Election campaigns officially ended in Colombia yesterday, a week before Sunday’s presidential run-off, which sees incumbent Juan Manuel Santos, up for re-election, face right-wing opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga.

The race looks to be a tight one, with three of the five polls putting Santos as victor, whilst two give the next presidential term to Zuluaga. The first round saw the opposition candidate, backed by former president Álvaro Uribe, beat the incumbent, winning with 29.3% of the votes, to Santos’ 25.7%. However, in the first round, absenteeism hit 60%, and both candidates used yesterday’s final acts to encourage people to get out and vote. 

Tonight the pair will face off in their final televised debate before Sunday’s elections.

The ballot is seen to be a referendum on peace talks with left-wing guerrilla group FARC, which could end Colombia’s five decade-long conflict. During a second term, Santos aims to bring peace to Colombia, continuing the peace talks with FARC, which began last year in Havanna, Cuba. Zuluaga, who had initially run on a platform of ending the talks with FARC, has changed his stance since the first round, and now says that under his mandate peace would continue to be negotiated, but under the condition that FARC offer a ceasefire.

On Saturday, FARC announced a ceasefire for the elections, which would last from 9th to 30th June. The group undertook a similar ceasefire during the first round of the elections. The announcement came on the same day that the government and FARC made a joint announcement to “recognise their mutual responsibilities” to victims of the civil war. The announcement is seen to be a landmark, and likely to boost Santos’ campaign, as it is the first time both sides have officially not only recognised victims, but also both sides’ debt to them.

Although the peace talks have dominated both candidates’ campaigns, the polls indicate that Colombians are more worried about unemployment, crime, improving health services, and the quality of education. The country has been growing at a rate of 4%, but a third of the population of 47m lives in poverty.

 

 

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Colombia: Santos and Zuluaga to Compete in Presidential Run-Off


Óscar Iván Zuluaga won the first round of presidential elections (photo via Wikipedia)

Óscar Iván Zuluaga won the first round of presidential elections (photo via Wikipedia)

President Juan Manuel Santos and opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga will face off in a presidential run-off on 15th June, after neither was able to win outright in yesterday’s election.

With over 99% of votes counted, Zuluaga is the declared victor with 29.25%, ahead of Santos with 25.69%. The two will now seek to capture the votes from the other three candidates in the election.

Marta Lucía Ramírez of the right-wing Partido Conservador received 15.52% of the vote, while Clara López of the leftist Polo Democrático Alternativo gained 15.23%. Last of the candidates was former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa, representing the left-leaning Alianza Verde, who gathered 8.28%.

A defining feature of the election was the low turnout, with the absentee rate reaching 60%, the highest level for 20 years. Meanwhile the number of blank votes also came in at a historic high of 5.99%. Local analyst attribute the voter apathy to a series of scandals that dominated the final weeks of campaigning.

‘Referendum’ on Peace

Many are calling the second round a referendum on the peace talks with the FARC, a pillar of Santos’ first term and re-election campaign. The incumbent leader reaffirmed yesterday his pledge to complete the peace talks if voted in for another four years. “In three weeks Colombians will have two options: they can pick between those who want an end to the war, and those who prefer and endless war.”

However, Zuluaga, of the conservative Centro Democrático led by former president Álvaro Uribe, has rejected the current format of dialogue with the guerrilla group, and if victorious has promised to suspend talks immediately until the FARC cease operations unilaterally.

“A president cannot be manipulated by the FARC,” said Zuluaga in a triumphant speech last night. “I guarantee that I will work every day for peace, but only one that benefits the Colombian people.”

Alliances

Both Santos and Zuluaga used their speeches yesterday to call on the losing candidates to become their allies for the second round. Ramírez and López, who together captured over 30% of the votes cast, could have a significant impact on the run off, but so far neither have revealed if they will publicly support one of the campaigns.

“The future of Colombia will depend heavily on us, and we will decide which campaign will have our support,” said the conservative leader Ramírez, who was a defence minister in the Uribe administration.

Meanwhile, López, who achieved a strong result for the political left and beat Santos to second place in the capital, said she would meet with party officials this week to determine how to proceed. López has previously said she would continue to peace talks initiated by Santos.

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Colombia: FARC, ELN Begin Unilateral Ceasefire for Elections


The FARC peace delegation (photo courtesy of FARC-EP)

The FARC peace delegation (photo courtesy of FARC-EP)

Colombia’s two main guerrilla groups, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC-EP) and National Liberation Army (ELN), began a unilateral ceasefire today in preparation for Sunday’s presidential elections.

The ceasefire, which was announced on Sunday in a joint press release, came into effect at midnight and will last until the end of Wednesday 28th May.

“The insurgency does not believe in the electoral regime,” read the statement. “We think, like millions of our compatriots, that the corruption, clientelism, fraud, and all kinds of underhand tactics make the results illegitimate.”

However, the guerrilla organisations said that the “national clamour” for calm during the voting period warranted action.

On Friday, negotiators representing the government and FARC in peace talks in Havana announced that they had reached a preliminary agreement on combatting drug trafficking in Colombia, the third of five key issues that make up the framework of the peace talks. The agreement covers the substitution of crops where illicit plants are currently cultivated, programmes to tackle addiction and consumption, and tackling the illegal commercial drugs trade.

The next round of talks is currently set for 2nd June, in which the highly sensitive issue of the victims of the internal conflict, which has lasted more than five decades.

However, the future of the peace talks would become uncertain if President Santos is defeated in Sunday’s election, with rival candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga saying he would suspend the dialogue and demand that the FARC end all action as a condition to a peace accord.

The last opinion poll published before the close of campaigning showed Zuluaga with a narrow lead over Santos, though indicating that a second round run-off would be required.

 

 

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Colombia: Campaigns Close Ahead of Presidential Elections


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos  (Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is running for a second term
(Photo: Facebook official account)

Presidential hopefuls have closed their campaigns ahead of the Colombian elections on Sunday, 25th May. Incumbent Juan Manuel Santos is facing off four contenders to secure a second four-year term.

If no candidate receives 50% in the first round, the two leading candidates will face a run-off on Sunday 15th June.

Polls currently indicate that this will be likely, with leading candidates Santos, of Partido de la U, set to face Óscar Iván Zuluaga, of the Centro Democrático party, in a second round. Both candidates were polling at around 28% when their campaigns closed yesterday. 

Santos closed his campaign visiting six different districts of the capital Bogotá, reinforcing a message of peace, and emphasising the importance of keeping the peace talks with guerrilla group FARC on track. Peace talks began last year under Santos’ administration, and for the first time in over 50 years there is real hope that the country’s long-running civil war can be brought to an end.

Meanwhile, Zuluaga, who is backed by former president Alvaro Uribe, spent the weekend touring the country, visiting different municipalities. He used his public appearances to defend himself against a leaked video which appears to show his advisors conspiring with him to derail the peace talks. It was the latest scandal in what is considered to have been dirty campaigning from both sides. 

Nearly 33 million will take to the polls in Sunday’s election, with overseas voting beginning today.

 

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Colombia: Mud-Slinging Intensifies as Elections Approach


Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos  (Photo: Facebook official account)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
(Photo: Facebook official account)

The two leading candidates in the presidential election race have been tarnished by corruption scandals in the weeks before the 25th May vote. Judicial proceedings have begun after key campaign advisers for both incumbent Juan Manuel Santos and opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga resigned last week amid allegations of bribery and spying, respectively.

Santos’ chief campaign strategist, Venezuelan Juan José Rendón, was first to resign after local media reported that he had received US$12m from four drug cartel leaders to broker a surrender with the government. Rendón, who is based in the US, denies receiving any money, though admitted that intermediaries of the cartel leaders had made contact about a deal to hand themselves in that was not followed up on. Rendón says the allegations were orchestrated by the Venezuelan government, which last year put out a request to Interpol for his capture on accusations of rape.

Ex-president Álvaro Uribe, a former ally of Santos who now supports Zuluaga, added to the scandal by claiming that some US$2m of the illegal funds were used in Santos’ 2010 election campaign. Uribe was called by the Public Prosecutor’s Office to testify and present proof of the accusations today, but did not attend, claiming that he did not have sufficient “legal guarantees”. He has been summoned again for tomorrow. Santos rejected the accusations today, saying that “Uribe did not go to the prosecutor’s office because he can’t prove them.” He added that the recent scandal was an attempt to derail the peace talks with guerrilla group, FARC.

Meanwhile, an investigation is also underway into alleged spying by a member of Zuluaga’s team, Andrés Sepúlveda, who is accused to hacking into e-mails of the government’s negotiating team at the peace talks with the FARC in Havana. The revelations led to the resignation of Zuluaga’s campaign ‘spiritual adviser’ Luis Alfonso Hoyos, who allegedly approached a local news channel RCN with Sepúlveda offering information about supposed threats by guerrillas against Zuluaga supporters. Hoyos denies any wrongdoing, and said he resigned to protect Zuluaga’s campaign.

With the election under three weeks away, Santos currently leads opinion polls, though indications are that a second round run-off will be required.

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Latin America News Roundup: 7th May 2014


Amazon – Report Warns of Dams’ Construction: A report released by Peruvian NGO Dar warned that, taking into account projected constructions, there will be a total of 412 dams across the Amazon basin and its headwaters. Out of the 412, 256 are in Brazil, 77 in Peru, 55 in Ecuador, 14 in Bolivia, six in Venezuela, two in Guyana, and one each in Colombia, French Guyana, and Surinam. According to the report, the unprecedented construction of these large-scale projects “in the vast headwaters region of the Amazon Basin – encompassing parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia – will produce critical changes in continental water flows, with little knowledge of the ecological consequences of this policy.” The report also warns about the construction of other ‘mega-development projects’ in the Amazon, such those that serve the extractive industry (mining, gas, and oil.)

El Salvador – Arrest Warrant Issued Against Ex-President: A judge investigating former Salvadoran president Francisco Flores for embezzlement has issued an arrest warrant against him. Flores is allegedly in Panama, and failed to appear at the first hearing of his trial. His defence lawyer, who has claimed to be unaware of his client’s whereabouts, has also informed that Flores’ assets have been frozen. The judge indicated that the lack of will shown by the accused to be subject to the judicial process, as proven by his failure to appear before the court, warrants that he be remanded in custody. The magistrate is also expected to request Interpol to issue a red alert against the former head of state. Flores was president of El Salvador between 1999 and 2004. He has been accused of embezzling around US$15m of aid money donated by Taiwan in 2001, after the country suffered two earthquakes.

The Colombian Senate voted the bill yesterday (photo courtesy of Colombian Senate)

The Colombian Senate voted the bill yesterday (photo courtesy of Colombian Senate)

Colombia – New Law Against Sexual Violence: The Colombian Senate passed a bill which addresses episodes of sexual violence within the context of the country’s armed conflict. One of the main innovations put forward by the bill, which seeks to guarantee the victims’ access to the justice system, is that these types of crimes will be considered crimes against humanity, and therefore not subject to a statute of limitations. Also, rather than having to demonstrate the existence of “physical force”, judges will have to analyse other elements surrounding the alleged crime, such as the circumstances under which it was committed, or its use as part of a “policy by an armed group.” The state will have to provide “free and priority” health care to victims of sexual violence within the conflict areas, regardless of whether the crime has been reported. These offences will carry jail sentences of between 13 and 27 years. The bill is yet to be signed into law by Colombia’s president.

 

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