Tag Archive | "colombia"

Colombia: Farmers Sue BP in UK High Court


BP_LogoA group of Colombian subsistence farmers are suing British oil giant BP for environmental damages in a case that began today in the UK High Court, in London.

The 109 farmers are seeking £18m (US$29m) in compensation from BP, claiming that negligence in the construction of a pipeline in the 1990s led to a big impact on the local water supply and caused serious damage to land, crops, and livestock.

One of the farmers in London to testify in the trial told The Guardian that: “Our water supply has been damaged by sedimentation since the pipeline was laid, and I have lost cattle. I can no longer keep pigs or chickens because there is not enough water for them. The reason why we have travelled so far is because we have hope and faith that the high court in London will deliver justice to us.”

A lawyer for the farmers, Alex Layton, told the court that BP had “blamed everyone else while not accepting its responsibilities,” reports AFP.

BP defends itself against the allegations, saying it took “significant steps” to engage with local communities and pay fair compensation for any impact. Last month, the company was found guilty of gross negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

This landmark trial is the first to feature a UK oil company in a UK court for alleged environmental damages caused to private land overseas. If the ruling goes in favour of the farmers it could open the path to other claims.

The trial is expected to last around eight months.

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Colombia: Mining Companies Forced to Return Land to Indigenous Owners


An Embera Katío community village in Colombia (Photo via Wikipedia)

An Embera Katío community village in Colombia (Photo via Wikipedia)

A High Court in Medellín has ordered mining companies to cease operations in a 50,000 hectare reserve, and return the land to the indigenous families that originally lived there.

The unprecedented ruling is the first of its kind to recognise the territorial rights of more than 1,400 families in the Embera Katío community, who live in the country’s northwestern Chocó department.

According to the court order the National Mining Agency, with support from the military, must expel those not from the community from carrying out mining activities in the area. The ruling also suspends existing mining concessions held by 11 companies, and demands that the state provide the indigenous community with social services and a plan of protection.

“This is the first time in this country and the world that an indigenous community under threat of being wiped out physically and culturally… achieves legal recognition of its fundamental territorial rights,” said the Unit for Land Restitution (URT), which presented the case on behalf of the tribe.

“All the evils of the world combined to affect the community in this area,” added URT director Ricardo Sabogal. “They were displaced by violence and then illegal mining forced them from their lands. Thanks to this sentence, they will be able to return.

“Any mining activity will now have to be done according to the law – any companies that come will have to first consult with the community so that they can participate in decisions that affect their territory,” concluded Sabogal.

UN Award

The court ruling comes in the same week as the UNDP awarded its Equator Initiative Prize to the Association of Indigenous Leaders in Yaigojé Apaporis (ACIYA), a group of 21 communities in Colombian fighting to conserve and studying the National Park in which they live.

According to the award, which recognises achievements in sustainable development, the association has “succeeded in protecting a substantial area of forest and put natural resource management in the hands of resident indigenous communities.”

The Yaigojé Apaporis covers an area of 1,500km2 of mainly Amazonian forest in the country’s southwest.

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Colombia: Former President Uribe Questioned over Paramilitary Ties


Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe (Photo/Wikipedia)

Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe (Photo/Wikipedia)

Yesterday, Colombia’s Senate began its debate on the link between former president Alvaro Uribe and right-wing paramilitary groups.

In a 90-minute speech, Senator Iván Cepeda outlined the case against Uribe, now a senator, and presented documents and testimony by former paramilitaries.

Cepeda said: “Alvaro Uribe has made all types of decisions that, in one way or another, have favoured people linked to the paramilitary and drug trafficking. He handed over licences for hangars, planes, and runways to people linked to drug trafficking. He has legalised security companies linked to or run by paramilitaries. He has defended a referendum that at the time sought to eliminate extraditions for the Medellín cartel and drug-trafficking organisations.”

However, Uribe stormed out of the chamber calling it a “moral lynching”, promoted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the “media servant of terrorism”. After walking across Plaza Bolivar to present evidence to the Supreme Court accusing Cepada of slander, he returned to defend his record.

The former president dismissed the accusations – many involve his family and date from the start of his political career in Medellín when the city was dominated by Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel – as being politically motivated, and dodged many of the questions that were raised.

As he was president between 2002-2010 Uribe can only be investigated by the Commission of Accusation of the Chamber.

As president, Uribe beefed up security forces and intensified military offensives against the FARC, helping to dramatically reduce what was then one of the world’s highest murder and kidnapping rates. He also extradited more than 1,000 suspected drug traffickers to the US, earning him a reputation as Washington’s staunchest ally in the region. However, his policies and support of paramilitary groups have also linked him to massive human rights abuses. The investigation is seen to be an important step in the country’s search for reconciliation after decades of bitter fighting.

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Venezuela: Video Shows Opposition Activists Planning Attacks


A still from video allegedly showing student activists Lorent Saleh (left) and Gabriel Valles plotting an attack in Venezuela.

A still from video allegedly showing student activists Lorent Saleh (left) and Gabriel Valles plotting an attack in Venezuela.

A video aired on state-channel VTV earlier this week appears to show two Venezuelan opposition student activists, who were recently deported from Colombia, planning an attack in their own country.

The video seems to show the two men – Lorent Enrique Gómez Saleh and Gabriel Valles Sguerzi – talking in a video chat to an unknown third person about “taking” a bridge and “warming up” the state of Táchira, which is on the border with Colombia and was the scene of violent protests earlier this year.

Saleh also says that a group is preparing specialist military training in Bogotá – including the use of firearms, explosives, and self-defence – in order to be ready “after the elections”, allegedly in reference to municipal elections held in Táchira in December 2013.

In the video, Saleh says they need to “deactivate” and “burn” distilleries and nightclubs in the city of San Cristóbal, in Táchira, before targeting the National Election Commission (CNE). He adds that they need the “diplomatic front” of Operación Libertad, an organisation set up by Saleh to oppose President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and fight for democracy and human rights.

Deported

The video release comes 12 days after Saleh and Valles were deported from Colombia on 4th September for breaking the terms of their stay in the country and publicly holding political activities.

They were immediately picked up and detained by authorities in Venezuela, as they were wanted for violating a conditional release order to present themselves at local courts every 21 days while awaiting trial for participating in “violent protests” in 2010.

Venezuela’s Public Ministry later confirmed that Saleh was facing seven charges, including disrupting public order and divulging false information.

On the weekend, before the video release, Saleh released an audio file form prison saying he was being held for political reasons only, claiming he and Valles are simply human rights activists.

Uribe

The mention by Salah in the video of a person named “Uribe” has sparked allegations that he was being supported by former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, currently a senator.

Uribe, an outspoken critic of the Maduro government, had stated that the deportation of the two activists was a “national shame”.

However, he has not yet commented on allegations by the Venezuelan government that he is the man named in the video and that he is supporting efforts by the opposition in Venezuela to destabilise the country through violence.

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Colombia: Journalist Flees Her Home After Attack


Colombian journalist Amalfi Rosales (photo courtesy of RSF)

Colombian journalist Amalfi Rosales (photo courtesy of RSF)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced that Colombian journalist Amalfi Rosales was forced to flee her home in the northeastern district of La Guajira after unidentified gunmen fired three shots at her house on 2nd September.

According to RSF, Rosales already reported to the authorities two months ago that she is the target of constant threats via text messages to her and her husband. “The threats began in November 2013,” said Rosales. “Once, an unidentified person showed me a gun and told me to shut up, to stop telling tales.”

The reporter had been covering scandals involving La Guajira governor José María Ballesteros and the district’s former governor, Francisco ‘Kiko’ Gómez, who has been jailed for alleged links with paramilitaries and his suspected involvement in three murders.

Rosales filed an immediate complaint about the shooting and forensic investigators based in the neighbouring municipality of Fonseca told RSF that they are conducting an investigation. The reported said she continues to write articles despite the threats, but now she has had had to leave La Guajira to protect herself and her family.

“We call on the UNP [National Protection Unit] to act without delay to guarantee Rosales’ security,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the RSF Americas desk. “Her flight is just a temporary solution to the risks that she and her family are running. The authorities must conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the source of the threats that have been going on for so long.”

Colombia is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in the latest RSF index, released in February.

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Colombia: Bullfighting Set to Return to Bogotá


Bullfighting remains a popular sport in Spain and various parts of Latin America (photo courtesy of wikpedia)

Bullfighting remains a popular sport in Spain, Portugal, and various parts of Latin America (photo courtesy of wikpedia)

Colombia’s Constitutional Court has overturned a 2012 ban on bullfighting in the capital Bogotá amidst a drawn-out battle between the government, animal rights activists, and bullfighters.

The court sided with the capital’s Bullfighting Corporation, reinstating its licence to organise events in the capital after a 2012 ban enacted by mayor Gustavo Petro. Petro has said his government will comply with the ruling, which found the ban to be in violation of bullfighters’ right to freedom of artistic expression.

Bogotá now has six months to bring the spectacle back to arena such as La Santamaria, which had been turned over to educational projects in the absence of bullfights.

The ruling led to celebrations by bullfighters, who had stepped up their campaign against the ban in recent weeks, with protestors setting up camp outside the Santamaria arena. They claim the prohibition has forced 35,000 people into unemployment and that the city has missed out on US$1.6m in revenue as a result of Petro’s ban. Some 14 apprentice bullfighters also began a public hunger strike in August, which they ended after Petro said he would comply with the court’s ruling.

Petro responded to the decision by tweeting “there are sectors of society who enjoy death … a fundamental right to kill does not exist.”

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Colombia: FARC Addresses Victims at Havana Peace Talks


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

Representatives from Colombia’s government and FARC at peace talks in Havana in November (photo: EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa/Télam/dsl)

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reiterated yesterday their willingness to take responsibility towards the victims of the country’s conflict, proposing that a special fund be created for reparations for victims of the civil war. The statement comes as the most recent round of peace talks between the government and the left-wing guerrillas is underway in Havana, Cuba.

During the current stage, Colombians who have directly been affected by the conflict will give their testimonies and offer their thoughts to find ways that lead to the guarantee of their rights. This dialogue will allow the victims of human rights violations to be listened to without any discrimination, under the principles of protection and recognition. 

According to the country’s Centre for Historic Memory, during the country’s 50-year conflict, 220,000 have been killed and a further 25,000 disappeared, 5.7m displaced, and 27,000 kidnapped.

FARC spokesman, who goes by the name of Pablo Catatumbo, said that the government needed to move from “the current rhetoric to real and effective action” in terms of dealing with the thousands of victims, and guaranteed “maximum political willingness” on their part to make it happen.

Also on the agenda is the setting up of a historic commission on the conflict and its victims, which will enrich the discussion on different pending issues.

Previous rounds of talks, which began in November 2012, tackled the issues of rural development, political participation, and illegal drugs

 

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Venezuela-Colombia Border to Close at Night


Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, during the Cartagena summit

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, during the Cartagena summit

Starting tonight, the 2,200km border between Colombia and Venezuela will shut between 10pm and 5am in a bilateral effort to combat smuggling.

The hope is to stem the flow of food and fuel products from Venezuela, where prices are much lower due to state subsidies of 40%. Venezuelan authorities estimate that 40m litres of petrol and 20,000 tonnes of food have been smuggled across the border into Colombia so far this year.

The smuggling has led to scarcities of products in the west of Venezuela, which was one of the grievances of groups that were involved in the anti-government protests earlier this year.

The inflow of cheap goods has also had an effect on Colombian producers who have found it hard to compete with the contraband products. Colombian authorities also say such illicit trade, which they estimate to be worth US$6bn a year, is one of the main sources of finance for mafia and illegal groups in the country.

The measure is one of many to be implemented as a result of a meeting in Cartagena between President Juan Manuel Santos and President Nicolás Maduro earlier this month. The leaders met to review the peace process between Colombia and FARC and also discuss trade between the neighbours. They also reviewed freight and passenger transport and the efficiency of their borders as well as creating a permanent working group, directed by both countries’ ministries of economy, to monitor the effects of the new measures and also evaluate the bilateral trade.

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Colombia: Court Rules Former Guerrillas can Participate in Politics


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 FARC in Havana in November 2013 (photo: EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa/Télam/dsl)

With six votes in favour and three against, Colombia’s Constitutional Court has given the green light for former guerrillas to participate in politics in the country. The announcement comes on the same day that Juan Manuel Santos starts his second term as president.

The decision, which ratifies a 2012 vote in Congress, will only apply to former guerrillas who have participated in the country’s peace process, and excludes those who have been charged with crimes against humanity. This means that various members of FARC, the left-wing guerrilla group currently participating in peace talks with the country’s government in Havana, Cuba, will be barred from political life.

The issue of the political future of former guerrillas had been seen to be a sticking point in the country’s peace process, and it is hoped that now that it has been resolved, a long-lasting peace deal will eventually be possible.

The decision is also a victory for President Santos, whose first term was largely overshadowed by the peace talks with the insurgents, an issue he had made central from his very inauguration. It was four years ago today, during the ceremony that launched his first presidential term, that Santos said “the keys of peace are not at the bottom of the sea”, and two years later he announced that the government would sit down with the guerrillas in Cuba with the aim of putting an end to the country’s long-running civil war.

The peace talks dominated the election campaign, and for many the vote was a referendum on Santos and his policy of peace.

Dozens of international invitees will attend today’s ceremony, including presidents from around Latin America, King Felipe VI of Spain, and the president of the European Union, among others.

 

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Colombia: Seven Killed in Mining Accident


Timbiquí is located in south-east Colombia

Timbiquí is located in south-east Colombia

At least seven people were killed and another two are missing after a mine collapsed in Cauca, south-east Colombia yesterday. Dozens more were injured in the accident which took place in an open pit gold mine that seemed to have been working illegally.

The accident occurred when tonnes of rock and mud came loose, falling on top of the victims. Some 200 rescue workers and members of the armed forces are working in the rescue operation.

The mine, located in Timbiquí and known as El Pital, had been exploited by locals for more than 40 years. Local man Leader Solís said that many families in the area make their living through mining activities and that it is a trade that has been passed down from generation to generation. “It is totally artisan. People work in an old-fashioned way, with picks and shovels,” he said.

Germán Callejas, director of Risk Management for Cauca region, has said that the mine will be closed down. However, the Timbiquí government secretary, Nicolás Venté, explained that the mine, along with others in the municipality, has already been closed on numerous occasions, but locals return and open them up again, and “people live off this, so they go back inside”. He added that numerous people had already died in El Pital and the other mines in the region, although never had so many been killed in one accident.

The authorities are investigating what caused the mine to collapse, after reports by locals that an explosion was heard.

 

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