Archive for 2009

U.S. Military Documents Show Colombia Base Agreement Poses Threat to Region

Category: US Foreign Policy, War on Drugs
By · November 6, 2009 · Comment

Leaders in South America have publicly expressed their concerns regarding the recently-signed agreement between the U.S. and Colombian governments that provides the U.S. military with long-term access to seven bases in the territory of its closest Latin American ally. Some leaders, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in particular, have claimed that the agreement poses a threat to left-leaning South American nations. The recently released text of the base agreement and a related U.S. military document confirm that the fears of Chávez and other South American leaders are not mere paranoia. The documents make evident that U.S. military objectives extend beyond Colombia’s borders, stating that the Palenquero Air Base “provides an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America.” Read more»

The U.S. and Colombian Role in the Honduran Crisis

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy, US Foreign Policy
By · October 27, 2009 · Comment

Many analysts and sectors of the mainstream media have suggested that the apparent ineffectiveness of the U.S. government to resolve the crisis in Honduras is evidence that the influence wielded by the region’s superpower is waning. They argue that the assertiveness of Brazil in its efforts to have Honduras’ coup regime step down and re-instate the country’s democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya illustrates how the balance of power in the region has shifted. But such conclusions might well be premature. After all, given the stubbornness of the coup regime headed by Roberto Micheletti, it could be argued that it is the United States, and by extension its ally Colombia, that are getting their way in Honduras and not Brazil and its leftist allies Venezuela and Bolivia. Read more»

Exorcising the Ghosts of Paramilitary Violence: Reclaiming Liberty in Libertad

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights, Race and Gender
By · September 21, 2009 · Comment

Marco Tulio Pérez arrived in the remote Afro-Colombian community of Libertad in 2000. One of his first acts was to organize a beauty pageant for local girls between 15 and 18 years of age. But this pageant was to be much more than just another example of a community engaging in one of Colombia’s favorite pastimes because Pérez, also known as “el Oso” (the Bear), was the new leader of the right-wing paramilitaries in Libertad. The “prize” for the 15 highest-ranking girls in the pageant was a two-week stay on the small farm that the Bear and his troops had commandeered for their living quarters. The mass rape that occurred during that two weeks signified the beginning of a brutal four-year siege that the residents of Libertad would be forced to endure at the hands of the paramilitaries. It is a violent legacy that the community is now struggling to overcome. Read more»

Africa in Colombia: The First Free Black Community in the Americas Continues its Struggle

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy, Race and Gender
By · August 31, 2009 · Comment

Four hundred years ago, Afro-Colombians living along Colombia’s Caribbean coast would cry when a child was born because the youth was destined to suffer a life of slavery under Spanish colonial rule. And when an Afro-Colombian died, people would engage in a nine-day and nine-night wake to celebrate the deceased’s return to Africa. Back then it appeared that death was the only path to liberation. But today, parents in the remote village of San Basilio de Palenque no longer cry when their children are born thanks to the bravery and resilience of their ancestors, who successfully gained freedom from the Spanish crown in 1603. The contemporary residents of San Basilio de Palenque—simply called Palenque by locals—claim to live in the first free black community in the Americas and earlier this year they sent a letter to Barack Obama inviting the first black president of the United States to visit their village. “We are inviting Barak Obama and we hope he will visit us,” explains community leader Enrique Marquéz. “We are not going to ask him for anything. We only want him, and all the blacks and all the people of the world, to learn about Palenque.” Read more»

Colombia’s Deteriorating Displacement Crisis

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights
By · August 17, 2009 · Comment

Tercer Milenio Park is located only a few blocks from Colombia’s presidential palace in the center of Bogotá and offers respite from the chaotic city to local residents. But for the past four months, it has also been a refuge from the country’s rural violence for more than one thousand displaced persons. In March, displaced people from every corner of Colombia occupied Bogotá’s Plaza Bolívar to protest the government’s failure to combat forced displacement and to address the needs of internal refugees. Police relocated the protesters to nearby Tercer Milenio Park, where they have lived ever since in makeshift homes constructed of wood and plastic sheets. More than 380,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced from their homes by violence in 2008 and, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 50 families arrive in Bogotá everyday seeking refuge. Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno has publicly stated that the city is losing control of the situation and Health Secretary Hector Zambrano has called on the national government to establish refugee camps. Read more»

Obama Administration Shifts U.S. focus in Colombia from Counternarcotics to Counterinsurgency

Category: Armed Conflict, US Foreign Policy
By · July 27, 2009 · Comment

The Obama administration’s proposed 2010 aid package for Colombia appears to be sailing through the Democrat-controlled Congress with little opposition and few amendments. As a result, the administration is poised to achieve a shift in U.S. policy in Colombia that will see an even greater portion of the aid under the counternarcotics initiative known as Plan Colombia used for counterinsurgency operations. The Obama administration’s aid package indicates that the new government in Washington is not only continuing the militaristic policies of the Bush administration in Colombia, but actually intensifying them by developing even closer ties to the worst human rights-abusing military in the Western Hemisphere. Read more»

Interview with a Colombian Political Prisoner

Category: Human Rights, Politics and Democracy, Race and Gender
By · July 13, 2009 · Comment

On August 8, 2008, Colombia’s National Police arrested Liliany Obando and charged her with the crime of rebellion and providing funding to a terrorist group. Ten months later, Obando had yet to have her day in court and remained a prisoner in Bogotá’s Buen Pastor Prison. Her work for the international relations commission of FENSUAGRO (The National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions) included speaking and fundraising trips to Canada, Europe and Australia during which she openly and repeatedly criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record. Obando was the first person arrested as part of the so-called FARC-politica scandal that resulted from alleged evidence found on the laptop computer of FARC Commander Raúl Reyes, who was killed by the Colombian military in March 2008. I recently interviewed Obando in her prison cell. Read more»