Colombia: Ousted Bogota mayor continues legal fight

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 23 March to 29 March 2014.

Days after President Juan Manuel Santos rejected an order from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to reverse the decision to remove the now-former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, from office, he and interim mayor Rafael Pardo announced an “emergency plan” for the city.

Petro’s firing brought tens of thousands into the streets protesting against the decision back in December. This week, Petro filed another appeal for a court to overturn the decision to remove him from office and ban him from politics for 15 years. A poll released this week showed 57% of respondents said Santos’s decision will affect the upcoming election “a lot,” but the poll did not ask how the decision would affect their vote.

Another recently-released poll showed the incumbent Santos and Green Party Enrique Penalosa advancing to the second round of Colombia’s upcoming presidential election, with Penalosa winning the second round by a small margin. Polling results published last week had similar results.

General Secretary of the Mayor of Bogotá Susana Muhamad called for the legalization and regulation of the marijuana trade in Colombia. While it is unlikely that such a move would do much to curb violent crime in Colombia, Muhamad’s statements align somewhat the FARC’s position in the latest round of peace talks with the FARC, which have focused on the issue of illicit drugs.

In the past, President Santos has also expressed support for such a policy. Despite recent tensions, the FARC said they were “optimistic” about the negotiations with the government, saying that they “have without a doubt advanced the construction of peace accords.”

Headlines

General John Kelly of the US Southern Command released a statement saying the US will do “everything in our power” to help the Colombian military fight “terrorism,” presumably referring to the FARC, which is designated by the US as a terrorist organization.

Police blamed the FARC for a bomb blast that killed 1 police officer killed and injured 9 people injured in the Guapi municipality of the southern state of Cauca.

Two soldiers were killed and two civilians injured in a bomb attack attributed to the FARC in the Amazonas department.

A ton of cocaine, with an estimated value of $13 million, was seized in Buenaventura just 24 hours after Colombia’s Defense Ministry sent additional security forces to the city. The cocaine is believed to have belonged to the Urabeños gang.

Hector Castro, alias “Hector Largo”, a member of the Urabeños who controlled the largest synthetic drug distribution ring in the country, was arrested. In addition to drugs charges, Castro was also wanted for a number of homicides.

87 homicides have been reported in the port city of Buenaventura so far this year and more than 1,000 have been displaced due to violence stemming from the presence of drug gangs. The city is widely considered to be the most dangerous place in Colombia.

Authorities in Medellin imprisoned four alleged drug traffickers with ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office seized $7.5 million worth of assets from Victor and Miguel Angel Mejia, alias “Los Mellisos” (The Twins). The brothers were considered to be among the country’s primary narco-traffickers. Victor was killed during his arrest in 2008 and his brother was subsequently extradited to the United States.

A report from watchdog group Amnesty International said Colombia has “failed spectacularly” to guarantee the human rights of its citizens during the country’s decades-long civil war ahead of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual review. The group plans to deliver a statement to the Human Rights Council highlighting its concern with forced displacement, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, abductions, and enforced disappearances.

A spokesman for the International Office for Human Rights in Colombia criticized the ongoing peace talks with the FARC for not allowing “direct participation” by victims of the guerrillas. The spokesman also voiced his concern that negotiations will end in impunity for FARC.

A report by Oxfam estimates that almost 50,000 children have been victims of sexual violence during Colombia’s civil war. However, the report claimed that many acts of sexual violence have become normalized to the point where they are no longer considered crimes or even wrong and therefore may go unreported. Other reasons these crimes may be unreported include shame on the part of victims and fear of retributive attacks by perpetrators.

To Watch

Coffee farmers are considering an agrarian strike to protest unfulfilled promises made by the government after demonstrations last year. The farmers say that a new crop subsidy program has not been fully implemented, causing farmers to take losses on their harvests, and that a debt forgiveness program has not been realized.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the FARC to hand over the guerillas responsible for the murder of two policmen last week. President Santos said the “cowardly assassination…will not go unpunished.”

Kidnappers appear to be opting for the “express kidnapping” technique more often as of late. The technique involves asking for smaller amounts of money and releasing victims more quickly.

Carlos Arnoldo Lobo, alias “El Negro,” a drug trafficker with links to Colombia’s Rastrojos gang, was arrested in Honduras.  The US Southern District Court of Florida is seeking El Negro’s extradition under a 2012 Honduran law that allows for the extradition of Hondurans charged with drug trafficking, terrorism, or organized crime. If he is extradited, “El Negro” would be the first person to whom this law has been applied.

According to Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, the United States has approached the Colombian government about receiving some of the prisoners currently held at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. It was reported that Uruguay was contacted with a similar proposal. [CITE]

Extra

Colombia reports published part one of a planned three-part series that was highly critical of many of the US-led policies of the Drug War. Part one criticized the extradition of over 1,600 criminals to the US since 1997, claiming that extradition feeds the US “prison industrial complex” while simultaneously allowing Colombian government officials to avoid investigating crimes they might be linked to.

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