A handy Colombian voters´guide links candidates in Sunday´s congressional election to a variety of armed, illegal organizations.
Verdadabierta.com released a list today of 35 congressional candidates and close relatives Thursday who have been investigated by the Supreme Court for connections to illegal groups, including paramilitary, organized crime and guerrillas.
The list limits itself to those candidates – or those with immediate family members or close associates – investigated by the Supreme Court. A convenient drop-down menu shows what illegal paramilitary, organized crime or guerrilla organization the candidate was linked to and the result of the investigation.
Another organization the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación released a larger list earlier this week that included candidates investigated or questioned about their connections with illegal groups.
The list published today confirms that the Colombia´s two traditional parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, along with two other parties la U, and Cambio Radical have the most connections with armed, illegal groups.
National paramilitary leader Vicente Castaño claimed in 2005 that the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia that “the paramilitary groups that more than 35 per cent of the members of the Colombian Congress were “friends” of the paramilitaries.
Colombian politics have long been plagued by links to drug traffickers, guerrillas, and old-fashioned organized crime.
In June 2005, Vicente Castaño, national leader of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries asserted more than 35 per cent of the country´s congressional members were “friends” of the paramilitaries.
The paramilitaries went so far as to sign a secret agreement in 2001 with many politicians which called for a paramilitary takeover of Colombia, starting in the Atlantic region then later, the entire nation.
The “Pact of Ralito” as the agreement was known was eventually exposed and led to a Supreme Court investigation and many arrests and convictions.
For more information please read:
Iván Cepeda´s latest literary expose of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe´s paramilitary connections sets the stage for an immense post-election confrontation.
Por las sendas de El Ubérrimo is Cepeda´s second book about Uribe – co-authored with prominent human rights lawyer Alirio Uribe – dedicated to exposing the former president´s paramilitary roots, before and during his two terms as Colombian president.
Cepeda and Uribe – at opposite ends of the Colombian political spectrum – are both strong favourites to be elected to the Senate in Sunday´s elections. Uribe is heading his own political party, strongly opposed to the current peace negotiations with FARC guerrillas.
The launch of Por las sendas de El Ubérrimo, like most political events involving Cepeda, was overflowing with participants. The event at Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez had people waiting outside the doors attempting to listen to the speech by Colombia´s anti-paramilitary champion.
One can only imagine the ferocious debates which Cepeda will wage against the former president Álvaro Uribe. (Co-author Alirio Uribe, by the way, is no relation to Álvaro Uribe, the former president. His campaign literature prominently displays the statement: El otro Uribe, The other Uribe.)
Cepeda – whose father was assassinated by paramilitaries working with the complicity of the Colombian government – investigated Uribe´s paramilitary roots from his pre-presidential days on the family hacienda called Las Guacharacas.
The second book, Por las sendas de El Ubérrimo, reveals further revelations about the development of paramilitary groups on another family hacienda El Ubérrimo. It also goes on to relate how president Uribe´s former head of security then general Mauricio Santoyo was the paramilitary connection inside the presidency during Uribe´s time in Colombia´s top office.
Many of these accusations are based upon confessions by Santoyo, who now is in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking.
Cepeda, who is one of the most threatened persons in Colombia, is also being investigated for his corruption-fighting activities by the same man who is attempting to end the political career of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro.
Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez is already investigating Cepeda, but Cepeda has appealed to the Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos to prevent him from being removed from office as Ordóñez is attempting to do to Petro.
Even if Cepeda is re-elected as expected on Sunday, he will likely be fighting for his political life against Ordóñez as Petro is today.
For more information about Iván Cepeda please read: http://secure.humanrightsfirst.org/defenders/hrd_colombia/alert022008_Ivan2.htm
The price of a vote in Colombia´s congressional elections this Sunday is just over $80 Canadian.
At least that is what an election watchdog has reported in a series of reports of fraud and suspicious activities.
In Medellin and surrounding areas voters willing to sell a “combo”, their vote for the House of Representatives and the Senate, can now receive up $300,000 Colombian pesos, the equivalent of $163 Canadian.
The Misión de Observación Electoral has reported candidates in the same political party are bidding the price up in competition with other candidates of the same party.
The scam denounced by an MOE investigator is what the Colombians call a “carrusel”, or in English, a merry-go-round. The voter enters the voting station and receives a blank ballot which they then exchange for a ballot which has already been marked in favor of the House of Representatives candidate and Senate candidate which are paying for the vote. The voter deposits the already marked ballot into the voting box.
The price of a vote has apparently risen rapidly as the election, now only five days away, approaches.
“Just two weeks ago, they offered 60,000 Colombian pesos, later $100,000 Colombian pesos, and now they are offering $300,000 Colombian pesos ( $163 Canadian ) for the combination for the House of Representatives and the Senate,” MOE investigator Álvaro Córdoba said in an interview published in El Colombiano.
The MOE investigator does not reveal which political party is involved in the vote-buying. He said there were members of that as yet unidentified party which complained it was becoming too difficult to purchase votes, given that the price was being bid upwards.
The MOE is an independent institution made up of a variety of Colombian social and academic groups which attempts to monitor fairness and expose corruption in Colombian elections.
The Organization of American States has announced it will send observers to the Colombian Congressional elections this Sunday.
Colombia has a long history of election fraud which has caused a chronic loss of confidence in the electoral system and contributed to politically related violence and the formation of guerrilla rebel groups.
For more information please read:
En Español: http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/C/candidatos_pagan_hasta_300_mil_pesos_por_votos_a_camara_y_senado_en_el_valle_de_aburra/candidatos_pagan_hasta_300_mil_pesos_por_votos_a_camara_y_senado_en_el_valle_de_aburra.asp
Some 131 candidates in Colombia´s congressional elections next weekend have been linked to paramilitaries, organized crime groups or guerrillas.
The investigation by the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación found that 83 candidates for the House of Representatives and 48 for the Senate in Sunday´s national elections have links to illegal armed organizations.
Colombian political life has a long history of infiltration by armed groups, especially the drug dealers, paramilitaries and guerrillas who use their money and arms to intimidate and murder opponents.
Some 150 congressional representatives, 25 governors y 60 mayors were investigated for paramilitary activities between 2006 and 2011. Some were jailed, and others suspended for their activities, but it is clear that many also used their influence and connections to evade justice.
Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro revealed much of the parapolitica scandal beginning in 2002 when he was an opposition senator. Paramilitary leader Salvador Mancuso estimated some 35 per cent of the Colombian congress was elected with the money and support of the paramilitaries who control much of the Colombian drug trade and many legal businesses as well.
Colombia´s Liberal and Conservative parties and the Partido de la U were identified as the three organizations with the most criminal connections, according to the three-month study by the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación.
Colombia´s most infamous drug trafficker of all time Pablo Escobar was elected in 1982 as a Liberal deputy member of the House of Representatives.
Then Colombian president Ernesto Samper was investigated in the late 1990s when taped conversations revealed his presidential campaign was financed by drug dealers. The investigation against him was inconclusive, but high-ranking members of his campaign were convicted and jailed.
Many of the suspected paramilitary, mafia and guerrilla candidates are spouses, children or brothers and sisters of former politicians previously imprisoned or charged with organized crime, paramilitary or guerrilla activities, according to the study.
For more information please read:
Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro took his battle to hang onto his job to Plaza de Bolívar again last night. Torrential rains delayed Petro´s appearance on the palace balcony by three hours.
The BaldeBoys urban music kept the scene cooking until the rains finally stopped long enough for Petro to rally tens of thousands of supporters.
The BaldeBoys sing about disappearnaces, state-sponsored assassinations, and politics.
Last night they played Yo Digo NO! or in English “I Say No.”
They are asking Bogotá residents to vote no on April 6 when opponents of Petro are scheduled to have a chance to vote him out of office in a recall campaign. It´s possible Petro´s nemesis Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez will attempt to have Petro removed sooner if he can manage a court victory or two. Petro´s many legal challenges have diminished to a few. His best hope to stay in office and not be banned for 15 years now seems the Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.
For more information please read:
In Spanish: http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/bogota/discurso-de-gustavo-petro-en-la-plaza-de-bolivar_13576295-4?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+eltiempo%2Ftitulares+%28eltiempo.com+–+titulares%29
And, in English:
Colombian guerrillas say they’re sorry for attacking Unión Patriótica Aída Abella´s presidential campaign convoy.
The Ejército de Liberación Nacional confirmed Thursday what Colombia Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said earlier, that guerrillas were behind the attack on the Unión Patriótica caravan last Sunday.
One vehicle – not the one carrying Aída Abella – received 14 bullets. And it was thought that Abella – who survived a bazooka assassination attempt in the 1990s – had again survived an assassination attempt.
But the ELN published an explanation on its website Thursday admitting two of its armed members attempted to stop the convoy as it travelled in a conflict zone in the northern department of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border.
When the 12-vehicle convey did not stop shots were exchanged. The guerrillas said they were sorry and they would do their best to ensure something like that would not happen again. But they also said someone in the convoy of vehicles with darkened windows fired first.
“We deeply regret the incident and apologize to the candidate Aida Avella. At the same time we will take the necessary precautions to ensure that this does not happen again.”
The guerrillas explained there are constant conflicts with the Colombian army and paramilitaries in the region and that they need to maintain control of vehicles using secondary routes.
Abella accepted the apology.
Abella has returned from 17 years in exile to lead the Unión Patriótica which saw as many as 5,000 members – including two presidential candidates – assassinated after it was formed as part of the 1985 peace talks between the government and FARC guerrillas.
Abella and all other Unión Patriótica candidates have received numerous death threats during this year´s congressional and presidential elections.
For more information please read:
The 20-year prison sentence a former paramilitary received this week for murdering a Colombian union leader begs some important questions: Was Máximo Cuesta Valencia working for someone else when he murdered Gustavo Soler Mora? If so for whom?
A Bogotá judge sentenced Cuesta Valencia to the lengthy prison term this week after finding him guilty of aggravated homicide for the 2001 murder of Soler Mora, a union president representing workers at Drummond Company Ltd. Alabama-based Drummond is Colombia´s second largest coal producer.
Soler Moler was removed from his vehicle in October 2001 by a group of armed men including Cuesta Valencia while travelling in the northcoast department of Cesar. He was then killed.
It was established that Cuesta Valencia was one of tens of thousands of paramilitaries supposedly demobilized in the early 1990s. Paramilitaries and their successor groups, organized crime gangs, have murdered many Colombian union leaders. Paramilitary assassinations are often contract killings on behalf of someone who wants a person eliminated.
Killing a Colombian union leader is about as close as anyone can get to receiving a guarantee they will get away with murder, as the conviction rate is only about five percent. That is one of the reasons why Colombia has long been considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a union leader.
Ending the impunity enjoyed by assassins of labour leader requires more than convicting the occasional assassin. It will require finding out if the killer was working for someone else. It would be unfair too start pointing fingers at possible suspects without solid evidence. Many possibilities exist: friction with employers, inter-union conflicts, or as two experts on violence against Colombian union leaders recently revealed, political activity by the union leader.
Political or social activism is the most common denominator in the deaths of thousands of assassinated union leaders, according to an exhaustive study by authors León Valencia and Juan Carlos Celis Ospina published in their book Sindicalismo Asesinado.
“The case studies and an overview of the numbers of murders and assaults allowed us to see that over the 25 years covered by the investigation, the unions that bore the brunt of victimization were the most active in the political struggle, Valencia and Celis Ospina wrote.
The investigation documented 2,870 assassinations, 283 attacks, 210 disappearances, 658 forced detentions, 169 kidnappings and 89 cases of torture of Colombian union leaders from 1977 to 2011.
So, it´s great to see a paramilitary convicted of killing a union leader. Now, more such convictions are needed. And investigators must take that next great step and investigate whether Cuesta Valencia was the intellectual author of the crime or merely a hired gunman.
For more information please read:
Unión Patriótica presidential candidate dismisses reports guerrillas could be behind latest assassination attempt
Unión Patriótica presidential candidate Aída Abella disissed suggestions today that various guerrilla groups could be behind another failed assassination attempt against her on the weekend.
What´s needed is protection for her and other Unión Patriótica candidates who are facing more threats as congressional and presidential campaigns continue.
“There are things that are not normal, everyday there are more threats,”Abella said in an exclusive interview with Connecting Colombias.
Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Monday there are indications that the ELN guerrillas were behind the attack. Earlier reports blamed FARC guerrillas, which the government implied could be involved when they said they were active in the area.
Both the FARC and the ELN rejected suggestions they had any involvement in the attack and said the government should investigate.
Abella is under tighter security after a caravan of vehicles carrying her, senate candidate Carlos Lozano and a number of assistants were fired on while they travelled in the oil-rich department of Arauca, on the Venezuelan border.
One vehicle received about 14 bullet holes, but no one was injured in the attack.
It´s the second assassination attempt Abella has survived. She was fired at with a bazooka while she was a Unión Patriótica councillor in Bogotá while she made her way to work in 1996. That attack caused her to leave the country for 17 years.
She returned this fall to once again lead the Unión Patriótica during its rebirth. The Unión Patriótica was born in the 1985 peace negotiations between then Colombian president Belisrio Betancourt and FARC guerrillas. The UP was meant to be a place where FARC members who wished to exchange bullets for ballots could participate politically, but the party attracted a wide group of constituents.
As many as 5,000 members were assassinated in a campaign my illegal drug traffickers allied with right-wing political groups. The Colombian state was found to be complicit in some of the violence particularly the assassination of Unión Patriótica senator Manuel Cepeda who was assassinated in August 1994.
For more information please read in English: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/24/us-colombia-attack-idUSBREA1N02C20140224
When I first met Unión Patriótica presidential candidate Aída Abella a couple months ago she told me 17 years in exile had not ended the threats against her and other party members.
Yesterday she survived yet another assassination attempt.
On Sunday morning, a caravan of vehicles carrying Abella, senate candidate Carlos Lozano, bodyguards and other assistants was fired on during a campaign stop in northeastern department of Arauca.
The three-vehicle caravan was attacked by two or three men on a motorcycle as it travelled between campaign stops in the oil-producing region along the Venezuela border.
Neither the candidates nor other parties were injured in the attack. Reports say between 14 and 16 bullets struck the vehicles.
Abella returned to Colombia in late 2013 to lead the reborn Unión Patriótica. She had spent 17 years in political exile in Switzerland after surviving an assassination attempt in Bogotá during which the vehicle she was riding in was shot at with a bazooka. She was then a Bogotá councillor.
Abella gave an exclusive interview to Liliana Campo and me in the Palacio Liévano in Bogotá in December while tens of thousands rallied outside in the Plaza de Bolivar to support Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro´s attempt to hang onto his job. She had planned to run much of her campaign from Europe for security reasons, but returned and made a rousing speech from the palace balcony as part of the effort to keep Petro from being removed as mayor.
“The risks continue,” Abella said during the interview in a darkened room. She joked how the honest politicians in Colombia still need to stay in the shadows.
Afterwards, she was helped into her bullet-proof jacket and left for other engagements.
The Unión Patriotica lost thousands of members to a campaign of genocide in the 1990s that included the assassination of presidential candidates Jaime Pardo Leal and Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, eight congressmen, 13 elected departmental representatives, 11 mayors. Estimates of the number of party members and supporters range from 3,000 to 5,000.
The Unión Patriótica was born or the 1985 peace negotiations between Colombia and the FARC guerrillas. It was formed to give former FARC guerrillas and a wide variety of Colombians unhappy with the traditional parties an opportunity to participate in political life.
The party was ruled illegal for lack of support after the campaign of terror forced survivors to flee Colombia, go into hiding, or join rebel forces.
After hearing of the attack Sunday, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered Colombian security forces to do whatever is required to protect the Abella campaign.
All members of her party and a number of other left-of-centre candidates have been threatened with death if they do not abandon their campaigns. The email threats say they were from drug-dealing, paramilitary successor groups.
More than 10 weeks after news broke that Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro was to be fired, the tenacious former guerrilla leader is still hanging on to Colombia´s second most important elected position.
Though his grip sometimes seems tenuous, Petro received more support Thursday from an international human rights organization.
Allowing Petro to be fired for alleged mismanagement of Bogotá´s garbage collection would contravene international agreements on human rights, the Center for Justice and International Law stated in a letter signed by executive director Viviana Krsticevic.
The letter was sent to the court hearing claims that Petro´s human rights would be violated by his removal stated that human rights include political rights. Those hearings have until now prevented Petro´s removal.