Colombia’s Supreme Court Besieged by Death Threats

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — The President of Colombia’s Supreme Court, Augusto Ibañez, said that several justices of the Court received death threats late this week.

The presiding justice of the Criminal Division, Julio Enrique Socha Salamanca, reported that he received a letter containing intimidation and threats to his office. The letter also listed threats against an assistant judge.

Socha Salamanca immediately notified law enforcement and ordered tighter security for each of the judges and their staff.

The authorities disclosed that they had also discovered intimidation schemes against other judges of the Supreme Court, a former peace commissioner and two political leaders.

The Director of the National Police, Oscar Naranjo, confirmed that a number of Supreme Court judges and politicians have been threatened. Naranjo said the police are taking the necessary steps to safeguard the security of those in danger.

The plot involves threats to the lives of chief judge Ibañez, judge Jaime Arrubla Paucar, former peace commissioner Victor G. Ricardo, presidential candidate German Vargas Lleras and one of his staunchest supporters, Senator Rodrigo Lara Restrepo.

The Police are dealing with the threats “with utmost prudence and greatest responsibility, without underestimating them, but without causing panic, verifying all information provided,” Naranjo added. It is not known who sent the threat messages or who is behind intimidation attempts.

Judge Socha said that he planned to meet next week with President Alvaro Uribe to discuss the threats.

Supreme Court justice, Jaime Arrubla, said in an interview that several of his colleagues believed they were being followed.

“We don’t exactly know where they [the threats] come from, we only know that they exist, unfortunately they are intensifying,” Arrubla said. “It appears they want to besiege us.”

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Police confirms threats against Supreme Court judges and politicians – 21 August 2009

The Latin American Herald Tribune – Colombian Police Probe Threats Against Judges, Politicos – 21 April 2009

Colombia Reports –  Supreme Court judges receive death threats – 20 August 2009

Threat of Forced Recruitment by Rebels Has Colombian Indians Fleeing

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that over 100 indigenous families have fled their jungle reserves in Colombia’s southeastern province so far this year, in fear that armed groups will snatch their children for use as soldiers.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is on an aggressive recruitment campaign to replenish their dwindling ranks. The FARC have been weakened by a series of defeats at the hands of government forces in the past two years, prompting record numbers of guerrilla fighters to desert.

The terrorist group, financed largely by drug-trafficking proceeds, has waged a four-decade war against the Colombian army in a bid to take power. Recently, the threat of rebels forcibly taking away children to join their ranks has caused increasing numbers of people to flee their homes.

Local non-governmental organizations believe there are more than 6,000 child soldiers, with an average age of 12, in the FARC’s ranks. The rebels commonly use children as messengers and cooks and to plant landmines.

“There’s a very clear relationship between forced displacement and recruitment of children by illegal armed groups,” said Marie-Hélène Verney, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Colombia.

“We’re particularly concerned about the increase in forced recruitment of minors during the summer holidays when teachers are not in schools and when kids are pretty much left to their own devices,” said Verney.

Last year, more than 400 families fled their homes in the province of Vaupes, a large Amazon outpost which is home to 27 different indigenous groups, because of threats and the fear of having their children recruited by illegal armies, UNHCR said. Human rights organizations worry that the new violence is pushing even deeper into the Indians’ ancient lands.

The apparent stability in some largely pacified cities like the capital, Bogotá, belies the conflict in remote areas, where Indians find themselves at the mercy of armed groups.

Indigenous children, often living in isolated and far-flung jungle regions where rebels tend to have more power because the military’s presence is weak and sporadic, are particularly at risk of being forcibly recruited.

“Our rulers in Bogotá prefer to ignore that an entire section of the country is surviving, just barely, as if we are in the 16th century, when plunder and killing were the norm,” said Víctor Copete, who runs Chocó Pacífico, a foundation addressing the violence in Chocó, one of the nation’s poorest provinces.

Rebels in some guerrilla-controlled areas have been known to knock from door to door demanding that families hand over a son or daughter to fight.

Rebel groups even hold propaganda meetings in schools, public squares and host parties in areas they control, luring children with false promises of adventure, food, and money.

“Some children join illegal armed groups because they’ve been talked into it. For others it’s about getting new shoes — some don’t know what they’re getting themselves into,” Verney said.

A school teacher in one of the indigenous communities told UNHCR, “These children have no real hope and it makes them terribly vulnerable to other options some unscrupulous people may offer them.”

According to the United Nations, Colombia has about four million internal refugees, second in number only to Sudan, with Indians bearing a disproportionate share of the suffering. The Colombian government puts the figure at around 2.7 million displaced people.


Displaced women from the Embera indigenous ethnic group.
Photo by Moises Saman for The New York Times

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Colombian Indians flee threat of forcible recruitment in rebel ranks – UNHCR – 19 August 2009

IPS – COLOMBIA: Killings of Indians Continued During UN Rapporteur’s Visit – 29 July 2009

The New York Times – Wider Drug War Threatens Colombian Indians – 21 April 2009

The Los Angeles Times – Colombia is asked to probe slayings of Indians in Narino state – 11 February 2009

Brazil and U.S. Conspired to Overthrow Democratically Elected Chilean President

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. published declassified White House secret memos showing that Brazil and the United States discussed plans to overthrow or destabilize Chilean President Salvador Allende in a 1971 meeting.

According to the formerly secret documents that reveal a deeper collaboration than previously known between the United States and Brazil, President Nixon discussed with Brazilian military regime-era President Médici a cooperative effort to overthrow the democratically elected Chilean administration.

Nixon, at a meeting in the Oval Office on Dec. 9, 1971, said he was willing to offer Brazil the assistance, monetary or otherwise, it might need to rid South America of leftist governments, the White House memorandum of the meeting shows.

The United States and Brazil, Nixon told Médici, “must try and prevent new Allendes and Castros and try where possible to reverse these trends.”

The records released also reveal that Brazil was involved in the Uruguayan election fraud of 1971 with consent from the United States.

Nixon saw Brazil’s military government as a critical partner in the region. “There were many things that Brazil as a South American country could do that the U.S. could not,” Nixon told his Brazilian counterpart, according to the memos.

Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archives, noted that “a hidden chapter of collaborative intervention to overthrow the government of Chile” was now emerging from the declassified documentation. “Brazil’s archives are the missing link,” he said, calling on President Ignacio Lula da Silva to open Brazil’s military archives on the past. “The full history of intervention in South America in the 1970s cannot be told without access to Brazilian documents.”

Eventually, a CIA-supported coup, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, toppled the Allende government in Chile in 1973.

The daughter of Salvador Allende requested that Brazil open any secret archives that could shed light on any role it played in the 1973 overthrow of her father’s administration.

“It seems to me Brazil owes an explanation, if not an apology, to Chile in the form of a full historical reckoning of its role in the overthrow of Allende and the advent of Pinochet,” Kornbluh said.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Allende seeks Brazil documents on ’73 Chile coup – 18 August 2009

The New York Times – Chile: Allende’s Daughter Seeks Secret Records About Coup – 18 August 2009

The New York Times – Memos Show Nixon’s Bid to Enlist Brazil in a Coup – 16 August 2009

National Security Archive at George Washington University – Brazil Conspired with U.S. to Overthrow Allende – 16 August 2009

Colombian Government Denies Spying On OAS Human Rights Defenders

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) said this week that it was the target of Colombian intelligence operations.

The IACHR said that it had received documents proving that at least one of its members had been spied on by Colombia’s intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), which answers to the president’s office.

According to the human rights commission, Susana Villarán, a former Peruvian minister who visited Colombia in 2005 as IACHR Commissioner and Rapporteur for Colombia was declared a “target” of intelligence operations by the DAS Special Strategic Intelligence Group known as G3.

In February of this year, the local magazine Semana revealed that the DAS had for years carried out illegal wiretap activities against opposition politicians, human rights defenders, journalists and even Supreme Court judges.

The IACHR expressed “concern” over these intelligence activities and requested information from Colombia on the espionage against people the Commission itself had ordered be protected, while calling for an investigation and punishment of those responsible.

The Commission later expanded its request for information to include all intelligence operations carried out with respect to the IACHR, the destination and use of the reports, and the investigations of the matter carried out by the Office of the General Prosecutor and the Office of the Attorney General.

The IACHR says the DAS files it received show that the G3 “was created to monitor activities tied to the litigation of cases at the international level” – cases of serious human rights violations involving the Colombian state that were being considered by the Inter-American human rights system.

The file shows that objective of the operation against the Commissioner and Rapporteur was “to identify the cases being studied by the Rapporteur and the testimony presented by nongovernmental organizations, as well as the lobbying these organizations are doing to pressure for a condemnation of the State.”

The IACHR says these intelligence activities violate Colombia’s commitment to respect the privileges and immunities of representatives of the OAS and to comply in good faith with the aim and purpose of the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties of the inter-American system.

Following the IACHR revelations, the Colombian government issued a press release denying involvement in the alleged spying of the human rights commission.

Colombian authorities condemned the illegal activities of the intelligence organization and stressed its commitment to turn it into a “reliable and transparent” entity.

The Attorney General’s office is pressing charges against several G3 members in connection with the illegal spying scandal. It says that the G3 operated from DAS headquarters although it never appeared on the intelligence service’s organizational chart. Officials claim that the G3 has been dissolved.

For more information, please see:

IPS – COLOMBIA: Spying on Human Rights Defenders – 15 August 2009

Colombia Reports – Government denies involvement in wiretapping IACHR – 14 August 2009

Colombia Reports – IACHR says it was spied on by Colombian intelligence agency – 13 August 2009

Read the Press Release by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – 13 August 2009

Venezuelan Protestors Clash over Education Bill

CARACAS, Venezuela – Scuffles broke outside the Venezuelan parliament building as lawmakers debated a bill that would broaden government control over schools.  Venezuelan police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Thousands of teachers, union leaders, community activists, and militants of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela gathered near the National Assembly building in support of the law.  In a smaller march led by high profile politicians, opponents of the law demanded that discussions of the law be further postponed.

University and private school authorities fear that the law will allow an increase in government influence on campuses by involving grass-roots community groups, often loyal to President Chavez, in school operations.

One of the contentious parts of the law is that it strengthens the role of the state in education. Article 4 states that is the responsibility of the “Estado Docente” or the Educator State  is to guarantee “education as a universal human right and fundamental, inalienable, non-renounceable social duty, and a public service… governed by the principles of integrality, cooperation, solidarity, attentiveness, and co-responsibility.”

President Hugo Chavez claims that the bill is based on the ideals espoused by 19th century Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar. Opponents say the changes would amount to indoctrination.

“This law is very dangerous,” said legislator Pastora Medina of the Humanist Front, a former government supporter and a member of the education commission. “It turns schools into centers for community activists and ignores the pedagogical aspect.”

Supporters of the law generally discount the claims that it’s aimed at indoctrinating children and downplay concerns, saying the legislation reflects the government’s efforts to ensure equal opportunities and teach social responsibility. The law, they claim, requires that education be “open to all forms of thinking.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Venezuela passes education, land laws after clashes – 14 August 2009

BBC News- Venezuelan clash over education – 14 August 2009

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuelan National Assembly Passes New Education Law – 14 August 2009

El Universal – Oposición se declara en rebeldía y anuncia acciones contra Ley de Educación – 14 August 2009

Chávez: Winds of War Blow in South America

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — A plan from the Obama administration to deploy troops and station aircraft at seven Colombian military bases aimed at combating drug operations has generated controversy across Latin America, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warning that it could lead to war.

According to the Washington Post, the agreement with Colombia would last ten years and allow for U.S. aircraft to be stationed at up to five Colombian air bases and for U.S. naval vessels to dock at two Colombian ports, one on the Caribbean and the other on the Pacific. Up to 800 U.S. military personnel and 600 private contractors could use the bases.

The President of Venezuela cautioned leaders at the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) summit held in Ecuador this week that an American military presence in Colombian bases “may result in a war in South America.”

“Winds of war are starting to blow,” warned Chávez, as he added that his country was gearing up because “we are in their sights,” referring to American military forces.

A day before the summit got under way, the Venezuelan Secretary of State, Nicolás Maduro, said that the military bases “are part of a plan to blow up South America, to divide South America once again, and to turn South America into a destabilized region.”

The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who took over Unasur’s leadership from Brazil, kept the issue of the bases out of the summit’s agenda but condemned the Colombia-U.S. deal.

“We have put up with seven years of crop-dusting, we have put up with bombings, we have put up with 300,000 displaced, we have put up with Colombia allowing its southern border to go unprotected and where we have to keep over 10,000 troops and spend millions of dollars for a problem that is not ours,” Correa said. “We have put up with too much, we are honestly tired, truly tired,” he added.

The presidents of Brazil and Chile said they did not like the idea of an expanded American presence in the region but seem to agree that the deal is a Colombian sovereign matter.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe had embarked on a three-day South American trip in anticipation of the Quito summit to reassure fellow leaders, including populists such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and moderates such as Chile’s Michelle Bachelet.

Uribe was not intending to attend the Unasur meeting in Quito. Ecuador and Colombia broke off diplomatic relations last year when the Colombian army raided a terrorist camp in Ecuadorian territory that killed a guerrilla chief and twenty-five other people. Bogotá says that documents found at the rebel camp show the guerrilla had at least tried to help finance Rafael Correa’s first presidential campaign.

But at the summit, the Latin American leaders called for a separate meeting in Argentina in late August to confront the issue with Presidents Uribe and Obama.

Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina said such a meeting could help allay disquiet over the plan, which was announced last month. Mrs. Kirchner said the proposal was creating “a belligerent, unprecedented and unacceptable situation.”

Uribe accepted to attend the Unasur meeting in Argentina later this month on condition that the illegal weapons trafficking in the region be discussed as well as the “military agreements that Venezuela and Ecuador hold with Russia and China, and those between Venezuela and Iran.”

As of June 19, there were 268 U.S. military personnel in Colombia and 308 civilian contractors.

For more information, please see:

Buenos Aires Herald – Uribe confirms attendance at UNASUR meeting – 13 August 2009

Noticias Cooperativa – Chávez: Soplan vientos de guerra en Sudamérica – 10 August 2009

The New York Times – Ecuador: Area Leaders Voice Worry Over G.I.’s for Colombia – 10 August 2009

The Washington Post – U.S. Plan Raises Ire in Latin America – 08 August 2009

Former Argentinean Commander Sentenced to Prison

By Don Anque
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Santiago Omar Riveros, age 86 and former chief of the Argentinean Military Institutes Command, was sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses while he commanded the Campo de Mayo military barracks on the outskirts of Buenos Aires during the 1970s.

He is accused of more than 40 crimes against humanity involving victims of the era’s so called desaparecidos or “disappeared.”

Amid the wave of accusations, Omar-Riveros was found guilty of torturing and beating to death 15-year-old Floreal Avellaneda, a member of the Communist Youth Federation, and abducting his mother, Iris. Floreal Avellaneda and his mother were abducted in 1976 by a military squad and tortured to find out the whereabouts of the boy’s father, a Communist Party union leader.

“They applied an electric current to my armpits, breasts, mouth, genitals and did exactly the same to my son,” Iris described her torture experience to the Argentinean court.

Floreal and Isis were first taken to the police station at Villa Martelli and tortured.  Afterwards, they were taken to Campo de Mayo.

Over the court of the trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Floreal was thrown into the River Plate from a plane that departed from Campo de Mayo. In August of 1976, Floreal’s body was found impaled on the shores of Rio de La Plata in the Uruguayan city of Colonia de Sacramento.

The court found the defendants tactics “unacceptable.”  Their main argument was that Floreal’s death was part an accident.

Another former Military Institutes Command intelligence chief, Fernando Verplaetsen, was also sentenced to 25 years in prison in connection with the human rights abuses.  Four other defendants were sentenced to serve between eight to 18 years in prison.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – ‘Dirty war’ general found guilty – 13 August 2009

Yahoo News – Perpetua para Santiago Omar Riveros – 12 August 2009

Yahoo News – Argentine general gets life for rights abuses – 12 August 2009

Telam Noticias – Dan a conocer la sentencia en el juicio por el secuestro y asesinato de Floreal Avellaneda – 12 August 2009

Uruguayan Military Officer Extradited to Argentina

By Don Anque
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Brazil’s Supreme Court has approved the extradition to Argentina of retired Uruguayan military officer, Manuel Juan Cordero-Piacentini, wanted for his role in Operation Condor.

Cordero-Piacentini pictured here.  Photo by AFP.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Operation Condor was a covert operation in which the dictatorships of the Southern Cone countries of South America coordinated efforts to kidnap, murder and “disappear” leftists and other dissidents.  In addition to the disappearances, the dictators also shared intelligence information in order to pinpoint target.

An estimated 30,000 people were “disappeared” in Argentina, while an unknown number of people in neighboring Uruguay were held as political prisoners and tortured.

Cordero-Piacentini is wanted by Argentina for the torture, disappearance and killings of leftist Uruguayan activists in 1976 in the “Automotores Orletti” secret detention center in Buenos Aires, Agrentina. At age 70, Cordero-Piacentini has been under house arrest since December 19, 2008 in Brazil.  He has been able to avoid prison and the extradition due to heart surgery which occurred earlier this year.

During hiding, Cordero-Piacentini married a Brazilian woman 32 years ago. After three years at large, the former Uruguayan Army colonel and intelligence officer was arrested in February 2007 in Santana do Livramento, Brazil. Santana do Livramento is just across the border with Uruguay.

The Brazilian Supreme Court said that Argentina requested the extradition of Piacentini-Cordero to Argentina because that is where the crimes took place. Piacentini-Cordero is wanted for his alleged involvement in the disappearance in 1976 of Adalberto Soba Valdemar-Fernandes, who was then only 10 years old. Valdemar-Fernandes has never been found.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo News – Brazil court okays Cordero extradition to Argentina – 07 August 2009

IPS News – URUGUAY-ARGENTINA: Hunting the Condor, 28 Years On – 20 May 2009

Uruguay Al Dia – Cordero extraditado a la Argentina – 07 August 2009

Associated Press – Brasil extradita a militar uruguayo retirado – 07 August 2009

Missionaries Murdered for Helping Amazon Indigenous

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru — Peruvian police captured Félix Mejía Ascencios, allegedly one of the leaders of a Shining Path cell in the jungle region known as Upper Huallaga Valley, an area of coca cultivation and cocaine production.

According to the police, Mejía Ascencios, 31, is a high ranking Shining Path guerrilla leader in charge of security for “Comrade Artemio,” the terrorist group’s only remaining top commander who has not been captured or killed.

Very little is known about Comrade Artemio and even his real name is unconfirmed. Although he has appeared in video tapes wearing a ski mask, it is often with an extra piece of cloth sewed on to hide not only his face but also his eyes.

The Shining Path terrorized Peru in the 1980s and has been widely condemned for its brutality, including violence directed at peasants, trade union organizers, elected officials and the general civilian population.

But since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992, the Shining Path has only been intermittently active. Remnants of the group now claim to fight in order to force the government to reach a peace treaty with them.

Although authorities believe Comrade Artemio is the current leader of the terrorist group, he claims that he is only the regional commander of the Shining Path for the Huallaga Valley. Officials believe this might be because he takes the imprisoned former leaders, Abimael Guzmán, or his successor, Oscar Ramirez Durand, to be the true leaders of the guerrilla group.

Under Comrade Artemio’s leadership, the remnants of the Shining Path have reinvented themselves as a highly efficient cocaine smuggling operation, working with drug cartels and staging attacks on security forces.

Mejía Ascencios, known as “Comrade Mono” was arrested on Sunday afternoon having a drink at a bar as he provided security for a drug hoard intended for drug dealers.

The suspected guerrilla has an outstanding warrant for his arrest on charges of terrorism. He is accused of taking part in police ambushes, and in selective killings of peasants and authorities.

Subsequent to his arrest, Mejía Ascencios was transferred to Lima for questioning. The police believe he has key information that may lead to the location of Comrade Artemio.

President Alan Garcia said last week that the remaining Shining Path guerrillas “must be exterminated.” Garcia admitted that it will take time and patience but he emphasized that the problem of terrorism is “not even a tenth or a hundredth of what it was in the 80s.”

For more information, please see:

La Republica – Trasladan a Lima al “Camarada Mono” – 11 August 2009

La Republica – Cae la seguridad del “camarada Artemio” – 10 August 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune – Suspected Guerrilla Leader Captured in Peru– 10 August 2009

RPP Noticias – Anuncian captura de integrante de seguridad de camarada ´Artemio´ – 09 August 2009

La Republica – Alan García: Hay que “exterminar” remanentes de Sendero Luminoso – 08 August 2009

Under Specter of War, Chavez Buys Russian Weapons to Defend from American Bases in Colombia

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez announced a new purchase of weapons from Russia arguing that the use of seven Colombian military bases by the United States is forcing his hand. Chávez said he would like to spend “not one cent in weapons,” but he must under the circumstances.

Chávez announced that the transaction would be in September but did not disclose the weapons involved or the amount he is spending.

“It’s going to be a series of agreements not just on weapons, although weaponry will be a significant component in order to enhance our operational capacity, our defense system and antiaircraft defenses,” Chávez said during an international press conference.

The announcement comes as the President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, just completed a lightning visit to seven Latin American nations to explain Colombia’s decision to allow the United States to use the bases and address some of the concerns in the region. Uribe’s trip did not include Ecuador and Venezuela.

Although Uribe’s tour generated some understanding, it did not quell the uneasiness of neighboring states. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay expressed reservations over the Colombia-United States agreement. Bolivia remains its harshest critic while Peru supports it, and Chile and Paraguay said Colombia has the right to make sovereign decisions, such as who it allows on its territory.

Chávez’s weapons purchase announcement also comes on the backdrop of Colombian accusations that the Venezuelan administration has been supporting the terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Colombian guerrilla group financed mostly by proceeds from the drug trade.

Evidence has surfaced in the last two weeks that ties Venezuela to weapons seized from the rebels and to collaboration between the guerrillas and high-ranking military and intelligence officials in Chávez’s government.

Chávez reacted to the accusations by freezing bilateral relations. This week, he accepted to meet with former Colombian president Ernesto Samper to discuss the quickly deteriorating situation between the two nations.

At the end of the meeting, Chávez said that “there are no mediators here, no possible mediation. The only way for calm to return is for Colombia to back away from its decision to hand over its territory to the United States so that it [the United States] can continue its aggression against us. There’s no other way.”

The Venezuelan leader warned that the use of military bases in Colombia by the United States, whom he calls “the Yankees, the most aggressive nation in the history of humanity,” can lead to war in the region.

For more information, please see:

El Pais – Chávez alerta del riesgo de guerra en Suramérica por el acuerdo militar entre Colombia y EE UU – 06 August 2009

RCN Radio – Chávez subraya al recibir a Samper: “No hay mediación posible” con Uribe – 06 August 2009

El Pais  – Chávez anuncia otro pacto de rearme con Rusia – 07 August 2009

Chávez Deescalates Spat with Colombia in Apparent Move to Preserve Oil Production

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — In a surprising about-face, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, ordered the return of his ambassador to Colombia just a few days after recalling him from Bogotá.

Chávez had retaliated against Colombia by suspending diplomatic relations and ordering a freeze of bilateral relations with the neighboring nation after Bogotá said weapons found in the possession of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were originally sold by a Swedish company to the Venezuelan armed forces and reacting to Colombia’s announcement that it would allow American troops to use its military bases.

Chávez had also threatened sanctions against the Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol saying the company would not be allowed to participate in the tender of its Carabobo heavy crude blocks in the Orinoco oil-rich belt because of the diplomatic dispute. This is the first tender since the government nationalized several projects in the Orinoco belt.

But on Saturday, the Venezuelan leader said, “[Our] ambassador Gustavo has given [the Foreign Minister] all the reports he was going to, let him go back to Bogotá. Return to Bogotá Gustavo.”

The shift comes after discrete reminders that Venezuela depends on natural gas from Colombia to keep its oil wells running.

During a recent interview, Colombia’s Energy and Mines Ministry said that the natural gas supply to Venezuela would continue, “for now.”

The Colombian gas is essential for keeping the oil flowing from many of Venezuela’s aging oil wells. Without the gas injections, many of the wells in the oil-producing state of Zulia would cease to work and Venezuela’s oil output, exports and dollars would rapidly collapse at a time when the government is grappling with a sharp decline in oil revenue and mounting debts

An Ecopetrol spokesperson chimed in with the Colombian Ministry saying that, “We have complied with our contract since the beginning of 2008 without regard to the political situation between Colombia and Venezuela,” referring to the natural gas exports. “We expect to maintain those sales to that market,” the official added.

Colombia began natural gas exports to Venezuela in January 2008 through a new pipeline.

But Chávez challenged Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to show up to the regional summit of Unasur (Union of South American Nations) being held this week in Ecuador to explain Colombia’s decision to allow the United States to use seven of its military bases.

“Uribe should show up, come and face the music and let’s sit down and talk,” Chavez told local Colombian television RCN.

Uribe just completed a whirlwind South American tour to defend his plans to expand the U.S. military’s presence in Colombia, a prospect that worries even friendly nations in the region.

The purpose of Uribe’s trip was to allay fears that the U.S. military could become too powerful on the continent if given long-term leases on Colombian bases. Colombia maintains that the American presence is necessary to combat drug-trafficking operations.

The overall success or failure of Uribe’s trip will be evident in Quito when most of the continent’s leaders will attend the summit. Colombia is an important member of Unasur but announced it will not attend the meeting, in a clear sign of the tense diplomatic relations between Colombia and Ecuador

Quito and Bogotá have been embroiled in a smoldering feud that dates back to last year when the Colombian army raided a terrorist camp in Ecuadorian territory that killed a guerrilla chief and twenty-five other people. Ecuador reacted by breaking off diplomatic relations.

Colombia has also leveled allegations that documents found on computers at the rebel camp showed the guerrilla had at least tried to help finance Rafael Correa’s first presidential campaign. Correa, now president of Ecuador, has vehemently denied the charges.

For more information, please see:

El Comercio – Venezuela bajó el tono de la crisis – 09 August 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune – Latin American Realpolitik: Chavez Returns Ambassador to Bogotá As Colombia Focuses on the Natural Gas Sent to Keep Venezuela Oil Wells Pumping – 09 August 2009

RCN Television – Chávez ordena retorno de su embajador a Colombia – 09 August 2009

Reuters – Chávez pide a Uribe que “dé la cara” en reunión de Unasur – 08 August 2009

Colombia Reports – Chavez returns envoy to Colombia – 08 August 2009

The Union of South American Nations – UNASUR

Indigenous Families in Paraguay Continue to Organize

By Don Anque
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Asunción, Paraguay – Indigenous families living in a squatter settlement on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital of Asunción have organized themselves. Now, they have a community soup kitchen and are producing handicrafts to sell. Many of the families say they do not want to return to panhandling on the streets of Asunción, far away from their home villages.

Cerro Poty soup kitchen located on the outskirts of Asunción pictured here.  Photo by Reuters.

“We used to go out on the street and ask for money, with our children, at the stoplights,” Petrona Ruiz, one of the women running the Cerro Poty soup kitchen. “But we haven’t gone out to beg on the streets in three months.”

Earlier this year, Amnesty International claimed that the government of Paraguay is failing to adequately protect the rights of its indigenous peoples. Amnesty International’s March 2009 report on Paraguay stated that many of its indigenous peoples were forced to live in misery and effectively condemning some to death.

Many years ago, the Yakye Axa and Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous communities were displaced from their traditional lands and were promised by the Paraguayan government that their lands would be returned to them.  For more than 10 years of living at the side of the Pozo Colorado-Concepción highway, these communities lived without access to their land they live in precarious conditions, unable to source water and food for themselves and with inadequate provision of health and education.

After a breakthrough court decision, the Paraguayan government was ordered to a return the ancestral lands to the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous People in a span of three years as well as to undertake a series of measures to ensure their survival in the interim.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International  – PARAGUAY’S INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN PERIL – 31 March 2009

IPS News  – Indigenous Squatter Communities Organise Self-Help – 02 August 2009

Amnesty International- Indigenous Peoples’ Rights – Solidarity across borders – 16 July 2009

Venezuela halts economic deals with Colombia

By Don Anque
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Today, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared policy measures that would effectively halt trade between Colombia and Venezuela.  He also announced that he would halt the import of 10,000 cars from Colombia and ban a Colombian energy firm, Ecopetrol, from taking part in an auction to develop the heavy crude in Venezuela’s oil-rich Orinoco region.

The move comes after last week’s incident when President Chavez recalled his envoy from the Colombian capital of Bogota when President Chavez was accused that Venezuela had sold arms to the Colombian rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

“We absolutely deny that our government or our institutions are providing assistance to criminal and terrorist organizations,” Venezuelan Minister of the Interior and Justice Tareck El Aissami told reporters after Venezuela was accused of weapons trafficking. “It’s laughable, it sounds like a cheap film made by the American government.”

Currently, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is visiting Chile and Argentina to talk with South American leaders about the possible deployment of US troops in South America.  According to Washington DC analysts, the United States of America wants to increase its military capabilities in Colombia to counter drug traffickers and left-wing rebels.  Colombia has already agreed to open at least seven of its bases to US troops.

President Chavez called Colombia’s plan to host more US troops a “hostile act” and a “true threat” to Venezuela and its leftist allies.  Chavez also warned that a possible US military buildup could lead to the “start of a war in South America.”  Despite the lack of an official government declaration of military counter measures, President Chavez has announced that Venezuela will buy “several battalions” of tanks during his trip to Russia in September.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Chavez turns up heat on Colombia – 6 August 2009

Associated Press – Chavez: Venezuela to buy more tanks over US threat – 5 August 2009

CNN – Colombia: FARC arms traced to Venezuela – 27 July 2009

MSNBC – Chavez freezes diplomacy with Colombia – 28 July 2009

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands face danger

The Galapagos Islands might become listed as “in danger” by Unesco at their World Heritage Committee occurring this week in New Zealand.  Ecuador, the territory’s ruler, submitted an application to Unesco to further protect the Galapagos because of their fragile ecosystem.  Unesco protects 830 sites all over the world, called World Heritage Sites, that are considered to have “outstanding universal values.”  The islands gained World Heritage Site statues in 1978.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa declared in April that since the islands were home to many endangered species and unique plant and animal life that are at risk, the islands were a priority for national action.  Species on the islands include tiny penguins, marine iguanas, and venerable giant tortoises.  The islands are Ecuador’s top tourist draw.  However, because of the drastic increase in tourists the islands are suffering an environmental and social crisis and are in dire need of restrictions.  Tourism has increased by 12% annually with over a 150% increase on passengers from cruise ships in the past 15 years alone.  This drastic increase is leading to the decline of the islands.  The islands face invasive species that are brought with tourists and migrants that compete and destroy the native species.

The increased rate of tourism has brought workers from the mainland to work in construction, restaurants and cruise ships which brings the total residents of the islands to 20,000.  There is a large need for cheap labor on the islands because of the industries that come along with tourism such as restaurants, hotels, and cleaners.  Thousands of migrants coming into the country has been a large source of the problem with the islands ecosystem.

In May 2007, rangers in an ecological reserve were in dispute with the Ecuadorian Armed Forces about illegal fishing in protected waters.  This dispute showed how many practices are damaging the site.  Ecologists say that the problem in the Galapagos is deeper then the government has publicly acknowledged.  The increase in people and of non-native species is threatening the ecosystem throughout the islands.

Ecuador may soon need to place restrictions on outsiders coming into the islands in order to protect them.  There is a need to redo the tourism model for the islands by reducing the amount of tourists while maintaining high revenues.  In the past year, the tourism in the islands brought in $486 million for Ecuador which is the fourth largest source behind oil, bananas, and fishing.  Fernando Ortiz, head of Conservation International, states that action needs to be taken to stop tourism as “this place could turn into another Disneyland.”  However, some argue that the tourism is not the reason for the decline as most visitors stay on cruise ships.  Rocio Martinez, who is president the islands Chamber of Commerce, argues that the islands are based on tourism and they should take advantage of the environment and benefit from the tourism.

For more information, see:

Police Raid Brazil Slum

Police in Rio De Janeiro raided the city slum, Alemao, arresting drug traffickers and confiscating drugs and weapons. Armed cars and over 1,300 policeman entered the slum on June 27 in an effort to show their force before the Pan American Games next month.

Gangsters placed barricades and oil slicks in alleys to prevent the armed cars and police from getting into the slum. The raid lasted for five hours as police battled gang members. According to state security, 13 suspects were killed and one policeman and 10 others were wounded. Police arrest four more suspects. Since May 2, 40 people have been killed and 80 injured since conflict in the Alemao started with the killing of two police officers.

The tactics of Brazil’s police force has been opposed by many human rights groups saying that police shoot indiscriminately and target people who are “suspected traffickers.” Human rights groups also criticize the police of victimizing the poor who live in the slums. Rio De Janeiro is home to one of the highest murder rates in the world, comparable to war zones in some places. In the first quarter of 2007 over 1,800 people were killed.

Officials announced that 2,000 more police officers will be sent to Rio De Janerio in order to increase security of the Pan American Games.

For more information, see: