Sunday, March 2, 2008

WNU #937: Colombia Kills FARC Negotiator

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #937, March 2, 2008

1. Colombia: FARC Negotiator Killed
2. Puerto Rico: US Union Denies Rumors

ISSN#: 1084-922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Colombia: FARC Negotiator Killed
The Colombian military killed 18 members of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuadoran territory early in the morning of Mar. 1, including the group's second-in-command and chief spokesperson and negotiator, Raúl Reyes. According to Colombian defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, "a human source" gave information that Reyes had arrived in the area, near the San Miguel river in a zone known as Granada, bordering on Colombia's southern Putumayo department. Shortly after midnight the Colombian air force bombed the camp where Reyes was staying. Afterwards, the Colombian military removed Reyes' body to Colombia "to keep the guerrilleros from taking it away," Defense Minister Santos said; photos of the corpse quickly appeared in the media.

The Colombian military said Guillermo Enrique Torres ("Julián Conrado"), another FARC negotiator, was killed in the operation; there were also reports that Reyes' partner Gloria was killed. (Reyes, whose real name was Luis Edgar Devia, leaves three children; two of them are medical professionals.) Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa said his country's soldiers later found the other FARC members' bodies "in underwear, pajamas." They were "massacred while they slept," according to Correa. The Ecuadoran soldiers also rescued three wounded guerrilleros.

In addition to commanding the FARC's Southern Front, Reyes headed failed 1998-2002 peace negotiations with former president Andrés Pastrana; he remained the group's most visible spokesperson. He was killed just three days after the FARC's Feb. 27 release of four hostages--former National Congress members Gloria Polanco, Jorge Eduardo Gechem, Luis Eladio Pérez and Orlando Beltrán--to Venezuela. [This was the second release since the beginning of the year; see Update #930.] Former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, who accompanied the freed hostages to Caracas, called Reyes' killing "a premeditated blow to the process" of starting prisoner exchanges between the government and the FARC. "A few months ago I was with Reyes in one of his camps," she told the Mexican daily La Jornada, "and I was able to verify his wish to achieve an exchange, so that his death is a great loss not just for the FARC but also for hopes for peace for Colombia."

The New York Times noted that the FARC's highest commander, Manuel Marulanda Vélez ("Tirofijo"), is reportedly ill; with Reyes gone, Eastern Front commander Jorge Briceño Suárez ("Mono Jojoy"), known as a hardliner, is a "contender to succeed" Marulanda.

The Colombian government's decision to attack the FARC in Ecuadoran territory heightened tensions with both Ecuador and Venezuela, whose leftist governments are allied. According to President Correa, rightwing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe called him and said the Colombian military had attacked while "in hot pursuit" of the FARC. Citing the evidence that the guerrilleros were in fact asleep, Correa said Uribe either "was deceived, or yet another time he has lied to the Ecuadoran government." On the evening of Mar. 1 Ecuador formally protested the incursion into its territory; on Mar. 2 Correa told Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías that he was recalling Ecuador's ambassador, Francisco Suescum, from Bogotá and was moving troops towards the Colombian border.

On Mar. 2 during his weekly television program, "Hello, President," Chávez announced that he was closing Venezuela's embassy in Bogotá and was sending 10 battalions to the border with Colombian. A Venezuelan battalion can have 576 soldiers; the Venezuelan military has about 40,000 soldiers, including reservists. Chávez called Reyes' killing "a cowardly murder, coldly prepared," and described Uribe as a "lackey," a "liar" and a "criminal" who "does what [US president George W.] Bush tells him to do." (LJ 3/2/08 from correspondent, AFP, DPA, Reuters, Notimex; NYT 3/2/08 from correspondent; El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 3/2/08 from AP)

*2. Puerto Rico: US Union Denies Rumors
As of Feb. 29 the 41,000-member Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) was maintaining an open-ended strike at public schools that started on Feb. 21 over wages, classroom size and health issues [see Update #936]. Meanwhile, controversy continued over the role of Change to Win, a US labor federation reportedly jockeying to replace the FMPR as the teachers' representation. New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez noted that Dennis Rivera--vice president of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a major component of Change to Win--seems to be deeply involved in the effort. Calling Rivera "the most influential Puerto Rican labor leader in the US," Gonzalez said members of independent unions in Puerto Rico "never expected" to see Rivera "treat them just like those old Washington labor leaders have done for so long."

Rivera has denied rumors reported in the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa on Feb. 23 about an alleged meeting with Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá in September at a San Juan restaurant; Rivera supposedly offered Acevedo $3 to 4 million in political donations in exchange for the elimination of the FMPR. "That's a total fabrication," Rivera told Gonzalez on Feb. 28, although he said he did "meet with the governor of Puerto Rico in a public restaurant around August.... I've met with him maybe 20 times." According to El Diario-La Prensa correspondent Jesús Dávila, the executive director of the Brotherhood of Health Employees, Sixto Alvelo, saw Rivera and Gov. Acevedo meeting with former FMPR leaders at the Atlántica restaurant on Sept. 22. When Dávila asked the governor's office about the meeting, Acevedo denied through a spokesperson that he had met with Rivera at the Atlántica at any time in 2007 to discuss the FMPR; he also denied that there had been any offer of money. (Daily News 2/29/08; ED-LP 3/1/08 from correspondent (print edition only)

Correction: In the print and email versions of Update #936 we should have described Peruvian politician Ollanta Humala as a "former presidential candidate"; we also cited the Cuban news service Prensa Latina for the item, which actually came from La Prensa of Panama.

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1 comment:

Antifascist said...

It's great to see WNU in blogland!