Monday, August 18, 2008

WNU #958: Crackdown on Left and Press in Colombia?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #958, August 17, 2008

1. Colombia: Crackdown on Left and Press?
2. Colombia: Support Group Issues Alerts
3. Mexico: Sit-in in PEMEX Union Office
4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US policy

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: Crackdown on Left and Press?
On Aug. 8 the Colombian Attorney General's Office arrested sociologist Liliana (or Liliany) Patricia Obando Villota in Bogotá on charges of organizing events and managing money for the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On Aug. 9 the Attorney General's Office announced that police had also arrested Dr. César Augusto Arango García, the director of a public hospital in the indigenous municipality of Planadas in Tolima department; Arango was described as the personal physician of Alfonso Cano, who has led the FARC since the death of longtime leader Manuel Marulanda in March. The Attorney General's Office says it is also seeking William Parra, a journalist now working with the left-leaning Venezuelan-based Telesur television network.

Colombian authorities say the charges against Obando and Parra are based on information found in computers used by FARC spokesperson and negotiator Raúl Reyes; the computers were seized in March when the Colombian military bombed and raided a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing Reyes and about 20 other people [see Updates #937, 939].

Obando is a consultant with the National Unified Agricultural Union Federation (FENSUAGRO). Founded 20 years ago in the Urabá region, the federation includes 37 campesino unions with a total of 80,000 members, according to an unnamed spokesperson. The authorities say Obando was in frequent correspondence with Reyes and may have had romantic relations with him. Obando told Colombia's RCN Radio on Aug. 11 that she had not financed the rebels; she admitted she had met Reyes but denied having romantic relations with him. She said she was working on a study for FENSUAGRO of the murders of more than 1,500 of the organization's members.

Parra was chief spokesperson for former president Ernesto Samper during his second term (1994-1998). He has been ordered to appear for questioning on Sept. 11. Parra lives outside Colombia and hasn't indicated whether he will respond to the order; however, he has named Sandra Gamboa Rubiano of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective to be his defense attorney in Colombia. (AFP 9/8/08; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 8/10/08 from correspondent; Peace and Justice For Colombia (Australia) announcement 8/13/08; RCN Radio 8/11/08; El País (Cali) 8/12/08 from Colprensa)

On Aug. 12 Colombian media reported that Carlos Lozano Guillén, director of the weekly magazine Voz, had been ordered to testify on his alleged links to the FARC. Colombia authorities say messages from Lozano appear on Reyes' computers. Lozano indicated that any correspondence he had with the FARC was in connection with peace efforts or negotiations for the release of hostages. He said he hadn't been notified of the judicial order and called the situation "a spectacle by means of the media." Lozano is a member of the Executive Committee of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and the National Council of the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA). On July 11 French president Nicholas Sarkozy awarded Lozano and National Conciliation Commission head Father Darío Echeverri the French government's highest decoration, the Legion of Honor.

Colombian authorities say Reyes' computers also implicate at least four opposition members of Congress: Senator Piedad Córdoba de Castro, a member of the Liberal Party and a negotiator for the release of hostages held by the FARC [see Update #937, where she is only identified as a former senator]; and Senator Gloria Inés Ramírez, Senator Gustavo Petro and Deputy Wilson Borja, all from the PDA. Investigations of Petro and Borja are already underway, and on Aug. 12 Colombia president Alvaro Uribe called for an investigation of Córdoba, who told the newspaper El Tiempo that she might sue him for libel. (El Pais 8/12/08; Carlos Lozano Guillén blog 8/5/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 8/13/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Several of the people now under investigation were targeted in the past by paramilitary or rebel groups. The rightwing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) kidnapped Piedad Córboba and held her for two weeks in May and June 1997 [see Updates #486, 488]. In December 2000 Wilson Borja, then president of the National Federation of State Workers (Fenaltrase), was seriously injured in an attack by alleged rightwing paramilitaries outside his Bogotá home; a bystander was killed along with one of the assailants [see Update #568]. In 2005 unidentified people stabbed William Parra in the rural zone of Nemocón, 60 km north of Bogotá, injuring a lung. (ENH 8/10/08) Parra has also been the victim of a FARC action: in December 1997, when he was a government official, rebels kidnapped him along with another journalist and held them both for more than a week [see Update #441].

*2. Colombia: Support Group Issues Alerts
The government of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe continues to be plagued by the parapolítica ("parapolitics") scandal, in which some 60 members of Congress have been linked to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group that is now officially demobilized. The majority of these politicians are in Uribe's governing coalition, and some are in the president's extended family. On Aug. 12 a former paramilitary, Luis Adrián Palacio ("Diomedes"), gave testimony to the Attorney General's Office linking Gen. Mario Montoya, the head of the military, to the AUC. Diomedes said that in April 2002 Montoya, who then commanded the Army's Fourth Brigade, personally delivered a "present" of six AK-47 rifles and an M-16 rifle to the AUC's Bloque Mineros. Montoya denies the charge.

Uribe's popularity remains high; the latest polls gave him a 91% rating. He has been helped by a series of successes against the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Charges that leftist politicians are linked to the FARC--known as the farcpolítica ("FARC politics") scandal --have helped relieve pressure from the paramilitary scandal. (La Jornada 8/13/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

An agreement between Uribe and the administration of US president George Bush has also helped diffuse the scandal. Some paramilitary leaders are now being extradited to the US to stand trial for drug trafficking, and many analysts think this will keep Colombian investigators from getting valuable information about paramilitary links to politicians. (The Nation 7/29/08) Ever Veloza ("H.H."), former leader of the Bloques Calima and Bananeros paramilitary units, has begun to talk about these ties, and Senator Gustavo Petro (himself threatened with investigation in the farcpolítica scandal) is urging Uribe to hold up Veloza's extradition until he has told his story. The US-based Colombia Support Network (CSN) is asking for letters to US attorney general Michael Mukasey ( and Colombian attorney general Dr. Mario Hernán Iguarán Arana ( and "urging them to place a hold on extradition until the human rights violation stories can be told." (CSN alert 8/5/08)

CSN is also urging activists to circulate a letter to Uribe in support of sociologist and journalist Alfredo Molano Bravo. The powerful Araujo family of Valledupar, capital of Cesar department, has brought criminal libel charges against Molano for a column the newspaper El Espectador published on Feb. 24, 2007, about various crimes committed by unidentified "notables" in Valledupar. On Aug. 12, Molano Bravo was ordered to appear at a preliminary hearing in the case. CSN is asking for people to sign on to a statement in solidarity with Molano. The group calls the criminal action against the journalist "part of a plan to muzzle the Colombian press at a time when investigations of ties of many Colombian politicians, including members of the Araujo family, with illegal paramilitaries are leading to convictions." The letter is available from CSN at (CSN alert 8/12/08)

*3. Mexico: Sit-in in PEMEX Union Office
In the early morning of Aug. 15 a group of about 40 dissident unionists occupied the Mexico City headquarters of the Union of Petroleum Workers of the Mexican Republic (STPRM) to protest the recent reelection of Carlos Romero Deschamps, who has headed the union for 17 years. Dissident leader Omar Toledo Aburto gave a press conference in Romero Deschamps' luxurious office, announcing that he would be the "interim national leader of the more than 97,000 petroleum workers while elections take place." Two hours after the sit-in began, about 50 supporters of Romero Deschamps arrived wielding metal pipes and carrying pistols in their belts. They retook the office, beat the dissidents and confiscated their documents and cellphones. (La Jornada 8/16/08)

Opponents of Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's plan for the partial privatization of the state-owned oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), say that Romero Deschamps' leadership of the STPRM is "key" to the plan. The current leader will keep the petroleum workers from mobilizing and protesting any privatization, according to Francisco Carrillo Soberón, a former secretary in the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME). (LJ 8/17/08) Meanwhile, voting on a non-binding referendum organized by opponents of Calderón's plan continues. Organizers projected a turnout of about 393,000 for the second round, which took place on Aug. 10 in seven states: Campeche, Colima, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. As in the first round--on July 27 in the Federal District (DF) and nine states--the vote was overwhelmingly against Calderón's plan [see Updates #956, 957]. The final round of voting is set for Aug. 24. (LJ 8/11/08)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, US policy

Repression of Documentary Filmmakers in Chile

Paraguay: Rocky Road Ahead for Lugo

Asunción's Bañados Neighborhood: The Power of Community

Lula: give Doha a chance

Bolivia, Shell Oil reach pipeline compensation deal

Bolivia: Miner Clashes Leave Two Dead, Gov't Investigates

Bolivia: Summit Cancelled Due to Social Unrest

Bolivian Conflict Revolves Around Control of Land and Gas

Bolivia: opposition calls civil strike in wake of recall vote

The Street and the Ballot Box: Voices From Bolivia's Recall Vote

Bolivia: Prefect Reyes Villa Resigns After Losing Referendum

Optimism and Uncertainty Follow Bolivian Recall Vote

Bolivia: After Recall Vote, Opposition Rejects Morales' Call for Unity

Bolivian President Ratified in Post, Three Prefects Lose Vote

Peru: Secret Arms Deals - An Invitation to Corruption?

Peru: indigenous protesters occupy gas fields

Ecuador's Constitution and Mining

Colombia: investigate "misuse" of Red Cross insignia

Permanent Peoples' Tribunal in Colombia: Corporations with a License to Kill

Colombia: Interview with Antonio Navarro Wolf

Colombia: indigenous groups face "extinction"

Colombia: Terror Campaign Targets Indigenous Population

FARC's international supporters targeted after Colombia terror blast

Chávez charges US intervention in Georgia

Chávez Signs 26 Law-Decrees on Final Day of Enabling Law Power

Guatemala: The Hope for an Endless Mine

Honduras: Garifuna Resistance to Mega-Tourism in Tela Bay

Mexico: top drug prosecutors step down in shake-up

U.S. Recession, Drug War Violence Cause Crisis in Mexico Tourism

A Primer on Plan Mexico

Mexico: feds probe "forced disappearance" of leftist militants

Mexico: narco-killings surpass last year's total

Haiti's Compounding Food and Health Crises

'A New Alliance of the Americas'? Reflections of 1961 for Obama in 2008

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