Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Colombian Military Leader Still Wary of Venezuela-FARC Connections

Admiral Edgar Cely, the commander of Colombia's military, has told Caracol that FARC and ELN guerrillas are still hiding out in Venezuela, using the country in order to lie low and organize attacks. The announcement represents an about-face for the Colombian government, as last April President Santos announced that Venezuela was free of FARC units, saying, "We are certain those encampments no longer exist."  He added that the government of Hugo Chavez has delivered on its promise to prevent the guerrilla group from crossing back and forth across the Colombia-Venezuela border. At the time, the comment was widely viewed as having been designed to further improve diplomatic ties with Chavez, which had been broken off for over a year until Santos took office.

According to Reuters, trade between the two countries is still at its lowest point in years, and Admiral Cely’s recent remarks could hamper future efforts at reconciliation. This is probably why Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera was so quick to contradict him. As Semana notes, Rivera dismissed Cely’s claim, stressing that Venezuelan authorities have beefed up border security in recent months to the point that “there are no border sanctuaries for these criminals to hide in."

Rivera also took great care to note that bilateral relations are “on the right track,” as Venezuelan security forces are cooperating with their Colombian counterparts to capture and depart guerrillas. As an example of this, he pointed to the recent arrest of FARC leader and protest singer Guillermo Torres, alias "Julian Conrado” in the neighboring country.

However, as mentioned in last Thursday’s brief, Conrado has requested political asylum in Venezuela, and a Venezuelan court has put Conrado’s extradition on hold while it evaluates the evidence against him. On top of this, AFP reported yesterday that the country has begun an investigation into the rebel’s health in order to see if he is fit for transport, which could potentially indicate an attempt to stall the extradition process.

News Briefs

·         Meanwhile, it seems that Colombia is facing criminal penetration of its own security forces. According to El Colombiano, the two bodyguards responsible for killing Rastrojos leader Ángel de Jesús Pacheco, alias "Sebastián," last month have informed authorities that their ex-boss paid military and police forces some $140,000 a month in order to guarantee his security.

·         Reuters says that Colombian officials have arrested two members of a drug trafficking ring responsible for sending 20 tons of cocaine annually to the United States via a semi-submersible self propelled submarine.

·         The New York Times highlights human rights abuses committed by the Mexican military in the country’s “drug war.” Despite a ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court that opens up military abuse cases to prosecution in civilian trials, impunity for the armed forces continues. The article notes that this is made worse by the fact that several high-ranking officers have announced they will refuse to operate without guarantees against prosecution, and have managed to sway several lawmakers of the necessity of such legal assurances.

·         Reuters reports that Mexican gangs have stepped up oil theft in the country, and have tapped Mexican pipelines to steal almost 70 percent of Pemex's first-quarter profit in the first four months of this year alone.

·         AP reports that Mexican police have detained the director of the Juarez prison where 17 people were killed last week, along with four prison guards. The police allegedly gave “privileges” to some of the inmates, which apparently included total freedom of access and the right to hold late night parties.

·         According to a separate AP story, Mexican police have also captured Moises Montero Alvarez, alias "El Koreano," who they say is responsible for the bizarre September killings of 20 vacationing men from Michoacan in Acapulco. What’s more, El Universal claims that Montero was a member of the state’s judicial police force.

·         Each of the four Guatemalan ex-army members facing charges for their role in the 1982 massacre at Dos Erres were found guilty yesterday, and the court has sentenced them each to more than 6,000 years in prison (30 years for each of the 200 victims), according to AP. However, Prensa Libre reports that Guatemalan law mandates a maximum sentence of 60 years. Still the verdict is only the second time that soldiers have been convicted for a massacre carried out in the country’s conflict.

·         The New York Times’ Damien Cave takes a look at the anticipation (and apprehension) in Cuba surrounding the government’s proposed reforms to property transfers in the country. Far from “planting the seeds of capitalism,” the reforms will require Cubans to own only one home or apartment and require full-time residency.  However, it appears that property sales will not need require prior government approval.

·         La Razon reports that Bolivian police have arrested four members of Peru's Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) in the El Alto region, who apparently possessed anti-Morales leaflets and were attempting to recruit insurgents.

·      After weeks of strikes by both students and workers have rocked Chile, Reuters cites a new poll which shows that support for Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has plummeted to 30 percent.  Mercopress reports that Piñera announced last Sunday that he is interested in meeting with student protestors, who are calling for constitutional reform which would guarantee state-funded education for youth.