Monday, November 28, 2011

FARC Rebels Murder Four Hostages, in New Blow for Peace

Colombian rebel group the FARC executed four hostages during a clash with the army on Saturday in the southern province of Caqueta. One hostage managed to escape during the fighting, and is now in Bogota with his family.

The dead men were all members of the security forces, and had been held by the guerrillas for between 12 and 14 years. They were found with shots in the head and back after having been executed to prevent their rescue -- and still bound in chains.Army Sergeant Jose Martinez Estrada, thought to be the FARC’s longest-held captive, was among the victims. He had a 13-year-old son that he never met.

Sergeant Luis Alberto Erazo Maya, who had been held prisoner since 1999, hid in the jungle while the fighting took place. Rebels reportedly threw grenades at him as he fled, leaving him with facial injuries He has now been reunited with his relatives, including two daughters, and is being treated in hospital. He spoke to the press about his escape;
The guerrillas told us that if there was combat we should run to their side, because they would hand us over safe and sound. I forgot that, and ran into the jungle. My companions, instead, went up to them, and that was when they were murdered in cold blood.
The Colombian government said that the operation was a rescue attempt by the armed forces, who had intelligence that the rebel unit was holding hostages. However, this would be an odd move on the part of the government, as the rebels have a stated policy of executing their prisoners rather than letting them be rescued. The FARC have repeatedly proved their willingness to murder prisoners, as Reuters details;
In 2003, Guillermo Gaviria, governor of Antioquia province, was shot along with an adviser and eight military captives when troops attempted to free them. In 2007, 11 lawmakers were shot when the rebels falsely believed troops entered their camp.
Families of the slain hostages criticized the rescue attempt, while relatives of those who are still being held called on the authorities not to carry out further such operations, asking the government to instead begin dialogue with the FARC.

This dialogue has appeared closer in recent months, with President Juan Manuel Santos taking a number of steps that could form part of a negotiation with the rebel leadership, including legislation to make it possible for demobilized guerrillas to hold public office, and moves towards land reform, a long-held goal of the group. However, less than a month ago, the security forces killed the FARC’s commander-in-chief, alias “Alfonso Cano,” in a raid on his hideout in southwest Colombia. This has been widely condemned as a step backwards for peace, both as an act of violence and because it left the leadership in the hands of “Timochenko,” a more hardline figure. However, Santos has argued that the identity of the person who is at the head of the seven-man Secretariat does not matter, as the body makes decisions as a collective.

This latest tragedy has already damaged the hopes of peace, with Congress setting aside the prospect of political concessions for demobilized guerrillas. As one senator told La Silla Vacia, there should be no such concession for those who “shoot defenseless victims in the back.”

More from the Wall Street JournalLA Times

News Briefs

  • The LA Times has a three-part examination of increasing efforts to stop Mexico’s criminal groups laundering their profits, noting that some say this could “change the tone of the government's military-led crime crusade by striking at the heart of the cartels' financial empire.” The newspaper reports that the sum of money laundered could be worth $50 billion, about 3 percent of the country’s GDP, much of which passes through international banks.
    One report looks at the U.S.’s Kingpin List, which freezes the U.S. assets of those considered help drug traffickers, which it finds to be fairly ineffective because Mexico does not complement it by freezing the Mexican assets of those named. A similar effort was more successful against Colombian traffickers in the 1990s, as that county had laws to sanction those on the U.S. list. As a consequence, “blacklisting Colombian entities eventually strangled traffickers' ability to invest in major businesses and use the national banking system.”
    Bloggings by Boz comments that what is at issue here is that President Felipe Calderon, on taking office, was able to quickly deploy troops and begin the military side of his war on organized crime. Reforms of money laundering regulations took far longer, however, and indeed are still in progress -- something the next president must address. One alternative perspective has been offered by analyst Alejandro Hope, who argues that the idea of fighting organized crime via their bank accounts is a “fantasy,” as many illegal profits are either spent immediately or invested back in criminal activities.
  • In more news on Mexico’s struggle with organized crime, Calderon is facing a challenge from activists who have asked the International Criminal Court to investigate him for war crimes, including the deaths of thousands of civilians, and cases of rape and torture by the security forces. The president has calledthe charges “slander,” and said he might take legal action against the accusers. The activists also asked for the investigation of “Chapo” Guzman, boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, which could undermine Calderon’s often-made assertions that he is held to account while the drug traffickers are not.
  • The New York Times has an editorial on the economic costs of Alabama’s tough new immigration laws, mentioning such factors as the hours that must be spent waiting in line to prove one’s citizenship status, the cost of extra police officers, and the resources diverted to catching undocumented individuals instead of those committing real crimes. It says that the state’s business-friendly reputation took a blow “with the arrest in Tuscaloosa of a visiting Mercedes manager who was caught driving without his license and taken to jail as a potential illegal immigrant.” A report by NPR cites the same example, and quotes one Republican lawmaker who backed the bill as saying “we overrreached,” and that the legislation contains mistakes. Meanwhile, in another strange development in the debate, Newt Gingrich announced that “citizen juries” should decide which immigrants can stay and which must go.
  • New York Times blog looks at the case of anti-government Twitter users whose accounts have been taken over by hackers. One hacked activist reported receiving an anonymous email telling her that an entire floor of the government’s Ministry of Science and Technology was dedicated to “tracking and hacking” the online work of the opposition. 
  • The latest issue of the Economist argues that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s clean-out of corrupt politicians in her government “merely scratches the surface of a problem with roots in the way that politics has developed in Brazil.” It blames the system of coalition-building, in which a culture has arisen of parties being given ministries in exchange for their support for the government, which they then use to cream off public funds. It says that the popular president has not shown much interest in reforming this web of political patronage, and she seems to react to problems as they arise instead of cleaning up the system.
  • Also in the Economist is a look at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a new regional body which includes all 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The UK publication argues that the organization is not likely to make much progress on regional integration, like many of its predecessors, although it does indicate the slipping of U.S. influence in the Americas.
  • The Miami Herald reports on the latest accusations that the charity of Wyclef Jean, a popular hip hop artist who tried to run for Haiti’s presidency this year, misspent money intended for victims of the country’s earthquake. The allegations, aired in a report by the New York Post, said that less than a third of the $16 million raised by the organization went to help relief efforts, claims rejected by Jean.
  • Enrique Peña Nieto formally registered his candidacy Mexico’s presidency, on behalf of the PRI party, which ruled the country for more than 70 years until it was displaced in 2000. He is set to win the nomination, as no other candidates registered. The BBC reports that Peña Nieto is 20 points ahead in the polls, though the election is not until July 2012.
  • The Washington Post argues that Haiti’s plans to reform the army are a “terrible idea,” citing the abuses committed by the abolished force, including “massacres of peasants; violent attacks on the media; politically motivated murders carried out by individual soldiers; harassment of civic and political groups; and the failure to investigate abuses within its ranks. A year later, the army carried out a bloody coup d’etat — not for the first time.”
  • The New York Times reports on football hooliganism in Argentina, which it links to growing violence in Argentine society as a whole, and to the rise of hooligan groups which operate like “mini-mafias,” running criminal businesses such as drug dealing.

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