In the latest development in Colombia’s ongoing parapolitics scandal, a top official who helped implement the US security aid package known as “Plan Colombia” has been called for questioning over allegations that she had ties members of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). El Espectador reports that Sandra Suarez is scheduled to provide voluntary testimony to the Colombian attorney general’s office tomorrow, where she will be questioned about possible links to AUC commander Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias “Jorge-40.” Suarez was first appointed by President Alvaro Uribe in 2002 as the president’s top advisor on Plan Colombia.
In October 2007, imprisoned DAS agent Rafael Garcia told officials that Suarez conspired with Jorge 40 and three former governors to expand the influence of the paramilitary group along the Caribbean coast in 2006, when Suarez was serving as the minister of environment and development in the Uribe administration. Soon after these allegations were made, Suarez resigned from her position as Uribe’s main envoy to Washington over the passage of the Colombian FTA, although she insisted that her resignation was due to the lack of political will to pass the FTA at the time.
Suarez is the latest in a series of top officials in the Uribe administration who have been accused of paramilitary links. Last month AUC commander Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna” testified that he met directly with Uribe aides to set up clandestine monitoring of members of the Colombian Supreme Court. However, Suarez’s case is especially worrisome given her proximity to Washington as both trade envoy and Plan Colombia advisor. If prosecutors decide to pursue a case against her, it could be very difficult for American officials to continue to maintain that they had no knowledge of abuses of power and illegal acts committed by the Colombian government under Uribe.
· The LA Times reports on the Colombian government’s decision to abandon a proposal that would expand the role of military courts in trying military abuse cases. Instead, the government plans to ask Congress to pass a bill stating that that human-rights abuses including torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and rapes are not are not under military jurisdiction.
· Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has called for a bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian government, and expressed a willingness to accompany it with peace talks. However, as Semana notes, the proposal is not likely to move forward unless the rebels release all of their hostages.
· More details have emerged about Sunday’s deadly prison riot in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Apparently the “riot” was in fact a massacre of Gulf Cartel members committed by inmates affiliated with the Zetas. Reuters cites Nuevo Leon Governor Rodrigo Medina as saying that all 44 victims who were clubbed and stabbed to death in the incident belonged to the Gulf cartel, and the 30 or so perpetrators were Zetas. After the incident, the attackers fled the prison facility with the help of the guards. The prison’s director, his top aides, and 18 guards have all been fired and are under criminal investigation. The Associated Press uses the incident to highlight the entrenched state of corruption in Mexican state prisons, which are ill-equipped to deal with a wave of high-level criminal arrests resulting from the current security strategy.
· The sister of Mexican President Felipe Calderon was hit with corruption allegations yesterday, after a recording leaked to Mexican press which reportedly capture her planning to buy votes ahead of her unsuccessful bid for governor in the state of Michoacan in 2011. In response to the recordings, members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) filed an official complaint against her.
· The US and Mexico have signed an agreement which, if ratified by lawmakers in both countries, will set forth common safety protocols for oil and gas development along their maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Times notes that a similar agreement was negotiated in the 1970s, but that the US Senate refused to ratify it in 1980.
· Frustrated with authorities’ slow pace in identifying the bodies, a large crowd of relatives of the victims of last week’s deadly Honduran prison fire forced their way into a Tegucigalpa morgue yesterday to claim the remains of their loved ones, according to the AP. BBC reports that the crowd (most of whom were women) broke into a refrigerated container and tore open several body bags before authorities drove them away.
· Nicaragua Dispatch has an interesting interview with Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. According to Whitaker, “Nicaragua today looks in some respects like the past. It’s the movement towards (a government model) where civil societies’ contributions are not valued and the only civil society contributions that are made come from groups belonging to the ruling party.”
· The Economist’s Game Theory blog looks at recent measures taken by the Argentine government to crack down on corruption in the national football association.
· Border officials in Chile have been forced to close the country’s main border crossing into Peru after a torrential downpour washed several anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines onto the main road. The mines are left over from a period of tension between the countries in the 1970s.
· With the Carnaval celebrations in full swing in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, The LA Times’ Vincent Bevins reports on the less commercialized but more historically grounded Carnaval of Pernambuco, a poor state in northeastern of Brazil.