Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FARC Urban Militias Could Be Behind Bogota Bomb

Colombian capital Bogota was hit by a bomb on Tuesday in an assassination attempt against a former minister, likely carried out by the FARC rebel group. Two people died and some 50 others were injured in the attack.

The target of the bombing was former Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londoño, who was traveling in a bulletproof car at the time of the attack. Lodoño’s driver and one bodyguard were killed, and he was wounded in the blast, which took place in prosperous northern Bogota, at 74th Street with Caracas Avenue. The authorities have security camera footage of the man who placed the explosive device, which shows him walking along the street and circling Lodoño’s car before sticking the bomb to a door on the left-hand side, reports Caracol Radio.

The FARC rebel group are the most likely culprits for the attack. They are thought to have been behind another car bomb deactivated a few hours before the explosion, outside a police station in the south of the city. One person has been arrested in connection to the first bomb.

The group’s Eastern Bloc are thought to be responsible for both attacks, working through their urban guerrilla network the Red Urbana Antonio Nariño (RUAN). The rebels have increasingly been relying on non-uniformed militias in recent years, who carry out urban guerrilla attacks like car bombings.

Lodoño was minister early in the presidency of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), and resigned in 2003. He remains an Uribe ally, and has criticized President Juan Manuel Santos’ moves toward peace talks with the FARC.

The Miami Herald notes that it would be the first fatal bomb attack carried out by the FARC in Bogota in nearly 10 years, though the guerrillas have not yet claimed responsibility. In 2003 the guerrillas bombed the upscale El Nogal club, killing 36.

The attack was carried out on the day that Colombia’s free trade agreement with the US came into effect. It’s possible that the attack was planned by the FARC to mark this date -- in recent communiques the rebels have criticized the government for opening the country to multinational businesses.

The bombing may also have been timed to coincide with the Framework for Peace, aconstitutional amendment that would give the government special powers to negotiate with the guerrillas and allow former rebels to run for office, and is currently making its way through Congress. Some lawmakers called for the move to be put on hold after the attack, but Congress overwhelming voted to move forward with the legislation, backed by Santos’ government who said they must not give in to terrorism, reports Colombia Reports.

Some reports focus on the blow to the reputation of the city, which is undergoing a rebirth after the worst years of the conflict. The New York Times says the attack “stunned residents in a city that has prided itself on recovering from years of violence,” while AFP describes it as a blow to the forces of change.

News Briefs

  • The NYT examines the psychological impact of drug violence on Mexicans, who it says have become inured to gruesome scenes like the 49 decapitated and maimed bodies left near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. “The apathy — during a presidential campaign, no less — is really just a learned response to repeated trauma, and impotence in the face of horror,” it says. The report notes that the perception that many victims are themselves criminals adds to the detached response to fresh violence. It is likely, for example, that the 49 dead were members of one criminal gang killed by another to show their power.
  • On the Nuevo Leon killings, InSight Crime says that they signal a “war without quarter,” and that the victims are probably members of the Sinaloa Cartel or the Gulf Cartel, murdered by the rival Zetas. The Sinaloa have recently been pushing into the Zetas stronghold of Nuevo Laredo, carrying out killings of Zetas members, and this may be retaliation. It notes that the local government said that the dead were members of criminal groups, and not “civilians.” However, as noted in Monday’s post, it is also perfectly possible that the victims were migrants traveling to the US, unconnected to organized crime and chosen for slaughter because of their vulnerability. If one group wanted to sow fear in its rivals or with the public, it would be easier to catch and kill a group of migrants than heavily armed cartel members. The fact that the victims were missing heads, hands and feet, suggests that the killers did not want them to be identified. On Tuesday, to complicate matters further, banners appeared in the state of San Luis Potosi, signed in the name of the Zetas, saying that the group was not responsible for the bodies.
  • InSight Crime looks at why criminal groups in Latin America recruit children and teenagers: because they are vulnerable, expendable, cheap and easy to manipulate. According to a new report from Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict, the average age of new recruits to Colombia’s guerrilla groups fell from 13.8 in 2002 to 11.8 in 2009.
  • The NYT reports from the Ene River valley in central Peru, where the Ashaninka indigenous group face being displaced by a planned hydroelectric dam project. It says that disruptive hydroelectric dams have become unpopular in some parts of the world, but remain common in Latin America because there are many nations that have a lot of water but few other sources of energy. The NYT notes that the Ashaninka have faced serious threats in recent decades, with some 6,000 people killed during the civil conflict with the Shining Path guerrilla group -- almost 10 percent of the country’s dead.
    With slideshow.
  • Upside Down World reports on a plan to build tunnels linking the Colombian city of Medellin to its international airport, burrowing through the hills that surround the city. Campaigners say it could cause a social and environmental disaster, draining rivers and devastating the community of Santa Elena, and the forests and wetlands around it. The plan was originally given the go-ahead by former President Alvaro Uribe when he was governor of Antioquia in the 1990s. Uribe, who remains powerful in the department, owns land near the entrance of the planned tunnel, which is set to rise in value.
  • The Miami Herald hails the newly instituted free trade agreement between Colombia and the US as a new era in trade and investment between the two countries, saying that with its “now permanent duty-free access to the United States, the world’s largest market, Colombia’s star is rising.” Meanwhile, a study backed by Oxfam on the impact of the trade pact warns that more small-scale Colombian farmers could be pushed into growing coca as the deal hurts their income from other crops, reports La Nacion.
  • The NYT Latitude blog asks why Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez gets an easier ride from the West than Russia’s newly re-appointed Vladimir Putin, describing their two regimes as “eerily similar.” It notes that “Chavez’s cheerful tropical anti-imperialism has an allure that Putin’s scowling Slavic strongman persona will always lack.”
  • Rio Real blog reports on a lunch with Rio de Janeiro security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame, who talks about efforts to stamp out police militias and cut police corruption.
  • Haiti’s government is planning new legislation to govern its developing mining industry, reports the AP. The laws are intended to protect the environment and people who could be affected by mining.
  • Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes has died at the age of 83.

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