Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Venezuela Sends More Troops to Border after FARC Ambush

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has ordered the armed forces to reinforce the western border after 12 Colombian soldiers died in an attack by rebels, who the authorities said fled into the neighboring country.

The soldiers were ambushed while on patrol near the city of Maicao, in the northeastern province of La Guajira on Monday, leaving four soldiers injured in addition to those killed.

The Colombian Army told the Associated Press that a group of 60-80 rebels had attacked from Venezuelan territory and then retreated back over the border. The authorities have attributed the attack to the FARC’s 59th Front, according to a statement by the Air Force. The 59th Front are based in the Serrania del Perija, a mountain range that runs through the east of the country near the Venezuelan border (see InSight Crime’s map of FARC fronts), and are known to move up and down the border on the Venezuelan side.

Chavez was quick to respond, saying on television that;

"We have stepped up air patrols as of this morning... because we maintain our position, that we will not permit incursions of any armed force, whatever its type might be, into Venezuelan territory," reports the AFP.

"This conflict is not ours.” he added. “We defend peace and insist that our territory is not used by either side in the conflict."

The rebel group has in the past been able to use Venezuela as a site to hide out and recuperate, but since Chavez renewed relations with the neighboring country in 2010 his administration has been increasingly tough on the group, capturing several members.

NGO Nuevo Arco Iris told the AP that the FARC were trying to regain territory in La Guajira which it lost during the 1990s. It is a profitable location for extorting ranchers and miners. The territory is home to many indigenous groups -- the AFP reports that “local mayor Eurpides Pulido condemned the attack, which rocked a quiet and isolated area in which indigenous ethnic Wayuu, Kogi, Ika, Kankuamo and Wiwa people live.”

The attack follows other heavy blows struck by the rebels against the armed forces, with 11 soldiers killed in Arauca, on the Venezuelan border, in March, and 15 killed in the southern Caqueta province in April

The FARC have also been blamed for a bombing in Bogota last Tuesday. El Pais reports that intelligence sources say the group paid 2 billion pesos ($1.1 million) for the attack, ordered by “El Paisa,” who heads the Teofilo Forero Column. Meanwhile the ELN rebels attributed the attack to the “extreme right” in a public statement released over the Internet.

News Briefs

  • Danilo Medina has been celebrating his victory in Sunday's Dominican Republic presidential elections, despite the fact that the opposition is claiming electoral meddling and his main rival has refused to concede, reports the AP. He made a speech to members of his Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), which currently holds the presidency, promising to move forward with his political program, including ending the power blackouts which often hit the island country. Meanwhile the the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD’s), candidate Hipolito Mejia warned that the country was going back to the time of autocratic government, claiming that the PLD had exploited state resources, using military and police repression and vote-buying to ensure victory in the election, reports local media. The Financial Times comments that “Medina’s victory is likely to mean continued stability for one of the Caribbean’s fastest growing economies.”
  • Three Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents are under investigation for allegedly hiring prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, in a separate incident to the one that kicked off the Secret Service furore, reports CNN. Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said "we may be uncovering a troubling culture that spans more than one law enforcement agency.”
  • A piece published by Al-Jazeera looks at the work of the US to expand the use of surveillance technology by security agencies in Latin America, warning that this can lead to abuse in democracies which lack robust laws against the misuse of such infrastructure. It looks at the example of Colombia, where a scandal over the wiretapping of political opponents, Supreme Court judges and journalists under President Alvaro Uribe continues to unfold, and says that the US is currently working on plans to triple the size of Mexico’s surveillance system. “In its zeal to fight the war on drugs, the United States could wind up leading those struggling democratic nations down the dangerous path of further erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law,” warns the report.
  • In response to protests against the likely return of the long-ruling PRI party to power in Mexico, presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto has released a 10-point democracy pledge, promising to respect rights such as free speech, religious liberty and to respect the independence of the judiciary, reports the AP. During his party’s 71 years in power, which ended in 2000, it was accused of corruption, stealing elections, and crushing dissent, making some Mexicans nervous about the prospect of it winning the presidency in July, as Peña enjoys a double-digit lead over his rivals.
  • IPS reports from Santa Cruz Barillas in northwest Guatemala, where locals protesting the construction of a hydroelectric dam clashed with the security forces earlier this month, causing President Otto Perez to declare a state of emergency. One farmer died in the turmoil, and IPS says that 17 community leaders have been arrested. The report notes that one place where a 500-member military brigade is being set up with the stated aim of fighting organized crime, the town of San Juan Sacatepequez near Guatemala City, is the site of social conflict over the construction of a factory. Plaza Publica has published a map showing the location of mining concessions in the country, commenting that wealth in Guatemala has historically been closely tied to land ownership and the exploitation of natural resources.
  • An archbishop who negotiated the truce between rival gangs in El Salvador, which cut murders by some 60 percent over the last two months, has declared that it is time for the Church to step back and the government to take over, reports El Diario de Hoy. Fabio Colindres warned that the Church cannot solve insecurity, and said that the authorities have to continue the mediation process. Last week, Security Minister David Munguia Payes admitted in an interview with El Faro that the work of the negotiators had been part of his strategy for bringing down violence, despite the government’s attempts to distance itself from the truce when it was first announced.
  • The WSJ reports on the Haitian authorities’ crackdown on illicit training camps by groups campaigning for the restitution of the country’s army. By Monday morning, the barracks being used by some 2,500 would-be troops had been emptied by the police, who had support from UN peacekeeping forces, though these forces did not actively take part in the raids. The bust took place after the groups, described as “paramilitary-like” by the AP, had carried out a march early Friday, during which two US citizens were arrested. Prosecutors told the AP that the men could face three years in jail if convicted of conspiracy charges, and that one of them had confessed to having ties to criminal groups.
  • The LA Times blog reports on the killings of six journalists in Mexico in a month, the most recent being Marco Avila, a police reporter who was kidnapped on Thursday in Sonora, and found dead the next day.
  • Argentina could enter a recession this year, according to sources quoted by the AP, while other economists predict growth of 2.5 to 3 percent -- a drop from last year’s 8.9 percent growth. Analysts blame recently imposed currency and trade restrictions, high inflation, price controls and capital flight for the country’s problems.
  • Brazil has doubled its number of high-speed Internet connections to 72 million in the last year, according to President Dilma Rousseff, reports the AP. The government is rolling out a plan to bring cheaper broadband to lower income households, and has signed up 6 million so far. In Cuba, on the other hand, plans to boost the country’s Internet access via an undersea fiber-optic cable seem to have been quietly shelved, reports the WSJ; “maddening, nobody has explained what happened to the much-ballyhooed $70 million project.”

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