| 2008/11/06 00:00

Europe has a say

1st week: Oct. 30th – Nov. 6th -- What does the Old Continent think about Colombia? Read every week in Semana-International a roundup report on what the major European press says, thinks, feels and does about our country.

Europe has a say

On the scandal over the killings of civilians by Colombian military forces and the dismissal of 27 high rank military officials European media reported assiduously this week.

In an article called "Crimes Against Friend and Foe" (Nov. 5th), Peter Burghardt, correspondent of Germany’s major daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), claims that President Álvaro Uribe has been allowing the execution of civilians in order to improve the successful statistics of his government in the war against illegal armed organizations. The report, published in the SZ’s print edition, welcomes the dismissal of three generals and 24 army-officials assumedly involved in the killing of eleven Colombian citizens. Non the less, the SZ underlines the fact that the government still denies armed conflict in Colombia and that Human Rights organizations as well as opposers to Mr. Uribe remain victims of the government’s constant and aggressive vilifications—SZ mentions Human Rights Watch’s José Manuel Vivanco and the leftist politician Gustavo Petro. According to the SZ, these procedures remind of the US-lead war against terrorism and of the hunt of subversives in times of Latin-American dictatorships. “In (Uribe’s) case, the end justifies the means”, writes Burghardt, “and thus, almost everything falls under the logic of friend and foe”.

Also Spain’s major daily-paper El País published a report on the scandal (Nov. 5th). Opening with headlines referring to the retreat of Colombia’s Army-Chief and hero of Operation Jaque Mario Montoya, the article, signed by reporter Maité Rico, highlights the investigation ordered by the Ministry of Defense, which unveiled severe failures in the proceedings of a handful of brigades that were disregarding basic military doctrines and rapt in corruption. Ms. Rico informs about rumors in the Ministry of further changes, and mentions reports according to which other four generals could withdraw in the next days. Sources quoted by Ms. Rico assure, nonetheless, that “not all the cases of false combatant deaths are such. There are mistakes and there are false charges made by spheres near to Farc, but there are also real cases and we are going after them”.

The Austrian daily-newspaper Der Standard reported extensively on General Mario Montoya’s resignation, after details on 23 cases of extrajudicial executions had been unveiled by an intern army-report (independent organizations, so Der Standard, have been talking of more than 1,000 more cases). In an article published Nov. 3rd, the Standard points out that various members of the opposition now demand Juan Manual Santos, Colombia’s Ministry of Defense, to resign. The report underlines the fact that, for several years now, both Human Rights organizations and representatives of the Church have vainly alerted the government about the army dragging civilians out of their hometowns, shooting them dead, and then presenting them as dead enemies.

The German socialist daily Neues Deutschland also reported on the extrajudicial executions in an article called “Executions for extra vacation” (Nov. 3rd), written by Tommy Ramm, in Bogotá. Mr. Ramm brings out the fact that, parallel to the scandal of the killings of civilians, Farc guerillas “have once again confirmed their interest in peace talks”. Neues Deutschland considers “surprising” the removal of 27 members of the Colombian army, and claims that Mr. Uribe’s government has unfolded a many-years-old practice through which the military has been manipulating “statistics of success” in its war against Farc. The case of the eleven bodies found in Ocaña is meant to be only the “tip of the iceberg”.

Toni Keppeler’s column “Panamericana”, published in the German newsweekly Stern, referred to the extrajudicial killings, too. Mr. Keppeler’s article, called “Rebell or not – the main thing is dead” (Nov. 1st), depicts President Álvaro Uribe as allowing himself to be praised as “the commander-in-chief that has brought the guerillas to their knees”; yet the scandal of the execution of civilians is just one of several hiding behind “the President’s propaganda show”, so Stern’s Latin-America columnist. The alleged innocence of government and military leaders—including Mr. Uribe’s—is seen with skepticism by the author, who deplores the fact that the US-Embassy—through which Mr. Uribe’s war is financed—has swiftly disavowed any responsibility for the crimes. “Since Uribe is in power, there is something wrong with Human Rights in his country”, writes Keppeler, before enumerating the perils of at least three millions of displaced Colombians, of indigenous communities and of around 500 lawyers living in exile.

French daily Le Monde correspondent Marie Delcas reported on the topic, too. Published in the print edition of France’s major newspaper (Oct. 30th), Ms. Delcas’ article informs about President Álvaro Uribe’s decision to oust 27 militaries suspected of having assassinated civilians in order to present them as dead combatants. Ms. Delcas underlines the fact that, for the last four years, Human Rights defendants (with United Nations to the head) have denounced the rising of extrajudicial executions in Colombia. Iván Cepeda, director of the Association of Victims of State Crimes, who talked with Le Monde, spoke of the case in Soacha as being only “the tip of the iceberg” and of such practices as “generalized for the totality of the Colombian territory”. The sociologist Álvaro Camacho told Le Monde: “Contradictory doctrines live together in the heart of the armed forces: one that respects Human Rights, and another one that conduces to the practice of sordid orchestrations.”

On the possibility of France giving asylum to ex Farc-combatant Wilson Bueno Largo, a.k.a. “Isaza”, the French daily Le Monde published a report this week.

Paris is ready to receive the Colombian guerillero ‘Isaza’ who escaped on Oct. 26th with Óscar Tulio Lizcano, a former politican held hostage by Farc for over more than 8 years. The statement comes from an article published in the print edition of Le Monde (Oct. 30th), which refers to declarations of President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to which “political asylum will be conceded”. Wilson Bueno Largo, whose nom-de-guerre at Farc was “Isaza”, had helped Mr. Lizcano run away from his captors in the deep jungles of the West of the country. The ex guerillero soon repented publicly of his more than ten years of fighting with Farc. On December 2007, Prime Minister François Fillon had already considered the possibility of France receiving guerilleros in exchange for the liberation of Farc hostages. He repeated this offer last April.

On the death of the old communist leader Nicolás Buenaventura, Le Monde published an obituary this week.

In its print edition, Le Monde published last week (Oct. 31st) an article by Paulo A. Paranagua on the death of Nicolás Buenaventura, who passed away Oct. 13th at the age of 89. The necrology points out Mr. Buenaventura’s value for the formation of trade unionists, guerilleros and militants of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC). The “maestro”—as he was respectfully called—had distanced himself from Farc—according to Paranagua—“the communist guerilla stained by drug dealing and ignominious kidnappings”. Regarding his life Le Monde talks of Mr. Buenaventura—who was born in Cali on the 25th Nov. 1918—as an autodidact, and as an essential motor in the foundation of the PCC and the review Estudios marxistas. Paranagua brings up the wide influence of Mr. Buenaventura’s life and work, counting even Luis Eduardo “Lucho” Garzón, the former mayor of Bogotá city and central figure of the new-born, leftist party Polo Democrático, within the Maestro’s most important disciples.

On the visit of Hamburg’s Mayor Ole von Beust to Colombia, the German daily Die Welt published a special report.

Die Welt’s special envoy Florian Hanauer accompanied Hamburg’s Mayor and President of the Federal Council of Germany, Ole von Beust, during his visits to Mexico and Colombia. Regarding the latter, Mr. Hanauer wrote in an article published in the print edition of Die Welt (Nov. 1st) that while Mr. von Beust returned with a positive impression, his journey companion Frank Horch, of the German Chamber of Commerce, was rather critical. According to Die Welt, for Mr. von Beust the clearest results of the trip are the possibilities offered by the construction of a public metropolitan and suburban transportation system for Bogotá. Mr. von Beust told Die Welt that Mayor Samuel Moreno had showed great interest in the possibility of cooperating with the city of Hamburg and announced to visit the richest German Hanseatic city at the beginning of 2009. During his trip, Mr. Moreno—so Die Welt reports—would like to inquire on the possibility of bringing to Colombia a Hamburger consultant for the construction of elevated railways. In contrast with this optimism, Frank Horch expressed profound skepticism towards the viability of cooperation in this sense.

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