SEMANA INTERNATIONAL/Roundup Report | 12/11/2008 12:00:00 AM
Europe has a say
Dec. 4th – Dec. 11th — 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.
On Wednesday, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrated its 60th anniversary—and that same day, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva examined the situation in Colombia. Vice-President Francisco Santos lead the governmental representative commission, but also leaders of major national NGOs were present at the Council. Many days before the appointment in Switzerland, media all around Europe diligently commented on Human Rights in Colombia.
MR. URIBE’S ‘LIBERTIES’ — “Are Human Rights Toothless Paper Tigers?” With this question, Germany’s national news service Deutsche Welle (DW) begins an extensive report on 60 years of Human Rights and how they are complied with around the globe.
The article was published at the German website of DW on Wednesday (Dec. 10th) and signed by journalist Mirjam Gehrke. DW’s reporter divides the text in four parts. In the first part—“prohibiting torture in the war against terror”—she refers to US-security policies after 9/11; in the second part—“human rights activists”—she writes about the situation of these in China; and in the third part she refers to Human Rights as a Millennium Goal.
For the last part—“Security Is Prior to Human Rights”—Ms. Gehrke takes Colombia as an example. According to her, the liberation of the former presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt from the hands of FARC last summer served President Álvaro Uribe as proof that “his ‘hard hand’ policy has provided Colombia with more security”. However: “That Mr. Uribe, with this policy, takes some liberties with respecting Human Rights, is a fact that the government prefers to keep secret”, Ms. Gehrke writes.
THORNY EXAMS AT UNITED NATIONS — The Swiss francophone newspaper Le Temps made public an extensive report on cases of Human Rights violations raised by NGOs against the Colombian government. The article called “Colombia Faces Exam at the UN” was published in the print edition of the daily on Wednesday (Dec. 10th) and signed by reporter Angélique Mounier-Kuhn. She writes: “The minute they have the chance, Colombian authorities brandish a statistical arsenal that attests a reflux of violence in the country after Álvaro Uribe’s first election as President in 2002”.
Le Temps contrasts this reality with the opinions of a collective of NGOs that transmitted a protocol to the High Commission of Human Rights in Geneva assessing exactly the contrary. The reporter quotes Isabelle Heyer, representative of the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CJJ) at UN, saying: “(…) the government presents general homicide rates that do not indicate anything regarding Human Rights. (…) Now, you can notice that violations such as extrajudicial executions and forced disappearing have increased after that date (2002)”.
Le Temps also quotes Gustavo Gallón, President of CJJ, who sustains that after August 2002 more than 14,000 people have died or have been shot dead hors de combat for socio-political reasons. Mr. Gallón says: “In the majority of the cases, there is responsibility of the State, either directly or through its support of paramilitary groups. Additionally, one fourth of the cases can be attributed to guerrillas”.
THE CRACKS OF DEMOCRATIC SECURITY — In an extensive story published last Sunday (Dec. 7th) in El País, Spain’s major daily, Neiva-born reporter Winston Manrique Sabogal offers a look into the cruel reality of the victims of the long-lasting dirty war in Colombia lead by the national military forces.
In “The Dirty War That Overshadows Colombia”, Mr. Manrique Sabogal refers to judicial investigations directed against more than 3,000 army officers, and launched to clear up the cases of more than 1,000 civilians missing since 2002. El País’ reporter writes: “In the region of Bajo Ariari, in the centre of Colombia, people were familiar with violence coming from paramilitaries and guerrilleros, but not with violence of this kind. Two years ago, without any reason peasants and outsiders began to disappear. Later, their bodies were found, tens of kilometres away, and the army counted them as insurgents killed in combat”.
El País sees these events as “by-product of the cracks within the policy of Democratic Security” of President Álvaro Uribe. Extra-judicial executions—perpetrated by the army and, after increasing from 2002 on, attributed by many analysts to President Uribe’s policy—represent a “checkmate” on Human Rights, so Mr. Manrique Sabogal.
KNEW IT ALL THE TIME — In an article published in the print edition of the prestigious Amsterdam-based newspaper Trouw, the Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos admitted that the government was aware of extrajudicial executions taking place within the national army at least since 2005.
“I will be sincere: we feel very ashamed for what happened”, Mr. Santos told Trouw reporter Edwin Koopman. The interview served as a basis for an extensive report called “The Military Is Rewarded By Killing Innocent Colombians”, written by Mr. Koopman and made public by the newspaper on Tuesday (Dec. 9 th). Vice-President Santos shows himself “surprised” by the great quantity of people killed by army members and counted as fighters of FARC.
Listen to the interview here.
COOPERATION FUNDS TO REWARD CRIME? — In an interview published in the Spanish socialist daily Público, Mauricio Valiente—a Colombian lawyer responsible for uncovering the practice of his country’s army of killing civilians in order to obtain rewards from international cooperation funds—considers extrajudicial executions to be “crimes against humanity”.
About the situation of Human Rights in Colombia, Mr. Valiente told Publico’s reporter Gorka Castillo: “(…) the ways of violating Human Rights have varied, and an aggravation of crimes can be registered—although it may seem as if things had improved”. In the interview, published in the newspaper’s print edition on Saturday (Dec. 6th), Mr. Valiente was asked to explain where the money of rewards for so-called ‘false positives’ comes from: “(…) a secret directive of the Ministry of Defence clearly specifies that the money (…) derives from the public funds as well as (…) from international cooperation funds. (…) This affects foreign countries, like Spain, whose aids have never aimed the financing of criminal practices”.
Finally, Mr. Valiente told Público that the Colombian government not only denied at a first glance the facts arising from his investigations, but that he and his team suffered defamation after having been accused of making part of an insurgent strategy.
THE SECRET DIRECTIVE FOR REWARDS — News about a secret directive, in which the Colombian government establishes that money coming from international cooperation funds should be used for rewarding the killing of FARC members, were divulged by ADN, Spain’s major free daily newspaper, in its print edition last Thursday (Dec. 4th).
Journalist Mathieu de Taillac directly refers to a report of the platform “Justicia por Colombia” (Justice for Colombia) and quotes a paragraph in the 15-page long secret document of the Colombian Ministry of Defence that reads: “The budget assigned for the payment of rewards (…) will be financed with resources of the State and with other emanating from national and international economic cooperation”. Facsimiles of the documents can be seen on the ADN website. The confidential directive was emitted on November 17th 2005 and was classified as “permanent”, so ADN.
According to Mr. de Taillac, a series of Excel tables establish the pay scales—he quotes: “for a maximum leader (…) or (someone) publicly known for his atrocity (…) or who constitutes a menace for national security” 5 billion pesos (approx. 2.3 million US-Dollar) will be offered.
Bon Jour Monsieur ‘Isaza’
Wilson Bueno Largo, aka ‘Isaza’, the former FARC fighter who almost two months ago helped Óscar Tulio Lizcano escape from the claws of the guerrilla arrived yesterday in Paris, where he and his wife Lilia Isabel Buñol will live—and be protected by the French government. Media in France and Spain didn’t spare words in covering the event.
FORMER FIGHTERS ARE WELCOME — A few days before former FARC member Wilson Bueno Largo was able to leave Colombia, Le Monde had published (Dec. 6th) an article pointing out declarations coming from the Office of President Nicolas Sarkozy, that reminded of its “disposition” to receive former guerrilla fighters. Le Monde quoted sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris saying that guerrilleros “who make a petition, who have renounced to armed fighting, and who are not object of criminal prosecutions” will be welcome in France as a way to “help resolve the Colombian conflict”.
THEY WERE ALL FINELY DRESSED — “Somewhere between shy and nervous” behaved Wilson Bueno Largo, aka ‘Isaza’, at a press conference that took place in Bogotá few hours before his departure. Pilar Lozano, Colombia correspondent of Spain’s major daily El País, was at the conference and wrote an article about Mr. Bueno Largo’s fate published in the newspaper’s print edition on Wednesday (Dec. 10th).
She quotes him: “First of all, getting to know… it’s a different country, the most difficult thing is the tongue, I will arrive there as a stranger”. According to a French diplomatic spokesman quoted by Ms. Lozano, details on the conditions of Mr. Bueno Largo’s stay in France will not be given. El País’ reporter reminds that he “only went to school for five years”.
Ms. Lozano writes: “Then he escaped from home—‘I got tired of poverty’—and went to pick coffee. At age 16 he joined the guerrilla. He did it for the same reason why many other young Colombians join armed groups: he lived in a zone influenced by FARC. ‘I saw them always finely dressed, elegant people… I let myself be carried away by this’”.
MORAL DILEMMAS — Le Monde’s Colombia correspondent Marie Delcas also commented on Mr. Bueno Largo’s arrival in Paris. In her article published on Wednesday (Dec. 10 th), Ms. Delcas highlights the fact that the former FARC hostage Íngrid Betancourt expressly returned to Bogotá, after meeting Hugo Chávez in Caracas, in order to take ‘Isaza’ and his girlfriend to France with her.
According to Le Monde, after being discharged of all judicial prosecutions, ‘Isaza’ will receive a reward of 330,000 Euros. “Bogotá would like to stimulate FARC to follow ‘Isaza’s example and free the last hostages still in their hands”, Ms. Delcas writes. However, she concludes: “This policy of rewards inspires a vivid debate between ones who defend its efficacy and others whom it poses a moral dilemma”.
The ‘Bla Bla Bla’ Of Reyes’ Laptops
The prestigious French monthly magazine Le Monde Diplomatique published an article called “The Diplomatic Case” in its print edition last Thursday (Dec. 4th). The newspaper’s editor-in-chief and author of the story Maurice Lemoine mockingly refers to the laptops of former FARC leader Raúl Reyes—killed last March after shellfire had destroyed his camp in the Ecuadorian side of Colombia’s southern border—as “suddenly mute”.
As Mr. Lemoine observes, the USB memory cards found after the attack on Reyes’ camp supposedly contained thousands of e-mails that uncovered the ties between “the Colombian ‘terrorist organisation’ and Presidents Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa, and basque ETA terrorists, etc.”. And they also permitted the judicial proceedings against Parliament members, journalists, as well as NGO activists. Mr. Lemoine writes: “But a new bomb has exploded”.
Le Monde diplomatique points out a declaration made under oath by Captain Ronald Ayden Coy Ortiz—member of the Colombian Directions of Criminal Investigations (Dijin)—that “the ‘computer’ of the cyber-guerrillero (where have the other two computers dwindled away?) didn’t contain ‘any electronic messages’, just Word files”. Mr. Lemoine concludes: “We are now impatiently waiting to see if the noble corporation of journalists will jump at this information with as much appetite as when millions of dollars were offered to FARC by Chávez… ‘as revealed by the thousands of e-mails found in the computers of blablabla blablabla…’”.
A Country For All Seasons
“For God’s Sake, Colombia!” This is the title of Sibylle Tamin’s special feature emitted by the German radio station Kulturradio rbb on Sunday afternoon (Dec. 7th) and presented as a “journey into the heart of darkness in nine stages”.
Ms. Tamin depicts the story of “a country with a 50 year-old civil war that finds no end”. A war that—according to her—has taken the lives of more than 500,000 people, caused the displacement of 2 million and the disappearance of 12,000 as well as 3,000 victims of kidnapping.
rbb's program narrates: “It is a trip through a country of extremes, a country of violence and love for life, of wild, almost pure beauty of nature and of miserable favelas; a country of beautiful women and unattractive men; a country full of hostility and hospitability—a country of surprises”.
Also in sport events Colombian spirits attain dubious glory in European headlines—this time, by achieving the best soccer dive in 2008.
Germany’s major tabloid BILD considers the dive of Émerson Acuña, a player of Barranquilla’s professional soccer team “Junior”, in the penalty area during a game against Cali’s “América” as the best fake play of the year. BILD reporter Christian Doering writes: “After a double-pass (…), Acuña, untouched, glides within the penalty area concluding with a first-class belly-landing. It’s as bold as it gets… Actually, it’s plain sailing: yellow card for the actor and carry on with a free kick for ‘América’. You bet! (The referee) points a finger directly to the penalty spot”.
A video of the fake play can be seen on the newspaper’s website.