History Ready to Repeat Itself? Context for Colombia’s Presidential Election

May 24, 2014

by Ramón Campos Iriarte

It has been a surprising trend that, for the past several years, a number of Latin American countries have voted into power democratically elected left-wing governments of some kind—whereas Colombia has steered toward governments from the right of the political spectrum.

Even in countries in the region where right-wing presidents continue to hold office, like Mexico or Paraguay, there is still a strong Left that disputes elections and gets a considerable amount of legislators elected in the polls. In Colombia, on the other hand, political power has been largely split—at least in the last two decades—between different factions of the conservative Right.

Meanwhile, the emaciated democratic Left is crippled by internal rivalries (like in the case of the Polo Democrático), and has been targeted by death squads whenever it manages to approach a position of real power (like the widespread assassination of Unión Patriótica leaders and of demobilized M-19 fighters-turned-politicians in the 1980s and 90s).

Colombia’s current political trends can be explained by history. Historically, Colombia has been a geographically divided country since colonial times. After independence, no political party managed to unify the different territories that constituted the nation, and instead, the country was governed by strong regional socio-political dynamics.

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Tags: Colombia, Scandals, Presidential Election

Camino a la presidencia: la pelea de la derecha en Colombia

May 22, 2014

by María Alejandra Mosquera

Tradicionalmente, las elecciones presidenciales en Colombia se han caracterizado por sus escándalos de corrupción, filtración de dineros del narcotráfico, y compra desmedida de votos. Lejos de romper con esta penosa tradición, la actual carrera presidencial pasará a la historia, por sumar a este prontuario el espionaje, la polarización, los insultos y acusaciones, y la falta de propuestas serias.

A pesar de contar con la presencia de varios candidatos con ideologías diversas, las elecciones presidenciales del 2014 parecen enfrentar únicamente a dos de ellos, provenientes de la misma corriente política: Óscar Iván Zuluaga, del Uribe Centro Democrático (partido creado por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe) y Juan Manuel Santos, del Partido de la U. (movimiento político creado por el mismo presidente. El afán por obtener la presidencia ha llevado a algunos  miembros de estos dos grupos a cometer actos de dudosa profesionalidad y a rayar en la ilegalidad.

Por una parte, al Centro Democrático se le han comprobado vínculos con  Andrés Sepúlveda, a quién a su vez se le investiga por interceptaciones ilegales de las comunicaciones del Presidente Santos y del equipo de negociadores del proceso de paz, que en la actualidad sostienen el gobierno y las FARC en La Habana, Cuba. Adicionalmente, un sector importante de las fuerzas militares colombianas ha mostrado abiertamente su simpatía con el movimiento político de Uribe. Esta lealtad quedó en evidencia con una polémica filtración de coordenadas geográficas de operativos secretos de inteligencia al ex-presidente, quien de inmediato las publicó en Twitter, sin reparo por los riesgos evidentes de seguridad para los involucrados en dichas misiones.

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Tags: Colombia, Colombian Elections

Additional Reforms Needed in Colombian Mining Sector

May 13, 2014

by Kai Whiting

Exportation in Colombia has been, and remains, a significant driving factor for large-scale mineral exploration, extraction and production by multinational corporations. According to the Banco de la República, the Colombian mining sector contributed to a record high proportion of the country’s total exports in 2011 and 2012, at 71 percent.

Fossil fuels especially constituted an integral component of mining sector production, with oil and coal representing 70 percent and 20 percent of production, respectively. A 2011 report produced by Carolynna Arce, deputy director of the Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (National Hydrocarbon Agency), reported that Colombia received an estimated $4 billion in foreign direct investment in the oil and gas sector in 2010. This could explain why, earlier this year, Colombia Reports ran the headline that “66% of Colombians think mining is positive for the country.”

Such optimism arguably overlooks various Colombian mining scandals, such as the illegal assignment of mining titles in National Parks by Ingeominas that surfaced in 2011. That aside, ABColombia, The Guardian, Peace Brigade International and Guillermo Rudas of Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana all vocally highlighted the tax breaks enjoyed by multinational mining companies in Colombia.    

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Tags: Colombia, mining royalties, Transparency

Colombian Group Accused of Spying on Peace Talks

May 7, 2014

by AQ Online

The Colombian attorney general’s office announced yesterday that authorities have arrested a hacker suspected of spying on communications belonging to the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) as they conduct peace talks in Havana.

Andrés Sepúlveda was arrested in a raid on a Bogotá office for allegedly running an illegal spying ring. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre said that Sepúlveda’s operation was selling information to a third party in an attempt to “sabotage, interfere and affect the peace process in Havana.” Investigators believe that President Juan Manuel Santos’ emails may have been intercepted.

Sepúlveda is linked to the political campaign of Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate who is running against Santos in Colombia’s May 25 presidential election. Zuluaga acknowledged yesterday that Sepúlveda has been providing social network and security services for his campaign since February, but insisted that the spying ring had nothing to do with his campaign.

A prior spying scandal unveiled in February also targeted the peace talks in Havana, but Montealegre said that the latest scandal was not linked to Operation “Andrómeda,” in which members of the Colombian military set up a special intelligence unit to spy on the government, the FARC, and journalists’ communications.

The raid comes days after Santos’ chief campaign strategist, J. J. Rendon, resigned amid allegations that he received $12 million from drug kingpins in exchange for mediating a negotiated surrender.

Tags: Colombia, Peace Talks, FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos

Colombia’s Economic Success Story

April 11, 2014

by Christian Gómez, Jr.

Upcoming presidential elections and ongoing peace negotiations demonstrate Colombia’s consolidation of rule and law and democracy.

President Juan Manuel Santos is seeking re-election, and free and fair elections have been a mainstay in the country since 1957—one of the longest stretches in Latin America. Moreover, the peace process, underway since October 2012, is a notable program which has attracted the attention and support of the international community.

Yet while the exercise of democracy and the progress towards a lasting peace are clearly some of the main stories in Colombia, they have overshadowed the country’s economic performance during the past decade. According to Capital Economics, a London-based economic research group, Colombia has surpassed Argentina to become the third-largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico.

Colombia has enjoyed stable GDP growth (estimated at between 4 and 5 percent in 2014), diversification of exports, strong fiscal position, and lower unemployment. Poverty has declined with it, and a strong middle class has emerged. Colombia’s economic growth is notable in a country that is climbing out of an internal armed conflict.

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Tags: Colombia, Colombian economy

Colombian Oil: Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

April 4, 2014

by Kai Whiting

With production rates continuing at their current level Colombia will run out of oil within 6.9 years unless new, major oil fields are found. As of 2013, the country had 2.3 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, ranking fifth after Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina in total reserves in South America.

Most of these reserves are allocated to the export market, which is currently the fourth most significant in Latin America. Export growth has been nothing short of staggering in the last nine years and since 2004 Colombia has fed its oil exports by increasing production by 79 percent (equivalent to 400 thousand barrels per day).

This year’s target is 1.2 million barrels per day and will again predominately feed into the export market–a fact supported by the production-to-(national) consumption ratio published by The Oil & Gas Journal last year, which indicates that for every 3.31 barrels produced, only one stays in Colombia.

Unlike Venezuela—which, even at a production rate of 2.7 million barrels per day, has enough oil to last for more than 250 years, according to the June 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy - Colombia’s current level of export surplus means that its oil wells will run dry in only six years. If daily production increases to the target of 1.2 million barrels with current reserves—as predicted by Ecopetrol, the largest oil company in Colombia—then six years will be more like five and half. Furthermore, the Colombian government’s mining and energy planning unit, the Unidad de Planeamiento Minero Energético (Mining Energy Planning Unit—UPME), states that Colombia will be a net oil importer within two election campaigns.

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Tags: Colombia, oil, Energy Resources

FARC Says Petro’s Removal Will Affect Peace Process

March 21, 2014

by AQ Online

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) condemned the removal of leftist Mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro from office Thursday, saying it will have a negative impact on the peace negotiations. 

Last December, Petro, a  former member of the demobilized guerrilla group Movimiento 19 de Abril (19th of April Movement—M-19), was removed as mayor and banned from holding office for 15 years by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, for alleged mismanagement of the garbage collection system. A backlash of protests and lawsuits filed by Petro's supporters suspended his removal until Wednesday, when the Council of State reviewed and rejected the lawsuits and President Juan Manuel Santos approved Petro’s removal.

Iván Márquez, the FARC’s second in command, said that the decision to oust Petro affects the trust that has been built between the FARC and the government throughout the peace talks, and casts doubt on the promise of political participation for demobilized guerrillas.

Petro accused Santos of staging a coup on the city and showing his inability to achieve peace.  Márquez stated that it will be impossible to achieve an agreement with the Colombian government  if it continues to make decisions that undermine Colombian democracy, like the forced removal of a popularly elected official. “We can very respectfully say that the mafia of the right has taken the power,” Márquez added.

Rafael Pardo Rueda, Minister of Labor of Bogotá, was appointed as interim mayor of the capital on Thursday afternoon until new mayoral elections take place in June.

Tags: Gustavo Petro, Colombia, FARC

Uribe Senador: la gran novedad de las elecciones en Colombia

March 7, 2014

by Jenny Manrique

Las campañas electorales en Colombia parecen calcadas una de la otra: los partidos políticos quedan expuestos en la picota pública por avalar a personajes sospechosos; los grandes barones electorales o sus herederos vuelven al curul; las regiones escasamente proponen caras nuevas; y aquellas colectividades que por no alcanzar el umbral requerido de votos en los anteriores comicios perdieron la personería jurídica, respaldan movimientos ciudadanos avalados por firmas, pocas veces  nacidos de una genuina intención ciudadana, y en cambio, con una fuerte maquinaria de los políticos tradicionales detrás.

Si las cosas continúan así, tras la jornada electoral a la que Colombia asiste este domingo 9 de marzo para elegir 262 parlamentarios entre Cámara y Senado, el Congreso no tendrá mucha renovación. Salvo a la inquietud de saber finalmente cuántas curules obtendrá la lista cerrada del partido Centro Democrático, encabezada por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe (entre 15 y 36, según el grado de optimismo y cálculo político de uribistas o antiuribistas), el camino carece de sorpresas.

Nadie duda la llegada de Uribe al Senado y el escenario de álgido debate que este promete en el Congreso. Después de todo, muchos de sus más grandes contradictores estarán allí esperando cuestionarlo por temas tan álgidos como las chuzadas del DAS, la persecución política y judicial de oponentes políticos y periodistas, y las acusaciones públicas que el ex mandatario solía hacer contra sus opositores. En esta lista, figuran senadores que seguro serán repitentes como los del Polo Democratico—Jorge Robledo e Iván Cepeda, los del Cambio Radical como Germán Varon, y los nuevos aspirantes como la investigadora Claudia López de la Alianza Verde, reconocida por su papel en la revelación de los más oscuros pasajes de la parapolítica en Colombia. Habrá que ver si sólo el voto de opinión—es decir, sin la maquinaria clásica que amarra el sufragio en Colombia—le permite a ella y a otros partidos chicos alcanzar el umbral de 450 mil votos para poder participar en estos debates.

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Tags: Colombia, Colombia elecciones

Colombia: Las ‘Chuzadas’ de la era Santos

February 10, 2014

by Jenny Manrique

Que en Colombia hay enemigos del proceso de paz que adelanta el Gobierno con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en la Habana no es nuevo ni sorprende. Hay fuerzas partidarias que le apuestan a las conversaciones de paz, tanto como aquellas que nunca estuvieron de acuerdo con que se comenzaran, el uribismo en particular. Este es el resultado de haber priorizado una salida militar sin éxito durante 50 años de conflicto armado.

Sin embargo, a los colombianos les cuesta confiar en una guerrilla a la que por años se le ha culpado por todos los males del país, especialmente después del fracaso de  los diálogos del Caguán, en los que las FARC se fortalecieron militarmente al tener una zona de 42.000 km2 donde eran “Dios y Ley” durante el gobierno de Andrés Pastrana.

De estar en desacuerdo, a sabotear el proceso, hay un trecho enorme. Más aún si el sabotaje incluye una de las herramientas más nocivas contra la privacidad y el ejercicio de la oposición política en Colombia: las llamadas “chuzadas.” Recordado como uno de los grandes lunares del gobierno de Álvaro Uribe, que finalmente obligó a su sucesor Juan Manuel Santos a liquidar el controvertido Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), el caso reveló que ese organismo de inteligencia interceptaba ilegalmente las comunicaciones de periodistas, activistas de derechos humanos, jueces, magistrados y políticos de la oposición, con el objetivo de enlodar sus nombres, abrir expedientes falsos e incluso encomendar fuerzas paramilitares para asesinarlos.

La historia de Colombia es prueba de que el ejercicio de la oposición política en el país es peligroso. Ahora en la era de Santos aparece de nuevo este fantasma, descubierto gracias a las revelaciones del portal

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Tags: Colombia, Surveillance, DAS, Colombia Peace Talks

Colombia Military Spies on the Peace Process with the FARC

February 5, 2014

by AQ Online

Two top Colombian intelligence officers were dismissed on Tuesday after allegations that the Colombian military was spying on government peace negotiators.

General Mauricio Zúñiga, chief of army intelligence, and General Jorge Andres Zuluaga, director of the army’s national intelligence center, were dismissed from their positions after an investigation by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana found an undercover intelligence-gathering site set up by an army team in Bogotá. According to the investigation, the army recruited hackers to break into the email accounts and text messages of government officials associated with the peace talks in Havana.

Army General Juan Pablo Rodríguez said in an interview that the military knew about the site, which was one of their “many intelligence gathering activities.” However, Rodríguez said that the military never approved of spying on government officials.

President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an in-depth investigation. He said that military spying on the country’s own citizens and officials is unacceptable, and questioned whether the incident is linked to plans to sabotage the peace negotiations.

This is not the first time that Colombia’s security forces have been linked to illegal spying and wiretapping. During the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (Administrative Department of Security—DAS), the country’s main intelligence service, faced allegations of illegally wiretapping public figures and collaborating with paramilitary groups. After Santos’ election, the DAS was dismantled and several of its agents were prosecuted.

Tags: Colombia, Surveillance, Colombia Peace Talks