Canadian arms exports add to arsenal used against indigenous people, unionized workers, social activists

--photo: David Hogben Police with a Canadian-produced armoured personnel carrier stationed along the Panamerican Highway check a busload of Colombians.

–Photo: David Hogben
Police with a Canadian-produced armoured personnel carrier stationed along the Panamerican Highway check a bus passing through a frequent conflict zone.

Weaponized armoured personnel carriers have been produced in Canada and shipped to a military base near the Colombia-Venezuela border, while others have been sold to the national police and stationed in the southern department of Cauca where they are used frequently in conflicts over land with the indigenous Nasa people.

TradeTalk, the magazine for the B.C. Building Trades, published my story about my search for the Canadian-manufactured armoured personnel carriers sold to the Colombian military and national police.Tradetalk-Colombia (June 2015)S

High court orders former guerrilla Gustavo Petro restored as Bogotá mayor in 48 hours

Cars ripped through the streets of Bogotá music blasting in celebration of a high court decision ordering the return of deposed mayor Gustavo Bogotá.


Español: Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego, polít...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia) A Bogotá court has ordered deposed mayor Gustavo Petro be returned to office within 48 hours. He was fired last month by President Juan Manuel Santos.

The court gave the government 48 hours to comply with the order.


The court has overruled the decision of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who fired the former M-19 guerrilla leader as mayor last month. Santos fired Petro despite the international human rights organization Comisión Internaciónal de Derechos Humanos order that firing Petro would violate the political – and therefore human rights – of Petro and Bogotá voters.


The stunning series of events that saw Petro deposed and two other mayors take office temporarily began in early December, when right-wing Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez ordered that Petro be fired for allegedly mismanaging the restructuring of Bogotá´s garbage collection system when he removed lucrative contracts from private companies.


Ordóñez never alleged corruption nor law-breaking by Petro, but said he violated the principles of free enterprise and risked the health of citizens when had the city assume responsibility for garbage collection.


Petro appealed to the CIDH for protective measures which would have prevented his firing until it could be decided whether his and Bogotá citizen´s rights had been violated by his removal.

The court ruled Colombia must comply with the decision of the international organization.


The Bogotá streets have been coming alive with sounds of honking and cheering in Bogotá´s Plaza de Bolivar, where earlier today thousands of Colombians gathered to say their final farewells to Nobel winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez who died last Thursday.


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Court orders presidential apology for linking unions with FARC guerrillas


Words don´t kill, but in Colombia public denunciations often precede the paramilitary assassins.


Presentación de José Obdulio Gaviria en Nueva York

(Photo credit: Agencia Prensa Rural 10 años) Recently elected Colombian Senator José Obdulio Gaviria has been forced to apologize for linking three trade unions with FARC guerrillas, a label that often precedes assassination in Colombia.

That´s why a newspaper column written seven years ago by an adviser to then president Álvaro Uribe is still making news in Colombia.


José Obdulio Gaviria, recently elected senator for Uribe´s personal political party Centro Democrático, has apologized for linking three prominent Colombian trade unions with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the FARC rebels currently negotiating a peace accord with the national government.


Gaviria apologized for the column published newspaper column and said he did not wish to victimize the unions nor its members with false accusations.


The unions named in the scandalous column were SINTRAEMCALI, which represents municipal workers, SINTRAUNICOL, which represents university workers, and SINTRATELÉFONOS which represents communications workers. Colombia has long been regarded the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade union leader. Assassinations are frequent and rarely result in charges, let alone convictions of the killers.


Now, of course, it´s possible Gaviria´s apology wasn´t based entirely on a change of opinion nor a generous spirit, but a smidgen of self-interest.


Gaviria´s lawyer David Teleki quickly wasted little time in asking a Colombian court to drop charges against his client filed in connection with column in the wake of his client´s apology.


“All sins begin as thoughts,” Teleki said, which is a bit of an understatement in Colombia where disappearances and assassinations of leftist activists, human rights defenders and union leaders are frequently preceded by public denunciations of connections with guerrillas or communists.


Now, it seems President Juan Manuel Santos will be required as well to apologize for the remarks made by his extreme right-wing opponents Uribe, Gaviria and former vice-president Francisco Santos. Uribe and then vice-president Santos repeated the scandalous potential deadly accusations.


A Bogotá judge has determined that the state must also apologize, and since the accusations were made by then president Uribe and vice-president Franciso Santos, it will fall upon President Juan Manuel Santos and Vice-president Angelino Garzón to make the official apologies.


That might be a bitter pill to swallow for the current president, given that Uribe is his harshest critic and leader of the Centro Democrático which now is a major force to be reckoned after last month´s congressional elections. Uribe and his Centro Democrático are also stern critics of peace negotiations with guerrillas.

Gaviria, by the way, has made many other controversial statements. He regards victims´rights organizations as puppet organizations of guerrillas.

Some 63 U.S. senators wrote to complain in 2008 when he characterized victims of paramilitary and state violence in Colombia as allies of guerrillas.


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Sorry no English-language reports yet available, but for a general story on the violence against union leaders please read:




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Horrific acid attacks in Colombia rarely result in investigations or convictions

More than 1,000 cruel assaults with corrosive acids since 1997 have resulted in only four convictions, Colombia´s national prosecutor´s office revealed this week as the nation copes with a rash of recent attacks.

Even in a country where killers of left-wing politicians, trade union leaders and human rights defenders are rarely prosecuted or convicted, the level of impunity those who attack others with corrosive acid enjoy are shocking, in the extreme.

Assistant national prosecutor Jorge Perdomo revealed this week the dire situation this week as politicians debated how to deal with growing outrage after four women and one man were attacked by acid-throwing assailants.

Pressure is on the government to finally restrict the sale of sulphuric acid and similar corrosive substances and to increase the penalties the attackers face. Colombians are increasingly expressing outrage at the lack of efforts Colombian police and prosecutors make in investigating and prosecuting such crimes.

The latest victim Alejandro Correa died a few days ago after being attacked with acid while walking with his mother at 8:30 at night in the department of Antioquia, near the city of Medellín. First reports said he was attacked in a robbery while walking with his girlfriend. But recent reports say the attack against Correa was possibly motivated by a relationship he had with a woman.

Natalia Ponce de León remains in hospital after being attacked in a Bogotá park. The man now facing charges in the case was obsessed with her for more than a decade, family members said after she was horribly burned.

While calls for increasing prison sentences for those convicted of acid attacks were almost universal, Colombia´s right-wing Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez – the man who ousted former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro for poor garbage collection – argued longer sentences are not the solution.

“That´s not the solution,” Ordóñez said in a meeting in Cali. Ordóñez said greater efforts must be made to investigate and prosecute such crimes. But he argued increased penalties were not the answer to reducing such terrifying, life-changing attacks.

He said such crimes were the “consequence of the dissolution of the family unit, lack of training on principles and values​​, the failure of education.”

Four women, including Ponce de León have been attacked in recent weeks. Such attacks in Colombia are often the result of personal relationships which go awry. The attacks are often executed by other persons, often common criminals, paid to throw the acid which can easily be purchased for about $5.

The government is under increased pressure to act, especially since it is in the middle of a presidential election campaign and that recent victims have been middle-class Colombians.

The almost complete freedom from prosecution and punishment enjoyed by the acid assailants raises the common problem of impunity in Colombia, a country where the killers of left-wing politicians, trade union leaders and human rights defenders are rarely prosecuted.

The obvious result of such neglect is that many more of these crimes are committed than if possible attackers knew they risked prosecution and punishment.


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Colombian dies in horrendous acid attack, as nation remembers assassinated champion Gaitán

The nightmarish rampage of acid attacks continues.

As Colombia marks today the 66th anniversary of the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán – the presidential candidate who brought dreams of equality to the nation – there is news of yet another acid attack.

This time the victim was young man, who died shortly after having 90 per cent of his body soaked in acid.

No motivation has been given for the horrendous attack against the man, 22, who was attacked while on his way to his home in the department of Antioquia.

Alejandro Correa Castaño was walking with his girlfriend at the time of the attack. She suffered burns on her back and legs, but did not require hospitalization.

Police said they are attempting to identify the attacker.

The news of Correa Castaño´s horrific death comes as Colombian Justice Minister Alfonso Gómez Méndez announces maximum penalties for acid attacks are to be raised from eight to 16 years.

The outrage over five such attacks in the last two weeks has put pressure on the national government to increase penalties, restrict sales of such destructive chemicals and vigorously investigate and prosecute such cases. Many acid attacks are by former or spurned lovers who attack or pay someone else to attack the victim.

Many cases are never prosecuted and when they do result in convictions, the sentences are short, considering the public outrage such crimes generate.

The anniversary of the assassination of Gaitán features massive marches and demonstrations. The rebel Liberal politician seemed a certain bet to win the Colombian presidency when he was assassinated in 1948. With him died the hopes of a generation of Colombians who believed he could reform Colombian society to combat the extreme inequality and poverty.

His assassination provoked what is now know as the Bogotazo, the frenzy of violence that swept Bogotá and the eventually the entire nation. The cycle of violence and conflict caused by Gaitán´s assassination continues today in the conflict between FARC rebels and government forces. Many are hopeful that this will finally be the year that the government and guerrillas can negotiate a peace accord.

In recent years the anniversary of Gaitán´s assassination has also become a time to recognized the suffering of Colombian conflict victims, especially the poor.

Some six million Colombians are currently displaced by violence and hundreds of thousands have died in the conflict since Gaitán´s assassination.

The impunity enjoyed by the those who attack others with acid  is similar to the impunity enjoyed by those who massacre trade union leaders, human rights defenders and peace activists in the minds of many Colombians.

Three Colombian women have been hospitalized, two in serious conditions after being doused by acid by attackers in recent weeks.

At least one woman, Natalia Ponce de León, was apparently attacked by a man who was obsessed with her, but rejected in his attempts to have a relationship.

Jonathan Vega was captured by police hiding in his grandmother´s house and charged in connection with the attack on Ponce de León. His lawyers have said he suffers from a mental illness, a claim that has been disputed by the victim´s lawyer.

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Yet another Bogotá woman attacked by acid-throwing assailants, pressure grows on government to act

Yet another Bogotá woman has been attacked by acid-throwing assailants as pressure mounts on the Colombian government to do something to halt the nightmarish attacks.



(Photo credit: Zoriah) Many think of Asian nations when they discuss attacks against women with acid or other corrosive substances, but a recent rampage of attacks has drawn attention to Colombia´s shameful record. Colombia reportedly has the highest number of such attacks on a per capita basis.

Four Bogotá women have had their faces and bodies doused in corrosive acids in less than two weeks. The Colombian congress is expected to finally do something to restrict the sale of the dangerous products.


And the wife of President Juan Manuel Santos, María Clemencia Rodríguez, is calling for lengthy prison sentences for the attackers.


“This is an invitation for all of Colombia to come together and condemn these acts of cowardice,” Clemencia Rodriguez said as the Colombian capital prepares for a massive peace march Wednesday, the 66th anniversary of the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.


Gaitán´s assassination set off an orgy of violence in the Colombian capital known as the Bogotazo, that Colombia has never really extinguished. A special session of Congress is set for Wednesday when some 500 leaders of victim´s of violence are to be recognized as the nation attempts to move forward in peace negotiations with FARC guerrillas and heal the wounds of decades of armed struggle.


The terrifying assaults on women on the streets of Bogotá are demonstrating the level of violence and insecurity Colombians – especially women – face.


Colombian politicians have long ignored calls to restrict the sale of chemicals such as sulphuric acid. It appears they now will respond to the intense public pressure that is mounting in the midst of Colombia´s presidential election campaign.


Congresswoman Gloria Stella Diaz is campaigning to have the maximum sentence for such attacks raised from 10 to 18 years.


Yet Colombians are aware that a state of near impunity exists for those who destroy the lives of their victim’s with acid, just as it does for those who threaten and kill human rights workers, union leaders and the leaders of campesinos displaced by mining, petroleum and agricultural industries.


The scope of the problem is daunting. From 2004 to 2013, 928 persons were attacked with acid.


And reports show ignoring the problem has not worked. Some 246 reported cases between 2010 and 2013, according to a study conducted by the Spanish website and data collated by the Ministry of Health.


Natalia Ponce de León was attacked by a young man on March 27. She remains in hospital fighting for her life after enduring a number of operations.


Zorleny Pulgarín, 23, was attacked after an argument with her neighbours and is also reported to be in a battle for her life.


Another woman was attacked on the weekend. Now, as the city prepares for its peace march, two men on a motorcycle have attacked yet another woman.

Early reports suggest the latest attack was with a less destructive substance than sulphuric acid, but that the female victim later received a text informing her she would be attacked again, more severely.

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Acid tossed in Bogotá woman´s face highlights Colombia´s ugly, shocking crime

A container full of corrosive acid tossed in the face of an attractive, young Bogotá woman has shocked even this nation numbed by decades of revolution and violence.

The apparent insanity of throwing acid in the face of an attractive, young Bogotá woman sent shock waves across Colombia the past week. Citizens are demanding tougher penalties and restrictions on the purchase of highly corrosive acids.

The apparent insanity of throwing acid in the face of an attractive, young Bogotá woman sent shock waves across Colombia the past week. Citizens are demanding tougher penalties and restrictions on the purchase of highly corrosive acids.

In a country where gangsters cut living victims to pieces with chainsaws so their screams will send messages to the community and the picturesque countryside is littered with scores of unmarked mass graves, shock doesn´t come easily.

But this week, Colombia focused its full attention on the condition of Natalia Ponce de León and the hunt for the man who forever changed her life when he tossed the acid into her face and over her 30 per cent of her body.

In the 10 days since the acid attack on Ponce de León, two other women have been attacked with corrosive acid in Bogotá streets. The latest on Saturday night suffered burns on 60 per cent of her body.

There was some relief on the weekend when police announced they had arrested a young man, with acid burns on his arms and hands, the suspect they believe tossed the corrosive liquid in Ponce de León´s face.

Even so, the crime forced Colombians to deal with – if only for a few days until a new tragedy dominates the news – a crime so terrible, so senseless that it shakes even a society acclimatized to decades of violence.

The facts paint an ugly picture. More people suffer acid attacks in Colombia than in any country in the world on a per capital basis. From 2004 to 2013, 928 persons were attacked with acid.

Contrary to common belief, there were almost as many male (457) victims as female (471) victims.

The victims suffer immense physical and emotional wounds. Colombia now has some world leading surgeons in repairing the terrible disfigurements of face and body.

President Juan Manuel Santos was forced to deal with the issue as outrage over the crime intruded on the presidential election campaign. Citizens demanded to know why the government hasn´t increased penalties for such attacks And they demanded to know why politicians have not restricted the availability of such destructive chemicals.

And citizens marched in Bogotá park near where Ponce de León worked days in a shop with her mother, before heading out to classes to study in the evenings.

Many said the terrible crime is a symptom of a much larger crisis, a country where women are vicitimized by the conflict and in their own homes.

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National prosecutor claims solving select Unión Patriótica assassinations a priority

After decades of denial, Colombia hinted this week it could be serious about investigating the thousands of deaths of Unión Patriótica party members.

..::Jaime Pardo Leal::..

(Photo credit: .:Subversion*Visual:.) Bogotá graffiti in remembrance of assassinated Unión Patriótica presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal.

That the state could be unable to convict many of the thousands of assassins is beyond belief, especially since its long been established that military and security forces planned and participated in the campaign of political genocide.

National newspaper El Espectador revealed today a plan by Colombia Prosecutor Eduardo Montealegre to form an elite team of prosecutors to investigate and prosecute some of the highest priority assassinations of Unión Patriótica members.

The team of national prosecutors are to analyze 63 high-priority cases to determine which have strong enough cases to proceed and convict guilty parties.

The assassinations of two former Unión Patriótica presidential candidates are to be among those examined.

Jaime Pardo Leal was assassinated in October 1987 and his successor Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa was assassinated in March 1990. They were both victims of their belief in peace and democratic process.

The Unión Patriótica was born of the peace negotiations between the government of then president Belisario Betancourt and FARC guerrillas. The UP was created as a result of those negotiations. It was to be a party where demobilized guerrillas and Colombians not represented by the traditional Liberal and Conservative parties could participate politically.

Jaramillo's photo 1990

(Photo credit: Wikipedia) Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa was another Unión Patriótica presidential candidate assassinated in a campaign of genocide committed by an alliance of Colombian state security forces and paramilitary members.

But the party´s rapid rise in Colombian elections spawned a deadly partnership between state security forces and paramilitary/mafia groups.

As heartening as Montealegre’s announced intentions must be for surviving Unión Patriótica members and their families, there is plenty of reason not to be overly optimistic.

Montealegre is only one member of President Juan Manuel Santos´s government. And we are all aware that many things are done and said during election campaigns that never amount to anything.

How many Unión Patriótica members and sympathizers were assassinated remains in dispute. Massacres are a little like elections in Colombia; The number of votes or the number of bodies depends on who is doing the counting. Estimates range between 3,000 and 5,000 murder victims.

Investigations into the assassinations of a few non-Unión Patriótica members are reportedly to be included in the massive investigation, including that of Héctor Abad Gómez, a Medellín doctor who dedicated his career and lost his life improving the health of that city´s poorest, most desperate citizens.

Colombia´s claims to membership in the democratic community dissolve in the corrosive history of thousands of unsolved assassinations of Unión Patriótica members.

Whether Montealegre´s initiative amounts to anything constructive or not, will depend upon the political will of Colombia´s politicians after the presidential elections later this month.

Paramilitaries retain sufficient power in Colombian politics, however, as an independent organization Fundación de Paz y Reconciliación has estimated that some 25 per cent of politicians elected to the Congress earlier this month have strong paramilitary connections.

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Nothing yet available on this development in the English-language press, but this is a worthwhile article on the history of the UP and the disappointing election campaign:

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Bomb severs transporation links between Popayán and Cali

Stay in Popayán long enough and sooner or later your connection to the world slips away, whether it be severed by bombs, blockades, or earthquakes.

(Foto: Twitter @miguelantvelasc) Popayán is sometimes cut off from Colombia and the rest of the world by bombs, blockades or natural disasters. Popayán relies on the narrow, winding PanAmerican Highway to connect with its neighbours to the north and to the south.

(Foto: Twitter @miguelantvelasc) Popayán is sometimes cut off from Colombia and the rest of the world by bombs, blockades or natural disasters. Popayán relies on the narrow, winding PanAmerican Highway to connect with its neighbours to the north and to the south.

This time, once again, it´s a bomb.

One hundred kilos of explosives last night blasted apart a small bridge on the Pan-American Highway near Santander de Quilichao, where the highway drops down from the steep Andean mountain slopes to the sugar-cane covered fields of the Cauca Valley. The military is blaming the FARC guerrrillas. They usually do.

The explosion was about midway between Popayán and Cali, on the highway that connects Popayán and the southern Andean mountains to rest of Colombia. Small vehicles – no buses nor trucks, but some ambulances – skirted slowly around the bomb crater on Tuesday.

Guerrillas from time-to-time blow up the bridges to the north and south of Popayán. Last year soldiers guarding the remains of another bridge delighted in informing me that the large gap in the centre of a bridge I walked across was the result of another FARC bomb. They suggested I get off the road before dark, then resumed guarding the remains of the bridge.

About this time last year the coffee strike shut Popayán down for about two weeks, with blockades on both sides of the Spanish-colonial, regional capital. First fruit and vegetables disappeared from store shelves, then baked goods and meat. Gas was smuggled in, can by can on the back of motorcycles over bumpy mountain backroads.

To the north, a blown up bridge and to the south a car bomb, which did not block the Pan-American Highway.

To the north, a blown up bridge and to the south a car bomb, which did not block the Pan-American Highway.

Back in 1999, Popayán was locked down for almost a month, during a strike by campesinos. Newspapers, television and radio repeated the government line, that the city was under siege by the FARC guerrillas. Better to paint the desperate agricultural workers as “guerrillas” and “terrorists” than recognize them and their issues. Tonnes of food were flown into the city´s airport during that strike.

As Semana Santa celebrations approach, Popayán residents are reminded that natural events dwarf the disruptive efforts of people who blockade and bomb. These are the Andes, and from time to time they move about. They frequently cause landslides and earthquakes. Almost 31 years ago, on Easter Sunday, the Popayán earthquake killed more than 300 persons and left thousands homeless.

Just another reminder that in these mountains if you´ve got somewhere to go, go today. Tomorrow it might not be possible.

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