Unión Patriótica presidential candidate Aída Abella survives another assassination attempt
When I first met Unión Patriótica presidential candidate Aída Abella a couple months ago she told me 17 years in exile had not ended the threats against her and other party members.
Yesterday she survived yet another assassination attempt.
On Sunday morning, a caravan of vehicles carrying Abella, senate candidate Carlos Lozano, bodyguards and other assistants was fired on during a campaign stop in northeastern department of Arauca.
The three-vehicle caravan was attacked by two or three men on a motorcycle as it travelled between campaign stops in the oil-producing region along the Venezuela border.
Neither the candidates nor other parties were injured in the attack. Reports say between 14 and 16 bullets struck the vehicles.
Abella returned to Colombia in late 2013 to lead the reborn Unión Patriótica. She had spent 17 years in political exile in Switzerland after surviving an assassination attempt in Bogotá during which the vehicle she was riding in was shot at with a bazooka. She was then a Bogotá councillor.
Abella gave an exclusive interview to Liliana Campo and me in the Palacio Liévano in Bogotá in December while tens of thousands rallied outside in the Plaza de Bolivar to support Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro´s attempt to hang onto his job. She had planned to run much of her campaign from Europe for security reasons, but returned and made a rousing speech from the palace balcony as part of the effort to keep Petro from being removed as mayor.
“The risks continue,” Abella said during the interview in a darkened room. She joked how the honest politicians in Colombia still need to stay in the shadows.
Afterwards, she was helped into her bullet-proof jacket and left for other engagements.
The Unión Patriotica lost thousands of members to a campaign of genocide in the 1990s that included the assassination of presidential candidates Jaime Pardo Leal and Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, eight congressmen, 13 elected departmental representatives, 11 mayors. Estimates of the number of party members and supporters range from 3,000 to 5,000.
The Unión Patriótica was born or the 1985 peace negotiations between Colombia and the FARC guerrillas. It was formed to give former FARC guerrillas and a wide variety of Colombians unhappy with the traditional parties an opportunity to participate in political life.
The party was ruled illegal for lack of support after the campaign of terror forced survivors to flee Colombia, go into hiding, or join rebel forces.
After hearing of the attack Sunday, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered Colombian security forces to do whatever is required to protect the Abella campaign.
All members of her party and a number of other left-of-centre candidates have been threatened with death if they do not abandon their campaigns. The email threats say they were from drug-dealing, paramilitary successor groups.