lunes, 8 de julio de 2013

Protests continue in northern Colombia, set to expand

Weeks of protests by peasants and coca farmers in the Catatumbo region in northern Colombia had yet to abate on 8 July, even as the national ombudsman urged the Government and protesters to maintain dialogue amid prospects of strikes spreading across the land. Protests and road blocks began in the Catatumbo region of the Norte de Santander department around 10-12 June in response to the state's bid to erradicate coca plantations; other protests were being reported in districts including San Roque in the northern César department, Ricaurte in the south-western department of Nariño and Guapi in Cauca, western Colombia. Some politicians have accused the two communist guerrilla forces of fanning peasant discontent - at least in Catatumbo - to protect their own, alleged drug-trafficking activities. The Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora Gómez urged the sides to talk and end the Catatumbo protests and that the Government take appropriate action ahead of strikes announced for 19 August by sectors including coffee growers, Radio Santa Fe reported on 8 July. Mr Otálora said 50 "community councils" representing Colombians of African descent in the Pacific-coast Chocó department had also convened a "mobilisation" for 17 July, apparently to do with the legality of local mining activities. The Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo Flórez accused the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) of using the Catatumbo protests as leverage in their ongoing talks with the state in Havana, which he said the state "will not permit," the national broadcaster Señal Colombia reported on 8 July, citing Mr Carrillo's comments to El Tiempo. The Minister said the protesters' demands coincided with the FARC "agenda" aired in Havana and were being "cheered" from there; "social demands are valid but we reject" he said that "armed actors" use them. The former socialist senator Pilar Córdoba in turn cited Catatumbo's enormous coal and oil reserves as a factor in the conflict, observing that local peasants no longer tolerated living in misery, Radio Santa Fe reported on 7 July, citing Ms Córdoba's comments on the website Twitter. Talks she stated were proving complicated as "the peasants know the Government will fail again" to honour pledges to improve their lot. Coca cultivation was the "consequence of rural misery," she stated, and the "solution, to fumigate them," useless. She depicted Catatumbo as a region with a 30-per-cent illiteracy rate, environmental degradation and pervasive violence for the ongoing war with the FARC and ELN guerrillas. Meanwhile she added foreign firms had for a century "fattened" their accounts with Catatumbo's oil.

Media, public question gangs ceasefire in El Salvador

The website elsalvador.com observed on 6 July that hopes raised by the ceasefire the main street gangs began in 2012 - and especially a pledge to stop violent crime in specified municipalities - had "slowly faded away" amid the recent spike in killings across El Salvador. It counted 103 killings in 12 of the country's 14 departments "in the latest escalation of violence," though it gave no dates for these. Mexico's Notimex agency was cited as reporting 12 killings on 1 July, 20 the next day and 24 on 3 July, which were figures far above the four-seven killings a day officials had boasted had become a general norm after the ceasefire began in March 2012. The Salvadorean President was cited as saying on 6 July that the rate returned to "6-7" killings a day in the preceding 48 hours, due he said to police and other actions, which he did not specify. Elsalvador.com observed however that residents were noting little difference in districts where the Mara gangs had agreed to eschew violent crime, as violence and extortion continued there as elsewhere. President Mauricio Funes discussed the recent violence on 4 July with one of the ceasefire mediators, the former leftist guerrilla Raúl Mijango. The mediator asked that the government continue backing the process and aid the social reintegration of criminals, Notimex reported. Mr Mijango had promised that week that the violence would fall again within 72 hours, which prompted politicians to attack him, presumably for what seemed like an excessive level of complicity or familiarity with criminals. On 6 July the President also asked the opposition ARENA party and its leader Norman Quijano González to stop their "electoral" attacks on the ceasefire whose necessity he alleged ARENA accepted, the Public Security Ministry reported. Mr Funes said the mediator Raúl Mijango told him that members of ARENA had informed him ARENA was itself interested in maintaining dialogue with the Mara gangs should it win the presidential elections scheduled for February 2014. Mr Funes told a radio interview that "in fact they want to talk but right now during the elections it doesn't suit them to go with the ceasefire." ARENA he said, presently sought to depict the ceasefire as "a dark pact between the government and gang members, between President Funes and gang members...don't be hypocritical and mean... don't appear like you're telling the public you would not make a pact with criminals."