Colombia: Former president Uribe wins Senate seat

This is a weekly roundup of events from 9 March to 15 March 2014.

Former president Alvaro Uribe won a seat in the Senate in elections held this weekend. His newly formed party, the conservative Centro Democratico (Democratic Center), won 19 seats to become the second most powerful force in the senate behind current president Juan Manuel Santos’s National Unity coalition, which now holds 21 seats.

Uribe and his party are staunchly opposed to the ongoing peace negotiations with FARC rebels. It’s likely that Uribe and his conservative allies will attempt to frustrate the talks as well as other aspects of Santos’s agenda.

According to various sources, about one-third of Colombian senators and one-fifth of lower house representatives have ties to right-wing, anti-FARC paramilitaries largely demobilized during the administration of former president Uribe. Former AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) leader, Carlos Mario Jimenez (also known as, “Macaco”), who is serving a 33-year drug trafficking and terrorism sentence in a United States jail,  claimed last December that former Colombian General Flavio Buitrago had links to the right-wing paramilitary from 1996 to 2005. Macaco’s son revealed this week that he has received a number of anonymous death threats since his father’s revelations.

Headlines:

Allegations that the Colombian military has engaged in illegal wiretapping, embezzlement, arms trafficking and obstruction of justice have increasingly been a source of tension at the peace talks between the government and the FARC.

Colombian police seized 1.5 tons of cocaine being shipped in a speedboat near Panama. Authorities suspect the drugs belonged to the Los Urabeños gang.

Colombian police report that the FARC is cooperating with rival criminal gangs (also known as, “bandas criminales,” or BACRIM) in illegal gold mining operations. The FARC and BACRIM already collaborate in the cocaine business, but gold is believed to have become a bigger source of income for Colombia’s illegal groups than cocaine in one-quarter of the country’s departments.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended proposed cuts in aid to Colombia and Mexico, some of which will include reductions to funding for anti-narcotics programs.

Gen. John Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command (also commonly known as SOUTHCOM), said 80% of Colombian drugs escape interdiction and reach their target market in the United States.

Four Colombian soldiers were killed and four civilians injured in an attack allegedly carried out by members of FARC disguised as highway construction workers.

A Colombian court ordered the defense ministry to stop illegally recruiting citizens for involuntary military service.

A witness to the murder of 5 Colombians in Venezuela over the weekend claims the killers were members of Los Urabeños, the gang that controls much of Colombia’s drug trade along the Caribbean coast into the neighboring country.

To watch:

The Colombian government is tightening security in coffee-growing regions ahead of the upcoming harvest.

Colombian businessman Eduardo Vives, the cousin of a former congressman imprisoned for ties to paramilitary groups, was kidnapped.

“Chopping houses” used by gangs for dismembering victims of forced disappearances in the western port city of Buenaventura will be demolished. For more on “chopping houses,” see InSightCrime.

While women are often victims of violence by gang members, they are also becoming increasingly involved in gang activities, analysis finds.

Hundreds of right-wing paramilitary troops jailed for various crimes under a 2005 demobilization deal will be released this year. Some citizens and government officials have expressed concern that the paramilitaries will regroup and resume killing displaced peasants who are trying to reclaim land stolen from them by right-wing forces.

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