TODAY COLOMBIA – During the opening of a business conference in La Havana, Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos announced the possibility of a Colombian-Cuban alliance in the hopes to create an attractive tour package aimed at China, Japan and Europe.
“I see a great possibility of collaboration with Cuba; a Chinese or a Japanese individual who lands in Cuba and from Cuba travels to Colombia, from Colombia to Peru and back; that is what we want to promote”, stated Santos. The Colombian president, who arrived in La Havana with a group of ministers and businessmen, stressed that this “tourism offer can generate immense benefits to both countries”.
The two countries recorded increasing figures in the sector in 2016. Colombia received five million foreign visitors while Cuba hosted four million tourists. Santos affirmed that tourism “exploded” after the peace agreement with the FARC was signed and recalled that “Cuba’s support was decisive in the success of the process” that concluded last year; Santos encouraged the two countries to improve their trade.
Cuban Foreign Minister Rodrigo Malmierca highlighted the geographical proximity between Cuba and Colombia and also called for “realizing business opportunities [and] identifying the best ways to execute new projects”.
Both Latin American countries have a tax agreement for the exchange of products, such as meat, footwear and clothing. Last year, the South American nation exported 33.5 million dollars to the island, according to data from the Colombian delegation.
My country has endured an armed conflict with the FARC since 1964. The peace treaty signifies the end of one of the longest running armed conflicts in the world. The FARC (like many other guerillas) was originally inspired by the Cuban revolution, with Marxist ideologies that progressed over time to terrorist attacks and drug trafficking, without any visible political intent.
A conflict that according to Colombia’s National Historical Memory Center (CMH), has killed 218,000 people and has resulted in a refugee crisis, second only to Syria, where 5.7 million Colombians have reportedly been internally displaced.
After what experts and President Juan Manuel Santos called “a welcomed end to conflict for Colombians”, I wondered: was this it? Finally, at peace? Will my children know a country that me, my mother, and, arguably, my grandmother has never seen without war?
The rhetoric used by Colombia’s media, and even international media, would have led me to believe so. With phrases such as “war ending”, “new era”, and “peace at last” splashed across papers and newscasts, and with our own President, winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year, Colombians have been led to believe that we will finally live a life without fear.
However, let us not forget the facts that are hidden away by the speeches that the Government and media have used where conflict has only been associated with the FARC. Let us not forget that the guerrilla group is not the only rebel assembly seen in our tropical, drug induced country. Let us not forget about the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), or the many criminally emerging bands.
Faithful believers of Santos’ presidency, as well as Colombians who have been manipulated by the blind eyed dialogue, would argue that similar talks have started with the second largest rebel group, the ELN; that the first agreement with the FARC, and the beginning of a second one with the ELN is proof of a changing mentality in the nation, one that is clearly headed towards a better future.
Yet, here, we Colombians, diverge again into talking about acts of faith and a future of hope. As Colombians, we are swayed into believing that we are guided towards a better future. Believing in peace in Colombia is like any religion; praying to a God you never see, yet still expecting your prayer to be answered.
As with religion, these prayers are repeatedly left unattended or even completely diminished. We fear for the lives of close ones when we hear about bombs killing people, like the one that struck Bogota this past June killing 3 civilians. An attack that was supposedly executed by a newly created urban guerilla: People’s Revolutionary Movement.
We, Colombians, don’t even have to point fingers at these groups to prove that our nation is as far away from peace as it has always been. We only have to turn around and look at our own Government to understand this; it possesses unclear ties to paramilitary groups who have caused great pain to the nation with acts similar to those of the FARC.
Even though the peace agreement with the FARC does lay the groundwork, a first, for what could be a fruitful future, there is much arduous work ahead. We are a country that, from any angle, is unfortunately submersed in violence. The FARC is simply one of the many actors in this scenario.
Furthermore, what pains me, personally, is how violence is not even the main problem of my nation. Issues including lack of education, governmental corruption, the complete abandonment of rural areas, and the tendency to have patronage dictating who the representative leaders are: This, in my opinion, are the roots of violence and issues that should be tackled first.
Without resolving these, there will be no “peace”. There will be no real solution to the violent conflicts and actors will continue to emerge as long as the causes continue to exist. What we now have is the simple elimination (to some extent) of one of the main actors of the conflict, a positive step, but nothing else.
After the deal was signed in 2016, Colombia has had an inflow increase of 14.5 % compared to 2015
The peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas helped Colombia consolidate itself as a top tourist destination. It is evidenced by the increase in the number of foreign visitors, according to the Industry, Business, and Tourism minister María Claudia Lacouture.
The Latin American country has access to two oceans and offers a variety of attractions including beaches, mountains, jungles, snow, and several metropolises with great services and shopping possibilities.
The perception of Colombia, by a large portion of the world, has seemed to change. According to Felipe Jaramillo, ProColombia’s director (the government agency in charge of promoting tourism and exports), it has become more positive.
Colombia received around 5 million tourists in 2016, showing an increase of 14.5 % compared to 2015. Turning the tourism sector into the second foreign exchange generator after the oil business and even surpassing traditional exports such as coffee, flowers, and bananas.
Most visitors come from South America, the United States, and Europe. In the past, tourist had remained distant due to the historic armed conflict and the constant warnings from their countries of origin.
Additionally, the main North American and European airlines incorporated direct routes to Colombia and have done alliances in order to arrive in the Latin American country.
Colombia’s longstanding guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) participated in a symbolic disarmament in the Mesetas region of the country’s Meta department, southeast of Bogota. This region is one of the epicenters of the group’s criminal activity, where ferocious armed attacks have been carried out against local residents and military and police forces.
A disarmament is, by definition, beneficial for a country that has already endured decades of political violence, instability, and drug trafficking. Nevertheless, there are at least three reasons why such an anticipated moment — one that will see an armed group that has been active in Colombia for over 50 years finally laying down its arms — is producing a laconic reaction in the population.
First of all, Colombia has had at least 10 previous peace processes, all of which have only resulted in the perpetuation of increasingly efficient and powerful criminal groups. Because the public is aware of this, they’re currently unwilling to trust an armed organization that has already deceived the nation on past occasions, including during negotiations that took place during ex-president Andrés Pastrana’s administration.
Secondly, officials are not allowing the public access to the FARC’s disarmament process. Additionally, the disarmament isn’t using serial numbers or accounting for ammunition, making verification a difficult process.
Because of this, the founder of El Malpensante magazine has gone on an angry tirade, claiming that erasing all traces of identifying information seems more like the behavior of a criminal organization than of a government.
According to ballistic studies, there are five methods for recovering the serial numbers of weapons. Obviously, it would be very costly to apply these methods to every weapon received, but the problem could be addressed statistically. Ten percent of the arms surrendered could have been selected at random, and sent to different international forensic laboratories.
This would have lent transparency to the process, something that clearly would not be acceptable to FARC, because it requires tracing where the guns are coming from, how they were paid for and what crimes were committed with them.
Thirdly, Colombians must address the issue of who is to receive the weapons: United Nations officials will be taking charge of them, and little is known about what they plan to do with them. In the few pictures taken by FARC members themselves, workers wearing UN jackets can be seen handling M4 and AR-15 assault rifles, which are not commonly used by the FARC.
The UN Security Council has a long history of botched operations. Just look at the civil war in Syria, the disasters in Darfur as well as Venezuela, an autocratic country that has rapidly turned into a dictatorship. The UN wanted to sanction Israel in December of 2016, despite it being the only stable democracy in the Middle East. This is the organization that the Colombian people are being asked to trust with disarming the most dangerous criminal organization in the country’s history.
In other words, the government and its courts are asking FARC to act in good faith. This is a difficult proposition, unless we are talking about theology rather than the social rule of law in a liberal democracy. Under these circumstances, it becomes necessary to look to the information that the Colombian government possesses in order to extrapolate a conclusion.
During Álvaro Uribe’s administration, a public security policy was put in place that went straight to the heart of that government’s framework. As can be seen in figure 1, the number of weapons confiscated has grown exponentially between 2003 and 2008.
It is clear that trends changed in 2003. The number of confiscated weapons grew to a historic 74,581. Later on, that figure fell and remained in the vicinity of thirty thousand. This means that authorities remove an average of 48,000 weapons from the illegal market per year. Therefore, 668,970 weapons have been confiscated between 2002 and 2015. In terms of saving lives, this is a substantial figure. It may account for the fall in homicide numbers nationwide since these security policies have gained steam and popularity over time.
With respect to the armed conflict, we can assume that assault rifles are the FARC’s weapon of choice for crime and terrorism against the public.
Unpacking the statistics from figure 2, it can be seen that in 2007, there is an increase in the confiscation of war-related materials, which peaks in 2012 at 1,955. From 2002 until 2015, armed groups have lost 10,069 guns. But the information is inadequate, as it shows an abrupt fall in the confiscation of arms owing to the negotiations happening in Havana, Cuba. This leads to two possible hypotheses: that the government has relaxed its efforts against criminal organizations or that these organizations have stopped arming themselves, which would conflict with CERAC calculations.
The other determining factor is the confiscation of ammunition, which can be even more important than that of actual weapons.
The results of figure 3 show that the armed forces confiscated 569,078 bullet shells annually, meaning that since 2002, 7,967,100 bullets have been confiscated. This would suggest that the behavior of the illegal arms market follows the same tendency as the rest of the country’s war materials. If that were true, then controlling the sale of arms becomes an objective of primary importance, and that leads us to the final question: How many weapons does FARC actually have?
According to a recent report, there had been five weapons for every guerrilla members. That means an estimated 34,500 weapons — a figure that does not coincide with the 7,132 figure reported by the UN.
This information suggests that efforts by public officials have led to the reduction of violence on a national level, but that it remains unclear what the current magnitude of FARC’s arsenal actually is.
The evidence suggests that the criminal organization exchanges weapons for cocaine and possesses the resources to acquire other war materials. They could be masking a political front while simultaneously creating alliances with other terrorist organizations that serve their strategic objectives.
By Manfred Grautoff, a university professor in defense economics and national security. He is also the Director of the strategic think tank Geostrategy. Follow him on @mgrautoff.
TODAY COLOMBIA – When Victoria Sandino, a long-time fighter in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), joined the guerrilla organisation’s peace talks with her country’s government in 2014, she never imagined that she and her comrades would end up launching a new women’s movement.
Between 2014 and 2016, dozens of female FARC combatants travelled to Cuba’s capital Havana to participate in a gender subcommittee created to ensure that the peace accords would reflect women’s perspectives and needs. Sandino stayed in Havana, becoming an emblematic figure of the demilitarising Marxist insurgency.
Having completely disarmed as of June 26, the FARC will reconstitute itself as a political party in the next few months. Insurgent feminism is part of its platform.
Betting on change
Gender roles remain rather traditional in Colombia, where women are largely relegated to the domestic sphere, especially in rural areas. The country ranks 95th in the UN’s gender equality index, below neighbouring Brazil (79th), Peru (87th) and Ecuador (89th).
Since its founding in 1964 as the armed wing of the Communist Party, the FARC has sought to abolish hierarchies. For many Colombian women – particularly those from the countryside – joining the guerrillas offered an escape from poverty and sexual oppression.
Patricia, who joined the insurgent group when she was 17 years old, says that feminism wasn’t a theoretical debate within the FARC; it was a practice. “We always performed equality,” she told me. “Men and women have the same rights and the same duties, and we undertake the same missions.”
Combatant life necessarily induced a change in gender relations. Men and women shared quotidian tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, and fought shoulder-to-shoulder. And though the FARC’s forced abortions and contraception remain controversial, female fighters have long enjoyed access to sexual and reproductive rights that were – and many cases still are – legally denied to other Colombian women.
Still, the FARC was no gender paradise. Women never reached its highest ranks, and the nine-member leadership team remains all male – and all white.
Women “weren’t protagonists” in the group, Sandino would assert when explaining why the FARC was due for a feminist awakening.
The unconventional women of the FARC have spent part of their lives on the front lines in the jungle, and they are now returning to civilian life with great expectations.
In February, FARC female combatants from the gender subcommittee, including Patricia, participated in a feminism workshop at a demobilisation camp in La Elvira, in the Cauca Valley. The event, organised with international support and participation, gathered guerrilleras from different camps across the country.
Afterwards, Patricia acknowledged that “there are concepts that we do not yet have a grasp of” but reaffirmed the FARC’s plans to continue building awareness about feminism within its rank-and-file soldiers.
“We’ll need them to build our arguments,” she said.
Since January, several such workshops have been held in other places across the country. According to Laura Cardoza, a 31-year-old Colombian helping to facilitate the program, the aim is to instil feminism within all the FARC’s troops.
Earlier this year, Patricia took her turn at leadership, too, coordinating a gender session with the men and women of the centralisation zone where she lives, in remote Arauca, near the Venezuelan border.
What is insurgent feminism?
In post-conflict countries, female combatants’ lack of visibility and exclusion during the reconstruction phase tends to make them vulnerable when they reintegrate. Colombia’s recent experience, for instance, has shown that women returning to civilian life experience high rates of violence and social discrimination.
This was one of the issues that the gender subcommittee of the Havana peace talks was intended to tackle. But it soon became something more, a kind of feminism workshop in which FARC delegates, Colombian government representatives, international actors and women’s organisations shared their knowledge and experiences.
“For the first time in 24 years,” Sandino told El Espectador newspaper in September 2016, “I’m seeing that women feel the need to rise to positions of power.”
Women began pushing the leadership to include feminism in its future political platform. They weren’t talking about traditional third-wave feminism (sometimes dubbed White Women’s Feminism), nor had they exactly adopted the language of intersectional feminism, with its focus on race and privilege.
Insurgent feminism draws on the FARC’s anti-capitalist ideology, linking women’s emancipation to the class struggle. For these Leninist-inspired fighters, Colombia’s political and economic system can never fundamentally change if patriarchal culture continues to be reproduced in everyday life.
Insurgent feminism exhorts all people, including men, to seek a transformation of gender relations among people of all identities and sexual orientations, and promotes a non-hegemonic concept of masculinity that breaks with traditional Colombian machismo.
All of this together could end the social and political exclusion of minority groups, say Sandino and her comrades. In this way, the philosophy establishes continuity between a revolutionary past of armed struggle and a future of political fights.
From paper into practice
There was resistance to making this philosophy part of the FARC’s political agenda. The insurgent group may have practiced gender equality, but it never talked much about feminism.
Sandino and her cohort kept up the pressure and, eventually, their higher-ups agreed. The FARC has now declared its commitment to feminism and, in its party literature, is explicitly linking women’s empowerment with the fight against capitalism.
FARC feminists are trying to build bridges with other women’s movements, both at home and abroad – a critical step if insurgent feminism is to gain traction.
On June 23 2017, Sandino and other FARC feminists presented their policy proposals, which included preventing violence against women, reconptualising parental roles and deconstructing the social construct of gender, to a group of Colombian feminists from various sectors.
A seven-member panel of women – representatives of Colombian women’s organisations – will be in charge of supporting the implementation of gender-based components of the peace accords, which offers FARC women some useful networking opportunities.
But many feminists are likely to be reluctant about get involved with a group that many Colombians still revile.
Collaboration with pacifist organisations, such as the Pacific Route of Women, which is avowedly anti-violence, is difficult to envision.
Nor is it yet clear how high on the party’s agenda central insurgent feminism will be. According to FARC documents, the new party will have a “gender department”. What is its mandate? Who will run the office, and how well funded will it be?
Some veteran Colombian feminists, such as Catalina Ruiz-Navarro, are coming around to the FARC’s new vision. Their rhetoric “shows that the FARC understand that feminism is a decisive, critical issue in contemporaneous politics,” she told the news site Pacifista.
The coming months and years will determine whether the men in power are also true believers.
TODAY COLOMBIA – In recent months, Colombia has experienced a growing interest in Bitcoin, the virtual currency that currently costs US $2,524 per coin. That high price has caused investors in the country to start paying even closer attention to the “cryto”-net, but Bitcoin is not without its controversies.
Many investors have claimed the currency is too unpredictable or inconvenient to serve as an alternative to physical currency, and others have questioned how it fits into both the preexisting financial and legal systems.
Currently, Bitcoin’s defenders advocate for the free circulation of cryptocurrency, while its opponents want to restrict its use, arguing that transactions involving the currency are mainly used to carry out illegal activities like money laundering and tax evasion, among other crimes.
On the other hand, some have questioned whether people who use cryptocurrency should declare it as part of their income on their taxes. The question for now is a moot one, as some specialists argue that it should be taxed and others that it should not, but no legal decision has been made.
According to a statement by Colombia’s Financial Superintendence, Bitcoin is considered a high-risk currency. In Colombia, the peso is the only legal tender by which a person can be paid.
“Consequently, Bitcoin is not an asset that is equivalent to legal tender in Colombia because it has not been recognized as a currency in the country,” the agency’s statement said.
So how do you tax an economic activity that is considered illegal, or that lacks a legal framework establishing procedures to do so?Several analysts have suggested a solution to the issue.
“Behind Bitcoin, there can be a range of products associated with the production of that ‘currency,’ called ‘virtual coin mining,’ generating revenue that can be valued and generate income for those who earn it as part of their assets and which affects tax matters,” said an official at theTaxes and Customs Office of Colombia.
This means that people would tax bitcoins for occasional profits from the sale of the cryptocurrency.
“Tax issues are yet to be decided,” Attorney Juan Sebastián Peredo said. “We should think that people will have to report them as part of their assets in their income tax return. In this way, and to the extent that Bitcoin is part of people’s assets, they will have to follow the corresponding tax rules. Ultimately, this currency has raised concerns among several countries’ tax authorities because of the difficulty of tracing the transactions and, therefore, the possibility that they are used to evade taxes.”
“Currently, in Colombia, people are not required to report their investments or transactions in Bitcoins or any other cryptocurrency, so it can be used to evade taxes,” said Jhonathan Alexander Higuera, an expert in Bitcoin. “Users can invest in this virtual currency through platforms such as Kraken, Bitstamp, Localbitcoins and Poloniex.”
At the moment, the countries that allow the cryptocurrency are the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Japan.
In 2014, the Australian tax office issued a guidance document regarding taxation of cryptocurrencies. The office established that the use of Bitcoin is taxed with VAT, a goods and services tax. In Spain, the country’s tax revenue agency requires creators of Bitcoin to pay taxes to combat tax evasion and computer crime.
Apparently, Colombia wants to follow in the footsteps of the Spanish, forcing the creators of cryptocurrency to pay taxes to without any regulation.
This article, originally published on April 5 2017 with the headline “For Colombian rebels, a risky shift from armed revolt to party politics”, has been updated to reflect the latest developments in Colombia’s peace process.
As of today, the Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces are armed no more.
After missing the initial May 31 deadline to hand over their weapons, the FARC guerrillas have now completed the disarmament process, closing (perhaps) the final chapter of a 50-year conflict with the government of Colombia.
In a tweeted statement, FARC leader Timochenko has called disarmament “an act of will, bravery and hope”.
Now the country – and the FARC – is asking how well the decommissioned fighters from this half-century-old Marxist insurgency will transition back into civilian life.
For peace to stick, a violent rebel group must now successfully become a political actor, deeply transforming who it is, how it sees itself and what it does. And while commanders like Timochenko have a clearly political vision for the FARC’s future, the path there remains fraught, particularly for the now out-of-work rank-and-file soldiers.
As a recent deadly bombing in Bogotá confirmed, the end of one of the longest-standing guerrilla insurgencies in contemporary world history does not mean the end of violence in Colombia.
Currently, no politician dares to suggest an alliance. But in the long run, such domestic relationship-building seems both necessary and probable. Most likely, the FARC will seek to build ties with Colombia’s leftist national parties and social movements, as it has done in the past.
In the 1980s, negotiations with the FARC and other rebels resulted in the Patriotic Union, a big-tent leftist political party. In the decade to come, more than 3,000 party representatives were assassinated, including presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa. For the FARC’s leaders, this hardly feels like ancient history.
In addition to the threat of violence, the question of whether the reinvented FARC will be allowed access to the highest spheres of national political power is very much open one. Will Colombia’s political establishment accept these fighters-turned-politicians?
Persistent social hierarchies
One thing is certain about the FARC’s reinvention: not all members will benefit equally from the organisation’s shift from armed insurgency to political party.
It is also diverse in terms of ethnicity, age, education level and social origins. Like Colombian society at large, the FARC’s fighters are Afro-Colombian, indigenous, white and mixed-race. Some members are college graduates from middle-class homes who have been in the group for decades; others are poor teenagers who joined a few years back.
Its leadership, however, looks less varied. Like any social group, the FARC’s internal power relations reproduce the social hierarchy of the outside world: from lead peace negotiator Ivan Marquez to general Timochenko, the orgnisation’s highest-ranking, most publicly visible officials are mostly white men.
As a revolutionary movement, the FARC sought to abolish historical social power relations, or at least to reinvent them. And, up to a point, the group was indeed able to overcome much of the social discrimination that is so deeply institutionalised in Colombian society.
Victoria Sandino, the FARC delegation’s subcommittee chairwoman, stepped out of the shadows to become a prominent principal spokesperson of what the FARC is now calling “insurgent feminism” – a set of collective anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and anti-classist practices built from the lived experience of female FARC fighters.
The experience of negotiation with political actors from different countries and ideologies shows how exchanges might contribute to mutual learning and help guide the deep transformation underway within the guerrilla group.
As a political party, the FARC will find itself compelled to create new opportunities for political participation of other minority members as well.
Now that the group is not the sole provider of material support to its members, for example, high-ranking former combatants with a diploma and family support are likely to be better able to navigate the postwar period than their less privileged peers.
The persistence of of paramilitary groups in Colombia suggests that some former fighters of the Colombian armed conflict may not be ready to actually disarm.
As the FARC lays down its weapons, officially entering an explicitly political stage of life, potential spoilers to peace – both those outside of the FARC’s control and those well within its mandate – remain pressing in Colombia.
TODAY COLOMBIA – Colombia’s leftist The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC ) rebel force formally completed its disarmament process on Monday to end half a century of war against the state, the United Nations (UN) said.
UN monitors “today have the entirety of the FARC’s registered individual arms stored away,” except for some that were exempted for transitional security at demobilisation camps, the body said in a statement.
The disarmament by the roughly 7,000 members of Colombia’s biggest rebel group under a 2016 peace accord brings Latin America’s oldest civil conflict close to a complete end.
FARC leader Rodrigo Londono is scheduled to formally conclude the disarmament process at a ceremony with President Juan Manuel Santos in the central town of Mesetas at 1500 GMT on Tuesday.
The UN statement said the FARC had handed over all of its more than 7,000 weapons, excluding “those that under the roadmap will be used for security in the 26 camps” until August 1.
Separately, the UN mission is continuing to extract and destroy other weapons and munitions stashed in remote hiding places which the FARC have identified and surrendered to the monitors.
The former fighters are now due to make the transition into civilian life. The FARC will transform into a political party.
The accord, first signed in November, was initially narrowly rejected by Colombians in a referendum before being redrafted and pushed through congress.
Critics said it was too lenient on FARC members, some of whom will get amnesties or reduced sentences for crimes in the conflict.
The move is a key part of efforts to end the conflict completely.
The last active rebel force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has started talks with the government in Bogota, but has been blamed for continuing confrontations with state forces.
TODAY COLOMBIA – A tourist boat packed with about 160 passengers for the holiday weekend capsized Sunday on a reservoir near the Medellin. At least six people dead and 31 missing, officials reported.
Rescuers including firefighters from nearby cities and air force pilots searched for survivors at the Guatape reservoir where El Almirante ferry sank. A flotilla of recreational boats and jet skis rushed to the scene, pulling people from the boat as it went down and avoiding an even deadlier tragedy.
Dramatic videos circulating on social media show the turquoise and yellow trimmed party boat rocking back and forth as people crawled down from a fourth-floor roof as it sank into the water in a matter of a few minutes. Survivors described hearing a loud explosion near the men’s bathroom that knocked out the power a few minutes after it began its cruise around the giant lake. As water flooded on board, pressure built and people were sucked under by the sinking ship.
“Those on the first and second floors sank immediately,” survivor Lorena Salazar told local media. “All we could do was scream and call for help….it was completely chaotic.”
Margarita Moncada, the head of the disaster response agency in Antioquia state, said that according to a preliminary report, 99 people were rescued and another 40 managed to find a way to shore on their own. Speaking to reporters from the reservoir, she said nine people had been killed and around 28 are still missing.
Changed death toll
But later Sunday, President Juan Manuel Santos arrived to Guatape and said 122 people were either rescued or found their way to shore and were in mostly good condition. Six had died and another 31 were missing, he said. The discrepancies in the number of fatalities could not be immediately reconciled.
It’s unclear what caused the boat to sink.
Some people who witnessed the tragedy from the nearby shore said the boat appeared to be overloaded but Santos said it was sailing well below capacity. None of the passengers were wearing a life vest. Complicating the search, there wasn’t even a passenger list.
“Nobody really knows what happened,” said Santos, adding that naval officials were brought in to carry out an investigation.
Carlos Espinosa, an independent journalist from Guatape, said about a month ago townspeople awoke to find the El Almirante filled with water and sinking at its dock, suggesting that perhaps the vessel wasn’t ready to return to the water.
“What makes you angry is there are no controls by the government,” he said.
As night fell, the usually festive town was silent as people began to register the magnitude of the loss. Among those huddled under the rain near the port looking for information about loved ones was Alberto Villegas, who was separated from a cousin and uncle in the mad rush to abandon the sinking ship.
“All we ask is that they don’t give up the search,” said Villegas.
Authorities were at a loss to say exactly how many people were on the boat and asked passengers or their loved ones to report to a rescue centre hastily set up along the shore. They also made a call for scuba divers to assist with the search.
The reservoir surrounding the soaring rocky outcrop of El Penol is a popular weekend destination a little more than an hour from Medellin. It was especially busy Sunday as Colombians celebrated a long holiday weekend.
The City Paper Bogota reports four men and four women were detained in the Centro Andino shopping mall bombing in Bogota on June 17 bombing in which three women were killed and nine injured.
The arrested in the town of El Espinal, Tolima, are ndividuals affiliated with a new urban militia group known as Movimiento Revolutionario del Pueblo (MRP), or People’s Revolutionary Movement according to Gen. Jorge Nieto, Director of Colombia’s National Police.
“The state is capable of triumph over terrorism,” remarked Colombian Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martínez Saturday night during a press conference in Bogotá.
On June 17, a hand made bomb exploded in a public bathroom on the second level of the mall located in Bogota’s Zona Rosa district.
Nestor, accompanied by Nieto, and Bogotá’s chief of security Daniel Mejía, confirmed the capture of four men and four women, who will face on Sunday charges that include theft, homicide, kidnapping, and terrorism.
General Nieto said the suspects have alleged involvement in 14 other attacks since 2015, including in Pereira.
Applying good police work, intelligence officials used eyewitness testimonies and examined security camera footage from inside the shopping center in order to identify the suspects. The bomb that exploded at 5:10pm on the day before Father’s Day claimed the lives of Ana María Gutiérrez, 41, Lady Paola Jaimes, 31, and French citizen, Julie Huynh, age 23.
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) Six men and women rise from worn, flattened mattresses as the first hint of dawn stretches over a Colombian neighborhood known as “Little Mene Grande,” named after the warm, Venezuelan city where so many recent arrivals are from.
The women do their makeup in front of a mirror hanging from the security bars inside a window. One wraps her 4-month-old daughter in a fuzzy yellow blanket. The men don jackets and baseball caps.
Bogota is cold compared to their Venezuelan hometown and their day will be long. The task: Sell 54 mangos at less than a dollar each in hopes of sending a sliver of what they earn to relatives struggling even more back home.
“I never imagined living like this,” says Genensis Montilla, 26, a nurse and single mother who left her three children with their grandmother.
While Venezuela plunges further into political and economic ruin, the flight of its citizens is accelerating, reaching levels unseen in its history. Experts believe nearly one-tenth of its population of around 31 million now lives outside the country. For better-off professionals the preferred destination is Spain or the U.S., where Venezuelans are overstaying their visas in droves and now lead asylum requests for the first time – 18,155 last year alone.
But for many poor people fleeing Venezuela’s triple-digit inflation, hours-long food lines and medical shortages, Colombia is the journey’s end. The neighboring Andean nation has received more Venezuelans than any other nation. Estimates indicate more than 1 million have arrived in the last two decades, reversing the previous trend of Colombians fleeing war heading to Venezuela.
The most desperate cross illegally through one of hundreds of “trochas,” unpaved dirt roads along Venezuela’s porous 1,370-mile (2,200-kilometer) border with Colombia.
“When you talk to Venezuelans, they all say, ‘I want to come,'” said Saraid Valbuena, 20, who made the journey with her husband and their then 1-month-old daughter earlier this year. “Even though you come here to sleep on the ground, people want to come because they know with a day or two of work at least they’ll eat.”
The influx shows no sign of waning and has worried Colombian officials enough that they are crafting contingency plans in the event of an even larger spike or a repeat of a crisis like the one in 2015, when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro overnight expelled some 20,000 Colombians.
Recently, Colombia’s government sent a delegation to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey to learn how to respond to a sudden wave of mass migration. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is also studying how prepared their offices in Colombia, as well as Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, are to deal with a potential swell of Venezuelan migrants.
“Since about a year and a half ago, it has been a constant flow,” said Daniel Pages, president of the Venezuelans in Colombia Association. “They need to leave in order to live.”
Officially, Venezuela denies its citizens are fleeing to Colombia. As recently as February, Maduro claimed Colombians were still pouring “en masse” into Venezuela. Venezuela has not released migration statistics in more than a decade.
Valbuena and Montilla share four tiny bedrooms made of cinder blocks with 12 others. They’ve scrounged used jackets to withstand Bogota’s damp, Andean climate. One of the flattened mattresses in a bedroom was pulled from the trash.
“Every day I wake up wanting to leave, but I can’t,” says Montilla, who in Venezuela lived in a comfortable home with her children but earned less in one day at an emergency room clinic than the cost of a tube of toothpaste.
On a typical day, Montilla and five others take a bus to a wholesale food market where they purchase mangos. But on this day, mango season is winding down and prices are rising as the fruit becomes scarcer. Instead of about $4 for a bundle of 30 mangos, the seller wants $7.50, nearly double.
They don’t have the money.
Instead, they decide to try and sell the 54 mangos still left in the wooden carts they store overnight in a wealthier part of Bogota.
Baby bundled and jackets on, the group departs from their apartment toward the bus station. As they approach the station, two policemen in yellow reflector jackets stop them.
“Identity cards, everyone,” an officer demands.
“We’re Venezuelan,” several in the group reply.
The officers, surprised by the group’s bluntness, announce that they will call migration, a threat that doesn’t faze the Venezuelans. One of the three girls in the group pulls out a border card that allows short trips into Colombia. The officers appear satisfied but tell them to carry ID cards next time.
Decades ago, 4 million Colombians poured into Venezuela at a time when their own nation was engulfed in an armed conflict with guerrillas and Venezuela’s oil-rich economy was booming.
Many of the Venezuelans arriving today have Colombian roots, but those who do not find gaining legal status difficult. Unlike nearby Peru, which has offered Venezuelan arrivals temporary work visas, Colombia does not provide any sort of humanitarian legal status to Venezuelans. Refugee visas are available but can take more than two years to process.
In the early years of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution, fleeing oil executives and other wealthy Venezuelans arrived in Colombia in such numbers that they drove up real estate prices and made getting into elite private schools even more difficult. But the newest arrivals come with little more than the change in their pockets.
Though many come from Venezuela’s lower and middle classes, Montilla and her friends have seen even skilled professionals like architects and engineers arriving in Colombia and sleeping in bus stations.
Montilla said she decided to leave when her children began saying, “I’m hungry” and she had nothing to feed them.
She told her children her plans before departing.
“Go,” her oldest son, 10, said. “So that we aren’t hungry.”
The Colombian peso lost 7 months of gains against the U.S. dollar, Tuesday, trading above the 3,000 peso benchmark as increased supply by several key oil producing nations hammered crude futures.
Currencies of leading oil exporting nations led currency declines across Latin America with the Colombian peso slipping 2.2% to its lowest point in 2017 and shares in Colombia’s Ecopetrol also dropped nearly 3%.
For the peso to reach 3,000 is hardly good news for importers, who, since October 2016, have grappled with a revalued peso that has been trading between 2,800 and 2,900 for most of this year. The United States Federal Reserve’s decision to raise short-term interest rates 0.25% and fourth hike since the financial crisis, also weighed-heavily on the peso losing ground to the greenback.
While the Fed’s decision was anticipated, the global investment bank Goldman Sacks warned that currencies from emerging markets would be impacted if Brent crude fell below US$45 per barrel, including the Colombian peso.
As the third-largest economy in Latin America, Colombia has unperformed during the 1Quarter of 2017 with GDP growth at 1.1%. Despite investor confidence with the end of a half-century of internal conflict and the arduous end-game of a weapons hand-over of 7,000 combatants, the impact of crude slipping to its lowest price this year could evaporate the peso’s retreat during the 2Q of this year as a result of an over-supply of U.S petroleum and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ failure to cut back on production to stabilize prices above US$50 per barrel.
The feuding among OPEC nations on whether to cut production or not, is not going away anytime soon, and this could weaken Colombia’s capacity to generate much-needed revenues from oil and gas exports to finance its peace process and much-needed social welfare programs.
The explosion that rocked the Centro Andino shopping center in Bogotá, Saturday, killing three women and injuring 11 has security forces in Colombia searching for clues to arrest persons implicated in the terror attack.
The bomb placed in the women’s bathroom on the eve of Father’s Day detonated at 5:10pm forcing the evacuation of shops, restaurants and a crowded movie theatre in the heart of one of Bogotá’s most visited areas, known as ‘Zona Rosa.’
The victims of the attack include French national Julie Huynh, 23, who was finishing a six-month stay in the country, after working on social projects in a marginalized neighbourhood. The other two victims, Ana María Gutiérrez, 41, and Paola Jaimes Ovalle, 31, died at the nearby Clinica del Country on the same Saturday night. Pilar Molano Villamizar, 45, remains in critical condition and has required several surgeries.
World leaders have condemned the attack and a memorial service was held Sunday afternoon in the main lobby of the four-floor shopping complex, decked with white flags and wreaths placed by the Mayoralty and French Embassy.
Within hours of the blast, the National Liberation Army guerrilla, or ELN, repudiated the attack in a statement from Quito where peace talks are taking place with the Colombian government. The commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) also condemned the attack by “enemies of peace.”
As thousands evacuated this popular commercial zone and the National Police sealed-off the main entrances to the Centro Andino, the first reports of a bomb placed in the women’s bathroom surfaced. Bogotá’s mayor Enrique Peñalosa arrived with a security detail and addressed the media, stating that the blast was a “cowardly terrorist act.”
Intelligence agencies are working on several leads as to which organization could have orchestrated an attack aimed at civilians, especially women and children. As the bomb exploded, the third-floor theatres of Cine Colombia were full with families enjoying a Saturday at the movies.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived at the shopping center around 9:30pm, Saturday, to assess for himself the extent of the damage and called the attack “a vile, cruel and cowardly act”. The head of state said a full investigation was underway and the terrorists would be captured. Santos offered a $100 million peso (U.S$35,000) reward for information leading the arrest of persons implicated in the attack.
According to an eyewitness, the carnage on the second floor was extensive with “blood everywhere.” Graphic images of injured women were circulating on social media within hours of the bombing. “It was a surreal situation with the evacuation and simultaneously clients enjoying coffee in the many cafés of the mall,” remarked a foreigner who asked to remain anonymous and was forced to evacuate from an emergency stairwell. “The whole process was very slow. Theatregoers were more concerned about texting than leaving the building.”
Colombia’s anti-terrorism entity has been coordinating the investigation with the state’s security forces, as well as Interpol. Several people approached representatives of the country’s Fiscalia (Attorney General’s Office) to give testimony of suspicious activity within the mall. According to one account, a tall man, was confronted by several women when he emerged from a stall on the third-floor bathroom in the early afternoon. The bomb exploded on the second floor two hours later. “At the time, it didn’t seem suspicious, rather the case of a pervert or confused tourist,” stated one of the women. Another eyewitness claims to have seen a man leave the women’s bathroom on the second floor. A third account describes a middle-aged man dashing out the main entrance of the Centro Andino, pushing people aside, moments before the explosion.
Police were reviewing CCTV cameras on all floors of the luxury mall late Saturday and examining the crime scene.
The State Department issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens residing or visiting Colombia within hours of the attack offering to “provide any support requested by the Colombian authorities.” The Canadian government asked its nationals to “remain vigilant” in Bogotá.
The investigation is focusing on several hypothesis, as the attack appears to be have been planned and coordinated by several individuals, and authorities have not ruled out a connection to dissident, fringe groups affiliated with the country’s largest guerrilla group, FARC, who want to destabilize the peace process and demobilization of 7,000 combatants. Another theory is looking at a drugs cartel connection, implicating the Clan Usuga, that has vowed to launch a terror campaign in Bogotá, as a result of major drug seizures in recent months along the coast.
On Tuesday, the Attorney General’s Office released the police composite sketches of two suspects – both middle aged men – one of whom, appears to “speak with a foreign accent.”
The bomb was fabricated with 500 grams of ammonia and TNT. Police have not ruled out the involvement of a woman in the attack.
Given the seriousness of the attack, and fact that no one has so far claimed responsibility, the only authorities who can comment on the on-going investigation are President Santos, Mayor Peñalosa and the capital’s chief of security, Daniel Mejía.
TODAY COLOMBIA (BOGOTA) Investigators are looking at three theories in connection with the bombing that killed three women, including a 23-year-old French citizen, in Bogota, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Sunday.
“The investigating team has three basic hypotheses and I’m not going to mention them so as not to harm the investigation,” said Santos at the end of a security council meeting in which the decision was made to offer a reward of 100 million pesos (about us$33,600) for information leading to the apprehension of those responsible.
Santos said that he had asked the authorities to keep “informing the public but only with true, confirmed and appropriate information that does not affect the progress of the investigation.”
He said that the only entities authorized to provide “official information” are the Attorney General’s Office and the police leadership.
“All different information (coming from other sources), I’m asking them not to use it as official because in these situations, and as our experience has shown, people begin to speculate, they begin to circulate all sorts of versions that, often, are untrue and can even cause panic,” Santos said.
The bomb exploded on Saturday afternoon in one of the ladies’ restrooms on the second floor of the Andino Mall, one of Bogota’s most exclusive shopping facilities located in the well-to-do El Chico neighborhood.
According to the information presented on Saturday evening by Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, the blast killed 23-year-old Julie Huynh, a French citizen, who had been working for the past six months as a volunteer at a high school in the Colombian capital.
The other people killed were identified as Ana Maria Gutierrez, 27, and Lady Paola Jaimes, 31, and Huynh’s mother – Nathalie Nadine Veronique Levrand, 48 – is among the injured.
Regarding the reward, the president said that it will be provided “to any person who gives us information that can help capture those responsible.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Santos cancelled his trip – scheduled to begin on Monday – to Portugal to be able to stay closely informed about the investigation into the attack, saying that “the first days after an attack … are essential … to getting the investigation going and achieving results.”
Santos did say, however, that he will travel to France, where he will meet with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, “to move forward on our agenda of cooperation.”
TODAY COLOMBIA – Three people died, and nine were injured in a bomb explosion occurred on Saturday in a women’s bathroom in Centro Comercial Andino, a shopping mall in the northern part of the Colombian capital Bogotá.
Right after the bombing, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos canceled a state visit to Portugal to take charge of the investigations. He offered a 100 million pesos (US$33,790) reward to whoever provides information leading to those responsible for the attack.
Santos stated that the authorities are working with three lines of investigation about the perpetrators of the attack, but refused to disclose them. “The investigative team has three specific hypotheses, and I will not mention them so as not to damage investigations,” he said.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the two guerrillas of the country, both condemned the bombing.
The “ELN repudiates the attack against civilians targets on Centro Comercial Andino,” the militia wrote on Twitter. The guerrilla called for “seriousness to those who make unfounded and reckless allegations” after some sectors identified that group as responsible for the attack.
Meanwhile, FARC commander, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” wrote on Twitter that the bombing in the shopping mall could only come from sectors that want to “close the roads of peace and reconciliation.”
TODAY COLOMBIA – Two Dutchmen were kidnapped in the northeast of Colombia on Monday, the country’s ombudsman announced. According to local media, the victims were journalists.
The Ombudsman’s Office tweeted that the reported journalists were “retained” in El Tarra, a municipality in the mainly lawless region of Catatumbo, Norte de Santander in the northeast of the country.
Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, a television journalist, and Eugenio Ernest Marie, 58, a television cameraman, were seized while working in El Tarra in Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela, according to a military statement.
They were searching for the mother of a Colombian child adopted in the Netherlands a few years ago.
The Colombian authorities tweeted a demand “for the immediate release of the two men.”
The fashion industry continues growing at an unstoppable speed. Increasingly companies are betting on the fabric and clothing business in Latin America
According to Fashion United, the global apparel market is valued at 3 trillion dollars and accounts for 2% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In Colombia, the textile-clothing sector has more than a 100 year of experience. According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) fashion business produces about 200.000 direct jobs and 600.000 indirect jobs in the South American country. This department is incorporated by 10.000 factories located in seven cities of the country. Medellin is at the epicenter with approximately 40% of the national production.
To have a clear idea, the fashion division includes: cotton crops, fabric production, garment making, footwear, leather goods, and marketing.
Procolombia, the enterprise in charge of promoting Colombian exports, international tourism, and foreign investment, confirm that exports account for approximately 30% of domestic production and that 24% of the country’s manufacturing employment is generated by this sector.
The Delegate Minister of Business Development of Trade Industry and Tourism, Daniel Arango Ángel, called on entrepreneurs in fashion industry to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the eleven free trade agreements Colombia has signed with 50 countries and allow access to 1.500 million of consumers around the world.
Inexmoda is the company in charge of organizing Colombia Moda fair, the event that represents the opening of the fashion industry of Latin America. In the previous year, 13,555 buyers participated in the affair which 11,953 were nationals and 1,602 internationals.
However, Inexmoda’s Executive President, Carlos Eduardo Botero Hoyos, exposed the manufacturers’ concern about the recent increase in VAT from 16% to 19% which may have a negative impact on the dynamics of sales.
Colombiatex, Caliexposhow, and Bogotá Fashion Week are also big expos that represent a great monetary entrance to the economy of the country.
Globalization has made fashion a section that moves the economy of the world. Colombia is a country that promises a prosperous future for entrepreneurs in the sector, free trade agreements, and the government’s politics help new companies makes this section a tempting investment point.
The positive image of Colombia abroad and the talent of local designers shining on the international scene make the country a fashion center of high quality and competitive prices.