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    Bogotá Celebrates 479th!

    Photo RCNradio.com

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Bogota is 479 years old today, Sunday, August 6, 2017. Colombia’s major city will be celebrating with parades during the day and fireworks at night. And given that the 8th is a bank holiday, the party or at least the hangover will last longer than the usual.

    The day’s celebration includes two free concerts, on the 6th in the Parque Simon Bolivar ad the second on the 7th in Parque El Tunal, by Colombian heartthrob, Manuel Medrano.

    Founded as the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada on August 6, 1538, by Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada after a harsh expedition into the Andes conquering the Muisca, today Bogota is market of over 8 million residents within city limits (more than 10 million taking into account the surrounding areas), supported by a sound and diverse economy. Bogota currently accounts for approximately 25% of the country’s GDP of US$720 billion, is larger than those of several countries in Latin America.

    Bogota, a must see place, celebrates its 479th today, August 6, 2017

    Bogota is also the country’s largest consumer center, the city’s good economic performance has been reflected in a noteworthy stability in prices and one of the lowest inflation levels among relevant cities in Latin America.

    According to the Administrative Department Of Statistics (DANE), more than half of that population is middle class (51.6% in 2016), which has created new challenges for the capital.

    Bogota is sophisticated in order to meet this growing demand, moving from primary and low value-added sectors to manufacturing and specialized services. As a consequence, in 2016, Bogota’s economy grew 3%, above 2% of the country.


    The Colpatria (Scotiabank) building at night. Photo by Tijs Zwinkels – http://www.flickr.com


    “Bogota is well positioned among its Latin American peers as a dynamic, modern, diverse city with prospects of becoming number one of the Region,” said the executive director of investment promotion agency Invest in Bogota, Juan Gabriel Perez.

    Now, we could bore you even more with more economic achievements and statistics, the fact is that Bogota has many cultural venues including 58 museums, 62 art galleries, 33 library networks, 45 stage theaters, 75 sports and attraction parks, and over 150 national monuments.

    The Ciclovia (Bicycle Path) By Peter Angritt

    The Cristóbal Colón Theater, the country’s oldest Opera House, opened in 1892. It is home to the National Symphony Association’s major act, the National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia. Rock al Parque or Rock at the Park is an open air rock music festival. Recurring annually, it gathers over 320,000 music fans who can enjoy over 60 band performances for free during three days a year.

    And then there is the cuisine

    There is a broad array of restaurants in Bogota that serve typical and international food. Parque de la 93, Usaquén, Zona T, The G Zone, La Macarena, La Candelaria and the International Center are some of the main sectors where a number of international restaurants are found, ranging from Argentinian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Brazilian, Mexican, American establishments to Arabic, Asian, French, Italian, Russian and British bistros, rotisseries, steakhouses and pubs, just to name a few.

    Ajiaco is one of the city’s most representative dishes. By Mauricio Giraldo

    Typical dishes of Bogotá include the Ajiaco, a soup prepared with chicken, a variety of potatoes, corn on the cob, and guascas (an herb), usually served with sour cream and capers, and accompanied by avocado and rice.

    Appearances Can Be Deceptive

    Bogota is not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of city. At 2640 meters above sea level ( 8661 feet), Bogota is not the tropical climate one would expect, or found in the rest of the country, such as Medellin or Cali. The climate is cooler, subtropical highland (Köppen Cfb) which means it is cool during the day with average temperatures of 19°C (67°F) during the day and 8°F (47°F) at night.

    But, take our word, the cooler climate doesn’t hamper partying.

    Stay a little longer and you’ll begin to appreciate the city’s charms

    Sources: Wikipedia; LatinTravelGuide.com; Flickr.com; RCNradio.com and agencies

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    Colombia Eliminates Visa For Nicaraguan Tourists

    Image for illustrative purposes

    With the objective of encouring tourism to Colombia, the South American country has eliminated the visa requirement for Nicaraguan tourists.

    By resolution 5622 de 2017, Colombia’s Cancillería (Foreign Ministry), eliminated the travel block. With this exemption, the number of countries without any formality for travel to Colombia is now at 92.

    However, the Foreign Ministry clarified that the exemption will apply only to Nicaraguans who have a Schengen visa or the United States with a minimum validity of 180 days when entering Colombia.

    Also, Colombia did not eliminate the cost of the permit of Nicaraguans enter to Colombia, which is US$10 dollars, which must be paid at the immigration checkpoint when entering the country.

    Source: RCNradio.com

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    Despite Peace Talks, ELN Guerrillas Continue Expansion

    (Insightcrime.org) When Latin America’s oldest insurgency, the FARC, officially becomes a political party, their cousins in the ELN will assume the status of Colombia’s most powerful guerrilla army. But while the ELN are also talking of a peaceful exit, signs on the ground point to a rebel army — and criminal organization — in expansion.

    July 25 was a snapshot of what has been a rocky road for the Colombian government’s ongoing peace talks with the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación – ELN) guerrillas.

    ELN peace negotiatior Bernardo Téllez suggested to media outlets that the rebels had reached a ceasefire deal with the Colombian government.

    “The idea is that this temporary ceasefire begin with a duration of around three months … This is an initial ceasefire, which is not the end of the conflict,” he said in comments reported by El Espectador.

    However, the government was quick to deny that a deal had been reached:

    “We have not yet started discussing the technical aspects of an eventual ceasefire with the ELN, and much less its timeline,” chief government negotiatior Juan Camilo Restrepo tweeted later that day.

    “And another reminder: If the ELN don’t stop their hostilities against civilians in a clear and verifiable way, there will be no ceasefire,” he added.

    Negotiations with the ELN are now in their sixth month, and the main goal is to secure a bilateral ceasefire before Pope Francis visits the South American country this September. But while the ELN have been relentless in demanding that the state agree to end hostilities, the guerrilla’s attacks on the civilian population and security forces have not stopped. Several soldiers have been ambushed and killed in recent weeks.

    The ELN’s refusal to stop kidnapping has also threatened to stop the talks on more than one occasion. At the same time, the government has continued security operations against the group as the negotiations have limped forward.

    InSight Crime Analysis

    If the talks are successful, the ELN would follow in the footsteps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) — the rebels’ larger leftist counterparts who recently laid down their weapons after half a century of fighting. But the FARC process has been riddled with pitfalls, and the Colombian government likely does not want to add a botched peace attempt with the ELN to its shaky record. Still, the ELN negotiations have so far borne little fruit, with both sides working to keep the façade of progress from crumbling.

    Several realities speak to the schizophrenia of the ELN talks.

    Money is perhaps the most important factor. The ELN has long shed its initial opposition to involvement in drug trafficking to become one of the main players in Colombia’s narcotics trade, and the group also controls lucrative illegal mining operations. Rather than renounce these revenue streams as negotiations advance, ELN fronts have been consolidating and even expanding their power in key areas.

    The ELN today must be considered in the context of the FARC’s own peace deal; as the FARC have receded to demobilization zones, the ELN has been quick to move into the territorial voids, even striking deals with dissident FARC rebels who stayed behind.

    But the ELN is not alone in doing so, and this has led to violent clashes and civilian casualties in rural communities. Mass displacements continue to be the norm, while there are indications the ELN may be targeting social leaders standing in the way of their operations.

    Despite the turmoil, the ELN has been displaying more sophisticated criminal tactics, and their capacity to traffic drugs internationally may also have grown. The largest ever seizure of ELN-owned cocaine was made only days before the peace negotiations were scheduled to start, in early 2017. And this week, Colombia’s first-ever electric narco-submarine was discovered by authorities with a capacity to traffic four metric tons of cocaine. It allegedly belonged to one of the ELN’s most powerful and least loyal blocs, based on the Pacific coast.

    The first electric submarine to be found in Colombia. C/o Colombian armed forces

    Given this scenario, a truly successful ELN demobilization seems virtually out of the question. The volatility of today’s situation speaks to the ELN’s inability to rally its troops at this critical time, and to the disinterest of the rank-and-file in achieving peace. Indeed, InSight Crime field research has identified several potential “loose cannon” factions within the ELN. These threaten to disobey orders from above and potentially to dissent if a peace deal is ever reached.

    InSight Crime’s Roadmap to Lasting Peace team contributed to this report and provided the research for the graphic.

    Article originally appeared on Insightcrime.org and is republished here with permission. Read the original article.

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    FARC Officially Becomes A Political Party On Sept. 1

    Colombia’s FARC rebels will officially transform into a political party on September 1, a major step in reintegrating the former guerillas into civilian life as part of a historic peace deal.

    “We will publicly launch the party on September 1 in the Plaza de Bolivar,” in Bogota, FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada told a news conference by the group, almost a month after it completed its disarmament. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the largest and oldest rebel group in the country’s long-running civil war.

    Although a smaller rebel group, the ELN, has yet to put down its weapons, the transition of the FARC into a political party will put a full stop to a 50-year conflict that left 260,000 people dead.

    Putting an end to violent confrontation within its population is a significant step ahead by Colombia. The incorporation of the former FARC combatants to a new party, if done peacefully, will enhance citizen participation in the country’s political life.

    Lozada, whose real name is Julian Gallo, said the group had been working on the details of the “great political-cultural act.”

    “We made peace to participate in politics,” FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez said.


    The meeting will take place just days before Pope Francis makes a special four-day visit to Colombia, from September 6-11

    The FARC political party’s policies and name will be decided at a congress at the end of August.


    The meeting will take place just days before Pope Francis makes a special four-day visit to Colombia, from September 6-11, to add his weight to the process of reconciliation.

    The disarmament last month by the roughly 7,000 members of Colombia’s biggest rebel group under the 2016 peace accord brought a halt to the half-century-old civil war.

    Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for reaching the historic deal with the FARC that was signed last November.

    However the FARC conflict has left a quarter of a million dead, about 60,000 Colombians remain unaccounted for and seven million have been displaced in the conflict.

    Source: Mercopress.com

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    Short Essay about Colombian Independence

    The history of Colombia is closely related to the Spanish conquest of South America and the history of Spain itself to some extent. The Colombian Declaration of Independence is the most important event associated with the independence of the country. It is a series of activities that took place on July 20, 1810, in Santa Fe de Bogotá. It sowed the seeds of self-government and created the Republic of Gran Colombia.


    The region that eventually got independence and became Colombia was the area that visited by the expedition of Alison de Ojeda in 1499. Cartagena founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, a Spanish commander. It occupied the earlier Caribbean Calamari village. The town grew at a fast pace due to the gold found in the nearby areas and the trade. The quest for land and gold brought more Spanish explorers to the Chibchan Nations which now comprise of the Tairona and Muisca regions in present-day Colombia.

    Bogota Becoming Capital of New Granada

    Bogota received the status of capital of New Granada in 1549. Most of the New Granada formed part of the current Colombia. The Viceroyalty of New Granada created in the early 18th century. The status was earlier removed but reinstated within two decades. Santa Fe de Bogota was its capital and also included individual provinces which fell under other Viceroyalties of New Spain, including Peru.

    Independence of Gran Colombia

    Once the Viceroyalty of New Granada created, the struggle for independence gained momentum. Francisco de Paula Santander and Bolivar played a crucial role in this effort in the nearby regions. After Bolivar had become the leader of the Venezuelan struggle for independence, he returned to New Granada in early 19th century. He led an army that scaled the Andes and later captured the Spanish Viceroyalty. The Battle of Boyaca, in 1819, played a key role in his victory.

    The same year the Republic of Gran Colombia was established by the Congress of Angostura. The republic included all the regions which fell under the former Viceroyalty. Eventually, Simon Bolivar got elected as the country’s first president. In 1830, the Federation of Gran Colombia dissolved, and this led to the creation of the Republic of New Granada as a separate state.

    Influence of Events in Spain on Colombian Independence

    Charles IV who ruled the Spanish empire from 1788 to 1808 was unlike his predecessor. He didn’t show the same level of interest in exercising his political power and allowed the ministers to take care of the duties. His passion was more in the pursuit of arts and science, and the Spanish American colonies administered by representatives, the likes of the notorious Manuel Godoy.
    The events of July 20, 1810, were triggered by the weakening of the Spanish Monarchy. In 1808 Ferdinand VII and Charles IV were abdicated when Napoleon Bonaparte forced them out and put Joseph Bonaparte in their place.

    King Joseph’s ascension was initially accepted widely by the Spanish elites, but the Spanish population, Patriots, and priesthood rejected it outright. The repressive policies of the French army also created great opposition. It led to the creation of the Supreme Central Junta government in Spain, and most of the heads of the American colonies swore their allegiance to it.

    Dissolution of the Supreme Central Junta

    When the news of the Supreme Central Junta’s demise arrived in the Americas in the early 19th century, many new juntas were created by the Criollos and Spaniards, most of them swearing their loyalty to Ferdinand VII. The Mantuano, the military and the elites in Caracas declared independence under Ferdinand VII in 1810. They rejected the Viceroyalty. It Led to the Cadiz Board ordering Amar y Borbon’s destitution. Despite the creation of the Cartagena Board by the Cartagena de Indias, similar events took place in Pamplona, Socorro, and Santiago de Cali. The final rebellion took place in Bogota on July 20, 1810, which was the Viceroyalty’s central cathedral. At first, Amar Y Borbon declared as the president, but he later arrested. The famous ‘flower vase incident’ led to his overthrowing arrest.

    The Famous Flower Vase Incident

    A flower vase often associates with the independence of Colombia. In 1810, a group of criollos visited a Spanish business man Florero de Llorente to borrow a vase for an event. The event was a dinner hosted to a local Creole. They already knew that being a Spanish he would reject the request. When he rejected, the criollos began instigating the locals against the Spanish.
    A group of Venezuelans took an oath of loyalty to Spain and its Regency Council. Santa Fe de Bogota’s mayor, José Miguel Pey made an attempt to calm those who attacked Llorente. José Maria Carbonell, on the other hand, instigated more people. The same day the People’s Junta was formed led by Jose Acevedo. When the Viceroy agreed to nominated as the president of the Junta, this led to the people raising strong opposition.

    Juan Samano was a Spanish Army officer, and he led the reorganization of the Junta. Acevedo wanted him to charge with violating the majesty. On July 21, the Junta passed the order to arrest the Viceroy Aman y Borbon. He eventually stopped on July 25, and the Junta declared severing all its ties with the Seville Regency Council. This event led to the independence of Colombia from the Spanish empire. Bogota became the first city that severed its ties with Spain. Many other provinces followed the decision in the next few months.


    Today, July 20 is celebrated in Colombia as Independence Day. A series of events led to the independence of the country from Spanish rule. One was the oppressive standard of the Spanish administrators and the second was the weakening of the empire due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion. When King Ferdinand VII was dethroned and arrested, and Joseph Bonaparte became the ruler of Spain, it put the authorities in the Americas in disarray and laid the foundation for Colombia’s independence.

    Author: https://customwritings.com essay service

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    The Possibility of a Colombian-Cuban Alliance

    The presidents of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos (left) and Cuba, Raul Castro (right)

    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.

    Source: Latin American post | Daniel Posada

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    Does the peace treaty with the FARC mean a new future for Colombia?

    Peace in Colombia: An act of faith

    The famous Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, “Being Colombian is an act of faith”. After the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (also known by their Spanish initials as FARC), laid down its arms last week as one of the first steps towards implementing the newly signed peace treaty with the Colombian Government, Borges’s phrase has been repeatedly circling in my head.

    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.

    Source: LatinAmericanpost.com

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    Colombia’s tourism industry benefits from peace deal

    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.

    LatinAmerican Post |Manuela Pulido Gutiérrez

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    Colombians Have Good Reason to be Skeptical of FARC Disarmament

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) shakes hands with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, a.k.a. Timochenko (Youtube)

    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.

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    Colombian militants have a new plan for the country, and it’s called ‘insurgent feminism’

    Women transitioning from the front lines to civilian life are bringing with them some pretty high expectations of equality. Federico Rios/Reuters

    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.

    It’s called “insurgent feminism”, and, while still nascent, this philosophy may turn out to be one of the Colombian peace process’ most enduring – and least expected – political contributions.

    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.

    After more than 50 years, the FARC became the world’s first Marxist insurgency to declare itself an “anti-patriarchal” organisation.

    Walking the talk

    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.

    A gender workshop at the FARC concentration zones.
    Camille Boutron, Author provided

    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 ConversationThe coming months and years will determine whether the men in power are also true believers.

    Camille Boutron, Research assistant professor, Universidad de los Andes

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    Colombia Wants to Tax Bitcoin despite Declaring It Illegal

    According to a statement by the Financial Superintendence, Bitcoin is considered a high-risk currency. And in Colombia, the peso is the only legal tender by which a person can be paid. (Twitter)

    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 the Taxes 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.

    Source: La República

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    Colombian guerrillas disarm, starting their risky return to civilian life

    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.

    Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos with a high-level UN delegation, confirming the FARC disarmament process. Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

    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”.

    The peace process, which officially began with an accord signed on November 30 2016, has run up against numerous obstacles – from the inadequate FARC centralisation zones and a much-criticised amnesty law to the alarmingly frequent assassinations of Colombian human rights activists.

    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.

    Making friends, gaining influence

    As a political party, the FARC – consummate political outsiders – will have to establish dialogue with other parties and social movements. At the moment, this is difficult to envision. Negotiations with the the FARC faced stiff opposition, and the organisation still features on the US terrorist watchlist.

    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.

    The FARC is heterogeneous, with a relatively high female participation rate (around 40% are women), a fact that has attracted the most public attention.

    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.

    FARC women have enjoyed (some) greater sexual freedoms and reproductive rights, and poor kids got a free education.

    The gender subcommittee of the peace negotiations, established in September 2014 after pressure from women’s groups and international organisations, represented an opportunity for learning and leadership for female FARC fighters.

    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.

    Facing inequality

    As a political party, the FARC will find itself compelled to create new opportunities for political participation of other minority members as well.

    Colombia is highly unequal, with marginalisation based on race, class and gender. As soldiers become civilians, the reintegration process is likely to highlight, and maybe reinforce, inequalities that were less visible when the FARC was a military organisation.

    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.

    As experience from other countries’ transitions out of armed conflict shows, decommissioned soldiers who are not well trained for a new career or supported sufficiently during their transition are more likely to rejoin armed militancy.

    To date, there has been dangerously little attention paid to providing psychological support for ex-FARC fighters (and, more broadly, to the general mental health issues that arise in post-conflict nations).

    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.

    The ConversationAs 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.

    Camille Boutron, Research assistant professor, Universidad de los Andes

    This article was originally published on The Conversation and is republished here with permission. Read the original article.

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    Disarmament of Latin America’s Oldest Civil Conflict Close To A Complete End

    General view of the Transitional Standardization Zone Mariana Paez, Buena vista, Mesetas municipality, Colombia on June 26, 2017, the day of the final ceremony of abandonment of arms and the FARC’s end as an armed group.

    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.

    A fighter of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) arrives at a camp, near El Diamante in Yari Plains, Colombia, September 16, 2016. (Reuters/Archive)

    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.

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    Boat Sinks in Colombia After Capsizing, At Least 6 Dead, Dozens Missing

    Rescue officials gather to take part in a search for survivors after the tourist boat Almirante sank in the Reservoir of Penol in Guatape municipality in Antioquia. AFP

    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.

    An undated image on Twitter of the El Almirante as it was before the tragedy struck.

    “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.

    Survivors are seen after the tourist boat Almirante sank in the Reservoir of Penol in Guatape municipality in Antioquia. (AFP).

    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.

    Source: TRTWorld and agencies
  • in ,

    Eight Arrested in Bogota Shopping Mall Bombing

    Official press conference announcing the Saturday’s arrest of the alleged bombers of the Centro Andino mall in Bogota

    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.

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    More Venezuelans Flee to Colombia As Situation Worsens

    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.

    In this June 9, 2017 photo, Venezuelans Jesus Barrios and Wilson Bernadette park their cart at a busy intersection to sell mangoes, in Bogota, Colombia. Fernando Vergara / AP

    “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.”

    n this June 9, 2017 photo from left; Saraid Valbuena, carrying her daughter; Genesis Montilla; Heraly Obando and Wilson Bernadette, all recently arrived to Colombia from Venezuela, walk towards a bus station in Bogota, Colombia. Fernando Vergara / AP

    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.”

    Source: Associated Press via NBCnews

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    Colombia’s peso at 7-month high as global oil prices tumble

    The Colombian Peso is trading above the 3,000 benchmark

    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.

    Source: Thecitypaperbogota.com

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