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    Los Tres Maridos: Three Men Marry in Colombia

    From right to left, Manuel Bermúdez, Víctor Hugo Prada y Alejandro Rodríguez. Foto: Pablo Andrés Monsalve / SEMANA, Medellín

    Three gay men in Colombia have announced they have been recognized legally as the first “polyamorous family” in the country.

    Same-sex marriages were legalised in Colombia last year.

    A notary in Colombia’s second-largest city Medellin granted full legitimacy to a marital union between three men, the first such arrangement to be recognized in the South American country, according to Semana.com.

    Manuel Bermudez, Victor Hugo Prada and Alejandro Rodriguez were united in what was heralded as a landmark arrangement for Colombian marriage rights, as well as a nascent movement to legally recognize

    One of the men, Hugo Prada told the country’s media in a published video yesterday, “We wanted to validate our household … and our rights, because we had no solid legal basis establishing us as a family.”

    According to him, he and his two partners, sports instructor John Alejandro Rodriguez and journalist Manuel Jose Bermudez, signed legal papers with a solicitor in the city of Medellin, establishing them as a family unit with inheritance rights.

    He added, “This establishes us as a family, a polyamorous family. It is the first time in Colombia that has been done.”

    Foto: Pablo Andrés Monsalve// SEMANA, Medellín
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    Colombian surgeon rebuilds acid victims’ lives

    Colombian authorities say their country is one of the world’s worst for acid attacks on people, such as these women waiting to see a plastic surgeon who specializes in helping such victims rebuild their lives

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Angeles Borda ignored the cat calls as she walked past the building site. But she couldn’t ignore the nitric acid that her tormentor then threw in her face.

    A decade on she is still disfigured. But help is at hand.

    In Colombia, said by authorities to be one of the countries worst affected by acid attacks, a campaigning plastic surgeon is helping — for free — to rebuild victims’ faces and lives.

    Borda, a 32-year-old mother of three, has had the ninth operation on her face at Alan Gonzalez’s pristine surgical clinic.

    “I know that in a few months I will look better,” she says.

    She has never been sure who was behind the attack, though an ex-boyfriend has been suspected.

    Rebuilding faces


    Angeles Borda, a 32-year-old Colombian who survived an acid attack ten years ago, puts on makeup at her home near Bogota.  Photo Raul Arboleda, AFP

    Previously used to treating soldiers wounded in conflict, Gonzalez, 46, has since 2010 specialized in helping women disfigured by acid.

    “Plastic surgery is not the surgery of vanity, but of life. The challenge is to give them back their hopes and dreams — and above all, their smiles,” he says.

    “We don’t just rebuild faces, we rebuild lives.”

    Official figures indicate that about 100 women get disfigured in acid attacks every year in Colombia, most of them in romantic disputes.

    The country last year passed a law specifically targeting such crimes.

    Struck by the “ignorance and intolerance” of such violence, Gonzalez helped set up Rebuilding Faces, an organization to help victims.

    Since late 2010 he has rebuilt the faces of 15 women in some 300 separate operations.

    – Reason to live –

    Victims typically contemplate suicide, Gonzalez says.

    On top of the trauma of the attack, they suffer discrimination and struggle to find work.

    Borda works selling sweets on buses.

    “I had two choices: sit there crying or go out and be seen the way I am,” she says.

    “What happened to me is very sad, but it is possible to live with the consequences. I have dreams, I have goals, and I have the strength to move forward.”

    Another patient, Luz Nidia Mendoza, 37, says she has not worked since suffering an acid attack in 2011.

    She was blinded and is missing seeing her children grow up.

    “I hear them, I feel them, I touch them. But I cannot see them,” she says.

    Like Borda she says she would have killed herself if it had not been for her children.

    “It is because of them that I am here.”

    She has had 25 operations, with more yet to come, to rebuild her cheeks, forehead, mouth and nose.

    She is also hoping for a corneal transplant to be able to see again.

    “Doctor Alan is an angel for us. We owe him a lot,” says Luz. “He gives us courage. He gives us joy.”

    Read more: Digitaljournal.com
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    Colombia’s Muslims celebrate Ramadan

    TODAY COLOMBIA – The holy month of Ramadan has not been ignored in Colombia, especially in the capital Bogota. Like millions around the world, Bogota’s Muslims are also fasting from sunrise to sunset.

    Every evening, members of Bogota’s small but growing Muslim community come together to break their fast.

    Catholicism is the dominant religion in Colombia, but the Muslim population is also growing as more people convert. Colombia has one of the smallest Muslim populations in South America, with estimates ranging from at least 10,000 to over 40,000 believers.

    Converts in Bogota say a look inside any mosque in the capital will show how more than half the people there are Colombians who became Muslim “without any proselytising.”

    Source: TRTWorld.com

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    FARC Accuses Colombian Government of ‘Repeatedly Breaking’ Peace Accord

    Weapons belonging to rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are stored at a rebel camp in La Carmelita near Puerto Asis in Colombia’s southwestern state of Putumayo.

    The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) accused the Colombian government Sunday of “repeatedly breaking” various terms of their peace deal, and threatened to delay the Marxist rebels’ demobilization.

    “In face of government’s repeated failure to comply with the Peace Agreement, the FARC is going to seek international monitoring,” rebel leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timochenko, warned on Twitter.

    The statement does not make immediately clear what Londoño meant about international oversight, which is already part of the UN-monitored peace process even after demobilization of FARC forces.

    Timochenko earlier said he was “considering” postponing demobilization.

    Earlier, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the government would stick to its calendar. “That is our commitment and we will fulfill it,” Santos said. He has called the peace process “irreversible.”

    The government and the FARC reached a deal after four years of negotiations in the Cuban capital last November.

    The accord also takes foreign magistrates off special peace tribunals, although there will be foreign observers, and stipulates FARC must turn in “exhaustive and detailed” information about its involvement in the drugs trade.

    The deal is bringing to an end 52 years of armed conflict in Colombia that has claimed at least 260,000 lives.

    Source: VOAnews.com

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    Colombia Would Change If Poor Complained as Much as Venezuela’s Rich: William Ospina

    Colombian poet, writer and essayist William Ospina. | Photo: EFE

    TODAY COLOMBIA – “If Colombia’s poor were able to complain as much as the rich do in Venezuela, Colombia would change,” Colombian poet William Ospina said in an interview with Caracol TV Sunday, arguing that the political culture in Colombia impeded the surge of a revolutionary movement.

    The novelist and essayist explained that poverty and unemployment rates in Colombia are very high, even higher than what the government is willing to acknowledge, where the official poverty line stands below a US$70-monthly wage, a number he said was unrealistic.

    “Eighteen years of Bolivarian Revolution … has not produced the levels of death, massacres, catastrophes that Colombia has experienced in that same period,” the poet said.

    “The truth is that here, besides poverty, abandonment, exclusion and lack of employment, one does not understand how Colombian society holds together and doesn’t explode,” the poet added.

     

    In reference to the Bolivarian Revolution, whose achievements he supports he said, “In a continent as unequal as Latin America, I will always hold as a principle the support for anything that puts the interests of the people before the hegemonic economic groups.”

    Ospina continued, “If we compare ourselves the truth is, that 18 years of Bolivarian Revolution, with the terrible polarization that has occurred, has not produced the levels of death, massacres, catastrophes that Colombia has experienced in that same period.”

    As for the conflict within two conservative sectors represented by current President Juan Manuel Santos and former President Alvaro Uribe, Ospina commented, “Colombia is missing an opportunity to become a modern country, no one is talking about renewable resources, about the protection of water, the Magdalena river is completely contaminated.”

    Source: Telesurtv.net

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    Colombia peace deal faces tough challenges

    Next year, Colombian voters will go to the polls to choose a new president and a new congress, and the FARC are supposed to take part in the electoral process for the first time

    In Colombia, a peace process between Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the government is about to hit a milestone.

    On Monday, the FARC rebel group is due to hand over their arms stockpile to the United Nations.

    That will mark a decisive step in the historic peace deal that has brought an end to more than 50 years of war in the country.

    “We made the decision to lay down weapons, so that we could enter politics,” says Ivan Marquez. FARC’s chief negotiator, adding that the group originally started as a political movement.

    But there are many obstacles standing in the way of peace, and as TRT World ‘s Anelise Borges reports from Bogota, implementing the accord will be the toughest battle both sides have ever faced.

    Source TRTWorld.com

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    Colombian rebels turn to parenting

    During the 52-year war, rebel women FARC fighters were obliged to use birth control. Those who became pregnant were made to leave their babies with family members, or even forced to terminate their pregnancy.

    FARC rebel couple Jerly Suarez (L) and Vicente Pulecio walk to a cooking class with their 9-month-old son Dainer at a rebel camp in a demobilization zone in La Carmelita, in Colombia’s southwestern Putumayo state. (February 28, 2017)

    As Colombia transitions out of its 50-year civil war, dozens of guerrilla fighters are dropping their guns to become parents.

    Under the terms of the peace accord, the guerrillas must stay in government-run transition camps until the end of May, when they will hand their weapons over to the United Nations.

    But raising kids is not easy for these new families. The camps are ridden with construction delays that make it difficult to raise children.

    “The design for these camps was not agreed upon during the peace talks,” says one former fighter. “The peace deal got under way in December, and we only reached an agreement on the camps at the end of January.”

    TRT World ’s Manuel Rueda visited a guerrilla camp deep in the Colombian countryside to find out more about these rebels-turned-parents.

    Source: TRTWorld

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    Colombian Peasants Turn Away from Coca

    Colombia coca field

    LAHT.com – BRICEÑO, Colombia – The time has come for peasants here in what was once reputed to be the most heavily mined municipality in Colombia to abandon coca cultivation and put behind them the era of living in fear of stepping on an explosive device, a community elder told EFE.

    Gerardo Antonio Vera Jaramillo, 86, and wife Maria live along with their nine children and more than 30 grandkids in Pueblo Nuevo, one of the 43 hamlets that make up Briceño, tucked into the mountains of the northwestern province of Antioquia.

    Colombia is a leading producer of coca, the raw material of cocaine, and the various factions involved in the drug trade – including criminal gangs, Marxist rebels and fascist paramilitaries – often use landmines to protect coca plantations.

    “I own a farm where I have plots of yucca, plantain, beans and corn, but what has really put food on the table are the 2 hectares (5 acres) we planted with coca,” Vera said.

    Acknowledging that he doesn’t “know much math,” Vera pointed out that while a plantain tree, like the one President Juan Manuel Santos planted here Monday to launch a crop-substitution program, takes 14 month to bear fruit, coca is ready for harvest in half the time.

    “And don’t even talk about the prices. The difference is very great. What we cultivate legally brings in very little money,” he said. “Until not so long ago, there wasn’t even a road for a vehicle to come in, and we were forced to lose or to give away corn, beans and coffee. Nobody would pay us a peso.”

    The Santos administration is implementing a National Comprehensive Program for the Voluntary Substitution of Illegal Crops that aims in its first year to eradicate roughly 50,000 hectares (123,400 acres) of coca while assisting roughly 100,000 families currently subsisting from the coca trade.

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    Trump: Colombia’s Peace Is In Your Hands

    Thehill.com – History is littered with cases of peace agreements that don’t actually generate peace. From the Dougia Accord in Chad to the Honiara Declaration in Papua New Guinea, countries are more likely to have returned to violence than be at peace within five years of signing a peace treaty. About one-half of agreements barely last more than two months. Even implemented agreements often fail to end conflict and violence in the long run.

    Colombia’s peace agreement is a case in point. Reached in August 2016 between the government and the FARC rebel group, the agreement was rejected in a popular referendum in early October. Congress approved a revised accord at the end of November, days before President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

    Despite the false start, the new agreement has held for nearly six months  — well above the low two-month bar that the first accord and so many others failed to clear. That’s an important step forward. But will peace hold?

    The recent US budget compromise, by approving $450 million promised by President Obama as part of the peace agreement, represents another important step forward. Why? Research has shown that outside support for the peace process is one of the critical elements to understanding if peace prevails.

    The aid package aims to support the peace deal signed between the Colombian government and leftist guerilla group known as FARC. This comes amidst a recent unofficial meeting between President Trump and former Colombian presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana that lead to speculation that they were seeking Trump’s support against the historic peace deal Santos brokered with the FARC rebel group.

    So when do peace deals create peace? Colombia has begun the treacherous journey towards stability in creating a strong agreement that includes political participation, transitional justice, rural development and demobilization. Political scientist Page Fortna’s research shows that strong agreements create stronger peace, even when the circumstances on the ground are challenging.

    Direct attempts to form a strong and lasting agreement include creating demilitarized zones to separate troops, monitoring by international observers, and third party guarantees. When peace accords include measures proactively preventing violence, like creating commissions to resolve disputes and demilitarized zones, fighting is less likely to recur. What are the chances Colombia’s measures create a lasting peace?

    My work on the topic of conflict resolution and lasting peace shows there are important trends that can help us identify if peace is likely to hold. Involving actors outside of the conflict in the peace-building process has consistently been shown to prevent violence.

    Research on civil war settlement highlights the important role outside states can play in rebuilding trust after a violent conflict. Civil war expert Barbara Walter shows the involvement of countries outside the conflict can provide important assurances that bolster peace. She shows former warring parties consider these factors in deciding whether to negotiate or return to fighting.

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    Colombia’s President Santos Admits that His Government Has Run out of Money

    Foto: Presidencia de la República.

    The Colombian Federation of Education Workers began a strike this week in hopes of improving wages and bonuses for educators, but Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos said he doesn’t approve.

    Trade union members said that the strike will continue until the national government guarantees a salary increase for teachers, as well as more resources for food, transportation and infrastructure for education.

    President of the union Carlos Enrique Rivas said teachers feel their labor rights are unprotected, so they are demanding that there be greater public spending on education, as well as extended quotas and health benefits guaranteed for educators.

    This Thursday, May 11 and onward, there will be mobilizations and information sessions regarding the labor union’s requests, he said.

    However, President Santos said Colombia does not have enough resources to finance their demands.

    “We can’t give them what they ask simply because we do not have the resources,” he said. “At this point, we must speak frankly.”

    The union rejected the government’s 5.9-percent salary adjustment, claiming that their list of petitions plan to consolidate a unitary work schedule.

    “They refer to economic benefits and we cannot give in or give them what they ask for because we simply do not have the resources,” Santos said. “I wish we had them.”

    The president explained that by 2019, teachers will have an effective income adjustment.

    “Since 2014, the government has progressively increased teacher salaries — several points above the salary increase of other public servants and we will continue doing so until 2019, as we agreed,” Santos said.

    According to President of the District Educators Association of Bogota William Agudelo, one of the reasons for the strike is that there aren’t adequate conditions for teachers to carry out their work. He also said that even though the work load was extended to 10 to 12 hours, salaries have not increased.

    Source: Radio Nacional de Colombia

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    In restless Venezuela, the military will determine how long Maduro’s regime can last

    The ConversationTODAY VENEZUELA – “The mother of all protests” – that’s what Venezuela’s opposition movement called an enormous march last week, in which over a million citizens took to the streets to “defend the homeland” against President Nicolás Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian regime.

    Opposition supporters sit next to graffiti on the street that reads ‘Civil resistance’ during a protest in Caracas on May 2 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS

    Protests alone rarely spur regime change. But without them – in Venezuela, as in many countries – political transition is impossible. And it is now evident that the wave of protests that has seized the country in recent weeks has had a significant impact on the evolution of Venezuela’s political situation, even though some might wish to deny this.

    The pro-democracy parties and movements that oppose the Maduro government have managed to shift the battleground for their political fight. They have taken it out of state institutions where their only support is in the legislature, which has long been neutered by administration-controlled institutions, such as the Supreme Court, and onto the streets.

    The immense public show of anger was unexpected, and it has made for a more symmetrical conflict between the government and its opposition. But will the current demonstrations end differently than the 2014 protest movement or last year’s failed attempt to remove the president via referendum?

    The answer to this question largely depends on what position the Venezuelan military now takes.

    Demonstrators attend a rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on May 1 2017. Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS

    Loosening grip

    For many years, Venezuela’s authoritarian regime had two advantages: Hugo Chávez’s charismatic leadership and abundant oil income, which allowed the government to finance clientelistic relations and foster support with vested interests.

    Together, they enabled Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela to triumph in almost every election from 1998 to 2012. But Maduro, his chosen successor, has neither going for him. And he is now facing the collapse of the Chávez model and the impossibility of reestablishing his government’s legitimacy electorally.

    Ever since his party was defeated in legislative elections in December 2015, the president has relied on a complicit Supreme Court and National Election Council to avoid being removed via an opposition-supported recall referendum.

    Those government bodies have also enabled him to indefinitely postpone gubernatorial elections that, constitutionally speaking, should have taken place last year (polls indicated that ruling party candidates would roundly lose).

    Venezuela’s situation is not unprecedented. Eventually, every authoritarian regime that has used elections to maintain power (Mexico’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional is another Latin American example), reaches the point where, having lost political support, it has two choices: try to negotiate the consequences of an electoral defeat or seek to stay in power through the use of brute force.

    If it chooses the latter, the government must depend principally on cooperation from the military. And this is the uncomfortable position in which Maduro now finds himself.

    The generals in their labyrinth

    But Venezuela’s armed forces are facing their own dilemma: either maintain a neutral institutional role or support the regime in repressing its own people.

    Authoritarian regimes that stay in power using violence are well aware of their dependency on the military, so they try to find ways to gain its commitment, including by incorporating the military into the government itself.

    The practice of appointing generals into positions of power existed under Chávez, but it has increased markedly since Maduro’s dubious election in 2013, which called into question the legitimacy of his government. And it’s now difficult to distinguish between government and the military as a significant number of Maduro’s cabinet members are active in the armed forces.

    The military’s commitment to its government can also be facilitated by incentivising or planning confrontations in which soldiers become personally responsible for violating the human rights of citizens. This tactic turns the army into a hostage of the status quo.

    This quandary is the greatest asset of those who seek regime change in Venezuela today. The ongoing mass protests have actually shifted the balance of power toward the opposition, at least temporarily, because continuing to repress demonstrators will have an increasingly high cost for both the government and the military.

    Protests aren’t cost-free for the opposition, of course. Since this wave of demonstrations began in late March, 29 people have been killed, along with a large (but undefined) number who have been wounded and arrested.

    The main worry is not that this wave of protests will flicker out without producing yearned-for political change. It’s that if it does fail, it will leave the battlefield negatively balanced, setting the opposition back and again reinforcing Maduro’s power.

    The challenge for Venezuela’s generals at this point is to find a way out of this labyrinth that allows them to protect both their personal and professional interests, which do not always overlap.

    Soldiers are accustomed to obeying orders but there’s no guarantee that they will help implement illegitimate decisions, such as cracking down ever harder on protesters. And if commanders and troops refuse to pay the price for human rights violations by personally and absolutely implicating themselves in the status quo, then the military’s bottom-heavy pyramid structure may well collapse along with the government.

    At this point, following orders could prove costlier than disobedience for those in the army.

    Playing with time

    All this means continued demonstrations could actually spur political change in Venezuela.

    Generally speaking, time works against protest movements. But repression works against governments because it creates a vicious cycle. When the government uses force against protesters it loses credibility. And the more credibility it loses, the more it relies on the use of force, which, in turn, spurs protesters to keep on marching.

    The fact is that the Maduro regime’s survival depends almost exclusively on whether the armed forces are willing to violently repress the Venezuelan people. And that decision depends on the cost-benefit analysis up and down the military chain of command as generals and soldiers alike weigh the pros and cons of their current dilemma.

    They have to decide whether to maintain the status quo by using force or step back and allow change to happen in a less traumatic way. That is, after all, how democracy works.

    Benigno Alarcón, Director of the Centre for Political Studies, Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB)

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

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    20 Die in Colombia Building Collapse

    Rescue members look for bodies of people after a building under construction collapses in Cartagena, Colombia, Colombia April 27, 2017. Photo: Reuters

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Twenty people died in the collapse of a residential building in the northern Colombian city of Cartagena, the mayor said on Twitter on Saturday after a two-day rescue operation.

    The tragedy occurred on Thursday, when the six-storey building came crashing down for reasons that are being investigated, the Red Cross told AFP.

    Emergency personnel saved 41 people from the rubble, 16 of them badly hurt.

    The mayor, Manolo Duque, said 12 of the 20 people killed had been identified so far. A mass was being held late Saturday for the deceased.

    Rescue teams on Saturday recovered two more bodies.Twelve of the bodies have been identified thus far, the Cartagena mayor’s office said on Twitter, adding that 95 percent of the rubble-removal work has been completed.

    The collapse of the Blas de Lezo II building occurred at around 11:30 am Thursday while workers were on the job.

    The mayor’s office scheduled a Mass for 6 pm Saturday in honor of the construction workers who died in the accident

    “Confirmed: Illegal, false and irresponsible. Builders were using a fake license,” Duque said.

    Also Friday, the federal Attorney General’s Office began investigating the mayor over the building collapse.

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    Blow to Colombian Drug Cartel

    It’s called the “balloon effect” – as Colombia and Mexico put the squeeze on drug cartels at their ends, the bad guys flow to the area of least resistance, Central America. Image for illustrative purposes

    TODAY COLOMBIA (AFP) BOGOTA – Authorities have arrested 15 people believed to be part of Colombia’s dominant Gulf Cartel, prosecutors said Saturday.

    The suspects — 12 adults and three minors — were arrested in the northwestern town of Docordo, in the Choco region, the national organized crime prosecutor’s office said.

    The group is alleged to have kidnapped brothers Damiro Cardenas Victoria and Anselmo Cardenas Victoria whose bodies were found April 19.

    The adults are being held pending trial, and the minors were handed over to family and children’s authorities.

    Meanwhile, police shot dead “el Zorro,” a supposed leader of the same cartel, in the town of Barbacoas, Narino, the prosecutor’s office said.

    The Gulf Cartel was formed by paramilitary fighters who demobilized in 2006. They have been involved in drug trafficking, illegal mining and petty crime.

    Colombia is the world’s top producer of coca leaf, the raw material from which cocaine is made.

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    Press Freedom In Colombia: Reporters Without Borders

    TODAY COLOMBIA (Colombia Reports) Press freedom in Colombia has slightly improved contrary to a global trend of reduced freedom, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual World Press Freedom Index.

    The RSF expressed a “degree of hope” thanks to last year’s peace deal between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s oldest and largest guerrilla group, the FARC.

    The end of a conflict that had been a constant source of censorship and violence against the media bodes well for freedom of information.

    Reporters Without Borders

    Nevertheless, the ongoing activity of drug trafficking and paramilitary groups engaged in both political and criminal activity continue to be the biggest threat to journalists, the RSF said.

    “Physical attacks, death threats, and murders are still common, with the result that Colombia is one of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media,” according to the RSF.

    Additionally, “this violence, in which local officials are often complicit, often goes unpunished.”

    Investigative reporting is close to impossible in Colombia because of the violence inflicted on reporters by drug cartels, paramilitary groups and organized crime.

    Reporters Without Borders

    The Americas’ best countries for journalists

    1. Costa Rica (6)
    2. Jamaica (8)
    3. Canada (22)
    4. Belize (41)
    5. United States (43)

    The only countries in the hemisphere scoring worse than Colombia, which occupied the 129th spot on the list of 180, were Mexico and Venezuela.

    The country with most press freedom in the hemisphere is Costa Rica, followed by Jamaica and Canada.

    Press freedom in the United States dropped in 2016, mainly because former President Barack Obama “prosecuted more whistle blowers than all previous administrations combined.”

    Scandinavian countries topped the global press freedom list with Norway being the most press-friendly country on the planet in 2016, according to RSF.

    The world’s worst country for journalists is North Korea, followed closely by Eritrea, Turkmenistan and Syria.

    Article originally appeared on Colombia Reports

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    Banco de Bogotá launchs chain of supermarket mini-branches

     

    Banco de Bogotá has partnered with Colombian supermarket chain La 14 to install correspondent banking locations within its stores. Each point of service, known locally as a “corresponsal,” will serve as mini-branch that allows customers to make payments, withdrawals, deposits, and other day-to-day transactions.

    This move marks another expansion of service for Banco de Bogotá, which claims 7,340 transaction points in Colombia, including its presence in Grupo Éxito stores — including Éxito, Carulla, SurtiMax, and Super Inter — and Colsubsidio supermarkets and pharmacies.

    “Our new alliance with La 14 allows us to position ourselves as the first bank with correspondent banking locations in this prestigious chain of supermarkets and stores,” said Yohana Mojica Ramón, a manager at Banco de Bogotá.

    La 14 has its largest presence in the south of the country and maintains locations in 12 Colombian cities: Cali, Bogotá, Buenaventura, Manizales, Pereira, Tuluá, Palmira, Jamundí, Yumbo, Neiva, Armenia, and Girardot.

    Source: Finance Colombia

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    Trump ‘Aims To Slash Aid to Colombia’

     

    US President Donald Trump has proposed US Congress to cut economic aid to Colombia by 21.1% from $133 million to $105 million, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

    While this would be a sizable cut, it would be a smaller cut—in percentage terms—than every other Western Hemisphere country aside from Haiti.

    It remains an open questions whether this means that Trump sees great strategic importance in Colombia’s continued development and is therefore spurning the advice of former President Alvaro Uribe‘s opposition Democratic Center party that the US cut funds for the South American country’s ongoing peace process.

    While forcing Colombia to tighten its already tight fiscal belt even further, the cut does not necessarily mean there will be cuts in promised funds for Colombia’s peace process, which is still being considered by the Trump administration and Congress.

    Aid for the current year is still being worked on by Congress, with a deadline of April 28. Without funding by then, US government operations would shut down. These new proposals would affect aid beginning October 1, 2017,

    Former President Barack Obama requested $187 million in Economic Support Fund aid for Colombia for the 2017 fiscal year, but since that budget hasn’t been finalized, it’s not clear how much will be appropriated. If the full $187 million were, then Trump’s 2018 cut to $105 million would mean a reduction of $83 million, or 44%.

    Even Obama’s $187 million request for Economic Support Fund aid represents less than half the $450 million total he asked for Colombia for 2017. The remaining $267 million in aid Obama requested is for exclusively security related programs, including military, counter-terrorism and narcotics programs.

    Under the proposal, aid would be completely ended to Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela. Aid to the Dominican Republic,  El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru would see cuts ranging from 28% to 52%, compared with Colombia’s 21% cut.

    These are all preliminary figures, with the detailed proposal for all forms of foreign assistance not expected for a few months.

    The Colombia proposal is part of Trump’s overall goal of drastically cutting economic assistance “across the board.”

    Part of the new proposal would not only slash assistance but also transfer all funding  for “Development Assistance” into the “Economic Support Fund,” Foreign Policy noted. The latter program “is tied closely to national security objectives” as opposed to purely economic aid, the magazine said.

    All Colombian aid is already in the Economic Support Fund.

    The proposals do not include military aid or other forms of direct security-related operations, under which Colombia receives substantial amounts. Those are included in different sections of the budget and have not yet been published.

    But the aid cuts outlined in the document have already provoked strong criticism from a number of observers.

    “It would be reckless for the United States to back away from one of the few foreign policy successes it has had, namely support for Colombians to end fifty years of brutal war,” Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Washington-based Latin America Working Group, told Colombia Reports.

    “There are strong supporters of the peace process in the US Congress, and we hope and trust that aid and diplomatic support for peace and for victims of the conflict will continue,” said Haugaard.

    The cuts will face a Congress in which many forms of foreign aid have bipartisan support, the magazine noted. This may blunt, but not eliminate, Trump’s proposed cuts.

     

    Source: Colombia Reports

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    Trump Holds Secret Meeting With Former Colombian Presidents

    Doubts remain regarding Donald Trump’s meeting with former Colombian presidents Andres Pastrana and Alvaro Uribe (Flickr).

    President Donald Trump quietly met a pair of former Colombian presidents last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, thrusting his administration into an ugly power struggle in Latin America that threatens to undermine the country’s controversial peace agreement with rebel leaders.

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to push Trump to support the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia at their first meeting at the White House next month. He wants the Trump administration and Congress to maintain the $450 million in foreign aid promised by former President Barack Obama to implement the plan to end Latin America’s longest armed conflict.

    The meeting between Trump and the former presidents, Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana – Colombia news media have reported it was arranged by an influential U.S. critic of the plan, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – was not on the president’s schedule and was not disclosed to reporters who traveled with him to Palm Beach.

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer initially declined to answer questions about the meeting, leading to a rash of speculation in Colombian media. Colombian newspapers, websites and radio stations debated the meeting’s significance — and whether it actually had happened. “I don’t have anything for you at this time,” Spicer said Wednesday when asked.

    The White House later confirmed the meeting to McClatchy but downplayed its significance, saying it was a mere coincidence that both former leaders opposed to the peace pact were at the president’s club. Aides to Rubio declined to comment.

    “They were there with a member from the club and briefly said hello when the president walked past them,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello.”

    But the leaders’ own comments contradict the White House’s characterization.

    In a tweet following the meeting, Pastrana thanked Trump for the “cordial and very frank conversation” about problems in Colombia and the region.

    Uribe was unavailable for an interview, but his former vice president, Francisco Santos, said it was important that the Trump administration and U.S. Congress hear a more complete picture of the reality in Colombia. He described the meeting as short, but with a clear message. The former presidents raised concerns about the situation in Venezuela and Colombia, including damage they say the peace process has caused.

    “We’re very worried,” said Francisco Santos, who is the Bogotá chair of Uribe’s Democratic Center political party and the current president’s cousin. “You have a perfect storm, and the government says everything is going fine and we’re living in peace. And that’s not true.”

    The Mar-a-Lago meeting coincided with a letter Uribe wrote to the Trump administration and Congress, which he published on Twitter, warning that President Santos’ efforts to complete a peace deal with the rebels could lead to Colombia becoming an authoritarian state similar to Venezuela.

    The undisclosed meeting also raises a number of questions about the ease with which people trying to influence Trump can access him through membership in his club without fear of public disclosure; a Mar-a-Lago membership costs $200,000 for the initiation alone.

    “It suggests that the people who patronize the president’s businesses have more influence than the rest of us,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group.

    The White House did not say which Mar-a-Lago member had accompanied the leaders to the resort. Members’ names are not public, though some have leaked out since Trump became president.

    The meeting also raised questions about whether Trump intends to support the Colombia peace plan, the result of years of negotiations to end five decades of combat with the insurgency group, which is known by its Spanish initials as the FARC. Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his efforts at negotiating a deal.

    Spicer and Sanders did not answer questions about whether Trump supports the peace pact.

    Rubio, whose wife is the daughter of Colombian immigrants, has been critical of the peace process. He shares the views of many Colombians that it is inappropriate to negotiate with a guerrilla group known for drug trafficking and kidnappings. He repeatedly has noted that the FARC remains a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, and he has argued that Congress shouldn’t commit any additional money to the Colombian government until the peace plan is approved by the Colombian people.

    An initial peace deal narrowly lost in a referendum in October. Santos then reopened negotiations with the rebels, but he bypassed a referendum in favor of submitting the deal to the Colombian Congress, which approved it in November.

    The Colombian government criticized the former presidents for going outside diplomatic channels and taking the country’s “dirty laundry” to the White House.

    Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, said it was important not to oversimplify the meeting. He noted that Colombia has a long record of strong bipartisan relations with the U.S. Congress.

    Santos was the second Latin American president to speak with Trump after the American was sworn into office. In their 25-minute call, Santos asked Trump to support the U.S. funding to back the country’s peace deal. Santos, who is seen as an “Obamanista” who publicly lobbied for Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has described Trump’s politics as “not in line with what Colombia wants.”

    Pinzón said the Colombian government must respect that Trump had his own way of doing things but that it was dangerous for the former presidents to take Colombia’s polarized politics to the United States, which could damage the country’s bipartisan support.

    “We need to address these issues at home,” Pinzón told W Radio in Colombia. “We need to wash our dirty laundry at home.”

    Arlene Tickner, a professor of international relations at Rosario University in Bogotá, said it was disconcerting for the leaders to be campaigning against a sitting president and the peace process.

    “I think they’re hoping to get the Congress to hold back on funding to the government in order to gain leverage vis-à-vis the process,” Tickner said. “And obviously Uribe is posturing, trying to position himself and his party with an eye to the next elections.”

    Last year, Obama promised to throw the White House’s full support behind the historic peace accord, including a pledge of $450 million in aid annually to help pay for regional development and to demobilize and reintegrate around 7,000 fighters.

    That money is now in doubt as the Trump administration plans to slash foreign aid as part of 31 percent cuts to the State Department’s budget.

    “If you’re going to reduce foreign assistance, you have to go to the places where assistance is provided,” said Eric Farnsworth, a former State Department official who is now vice president of the Washington-based Council of the Americas.

    Colombia, the fourth largest economy in Latin America, is considered a major success story for U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. has provided more than $10 billion in aid to Colombia since 2000, supported by both Republican and Democratic administrations, to combat drugs and drug-related violence. But coca cultivation has soared to levels not seen in decades, and some see Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on keeping drugs out of the United States as more sympathetic to the opposition.

    You have a perfect storm and the government says everything is going fine and we’re living in peace.

    Francisco Santos, former vice president of Colombia

    While Colombia may not get all the money, Santos needs, at a minimum, some form of support for the peace process, said Sandra Borda, a professor of political science and international relations at University of the Andes in Bogotá. A reduction in aid can be explained as part of Trump’s budget cuts, but not supporting the peace plan could be politically crippling for Santos, Borda said.

    The United States continues to have an outsized role in Colombia’s internal politics. A Trump declaration of support would go a long way to shoring up Santos’ domestic backing. Anything less would fuel opposition efforts ahead of next year’s presidential election.

    “If you have a president in the United States who is opposed to the peace process, it’s a form of undermining the legitimacy of the peace process,” Borda said.

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