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    Colombia, Latin America’s 4th Largest Economy: Prosperity Index

    In the Prosperity Sub-Index rankings, Colombia performs best on Business Environment and Personal Freedom and scores lowest on the Safety & Security sub-index.

    TODAY COLOMBIA – The Legatum Prosperity Index 2016 ranks Colombia as Latin America’s 4th largest economy.

    Overall Colombia ranks 72nd of 149 on the prosperity index., the Legatum reports says, despite positives in Colombia’s economic prosperity, the country has seen a marked decrease in many sub-indices over the last decade, with, as is seemingly the perpetual case globally and not limited to Latin America, economic growth and improvement bolstered at the expense of the Natural Environment.

    Colombia, being the most biodiverse country by square kilometre, should be extremely cautious of this fate. Additionally, whilst Personal Freedom and Safety & Security have seen a mild improvement, it appears Colombia’s infamous cartel-government wars, despite the recent peace, have translated into real declines into certain sub-indices of the Prosperity Index.

    In Latin America, Uruguay is the most prosperous, followed by Costa Rica in second place, Chile is 3rd, Panama in 4th place and Argentina fifth.

    Visit the Rankings table to see how Colombia compares to other countries.

    This is the tenth consecutive study carried out by the Legatum Institute and 149 countries were evaluated on variables such as economics, education, entrepreneurship, governance, health, individual freedom and security, were taken into account to make the ladder.

    Globally, New Zealand is the nation that occupies first place of prosperity, followed by Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Canada.

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    “He Is Very Happy That He Is Going To Heaven”: Son of Colombian Executed in China

    Ismael Arciniegas, 72 years of age, is the first Colombian to be executed by China for drug trafficking.

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Ismael Arciniegas is the first Colombian to executed in China for drug trafficking.The execution is took place on 27 February 2017.

    Colombia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday protested to China in a last-minute diplomatic effort to stop the death penalty from being applied against one of its nationals.

    Juan José Herrera, son Ismael Arciniegas Valencia, told the press he was able to speak to his father, who was happy he was going to soon be seeing his dead relatives. Photo El País

    “He is very happy that he is going to heaven,” said Juan Herrera, Arciniegas’ son, who told the media he was able to talk to his father by phone.

    “We already spoke with him, we had a half-hour conversation where we were able to say good-bye to him, we were very calm, very happy, because he said he was going to meet his relatives who had died,” said Herrera.

    Photo El Pais

    Arciniegas, 72 years of age, from Cali, Valle del Cauca was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to a death penalty in 2013 after he admitting that he was carrying almost four kilos of cocaine, in Guangzhou, China, enough to be sentenced to death, despite his confession.

    Arciniegas was found carrying the illegal drugs strapped to his body.

    A report by El Tiempo, the Bogota daily, says Arcinieagas was 74.

    This is the second time the Arciniegas Valencia lives tragedy at the hands of drug trafficking. Two years and five months ago, Ismael’s brother, Luis Germán Arciniegas, died in Hong Kong of a stroke while he was in detentnion the penitentiary centre in Macao province.

    Luis Germán Arciniegas had been arrested on June 23, 2011 in with drugs and sentenced to 12 years and 3 months in prison. The ashes of Luis Germán were repatriated to Colombia and the Chancellery gave them to his daughter.

    Currently, there 163 Colombians in jail in China, 147 for drug trafficking. Four other Colombians sentenced to death: Three, whose sentences have been ratified, one under appeal. 

    Some 15,000 Colombians are imprisoned around the world, the majority for drug trafficking. Of those, 15 in China have been sentenced to death and an equal number to life imprisonment.

    Since November, China has repatriated two convicted Colombian drug traffickers for humanitarian reasons so they could complete their sentences at home.

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    Bogota & Playing Tejo, The Colombian Sport of Throwing Rocks at Gunpowder

    Playing Tejo: The Colombian Sport of Throwing Rocks at Gunpowder

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Bowling alleys will never seem the same once you’ve been to Colombia and played tejo. Not unless you employ equal amounts of beer and gunpowder.

    Here’s how this little-known Colombian sport works: you throw a lump of metal – it looks like a squashed version of what shotputters throw – down what looks like a bowling lane, aiming for a far-off sandpit. If you hit the right spot, bam!

    There’s a crackle of explosives, a cheer and a clink of beer bottles.

    The heavy, palm-sized puck known as a “tejo”

    A bright flash erupts as the force of the palm-sized, 680-gram puck smashes gunpowder against metal.

    The garish noise reverberates around the room, bouncing off the concrete walls and sheet metal roof to ensure everyone hears it.

    I experienced my first tejo game on a trip to Bogotá, after calling on Andrés Martínez, a musician with electro-cumbia band Monareta, to show me some highlights of his hometown.

    It turned out to be one of the best nights I have ever had in an unknown city. We jumped from the gritty tejo courts to hip record bars, via an urban beer garden, basement drinking dens and a wild drag club. I knew then the city had me under its spell.

    For most foreigners visiting Colombia, Bogotá is typically cast as a supporting actor, rather than the country’s star. It is the capital, transport hub, and a gateway to more exotic destinations: the Caribbean coast, the wilds of the Amazon, picture-perfect Cartagena and balmy Medellín.

    Some overseas visitors stay in the capital only for one night.

    They tick off the gold museum, take a cable car to enjoy the views from the top of Mount Monserrate, and then move swiftly on.

    Restaurant Carne de Res, in lively Chapinero. Photograph: Christian Heeb/Getty Images/AWL Images RM

    Perhaps that’s fair enough. Not everyone wants to spend time in a traffic-choked, climatically challenged city of eight million people. And it must be said that, at 2,640 metres above sea level, this Andean metropolis is no stranger to fog and rain.

    However, for those who thrive on big cities and cultural highlights, time here is richly rewarded. By day, it’s fun to chain-drink tintos (small black coffees) in cafes around colonial La Candelaria and hipster-friendly Chapinero. By night, the restaurants of Zona G and the bars of Zona Rosa are the prelude to a thorough immersion in one of the coolest music scenes on the continent.

    Colombia’s fusion of traditional tropical sounds with cumbia rhythms and electronica is now reaching boiling point

    Colombia has been fusing its traditional tropical sounds with cumbia rhythms and electronica for some time now, but, as Andrés told me on my recent return visit, it’s now reaching “boiling point”. Renowned for being receptive and experimental, the capital has become a testing ground for Latin musicians. If you can make your sound work here, it can be a springboard for wider things, even the coveted US market.

    Vinyl shop and gig venue RPM Records

    RPM Records (Carrera 14 #83-4), a gig venue-cum-record store, is a good place for an induction into the latest bands, as is Armando Records (Calle 85, 14-46), a DJ bar that has proved so popular it is reproduced across town and even has a new palm-dotted outpost in Miami. The original venue is still the best, though. Behind a modest, slightly ramshackle exterior is a multilayered musical labyrinth, capped with buzzing roof terrace.

    “The thing I love about the music in Bogotá is the crossovers,” said Pamela Ospina, a Colombian musician who divides her time between the capital and Medellín. She also offered to show me some city hotspots. “There are so many musical influences here – salsa, rock, cumbia – and we’re getting more and more overseas bands coming,” she said.

    Live music at Armando Records

    At the height of the country’s civil war, very few international artists visited; but things have been slowly opening up over the past decade, and the newly signed peace treaty is boosting confidence.

    Pamela and I met up in Treffen (Carrera 7, 56-17), a basement bar that’s an explosion of primary colours and has seats made from old train benches. At the weekends it’s so busy that turnstiles filter in the partygoers, but it was quiet early on a weekday, allowing us to talk over the music while sharing a plate of patacones (fried plantain).

    Pamela is a creative powerhouse. She grew up in Canada after her parents emigrated, but later returned to Colombia, and now seems to be seizing every opportunity the country can offer: when she is not playing the drums or writing songs, she is a radio host and a stand-up comedian.

    Pamela also took me to Hippie (Calle 56, 415), a cosy restaurant that felt like someone’s house, both outside and in. Typical dishes included fish with chontaduro (peach palm fruit) puree, or prawns and mango viche (an unripe version of the fruit that is usually served as a savoury street food). We finished our night at nearby Salvo Patria (Calle 54a, 4-13), another success story which has moved to a bigger location to keep up with demand and, like all good hipster bars, makes its own-label craft beer.

    We said our goodbyes on the pavement outside, as it started to drizzle. From T-shirt weather to torrential storms, I had experienced every season that day, in typical Bogotá style. With stand-up comedy on my mind, I thought back to something Billy Connolly once said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.”

    I can’t think of anywhere better to live out that advice than Bogotá.

    Article by Vicky Walker first appeared on Theguardian.com; with notes and images from Medellinliving.com

     

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    Fed Up Of Waiting, Israeli Passenger Removed From Flight

    Courtesy Latam Airlines

    TODAY COLOMBIA – An Israeli passenger was removed from a domestic flight in Colombia after he reportedly joked about detonating a bomb due to a long delay, reported El Heraldo.

    Yossef Bronfen, 49, was aboard a Latam Airlines flight 3134 at the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota on Friday (February 24) for seven hours awaiting departure when he apparently lost patience and spoke about bombing the Barranquilla-bound plane, according to some passengers sitting near him in the rear of the aircraft. They said he was joking.

    Bronfen had arrived in Colombia on February 13 on a flight from Panama to Cali, landing at the Alfonso Bonilla Aragón airport. It seems he wanted to visit the carnival in Barranquilla, stopping in Bogota for a few days.

    But the airline was not amused.

    “While boarding, a disruptive passenger threatened to detonate an explosive artifact after which all security protocols established by the company were activated,” the firm said in a statement.

    Some passengers said they had been on and off the plane three times during the delay.

    “They told us the airplane was having a technical failure and we had to wait another while when the Israeli, who was in the back of the airplane, shouted he was going to detonate a bomb. I think he was fed up with the delay,” Andres Fonseca, who witnessed the incident, told the local media.

    After the removal, some passengers decided to abort the trip and the flight with 137 passengers continued on its way to Barranquilla.

    From El Espectador

    Colombia immigration reports the Bronfen deported to Israel via Panama and Istanbul to Tel Aviv, accompanied by Colombian immigration officials.

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    Baby Boom in Colombia’s Farc Rebel Army

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Since the landmark Colombian peace deal came into force last December, the Farc rebel group has been been experiencing a baby boom.

    During the 50 year-long conflict, female Farc fighters were banned from getting pregnant and some were even forced to have abortions.

    Now that peace has come many women are putting down their guns and starting families instead.

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    Colombia Living In… The World’s Most Welcoming Countries

    TODAY COLOMBIA TRAVEL (By Lindsey Galloway, BBC.com) Colombia is among five places, according to BBC.com, expats will likely be greeted with a warm welcome, a helping hand and a friendly smile.

    The BBC.com reports says that for many expats, finding new friends can ease the often overwhelming task of adjusting to a new life abroad. But with huge variances in local culture and language capabilities, some places can definitely feel more welcoming than others.

    To help expats possibly find success fast in the move abroad, the global community network InterNations recently conducted their annual Expat Insider 2016 survey – the ‘World Through Expat Eyes’ – of more than 14,000 expats from 191 countries, asking residents to rate a number of aspects about life abroad, including how easy it was to settle in, a country’s friendliness and ease of making friends.

    “We talked to residents in the countries ranked high for friendliness to find out what makes these places so hospitable to newcomers,” says InterNations in its report.

    The list:

    1. Uganda
    2. Costa Rica
    3. Colombia
    4. Oman
    5. and The Philippines

    Expat Insider: The Best Places for Expats in 2016 from InterNations on Vimeo.

    Uganda

    This East African country received the highest marks for friendliness. According to the InterNations report, 57% of expats in Uganda gave ‘general friendliness’ the best possible rating (the global average was 26%). Not only that, not a single respondent ranked this factor negatively.

    Shop assistants in downtown Kampala,Uganda. Uganda received the highest marks for friendliness (Credit: Tom Cockrem/Getty Images)

    Charlotte Beauvoisin, a British expat who writes about living in the capital Kampala at Diary of a Muzungu, said that welcoming all nationalities is an intrinsic part of the culture, and residents are quick to offer smiles to newcomers.

    InterNations Ambassador Nadya Mileva, originally from Bulgaria and now living in Kampala, agrees, saying that the people are ‘amazingly friendly’.

    “The country has a lot to offer, from breathtaking landscapes to high-end restaurants and bars to year-round summer,” she added.

    Kyagwe road scene, downtown Kampala, Tganda. Many expats live in Kampala, where English is widely spoken (Credit: Tom Cockrem/Getty Images)

    Uganda isn’t without its problems, however, including the occasional power outage, pollution from old cars and infrastructure growing pains that can make traffic come to a complete standstill. But “the overwhelming majority of visitors to Uganda love the place. Many of us extend our contracts; many of us decide to settle here,” Beauvoisin said.

    The majority of expats live in Kampala, where English is common and international restaurants abound.

    “It has a high-energy core with a relaxed periphery well suited for families and others who prefer to stay at home,” Mileva said. While the southern half of the city is culturally diverse and less expensive, with easy access to Lake Victoria and the airport, the northern half is home to more affluent neighbourhoods. But expats live everywhere.

    “There are not neighbourhoods predominated by mazungus [foreigners] and others only for Ugandans,” Mileva explained.

    The country is also very affordable for food and labour – meaning that expats are usually able to maintain a high standard of living.

    Costa Rica

    The Central American country ranks high across all factors when it comes to how easily expats fit in. Almost nine out of 10 expats (89%) are pleased with the general friendliness of the population, and eight out of 10 (79%) feel at home, according to the survey.

    Expats are drawn to Costa Rica’s beaches where they can surf and swim (Credit: Andria Patino/Getty Images)

    Foreign – or native-born, the community is connected by the ‘pura vida’ sensibility, said Diana Stobo, owner of The Retreat Costa Rica. “The idea of living a ‘pure life’ is the promise here, and those who are tired of the hustle and bustle want to live that way.”

    She believes the socialist government plays a part in maintaining this equality and openness. “People all live within the same means; it is difficult to get ahead financially, and therefore most find peace and harmony in what they have. No sweat, no worries, no problems, just ‘pura vida’.”

    While English is widely spoken, learning Spanish will get you far with the locals, said David Black, an InterNations Ambassador who lives in Santa Ana, 15km west of the capital San Jose, and is originally from the UK.

    The village of Montezuma, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Costa Ricans are connected to the ‘pura vida’, or ‘pure life’ (Credit: Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Getty Images)

    “If you make an effort to understand and embrace the Costa Rican culture, you are very much welcomed with open arms and considered a friend.”

    While expat retirees flock to beach locations like Guanacaste in the northwest and Jaco and Manuel Antonio, both in the central west, many professional expats live in the Central Valley near San Jose.

    “Santa Ana and Escazu (8km west of San Jose) are very popular with North Americans and Europeans in particular,” Jones said.

    The cost of living in Costa Rica has increased in the past 10 years, with Jones noting that a cup of coffee and a cake can cost just as much as in central London in some places. “However, like most other places, if you know where to look and wish to survive on a modest budget, there are still plenty of local places where you can eat and shop at a reasonable cost,” he said.

    Colombia

    This South American hotspot feels like home fast, according to many expats.

    Colombia, Bolivar, Cartagena De Indias, Plaza de Santa Domingo, People sitting in outdoor restaurant. According to expats, Colombia ‘feels like home fast’ (Credit: Jane Sweeney/Getty Images)

    “The Colombian people are eager to show their country in a positive light and are very receptive and hospitable towards newcomers,” said Anne Marie Zwerg-Villegas, an InterNations Medellín Ambassador living in Chia (a suburb north of Bogotá) and originally from the US.

    “Colombia is one of the countries in the world with the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents, so we are a novelty. Locals tend to think of us as tourists and treat us as tourists.”

    William Duran, who lives in Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, where he hosts a digital nomad bootcamp, says this gives expats a unique opportunity to feel immediately welcomed, without the shine wearing off. “Out of the 40-plus countries I have been to, there is no other place where I’ve seen foreigners feel such a great balance of familiarity and novelty,” he said. “Colombians are very helpful and cheerful. The country is warm in every sense of the word.”

    Guatape, Colombia, Tourist Destination Outside Of Medellin, Small Town Known For Its ‘Zocalos’ Which Are Handmade Painted Panels Of Three Dimensional Art That Adorns The Town’s Colorful Walls. Colombians are ‘very receptive and hospitable towards newcomers’ (Credit: John Coletti/Getty Images)

    Most expats live in Bogotá, the metropolitan capital with nearly 8 million residents. Since traffic in the city is ‘horrendous’, according to Zwerg-Villegas, it pays to live close to your office. Most professional expats live in the northeast quadrant of the city, in neighbourhoods such as Chicó, Rosales, Usaquén and Cedritos.

    “These neighbourhoods have modern commercial centres with international brands, restaurants with a variety of ethnic cuisine, and social and athletic clubs. Exclusive nightlife spots like Parque 93, Zona T and Zona G are also in these neighbourhoods,” Zwerg-Villegas said.

    Younger and more adventurous expats might consider parts of the city further south like Teusaquillo or Soledad, where craft beer bars and inexpensive nightclubs are everywhere.

    Since Colombia is an agricultural economy, fresh fruit and vegetables are available year round at affordable prices, and services are cheap too.

    “Most expats will easily afford a maid, a driver and a nanny,” Zwerg-Villegas said. That said, expat incomes usually qualify as upper-middle class, which means a surcharge on utilities is levied to support the lower income earners.

    Oman

    As one of the sunniest countries in the world, Oman also has friendly residents who reflect the warm climate. A welcoming culture rooted in faith also leads to an openness with newcomers.

    Oman’s welcoming culture reflects its warm climate (Credit: Gavin Hellier/Getty Images)

    “Traditionally speaking, Omanis are very hospitable to strangers. With their strong Islamic background and belief, they love to help their neighbours or those in need, and will easily bring a stranger or new person into their home for coffee or dates or fruit,” said Nicole Brewer, who lives in Nizwa (160 km south of the capital of Muscat) and blogs about her experience at I Love to Globetrot.

    The country is known for outdoor living and adventures, with great weather, camping and adventure spots.

    Omani men playing cards at the beach, Salalah, Oman. Thanks to its great weather, Oman is known for outdoor living (Credit: Franz Aberham/Getty Images)

    “Don’t consider moving to Oman for the city life,” warned Rebecca Mayston, an InterNations Ambassador originally from New Zealand who lives in Muscat. “Move here with an open mind for outdoor experiences. For me, the life is endless adventures, amazing weather and landscapes, diverse nationalities and friendships.”

    Muscat has more bars and restaurants than any other city in Oman, and Mayston says many of her expat friends enjoy clubbing here on the weekends. Nizwa has more of a small-town feel, even though it used to be the capital of the country, but has plenty of history, including the Nizwa Fort and its famous souq, a shopping district filled with gems and pottery.

    While the cost of living in Oman is growing more expensive, it was recently ranked by Mercer as one of the more affordable places to live in the Middle East.

    “For me, I can live a better life here than I do back home, and still get ahead with financial benefits,” Mayston said.

    The Philippines

    This island nation has become an outsourcing capital with many multinational companies opening offices here and attracting expats from across the world. Currently, residents of 159 countries do not need even need a visa to enter the Philippines.

    El Nido (officially the Municipality of El Nido) is a first class municipality and managed resource protected area in the province of Palawan in the Philippines. The main industries of El Nido are fishing, agriculture and tourism, being a popular diving location. Expats are drawn to the Philippines’ tropical lifestyle (Credit: Credit: Danita Delimonte/Getty Images)

    English is a primary language and residents are eager to welcome newcomers.

    “Locals are very outgoing and helpful, which makes foreigners feels accommodated,” said Eleanor Webley, a Manila native and InterNations Ambassador.

    There’s also a strong culture of going out – to festivals and parties, or even just getting outdoors – which means newcomers can easily find opportunities to meet new friends.

    “The people here are very friendly and are always smiling,” said Wendell Yuson, an InterNations Ambassador who was born and raised in Manila, adding that the slogan of the Philippine Department of Tourism also reflects this vibe: ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines!’”

    Tricycle taxi in downtown Butuan, Agusan del Norte, Mindanao, Philippines. The Philippines’ going-out culture gives expats plenty of opportunities to make friends (Credit: Credit: Tom Cockrem/Getty Images)

    While most expats work in Manila, many choose to make their home near the country’s beautiful beaches. Tagatay, 74km south of Manila, is a popular island for expats who want to be out of the fray, but still within reach via public transportation (buses connect the cities).

    “The Philippines has 7,100 islands, and expats love the tropical lifestyle here,” Yuson said. Those who prefer city living usually stay in the Central Business Districts (including Makati, the primary and largest CBD; the newest district Bonifacio Global City; and centrally located Ortigas Center in Manila) or live in Cebu, the second city of the country located in the central islands.

    The cost of living here is generally not high, and budget-minded expats can easily make ends meet, with costs in Manila about 60% less expensive than London in housing, transportation and food, according to Expatistan.com. Still, living in high-end districts or using serviced apartments, where residents enjoy hotel-level amenities and services, can push costs up substantially.

    Article originally appeared on BBC.com. If you liked this story, share it, like the Today Colombia on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.

    Please note some items were corrected by the Today from the original BBC report.

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    Americans In Colombia Who Owe The IRS Money May Have Their Passport Revoked

    IRS Revocation or Denial of Passport in Case of Certain Unpaid Taxes. Although the law was introduced in 2015, tThe IRS may start taking action in ‘early 2017’

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Americans residing in or visiting Colombia, may be in for a surprise from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as U.S. tax man is on the prowl for people who have been living abroad but not paying their U.S. taxes each year.

    In short, Americans owing more thanUS$50,000 dollars in Federal taxes or have a “serious delinquent tax debt”, could see a revocation or denial of passport.

    According to the IRS website, “if you have seriously delinquent tax debt, IRC § 7345 authorizes the IRS to certify that to the State Department. The department generally will not issue or renew a passport to you after receiving certification from the IRS.

    From the IRS website: “If you have seriously delinquent tax debt, IRC § 7345 authorizes the IRS to certify that to the State Department. The department generally will not issue or renew a passport to you after receiving certification from the IRS.

    “Upon receiving certification, the State Department may revoke your passport. If the department decides to revoke it, prior to revocation, the department may limit your passport to return travel to the U.S.”

    Although this in not new, the law was introduced in 2015, the IRS has not yet started certifying tax debt to the State Department, but it could happen in the coming months, ‘early in 2017’ is what the IRS website states.

    From the IRS website

    Those who have a ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ to the IRS or ‘think’ they owe the IRS, it is strongly encouraged action be taken asap because having a passport revoked or denied a renewal while abroad could have very serious consequences.

    Taxpayer Notification. However, the IRS is required to notify you in writing at the time it certifies seriously delinquent tax debt to the State Department. The IRS will send written notice by regular mail to your last known address.

    Reversal Of Certification. The IRS will notify the State Department of the reversal of the certification when: the tax debt is fully satisfied or becomes legally unenforceable; the tax debt is no longer seriously delinquent; the certification is erroneous, to which it will provide notice as soon as practicable.

    The notice is within 30 days of the date the debt is fully satisfied, becomes legally unenforceable or ceases to be seriously delinquent tax debt.

    Passport Status. If your passport is revoked, the Department of State will notify you in writing.

    Travel. If you already have a U.S. passport, you can use your passport until you’re notified by the State Department that it’s taking action to revoke or limit your passport. If the Secretary of State decides to revoke a passport, the Secretary of State, before making the revocation, may limit a previously issued passport only for return travel to the United States; or, issue a limited passport that only permits return travel to the United States.

    But, if your passport is cancelled or revoked, after you’re certified, you must resolve the tax debt by paying the debt in full, making alternative payment arrangements or showing that the certification is erroneous. As stated before, the notice can be up to 30 days.

     

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    War and Drug Trafficking in Colombia Prison System

    La Picota prison in Bogota, Colombia

    TODAY COLOMBIA (Insightcrime.org) Colombia’s prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces, prison authorities have joined them, while multiple government efforts to reform the system have failed.

    The first explosions rang out shortly after the day’s visitors had left Bogota’s La Modelo prison on July 2, 2001. They were the opening shots of a battle that would rage inside for around 20 hours as Marxist guerrillas fought off an assault by right-wing paramilitaries, while the authorities watched, powerless to intervene.

    The attack began when paramilitaries blew open the doors to the wings housing guerrillas with explosives and around 150 inmates poured in, assault rifles and machine guns blazing, and grenade launchers firing. Word of the assault had already reached the patio’s 400 guerrilla inmates, who had retrieved their weapons from stash holes in walls, floors, and bathrooms, and had positioned themselves behind barricades.

    By the time 500 police and guards retook the prison the following morning, ten lay dead, another 15 were wounded and the guerrilla wing of the prison was in flames. La Modelo was left as one more smoking ruin consumed by Colombia’s civil conflict.

    Fifteen years on, and a new investigation into the dark secrets of La Modelo (pictured below) has revealed this was no isolated event — Colombia’s war had entered the prison system.
    Prosecutors are investigating the 2001 battle and two more massacres along with the disappearance of over a hundred people inside the prison as well as cases of arms trafficking, drug trafficking, and extortion. It was all part of an orchestrated campaign, says Carlos Villamil, director of the Transitional Justice unit of the Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the case.

    Bogota’s La Modelo prison

    Continue reading at Insightcrime.org

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    Evidence Mounts that Colombian President Did Receive Funds from Odebrecht

    A sign of the Odebrecht SA construction conglomerate is pictured in Lima, Peru, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Janine Costa

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Colombian ex-congressman Otto Bula, who was ensnared in the Odebrecht scandal and who accused the campaign of President Juan Manuel Santos of having received almost one million dollars from the Brazilian construction giant, delivered a USB with information that includes information linking the president’s campaign manager Roberto Prieto to corrupt businessman Andrés Giraldo.

    Following the announcement by the Prosecutor’s Office, which spoke of Bula’s accusation, no evidence has come to light directly incriminating President Santos. However, Bula has presented incriminating evidence that further solidifies the relationship between the Santos campaign and Odebrecht.

    In addition, the USB contains information about Bula’s contracts with the Brazilian multinational, in which he helped manage contracts such as the Ocaña-Gamarra road that has implicated former ministers Gina Parody and Cecilia Álvarez. In addition, it shows how Odebrecht asked him to justify several several million dollars in unexplained expenses that had not been cleared through proper channels.

    According to the newspaper El Tiempo, the information provided on the USB self-incriminates Bula for money laundering and document forgery, since Bula signed a false contract to justify a USD $4.6 million expenditure; in context with this transaction, he also personally earned an alleged USD $1 million, which he has admitted.

    There are also new individuals implicated in the case. Otto Bula says that a well-known owner of car dealerships named Lopez helped launder by reporting it as purchases of various Toyota trucks. Bula has confessed to moving the rest of the money through Chinese and Panamanian companies.

    Now, the investigation will be focused on determining what happened to the remaining USD $3.4 million that Odebrecht attempted to justify through false contracts. However, everything indicates that this sum could have been paid as a bribe to obtain the lucrative contract for the Ocaña-Gamarra road.

    The Ocaña-Gamarra road, passing through rugged mountainous territory in northern Colombia, links the departments of Norte de Santander and Cesar.

    The investigation will also probe claims against the Oscar Ivan Zuluaga campaign that allegedly received funds through the mediation of Daniel García Arizabaleta, who was the intermediary between the campaign of the Democratic Center and Odebrecht.

    Senator Bernando Elías, who is known as “Ñoño” Elías, has been repeatedly reported to have been involved in the corruption cases. However, he has been surprisingly adept at dodging bullets with the corruption cases, a trend that has continued with respect to Odebrecht.

    Senator Elías was reported to have been one of the intermediaries in the budget appropriations for the Ocaña-Gamarra road, suspected of having been the beneficiary of the USD $4.6 million bribe paid by Odebrecht.

    Semana magazine, however, notes that Otto Bula has chat logs in which several officials, including “Ñoño”, were very aware of the corruption involved in the awarding of the contract for this route, which proved a boon to the Norte de Santander department, a key constituency for the Colombian senator.

    The Las2Orillas website published a series of photographs showing government officials participating in activities with Odebrecht, which is likely to cause further discomfort for the Santos administration.

    Source: El Tiempo, Semana, Las2Orillas

    Article originally appeared on Panampost.com

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    Odebrecht Bribes in Colombia Passed through Panama

    The corruption scandal shakes Colombia

    TODAY COLOMBIA (Prensa Latina) An investigation carried out by the Public Ministry of Panama, concerning a ghost company of Odebrecht provided information for the corruption scandal that shakes Colombia, publishes today daily La Estrella de Panama.

    Last January 24, the seventh prosecutor anticorruption district, Alexandra Vence, asked the Public Registry for data on companies Punto Fa S.A. and Lurion Trading Inc., the latter created here on January 20, 2010, through the lawfirm G&R, and supposedly top ay bribes in Colombia.

    History of resident agents and legal representatives, capital and assets or real estate are some of the 14 aspects solicited by the General Prosecution office of the neighboring country, according to the source, and two days after Lurion changed its structure and G&R resigned to a legal representation.

    Colombian authorities also assert that the bribe of US$6.5 million dollars to obtain a contract of the road Ruta del Sol, were transfered to several accounts open in the Private Andorra Bank (PAB) to the name of Lurion Trading, said the newspaper.

    ‘To that effect the international financial system was used, including the jurisdictions of the United States, Antigua and Andorra’, stated the general prosecutor of Colombia, Nestor Humberto Martinez to journalists and thanked the cooperation of Panama in this case.

    According to the official, ex Senator Otto Bula (presently arrested) sent since 2014 two payments to Colombia for the total sum of one million dollars, through Lurion and the APB, whose final beneficiary was the management of the election campaign of acting president Juan Manuel Santos, which the Executive denies and attributes to an opposition campaign.

    Colombian newspaper El Espectador recalled that society was created one month after Odebrecht won the contract for the second stretch of the Ruta del Sol and figure as its directors Annette Medina, Cesar Afu and Felix Valencia Maldonado.

    Also, the latter appears as treasurer of Nunvac, a society of security services and communications, implicated in a scandal of espionaje that involves former Panamanian president Ricardo Martuinelli (2009-2014).

    Last January 30, the Bank Superintendency ordered the forced luiquidation of the Panamanian subsidiarty of APB, due to the silence of its owners after being intervened since March, 2015, accused by the United States for money laundering and not proposing a solution.

    ‘The liquidation of the Central American subsidiary of the Andorran Bank must be framed in the fact that the APB was the Andorran coinnection of the tax evasion scheme artiuculated from the Panamanian lawfirm Mossack Fonseca’, publisjed the digital edition of Spanish newspaper Cinco Dias.

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    Will Trump Double Down on Drug War Capitalism with Plan Colombia?

    Plan Colombia from Semana.com

    TODAY COLOMBIA (Telesur) Saturday (February 4) marks the 16th anniversary of Plan Colombia, a multi-billion dollar U.S. counternarcotics and counterinsurgency military aid package given to Colombia under President Bill Clinton.

    It also marks one year since Presidents Barack Obama and Juan Manuel Santos announced Plan Colombia 2.0, rebranded “Paz Colombia” in honor of the historic end of the country’s more than half century-old armed conflict.

    Plan Colombia has enjoyed strong support from the majority of U.S. politicians, but there is uncertainty for the future of the plan under President Donald Trump’s watch, particularly from the perspective of Colombians.

    While the president has not specifically mentioned Colombia, he has been critical of U.S. alliances where large amounts of money are spent, such as the United Nations and NATO, within his overall plan to put “America First.”

    While such an approach remains ambiguous and Trump was seen to be “100 percent in favor of NATO,” when meeting with Theresa May, “America First” hints at an increasingly isolationist policy, with funding being rescinded for programs that are seen to drain resources from the U.S. compared to giving the U.S. an obvious advantage. On the other hand, Plan Colombia has largely been seen as a mechanism to protect U.S. economic interests in the country.

    Colombia is currently the biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the western hemisphere and many are doubtful that under such an “America First” platform, Trump will not be willing to carry through with giving the US$450 million to Colombia promised by Obama in 2016.

    Colombia celebrates peace, Tillerson questions it

    Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while not as tight lipped as Trump on the issue, said at his confirmation hearing that “Plan Colombia has made a dramatic difference and can be considered a foreign policy success for both the United States and for Colombia.”

    The former Exxon Mobil Corp head said that he would “review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.”

    Given the fact that many analysts have criticized Plan Colombia for prolonging the conflict and fueling human rights abuses, celebration of the military aid package as “a foreign policy success” is troubling. But it’s also not a rogue position in U.S. politics — Hillary Clinton, for example, advocated a “Plan Colombia for Central America” in an interview with the New York Daily news during her presidential campaign.

    Casting doubt on the peace deal, on the other hand, marks a significant break with the political consensus in the U.S. and international community, which has largely applauded the historic end of the 52-year civil war with the FARC.

    Tillerson also said he believes Colombia is “one of our closest allies in the hemisphere,” adding that he hopes to work closely with Bogota on “holding them to their commitments to rein in drug production and trafficking.”

    Indeed, Plan Colombia and its 2.0 version have a heavy focus on drugs, crime and security.

    Plan Colombia’s bloody legacy

    Plan Colombia has been heavily criticized for militarizing a war on drugs and targeting left-wing insurgents, rather than cutting the trade off at is source of production, leaving a high human cost and perpetuating insecurity.

    The Colombian Victims Unit estimated in 2014 that over 7 million people had been killed, forcibly disappeared or displaced since the start in 1956 of Colombia’s bloody period known simply as “La Violencia” — a precursor to the start of the civil war with guerrilla rebels the following decade. It is important to note, though, that the organization recorded the majority of violence after 2000, when Plan Colombia was enacted.

    According to human rights groups, at least 1,000 trade unionists were murdered between 2000 and January 2016, while at least 400 human rights defenders were assassinated between 2010 and 2015. According to Frontline Defenders, Colombia was the most deadly country for human rights defenders in 2015 out of the 25 countries where the organization operates.

    U.S.-backed war on drugs set to continue

    Trump has continually blamed Mexico for — among other things — supplying the plethora of illicit drugs entering the U.S. Yet according to the latest DEA figures, cocaine production in Colombia increased by 67 percent between 2014 and 2015, and over 90 percent of seized shipments in the U.S. originated in Colombia. While the peace process continued in 2016, coca cultivation fueled by increasing prices appears to also be increasing.

    Given that the entire west coast has legalized marijuana with other U.S. states are following suit, it not only makes Mexico diminishingly important for the U.S. demand for illegal drugs, but also highlights the importance of continued U.S. support for Colombia to shrink its illegal drug market, the majority of which ends up on U.S. streets.

    And in the case of U.S. customers for Colombian and Latin American drugs, wherever there is demand, there will be supply. One of the key sources of income for the FARC was illicit drugs, in particularly cocaine and marijuana. The FARC offer protection to growers of illicit crops in the areas the operate, in exchange for a fee.

    As the FARC demobilizes, there is the risk that other armed groups and criminal organizations will continue in the illegal drug trade and fill the void of the FARC’s power.  While Colombia moves closer to peace, there have been ongoing killings of human rights defenders, and a demand for protection, particularly in rural areas where the FARC has had the strongest presense.

    Adequate support is needed to help reintegrate former FARC members and develop legal economic and agricultural opportunities for many people who have previously relied on illicit industries — drugs and illegal mining, which still offer lucrative profits in a worldwide market that does not appear to be slowing down.

    There is also a growing chorus of international voices that are calling for an alternative approach to the “war on drugs,” and indeed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in acceptance peace speech for his Nobel Peace Prize said that Colombia has been the hardest hit country in the world from the militarized prohibitionist approach. He also called on the world to “rethink” the war on drugs.

    For the most part, Trump’s cabinet picks, in particular Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would seem to be in favor of maintaining the status quo for drug policy, domestically and internationally.

    While Obama’s promised funding is uncertain under the new administration, another important Obama legacy is now left in the hands of Trump has commonly flown under the radar: the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act.

    Signed into law in December by Obama, the bipartisan and independent commission is set to review decades of U.S. drug policy and provide recommendations for the president and Congress and has the potential the seriously shift the direction of U.S. drug policy for Colombia in particular.

    Plan Colombia is set to come under heavy investigation from the commission as well as the current U.S. “decertification” policy, whereby other states deemed to have “failed demonstrably” in reducing illicit drug production are pressured with aid and trade sanctions.

    Given the new president’s affinity for executive orders and maverick approach to other forms of U.S. power outside the White House, Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress may all but disregard proposed changes from the commission.

    Washington’s “best friend” in Latin America

    Colombian officials also have significant choices to make whether they are willing to fall into line with whatever drug policy is fashioned under Trump’s administration or take a more independent approach, which always has the risk of losing U.S. political and financial support.

    It goes without saying that it is an asymmetrical relationship between Colombia and the U.S. in regard to Plan Colombia, and looking across the wider region, Trump and Tillerson’s sights could very well move away from Colombia but towards Venezuela and Cuba — two perennial critics of U.S. foreign policy.

    If we again take Colombia as Tillerson’s “best friend in the region,” continued and even increased support for Bogota could also be used as political leverage against Cuba and Venezuela and the remaining “Pink Tide” countries across the continent.

    ExxonMobil already has a long history in Venezuela, and Tillerson said that he wants to work with Brazil and Colombia and the Organization of American States, to negotiate a “transition to democratic rule” in the country. Tillerson has also upheld Trump´s rhetoric of reversing the U.S. “deal” to a thawing of relations with Cuba made under the Obama administration.

    In addition to a need for political support to implement peace in Colombia, the process also requires large sums of money. The potential severing of Obama’s funding would be a serious blow to Colombia’s move towards peace and could have widespread implications for the country’s security and stability going forward.

    Funding will be essential to help reintegrate former guerrillas into society, cutting out illegal markets, developing the economy and helping the government provide infrastructure and order areas that were previously ungovernable.

    And while the 2016 peace deal is not without its flaws, as Adam Isacson from the Washington Office of Latin America notes, it “is the best available option for guaranteeing stability, strong democratic governance, and reduced drug production in Colombia. It deserves full U.S. backing.”

    Article originally appeared on Telesurtv.net

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    How the United States’ stricter visa requirements affect Colombians


    The United States has changed its visa requirements on Wednesday. Here is how this affects Colombians wanting to visit the North American country.

    According to the US Embassy in Colombia website, effective immediately, interviews will now be required in all cases, except:

    • Diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3).
    • Applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79.
    • Applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application.

    Previously, Colombians who wished to renew their visa in the same category within 48 months could have the interview waived.

    “The Department of State is committed to facilitating legitimate travel while ensuring the security of U.S. borders and the American people,” reads the US Embassy update.

    The new visa regulations are a consequence of an executive order on immigration signed on January 27 by President Donald Trump.

    This controversial executive order bans all travel from a number of Muslim countries, and a revision of all visa procedures for foreigners wanting to travel to the United States for either business or pleasure.

    In the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry Into The United States,” the hard-right US president announced numerous measures to tighten control on the issuing of visas.

    The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.

    US President Donald Trump

    Trump’s xenophobic remarks targeting Mexicans during his campaign has made him in Colombia almost as unpopular as Nicolas Maduro, the authoritarian leader of Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela.

    According to the US Embassy, last year 500,000 visas for Colombians were approved.

    Article originally appeared on Colombiareports.com

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    Nobel peace prize winners visit Colombia, reject Trump’s wall

    Nobels

    Nobel Peace Prize laureates who gathered for a summit in Colombia’s capital Bogota on Thursday rejected the United States’ plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

    According to the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias from Costa Rica, US President Donald Trump “attacks human rights with the construction of a wall between his country and Mexico.”

    “His actions are the winter of despair,” said Arias, citing Charles Dickens.

    “The wall threatens our globalism as it sows fear among Americans and across the globe. Fear should not dominate us. We defend achieved liberties,” said Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her defense of indigenous rights in her country.

    The Nobel Peace Prize laureates were in Colombia’s capital Bogota to visit Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who last year won the prize for his successful attempt to barter an end to 52 years of armed conflict with the FARC, the country’s largest and oldest illegal armed group.

    The Santos administration is set to embark on peace talks with the last remaining rebel group, the much smaller ELN, in the Ecuadorean capital Quito next week.

    Article originally appeared on Colombia Reports

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    Colombian Exports Register Major Drop in 2016 as Fuel and Manufacturing Suffer

    Exports in Colombia dropped 13 %

    TODAY COLOMBIA – Colombia closed 2016 with a noticeable drop in exports in 2016, according to the National administrative Department of Statistics, having gone from US 35.6 billion to US $31 billion.

    Fuel reportedly registered the strongest drop, following by mining at -21.7 percent, following by manufacturing, which decreased 10 percent. Farming, food and beverages all dropped by about one percent, according to officials.

    The United States is the number one importer of Colombian goods, having taken in 31.8 percent of exports. Following the US were Panama, the Netherlands, Ecuador and Spain.

    Despite falling into the red, the DANE reported that Colombia grew during the last month of 2016 in comparison to 2015 by 32.7 percent.

    Fuel and mining reported 43-percent increases, while farming, food and beverages varied by 50.6 percent.

    The economic situation in Colombia is not showing its best face and concern is growing regarding the tax reform that is already moving through congress. Though it seeks to improve credit qualifications, it has not been fruitful to date due to increased government spending and the mismanagement of oil prices.

    Source: Caracol Radio

    Article originally appeared on Panampost.com

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    Cali, Colombia to Expand Gang Reintegration Program in 2017

    Cali, Colombia to Expand Gang Reintegration Program in 2017

    TODAY COLOMBIA (Insightcrime.org) Local officials in Cali, Colombia are planning to expand a recently instituted gang reintegration program, raising questions about what type of long-term impact such an initiative could have on the city’s security situation.

    In early January, the Cali city government announced that the program is expected to take on a larger scope in 2017. The announcement indicates the government’s openness to alternative strategies in solving a gang problem that has made Cali one of Colombia’s most violent cities.

    The program, dubbed Integral Gang Rehabilitation (Tratamiento Integral de Pandillas – TIP), began late last year with the participation of more than 30 of the 88 recognized local gangs. The government’s 2017 projections estimate the addition of 20 more gangs, with the ultimate goal of enrolling more than 1,300 gang members in TIP.

    The program is designed to offer the city’s “high-risk” youth an alternative to gang life. Participants are offered vocational training, volunteer work opportunities and general reintegration guidance. In one neighborhood, according to a recent report by El País, gang members are working together on a farm that sits on the border of rival gang territories.

    Although Cali’s government and law enforcement institutions have praised TIP and advocated for expanding the program, statistics measuring its impact have been inconclusive. Cali recorded a 54 percent decline in gang-related youth homicides in 2016, but the city also witnessed a 39 percent increase in revenge killings last year, according to a separate report from El País. The overall homicide tally dropped six percent.

    The TIP program is in its very early stages, making it difficult to judge the relationship between the introduction of the gang rehabilitation initiative and trends in violence in Cali. Nevertheless, there are other examples of similar programs in neighboring countries that could provide insight into the potential impact of Cali’s TIP.

    For example, Panama saw a decrease in homicides after launching a gang amnesty and rehabilitation program in 2014. According to a report by the BBC, the homicide rate dropped 21 percent from 2014 to 2015. However, as InSight Crime has previously noted, it is difficult to distinguish the impact of the rehabilitation program from the effect of the Panamanian government’s increased spending on other violence prevention programs during that time period.

    Further north, the government of El Salvador has also proposed establishing reintegration programs as part of its efforts to deal with serious ongoing security problems related to gangs. However, resource constraints and complex dynamics of violence in that country make it unlikely that such programs would yield sustainable results.

    Original article appeared on Insightcrime.org and is republished here with permission.

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    Colombian Border Town Cries Foul as Venezuelan Military Trespass to Make Arrest

    The Mayor of Cúcuta said the border should remain closed until clear rules are established. (La Patilla).

    The Venezuelan National Guard entered Colombian territory this week to make an arrest, which has many officials in the border town of Cúcuta up in arms.

    Mayor César Rojas said members of the Venezuelan National Guard (GNB) entered Colombia while pursuing gasoline smugglers, which he considers unacceptable behavior.

    “We are going to call Chancellor (María Ángela Holguín) so that she can take the necessary measures and inform the president that we can not accept the violation of Colombian territory,” Rojas said.

    He described seeing Venezuelan authorities taking such action as “regrettable” because they “affect the inhabitants” of Cúcuta.

    “We can not accept this incursion,” Rojas said. “It is hurting the community and the rural residents of this sector.”

    Rojas said Venezuelan officers not only penetrated Colombian territory but also arrested the smugglers in a rural area of Cúcuta, where they were burning the vehicle that had illegally transported items into the country.

    Last December, Rojas asked Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to close the border with Venezuela because there are no clear rules between the two countries.

    “It is better to leave it closed for as long as it is: three, six or 10 months, but so that when it opens it is organized and we all know the rules,” he said.

    The border between the two South American countries is comprised of a territory of 1,378 miles in which, for the most part, there is frequent smuggling of food and gasoline.

    Source: Sumarium

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