Colombia. In September, President Álvaro Uribe Vélez decided to dissolve the Security Police (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS) and replace it with a new body. DAS has repeatedly been accused of illegal methods and cooperation with paramilitary groups, most recently in February 2009, when it was revealed that DAS was intercepting top politicians and then sold the information through auction. DAS has also been accused of planning to assassinate Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, and relations between the two countries have been frosty since March 2008.
According to countryaah, Colombia’s plans to enter into a military cooperation agreement with the United States prompted Chávez to reevaluate relations with the country. The cooperation agreement concerns the United States’ use of six military bases to help the government fight drug crime and terrorism. Chavez claimed that the agreement posed a threat to Venezuela’s security and announced that the military would be reinforced along the border with Colombia. The matter was discussed at several UNASUR (South American Union) meetings during the second half of the year. Several heads of state were worried about the US’s increased presence on the continent and the risk of armor, but President Uribe Vélez emphasized Colombia’s right to decide for itself how its domestic policy problems should be resolved.
Another factor in the diplomatic crisis with Venezuela was the disclosure in July that security forces in a base captured by the guerrilla group FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) found Swedish-made weapons that were originally sold to Venezuela. President Chávez denied that his government should have supplied the FARC with weapons, but Jan-Erik Lövgren from the Inspection for Strategic Products and the Swedish Trade Minister’s press secretary Jens Eriksson later confirmed that the weapons were sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. Chávez froze relations with Colombia, called his ambassador home and threatened to seize Colombian corporate assets in the country.
On September 1, the House of Representatives voted in favor of a referendum on the issue of a possible second re-election of a sitting president. President Uribe Vélez has expressed doubts about his own candidacy should such a constitutional amendment go through.
In October 2003, Luis Eduardo Garzón won the mayoral post in Bogota for the center-left party Polo Democrático Independiente (Independent Democratic Pol, PDI). The post is the country’s second most important after the presidential post, and electoral victory shook the traditional parties. It also pointed to a national tendency to strengthen the center-left.
In June 2004, ELN accepted an offer from Mexico for mediation in the country’s protracted internal armed conflict. A communication from the ELN announced that peace is needed to develop Colombia’s future, and the guerrilla also accepted Mexico’s offer of peace mediation. High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo declared himself optimistic in this announcement and at the same time stated that it paved the way for the incorporation of ELN into the country’s civilian life.
In July, 200 British MPs asked the British government to cease military aid to Colombia because of the close ties between the state security forces and paramilitary groups gathered in the AUC. Acc. the British newspaper The Guardian condemned the 200 members – mostly Labor – of British support for Colombia and asked Prime Minister Blair to suspend military aid to the country. In their request, MPs pointed out that the majority of trade unionists killed in Colombia in 2002 had been executed by paramilitaries of state security forces.
However, British Latin American Minister Bill Rammell stated that the British government would continue its support for the Uribe government in the field of security. Colombia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alfonso López Caballero, also stated that the British government has been very solid with the Colombian government, due to the latter’s efforts to secure security – although there was still a long way to consolidate peace in the country.
That same month, the Bishop of Yopal, Misael Vacca Ramírez was abducted and released after 3 days by members of the ELN. The abduction was condemned by Pope Paul II, and the government initiated a gigantic rescue operation in an attempt to get Ramírez released. Upon his release, he stated that he had been treated with respect. He was surrendered by his abductors to Bishop Javier Pizarro in the city of Trinidad in the Casanare department.
In August, a FARC spokesman made a proposal for direct negotiations between the guerrillas and the government on the exchange of FARC prisoners against the government’s FARC prisoners. In an interview with the TV program Noticias Uno, guerrilla leader Raúl Reyes accepted the appointment of High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo as a broker, but the FARC at the same time refused to use the Internet as a medium for the negotiations. Restrepo had proposed the use of electronic mail as the fastest negotiating method. Reyes, in turn, stated that the FARC did not want to negotiate from the hidden or abroad, but instead asked the government to set up a demilitarized zone for the negotiations. The families of those abducted in the custody of the FARC declared themselves satisfied with the government’s designation of Restrepo as a broker,
Also in August, the United Nations and the International Red Cross urged the Colombian government to intervene in the impunity of abductions in the country. Acc. the two organizations have 890 abduction cases in Colombia that have not yet been investigated and resolved by the authorities. The information and request were made public in Geneva during a global disappearance meeting.
In October, hundreds of thousands of people walked the streets across the country in protest against the Uribe government. It was one of the biggest events in the country’s history. The protests concentrated on the high unemployment rate and went peacefully apart from a few unrest in Popayán in southwestern Colombia. In Bogota, traffic was interrupted by the stellar demonstration, which from various parts of the capital went to the Plaza de Bolivar in the center – next to the City Hall, Congress and the Palace of Justice. About 50,000 people attended the demonstration in Bogota. Including teachers, hospital staff, students and natives.