Former president Andres Pastrana with Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Former president Andres Pastrana, seen here with Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

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January 26, 2015.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro did not allow former Colombian president Andres Pastrana and former Chilean president Sebastian Piñera to visit opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in jail.

Lopez is being held in a military prison in the outskirts of Caracas. He gave himself up during an opposition march eleven months ago after having an arrest warrant issued against him.

Maduro accused Pastrana and Piñera of taking part in a coup plot against him.

Pastrana urged former Colombian president Ernesto Samper Pizano, the head of the Union of South American Nations, Unasur, to condemn the human rights violations of Maduro’s government.

**

A look back at the ongoing human rights violations since a year ago:

What’s going on in Venezuela? By guest blogger Rubens Yanes.

As Venezuela’s violence intensifies, social media continues to inform.

**

Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the head of Colombia’s opposition party, Centro Democratico, expressed their support for Pastrana’s efforts.

President Santos remains silent on the subject.

On Saturday, thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas for the first time in months to complain about the worsening economic crisis.

They banged empty pots, in reference to the shortage of many staple foods, like milk, chicken, beef, sugar, coffee, and flour.

To maintain order in supermarket queues, the Maduro government has deployed armed National Guard troops to the streets. It also ordered the use of fingerprint machines in certain stores to control how much individual shoppers can buy, and it has prosecuted shopkeepers and suppliers accused of hoarding and price manipulation.

The price of food and basic necessities has increased by 7.2 percent from November to December 2014. To afford basic living expenses, a Venezuelan needs to earn six times the minimum wage.

Inflation is running at about 60 percent, and the economy is teetering on the brink of recession.

Venezuela is one of the world’s largest oil exporters. The generous social programs of Hugo Chavez and Maduro were largely financed through oil revenue.

Now, with the plunge in the price of oil, Maduro’s economic policy seems to be “God will provide,” as he said in his recent State of the Union speech.

Aiming to secure the support of disenchanted Chavistas, Maduro still promised a 15 percent increase in salaries, and additional funds for some of the social aid government programs. He also said the government will inject more money to complete Caracas’ newest subway line, currently under construction.

Copyright Edgamer Toro @edgamertoro Leopoldo Lopez gave himself up during an opposition march eleven months ago.

Copyright Edgamer Toro
@edgamertoro
Leopoldo Lopez gave himself up during an opposition march eleven months ago.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | January 16, 2015

Investment in early childhood education cuts crime & boosts economy.

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” - E.B. White

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” – E.B. White

"Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up," Pablo Picasso,

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

 

Even before dreaming of a post-conflict scenario, Colombia must find ways to provide access to quality, affordable early childhood education.

1. Investment in early childhood education is an economic driver.

Children who have access to early childhood education — preschools, after-school and enrichment programs — are significantly less likely to wind up in the courts and in the jails, saving taxpayers a fortune.

A report, released by California-based Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, estimates that education before kindergarten can save communities in the U.S. about US $22,000 for each student served from a combination of reduced criminal justice, health care costs and increased lifetime earnings.

The Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report cited a comprehensive study that concluded children in the U.S. who did not attend preschool were 70 percent more likely to be arrested by age 18. Moreover, 44 percent of prisoners in California do not have a high school diploma or GED certificate.

A Washington Institute of Public Policy analysis of more than 20 preschool programs in the U.S. found that quality preschool returned an average net economic benefit to the community of US $15,000 per child in preschool, by cutting costs for incarceration, special education and welfare.

In the U.S., cost-benefit analyses conducted by the RAND Corporation show that every $1 invested in early childhood education programs produces $7.16 in societal savings.

Now, note that the Colombian government spends US $90 million a year on the Agency for Reintegration (ACR) for the program that helps former combatants demobilize and reintegrate and find their way as civilians.

Investment in early childhood education also makes economic sense because it opens businesses, hires employees, and allows parents to be able to work and so have money to inject back into the economy. In turn, the government can collect taxes from working parents and childhood education centers.

Providing early childhood education is also good for mothers, who have a greater chance to obtain employment and training. In Colombia, more women are demobilizing from armed groups. One out of four who demobilize is a woman. Forced abortions — which can be as many as five for a female guerrilla fighter — are the main reason for desertions. For these mothers, child care can be the single greatest difference between success or failure.

Early childhood education should include home visits starting during pregnancy, specially for young, first-time mothers, and continue over the first two years of a child’s life. A child’s home environment sharply conditions the efficacy of preschool.

Further, the style of parenting a child receives in the first three years of life is linked to success nearly 30 years down the line, evident in in a person’s academic and career performance, as well as their romantic and social relationships.

2. Investment in early childhood education is an investment in the future work-force.

Not only can investment in early childhood education cut crime rates, it can also boost high school graduation rates.

In the U.S., poor youngsters enter kindergarten already four to six months behind their middle-class peers in oral language and pre-literacy skills.

Research shows that when children start school behind they stay behind. Quality early education programs give children the social, language and numbers skills they need; they prepare children, especially at-risk children, for school. They make children more likely to start kindergarten ready to learn, and therefore they do better throughout school. Children who get a good start are less likely to need expensive special education classes and are more likely to graduate.

In Colombia, since 2003, more than 55,000 combatants from illegal armed groups have given up their weapons. Sixty percent of the more than 40,000 or so former fighters who have joined the government reintegration program are illiterate.

Seventy percent of Colombia’s former child soldiers have only a fifth grade education or less, and eight and a half percent have never been to school. It’s challenging for a teen, or an adult, to re-wire and get on with an education having never been introduced to a formal school setting.

When children who attend quality early education programs become adults, they are more likely to hold jobs and earn higher salaries; and less likely to be on government assistance programs.

***

Related and alarming:

Recently, there were reports of overcrowding at all of Bogotá’s six Immediate Reaction Units, which have been set up by prosecutors to efficiently deal with people arrested as suspects in crimes.

Officials said there was no room at a local detention centre, and around 40 prisoners were handcuffed to each other, a fence, — and a children’s slide at a local park.

Children should not associate their local park with incarceration. A public park is a space designated for children to play, dream, be creative, build social bonds with each other, and build trust with their environment.


President Santos proposed that we consider drug trafficking a political crime.

By that same logic, Pablo Escobar, who contributed to helping the poor of the city of Medellin, was not a drug trafficker but a victim of politics! Escobar funded social programs and housing projects to benefit the poor. He also funded the construction of soccer fields in some of Medellin’s worst slums.

The FARC admitted their involvement in drug trafficking. As part of the peace talks in Havana, the FARC agreed to cease ties with drug trafficking.

To showcase the FARC as political criminals, as President Santos is attempting, is to politically campaign for them, and to help them legalize their immense wealth acquired through drug trafficking. According to Forbes Israel, the FARC are the third richest terrorist group. Their wealth includes 900,000 hectares of land that borders the departments of Huila, Caquetá, and Meta. An elite intelligence group said when negotiations began at the end of 2012, the FARC secretariat passed their assets to third parties and to accounts abroad in Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Panama, according to demobilized combatants and intercepted emails. Prosecutor Alejandro Ordóñez pointed out the FARC’s hidden wealth be part of the government-FARC negotiations so that an eventual peace agreement is not a grand money laundering scheme.

President Santos hopes the country will forget/ forgive the FARC’s narco past and accept them, presumably, as newly minted politicians. What is Santos gaining from this?

In the past, President Santos expressed willingness to push for legalizing drugs, including cocaine. He stressed that the initiative would work only if it was co-ordinated internationally and emphasized the vital role that the U.K., the U.S. and the European Union would have to play in shaping the debate.

To accept the FARC’s narco past as a political crime is to open the door for the U.S. not to demand their extradition. Currently, the U.S. seeks the extradition of nearly every member of the FARC’s “Secretariat” leadership to face charges of drug trafficking, and in most cases offers a reward of up to $5 million dollars. As many as 50 FARC leaders are thought to be facing orders for their extradition to the U.S., including several of the commanders sitting at the bargaining table in Havana.

The U.S. Ambassador in Bogotá, Kevin Whitaker, said, “I will vigorously support our efforts to guarantee that individuals accused in the United States are extradited.” He added that regardless what is agreed in Havana, the U.S. hopes to continue co-operating with Colombia in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime. Whitaker said he does not foresee any changes in Washington’s policy towards Colombia.

Further, U.S. President Obama recently said, “the actions of mayor drug traffickers centered in Colombia continue posing an extraordinary and unusual threat to (U.S.) national security, foreign policy, and the United States economy, and causing an extreme level of violence, corruption, and damage inside and outside the United States.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently linked the FARC with Al Qaeda after three alleged Al Qaeda members were arrested for smuggling drugs through West Africa to raise money for jihad. Jay Bergman, the DEA director for the Andean region, said, “As suggested by the recent arrest of three alleged Al Qaeda operatives, the expansion of cocaine trafficking through West Africa has provided the venue for an unholy alliance between South American narco-terrorists and Islamic extremists.”

The U.S. executive branch has no power to withdraw the extradition requests. According to Adam Isaacson of WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, if Colombia does not fulfill the United States’ outstanding extradition requests for FARC leaders, it is up to the President and the State Department to decide whether this has any effect on U.S.-Colombian relations. The U.S. judiciary’s extradition requests for demobilized FARC leaders will remain on the books, always hanging over Colombia’s post-conflict reality, added Isaacson.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently traveled to Bogotá. Kerry said, “We’re already helping to build the key foundations of a post-conflict future through Colombia’s justice sector, which we’re providing support to.” How that will translate remains to be seen.

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | December 16, 2014

Iron from melted arms used to construct schools and hospitals

More than 8,000 arms, taken from the hands of FARC, ELN, paramilitaries and Bacrim were melted down. The resulting iron will be used to lay the foundations for schools and hospitals. It is the second time the government’s army has taken on such a project.

Disarmament is one of the main questions left to be negotiated in Havana.

“Of course there has to be abandonment (dejación) of weapons,” said government negotiator Sergio Jaramillo, the Colombian Presidency’s high commissioner for peace. Negotiator Jorge Mora, a retired general and former chief of Colombia’s armed forces, agreed. For Mora, it’s a question of semantics — call it dejación, entrega, decomiso, inutilización (abadon or relinquish, deliver, confiscate, disable).

The opposition, voiced by Senator Alfredo Rangel of the Democratic Center party, said, “This is not a petty discussion. They (the FARC) have said they will stop using arms, but they will keep them in their power.”

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | December 11, 2014

ICC’s eyes on Colombia’s Transitional Justice.

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The International Criminal Court recently warned Colombia that any peace agreements, including the Legal Framework for Peace, that are not compatible with the Rome Statute will be reviewed by the office of Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s prosecutor.

In the past, Bensouda spoke out against the Legal Framework for Peace, a transitional justice strategy that includes prioritization and selection of cases against the most responsible for crimes against humanity or war crimes; the conditioned dropping of all other non-selected cases; and the suspension of selected sentences.

The Legal Framework for Peace exempts from criminal prosecution countless guerrillas and paramilitaries responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and so is seen by many as an amnesty in disguise.

A November 2012 report of the ICC stated: “The Legal Framework for Peace will likely impact the conduct of national proceedings relating to crimes falling under the ICC’s jurisdiction and the admissibility of cases before the ICC, and thus, is of direct relevance for the ongoing preliminary examination of the Situation in Colombia.”

The ICC further stated: “While the Office welcomes the adoption of a national policy to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of cases against those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes, it would view with concern any measures that appear designed to shield or hinder the establishment of criminal responsibility of individuals for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court. … Moreover, bearing in mind the preamble of the Statute, the Office considers that efforts to address large-scale criminality, however challenging, are more likely to contribute to preventing future crimes if as much truth about such crimes as possible is uncovered.” (emphasis mine.)

The ICC also expressed concern about holding the military accountable for cases of false positives, which were the extrajudicial killings of civilians who were then passed off as members of illegal armed groups.

The ICC is equally concerned with cases of sexual crimes committed by all sides.

Related:

The Legal Framework for Peace invites the International Criminal Court to Colombia. 

If Colombian authorities do not address gender violence, ICC will.

Violence Against Women in Colombia’s Conflict.

Women continue to be a “weapon of war.”

Women are most vulnerable among displaced.

Girls Raped By Armed Forces.

Man survives becoming victim of “false positive.”

Scandals of “false positives” reveal army’s human rights abuses run deep.

Bill that sends military crimes to civilian courts still faces opposition.

A march called #PazSinImpunidad (#PeaceWithoutImpunity) is being organized for Saturday, December 13.

photo

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | December 9, 2014

The Transformation of “Pastor Alape.”

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”― Desmond Tutu

 

The FARC published a video which shows their version of the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate. The video (above) shows alias “Pastor Alape” (wearing the casual blue shirt and the Panama hat) listening closely as Gloria Urrego, the lawyer who was kidnapped alongside the general, explains the two were in Chocó region in an effort to promote development, to set up a project to harness the energy of the Atrato River and so provide electricity for the community of Las Mercedes. Urrego explains she was not there in her capacity as a lawyer handing out indictments, or such.

Pastor Alape is shown bringing General Alzate newspapers and magazines, which explained the story of how his kidnapping caused President Santos to suspend the peace talks.

A lot has changed from the Pastor Alape who appeared in front of cameras before. The video below was uploaded in October 2011.

In today’s Pastor Alape, the harshness has distilled itself somewhat. His stance and his voice are different, too.

He became part of the FARC’s ruling secretariat when military commander alias “Mono Jojoy” was killed in September 2010.

Alias ‘Pastor Alape’ is Félix Antonio Muñoz Lascarro, born on January 5, 1946 in Puerto Berrío in Antioquia department. He joined the FARC in 1983, as a twenty-seven year-old lured in by his time as a member of the Communist Youth Movement. He was part of the personal guard of alias “Jacobo Arenas,” the FARC’s ideological head. From Arenas, Alape received much political indoctrination, and so he went on to be an instructor at the “Hernando González Acosta” training camp.

In mid-1989, Alape formed the 45th Front, the “Atanasio Girardot” Front. In 1991, he was ascended to command the 52nd Front, the “Juan de la Cruz Varela” Front. Under him, the group destroyed much electrical infrastructure in the Llanos Orientales region.

In August 1993, Alape was again promoted to form part of the Magdalena Medio Bloc. By 1996, he expanded his reach to Santander and Norte de Santander departments, as well as to northeast Antioquia, southern Bolivar, and western Boyacá departments.

As Alape’s FARC career rose, he was given the task of preparing promising young men at the “Ricardo Franco” training camp, located in the municipality of Landázuri in Santander department. Alape’s rising commanders went on to lead fronts in the Magdalena Medio Bloc.

Alape is also the FARC’s supreme business man: he strategized and implemented the FARC’s cocaine policies, directing and controlling the production, manufacture, and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the U.S. and the world. And to further raise funds for the FARC, he helped set in motion the “taxation” of the drug trade in Colombia, extortioning coca farmers for their “right” to grow the crop, which, in turn, the FARC buys. He ordered that farmers who sell cocaine paste to other buyers, namely the paramilitaries, be bombed or murdered.

According to the U.S. State Department, Alape oversaw the production of the entire Magdalena Medio Bloc’s cocaine supply. The U.S. offers a reward of $2.5 million for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction.

Alape is also linked to illegal mining and arms trafficking.

He is a negotiator for the peace talks with the government now taking place in Havana.

Note that the recent video (top one) was filmed, edited and released by the FARC. Certainly, it seems the FARC’s top commanders are cultivating an image, strategizing their chances to be accepted by an increasingly unforgiving public in preparation for a possible referendum on the peace talks.

 

(Source: El Tiempo.)

(Source: El Tiempo.)

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Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | December 3, 2014

Decoding photos of opposing sides embracing.

General Alzate and FARC commander alias "Pablo Alape."

FARC commander “Pablo Alape” and General Alzate.

The photo above, of FARC Commander alias “Pastor Alape” (left) and General Rubén Darío Alzate (right), was taken as the general was released last Sunday. General Alzate was kidnapped by the FARC in Choco region and held captive for 15 days. He was the highest ranked military to have ever been kidnapped, which led President Santos to suspend talks until his release.

Many were not sure how legitimate was the photo above: The men, dressed as civilians, represent two opposing sides of Colombia’s conflict, and now, they appeared extending their arms as if to embrace. What were the true circumstances?

Days later, of the photo, General Alzate said he was forced to perform for the cameras. 

But what is spontaneous is the photo below, of a mother who lost her son in a FARC attack hugging a demobilized FARC member. Martha Luz Amorocho lost 20-year-old Alejandro when the FARC detonated bombs in El Nogal Club in Bogotá on February  7, 2003. The bombs left 36 people dead, and more than 200 wounded.

Martha Luz Amorocho, who lost her son in a terrorist attack, hugs a demobilized FARC member.

Martha Luz Amorocho, who lost her son in a terrorist attack, embraces a demobilized FARC member.

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | December 2, 2014

Traumatic experiences can be inherited through DNA.

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA.

The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies — stemming from life experiences — can be inherited. In the case of Colombia, three generations later, a child may inherit a predisposition toward depression caused by her grandmother having witnessed a massacre.

But chemical drugs to alter the brain can alter the DNA. Epigenetic medications might succeed in treating depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Or there is meditation. MRI scans documented how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter. Meditation thickened the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration.

With Colombia’s hope for a post-conflict society, healing traumatic experiences is a challenge to think about.

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | November 25, 2014

Afro-Colombian women, some of Colombia’s most vulnerable.

Disbelief. Shock. Sorrow. The feelings evoked by the photograph below, especially today; today is International Day to End Violence Against Women.

"Hello" magazine. December 2011.

“Hello” magazine. December 2011.

Afro-Colombian women are some of the most vulnerable of Colombia’s population. According to the Afro-descendent Women Human Rights Defenders Project:

  • Illiteracy is higher for Afro-Colombian women than white/ mestizo women (16.90% and 11.70% respectively).
  • Their life-expectancy is 11 years less than that of a white or mestizo women.
  • The Afro-descendent population endures more hunger (14.3%) than the white/mestizo population (6.11%)
  • Only 13.5% of Afro-Colombians have access to higher education.

The municipality of Tumaco, in southwestern Colombia, has roughly 200,000 residents, 89 percent Afro-Colombian. Slightly over half of the municipality’s population lives in the city of Tumaco, Colombia’s second-largest Pacific port. Human Rights Watch reported that FARC and paramilitary successor group members in Tumaco have attempted to make young women and teenage girls their girlfriends or sexual partners through threats and intimidation, according to relatives of the young women and a community leader. Some families have sent their daughters away from areas where these groups have a strong presence to protect them from potential sexual exploitation or abuse.

Afro-Colombians make up about 26 percent of Colombia’s population and represent at least 30 percent of the total number of internally-displaced persons. Many leave the countryside and their ancestral lands for the cities, which they presume to be safe. Many are vocal community activists whom paramilitary groups consider guerrillas and therefore their enemies. Many advocate against the recruitment of their children into armed groups.

Displaced women have special needs. They must take care of their children, becoming both mother and father, while living with the trauma of having lost their husbands. In the cities, they face discrimination when looking for a job. They often do not have the right skills needed for city jobs. The help offered to them by the state does not consider that women need special items such as diapers and feminine hygiene products.

 

It’s International Children’s Day today. Unfortunately, Colombian children do not have a State that speaks up for their rights. If the State did care about children’s rights, the Santos administration would require that the FARC release all children currently in their ranks.

I urge the Santos administration to demand the children’s release, alongside the release of General Alzate, whose kidnapping three days ago suspended the two-year-old peace talks between the Santos government and the FARC.

The children now in the FARC’s ranks are also kidnapped; adults have kidnapped their childhoods and stolen their lives. (See: What “volunteering” for FARC really means.)

What sort of government leadership demands the release of a high-ranking general but not of minors?

The FARC talk peace in Havana — but meanwhile, back in Colombia, the FARC are increasing their recruitment of children to boost their weakened fighting units, according to child welfare workers, officials and community leaders.

Luis Andrés Fajardo, of Colombia’s Sergio Arboleda University, said child recruitment is part of FARC policies, as per FARC documents he studied. He added the guerrilla does not recognize the Convention on the Rights of the Child as it was signed by the Colombian government and not by the FARC.

Forty-seven percent of the estimated 8,000 remaining members of the FARC joined the group as minors, said the recent study led by Fajardo.

Fajardo’s most shocking finding — children join the illegal armed groups with the intention to later demobilize and so be eligible to participate in the government’s rehabilitation program for former combatants, which includes therapy, schooling, and funding for a “life project.” This shows the work of state-building and post-conflict that is ahead for Colombia.

Schools in Colombia’s countryside are used for military operations and as recruiting grounds for drug cartels/ illegal armed groups. 

Landmines are also often found in schoolyards.

Colombia’s Institute of Forensic Medicine has embarked on a massive project to identify the remains of children from mass graves, hoping to find answers for some of the families of the more than 17,000 children who have gone missing in Colombia.

Most of the victims were child soldiers, taken by armed groups. Their families didn’t see them again until they appeared years later in mass graves or unmarked graves in cemeteries.

The video below was filmed by the FARC themselves, in December 2013, as negotiations were taking place in Havana.

The video below shows the FARC’s indoctrination of children and adolescents in the “José Maria Cordoba” training camp. Kids are taught to use Ak-47s and Galils to kill.

The training camp, known as an initiation, lasts one month. It tests the children’s mental alertness, physical strain, and their response to authority. From there, the best kids are selected to receive further training.

My book-in-progress is about my encounter with two former child soldiers in Colombia. You can read excerpts here and here.

 

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