Forwarded from Anthony (news from Colombia 2/19/01)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Feb 19 09:58:23 MST 2001

News from Colombia. February 19

1. Yesterday, the national police removed two of the three major roadblocks
on the highways linking the major cities of the interior with the Atlantic
Coast, and cutting the oil city of Barancabermeja from its connections with
the rest of the country.

Barrancabermeja is in the center of the "Magdelana Medio", the middle part
of the valley of the Rio Magdelena where the government has proposed to
initiate a "despeje" in which peace talks with the ELN could be held. The
area is contested between the ELN and the AUC. The AUC is the paramilitary
organization which acts as the extralegal armed force of the growers
associations, especially in the northern part of the country.

Magdalena medio has become a new center of coca production in the last few
years. Unlike in some other parts of the country, in Magdalena medio
production is tightly organized by the traditional landowners - and
protected by their extralegal armed force, the AUC.

Last week, the government began aerial fumigation of the coca crops in
Magdalena medio.

One of the seven demands of the organizations ostensibly leading the
roadblocks, "No al Despeje", is to end the fuimigations and replace them
with a program of crop eradication by hand. Ironically, this is the same
position advanced by the FARC in response to aerial fumigation in Putumayo
and other parts of the country.

Although police used tear gas, no major injuries were reported in either

The largest of the roadblocks still remains in place, with a reported
10,000 campesinos camped across the highway leading from Bucaramanga north
tot he Atlantic Coast.

2. Over the weekend efforts by Minister of Labor Angelino Garzon to mediate
the long strike at Bavaria brewery failed. Garzon says he will now submit
the dispute to binding arbitration. Union leaders have called for a
national assembly to decide on their next steps in the struggle.

3. Housing starts remain at half of their 1995 level: 7,007,218 square
meters in 2000, compared to 15,108,598 in 1995. This is despite three well
advertised efforts by the Pastrana administration to jump start
construction. The depression in the construction industry is generally felt
to be caused by: the investment of drug profits outside of the country, a
glut of existing housing on the market caused by previous speculative
investment of drug profits; and an unwillingness on the part of investors
generally to invest under conditions of war uncertainty.

4. A city council member of the town of Miranda in Cauca, and four others,
were assassinated yesterday after being stopped at an armed roadblock.

5. The bodies of seven youths were found in two separate groups in the
hills near the city of Soacha, a working class annex of Bogotá. Speculation
in the press is that the deaths are part of ongoing gang warfare in Soacha.

6. According to the ministry of the Interior, 1,500 FARC and ELN soldiers
have left the ranks of their organizations to "rejoin civil society" in the
last 18 months. According to the report, 450 were 'minors".

Louis Proyect
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