Regime Initiates Witch Hunt Against National Opposition Figures

News from Colombia | on: Saturday, 24 May 2008

Colombian authorities have announced plans to open legal proceedings against senior opposition politicians from the 'Democratic Pole' and Liberal parties in a crude attempt to silence opposition and divert attention away from a growing scandal that has seen over 30 pro-government Congress members jailed for links to paramilitaries and drugs traffickers. Two Senators, a Congressman and a newspaper editor are among those being targeted for alleged links to leftwing FARC rebels.

The May 22nd announcement by Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguaran seemed designed to specifically target those that had been involved in recent negotiations to free politicians that the FARC had detained. The negotiations, in which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was heavily involved, led to the FARC unilaterally releasing six of their captives.

Liberal Party Senator Piedad Cordoba and opposition newspaper editor Carlos Lozano, both of whom were authorised by the Colombian Government to work on freeing the hostages, were two of those targeted in Thursday's announcement.

Others targeted included Senator Gloria Ramirez and Congressman Wilson Borja, both former trade union leaders who represent the 'Democratic Pole' political party in the Colombian Congress and are outspoken critics of President Uribe and his regime. The Democratic Pole came second in the 2006 presidential elections and since then has been the most vocal source of opposition to Uribe.

Another Uribe critic, former Minister and presidential candidate Alvaro Leyva, and Lazaro Viveros, the peace adviser to the 1998-2002 administration of President Andres Pastrana, were also targeted as were journalist William Parra and trade unionist Liliana Patricia Obando.

In a further twist the Colombian Government also announced that four foreign citizens were also being targeted: James C. Jones, a US academic and consultant for the Democratic Party who has been involved in efforts to free three US defence department contractors being held by the FARC, Maria Augusta Calle, an Ecuadorian journalist, Ivan Larrea, another Ecuadorian and Amilkar Figueroa, a Venezuelan parliamentarian.

The Colombian Government said that the evidence against all of those involved would be based on documents found on a laptop computer captured during a raid on the camp of FARC guerrilla commander Raul Reyes. However, an examination of the laptop by specialist investigators from Interpol found that the Colombian security forces had tampered with the computer and that some 48,000 files had been "created, accessed, modified or deleted" during its time in their custody making it almost impossible to legitimately introduce it as evidence "in a judicial proceeding".

The US citizen involved, James Jones, told the Associated Press (AP) that he considers the accusations "ludicrous" and said that his contact with FARC were purely mediation efforts aimed at trying to win the release of those being held by the guerrillas. "I look at this and I laugh" Jones was quoted as saying.

Lazaro Viveros also told AP that he had met with the FARC on three occasions "with the full knowledge of the government" in an effort to "push for a prisoner swap". Meanwhile Senator Cordoba called the whole process an "attack on reason" and claimed that the Government were attempting to divert attention away from their own problems by creating a "smoke screen". Carlos Lozano described it as "an effort to undermine those working for peace in Colombia".

The announcement came as the Uribe regime is under intense pressure as a result of the so-called 'para-politica' scandal that has seen over 30 pro-Uribe members of Congress jailed on charges of colluding with rightwing paramilitaries. The scandal has also recently exposed how members of Congress were bribed to support a congressional vote that allowed Uribe to seek re-election in 2006.

All of those named now have to wait to hear what the specific charges against them are, though there is concern that the regime may attempt to imprison some or all of them in an effort to silence a number of their loudest critics.

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