1. Ten wounded as Colombian Army fires on Civilians 2. Framing Colombia s war 3. Durbin will back anti-drug aid deal for Colombia 4. White House questions oilMessage 1 of 1 , Jun 21, 2000View Source1. Ten wounded as Colombian Army fires on Civilians
2. Framing Colombia's war
3. Durbin will back anti-drug aid deal for Colombia
4. White House questions oil companies on high gas prices
5. Rightists admit they kidnapped peace envoy's brother
6. Major oil field discovered in Colombia
Sunday, 18 June 2000, REUTERS
Ten Wounded As Colombian Army Fires on Civilians
BOGOTA - Colombian soldiers opened fire on civilians who drove through a road block in the northeast of the country early on Sunday, wounding 10 of them, a military official said.
Gen. Eduardo Santos, the army commander in the region, said soldiers fired a warning shot in the air before opening fire on the pickup truck and motorcycle near the town of Saravena in Arauca province at around 1:30 a.m.
``The patrol was forced to open fire, thinking that they were bandits that operate in the area,'' Santos said at a news conference with local media that was broadcast on national television.
The injured were taken to a hospital nearby and three underwent surgery for their wounds, Santos said.
He said that he would order an investigation and would punish the soldiers if any wrongdoing was found.
The army uses roadblocks to prevent the movements of rebels from the leftist groups fighting Colombia's three-decade-old internal war.
Guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups also set up their own roadblocks to kidnap travelers or search for enemy collaborators.
More than 35,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the past decade alone.
Copyright 2000 Reuters
June 14, 2000, MEDIACHANNEL.ORG
Framing Colombia's War
By Dennis Hans
In The New York Review of Books (April 27) veteran reporter Alma Guillermoprieto described the civil war in Colombia as a struggle "between the army and an irregular paramilitary force on one side and various armed left-wing organizations on the other. ..."
In The Miami Herald (April 21), former White House advisor Thomas "Mack" McLarty asserted that "the Colombian government is caught between rebel guerrillas on the left and paramilitaries on the right." McLarty echoed Mike Wallace, who on December 5 explained to "60 Minutes" viewers that President Andrés Pastrana and his armed forces are battling "left-wing guerrillas" and "right-wing death squads."
One nation, two news frames. Is the Colombian army fighting both the left and the right, or is it teaming up with right-wing paramilitary death squads to fight the left? This is a critical question for reporters, commentators, human rights groups, policy makers and the public. How the crisis is understood will determine the shape of the aid package that emerges from the U.S. Congress. How the crisis is framed will determine how it is understood.
The McLarty-Wallace frame suggests the Clinton administration is right to earmark 80 percent of its $1.6 billion aid request for the Colombian security forces. The Guillermoprieto frame suggests this is not the best way to intensify our already deep involvement in Colombia's four interrelated wars: civil, dirty, propaganda and drug.
Those who have taken sides in the aid issue are very aware of the importance of the frame. These days, money to fight the drug war "to protect our children" is an easier sell in Congress than money to fight Colombia's civil war. Aid proponents play up this angle and have had great success in getting U.S. media to play along, as Peter Hart of FAIR has reported.
U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey, in a March 2 Boston Globe column, played up the "drug war." But he also appealed to readers' democratic values by framing the crisis in these terms: Colombia's citizens are "caught in the crossfire between twenty thousand guerrillas, six thousand paramilitary terrorists, and national democratic forces trying to defend an elected government."
Who could object to tripling aid to "national democratic forces"? McCaffrey has his boss's gift for using language not to inform but to mislead. He knows Colombia well, having called the shots for the U.S. Southern Command from 1994 to 1996. He knows, but doesn't say boo in the op-ed, about the security forces' substantial, direct contribution to the civilian death toll in the early to mid-1990s and their continuing culpability through collaboration with the paramilitaries. He knows about the impunity with which the "national democratic forces" perpetrate or facilitate such crimes. But he would make a mockery of his euphemism were he to acknowledge what he knows.
All the actors in the Colombian drama have vested interests in seeing their frame cast as reality. It should be the role of the news media to assess the validity of the conflicting frames. Particularly in the U.S., where major media are often too willing to follow the administration's lead, if the official frame doesn't conform to the facts, journalists need to say so then go construct an accurate picture so their readers and viewers can best fulfill their duties as citizens in a democracy.
If the journalists can't find easy answers, that's what they should report. When partisans present their frames in a news media context in editorials, interviews, op-eds and news reports it becomes increasingly difficult for the reader to recognize that the reality described may be constructed. Not out of bricks, but whole cloth.
Colombia's civil war, now in its 36th year, has a long, complex history. In the last decade, say human rights groups, political violence has claimed about 35,000 lives. Some victims were combatants killed in action, but most were civilians or surrendered fighters executed at close range. All parties to the conflict have dismal human rights records, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), Amnesty International, the U.N. and even the U.S. State Department.
These monitors have noted a dramatic shift in recent years, as civilian killings by government forces have declined dramatically at the same time that killings by right-wing paramilitary death squads have skyrocketed. According to the CCJ, in 1999 paramilitaries committed 78 percent of the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, state forces just two percent, and the guerrillas (who remain world leaders in kidnapping and extortion) 20 percent. HRW reported in April that the Colombian government's "Public Advocate recorded over 400 massacres" in 1999, most of them "perpetrated by paramilitaries working with the tacit acquiescence or open support of the Colombian Army."
But throughout the editorial pages, who is killing and being killed, why and in what numbers remain mysteries:
o The Los Angeles Times, which twice has editorialized in favor of aid (March 27, May 18), erroneously attributed the 35,000 political deaths in the 1990s to "drug-related violence" (March 27).
o The New York Times' Thomas Friedman endorsed aid in an April 11 piece that alleged 32,000 war-related deaths in 1999 alone. Neither the influential columnist nor his editors realized he had confused Colombia's astronomical homicide rate with political killings.
o On April 26 The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by Brent Scowcroft and Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.), co-chairs of an "independent task force" on Colombia sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Inter-American Dialogue. (A Y2K version of the 1980s Kissinger Commission on Central America, the task force is bipartisan in the sense that one co-chair is a Republican hawk, the other a Democratic hawk.) They wrote, "Since 1990, Colombia's growing guerrilla insurgency has murdered 35,000 of its own citizens."
In their zeal to sell the aid, Scowcroft and Graham distorted the "Interim Report" (IR) they themselves penned for the task force. The IR stated that "Armed conflict has killed more than 35,000 Colombians in the past decade," which is not quite right, given the preponderance of executions outside of combat. Still, it's a far cry from the ludicrous claim in the op-ed that 35,000 have been "murdered" by the "guerrilla insurgency." While the column is crude propaganda, the IR is slick. Thus it takes care not to apportion blame for those deaths or explore links between the army and the paramilitaries, for to do so would call into question the co-chairs' recommendations. Interestingly, the best informed member of the task force, former HRW associate director Cynthia Arnson, did not sign the IR.
Perhaps editors shouldn't be held accountable for the (un)reality constructed on opinion pages. But this happens on the "news" side as well, where frames are created through headlines, unattributed remarks and the editing process.
The Amazing Mr. Wallace -----------------------
Perhaps the most remarkable pro-aid piece is the "60 Minutes" segment cited above. It made no mention of links between the paramilitaries and the army, and claimed the army would crack down on the death squads if only it weren't so "weak." Wallace said the guerrillas earn $500 million a year taxing drug growers and traffickers and thus have little incentive to negotiate. Viewers might easily have inferred that rebels who have been fighting for decades were in this for the money. When Pastrana said he thought the guerrillas were sincere and wanted to participate in a "democratic process," he came across as naive all the more reason to triple U.S. aid to the military before this good, if gullible, guy gives away the store.
CBS permitted C-SPAN to air the unedited 80-minute interview Wallace conducted with Pastrana and his wife. Here's what didn't make the "60 Minutes" final cut:
o Wallace telling Pastrana it is "common knowledge" in Bogotá that when the armed forces want to get rid of someone, they have the paramilitaries do it for them. Snip.
o Pastrana disputing Wallace's repeated contentions that the guerrillas had as good or better weapons (including surface-to-air missiles) than the government; Pastrana insisting the armed forces' had a big advantage in the air and on the rivers. Snip.
o Pastrana explaining what happened the last time a faction of the main guerrilla force, the FARC, laid down their arms and participated in electoral politics via the Union Patriotica (UP): Over several years, thousands of UP activists, including candidates and elected officials, were murdered by the political right. Snip.
o Mrs. Pastrana volunteering that the rebels were committed to "social justice." Snip.
"60 Minutes" made a much stronger case for aid than Pastrana himself.
(See my other reports on this "60 Minutes" segment and CBS, which has been so pro-Pastrana I've suggested the Columbia Broadcasting System has merged with the Colombia government.)
Several weeks before Wallace's interview, Tim Golden reported in The New York Times (Sept. 15, 1999) that "a secret assessment by American intelligence recently estimated that the rebels' profits from the drug trade ranged from perhaps $30 million to $100 million a year far less than the amounts cited publicly by some officials, including McCaffrey."
Perhaps that secret assessment is too low. Still, it comes from a source U.S. intelligence that is hostile to the rebels. Is the $500 million figure bandied about by U.S. officials and cited by Wallace a good-faith estimate that may be a bit high, or a fanciful concoction by officials advocating a like amount for aid to the Colombian military? That's a question journalists need to answer for confused reader-viewers, who can't be sure which figure to believe.
Confusion is bound to be the case when the news consumer is faced with a single article with two conflicting frames. In an April 13 New York Times story headlined "Lott Assures Colombian President on $1.6 Billion to Fight Drugs," Elizabeth Becker reported in the lead that the funds would "help train and equip Colombian security forces to fight the drug war." But in the middle of her story she quotes one of the most informed senators on Colombia, Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), as follows: "What we are seeing is a dramatic ratcheting up of a counterinsurgency policy in the name of counter-drug policy."
Is the proposed aid to fight a "drug war," as the headline and lead declare, or is "drug war" a rhetorical device to trick the U.S. Congress into escalating a civil war? Is there truth in both frames? How does The Times decide that the official U.S.-Colombia line gets the headline while the skeptic's view is confined to fine print?
The Skeptical Mr. Frankel -------------------------
Former Times executive editor Max Frankel is so concerned about drug-war coverage he issued this "media alert" to editors and TV producers: "It would be unwise to expect trustworthy information from Washington" about the drug war. After explaining how the drug and civil wars are linked, he asserted that "The terrorism of left- and right-wing guerrillas and the efforts of the army and the police to pursue them have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Colombians each year." (The New York Times Magazine, April 30)
It's a bad sign when someone who sees himself as a skeptic frames Colombia precisely as McCaffrey would. Before writing another sentence about the security forces' efforts to "pursue" right-wing paramilitaries, Frankel should read the May 15 and May 22 Reuters dispatches from Puerto Asis in southern Colombia, where a government offensive is imminent.
Drug crops in the area were first fumigated in 1996, sparking "violent peasant marches," Karl Penhaul reports. "The government later reneged on a deal to help peasants switch to legal crops and improve local infrastructure. Since then government forces and paramilitary gangs have killed many of the march organizers."
The local paramilitary's second in command is a "former Colombian special forces sergeant who frequently trained alongside U.S. Special Forces Rangers and Navy SEALs during his eight years in the military. ... About 20 of the senior paramilitary commanders in [the department of] Putumayo previously held ranks in the police or army ranging from corporal to at least lieutenant. ..." The paramilitary group announced its 1998 arrival in Puerto Asis "with a string of massacres and selective assassinations of suspected rebel sympathizers and peasant leaders." Today it "patrols in downtown Puerto Asis under the very nose of a sizable police detachment and the army's 24th brigade."
According to reporter Penhaul, such is the cozy relationship on the ground between paramilitary terrorists and McCaffrey's "national democratic forces" a relationship neatly summed up by Human Rights Watch in its book "Colombia's Killer Networks": "a sophisticated mechanism, in part supported by years of advice, training, weaponry, and official silence by the United States, that allows the Colombian military to fight a dirty war and Colombian officialdom to deny it. The price: thousands of dead, disappeared, maimed, and terrorized Colombians."
That passage was penned in 1996, but HRW Colombia specialist Robin Kirk told me it holds true for today.
Before we intervene further in Colombia, we need a national debate. But first we need an honest framework for that debate. To bring this about, the news media must parse the picture of Colombia painted by the Clinton administration, and make a concerted effort to distinguish what the administration believes from what it says it believes. And readers must recognize that the news media are themselves choosing sides when they accept or reject certain frames.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer and an occasional adjunct professor of mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.
Copyright 2000 Mediachannel.org
Tuesday, 20 June 2000, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Durbin will back anti-drug aid deal for Colombia
By Deirdre Shesgreen
WASHINGTON - After getting a firsthand look at anti-drug efforts in Colombia, Sen. Dick Durbin said he will support a $ 1.6 billion aid package to help wipe out the massive coca fields that cover that South American country and feed America's cocaine addicts.
"This is front and center," said Durbin, D-Ill, explaining why he made a visit over the weekend to Colombia, which was sponsored by a Senate committee. One other senator, Jack Reed, D-R.I., also made the trip.
The Senate could take up the proposal - pushed by the Clinton administration - as early as today.
Durbin said he still has reservations about President Bill Clinton's proposal, arguing that it needs to be linked to human rights protections and supplemented with domestic drug treatment efforts. "It's naive to think (the aid package) will be enough," Durbin said.
Human rights activists and other critics have expressed concern about the spending bill, saying it would draw the United States into the long-running civil strife that has plagued Colombia. Leftist guerrilla groups control a segment of the country, and they are heavily involved in drug trafficking.
"The military capabilities available to the insurgent groups and the drug traffickers have become very sophisticated, so much so that the government doesn't have the upper hand," said Christian Maisch, an assistant professor of international relations at American University in Washington.
Maisch noted that right-wing paramilitary groups have sprouted up in response to the left-wing groups, and both sides have been accused of committing extortion, killings, kidnappings and other grave human rights violations.
Durbin was a co-sponsor of an amendment to the legislation that would require the government to prosecute human rights cases in civilian courts, rather than military courts. The amendment would also boost funding for human rights monitoring, prosecution of cases, and strengthening the country's criminal justice system.
Durbin supports another amendment that would redirect $ 225 million of the package to fund drug-abuse programs in the United States.
On his trip, Durbin met with President Andres Pastrana, as well as with human rights officials and members of a Catholic church group.
A spokesman for Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., said he was still studying the proposal. A spokesman for Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., said Ashcroft supports the drug interdiction efforts but has concerns that the price tag on the aid package is too high. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., was not available for comment, but he voted for the measure in committee.
Copyright 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
White House questions oil companies on high gas prices
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Trade Commission has opened a formal investigation into soaring gasoline prices in some areas of the Midwest and will begin issuing subpoenas to oil companies by the end of the week, congressional sources said Tuesday.
FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky told some members of the Illinois congressional delegation that price spikes in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas and elsewhere are "sufficiently questionable" to warrant formal investigation into possible price gouging and collusion, according to one legislators present.
"The fact that they're moving forward with this investigation will be a clear signal to the oil companies to bring down prices immediately," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who was among those who met with Pitofsky on Capitol Hill.
At the request of the Clinton administration, the FTC has been conducting an informal inquiry for the past week into gasoline price increases in the Midwest. Until now the agency's actions amounted to informal fact-finding, with no threat of subpoenas.
Durbin said Pitofsky told him and other Illinois lawmakers that now the agency will pursue a formal investigation and begin issuing subpoenas by the end of the week to companies connected with the refining, distribution and sale of gasoline.
Vice President Al Gore, citing reports of huge profits by the oil companies this year, said "the circumstances clearly warrant a broadened investigation to see if there is collusion." While Gore suggested that he would like to see the FTC probe focus beyond the Midwest, indications were that the agency at least initially would confine its investigation to the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, where prices have risen well beyond $2 a gallon.
Pitofsky was unavailable for comment.
The White House, trying to stem political fallout in pivotal Midwest states, had foreshadowed an investigation earlier Tuesday. It said industry arguments blaming new environmental rules for the soaring prices don't "stand the test of logic" and that more investigation of oil company practices was needed.
While Durbin and some other Democrats hailed the FTC decision to pursue the matter, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., questioned whether the agency has enough evidence to start a formal investigation. He said the administration appears to be looking for ways to blame the oil companies.
Industry executives have strongly criticized suggestions that companies are in collusion or gouging customers. They blame price increases on market conditions, tight supplies, transportation problems and complications in refining newly required cleaner-burning gasoline.
Gore also asked Environment Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to meet with governors of states most affected by high pump prices, including those from Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, to see how gas price problems might be eased. Several governors have urged the EPA to lift new requirements for cleaner gasoline.
In Indiana, Gov. Frank O'Bannon suspended the state sales tax on gasoline for 60 days. The reduction is expected to cut gas prices by about a dime, he said.
Oil analysts anticipate agreement on only modest increases in oil production by the OPEC nations meeting today and predict that any action will fall short of what is needed to drive down gas prices, which have risen as high as $2.33 a gallon for regular grade in Chicago. The administration was quietly trying to persuade OPEC oil ministers to increase crude oil production at the meeting in Vienna.
The Energy Department's weekly survey showed that the cost of gasoline nationally increased 5 cents a gallon from last week to $1.68, a record high for a fourth week in a row. Minnesota's average price was $1.79, according to the American Automobile Association of Minneapolis, an increase of 12 cents from last week.
According to AAA's report Tuesday, which put the national average at $1.64, Minnesota had the eighth-highest price average in the nation. Six of the seven states with higher averages were in the Midwest -- Michigan, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
"There is gouging on the part of the large oil companies," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, scheduled a hearing next week on the administration's response to rising gas prices and asked Richardson, Browner and Pitofsky to testify.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a former oil man now running for president, stepped carefully around the price gouging issue.
"I think it's important to find out whether it's true or not," he said. "I'd like to know all of the facts."
Wednesday, 21 June 2000, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Rightists admit they kidnapped peace envoy's brother
By Jared Kotler
BOGOTA -- Rightist paramilitary gangs admitted Wednesday to kidnapping a government peace envoy's brother, saying "extreme measures" were needed to prevent the handing over of Colombia to leftist guerrillas.
National paramilitary boss Carlos Castano said in a radio interview that he sent the gunmen who seized Guillermo Valencia, brother of peace negotiator Fabio Valencia, after a deadly shootout Monday in the western city of Medellin.
"We're not trying to force the resignation of Mr. Valencia as government negotiator, nor create obstacles to the negotiating process," said the communique Castano read on RCN radio. "But we do seek to stop the continuing and progressive handover of the country to the guerrillas."
Castano said he would free his hostage a lawmaker in Antioquia state and a member of a powerful political family once he's convinced the government is looking after the interests of "honest Colombians", not the rebels, in the peace process.
Castano was echoing the feelings of many Colombians who believe President Andres Pastrana has been too generous in trying to forge peace with two large rebel bands fighting the government.
Pastrana withdrew his troops in November 1998 from a large southern region now openly controlled by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. He recently agreed to create a similar troop-free zone in the north to jumpstart talks with the smaller National Liberation Army, or ELN.
There have been no significant rebel concessions in return, and guerrilla attacks and kidnappings continue throughout the country.
Castano, whose estimated 6,000 fighters combat the rebels largely by killing alleged civilian supporters, demanded that Fabio Valencia the government envoy produce a report showing what has been gained by making so many concessions to the rebels.
The Colombian people "can come to their own conclusions," Castano said.
Castano said he targeted Valencia's family because of conciliatory remarks the official made during a recent trip to Spain in which he appeared with a senior FARC commander at a peace conference.
Valencia's statement give the impression that the FARC "are the good guys, and the rest of the Colombians are very bad," Castano said.
The abduction of Guillermo Valencia was the third high-profile political kidnapping carried out by Castano in the past year and a half.
In January, 1999, he seized four human rights workers from a nongovernment agency in Medellin, claiming they were serving as guerrilla propagandists. Four months later, he kidnapped a left-leaning senator. The human rights workers and Sen. Piedad Cordoba were later freed unharmed.
Analysts believe Castano is trying to obtain a place in the peace negotiations, something both rebel groups vehemently oppose. Pastrana has indicated he might eventually negotiate with the landowner-backed rightists, but only at a later stage in the process.
Copyright 2000 Associated Press
Tuesday, 20 June 2000, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Major oil field discovered in Colombia
BOGOTA -- A major oil field has been discovered in Colombia, the country's state oil firm Ecopetrol announced Monday.
The "Guando" field is believed to have 200 million barrels of unproven reserves, the company statement said.
The find, said Ecopetrol president Alberto Calderon, "is important and needed," adding that such a large field had not been discovered here since the 1980s.
Located some 30 miles (70 kilometers) southwest of the capital, the field was discovered by a consortium made up of Brazil's Petrobras Colombia, Canada's Canadian Petroleum Colombia and Ecopetrol.
According to the statement, initial output from test wells is at 350 barrels a day and shows the field's crude is of high quality, with a low sulfur content.
Calderon said he expected the field to be in full production by next year, generating an additional 600 million dollars a year for the country.
Colombian oil reserves are currently at more than one billion barrels, Ecopetrol said.
Copyright 2000 Agence France Presse