Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good neighbours?

Good neighbours?

Published: June 08, 2010

Foreign Direct Investment

Haiti and the Dominican Republic have endured a fraught relationship over the past 200 years, but could the latter’s response to the former’s recent earthquake lead to a more mutually beneficial partnership in the future? Michael Deibert investigates.

(Read the original article here)

When an earthquake devastated a large section of Haiti in January, no country responded more empathically than the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Despite what has been an often stormy and distrustful relationship between the two countries – due in large part to the many Haitian occupations of the Dominican Republic, as well as the long history of abuses committed against the almost 1 million Haitians living in the Dominican Republic – Dominicans almost immediately began fundraising drives and gathered supplies. These were then ferried across the border to Haiti by a combination of local relief organisations and ordinary citizens.

“I had been visiting Haiti for such a long time, and have such good friends over there, that I knew I had to do my best to help,” says Juan Pablo Fernandez, president of Químicos & Plásticos, a Dominican company that supplies raw materials to the industries of both nations. After the earthquake, Mr Fernandez and his employees joined other Dominican businesses in transporting privately donated relief supplies to Haiti’s stricken capital, Port-au-Prince.

The Dominican response to the earthquake just might have eased some of the mutual recrimination brought on by an oft-tragic shared history stretching back two centuries.

In 1822, then Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer invaded the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. Despite this, country succeeded in declaring its independence in 1844. Another Haitian leader, Faustin Soulouque, who would go on to declare himself emperor of Haiti, then invaded the Dominican Republic twice.

In 1937, following the expulsion of Haitian cane cutters by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, even more Haitian labourers flooded the Dominican Republic, then led by dictator Rafael Trujillo, who would rule the country from 1930 until his murder in 1961. That October, under Mr Trujillo’s orders and for reasons that still remain unclear, Dominican soldiers and police massacred an estimated 20,000 Haitians.

Haitians continue to stream into the Dominican Republic looking for work today, even though they continue to face “severe discrimination”, according to the 2009 Human Rights Report issued by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. But though both countries have experienced authoritarian regimes and high levels of corruption, their economic and investment portfolios paint a markedly different picture, analysts say, especially over the past two decades.

Revealing data

Before the earthquake, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, the GDP real growth rate for the Dominican Republic was 1.8% during 2009, and the GDP per capita was $8300. In Haiti, these figures were 2% and $1300, respectively. While average life expectancy for the Dominican Republic is 73 years, the figure in Haiti is just 57 years. To add to Haiti’s woes, according to its government’s Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment, the damage bill from January’s earthquake was in the region of $7.9bn.

While two-thirds of Dominican exports remain bound for the US, foreign remittances, mostly from the US, continue to account for nearly one-tenth of the country’s GDP, and there remains a robust tourism industry. Boasting the largest economy in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic currently has approximately 50 free trade zone parks, producing everything from textiles to electronic devices and pharmaceuticals. The country’s financial sector has also largely stabilised since the collapse of its second-largest bank, Banco Intercontinental, in 2003, which had to be bailed out by the Dominican treasury at a cost of some $2.2bn.

“Business is increasing on a daily basis [in the Dominican Republic] and there is much optimism,” says Aryam Vázquez, an economist who covers country risk for Wells Fargo’s emerging markets unit in New York. “The banking sector is much better regulated than in the past, and we have seen concerted efforts by successive governments to stabilise the domestic demand market.”

Across the border

Before the earthquake, Haiti seemed to be regaining some of its financial footing following the chaotic presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide between 2001 and 2004 and the often erratic rule of the interim government that replaced him. Relations between Dominican president Leonel Fernández, in office since August 2004, and Haitian president René Préval, who has governed since May 2006, are said to be warm. During their mutual first term in office in the 1990s, Mr Fernández made the first official state visit by a Dominican leader to Haiti since the 1937 massacres.

Political instability in Haiti has led to environmental degradation and economic atrophy. While Haiti was ruled by a series of ravenous civilian and military dictatorships for much of the past 50 years, Joaquín Balaguer, a long-time Trujillo consigliere who led a series of authoritarian governments in the Dominican Republic over the past half-century, was taking steps to prevent the country from sliding into the environmental disaster that was befalling Haiti, including using the Dominican army to prevent extensive deforestation. Haiti, on the other hand, has lost 90% of its tree cover over the past 60 years (and about one-tenth between 1990 and 2000), with the resulting erosion destroying two-thirds of the country’s arable farmland.

Hope beyond the despair

Despite such statistics, there is hope that out of the tragedy of January’s earthquake there lies an opportunity to help Haiti advance beyond the modest improvements in economic stability and security of recent years.

Haiti’s garment industry, once a pillar of its economy, has benefitted in recent years from measures that provided certain Haitian textiles with duty-free status when entering the US. Last year, Haitian firm the WIN Group, along with the Soros Economic Development Fund, announced their intention to construct a $45m industrial park in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil slum region, a project that has been put on hold in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The OTF Group, a competitiveness consulting firm, has continued to advocate for the creation of “growth clusters” around Haiti, a proposal that fits closely with the Haitian government’s desire for decentralisation, economic diversification and the “decongestion” of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, rather than rebuilding as before.

Such measures might well provide a possible future at home for the Haitians currently living in the Dominican Republic and spell a less fractious new era for two nations whose economic destinies, despite frequent tensions, remain inextricably linked.

Trinidad’s gas sector declines

Trinidad’s gas sector declines

June 08, 2010

By Michael Deibert

Foreign Direct Investment

(Read the original article here)

As supplies of liquefied natural gas dry up in Trinidad and Tobago, the industry’s future on the islands is in doubt.

Once the top supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the US, the Caribbean dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has seen the growth in its production of this lucrative fuel decline sharply in recent years.

The lack of forward motion has led to speculation about possible future paths for developing the sector.

In the years following the country’s first LNG investment in 1996, Trinidad and Tobago’s export capacity grew substantially and reached some 14.7 million tonnes of LNG per year by 2005.

The Atlantic LNG Company of Trinidad and Tobago, owned by the state and the local subsidiaries of LNG giants BG Group, BP, Repsol YPF and Suez, operates an LNG plant at Point Fortin, in Trinidad’s south-west, and four liquefaction trains, including one currently measured as the largest in operation in the world. Plans to develop a fifth train have as yet not materialised.

The battle for Trinidad’s recent general election focused more attention on the government’s approach to developing this most lucrative of natural resources.

In the run-up to the May 24 election, incumbent prime minister Patrick Manning, a trained geologist, put an increased focus on industrial facilities in addition to LNG development.

The fate of the country’s reserves became a political football in Mr Manning’s electoral struggle against former attorney general Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Mr Manning’s People’s National Movement, which had governed the nation since 2001, lost the election to Mr Persad-Bissessar’s United National Congress party.

[Note: The UNC won the May 24 elections]

Since a peak in 2002, the country’s gas reserves have declined by more than a quarter, with a notice­able drop-off in exploration. Three years ago, Houston-based consulting firm Ryder Scott issued a report warning of declining natural gas reserves in the country.

A recent report from liquid flow measurement specialists Badger Meter Inc suggested that, while by 2014 Trinidad will only provide 0.49% of all oil demand in the Latin American region, its LNG output, which formed 19.83% of the region’s supply last year, will continue to contribute an impressive 19.12% by 2014.

There are, however, thought to be substantial undiscovered LNG reserves in the country’s shallow and deep waters. Mr Manning told a political rally in Trinidad in May that 62% of the nation’s reserves are still unexplored.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Michael Deibert interviewed on KPFK Pacifica Radio

I was interviewed today about my recent trip to Colombia on Suzi Weissman's show Beneath The Surface on KPFK Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles. My segment begins at about the 40 minute mark and can be heard here. For more background on the current situation in Colombia, please read my articles from the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia and from Medellín.

The Face of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

(A bird mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. Photo by Charlie Riedel of the Associated Press.)

Most things are never meant.
This won't be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.

- Philip Larkin, "Going, Going"

Friday, June 04, 2010

Human Rights Defender Floribert Chebeya Bahizire Killed in Democratic Republic of Congo

"Floribert Chebeya was killed in circumstances which strongly suggest official responsibility," U.N. investigator for extrajudicial executions Philip Alston said in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.

(Please read my article, Congo: Between Hope and Despair, originally published in the Summer 2008 edition of the World Policy Journal and providing background of the conflict in the DRC, here)

DR Congo: Prominent Human Rights Defender Killed

Joint Government and UN Inquiry Needed into Death of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire

June 3, 2010

Human Rights Watch

(Read the original release here)

(New York) - The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should urgently open a credible and transparent investigation with United Nations assistance into the death of the prominent human rights defender, Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, Human Rights Watch said today.

Chebeya's body was found on June 1, 2010, soon after he had visited police headquarters in Kinshasa. On June 2, the Kinshasa police chief, Jean de Dieu Oleko, announced that Chebeya's death resulted from a criminal act and that the police were investigating. Chebeya's driver, Fidèle Bazana Edadi, is still missing.

"Floribert Chebeya's shocking death is a serious blow for human rights in the Congo," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The announced police investigation needs UN help if it is to be credible and transparent and bring all those responsible to justice."

Chebeya was the executive director of one of Congo's largest and most respected human rights organizations, the Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), based in Kinshasa, the capital. He was among Congo's most vocal human rights defenders, regularly exposing abuses by the country's security services and the government over many years.

Over the years, Chebeya had been threatened and intimidated repeatedly by Congolese authorities as a result of his work. In recent weeks, he had reported that he believed he again was under surveillance by the security services.

On June 1, Chebeya received a telephone call requesting his presence at the office of the inspector general of the national police, Gen. John Numbi, his colleagues told UN officials. He left his office at 5 p.m. to attend the meeting. A few hours later he contacted his family and said he was still waiting at the police inspectorate, but after 9 p.m. all communication stopped.

On June 2, the police said that Chebeya had been found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of Kinshasa. By midday on June 2, a police account implying that Chebeya's body had been found in the back seat of his car with used condoms and a sexual stimulant was circulated to journalists and others in Kinshasa, though no investigation had begun.

The authorities initially refused requests by Chebeya's family and UN human rights officials for access to the body. Today a family member, a colleague, and UN representatives were allowed to visit the morgue on the condition that they could not touch the body. They identified Chebeya and noticed a medium-size bandage on his forehead, apparently covering a wound. The rest of his body was covered with a sheet, which was not removed during the visit.

"The Chebeya family's very limited access to his body and conflicting police statements about the cause of death raise serious concerns about what really happened," said Van Woudenberg. "These irregularities indicate there may already be an attempt to cover up the truth."

Human rights defenders and journalists in Congo have faced increasing risks as a result of their work. Previous assaults and killings have rarely been properly investigated or those responsible brought to justice.

On July 31, 2005, Pascal Kabungulu Kibembi, a human rights defender, was shot dead at his home in Bukavu, in eastern Congo. His death was followed by the killing of two well known Radio Okapi journalists, Serge Maheshe in June 2007 and Didace Namujimbo in November 2008, also in Bukavu. In November 2005, Franck Ngyke, a journalist, and his wife, Hélène Mpaka, were murdered outside their home in Kinshasa. The investigations and subsequent trials into each of these killings were led by the Congolese military authorities and were marred by serious irregularities.

Human Rights Watch urged the minister of justice and human rights to create a commission of inquiry immediately, including Congolese and UN officials, as well as a representative from the Congolese human rights community, to investigate the death of Chebeya.

"The Congolese authorities should take every possible step to bring Chebeya's killers to justice and not repeat the botched investigations of the past," Van Woudenberg said. "UN and Congolese human rights officials should play a role to ensure that the government investigation is genuine and not merely for show."

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Like Colombia, Iconic City Remains a Place of Promise and Peril

Like Colombia, Iconic City Remains a Place of Promise and Peril

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

(Read the original article here)

Medellín, COLOMBIA , Jun 3, 2010 (IPS) - The homes of the barrio of Comuna 13, tightly packed improvised brick and concrete structures that take on a semi- rural nature the closer one gets to the murky swift-moving Río Cauca, blanket the hills of the western edge of this city of 2.5 million.

A district of some 135,000 inhabitants, Comuna 13 represents the complicated renaissance of a city famed for producing both Colombia's most famous painter (Fernando Botero) and the world's most notorious drug trafficker (Pablo Escobar).

Abutting this grindingly poor area is the Parque Biblioteca José Luis Arroyave, a sparkling new multipurpose complex that features a library, an exhibition hall and a community- run cafeteria. Within view of its doors, a new metrocable system ferries commuters to and from their hillside dwellings at dizzying heights in a series of cable-propelled eight-passenger pods, cutting travel time for community residents in half.

"In a zone very affected by violence and poverty, we wanted to organise this project and work trying to reclaim public space and benefit the population here," says Mauricio Mejía, who works with the Proyecto Urbano Integral, an urban development project based on similar initiatives in Brasil and originally spearheaded by Medellín's former mayor, Sergio Fajardo.

Along with the city's former director of urban projects, Alejandro Echeverri, in 2009 Fajardo - in office from 2003 until 2007 and currently running for vice president on a ticket with former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus - was awarded the Curry Stone Design Prize, an eminent architectural award that cited the duo's "bold and ambitious public works plan" for Medellín as having "helped revitalise its poorest neighbourhoods".

The award set out for particular commendation the city's 42,200-square-foot Orquideorama (a botanical garden topped by a wooden meshwork roof somewhat resembling unfurling flowers), and the nearly-prehistoric looking obsidian Parque Biblioteca España.

However, Medellín continues to exist as a paradox: On one hand a lush, green city vibrating with life and stunning modern architecture, and on the other hand a place of frightened people who speak in whispers of criminals they refuse to even name. And it has remained quite a deadly place for many of its inhabitants.

During the first three months of 2010, Medellín's murder rate increased 54.8 percent from the previous year. Only steps away from the Parque Biblioteca and in other barrios around the city, drug gangs continue to dominate, the fallout, many locals say, of an incomplete or ineffective demobilisation process of the country's ring-wing paramilitary groups undertaken by the government of outgoing President Álvaro Uribe.

"This is a war where impunity reigns," says a church worker who has been active in Medellín's poorest neighbourhoods for many years and who did not wish to be named. "There is silence, fear, and people can't talk about what's going on."

An umbrella group of paramilitary factions, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), were formed by Carlos Castaño in 1997 and thereafter acted as a ruthless counterpoint to the Colombian state's war against Colombia's two rebel groups, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the smaller Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). During the most violent years of Colombia's civil war, it was the AUC, not the Colombian army, that succeeded in driving the FARC and ELN from the comunas around Medellín.

Linked to dozens of massacres throughout the country, the AUC began a demobilisation process in 2002 whereby significantly reduced sentences were offered in exchange for paramilitary members confessing their crimes, making amends with their victims and ceasing criminal activities. Castaño himself was murdered in April 2004, allegedly in a dispute centered around the AUC's deepening involvement in the drug trade, and his body recovered two years later.

In Medellín, this demobilisation process took on a particularly chaotic and violent nature.

One of the most powerful leaders of the AUC, Diego Murillo Bejarano aka Don Berna, was (like Carlos Castaño's brother Fidel) a former close associate of the drug trafficking Medellín Cartel, having acted as one of the top enforcers for a faction run by the Galeano family, who were eventually dominated by sectors loyal to the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Having commanded the AUC's Bloque Cacique Nutibara, which had around 1,000 members, as well as the Bloque Héroes de Granada, which was thought to have numbered slightly over 2,000, amidst demobilisation Murillo Bejarano's faction of the AUC fought a brief, vicious war of attrition in Medellín's slums with the Bloque Metro of Castaño loyalist Carlos Mauricio Garcia, alias Double Zero, who was found murdered in May 2004.

Following the demobilisation process - which many in Medellín claim was largely a charade where non-paramilitary actors were recruited from around the city to go through the motions of pacification - Murillo Bejarano, despite sitting in a Colombian prison under the terms of the country's Justice and Peace Law, is said by residents and authorities to have become the dominant criminal figure in the city.

Murillo Bejarano's omnipotence over what is colloquially referred to as the Oficina de Envigado (named after the Medellín neighbourhood where many narcotraffickers live) extended to such an extent that the tit-for-tat slayings and turf wars that have marked the city over the last two decades gradually decreased as he solidified his control over many of the city's criminal gangs. There was even a term used by locals for the enforced calm Murillo Bejarano brought to the city's criminal underworld, donbernabilidad, a mordant pun on the Spanish concept of gobernabilidad, or governability.

It was, however, a consolidation that had deadly consequences for those who questioned it. A number of community leaders in Medellín, such as Haider Ramírez from Comuna 13 and Alexander Pulgarín from the La Sierra neighbourhood, have been murdered in recent years, with the latter killing being characterised in a report by Colombia's government as "a premeditated act" designed to silence a voice that would not go along with criminal system being put in place in the slums.

When Murillo Bejarano was deported to the United States in May 2008 along with a slew of other top AUC leaders to face drug trafficking charges, the Oficina de Envigado is said to have badly fractured. One of the group's chieftains, Fabio León Vélez Correa, alias Nito, was murdered in September 2009 and two remaining factions have formed with guns drawn behind one of two leaders, known by their aliases as Valenciano and Sebastian.

Colombian government estimates say that the groups operate in of Colombia's 32 departments and boast around 400 members.

It is the chaos of this power struggle, residents say, that has led to the palpable spike in violence as ever- diminishing and reorganising groups of traffickers vie for control of the city and access to the Río Cauca, a key conduit for cocaine and arms smuggling, as well as human trafficking.

Despite the palpable sense of hope in Colombian cities such as Medellín these days, the incomplete demobilisation of the paramilitaries, along with the continued threat of the not- yet-vanquished rebel groups, will continue to present a serious challenge to whoever wins this month's presidential contest to succeed the eight-year tenure of Álvaro Uribe.

"These groups basically took the generous offer of demobilisation by Uribe," says Bruce M. Bagley, the chair of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami and a longtime Colombia observer. "But demobilise is a relative term."

Michael Deibert is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press). His blog can be read at

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Amid Elections, Armed Groups Hold Colombian Town under the Gun

Amid Elections, Armed Groups Hold Colombian Town under the Gun

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

(Read the original article here)

CAUCASIA, Colombia , Jun 1, 2010 (IPS) - Rolling through this mountainous region of central Colombia, the brown waters of the Río Cauca wind through mist-shrouded hills before joining up with the larger Río Magdalena and emptying out into the Caribbean Sea.

In this area, known as Bajo Cauca and characterised by campesino farms and gurgling waterfalls, the dusky hues of the river are an apt metaphor for the violence that has had residents here existing in fear since the beginning of the year.

"We've never lived what we're living through now," says Fernanda Márquez (not her real name), whose son was kidnapped by the larger of Colombia's two main rebel groups, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), 13 years ago. "They kill innocent children, throw bombs, kidnap. It's terrible."

For much of the last year, groups of warring drug traffickers have battled for control of this strategically important city and surrounding towns along the river. As Colombians go to the polls this month to choose a successor to President Álvaro Uribe, the groups continue to wage a scorched-earth battle to determine dominance over the smuggling of narcotics, weapons and people along the river.

According to police, between Jan. 1 and May 26, there were 74 murders in the Bajo Cauca region, and at least 24 grenade attacks, though other sources say the number of the latter is closer to 44.

During one recent week alone here, six people were killed during the invasion of a farm, gunmen killed a mother and her nine-year-old son, a 14-year-old boy died during a grenade attack, a 21-year-old labourer disappeared and the home of Leiderman Ortiz, the crusading publisher of the La Verdad de Pueblo newspaper, was damaged by yet another grenade.

All of this occurred despite a massive police and military presence in the region and recent arrests of dozens of individuals believed to be linked to the groups.

Ground zero for this turf war has been the riverside town of Caucasia, a ramshackle place with a metropolitan population of around 120,000 and where two groups - Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños (both aided by a subset of a gang known as Los Paisas) - are vying for control. Anonymous pamphlets in town regularly threaten death to the groups' perceived enemies.

"There are alliances between these criminal gangs and the subversive groups, particularly the FARC," says Colonel Luis Eduardo Herrera Paredes, chief of Bajo Caucau's Comando Operativo de Seguridad. "We have seen a panorama where the criminal bands organise the distribution (of cocaine) and the FARC protect the cultivation process. The majority of these murders are among these criminal groups."

The groups have their roots in Colombia's long and bloody internal armed conflict, where far-left rebels of the FARC and the smaller Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army or ELN) have squared off against the Colombian state and paramilitary groups allied with localised political and economic interests. Critics charge that the paramilitaries often worked as little more than a ruthless wing of Colombia's official security services.

Formed in 1997, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence Forces or AUC) represented the coalescing of these localised militias.

Largely under the aegis of Carlos Castaño, whose father had been kidnapped and killed by guerillas and whose brother, Fidel, was a major paramilitary leader and drug trafficker before he allegedly died in combat in 1994, the AUC went from a series of largely autonomous collectives to a tightly-organised combat-ready outfit that moved through the country like a murderous scythe, depriving the guerillas of safe havens and murdering, often in quite ghastly fashion, any whom they suspected of supporting them.

In addition to the drug trade, despite its designation as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, and the credible linking of the AUC to dozens of massacres, the group was also able to derive income from international firms doing business in Colombia, who continued to make payouts to the AUC to protect their business interests. Chiquita Brands International, for example, was fined 25 million dollars by the U.S. government in 2007 for doing so.

Operating as anti-subversive shock troops for the first five years of its existence, by 2002, when the AUC started negotiating potential demobilisation with the Colombian government, the group was increasingly consumed by the business of drug trafficking, leading to violent schisms between leaders.

Castaño, who was known to have objected to the AUC's deepening involvement in the drug trade despite his own past links to traffickers, disappeared in April 2004. His body was found two years later, allegedly the victim of a plot orchestrated by his brother, Vicente, who himself later disappeared and was believed to have been murdered.

The antecedent of the two of the current groups warring in Bajo Cauca, the Rastrojos and the Urabeños, to the AUC are direct and vivid.

At its height, one of the most numerically significant wings on the AUC was its Bloque Central Bolívar, which numbered around 6,000 combatants and was led by Carlos Mario Jiménez, better known by his nom de guerre, "Macaco".

After the Bloque Central Bolívar demobilised at the beginning of 2005 under Colombia's Justice and Peace Law, which required paramilitary members to confess their crimes, making amends with the victims and cease criminal activities in exchange for substantially reduced sentences, Jiménez entered a Colombian prison. However, charging that they broke the terms of their deals by continuing to be actively involved drug trafficking, Colombian authorities extradited him and several other top AUC leaders to the United States in May 2008 to stand trial for conspiring to import cocaine.

In Caucasia, local residents and authorities say, the current leader of the Rastrojos, who goes by the alias "Sebastian", was an active member of Jiménez's Bloque Bolívar. A 2009 Colombian government memorandum concluded that the Rastrojos were active in 10 of Colombia's 32 departments and had around 1,400 members.

Until his arrest in early 2009, the Urabeños were led by Daniel Rendón, known as Don Mario, a former member of the AUC's Elmer Cárdenas bloc, which never even perfunctorily went through with the demobilisation process.

"It's only about money," says Jesús Alean Quintera, the director of the Fundación Redes, a human rights organisation that works in the Bajo Cauca region and has extensively documented that activities of the groups, particularly with regards to minors, both in Caucasia and the neighbouring community of Nechí. "The recruitment of children into these groups has become a real problem."

Now, with even the thinnest veneer of ideology stripped away, groups such as Los Rastrojos, Los Urabeños, Los Paisas and Las Águilas Negras (thought by some to be a front group for Los Urabeños) are free to collaborate with Colombia's rebel factions in the service of a more tangible reward, and the people of Caucasia wonder when their situation will change.

"There are a lot of killers of 13 or 14 years old these days, both boys and girls" says Leiderman Ortiz, the local journalist who survived the grenade attack. "We're living through a war, though terrorism here, and we think that all the authorities, from the president on down, need to understand how grave this situation is."

Michael Deibert is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press). His blog can be read at