ISSUE #436, JUNE 7, 1998
LAFAYETTE ST., NEW YORK, NY 10012 (212) 674-9499 


According to the weekly Inside The Pentagon, the US government is 
seeking more time to smooth out differences with Panama over 
proposals to convert the Howard air force base in the Panama Canal 
Zone into a multilateral anti-drug center. US Secretary of State 
Madeleine Albright and her Panamanian counterpart Ricardo Arias 
had agreed to end negotiations on May 31. [La Nacion (Costa Rica) 
5/31/98 from AP] The US and Panama had reached an agreement to 
establish the anti-drug center [see Update #413], but Panama's 
president Ernesto Perez Balladares had asked for some changes. The 
disagreement is said to be related to the US demand that the center 
would operate for a minimum of 12 years, with a possible extension. 
Perez had also said that the US wants to use the center as a way to 
keep its troops in the country after control of the canal reverts to 
Panama on December 31, 1999 as stipulated in the 1977 Carter-
Torrijos treaty.

US Ambassador to Panama William Hughes said on May 29 that the 
US government is not seeking to maintain its military bases in 
Panama, and added that the Multilateral Anti-Drug Center "would not 
be a military base--it will be a multilateral institution [and] will be 
under the supervision of a council of ministers from the participating 
countries." He said the role of the US would be "limited"; the Mexican, 
Colombian and Brazilian governments have demonstrated interest in 
participating. [La Nacion (Costa Rica) from AP and AFP 5/30/98] 


On June 4 Colombian presidential adviser for peace Jose Noe Rios 
reported that a rightwing paramilitary group had executed 25 people 
kidnapped the night of May 16 from the central northeastern city of 
Barrancabermeja in Santander department in the Magdalena Medio 
region. Some 50 heavily armed men went through four working-class 
Barrancabermeja neighborhoods on May 16, killing 11 people and 
taking 25 others prisoner [see Update #434]. According to a 
communique the paramilitary group sent Rios, the 25 captives "were 
listened to and given a trial, and their bodies were burned." The 
murdered people "were subversives from the National Liberation 
(ELN) and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL)," the communique said, 
referring to two leftist guerrilla organizations. [El Diario-La Prensa 
6/5/98 from AFP] 

The remains of the 25 victims are still missing. Rumors are 
circulating in Barrancabermeja that they are buried in San Rafael de 
Lebrija or Sabana de Torres in Santander's Rionegro area. Empty 
coffins with photographs of the missing people have been laid out at 
the headquarters of the Workers Trade Union (USO), which 
represents workers at the state-owned oil company Ecopetrol. "[T]he 
dead were certainly not active subversives," according to 
correspondents from the Medellin daily El Espectador. The victims 
were all local residents, including a 16- year old student, Jaime Yesid 
Pena Rodriguez. But the guerrillas are well-established in the area, 
and many residents say openly: "Here we believe in the guerrillas 
more than in the authorities." "The problem," El Espectador writes, "is 
that apparently all Barrancabermeja residents have been declared a 
military objective for the paramilitaries."

The Barrancabermeja Popular Coordinating Committee was to meet 
on June 7 to discuss resuming a civic strike to protest the killings. [El 
Espectador 6/7/98] Residents and the USO struck May 18-22, 
seriously threatening oil supplies throughout Colombia, since the 
country's main refinery is located in Barrancabermeja. Colombian 
president Ernesto Samper responded by setting up a special 
commission, headed by Rios, to investigate the fate of the 25 
kidnapped people. The strike was suspended on May 22 to allow the 
commission to do its work. [ED-LP 6/7/98 from AFP] 

In 1994 evidence emerged revealing a network of killers sponsored 
and paid by the Colombian Navy's military intelligence in 
Barrancabermeja. Two members of the network confessed to the 
daily La Prensa that they had killed more than 45 people, including 
several leaders of the USO and the Regional Committee for the 
Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS). [Agencia de Noticias Nueva 
Colombia (ANNCOL) 5/18/98] At least one military officer believed 
responsible for killing union leaders in Barrancabermeja is a 
graduate of the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). Capt. Cenen 
Dario Jimenez Leon took a Cadet Arms Orientation Course at SOA in 
1980; he is strongly implicated in the 1988 murder of union leader 
Manuel Gustavo Chacon Sarmiento Chacon, whose killing provoked 
five days of strikes and confrontations between the military and 
residents of Barrancabermeja. [SOA Watch website]

In other news, final results from Colombia's May 31 presidential 
election gave 34.59% of the vote to Liberal Party candidate Horacio 
Serpa, against 34.34% for the Conservative Party's Andres Pastrana. 
Noemi Sanin, a Conservative Party member who ran as an 
independent, came in with about 26%, a strong showing in what is 
usually considered a two-party contest. Serpa and Pastrana will face 
each other in a runoff on June 21. [ED-LP 6/1/98 from AP, 6/2/98 
from EFE]

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