Colombia keen to boost economic, trade ties with Cuba, says president

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday kicked off a two-day state visit to Cuba, where he hopes to expand economic and trade ties with the island country.

"My official visit has two goals: to thank the island's people and government (for their role) in the Colombian peace process, and to increase economic and trade ties," Santos said.

Cuba hosted the talks that led to a definitive peace deal between Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels.

In Havana, Santos met with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro and also took part in a bilateral business forum, where he said Colombia was in a process of greater economic opening that included boosting investment in Central America and the Caribbean.

The peace agreement has spurred the national economy and tourism, which grew nearly 40 percent in the first half of 2017, Cuba's state daily Granma said.

Some 20 Colombian business leaders attended the forum, representing a variety of sectors, from construction to energy, chemicals and food.

Santos arrived in Cuba late Sunday accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, and trade, industry and tourism, as well as the head of Colombia's trade promotion agency ProColombia.

Santos was last in Cuba in June 2016, for the signing of the peace agreement.

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits Cuba

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Amid Prisoner Hunger Strike, Colombia's Santos Signs Last Amnesty for FARC Members

The former rebels are demanding the release of all political prisoner and say only 832 of 3,400 have been included in the deal.

The Colombian government announced Monday a new batch of amnesty legislation that would apply for 3,600 members of the FARC, without clarifying if it applied to the members in the current transitional zones or political prisoners.

RELATED: Jailed FARC Members Continue Hunger Strike for Promised Amnesty

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia criticized Santo's previous amnesty announcement since only 832 of 3,400 members who are currently imprisoned were part of the deal.

Santos announced this was the third and last agreement he will sign and said more than 7,000 members will receive amnesty or be released from prison. Until now 1,346 political prisoners have been on a hunger strike for the past two weeks demanding release.

A list of 455 human rights defenders and personalities from all over the world, including Nobel Peace prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, signed a letter to the Colombian government to demand the release of the political prisoners under the peace agreement and asked for Pope Francis' intervention in the name of those being held.

"There is no reason to keep thousands of political prisoners imprisoned, especially those who are covered by the Peace Agreement between the government and the FARC, who, in compliance with the agreement and Law 1820, were to be released on December 31, 2016," read the letter.

It's been six months since the Colombian Congress signed the Amnesty and Pardons Act, but the FARC condemned the state's failure to release prisoners within the framework of the peace agreement signed last year.

According to the deal negotiated since 2012 and signed in Cuba, arrest warrants will be also nullified and requests for amnesty must be resolved within a period no longer than three months after they are presented to a court.

RELATED: Colombia's FARC Launches Coop As First Act After Disarmament

The FARC delivered 7,132 weapons last month to end decades of armed conflict and to start its transition into political life. The United Nations still needs to give all the certificates to the former rebels making their delivery of weapons official.

The 26 transitional zones where members gathered during the implementation of the peace deal will cease to exist and give way to their return to civilian life. The group has denounced the paramilitary violence that has increased in areas vacated by the group, leading to more murders and threats to social justice leaders in the country.

The FARC will now form a political entity and receive five seats in the House of Representatives and five in the Senate beginning in 2018 during two electoral periods. Any member of the FARC will be able to occupy those seats.

The country's second largest group, the National Liberation Army began a similar process of peace talks, which have been taking place in Ecuador since the beginning of 2017

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Venezuela Slams Colombia for Provocative Border Occupation

Less than two months ago, on March 31, Colombia security officials were gathered near the Simón Bolívar International Bridge in Cúcuta.

On Sunday, the Government of Venezuela expressed displeasure with what it viewed as an antagonistic stance taken by Colombian security forces, who posted near the Paraguachón region of La Guajira.

RELATED: Despite Police Attacks, Colombia's Civil Strike Continues

Armored combat vehicles occupied space only a few meters from their shared border. The Venezuelan government viewed this as a provocative move on the part of the Colombian State.

According to a statement from the authorities, this is not the first seemingly aggressive action by the Colombians. Less than two months ago, on March 31, Colombia security officials were gathered near the Simón Bolívar International Bridge in Cúcuta.

The statement also pointed out that, recently, top Colombia officials have made false declarations that migrants from Venezuela to Colombia are committing acts of large-scale violence. "The provocation aims to divert attention from the political and social crisis in the Valle del Cauca, Buenaventura," the statement explained.

The Venezuelan government has warned the international community about the threat to the peace accords signed in 2016. The officials fingered their neighbor's actions as an aim to undermine international peace initiative that contributed to ending a war that had ravaged the region for decades.

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Search of Missing Persons among Debris in Mocoa, Colombia, Continues

Bogotá, April 4 (Prensa Latina) Survivors of one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in Colombia, Mocoa residents woke up again today in the mud and debris left by the avalanches, where they are still searching for missing relatives.

And although President Juan Manuel Santos ruled out the possibility of another devastating mudslide, the villagers look with suspicion on the surrounding rivers whose overflow left at least 273 dead and 262 injured persons.

According to the Red Cross, the villagers are trying to find around 300 people who have been missing since last Saturday.

The avalanches of mud and stone dragged trees, houses, bridges and everything they found in their path.

After a review carried out by the Air Force in all the rivers and streams near Mocoa, it was possible to conclude that there is no danger of another avalanche at this moment, the governor insisted.

A total of 70 injured persons were transferred to health centers outside the municipality and 27 are in the local hospital, while Legal Medicine handed the bodies of 100 victims to their relatives, said the president in a message to citizens.

'Now -he added- comes the prevention phase in order to avoid epidemics in shelters where part of the victims are refugees and in the city, capital of the southern department of Putumayo.'

Yesterday, Santos appointed the defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, as manager for the reconstruction of Mocoa, a hot territory of 50 thousand inhabitants located in the foothills of the Amazon.

In May 2015 a similar event struck the settlement of Salgar Antioquia; then the floods caused the death of more than a hundred people.

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Colombian Senate to Final Debate on Transitional Justice

Bogota, March 13 (Prensa Latina) Colombian senators resume today the analysis of the legislative project that will give life to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), considered the backbone of the agreement between the government and FARC-EP insurgents.

After spiny discussions and other setbacks such as the absence of congressmen, the final debate of this rule will take place in the Senate plenary meeting, one of the most controversial of the package planned to implement the agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC) -EP).

Under the JEP salons and courts will be constituted with the objective of investigating, judging and punishing those responsible for the long conflict with premises such as zero impunity for crimes against humanity but benefits of pardons and amnesties in cases of political and related crimes.

Likewise, the treatment of the military and other agents of the State is contemplated in a special chapter within the project.

Last Saturday President Juan Manuel Santos assured that this is one of the most important decisions that the Capitol will take throughout its history and requested support from representatives of all parties to approve the creation of the JEP.

In the Congress of the Republic we must vote for the model of transitional justice (to move from war to a scenario of relaxation), of special justice, so that we can consolidate peace; I call on the senators to be present, stressed the president.

Meanwhile, the president of the highest legislative body, Mauricio Lizcano, commented that not to approve the JEP would be equal to leave unpunished all the serious crimes that occurred in the context of the confrontation and prevent the victims from knowing the truth.

The agreement reached in Havana and initialed in this capital on November 24 includes a comprehensive system to clarify the truth, to apply justice, to repair the damages caused to the victims of the conflict (totaling almost 8 million) and to give them guarantees of non-repetition.

Some 7,000 FARC-EP guerrillas are concentrated in 19 zones and seven points (smaller than the first ones) of 14 departments where they will leave the armament in their possession.

The validation of the JEP and the application of the amnesty law, previously sanctioned, are two of the demands of the guerrilla, the largest in the country.

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ELN and Paramilitary Fighting Displaces Hundreds of Colombians

As the FARC begins to disarm, other paramilitary groups continue to fuel violence across the country.

Hundreds of Colombians were displaced in the country’s northwest over the weekend as fighting erupted between members of the National Liberation Army, ELN, and Colombia's paramilitary group, Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC, commonly known as “Los Urabeños.”

RELATED: Colombia Pardons First FARC Troops Under Amnesty Law

According to reports, a group of around 200  “Urabeños” attempted to push out ELN forces from the Baudo region in the northwestern Choco province. They arrived in the Peña Azul community on Saturday by boat and started firing indiscriminately into the community while screaming that they had come to kill ELN troops.

Over 300 people were displaced by the fighting, including children and elderly, and fled north to Pie de Pato, according to AFP.

While it was unclear if there were any civilian casualties or injuries from the fighting, the ombudsman of the Choco department, Luis Enrique Murillo, warned that there were still eight families from Peña Azul who could not leave the community and whose location remained unknown.The region has been known as a stronghold of Colombia’s second-largest rebel army, the ELN, who have recently been seeking a peace deal with the Colombian government similar to the one reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country’s biggest rebel group.

“Los Urabeños” evolved from the officially disbanded  “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia,” or AUC, a right-wing group that supposedly demobilized between 2003 and 2006 during the government of former President Alvaro Uribe.

RELATED: Indigenous Bari Campesinos Face Colombia Paramilitary Violence

While peace between the FARC and the government was reached in November and the rebel group continues to demobilize, other paramilitary groups continue to operate throughout the country with deadly consequences.

The current government under Juan Manuel Santos has claimed that paramilitary groups do not exist and have demobilized. Yet paramilitary groups continue to wreak havoc in the vacuums created by the FARC,  leaving rural leaders and human rights defenders vulnerable, partially with the lack of state protection.

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Colombia Thanks Cuba for Supporting Peace Process

Colombians in solidarity with Cuba will be traveling the island next Saturday to thank Cuban support for the peace talks with the FARC-EP and the ElN, according to coordinators.

We will never finish off paying Cubans generously for supporting the peace negotiations with the FARC-EP and the equally insurgent ELN, one of the organizers, Alirio Uribe stated.

In a press conference, the lawmaker stressed that Cuba has been witnessing of the public meetings with that first guerrilla for four years.

On November 24, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP leader Timoleon Jiménez signed the final agreement, by pledging to end clashes and hostilities between both parties.

The members of the Colombian delegation, among them representatives of 'Vamos para los derechos' group, will be our spokespeople, the objective is to say to a brother people: here we are and we want to thank you, the parliamentarian stressed.

During the official stay, they will pay homage to the Cuban historic leader, Fidel Castro.

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