November 19th, 2012
10:38 AM ET

FARC to halt military operations for talks with Colombian government

The Colombian rebel group FARC will halt military operations at midnight as a sign of good will for peace talks with the Colombian government, the group said Monday.

The halt will last until January 20, FARC representative Ivan Marquez said.

The government has not said whether it will take part in a cease-fire during the talks.

Negotiations are aimed at ending the longest-running insurgency in Latin America. The leftist FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been at war with the government since the 1960s.

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Filed under: Colombia
August 28th, 2012
12:09 AM ET

Five facts about Colombia's FARC rebels

The Colombian president said Monday the government is in "exploratory" talks with Latin America's oldest insurgency.

Here are five facts about the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as the FARC:

1. The FARC has been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s

The FARC was formed in 1964. Espousing anti-U.S. and Marxist ideology, the group draws the overwhelming majority of its members from the rural poor. Its aim is to overthrow the government.

Though it began as an insurgency and continues to champion leftist causes, the FARC is sometimes criticized for eschewing its beliefs in favor of running drugs. Colombia is one of the world's top cocaine producers and the FARC is estimated to make around $500 million from the illicit trade per year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

2. The two sides have not sat down since 2002

Peace talks between the rebels and the government have occurred sporadically since the 1980s. A cease-fire brokered in 1984 included the release of a number of imprisoned guerrilla fighters. That truce ended in 1990 when several thousand former FARC members were killed.

The last attempt at peace fell apart in 2002. Then-President Andres Pastrana ceded control of an area roughly the size of Switzerland to the FARC, but broke off talks after a series of high profile rebel attacks. The government moved to retake control of the so-called neutral zone, and the sides have been at war since.

3. The rebels have suffered significant setbacks

From its peak, the FARC has shrunk considerably in both size and strength, in part because of a U.S.-backed security campaign. As of last year, the group was thought to have around 8,000 troops, down from more than 16,000 a decade earlier.

The FARC has also lost several of its top leaders. In November, the group's head, Alfonso Cano, was killed in what President Juan Manuel Santos described then as the nation's "most overwhelming blow" against the rebel organization.

Colombian security forces killed the then-second-in-command, Raul Reyes, during a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador. That same year, FARC founder Manuel Marulanda died of an apparent heart attack.

4. Despite its losses, the FARC continues to carry out attacks

Rebels and government troops still clash with regularity and the FARC is capable of inflicting serious casualties.

Between 2010-2011, attacks rose by 10%, according to the Colombian think tank Nuevo Arco Iris. Some saw the increase as evidence of a comeback, while others argued it reflected a desperate attempt by the FARC to hold strategic land.

The rebels remain in control of some remote regions, notably in the southern jungle.

5. The United States and the European Union consider the group a terrorist organization

In its struggle against the government, the FARC has engaged in bombings, murder, extortion and kidnappings.

Among the highest profile cases in recent years was that of Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 during her campaign for the presidency. She was freed in a helicopter rescue mission in 2008. Colombian commandos posed as humanitarian aid workers to liberate the group, which included three U.S. military contractors and 11 Colombian police and military members.

After Cano's death, the FARC tapped a new leader, Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, who is also known as Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko.

The U.S. State Department alleges he has run the FARC's cocaine operations and ordered rebels to "shoot down fumigation aircrafts, increase coca production, kidnap United States citizens and kill farmers who sold cocaine paste to non-FARC buyers."

A $5 million reward is offered for information leading to his arrest.

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Filed under: Colombia • World
May 1st, 2012
05:08 AM ET

Colombian Air Force helicopter crashes, killing 13

A helicopter carrying members of the Colombian Air Force and police crashed in the north of the Latin American nation on Monday, killing all 13 people on board.

The crash took place at 4:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. ET) in the municipality of Sabanagrande, near Colombia's Caribbean coast, according to a statement from the Colombian Air Force.

Seven of the dead were from the air force and six were from the police.

"We regret the accident of the Air Force helicopter crash," President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said in a message posted on his official twitter account. "Our condolences to the families of the patriotic heroes who died in this accident."

In an amateur video broadcast on the local Caracol TV, dozens of people were shown standing near the crash site, which was covered with smoke and flames.

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Filed under: Aviation • Colombia
April 27th, 2012
05:38 PM ET

CNN identifies key figure in Secret Service scandal

[Updated at 6:16 p.m. ET] The Secret Service agent at the center of the Colombia prostitution scandal has been identified as Arthur Huntington, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Friday.

According to the sources, Huntington was the agent in a seventh-floor hotel room in Cartagena who had a dispute over pay with an escort.

CNN also learned that Huntington has now left the Secret Service.

Also Friday, the Secret Service distributed new rules for its agents on assignment intended to prevent a repeat of such alleged misconduct, according to two government sources familiar with the resulting investigation.

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Filed under: Colombia
April 16th, 2012
07:15 PM ET

Overheard on Secret Service may have had a few secrets of its own

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Eleven Secret Service members have had their security clearances yanked during an investigation into allegations that they brought prostitutes to a Colombian hotel before a presidential visit to the country, government officials with knowledge of the investigation said Monday. Readers can't stop talking about this story, in part because it involves two favorite topics: Politics and sex.

Secret Service clearances yanked in Colombia probe

There was a bit of outrage from several. This reader said the Secret Service must fight temptation.

Brad76: "When your job is protecting the president of the United States of America, you can't be doing that. I can understand the allure of beautiful women. However, they are supposed to be professionals."

U.S. Rep. Peter King, Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said one of the prostitutes told a hotel manager that "they owed her money." The agents and officers involved range in experience from relative newcomers to nearly 20-year veterans.

Some readers said if agents do indeed want to buy services, they should make sure they pay for them.

barlowdm: "How stupid do you have to be to not pay your prostitute what is owed her when you are a member of the Secret Service. He has some 'splaining' to do ... to the other agents who did what they needed to do to keep their sexual excursions secret. I wonder if he was one of the 'relative newcomers.' "

But others were concerned about security risks. FULL POST

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Colombia • Overheard on • Politics • Security
March 21st, 2012
10:46 AM ET

Colombia kills dozens of FARC members in operation, defense minister says

Colombian authorities killed dozens of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leftist guerrilla group and captured others during an overnight operation, the nation's defense minister said Wednesday.

This story is developing. We'll bring you the latest information as soon as we get it.

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Filed under: Colombia
March 12th, 2012
10:48 AM ET

U.S. extradites Colombian accused of taking Americans hostage

U.S. authorities have extradited a suspect from Colombia whom they accuse of being involved in taking three American citizens hostage, the Justice Department said.

Alexander Beltran Herrera, 35, was scheduled to be arraigned at 11:15 a.m. ET Monday in Washington on charges in connection with the 2003 hostage taking of Americans Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell.

Beltran Herrera is an accused member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, the Justice Department said.

Gonsalves, Howes and Stansell were among 15 hostages freed in a 2008 rescue mission.

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Filed under: Colombia • U.S.
February 1st, 2012
08:56 AM ET

FARC delays hostage release

Colombian guerrillas have postponed the release of six hostages because of alleged militarization in the area where they operate, the group said Wednesday.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are the nation's main leftist rebel group. In a statement, they accused the government of President Juan Manuel Santos of plotting a military rescue of the hostages despite plans for a unilateral release.

"The area we had chosen for the release of the prisoners... has been unjustifiably militarized by the Colombian government, which forces us to delay it," the statement said.

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Filed under: Colombia
Why would Colombia's FARC sell cows?
Cows in southwest Colombia in August 2010.
January 24th, 2012
01:07 PM ET

Why would Colombia's FARC sell cows?

Colombia's president said in a recent speech that the anti-government guerrilla group known as FARC is so strapped for money that its members have started selling cows.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia "is designing a strategy to counter the problem of a lack of financing ... due to the blows that have been dealt to their financing sources, especially drug trafficking," President Juan Manuel Santos said. "One of the orders that they have received is 'sell the cattle to get more resources.'"

But experts who study the rebel group that's tried for decades to overthrow the Colombian government point out that more may be happening than a desperate sale of livestock. Although Santos suggested that anti-narcotic measures have damaged FARC's ability to profit from drug trafficking, it's possible that FARC may be selling cattle to launder drug money, one expert said.

"It's a classic underworld tactic. If you own 40,000 heads of cattle, you take the proceeds from selling some of your cows and do whatever you like with the profits," said Steven Dudley, the co-director of InSight, a joint initiative of American University in Washington and the Fundación Ideas para la Paz in Colombia. "This wouldn't be the first time this has happened, so to pretend that this is somehow new or reflective only of a government crackdown on FARC is ridiculous."


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Filed under: Colombia
Colombia to return mistakenly deported teen to U.S.
January 5th, 2012
08:20 PM ET

Colombia to return mistakenly deported teen to U.S.

Colombia will hand over to U.S. officials Friday a Dallas teenager who ran away from home more than a year ago and was mistakenly deported to Colombia, the South American country's foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The family of  Jakadrien Turner (pictured) says U.S. immigration authorities deported her after mistaking her for a Colombian national after she ran away in fall 2010.

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Filed under: Colombia
December 28th, 2011
10:32 AM ET

FARC to release 6 hostages

Colombia's main leftist rebel group says it plans to release six hostages, including three who have been in captivity for more than 12 years.

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s. While severely weakened in recent years, the guerrilla group has continued to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces.

It said the hostages to be released include three national police officers, Jorge Trujillo Solarte, Jorge Humberto Romero and Jose Libardo Forero. All of three were taken hostage in 1999.

The names of the other three hostages would be forthcoming, the FARC said.

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Filed under: Colombia
Giant escalators help poor in Medellin, Colombia
A nearly $7 million project put escalators on the steep hillside in Comuna 13 in Medellin, Colombia.
December 27th, 2011
12:39 PM ET

Giant escalators help poor in Medellin, Colombia

Residents of one of the dangerous slums in Medellin, Colombia, now have a faster way to make it to the top of the steep hillside district of Comuna 13: a set of escalators that will help them climb the equivalent of a 18-story building.

The residents in this poor town have been making the trek up cement steps for years, but now, thanks to the $6.9 million project, they won't have to work as hard.

"We used to see escalators in shopping malls, but Medellin will be the first to use it as public transport, a mobility solution for these neighborhoods with difficult access," Mayor Alonso Salazar said, according to the news site Colombia Reports.

The BBC reports that Comuna 13's 12,000 residents will now shorten a 30 minute hike to the top. They will now be able to get there in about 5 minutes. The project is divided up into six sections of escalators.

"They’re really cool because it really gives you an advantage as you’re going up," resident Yarley Villa told Caracol TV. "It’s much more comfortable when you’re carrying packages and stuff like that."

During the project's construction it gained both support and concern from the community.

While some residents were happy to have  a replacement for the nearly 530 steps they used to have to climb (or the equivalent of 18 flights of stairs), others wished the money had been spent to help improve the housing situation or for food assistance, according to Colombia Reports.

The project is aimed at helping improve Medellin, the hometown of Pablo Escobar, which had been known in the past more for drugs and violence.

November 26th, 2011
09:47 PM ET

Colombian rebels kill 4 hostages, president says

Colombia's main leftist rebel group shot and killed four hostages held for more than a decade, President Juan Manuel Santos said Saturday, vowing to fight the rebels with everything in reach.

A fifth hostage, a policeman, was found alive, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters.

"This is yet another example of how brutal and cruel the FARC is. ... When faced with security forces, they (the rebels) had no qualms about killing them in cold blood," Santos said.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, has been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s. While severely weakened in recent years, the guerrilla group has continued to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces.

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Filed under: Colombia
Congress passes free-trade deals with 3 nations
The White House and Republicans say trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama will create U.S. jobs.
October 12th, 2011
09:29 PM ET

Congress passes free-trade deals with 3 nations

[Updated at 9:28 p.m.] Congress voted Wednesday on a bipartisan basis to pass free-trade bills with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

President Barack Obama, who dined Thursday at a Korean restaurant with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and is to welcome him Thursday on a state visit to the White House, sent the trade deals to Congress last week.

The White House, Republicans and big business groups have said the deals would create jobs in the United States. The deals could spur $13 billion annually in new exports and "support tens of thousands of jobs," a senior administration official has said.

In a statement issued by the Office of the Press Secretary, Obama called the agreements "a major win" for the nation. "Tonight's vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label 'Made in America,' support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property," he said, promising to sign the bills.

In a separate statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the agreements "will make it easier for American companies to sell their products to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will create jobs here at home."

Union groups and some Democrats have opposed the bills, expressing doubt that they would create jobs.

The U.S. agriculture industry has been calling for the free-trade agreement, which could open new markets for beef, wheat and soybeans. The U.S. auto industry is also watching, as the deal with South Korea would mean a decline in tariffs aimed squarely at Detroit automakers.

House Republicans have voiced support for the deals.

"These three trade agreements will support American jobs and help create opportunities to expand for American businesses," Speaker John Boehner said last week in a statement.

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Filed under: Colombia • Panama • Politics • South Korea
Two new narco subs found in Colombia
This narco sub, which authorities said could carry up to 10 tons of cocaine, was found Friday.
September 27th, 2011
07:05 AM ET

Two new narco subs found in Colombia

Authorities in Colombia have confiscated two narco subs, submersibles designed to smuggle cocaine, since Friday, according to news reports.

A vessel found on the country's Pacific coast on Friday could carry up to 10 tons of cocaine and was outfitted with a GPS navigation system, according to a report from

On Monday, authorities said they found a smaller but more sophisticated submarine hidden in a wooden shack in dense coastal jungle north of where the first sub was found Friday, according to a report from the BBC.

The second sub, named The Black Pearl, was made of steel and fiberglass and could carry four tons of cocaine, the BBC report said. It could stay submerged for 10 days with a crew of five and had radar, navigation and communication systems that made it worth $2 million, the report said.

Both vessels were built under the orders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, which finances its operations with cocaine sales, according to the reports.

In February, Colombian authorities captures a 100-foot-long narco sub capable of traveling to Mexico at depths of up to 30 feet.

Read more about Colombia's narco subs.

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Filed under: Colombia • Crime • Drugs
Footballer in Colombia could face jail for kicking owl off field
Deportivo Pereira's Luis Moreno, seen playing for the Panamanian national team in 2009, could face charges over kicking an owl.
March 1st, 2011
12:14 PM ET

Footballer in Colombia could face jail for kicking owl off field

A professional soccer player in Colombia faces up to three months in jail for kicking an opposing team's lucky owl, which had been been hit by a ball after landing on the field Sunday. The owl died Tuesday.

The owl was considered a good luck charm for the Atlético Junior squad in Barranquilla and lived in its Metropolitan Stadium.

Luis Moreno, a Panamanian player for Deportivo Pereira, was met with chants of "Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!" after kicking the owl and had to leave the stadium under heavy police guard, according to the Daily Mail in London. (The Daily Mail has video of the owl kick, or you can check it out on YouTube.)

For those too squeamish to watch the footage, which the Daily Mail warns constitutes animal cruelty, a Pereira defender chases a Junior attacker into the penalty box, wins the ball from him and clears it, poorly, hitting the owl that had landed on the field.

The referee stops play, and Moreno trots over and kicks the bird off the field, a distance of about three yards.


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Filed under: Animals • Colombia • Nature • Panama • Soccer • Sports • World
100-foot-long narco sub found in Colombia
The homemade drug submarine was found in a rural area of Timbiqui.
February 15th, 2011
06:31 AM ET

100-foot-long narco sub found in Colombia

The Colombian military has seized a 100-foot-long submarine capable of transporting eight tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, news reports say.

The vessel was found in a jungle area in Timbiqui in southwestern Colombia on Sunday, according to a report from RTT News.

Colombian navy officials said the homemade sub had two diesel engines and sophisticated navigational equipment that would enable it to travel to Mexico while remaining up to 30 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.


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Filed under: Colombia • Crime • Drugs • Mexico • World
10 questions for the U.S. drug czar
CNN's Rafael Romo talks with Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s National Office of Drug Control Policy.
January 20th, 2011
08:57 PM ET

10 questions for the U.S. drug czar

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s National Office of Drug Control Policy, concluded Thursday a three-day visit to Colombia to assess the progress the South American country has made in its fight against drug trafficking and Marxist guerrillas. Under an agreement known as “Plan Colombia,” the United States has provided the country with more than seven billion dollars in aid in the last ten years.

CNN’s Rafael Romo sat down with Kerlikowske in the capital city of Bogota to talk about the United States’ role in tackling drug trafficking in Latin America.

Romo: Has Plan Colombia been worth it?

Kerlikowske: I think that the reduction in violence is very significant and is well noted by the citizens. I mean, [Colombia] is now a very viable country.

Q: Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue says that Plan Colombia has failed in reducing the production of drugs. Is that the case?

A: Cocaine consumption is down dramatically in the United States.  We have less of an appetite for cocaine. We use cocaine at far lower levels, particularly over the last four years. What we have seen is an increase in cocaine consumption in Europe.

Q: Are you really satisfied that the Colombian government is doing the best they can with the funding provided from the United States and that they’re not just telling you what you want to hear?

A: All my meetings with government officials here is clear that they’re doing everything possible to improve.

Q: What did Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tell you about the future of the binational relationship?

A: He knows all of the issues.  He recognizes the importance of the relationship. I think he also clearly understands the changing nature of drug trafficking, which is so much more international, less focused on a particular country.


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Filed under: Colombia • Drug violence • Drugs
November 19th, 2010
07:42 AM ET

Colombia declares state of calamity after rains affect 1.2 million

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of calamity in 28 of the nation's 32 states Thursday due to heavy rains and flooding that have affected 1.2 million people.

Flooding and mudslides have killed 136 people, injured 205 and left 20 missing, the nation's Interior and Justice Ministry reported.

Emergency officials say the heavy rain has led to problems in 561 municipalities in the South American nation.

Santos made the announcement on national TV, saying the declaration will help get aid to those who need it.


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Filed under: Colombia • Weather
November 16th, 2010
12:58 PM ET

Suspected arms dealer arrives in New York


Viktor Bout with Thai authorities in October.

Alleged international arms dealer Viktor Bout, inspiration for a lead character in the film "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage, was extradited to the United States on terrorism charges Tuesday. The mustachioed Russian arrived in New York on a U.S. chartered jet from Thailand.

Bout had been held in a Thai jail since March 2008 when he was arrested in a sting operation conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Agents posed as members of Colombia's rebel group FARC.

Bout is accused of supplying weapons to war zones from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan. He says  he's innocent.

The Russian government is upset about the extradition and has called the move "illegal." Russian officials blamed the United States for exacting "unprecedented political pressure" on Thai courts.

Bout has rarely given interviews, though one example stands out which was published in 2003 in the New York Times. Journalists Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun wrote a book about Bout. In August, Farah wrote in Foreign Policy about why Bout may not stand trial.

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Filed under: Colombia • New York • Terrorism • Thailand • Viktor Bout
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