Presidents and ministers from seven Amazon countries met in Colombia on Friday to agree on measures to protect the world’s biggest rainforest, under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation.
The summit took place in the wake of an international outcry over months of raging fires that have devastated swaths of the Amazon in Brazil and Bolivia.
The gathering aimed “to foster a space for regional dialogue to advance the protection and sustainable use of this region, which is essential for the survival of the planet,” Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said.
Duque inaugurated the meeting in a “maloka” – an indigenous hut – surrounded by members of the Tikuna tribe with headdresses of colored feathers in southern Colombia’s Amazon city of Leticia.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, widely criticized over policies that favor deforestation and a delayed reaction to the wildfires, did not travel to Leticia, citing doctors’ orders.
However, speaking by videoconference, he urged other leaders to resist calls, spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, to internationalize protection of the Amazon.
“We must take a strong position of defense of sovereignty so that each country can develop the best policy for the Amazon region, and not leave it in the hands of other countries,” said Bolsonaro, who is due to undergo surgery Sunday.
Seated at a long wooden table in the shade of tall trees, the representatives of the seven nations signed the “Leticia Pact for the Amazon” that Duque said would provide greater protection for the rainforest, as existing treaties had “fallen short.”
The pact establishes a roadmap for safeguarding the rainforest “not only for the Amazon countries but also the nations of the region and the international community,” he said.
Colombia’s Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano said the new measures include the establishment of an “Amazonian cooperation network” to share information on deforestation, including weather data to mitigate the effects of climate change, and threats from illegal mining and logging.
“We needed to increase and strengthen the cooperation between us, precisely to meet the great challenges of the Amazon, which are becoming more extreme and more intense every day,” he told reporters in Leticia.
Aside from the host Duque, other presidents attending were Peru’s Martin Vizcarra, Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Suriname’s vice-president Michael Adhin and Guyana’s natural resources minister Raphael Trotman also attended.
Brazil was represented by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.
“We have to give concrete answers,” Vizcarra told the conference. “The dimension of the problem forces us to make drastic decisions.”
In a message to the summit, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay called on leaders to “reinforce existing instruments” designed to protect the Amazon.
“These instruments should be strengthened, more states encouraged to ratify them, increase protected areas, strengthen surveillance and action capabilities.”
Brazil contains 60 percent of the rainforest within its borders, with the rest spread over areas of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela as well as the French overseas department of French Guyana.
Venezuela, despite having a large swath of the Amazon, was not invited, as host, Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro.
The number of dead from a mudslide that buried houses in southwestern Colombia has risen to at least 28, rescue authorities said on Monday.
Eleven more bodies were found during a rescue operation in Rosas, in the department of Cauca, where 17 people were pronounced dead on Sunday when the mudslide occurred, Colombia’s risk and disaster agency (UNGRD) said on its Twitter account.
At least two other people are still unaccounted for and hopes of finding them alive are waning, a UNGRD source told AFP.
A plane crash in Colombia killed 12 people on Saturday, aviation and emergency services said.
The Douglas DC-3 aircraft, a twin-engine propeller plane that was first produced in the 1930s, crashed in the center-east of the country on a flight between the towns of San Jose del Guaviare and Villavicencio.
“Unfortunately… there were no survivors,” the Aeronautica Civil aviation authority said, adding that the wreckage was found close to Villavicencio.
The Defensa Civil emergency services put the death toll at 12, while Aeronautica Civil said investigators were still working “to determine the number and identities” of those traveling on the DC-3, which has a capacity of around 30.
Aeronautica Civil gave no details on what caused the crash and asked the press to show restraint in using images circulating on social media “out of respect for the victims and their families.”
The death toll in the capsizing off northwestern Colombia of a boat carrying migrants has risen to at least 12, seven of them children, officials said Thursday.
Another 18 people remain missing after Monday’s tragedy, when a wave upended the boat, leaving its passengers adrift at sea, according to Lilia Cordoba, the mayor of the Colombian coastal town of Acandi.
The migrants, who were trying to reach Panama, were from Africa, the regional human rights ombudsman, Rafael Bolanos, told AFP.
The Colombian navy, with help from police, found five more bodies on Thursday on top of the seven already recovered.
According to survivors, the boat was carrying 32 people — 18 adults and 14 children.
The navy said it was continuing its search and expects to find more bodies.
The Gulf of Uraba, where the boat capsized, is one of the main transit points for African, Asian and Haitian migrants trying to reach the US through the Caribbean, often making stops in Central American countries.
Since the beginning of the year, the Colombian military has rescued 84 shipwreck survivors and recovered 19 bodies.
Colombia’ s government declared three days of mourning Thursday after at least 21 people died in a car bomb at a Bogota police cadet training academy, and 68 were wounded — the worst such incident in the city in 16 years.
The defense ministry said the “terrorist act” was carried out using a vehicle packed with 80 kilograms (around 175 pounds) of explosives.
“Unfortunately, the preliminary toll is 21 people dead, including the person responsible for the incident, and 68 wounded,” Colombian police said in a statement, adding 58 of those injured had been discharged from hospital. The defense ministry had previously reported 11 dead and 65 injured.
“All Colombians reject terrorism and we’re united in fighting it,” President Ivan Duque tweeted in the aftermath.
Later in a statement to the nation, he said he had ordered reinforcements to Colombia’s borders and routes in and out of cities.
“I have also requested that priority be given to all the investigations … to identify the masterminds of this terrorist attack and their accomplices,” he said.
The bomber — who authorities confirmed was killed in the attack — struck at the General Francisco de Paula Santander Officer’s School in the south of Bogota during a promotion ceremony for cadets.
No group has claimed responsibility, but public prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez named suspect Jose Aldemar Rojas Rodriguez as the “material author of this abominable crime.”
Martinez said Rojas Rodriguez entered the school compound at 9:30 am (1430 GMT) driving a grey 1993 Nissan Patrol truck, but gave no details about the explosion.
He said the truck underwent an inspection in July in the Arauco department on the border with Venezuela — a traditional stronghold of ELN Marxist guerrillas.
‘Brutal act of terrorism’
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said one of the dead was an Ecuadoran cadet, while a second suffered light injuries.
“The brutal act of terrorism in Bogota took the life of a compatriot,” Moreno said on Twitter.
“My sincerest thoughts go to the family, friends and companions of Erika Chico.”
Meanwhile, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said that 45 Panamanian cadets were present during the attack, with two injured.
Fanny Contreras, the Colombian armed forces’ health inspector, told local radio that the truck “entered (the school compound) suddenly, almost hitting the police, and then there was the explosion.”
Carol Oviedo said her brother Jonathan, a cadet, told her on the phone he had been injured, before the connection was cut.
“In two years since he joined the police, he’s never had to face a situation like this,” she said.
Like other families, she was lingering in the vicinity of the academy hoping to hear some news.
United States assistant secretary of state in charge of Latin America, Kimberly Breier condemned the attack and said: “Our condolences and sympathies go to the victims and family members of those killed.”
The US embassy in Bogota offered its “help in investigating this reprehensible attack.”
Rosalba Jimenez, 62, was opening her confectionary store near the school when the bomb went off.
“When we turned to look at the school the sky was grey with smoke. People were running, sirens… horrible, horrible, it seemed like the end of the world,” Jimenez told AFP.
Authorities sealed off the area to the press and increased security service patrols in the south of the city, AFP reporters said.
Right-wing Duque, who assumed power in August, has peddled a tough line against Marxist rebels and drug traffickers in the largest cocaine producer in the world.
Peace talks with ELN guerrillas — who in the past have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police — stalled before Duque replaced Juan Manuel Santos as president, and have not been restarted.
Duque has made several demands, including the release of all hostages, as prerequisites to kick-starting the peace process, but the ELN has dismissed those as unacceptable.
After the 2016 peace accord signed by Santos and FARC guerrillas, turning the former rebels into a political party, the ELN is considered the last active rebel group in a country that has suffered more than half a century of conflict.
That cycle of violence has also involved paramilitaries, drug traffickers and other Marxist rebels, including FARC dissidents.
A year ago, six police died and 40 were injured in an attack on a police station in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla that was claimed by the ELN.
In February 2017, the ELN claimed responsibility for an attack on a police patrol in the Macarena neighborhood of Bogota that left one officer dead and several seriously wounded.
In June, three people — including a Frenchwoman — were killed and nine others wounded in an attack on a Bogota shopping mall that authorities blamed on a fringe left-wing group called the Revolutionary People’s Movement (MRP).
Colombia’s foreign minister on Saturday condemned an alleged plot to kill President Ivan Duque and said three Venezuelan citizens had been detained in possession of “weapons of war.”
“For several months there have been intelligence probes into possible attacks against the life of the president,” Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in a video on the ministry’s social media accounts.
He added that three Venezuelans in possession of “weapons of war” had been captured in connection with such plots, without going into further details.
In a separate statement, Trujillo said that the threats came from “internal and external actors.”
The announcements come amid tensions between Bogota and Caracas, following the mutual expulsion of officials from both nations and the presence earlier this month of Russian long-range bombers in Venezuela.
President Duque has called upon the “countries that defend democracy” to not recognize the government of Nicolas Maduro, who begins a new term on January 10, after being re-elected in polls that were boycotted by the opposition and branded a fraud by the international community.
Maduro, for his part, has said the future government of Brazil under President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, Colombia and the United States are all involved in plotting a coup in Venezuela and want to assassinate him.
Duque’s government has said it would not support a military intervention in Venezuela, with which it shares a 2,200 kilometer (1,350 miles) border.
Washington, on the other hand, has indicated “all options are on the table” for dealing with Venezuela’s socialist leader.
Right-winger Duque took office in August promising to diplomatically isolate the Venezuelan regime, which he calls a “dictatorship,” and to get tough on his country’s drug traffickers and remaining guerilla groups.
Colombia is the main host country for Venezuelan migrants who have fled their country’s economic crisis, the worst in its history.
According to the UN, about 2.3 million people left Venezuela since 2015.
A Colombian man who pretended to be a Roman Catholic priest for 18 years hearing confessions and celebrating weddings, was exposed just before Christmas, the diocese in Spain where he was preaching said Monday.
Marriages and baptisms carried out by Miguel Angel Ibarra remain valid but confessions are not even though the “grace of God acted” on the faithful who were deceived, the spokeswoman for the diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta told AFP.
Ibarra moved to Spain from Colombia in October 2017 and had been in charge of the church in the village of Medina Sidonia, which is home to some 11,000 people, in the southern region of Andalusia.
He had pretended to be a priest for the past 18 years, she added.
Colombian church officials informed the diocese on December 13 that it had received a complaint that Ibarra had forged his ordination documents and that after carrying out a “thorough investigation” they had concluded that he had never been ordained, the Spanish diocese said in a statement.
He was ordered to go back to his archdiocese of origin in Colombia, Santa Fe de Antioquia, it added.
The diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta said it regretted that “events like this could overshadow the work of parishioners and ordained priests, who serve the Church every day in an exemplary way.”
Like in other increasingly secular European countries, Spain is finding it difficult to attract new recruits to the priesthood in recent years and has had to resort to importing priests, often from its former colonies in Latin America.
Illegal cocaine plantations in Colombia reached record levels last year following a 17 per cent increase from 2016 to around 423,000 acres (171,000 hectares), the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC) said that translated to a potential 31 per cent increase in cocaine production from last year to almost 1,400 tons.
“I want to express my deep concern about the amount of money that is moving around illicit drugs,” said the UNODC representative to Colombia, Bo Mathiasen.
Colombia remains way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of illegal coca plantations, while it is also the top producer of cocaine, much of it destined for the United States, the biggest consumer of the white powder.
The worst affected region is Narino on the border with Ecuador. On its own, Narino has more farmland dedicated to coca plantations than Peru, the country with the second largest area of such fields with almost 110,000 acres.
Riddled with dissident FARC guerrillas as well as drug trafficking gangs, Narino it one of the country’s most dangerous regions.
The UNODC report said that the “potential production of cocaine has a value of $2.7 billion in the local market” and warned that those proceeds “could undermine peacebuilding efforts, weaken the culture of lawfulness, strengthen armed groups and delegitimize democratic institutions through corruption and illicit financial flows.”
Colombia’s border regions with Ecuador to the southwest and Venezuela to the east and northeast are the principle theatres of armed conflict between government forces and a combination of drug gangs and Marxist rebels.
Although cocaine production is increasing, so too are efforts to halt it.
Cocaine seizures increased by 20 per cent while 4,820 laboratories were destroyed, up 12 per cent.
A week after resigning from Colombia’s senate, influential former president Alvaro Uribe changed his mind on Wednesday, asking his colleagues to ignore his previous request.
Uribe sent his resignation letter last week after he was formally placed under investigation by the Supreme Court for alleged bribery and fraud, writing on Twitter that he felt “morally impeded from being a senator.”
But he was back on that same social media platform on Wednesday asking senate leader Ernesto Macias, a member of his Democratic Center party, to “not take into consideration” his previous resignation.
He said his about-turn was motivated by a desire to let the country’s highest judicial authority investigate the allegations against him.
Had he continued with his resignation, and ceased to be a senator, it would have been a lower court that would have looked into his case.
Uribe added on Twitter that in originally resigning, “it never entered my head that the Supreme Court would not hear the case for which I’m being investigated.”
President from 2002 to 2010, Uribe was only sworn in as a senator less than two weeks ago having garnered the highest number of votes in March’s legislative elections.
Earlier this year, Uribe made a formal complaint to the Supreme Court against opposition politician Ivan Cepeda, accusing him of a plot to incriminate the ex-president in criminal involvement with right-wing paramilitary groups and witness manipulation.
Those allegations date back to 2012.
Investigators not only rejected the complaint but started investigating Uribe for witness interference.
It was a blow to incoming president Ivan Duque, also a member of Uribe’s right-wing party and who takes office in less than a week.
Duque said last week he was sure his political mentor’s “honour and innocence will prevail.”