5,000 activists, students, and trade unionists marched through Bogota on August 30 to protest Bill Clinton’s 9-hour visit to Colombia. Bogota was deemed too dangerous for the U.S. president, so he touched down briefly in the port city of Cartegena, where over 5,000 soldiers and police officers, 350 Secret Service agents, helicopter gunships, and navy patrol boats turned the entire city into a martial law zone. At one point during his visit, the police detained a group of barefoot schoolchildren, for fear they would attack Clinton. (Terrorist narco-traffickers of any age always go barefoot.) Dim Associated Press journalists reported that the locals were happy to see “Saint Bill,” completely missing the irony and subtle humor of statements like: “For me President Clinton is a saint because thanks to his visit, (City Hall) has built me a house that I wasn’t able to afford in 52 years” (from a working class woman whose shack was next door to a new courthouse that Clinton would be dedicating) and “I got a job thanks to one of Clinton’s miracles; it would be great if he could come at least once a year” (from a poor man who was hired to do maintenance work in preparation for Clinton’s visit). Other Colombians skipped the humor. “For the young, there is no other alternative, there are no jobs, they go to the guerrillas,” said a schoolteacher in Putumayo. In Bogota, students in ski masks set fire to a bus, while 5,000 demonstrators wore Uncle Sam hats and skeleton masks and shouted “Yankee go home!” and “Imperialism out of Colombia!” In Medellin, a group of 40 students in masks and bandannas threw rocks at police and shouted “Go home, Clinton!” Clashes were reported all around the country. FARC rebels bombed three ATM machines in Cali, fought with soldiers over the control of a highway, and shot up police stations and bombed army posts in seven districts. Meanwhile, in the U.S., three major human rights groups–Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America–condemned Clinton’s signing of a waiver to release the funds for Plan Colombia when the Colombian government and military had met none of the human rights criteria specified by Congress. Clinton cited “national security” reasons for this arrogant move.
Six U.N. staff were killed last week in West Timor by rampaging militia members. The victims included a Puerto Rican-born American, an Ethiopian, a Croatian, and three Timorese. The U.N. and other aid agencies immediately withdrew all their personnel from the refugee camps in West Timor for safety reasons. An estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees are still trapped in miserable conditions in refugee camps run by right-wing militia supported by the Indonesian military. On September 1, Indonesian investigators released a list of suspects they believe were involved in the post-election violence in East Timor last year. Supporters of East Timorese independence immediately criticized the list of 19 names, saying that it represented only a handful of lesser offenders and it should, but doesn’t, including the high-profile Indonesian General Wiranto and the feared Eurico Guterres, head of one of the largest East Timorese militias. The 78 member investigation team included a number of Indonesian military representatives and police, who have influenced the list of suspects. In the meantime, the militias have grown stronger and re-entered and re-established bases in the central and southern regions of East Timor. The U.N. peacekeeping forces have deliberately not confronted the militias; instead they are pursuing ineffective strategies, such as dropping leaflets on the suspected militia bases, hoping their members will spontaneously give up their weapons. Both leaders of the respected National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), which is working with the U.N. to set up a new government in East Timor and hold elections next year, have reacted angrily to the reappearance of the militias and the inaction of U.N. peacekeepers. Jose Ramos Horta has said that Falintil pro-independence resistance fighters based near Dili have wanted to confront the militia, and he’s willing to let them, provided the U.N. agrees. Xanana Gusmao, who is poised to become East Timor’s first president, has said that it may be difficult to keep Falintil members from breaking away on their own to track down and kill the militia. Gusmao, who formerly led the Falintil, said that he would like to strike back at the militia at their main bases across the border in West Timor.