Many important events and changes occurred in Colombia in 2011; some famous, others infamous. These are the top 10 events that dominated Colombian media in chronological order.
MAY 3 – $2.5B HEALTH CARE SCANDAL UNFOLDS
Colombia’s National Police revealed that government and health insurance employees have embezzled more than $2.5 billion from health care funds. The scandal has caused massive financial problems for hospitals and the expropiation of a number of health care providers. Dozens were arrested, and the scandal forced the Colombian state to inject billions of dollars into its nearly bankrupt healthcare system.
JUNE 10 – SANTOS SIGNS ‘HISTORIC’ VICTIMS LAW
The signing of the Victims and Land Restitution Law was internationally recognized as historic. This law creates mechanisms for compensating survivors of the tens of thousands, mostly civilians, killed since 1985 in the country’s armed conflict between the state, left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. It will return stolen land to hundreds of thousands of displaced. Taking effect January 1, 2012, each victim is to receive between $4,760 and $10,900 which will cost the government approximately $26 billion. Before and after the signing of the law, dozens of land rights activists were murdered, allegedly by illegal armed groups trying to prevent the restitution of stolen land.
JULY 9 – FARC BOMB LOCAL MARKET
Colombia’s largest guerrilla group the FARC senselessly bombed a local market in southwestern town of Toribio, killing three people and injuring close to 70. The attack came amid a guerrilla offensive on a number of towns in the Cauca department after the Colombian army was able to displace FARC leader “Alfonso Cano” from his hideout in the mountains east of the Cauca department.
JULY 26 – MINISTER JAILED IN CORRUPTION SCANDAL
Colombia’s former Minister of Agriculture, Andres Felipe Arias, was incarcerated for the highest-profile corruption scandal of 2011. Arias was charged with embezzling $25 million through a government subsidies program, AIS. That money was supposed to aid poor farmers, but instead ended up in the pockets of government-loyal elites. During his tenure, many subsidies were granted to wealthy families unrelated to the agricultural industry, such as former Miss Colombia Valerie Dominguez – an event that made Colombia Reports’ top 10 scandals of the year.
JULY 30 – URIBE’S AIDE JAILED OVER WIRETAPPING
Former President Alvaro Uribe‘s chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, was jailed for illegally wiretapping Supreme Court judges, opposition leaders, journalists and human rights workers. He was initially charged for the crime on May 18, but was granted house arrest for the duration of his trial. He was also barred from holding public office for 18 years for abusing his position of power, conspiracy and fraud.
OCTOBER 12 – US CONGRESS RATIFIES COLOMBIA FTA
After five years of legislative deadlock the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) was ratified. Many U.S. Senators believed the bill would create jobs by increasing exports to Colombia; however, a good deal of American opponents feared losing their jobs to outsourced cheap labor in Colombia. Many Colombians were worried that the trade deal could wipe out small and medium scale farmers who are unable to compete with cheap, subsidized American agriculture. Both sides agree that human rights violations are a major concern since as of 1986, some 2,800 trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia, with 50 occurring last year.
OCTOBER 30 – PETRO WINS BOGOTA MAYOR ELECTION
Colombia’s capital, Bogota, voted into office a former guerrilla and a socialist when they elected Gustavo Petro as their new mayor. Petro was part of the M-19 guerrilla movement, which was once the second largest group in Colombia next to the FARC, until its demobilization in 1991. Petro pushed for demobilization when public sympathy turned against the movement, especially after a disastrous assault on the Palace of Justice in Bogota in 1985. Afterward, Petro dedicated his life to a full-time career in mainstream politics.
NOVEMBER 4 – FARC LEADER “ALFONSO CANO” KILLED
In what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said was the biggest blow to the FARC, the Colombian Armed Forces killed the supreme leader of the guerrilla movement, “Alfonso Cano,” during Operation Odysseus. Cano had been the head of the group since 2008 and had been actively pursued by the Colombian Military. He had many close calls, but finally met his demise on November 4. Some saw the event as a step towards peace and demobilization while others just saw it as a never-ending cycle of violence. Cano’s position was later filled by “Timochenko,” who many believe is more militaristic and less inclined to negotiate peace talks than his predecessor.
NOVEMBER 16 – EDUCATIONAL REFORM BILL SHOT DOWN
After the Colombian government tried to reform education with the controversial Law 30, massive student protests crippled the educational institution and paralyzed cities throughout the entire country. Some protests turned violent, resulting in the loss of life while others saw the defacing of numerous government buildings over a bill that would have made higher education more expensive and difficult to obtain. The government ultimately bowed to the people, and the bill was thrown out of Congress.
NOVEMBER 26 – FARC EXECUTES 4 HOSTAGES
One of the more tragic events of 2011 occurred when the FARC executed four hostages during an Armed Forces offensive. The hostages had spent more than 12 years in captivity, longing to be free and with their families. Many criticized the government for the botched rescue attempt while others were infuriated by the actions of the FARC, so much so that countrywide peace marches were assembled on December 6 to demand that the FARC release all hostages immediately.