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Bombs Explode in Colombian Capital

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Two small bombs exploded in the offices of Porvenir, a private pension fund in Bogota, Columbia’s capital on Thursday, injuring eight people. Defence Secretary Luis Carlos Villegas has described the incidents as acts of terrorism, but has refrained from assigning blame to any particular group. No one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the explosions, but there has been on-going speculation that the country’s largest rebel movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was behind the attack. Bogota’s police commander, General Humberto Guatibonza, has been unable to confirm or deny these allegations, saying only that investigators are still in the process of interviewing witnesses and examining footage captured on nearby security cameras.

The explosions have come at a time of increased tension between the government and the rebel group, who have recently launched a number of high profile attacks on Columbian infrastructure projects.  After implementing a unilateral ceasefire in December last year, 11 members of FARC were killed by government forces in an ambush in April, resulting in the resumption of hostilities. Since then, both sides have launched a series of attacks on one another, throwing into jeopardy the two and a half year long peace talks that have been taking place in Cuba. In addition to its suspected involvement in the Bogota bombings, FARC has, over the past few weeks, bombed several oil pipelines, causing thousands of litres of crude oil to run into nearby rivers, causing an environmental disaster that experts believe will take decades to resolve. Because of this, the Colombian government’s chief negotiator has said that unless FARC shows greater commitment to the peace process, the government may pull out altogether, thereby condemning the Colombian people to a bloody civil war with no foreseeable end.

In response, rebel commander Pastor Alape, a member of the FARC negotiating team in Cuba, said on Sunday that both sides needed to take steps to “deepen the de-escalation of the armed conflict.” He called on President Santos to make “strong gestures…to prove that (he) will become a president of peace.” FARC insists that the Colombian government should agreed to bilateral ceasefire, a move which, until recently, President Santos has entirely rejected. However, the government may be prepared to consider entering into such an agreement if FARC is ready to 1) accept judicial responsibility for any acts of violence perpetrated by its members and 2) renounce its illicit activities including extortion and the drug trade.

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Two Blasts Rock Central Nigerian City

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According to police officials, two blasts rocked the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, in what is the latest unrest to occur in the region. Emergency services reported Monday that at least 44 people were killed in the twin bomb blasts, which comes after a wave of mass casualty attacks blamed on Boko Haram.

Plateau state police spokesman Abuh Emmanuel confirmed “…that there were two explosions in Jos this evening. One happened at the Bauchi motor park and the other at Yantaya, near the mosque.” He further indicated that he could not immediately state if there were any causalities, adding that police officers have been sent to the scene. On Monday, Mohammed Abdulsalam, from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disclosed that “at the moment we have 44 dead bodies and 47 others injured from the scenes of the two attacks.”

Witnesses have reported that the first explosion went off around 9:14 PM (2014 GMT) at Bauchi road shopping complex, which is located near the Bauchi motor park and the University of Jos. It targeted the packed Shagalinku restaurant located in the shopping complex, which is popular with travellers from the northeast. One witnesses disclosed that the second explosion was heard four minutes later, adding that it occurred close to the popular Yantaya Mosque. The witness reported that a van and several other vehicles were seen transporting some of the dead and injured to the local hospital. Another witnesses, who was at the Yantaya mosque for the “Tafsir,” or Koran commentary session, reported that a number of attackers opened fire from outside at about 9:20 PM (2020 GMT), adding “they fired an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) at the mosque but it hit a metal bar on the facade and exploded…Many people were killed and injured from the shooting and the explosion.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s bomb attacks in Jos, which is the capital of Plateau state. Boko Haram however has repeatedly attacked the city in the past. In February, at least seventeen people were killed when a twin blast hit a bus park in the city.

Sunday night’s twin blasts come just hours after a suicide attack on a church in the northeastern city of Potiskum on Sunday, which left five people dead, including the pastor, a woman and two children.

According to an unofficial count, Sunday’s bombings took the death toll from raids, explosions and suicide attacks to 267 this month along, and to 524 since Muhammadu Buhari became president on 29 May. While President Buhari has repeatedly vowed that he will crush the militant’s six-year insurgency, the rising death toll, coupled with increasing attacks and the military being unable to prevent them, the president is now under growing pressure to react quickly.

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New Ebola Cases Reported in Liberia After Country is Declared Free of Disease

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After reporting no confirmed cases of EVD since 20 March, and subsequently being declared Ebola-free by the WHO on 9 May, routine surveillance detected two confirmed cases of EVD in the town of Nedowein, Margibi County.

The initial case is a 17-year-old male who first became ill on 21 June. After checking into a local health facility, the patient was treated for malaria and discharged. He died on 28 June and received a safe burial the same day. An oral swab taken before the burial subsequently tested positive twice for EVD. On Wednesday, workers exhumed the 17-year-olds body. According to an official, new tests will help to determine the mode of transmission.

On 1 July, Liberian officials confirmed a second Ebola case in the same town. According to Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyeswah, the infected person has since been moved to Monrovia. Since then, officials have identified 102 contacts, however the number is expected to increase as investigations continue. At this stage, local officials have indicated that the origin of infection is unknown. The initial case reportedly had no recent history of travel, contact with visitors from affected areas, or funeral attendance. The area of Nedowein has since been placed under quarantine.

On Wednesday, more than 100 Ebola centre workers stormed the Ministry of Health in eastern Monrovia, demanding that they be paid hazard pay, which they have indicated they have not received since the country was declared Ebola-free. According to Health Minister Bernice Dahn, Liberia has paid hazard benefits to “99 percent” of people who worked in the Ebola treatment units in addition to their regular salaries, adding that if there are people who feel that they have not been paid, “they should come forward” and make their case with the ministry.

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Migration Crisis

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The volatile situation in Middle East and in North Africa, along with the economic recession that plagues many states, have resulted in increased migratory flows found in overcrowded boats heading towards Europe. Data collected from the EU border agency Frontex in the first two quarters of 2015 present a worrisome situation since the percentage of irregular migrants attempting to cross to Europe is much higher than in the same period last year. Italy and Greece are on the frontline due to their geographical position and their proximity to areas such as Libya where the conflict and the lack of political control has created a fertile ground for the smugglers. Italy and Greece have been unable to shoulder alone the heavy load of irregular migration and they have urged their EU partners to do more to help.

The number of migrants reaching Greece by sea has soared to 63,000 this year, surpassing the 62,000 who arrived in Italy by sea. This increase of the migratory flows towards Greece can be explained by the fact that the voyage from Libya to Italy is longer and more hazardous. Migrant deaths at sea this year reached 1,865 by June 10, and of those, 1,816 died trying to reach Italy. A shipwreck off Italy’s Lampedusa island on 19 April took some 800 lives. So, more migrants, especially Syrians, choosing Greece as their destination instead of attempting to follow the Libya route. To the present, according to Frontex, some 153,000 irregular migrants have been detected at Europe’s external borders. That is a 149 percent increase compared with the same period in 2014 when the total was 61,500. One of the biggest operations that tested Italy’s and other states’ rescue teams’ abilities and underlined the need for an immediate solution took place on 6-7 June. During these two days nearly 6,000 people were rescued from the sea and taken to southern Italy. A surge has also been detected towards the Greek island of Lesvos where daily the authorities have to rescue migrants packed on flimsy rubber dinghies or small wooden boats, putting a huge strain on local resources. The mainland borders of Greece are not to be ignored since they remain a major transit point using Turkey or nearby Balkan countries hoping to reach one of the countries in northern Europe. Additionally, Hungary has emerged as another major pressure point. From January to the end of May 50,000 irregular migrants attempted to cross the borders from Serbia into Hungary, an 880 percent increase compared with the same period last year. Due to these increased numbers, Hungary’s authorities have urged EU not to send back migrants that their entry point was Hungary. At the same time, the government announced its plan to erect a fence across its border with Serbia to discourage future migrants from choosing Hungary as their entry point into Europe.The civil war in Syria has triggered a huge flow of migrants towards Europe declaring Syrians as the largest migrant group by nationality with more than 8,000 people. Then come migrants from Eritrea with more than 3,000 and Somalia with more than 2,900.

In November 2014 Italy ended its search and rescue mission called Mare Nostrum. It was replaced by a cheaper and more limited EU operation called Triton, focused on patrolling within 30 nautical miles of the Italian coast. However, under the increased migratory flows Triton proved to be inadequate. After argument due to the strain under which the coastal guards were in, the EU leaders decided to triple funding for operation Triton reaching the spending levels of Italy’s Mare Nostrum. At the same time, many European leaders committed to send naval assets to the Mediterranean in an attempt to shoulder some of the burden the European countries of the south face.

At an emergency summit on 23 April, EU leaders agreed to strengthen maritime patrols in the Mediterranean aiming at disrupting people trafficking networks and capture and destroy boats before migrants board them. However, any military action will have to conform with international law. EU’s new plans focused on eliminating the smugglers and handling the condition that facilitated their existence, focusing on the Libyan crisis. The EU was seeking a UN mandate that would allow military action to destroy or halt smugglers’ boats in Libyan waters. According to EU these operations fall under chapter seven of the UN charter that authorises the use of force to maintain international peace. However Libya criticised EU proposals stating that EU’s intentions were unclear and ‘’very worrying’’. At the same time, military action could leave migrants trapped in Libya in desperate conditions. According to rights group Amnesty International many migrants reported that they were driven to make the journey across the Mediterranean in a haste under the threat of ‘’horrific abuse’’, including abduction, torture and rape in Libya.

Recently, EU’s efforts to tackle the migration problem have focused on the introduction of new measures that impose migrant quotas on the 28 countries of the union under a distribution ‘’key’’ system. The states will be required to accept asylum seekers in proportions to the size of their economy, unemployment rate and population. The commission’s proposals would start modestly, calling for the distribution across the EU of 60,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers, 40,000 already in Italy and Greece and 20,000 still to make the Mediterranean crossing. The plan was greeted with mixed reactions. UK, Denmark and Ireland were given the option not to participate in the quota system due to special opt-outs with the EU on asylum policy. Germany accepted the plan but demanded some corrections been made. Italy, Austria and Sweden has also supported the plan. However, many countries have strongly opposed to the plan, such as France, Poland, Spain, Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states deeming it unfair and against their national interests. At the same time, the countries that oppose the plan pointed that the redistribution of asylum seekers may contravene the UN convention to refugees, which enshrines the right of people to file for refugee status in the country of arrival. For the implementation of the plan France’s and Spain’s support, along with Germany’s, is necessary. Some other measures considered by EU are:

  • Additional funding for operations by Frontex;
  • An extra 50 million euros ($56 million) for an EU-wide resettlement scheme, to offer 20,000 places across member states to displaced people in clear need of international protection in Europe;
  • The possibility of organising a joint security operation in the Mediterranean to dismantle smugglers’ networks by capturing and destroying their boats;
  • The collaboration with migrants’ countries of origin and nations that are major transit points to try to stem the flow of migrants before they are put on boats, including by helping them to strengthen their borders;
  • The introduction of a new policy on legal migration to reduce the incentive for people to seek to enter illegally and making sure all EU states share a common policy on asylum process.

However, in many cases, the adoption and implementation of these measures is obstructed by the internal problems that EU currently faces such as the surge of right-wing parties in many countries, the economic difficulties that many countries face and the high unemployment rates. Even if the EU approves the proposed quotas system its implementation is going to be difficult if one considers the sporadic implementation of the existing asylum system under the Dublin Regulation. According to this regulation, responsibility for examining the claim lies primarily with the member state which played the greatest part in the applicant’s entry or residence in the EU. Often that is the first EU country that the migrant reached, but not always, as in many cases migrants want to be reunited with family members that often resident in other European states. Its full implementation is dubious since many countries, such as Greece, complain they are inundated with applications since their geographical position makes them the more accessible entry points of the migrants. Germany and Finland have already stopped sending the migrants back to Greece despite the regulation being in full effect. Under this conditions more and more states decide to act unilaterally in an effort to protect their national interests. Austria threatened to reimpose controls on its Hungarian border and UK is considering increasing security around the French port of Calais. Hungary announced that it will no longer readmit asylum seekers who had traveled to other EU countries after officially entering the EU’s border-free Schengen area in Hungary. At the same time, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said that if no equitable deal is struck, Italy will start issuing migrants with temporary visas allowing them to travel elsewhere in Europe, stop receiving the hundreds of boats arriving from Libya and refuse docking for foreign ships rescuing those stranded at sea.

Judging by the way the European states responded to the proposed quotas plan, and the unilateral actions that they adopted to secure their nations against the migration problem it seems that the solution of the migration problem will not be achieved anytime soon. The states seem to be reluctant to accept the fact that the migration crisis is a European problem and a common comprehensive approach is needed. An approach that will not only solve the distribution of the migrants but will view it not as the main problem but as a symptom that arises though causes such as the conflicts, instability and poverty that infest many countries at the European neighbourhood.

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Guatemala on Brink of Crisis Amid Corruption Scandal

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Guatemala’s government is thinning with a string of high-profile resignations and arrests of top officials following the revelation of a corruption scandal inside President Otto Perez Molina’s administration. Massive protests gathering thousands of Guatemalans have been organized via social media in order to demand the President’s resignation. This is the first time in Guatemala’s recent history that a broad cross section of society including students, politicians, the country’s powerful business lobby, indigenous peoples, and members of a historically passive middle class, joined together in a unified call for the removal of corrupt officials.

The initial scandal that sparked public anger involves a criminal network that has been called La Linea (The Line), in reference to a certain mobile phone number importers called to negotiate the amount they paid in customs taxes. Thanks to this network, businesses could receive an illegal discount on the required fees when their property cleared customs. About 50% of the balance was then paid to the state. The rest went to a network of defrauders that included corrupt officials and their collaborators.

On April 16, Guatemalan authorities arrested 22 people including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency. This 8-months investigation was the result of a joint effort between the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a UN-backed institution charged with investigating and helping disband clandestine and parallel power structures linked to the state, and Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutors estimate that Guatemala lost at least $120 million in tax revenue just in the 8-months period to the scam. As the investigation continues to unfold, it has also revealed an inter-connected web of judicial corruption that’s been nicknamed the “Law Firm of Impunity”, resulting in investigations into judges and justices on Guatemala´s Supreme Court. Iduvina Hernandez, a political analyst and the executive director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy said: “the parallel power structure that has been revealed through the CICIG’s investigations is derived precisely from the existence of a larger pact of impunity.» In the case of La Linea, top officials and individuals allegedly raked in millions in dollars per year while state institutions lacked important resources for education, medicine, and basic security.

Additionally, just a week later a second investigation by CICIG and the Public Prosecutor’s Office revealed another corruption scandal within Guatemala’s Social Security Institute. The institute had awarded a kidney dialysis contract to the company Drogueria Pisa in exchange for kickbacks to government officials, including IGSS employees as well as the head of the Guatemalan Central Bank. Pisa had no expertise providing the treatment, and 13 have died since. A total of 17 public officials have been arrested, but most notable has been the arrest of the president of the board of the IGSS, Juan de Dios Rodriguez who was a powerful former military man and who once served as President Perez Molina’s private secretary.

Such corruption scandals within the government and at different levels triggered massive movements of demonstrations and rocked President Perez Molina’s administration. Vice President Roxana Baldetti was the first to step down, handing in her resignation on May 8. Although she wasn’t implicated in the initial corruption investigation, she was plunged into controversy when her private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, was identified as the leader of the fraud ring. Shortly after her resignation, Baldetti was also placed under investigation. As investigations continue, high-level officials in a number of major executive branch offices have resigned or been fired.

Moreover, President Otto Pérez Molina has dismissed or asked for resignations from his chief of intelligence, the ministers of the environment and of energy and mines, and his interior minister, among others. Many of the ousted officials are members of Pérez Molina’s inner circle and are under investigation for various acts of alleged corruption.

However, these ministry shake-ups have not been enough to quell calls for the president’s resignation and demonstrations continue to fill Guatemala’s streets. The crisis is playing out ahead of presidential elections in September, with polls giving a large lead to Manuel Baldizón, a populist right-wing tycoon. This is the deepest political crisis of the post-war era in Guatemala. But it remains unclear whether it will eventually strengthen or dangerously undermine the country’s still-feeble democracy. On June 10, Guatemala’s Supreme Court accepted a petition to allow Congress to decide whether to revoke President Perez Molina’s immunity from prosecution for possible involvement in acts of corruption. President Perez Molina has stated that he will not resign in spite of the public movement against him. The situation in Guatemala is currently highly flexible and many scenarios could play out in the coming weeks.



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