Two bombings in Bogota draw attention to renewed violence in Colombia

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re with The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH here in Boston. Colombia, a country once rife with violence, had seemed pretty calm lately. But this summer is proving otherwise. In the past few weeks, there’s been a series of attacks on oil pipelines in rural parts of the country. Those attacks were carried out by FARC rebels. Then yesterday, two separate explosions rocked the capital, Bogota. At least seven people were hurt, though none of the injuries were severe. Both of yesterday’s bombs targeted a private pension firm called Porvenir. Joshua Goodman is with the Associated Press, he’s the AP bureau chief in Bogota. There’s speculation that yesterday’s attacks on this pension fund were carried out by the FARC but there’s no blame on one specific group. What do we know about who is responsible?


Joshua Goodman: We know very little at this stage. There is speculation that it could be the rebels, but that’s really just because the rebels have been stepping attacks in other parts of the country. The capital, so far, has been spared any violent attacks from the FARC, as far as we know. Authorities are offering rewards for information; they’re looking at security cameras right now, they’re seeing the people who may have dropped off packages. There apparently was a call to one of the branches before the bomb went off, but we really don’t know who carried this out. It’s sort of just speculation at this point.


Werman: Right. Can you think of any reason attackers would target this particular pension firm?


Goodman: Not specifically this target, but what is true is that these sort of explosions and blasts are not unique even to the capital. There’s a lot of criminal gangs and a lot of extortion rackets in Colombian cities, so this could very well have just been a private vendetta.


Werman: I was in Bogota in 2009 and a day before I got there a Blockbuster video store was blown up and nobody really knew why or how, and every parking lot for the following weeks had an extra lineup of security, cops scanning the bottom of cars for bombs. What’s the mood right now in Bogota?


Goodman: One of these two attacks yesterday was at the heart of the financial district. I actually was at a reception to celebrate July 4th at the U.S. ambassador’s residence only seven blocks away from the scene, and everyone at the party was surprised and a little bit rattled. It’s not so common that wealthier neighborhoods of the capital experience this sort of violence. I think the attack you’re referring to at that Blockbuster may have been one of the last. I think overall nobody is expecting to see a major terrorist attack like the ones we saw in 2003, for example, in the capital at a private social club that killed dozens of people. But I will say, precisely because Bogota has made strides in terms of reducing terrorist attacks, if you will, or attacks by the rebels, people now have grown accustom to having safety in their daily lives. That has created some concern among authorities that Bogota perhaps isn’t prepared if the violence from the rebels from the country comes to the capital.


Werman: Right. So, for example, those attacks on oil pipelines seems to have been attributed to the FARC. But generally what is the status of the FARC right now? I thought that, for the most part, many of the fighters were calling it quits?


Goodman: The FARC and the government have been engaged in peace talks for almost three years and progress was very slow but steady until about April/May, when there was a series of attacks on both sides--army bombings of guerilla camps, guerilla attacks on army platoons while they were sleeping--that have really sort of sullied the environment and the mood. I think a few months ago the entire country was expecting a peace deal to be signed sometime soon in the coming months. Now the recent polls that we’re seeing because of these attacks have shown that actually Colombians overall favor, for the first time since the peace talks began, a military solution to the country’s long-running conflict. So, both sides in this conflict are sort of retrenching.


Werman: So, how hard is it to generalize about violence in Colombia these days? FARC-related, drug-related- are people confused?


Goodman: Yeah, very hard. You know, a lot of the violence here has nothing to do with the country’s conflict. It’s generated by criminal gangs, extortion rackets, drug trafficking. I think what you’re going to see though is some politicians may try to blame the FARC. But we have to really look carefully at what evidence they present if, indeed, they do start to blame the rebels for these attacks.


Werman: That was Joshua Goodman in Bogota. He’s the bureau chief for the Associated Press there.