As Colombia's US trade deal begins, an explosion in Bogota


Police officers inspect the wreckage of the car of former interior minister Fernando Londono on May 15, 2012 after an explosion ripped through a crowded area of Bogota's commercial district.

A controversial US-Colombia free trade pact kicked off Tuesday with a bang. While pretty Colombian flowers were the symbolic first product to enter the US under the budding trade deal, Colombians in the capital of Bogota were rocked by a nasty bomb explosion — horrifying news for the South American country.

Two people were killed and dozens were wounded. Among those injured was a former top cabinet official of ex-President Alvaro Uribe. If the ex-cabinet member was indeed the target, that would be Bogota's first fatal political attack of its kind in nearly a decade, the Associated Press reported.

Fernando Londoño, a staunch right-winger, served as Uribe’s interior and justice minister but now has a talk radio show and writes newspaper columns. Apparently someone wants him dead. A man placed a bomb on his SUV, killing Londoño’s driver and bodyguard and wounding the ex-official and bystanders.

On Tuesday, early media reports suggested that some suspected links between the attack and the start date of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Many people including labor leaders in the US and Colombia protested the deal, not least because Colombia has not kept up its end by implementing fair rules for labor unions. Several demonstrations took place the day the agreement went into effect. 

Read more: US lawmakers question Colombia trade deal

However, that purported anti-free trade movement connection does not seem to be a reigning hypothesis now. AP reports that a police chief said he suspects this was the work of the country’s leading guerrilla group, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, although the guerrillas have not claimed responsibility. An investigation into the attack is ongoing.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said, according to French news wire AFP, officials have not ruled out FARC "or any other terrorist group."

On the radio and in the papers, Londoño doesn’t mince words about his hatred of the FARC. He also criticizes the current administration of President Juan Manuel Santos for supposedly going soft on the rebels, AP reported, while the Uribe administration boasted having fought hard to decimate them.

The killer reportedly used a “bomba lapa,” a limpet bomb with magnets that's known to be a tactic of the Basque separatist group ETA in the north of Spain, according to El Colombiano newspaper. In the past, Colombia's FARC has been accused of collaborating with ETA.

Another shred of evidence also points to FARC as a possible suspect in Tuesday's attack. Five years ago, when the Colombian army seized a computer belonging to the FARC it found plans to kill Londoño, El Colombiano reported.

In Wednesday’s editorial, the newspaper writes:

“The terrorism that yesterday sought to destroy the capital of the republic must not create divisions among democrats. The time will come to hold the government to account on its effectiveness, but in a crisis like this, they require the support of citizens to apply the law, capture those guilty of the attack and re-establish calm for the public.”

Analysts say this is a setback for a country painting itself as a hot emerging market, whose president even made the cover of Time recently with the headline The Colombian Comeback.

"The news has cast a shadow over Colombia's widely touted success story focused on its emergence from decades of armed conflict," Heather Berkman, Latin America analyst for risk consultancy Eurasia Group, writes in an emailed report Wednesday.

"Colombia is unlikely to return to the widespread insecurity witnessed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and urban areas are considerably more secure than in the past. However, yesterday's attack follows a steady uptick in attacks on infrastructure in recent months, and the rise of extortion and illegal mining highlight how the FARC and other illegal armed groups still pose challenges to Colombia's ongoing boom in oil and mining investment," Berkman writes.

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