A bomb targeting a staunch ally of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe killed three people and injured 25 near Bogota’s financial district, upstaging the start of a free trade deal with the U.S.
Head and chest injuries suffered by former Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londono after a blast ripped open his SUV on a traffic-clogged city street yesterday aren’t life-threatening, the government said. The explosion killed Londono’s chauffeur and one of his bodyguards, as well as the driver of an adjacent bus.
The attack, which the police blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is the deadliest in Colombia’s capital since the Marxist guerrilla group in 2003 detonated a car bomb in a social club frequented by politicians and businessmen, killing 37. The 8 million residents of Bogota have largely been insulated from the political violence that continues in parts of the country where the FARC remain dominant even after a decade-long, U.S.-backed counterinsurgent offensive.
Londono, a member of the Conservative Party, served as Uribe’s interior and justice minister between 2002 and 2004, helping design a peace deal with paramilitary leaders that human rights groups have criticized as being too lenient with some of the country’s worst rights abusers. A lawyer and economist, he currently hosts a radio program and writes a column for Bogota’s El Tiempo newspaper defending Uribe’s policies.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who served alongside Londono as defense minister in Uribe’s cabinet, condemned the attack. He cancelled an event in Cartagena to commemorate the free trade agreement and instead ordered his top military aides and Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro to an emergency meeting to discuss security in the capital.
“We’ve eliminated terrorism, but not entirely, and this incident is proof of that,” Santos said after visiting Londono in the hospital.
The blast came on the same day as a free trade agreement with the U.S. came into effect, triggering protests across the country. The accord, which was inaugurated at midnight with a shipment of flowers to the U.S., will immediately end duties on more than 80 percent of U.S. exports to Colombia.
Petro, a former guerrilla, said the attack is an attempt to “destabilize” the city. The local government in Bogota banned motorbikes from carrying passengers after eyewitnesses said the bomb was planted on the hood of Londono’s vehicle by two-wheeler hit men. University classes were suspended after students, some of them wearing ski masks, protested against the trade deal.
Earlier yesterday police in Bogota deactivated a car bomb that was set to go off in front of their headquarters.
Investors who’ve poured record amounts of money into the resource-rich South American nation as a result of security improvements were little shaken by the violence.
The peso weakened 0.8 percent to 1786.20 per U.S. dollar, paring its rally this year to 8.5 percent, still the best performance among all currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
“I believe the FTA represents the dawn of a new era,” Gabriel Silva, Colombian ambassador to the U.S., said in a speech to business leaders during a luncheon at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
The free-trade agreement stalled in the U.S. Congress amid opposition from House Democrats and unions who said Colombia did too little to protect labor leaders from violence. President Barack Obama worked to broaden support by securing stronger commitments from Colombia.
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