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A car bomb killed at least six people and wounded more than 40 others Wednesday in a Colombian port city notorious for cocaine trafficking.
The attack in Buenaventura ripped into a local attorney general’s office and damaged taxis passing on the street. While authorities say they suspect leftist FARC rebels are responsible, they have not ruled out the possibility it was a retaliation against the office’s drug investigations.
The bombing in Colombia’s largest port comes ahead of the country’s May presidential elections to replace Alvaro Uribe. His stiff crackdown on the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) since he took office in 2002 has earned him popularity, but guerilla attacks remain a problem.
Juan Carlos Abadia, governor of the state where Buenaventura is located (see map), said the attacks sought to “destabilize” the country and “generate an atmosphere of fear and chaos” ahead of the elections, according to Reuters.
Blaming the FARC for the attack, the governor also said it was intended to create a diversion after authorities intensified an investigation into the recent torching of several trucks on the Buga-Buenaventura highway.
“It could be backlash because the Army and the Navy are going after these bandits from the day that they burned the semi-trucks, they need terrorist acts for distraction," he was quoted as saying by Columbia Reports.
Gen. Freddy Padilla, head of Colombia’s armed forces, also blamed the FARC for the attack. But President Uribe said it was too early to determine responsibility because police have not announced the type of explosive used, reports Al Jazeera.
"We can't let our guard down," he told reporters in Medellin, announcing a reward of up to $150,000 for information leading to those responsible.
The leading candidate in Colombia’s upcoming elections, former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, has painted himself as the legitimate heir to Uribe’s presidency, reports The Christian Science Monitor. He is expected to continue to put pressure on the FARC, whose numbers are reportedly dwindling but still reach the thousands. Other candidates in the race are former FARC captives.
Although the campaign to drive the rebel units out of the jungles has been popular both with locals and the United States, Uribe’s use of rightist paramilitary groups in the effort has been criticized by human rights activists. His tactics have also spawned new criminal organizations that pose an increasing threat to human rights and security in Colombia and often function with complacency from local authorities, the Christian Science Monitor reported in February.
By the most conservative estimates, the “successor groups” of right-wing paramilitaries have at least 4,000 members that regularly kill, commit massacres, and forcibly displace individuals and entire communities, Human Rights Watch warned in a February report. (You can read the Human Rights Watch report here.)