Colombian President Declares State of Emergency

The emergency mandate, outlined in Colombia’s 1991 constitution, allows Uribe to legislate by executive order and bypass the country’s Congress.

“The government has decided … to declare the state of emergency,” Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londono told reporters at a news conference in Bogota, Colombia’s capital, early Monday. “The nation is subject to a regime of terror in which democratic authority is sinking.”

Londono was not specific about what the emergency measures would entail, but said the decree did not call for the suspension of civil liberties.

The government intends to use the state of emergency to create a 1.2 percent tax on individuals and companies with assets surpassing $60,000, such as property and estates. The tax is expected to raise $778.5 million to strengthen military and police forces.

Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez said the money would be used to create two elite brigades of 3,000 troops, as well as pay for 10,000 additional police officers and a new network of civilian “police auxiliaries.”

Under the emergency decree, the government could authorize searches of private homes and businesses without a warrant, arrest suspects without a criminal charge and suspend certain civil rights, such as freedom of the media and the right to move freely in the country.

The decree, also called a “state of domestic commotion,” is valid for 90 days and can be extended for another 90 days contingent upon approval by Congress.

The Uribe administration announced the state of emergency after a weekend of fierce clashes between the military and right-wing paramilitaries — the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, better known by their Spanish acronym, AUC — in the Antioquia province.

Army spokesman Capt. Jose Espejo told reporters Saturday that soldiers killed 20 fighters from the Metro Block, one of the AUC’s units, and captured 17 others during battles that began late Friday near Segovia, a town located some 187 miles from Bogota. Three soldiers were reportedly wounded in the fighting.

Uribe, who won the presidential election by a landslide in May, became Colombia’s 38th president last Wednesday. But as Uribe was being sworn in, a wave of rebel violence broke out just blocks away from the ceremonies in Bogota, killing at least 19 people and wounding some two dozen others.

The new president has vowed to crack down on the leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers who have terrorized the country for nearly four decades.

Former presidents Cesar Gaviria and Ernesto Samper declared states of emergency in the mid-1990s. The Supreme Court has overruled the measure twice in the past, but Uribe’s administration said the court has no legal ground for overturning the decree this time.

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