BOGOTA, Colombia -- A former Cabinet member and close associate of ex-President Alvaro Uribe apparently was the target of bomb attempt Tuesday that wounded him, killed two people and wounded 24 others in a shopping district of Bogota.
President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the bomb attack in brief televised comments, saying it was directed at former Interior Minister Fernando Londono. The bomb was hidden in a vehicle and, police suspect, detonated from a remote location. Another theory had it that two men on a motorcycle threw a bomb at Londono's armored vehicle.
Before Londono was identified as a victim, some police officials speculated that the bomb might have been exploded as a terrorist response to the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which takes effect in stages beginning Tuesday. Hours before the blast, which was heard across northern Bogota, police had deactivated a car bomb placed in front of police headquarters.
Londono’s driver and police escort were among those killed, Santos said. Television reports showed photos of the former minister bloodied but on his feet and apparently not seriously hurt. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Santos canceled a trip to the port city of Cartagena to commemorate the departure of the first container-load of Colombian textiles bound for U.S. markets under the new trade regime. Over the next decade, the deal will eliminate nearly all duties in trade between the two countries. Santos told a radio interviewer Tuesday the agreement will create 100,000 jobs.
The free-trade agreement is expected to boost bilateral trade, which last year saw Colombian exports to the U.S. total $21.7 billion while imports from the U.S. reached $13.6 billion. President Obama sold the deal to skeptical Democrats, as well as similar pacts with South Korea and Panama, as measures that will reduce the U.S. trade deficit.
Some U.S. human rights groups opposed the deal, saying Colombia has not made enough progress in stemming decades-long violence against labor and human rights leaders. Many Colombian agriculture interests fear rice farmers, for example, will be wiped out by cheaper U.S. imports from northern California and elsewhere.
For two decades, Colombia has shipped hundreds of items duty free to the United States under provisional trade concessions designed to encourage non-illicit drugs production here. But by setting free-trade terms in stone, Colombia hopes to receive much more U.S. investment and, as a result, more new jobs. Duties on imports of U.S. cars will be phased out over 10 years.
-- Chris Kraul and Jenny Carolina Gonzalez
Photo: Police inspect the scene after a bomb exploded in Bogota, Colombia, on Tuesday, killing two people. Credit: Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press