Today (Wednesday 16th) is the second day in October during which I’ll spend all 24 hours in Washington. I was in Colombia September 30-October 11, then in New York for family reasons on the 12-14.
And tomorrow I fly back to Bogotá. I’ll be participating in a conference, hosted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, that will be gathering security experts from all over Latin America to talk about the current moment. It’s going to be great to see so many old colleagues, and hear from new ones. As indicated in the program, I’m on the eighth and final panel, on Saturday afternoon.
Because I’ll be mobile and in meetings, posting to this website will continue to be sporadic. For a while, in fact: between now and November 15 I’ll be in Colombia, Florida, at the U.S-Mexico border, and in Ohio. Then the travels should settle down for the remainder of the year.
En Nariño, Norte de Santander y Putumayo, que a diciembre pasado sumaban el 61 por ciento de las hectáreas (según cifras de la Unodc), todos los candidatos a gobernaciones están en contra de la fumigación
He was forced to balance demands of the Indigenous protesters, whose opposition has contributed to the downfall of three modern presidents, and those imposed by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for a $4.2 billion loan
Greetings from Bogotá. I’m here briefly after a few days in the department of Arauca, in northeastern Colombia along the border with Venezuela. We visited the towns of Arauca (the departmental capital), Arauquita, and Saravena, holding 17 interviews with human rights defenders, political office holders, social movements, the armed forces, youth groups, trade unionists, and academics.
Arauca, population less than 300,000, has a tough reputation. It’s a cattle and oil-producing region that since the 1980s has been one of the main strongholds of the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrillas. Because of that, the 2016 peace accord with the FARC brought only a modest dose of tranquility—and even that is fraying.
The ELN has historically been strongest in Arauca’s north and west, along the Venezuelan border and a frequently bombed oil pipeline. The FARC overlapped in the south and center of the department, coexisting uneasily. Right-wing paramilitary groups entered, and caused a spike in violence and victimization, during the first half of the 2000s—a time when the Bush administration gave Arauca-based Colombian military units more than $100 million in assistance to help guard oil infrastructure. During the second half of the 2000s, the FARC and ELN fought a bloody conflict that, though it drew little media attention, killed perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 people—we don’t know how many, because so many families across Arauca had to bury their dead and keep quiet.
A pact ended the inter-guerrilla fighting around 2010, but the ELN, which has grown deep roots in Arauca, was widely viewed to have “won” that conflict. Its Domingo Laín Front, founded in 1980, may today make up the majority of the ELN’s national membership. This front decreed that farmers must not grow coca, a crop that the FARC had encouraged, and today there is virtually no coca planted in Arauca.
The FARC’s 10th and 45th Fronts demobilized in Arauca after the peace accord’s signature and ratification. Almost 500 fighters turned in their weapons at a village-sized demobilization site in Filipinas, in the center of the department. Araucans recall 2017 and 2018, a period during which the ELN was in peace talks with Colombia’s government, as the most peaceful period in memory: a time when transportation was less risky, businesses could open up, and the guerrillas’ social control was a bit looser.
That began to end in January of this year when, in a plot hatched in Arauca, an ELN truck bomb killed 21 cadets at Colombia’s police academy in Bogotá. The peace talks ended. Meanwhile, FARC dissidents—most of them new recruits, not demobilized ex-combatants from Filipinas—have sprouted up in some of the areas that were previously under FARC control. 2019 has been a year of increased homicides and attacks on military targets; the military says it has also increased its captures of guerrillas.
Just about everyone we talked to said that Arauca is in a state of tense calm. Campaigning for the October 27 mayoral and gubernatorial elections has been peaceful, unlike several other regions of Colombia. Violence levels are still nowhere near a few years ago, though ambushes and IED attacks on military and police targets are increasing. A pact between the ELN and FARC dissidents appears to be in place.
That, however, is an unstable equilibrium; it could collapse at any time, bringing a new wave of violence. ELN units and FARC dissidents are recruiting new members, and aiming to control areas through campaigns of “social cleansing”—murdering petty criminals, drug users, Venezuelan migrants—that underlie a jump in homicides. Social groups worry that paramilitary organizations are trying to insert themselves, citing recent threats; whether that is actually happening is unclear. They also worry that, with the ELN peace process over, a military offensive may be coming. We didn’t see evidence of that, though the government is drawing up plans to increase its presence in a portion of the department billed as a “Zona Futuro,” a plan that will have a military component.
Meanwhile, there’s the 200-plus-mile border with Venezuela. Refugees come south in large numbers, though not as large as in the city of Cúcuta further north along the border. We heard many accusations that sounded downright xenophobic—even from human rights defenders—about these refugees’ alleged participation in crime and crowding out of Colombians from the labor market. Colombia’s armed groups are recruiting Venezuelans, mostly minors. And their leaders are spending most of their time on the Venezuelan side of the border. Kidnap victims are often taken across the Arauca river into Venezuela. And all kinds of contraband crosses both ways: drugs to the north, and weapons, cheap gasoline, and stolen cattle to the south.
I was struck by how much distrust Araucans have for their government: it is nearly total. I heard the word “desconfianza” (mistrust) in nearly every meeting. They feel abandoned to the guerrillas by a government that has done little more than send the military. The military itself devotes most of its resources to protecting oil company infrastructure. We also kept hearing the word “estigmatización” (stigmatization): Araucans believe that the security forces—indeed, the rest of the country—views them as guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers, as outlaws, and treats them with constant suspicion.
Arauca is badly ungoverned, and its tense calm could flare up into severe violence at any time. Colombia’s government could address this by implementing the Development Plans with a Territorial Focus (PDET), a commitment in the peace accord to bring basic government services into 170 of Colombia’s most conflict-battered counties, including Arauca’s western half. (Colombia has about 1,100 counties.)
The PDETs’ delivery of promised roads, healthcare, and development projects are moving slowly on a 10 to 15-year timeline. Meanwhile, President Iván Duque’s government plans at least to jump-start service delivery in a portion of Arauca’s PDET territory, under the “Zonas Futuro” plan, which some we interviewed fear will be too focused on military action. Government officials respond that the military and police in Arauca’s “Zona Futuro” will hand off responsibilities to the civilian government as quickly as possible. It won’t get going until next year.
Whatever the plan for improving governance and daily life in Arauca, it will need to address the incredibly deep and pervasive mistrust that the population feels toward government institutions. Building relations between state and population will mean honoring commitments already made, keeping one’s word—and doing it by bringing in parts of the government that don’t carry guns and wear uniforms. It will mean formalizing landholdings, a huge bottleneck to any other development effort in Arauca. It will mean punishing corruption that has reached epic proportions in an oil-producing region that exemplifies the “resource curse.” And it will mean an end to stigmatization of a population that, for the most part, is tired of living under armed groups’ constant influence, and just wants to move in from the periphery and be a normal part of Colombia.
We’re leaving Bogotá shortly for another region of Colombia. I’ll post again when we get back.
Here’s the unremarkable view from my hotel near the Bogotá, Colombia airport. We just arrived last night, and in a couple of hours we’ll be flying to another region of the country. If I post from that region at all, it will be content that doesn’t reveal my location. I’ll be back in Bogotá on Friday.
I’m leaving Monday morning for an 11-day visit to Colombia. We’ll be doing field research in two regions of the country, plus a couple of days in Bogotá. It’s shaping up to be an incredible trip, though there’s never enough time to do things as thoroughly as one would like.
That’s four days from now. Over those four days, I need to finish a draft of a big report based on our mid-August visit to the Mexico-Guatemala border. I’m already up over 6,000 words, and I think a barely workable first draft is about six hours away.
Once that’s in the bag, I plan to put in many hours of “desk research” about the two Colombian regions I’ll be visiting, so that I can get the most out of our scheduled interviews. All that, plus 11 hours of meetings scheduled for today and tomorrow, packing for the trip, and spending some time with my family over the weekend before I go away.
This is all to say that, because of that workload, this site may be barely active over the next two weeks. I’ll try to post from Colombia, though for security reasons I won’t post from the regions I visit until I leave those regions.
As of today, though, I need to put on hold things like posting news links. I’ll actually be traveling quite a bit in October: Colombia twice, Florida, Los Angeles, and maybe New York. So my posts here will probably be sporadic for a while.
My calendar shows three calls scheduled today with mostly academic colleagues in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also taking my daughter for her annual doctor checkup in the early afternoon. This evening WOLA is holding a public reception for Latin American human rights defenders who are in town for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearings.
The FY2020 Homeland Security appropriations bill fully funds the President’s request for the border wall while also providing Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the detention capacity needed to enforce immigration laws
Las personas que realizaron este reconocimiento a la Comisión son el mayor del Ejército Gustavo Enrique Soto; José Éver Veloza, excomandante de las AUC; y José Benito Ramírez, quien en la guerra fue conocido ‘Fabián Ramírez’
Según el documento, el objetivo de la reunión habría sido discutir “la propuesta de crear un bloque político de la izquierda Latinoamericana, y el apoyo de movimiento de tropas y entrenamiento a milicias (Eln y Gao-re)”
As the one-year anniversary of López Obrador’s presidency approaches, expectations are high that his government will do what his predecessors have not: provide answers to the tens of thousands of families of the disappeared
Central America Regional, Mexico
Rick Jervis, Daniel Borunda, Vicky Camarillo, Rafael Carranza, Daniel Connolly, Hannah Gaber, Diana Garcia, Julia Gavarrete, Alan Gomez, Daniel Gonzalez, Jack Gruber, Harrison Hill, Sandy Hooper, Bart Jansen, Mark Lambie, Pamela Ren Larson, Sean Logan, Aaron Montes, Omar Ornelas, Nick Oza, Rebecca Plevin, Annie Rice, Joe Rondone, Courtney Sacco, Matt Sobocinski, Lauren Villagran, Jared Weber, “One Deadly Week Reveals Where the Immigration Crisis Begins — and Where It Ends” (USA Today, September 25, 2019).
In one week, thousands of migrants overwhelm the U.S. border. We reveal their dangerous journeys and the broken immigration system that awaits them
Resource conflicts and the management and protection of Venezuela’s natural heritage are not only important from a conservation angle—they are the key to achieving a sustainable political solution and unlocking Venezuela’s future
El presidente de Rusia, Vladímir Putin, reiteró junto al gobernante venezolano Nicolás Maduro, su apoyo a «todas las autoridades legítimas» del país y expresó su respaldo al diálogo entre el chavismo y 5 partidos minoritarios
Other than an internal meeting in the morning, I should be around today. My goal is to make huge progress on a report about the Mexico-Guatemala border, so that I can have an advanced draft in process by the time I travel to Colombia for a 10-day trip starting Monday.
I’ll be attending an all-day discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace about implementation of the the “Leahy Law,” a 20-plus-year-old condition that (in theory) stops U.S. security assistance to foreign units that violate human rights with impunity. I’ll be hard to contact.
The department said no Native American tribal lands or national parks were included in the transfer, which includes areas next to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona and Otay Mountain Wilderness in California
Archila reveló que están en ejecución 1,1 billones de pesos y anticipó que en diciembre se sabrá realmente cuánto se requerirá en los próximos años para atender las necesidades de los seis pilares básicos
El escolta de Yolanda González, una lideresa protegida por la UNP, murió abatido por militares y ella resultó gravemente herida. La mujer contradice la versión del Ejército que asegura que el escolta habría disparado primero
En las pasadas elecciones guatemaltecas ganó la presidencia el exdirector del Sistema Penitenciario Alejandro Giammattei —quien asumirá el próximo enero—, conocido por haber sofocado un supuesto motín en 2006 y después acusado de facilitar una lista de reos para ejecutarlos
Neither the United States nor Venezuela’s neighbors support military action, so barring direct aggression by Venezuela or the Colombian groups now based on its territory, that’s unlikely to be a means for toppling the regime
1:00–3:00 at Due Process of Law Foundation: ¿Puede América Latina perseguir eficazmente crímenes atroces y gran corrupción? Desafíos de las fiscalías y el papel del derecho internacional (RSVP required).
I spent the weekend writing a memo about police assistance, then a declaration for one of the several cases being litigated against the Trump administration’s efforts to limit asylum. Today, I’ve got a long morning staff meeting, coffee with a colleague in the afternoon, and will be speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations event in the evening.
Otherwise I’ll be working on a big report about the Mexico-Guatemala border, nailing down details for a trip to Colombia next week, and answering messages that went unanswered while working on last week’s Colombia conference.
The latest case-by-case court records through the end of August 2019 show the court’s active case backlog was 1,007,155. If the additional 322,535 cases which the court says are pending but have not been placed on the active caseload rolls are added, then the backlog now tops 1.3 million
Uno de los antecedentes que influyeron en la posición del Gobierno en la mesa de negociaciones corresponde a las experiencias derivadas del Plan de Consolidación Integral de La Macarena (PCIM), el cual tuvo aplicación en el gobierno de Álvaro Uribe
Por ser el principal paso desde Cúcuta hacia las grandes ciudades del país, el páramo es un paso obligado para los caminantes que emprenden la aventura. Por eso, a lo largo del camino existen 13 albergues
Among the opposition’s demands are the establishment of a transitional government, trials for all those implicated in the PetroCaribe corruption scandal, prosecution of public officials accused of corruption, and organization of a National Sovereignty Conference
Santos explicó que la reunión se centrará en «la decisión de invocar y a partir de ahí poder tomar decisiones respectivas frente a sanciones». Dijo, no obstante, que de «ninguna manera quiere decir que se aprueba el uso de acciones militares»
We bade farewell to our excellent Colombian visitors / conference participants last night. Today, I should be at WOLA all day, writing and catching up. I have an internal strategy meeting and coffee with a journalist in the afternoon.
Guillermo Botero is at it again. Colombia’s defense minister said that the security forces he oversees can’t capture a wanted criminal because, as a demobilized FARC member, that criminal is somehow protected by the peace accord.
Leider Johani Noscue, alias “Mayimbú,” is a rearmed FARC dissident in Cauca department whose group is believed to be behind the brutal September 1 assassination of mayoral candidate Karina García on a rural road in Suárez municipality. As a former guerrilla, “Mayimbú” faces trial in the post-conflict justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), for war crimes committed during the conflict. The JEP, a deliberative judicial body, hasn’t yet formally expelled him from its list of defendants.
For that reason, Botero seems to think that “Mayimbú” is untouchable. On Tuesday he told Colombia’s Senate chamber, “We consider that he should be taken out of the JEP in order to be arrested. If not, we’ll have to confront him ‘enfusilao’ [on the battlefield, or in the act of committing a crime].” Botero then tweeted that he had sent a letter to JEP President Patricia Linares asking that Mayimbú be expelled “so that the security forces may act.”
But of course the security forces can act. Just because he’s still on the JEP’s list doesn’t mean that “Mayimbú” is exempt from arrest for any crimes committed after December 1, 2016, when the FARC peace accord was ratified. There is ample proof that he has taken up arms again, and indications that he was involved in the attack on Karina García. Of course Colombia’s police and military are free to arrest him without regard to the JEP, and an arrest order exists regardless of his JEP status.
Defense Minister Botero, who oversees both Colombia’s armed forces and police, must know that. So either he was badly confused, or cynically launching a false attack on the JEP, and by extension Colombia’s peace process. Neither case is good.
In a letter to Botero, the JEP responded yesterday that “The security forces have NO limitation to pursue or capture the accused parties who have rearmed or are committing crimes.” “Let the JEP work,” read a statement from Colombia’s increasingly active “Defendamos la Paz” movement. “It does damage to institutions and the peace process to keep promoting this discrediting campaign against the JEP, with inexact, imprecise statements or with lies, to seek to generate a perception in public opinion that transitional justice is promoting or tolerating impunity.”
Guillermo Botero is a problem. He is supposed to be managing military and police forces totaling nearly 450,000 people, including Latin America’s second-largest armed forces. His tenure of more than a year has seen human rights and corruption scandals within the military, signs of discontent among some officers, and some erosion in security gains.
He also makes frequent misstatements that reveal either an alarming lack of diligence about, or deliberate disregard for, critical security concerns. Botero has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the past few years’ hundreds of threats and murders of human rights defenders and social leaders. He has demanded changes in the law that would allow the security forces to confront social protests. Earlier this year, opposition legislators sought to censure him for these and other missteps, including promoting a false narrative about soldiers’ April extrajudicial execution of a former FARC member in the Catatumbo region.
I have heard that Botero is in his position because he was the preferred choice of Álvaro Uribe, the former president and current senator who is the central figure in President Iván Duque’s ruling Centro Democrático party. During his eight years in the presidency, though, Uribe never had a defense minister who was quite this ideologically hidebound, gaffe-prone, or divorced from reality. Guillermo Botero is showing serious managerial shortcomings, he doesn’t appear to have a grip on the truth, and he keeps making egregious public misstatements. He’s out if his depth, and he’s making Colombia’s security apparatus less effective.