Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Latin America

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Veronica G Gardenas photo at The Guardian. Caption: “Migrant families that were sent back from the US under Title 42 in Reynosa, Mexico, on 24 March.”

(Even more here)

April 21, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

El director ejecutivo Juan Pablo Toro aporta con un artículo sobre el rol de las fuerzas armadas de la región, sobre la base de nuestro reciente libro “Desafíos para la Seguridad y la Defensa en el continente americano 2020-2030”

The president was particularly frustrated by the government’s struggle to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border and became increasingly concerned about the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s response to the crisis

Brazil

The proposal was made as the Brazilian president prepares for a virtual environmental summit with roughly 40 heads of state hosted Thursday and Friday by President Biden

Chile

Si bien el gobierno salió a respaldar a la institución, en privado reconocen que el tema generó inquietud. El titular de Defensa afirmó que “las declaraciones de las FF.AA. se ajustan a la Ley de Prensa”

El periodista Eduardo Fuentes utilizó su espacio en “Mentiras Verdaderas” en La Red para criticar la carta del Ejército enviada a La Red por un sketch humorístico realizado por el programa “Políticamente Incorrecto”

Colombia

Con 276 excombatientes de las Farc asesinados y cientos de ellos sin medidas de protección, el alto tribunal estudia tres tutelas que piden declarar que estos hechos son parte de una implementación precaria de lo pactado en La Habana

Antes de dar la última palabra en este asunto, el alto tribunal cuestionó a todas las partes de este proceso

En la vereda el Placer, cuando se dirigía en motocicleta hacia el Corregimiento de Pescador, en el municipio de Caldono, norte del Cauca, fue asesinada la gobernadora del Resguardo Indígena La Laguna Siberia

Este informe analiza si la cooperación internacional está respondiendo a las demandas de estas protestas

En Pares hablamos con el senador indígena Feliciano Valencia sobre el reciente asesinato de Sandra Liliana Peña, gobernadora del Resguardo de La Laguna, Siberia, del municipio de Caldono

Colombia, Ecuador

The academic program, delivered for the first time in 2020 through distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is taught by Colombian Navy military experts and a U.S. instructor, Marine Corps Captain Walker D. Mills, who serves as an exchange officer

Colombia, Mexico

The Biden administration should largely defund eradication policies in Colombia that happen before alternative livelihood efforts actually produce sufficient legal income. It should also not insist on, let alone fund, aerial spraying

Guatemala

I am speaking out because Guatemala’s democracy, rule of law and stability are under attack at a time when the stakes for the country and its neighbors are especially high

Mexico

En algunos casos recientes de civiles muertos a manos del Ejército, la familia de la víctima es visitada por un integrante de Sedena o de la Guardia Nacional que le ofrece una cuantiosa indemnización

Virtually all of the money flowed through U.S. companies, mostly through Western Union and MoneyGram but also Walmart and lesser-known companies like Ria. By our rough estimate, criminal organizations in Mexico have made around $800 million

Los centroamericanos intentaron escapar del asalto, pero fueron baleados durante el ataque en la comunidad de Estación Chontalpa, a unos 87 kilómetros de Villahermosa

El ataque habría sido perpetrado por el CJNG; los policías agredidos participaron en un operativo para liberar los caminos que comunican a Aguililla

State and federal security forces have actively colluded with – and even fought alongside – the warring factions

Estados Unidos no está interesado en la propuesta del Presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador de vincular una extensión del programa Sembrando Vida a Centroamérica con un plan que ofrezca visas de trabajo a centroamericanos, dijo hoy un alto funcionario

U.S.-Mexico Border

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, expressed frustration the Biden administration continues expelling families to Mexico

Human Rights First has tracked at least 492 attacks and kidnappings suffered by asylum seekers turned away or stranded in Mexico since President Biden took office in January 2021

“They arrive in very bad shape. Some of them faint in their seats, especially the children. All of them come with coughs, with vomiting, with stomach illnesses. They don’t bring anything; they take everything from them, even their shoelaces”

Venezuela

Venezuela’s proposed legislation follows similar laws passed by authoritarian and repressive governments elsewhere in the world that have cut off funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets

Maduro’s request to the U.N. represents a rare instance of openness to international assistance, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres should take both Venezuela and its civil society up on their offers

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Sandra Sanchez photo at Border Report. Caption: “A migrant woman, far left, is seen with a red wristband on her right arm as she is part of a group of asylum-seekers with several children who were being questioned by a U.S. Border Patrol agents moments after being arrested on April 8, 2021, near La Joya, Texas.”

(Even more here)

April 20, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

It may surprise most Americans that almost no Guatemalans, Hondurans, or Salvadorans have ever been welcomed to the United States through USRAP

The Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to stop using terms such as “alien,” “illegal alien” and “assimilation” when referring to immigrants in the United States

Argentina

The economy contracted by nearly 10 percent last year, and the country faces a reckoning with the I.M.F. over $45 billion in debts

Central America Regional, Mexico

The eerily similar deaths of George Floyd and Victoria Salazar demonstrate how our own abusive police practices have been shipped abroad in the name of “deterring” migration

Chile

“Los comunicados que ayer sacaron las tres ramas de las FF.AA. son derechamente inaceptables y constituyen una violación del rol que les corresponde cumplir en una democracia”

La acusación es inédita y el sindicato del organismo salió a repudiar el accionar policial y denunciar que la mujer ha sido intimidada debido a que la policía indagó en sus redes sociales

Colombia

Este artículo indaga por el rol de las bases sociales para explicar el rostro territorial de esta insurgencia, la cual muestra un nuevo matiz en el Catatumbo donde el ELN es un actor determinante, más no estructurante

Si se reanuda la fumigación con glifosato, se incumplirían los principales de Punto 4 del Acuerdo de Paz y el Estado seguiría desconociendo el sufrimiento de las zonas más afectadas por el conflicto armado

El Programa de Sustitución de Cultivos Ilícitos (PNIS) que recibió la administración Duque estaba mal estructurado y con pocos recursos para su financiación, indicó a EL NUEVO SIGLO el director de Sustitución de Cultivos Ilícitos, de la Agencia de Renovación del Territorio (ART) Hernando Londoño Acosta

Solo en caso de que la sustitución voluntaria falle, y luego del fracaso adicional de la erradicación manual, podrá acudirse a la aspersión aérea con glifosato

Este uso de los términos asociados a cifras tiene antecedentes. Barbosa fue acusado, por expertos en derechos humanos, de manipular las cifras de homicidios de líderes

El oficial Pedro Enrique Pérez salió de la guarnición militar el pasado sábado 17 de abril y, en extrañas circunstancias, desapareció en Saravena

“Las familias campesinas son las que se ven vulneradas, pero detrás de esto hay grandes capos, grandes redes de narcotráfico que también le invierten dinero a esta guerra y son los que se encargan de combatir al Ejército”

On Monday, the tribunal’s president said that at least 276 former rebels have been killed since laying down their weapons in December 2016 and that 900 community leaders have been slain as well

Colombia, Venezuela

Hoy, el repliegue del frente Décimo, producto de la avanzada militar venezolana, deja al ELN como ganador en una batalla que ni siquiera ha librado. O, por lo menos, no de frente

Guatemala

Integrantes de las pandillas Barrio 18 y Mara Salvatrucha en Guatemala han sido trasladados a distintos centros penitenciarios. En estos nuevos “territorios”, concedidos por el Gobierno, las pandillas han puesto en marcha sus propios planes de rehabilitación. A cambio, deben mantener las calles tranquilas

The former president of the Court was re-elected to the bench on 4 March, and had been due to resume her duties for another five-year term on 14 April

Lawmakers invited Constitutional Court President Gloria Porras to an investiture ceremony in Congress last week after she was re-elected to another five-year term on the bench – only to refuse to swear her in

Anita Isaacs, especialista en Guatemala de Haverford College (Pensilvania), expone cinco rasgos de las élites tradicionales guatemaltecas que, a su juicio, tras décadas de investigación y contacto con ellas, lastran la posibilidad de diálogos fértiles y sobre todo de una democracia más participativa e incluyente

El Faro entrevista en Washington a Gloria Porras, presidenta hasta hace una semana de la Corte de Constitucionalidad de Guatemala y ahora excluida por una maniobra legal que achaca a poderes políticos y del crimen organizado

Mexico

The number of children arriving in Mexico seeking to cross into the United States increased ninefold from January to March 2021. About 275 arrive each day

Within Mexico, political analysts are already raising the alarm about Lopez Obrador’s troubling embrace of authoritarian rhetoric and his track record on human rights issues

Tanto los estudios históricos críticos como la etnografía han demostrado que la violencia de hoy viene de antes

La detención en México para efectos de extradición de Rafael Caro Quintero es la prioridad número uno de la agencia antinarcóticos, aun por encima de las capturas de El Mencho y el Mayo Zambada

U.S.-Mexico Border

With little clarity as to the status of the wall or timetable for an announcement, Democrats and activists are intent on keeping Biden to his campaign commitment to stop construction

Mexican drug cartels issue colorful wristbands to identify migrants who have paid them for passage across the Rio Grande, how many times they have tried to cross, and who is eligible to cross again if they’ve been sent back

Dozens of migrants expelled from the U.S. to Reynosa walked onto the international bridge with a message for President Joe Biden, the first such protest in the Rio Grande Valley under the current administration

Venezuela

This action is a clear effort to monitor and limit the work of independent civil society organizations, which under Venezuelan law are already required to register with the state

Al parecer, el ejército venezolano no estaba preparado para una confrontación con un grupo armado como la que se registra desde el 21 de marzo. ¿Ayudarán civiles armados?

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alfredo Corchado photo at the Dallas Morning News. Caption: “Mexico’s National Guard has re-emerged with renewed focus on slowing the flow of migrants trying to reach the United States. These guardsmen stand across the border from El Paso’s downtown this week.”

(Even more here)

April 19, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Biden administration over the weekend shuttered a Houston warehouse that housed unaccompanied migrant children following allegations that the nonprofit organization running the site failed to provide adequate living conditions

Argentina

El Presidente planteaba que las Fuerzas Armadas participaran en tareas de control junto a la Policía. Pero la Ley de Seguridad Interior lo prohíbe

Chile

A través de una carta publicada en sus redes sociales, la institución señaló que “la manera en que se denosta al Ejército y sus integrantes no demuestra otra cosa que el ánimo de deslegitimarlo y degradarlo

En el programa se hizo un sketch llamado “Entrevista de Verdad”, en donde se parodió una conversación con un militar

Colombia

Congresistas del partido nacido del Acuerdo de Paz reclamaron que la UNP les niega sistemáticamente “y con diferentes pretextos” el acompañamiento a diferentes lugares para desarrollar su actividad política

En Washington, además de Walters y los viejos guerreros contra las drogas invitados a foros por el embajador Santos, nadie está aplaudiendo

El relator de sustancias tóxicas de la ONU hizo un recuento de todas las acciones que deben emprender los Estados para garantizar los derechos de acceso a la información, a la participación pública efectiva y a la justicia en materia ambiental

Como el resto de estudios sobre glifosato, no es conclusivo acerca de los efectos que la exposición a glifosato puede generar a la salud humana

Fourteen members of the Carlos Patino front – founded by former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal – were killed in the confrontations in Argelia, Cauca

Durante la mañana de este 17 de abril, en el sector de El Plateado en Argelia (Cauca) se presentaron enfrentamientos entre la Tercera División del Ejército y miembros de la disidencia Carlos Patiño

La Comisión de la Verdad, la JEP y la UBPD recorrieron el estero San Antonio, donde habría más de mil desaparecidos por el conflicto armado

Colombia, Venezuela

El líder de varios grupos de disidencias de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), alias ‘Gentil Duarte’, denunció una presunta traición de su otrora compañero líder de la organización guerrillera, alias ‘Iván Márquez’, de financiar a oficiales venezolanos

El Ejército Nacional de Colombia realizó una serie de ejercicios militares en el departamento La Guajira, cerca de la frontera con el estado Zulia

Cuba

The long-expected and seemingly smooth transition to a younger Castro protege, five years after the death of Fidel Castro, instead inspired mostly resignation and cynicism, if not indifference

Although Fidel held fast to his rallying cry of “socialism or death” until he died in 2016, the younger Mr. Castro grew to realize that reform was necessary to quell growing discontent and began opening up the country’s economy

El Salvador

Eduardo Rogelio Rivas Polanco, bajo cuyo ejercicio ocurrió una reducción histórica de los homicidios, fue destituido del cargo de ministro de Justicia y Seguridad Pública a finales de marzo debido a que, según información de Inteligencia, construía un plan político: convertirse en candidato presidencial

Mexico

Detentions of Central American migrants jumped 32% to 15,800 in March from February, and more than doubled compared with March of last year

El recrudecimiento cualitativo de la violencia en Jalisco se genera por la normalización de la misma y porque hay un descontrol, complicidades o nexos policiacos con las organizaciones delincuenciales

La brigada estaba compuesta por una ambulancia y elementos de la Policía estatal

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

The increased use of soldiers to stop migration has generated a backlash from human rights and migrant advocates, who point to previous examples of abuse, corruption, overall lack of international accountability and increased militarization of the border

His proposal would ask Central American migrants as well as Mexicans considering emigration to work planting trees and crops across Mexico for three years in return for an eventual six-month US work visa, López Obrador said

Nicaragua

La verdad sobre la matanza, las torturas, la operación limpieza, y la demanda de justicia. Aquí puedes descargar el libro digital de forma gratuita

Peru

Los electores peruanos se encuentran ante una difícil decisión en la segunda vuelta presidencial, pero, a pesar de todo, Keiko Fujimori representa el mal menor

As schools across Peru closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pedro Castillo tried to find a way to keep classes going for his 20 fifth- and sixth-grade students. But in his impoverished rural community deep in the Andes, his efforts were futile

A native of Lima, Peru, with 26 years of military service in his country’s Army, Colonel Rubén Requena has been serving as the Partner Nation Military Advisor (PNMA) for U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) since March 2020

U.S.-Mexico Border

Another way to look at the scope of this money juggernaut are the 105,000 contracts, totaling $55bn, that CBP and Ice have given private industry – including Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, G4S, Deloitte and Core Civic, among others

Climate-related events like the twin hurricanes increasingly intensify drivers of migration, including violence, food insecurity and poverty

The Biden administration’s continuation of Trump-era policies — particularly the choking off of asylum access at U.S. ports — is making one of the deadliest stretches of the U.S.-Mexico divide more dangerous, endangering the people the president purports to support and enriching the illicit networks he purports to oppose

Venezuela

El mandatario Nicolás Maduro firmó un decreto que ordena la reestructuración de la Policía Nacional Bolivariana (PNB), cuerpo creado durante la gestión chavista

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, April 19

  • 3:00-4:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Peru and Ecuador: Elections and Democracy in the Andes (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 20

  • 11:00-12:00 at thedialogue.org: Is Latin America Maximizing (or Missing Out on) China’s International Development Strategy? (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-1:00 at institut-fuer-menschenrechte.de: Protección en Colectivo – Defensores y defensoras indígenas de Derechos Humanos en Colombia (RSVP required).
  • 8:00pm at amnistia.org.pe: Lanzamiento Virtual del Informe Anual de Amnistía Internacional en Perú (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 21

Thursday, April 22

  • 1:00-2:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Latin America and the Caribbean’s post-COVID-19 outlook (RSVP required).
  • 1:30 at crisisgroup.org: Crimen y violencia en la frontera colombo-venezolana (RSVP required).

Colombia Peace Update: April 17, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Decree, issued the day of high-level U.S. visit, signals imminent restart of aerial herbicide fumigation

On April 11 and 12 Colombia received its highest-level in-person visit to date from Biden administration officials. Special Assistant to the President and Senior National Security Council Western Hemisphere Director Juan González and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung were in Bogotá, where they met for two hours with President Iván Duque and other high government officials. It was the first stop on a South America trip that took González and Chung later to Argentina and Uruguay.

According to a pre-trip White House statement, the officials were to “discuss economic recovery, security and rural development, the Venezuelan migrant crisis, and Colombia’s regional climate leadership.” Colombian media reported that issues covered included security, “the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime,” progress in peace accord implementation, economic recovery, and Venezuelan migration.

While perhaps unrelated, hours after the U.S. officials’ visit the Duque government issued a long-expected decree laying out how it will carry out a revived aerial fumigation program. The term refers to spraying herbicides from aircraft over populated areas where farmers grow coca, the crop used to make cocaine. The U.S. government heavily supported a fumigation program between 1994 and 2015, which sprayed 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of Colombian territory.

Herbicide fumigation was a key component of the strategy known as “Plan Colombia,” and it was controversial because it rarely came with assistance to smallholding farmers, and because communities denounced environmental and health harms. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended the program in 2015, after a World Health Organization study determined that the active chemical, glyphosate, could be carcinogenic.

In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out a series of conditions that a future government would have to fulfill before ever restarting a fumigation program, and in 2018, newly elected President Duque made clear his intention to do that. Sources in the Presidency tell La Silla Vacía that they may meet these conditions, and the spray planes could start working, as early as June.

The required steps—summarized here in a way that omits some nuance—are:

✔️ By decree, set up a system for evaluating health and environmental impacts that is independent of the Counternarcotics Police, which carries out fumigation. The April 12 decree establishes this system, requiring the Counternarcotics Police to report monthly to environmental and other agencies.

✔️ By decree, set up an independent process for receiving and processing claims from individuals who say they were wrongly sprayed. The April 12 decree establishes this process.

✔️ Gain the environmental licensing authority’s (ANLA’s) approval for the spray program’s environmental management plan. The ANLA issued its approval two days after the Presidency’s decree, on April 14. The plan prohibits the planes from spraying from an altitude greater than 30 meters (98 feet), or in conditions when wind might cause more than 10 meters of spray drift.

The 507-page document also notes that spraying may occur in 104 of Colombia’s 1,122 municipalities, in the departments of Antioquía, Bolívar, Caquetá, Cauca, Córdoba, Chocó, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Valle del Cauca, and Vichada. Planes may use bases in San José del Guaviare, Guaviare; Cumaribo, Vichada; Villagarzón, Putumayo; Larandia, Caquetá; Tumaco, Nariño; Guapi, Cauca; Barrancabermeja, Santander; Caucasia, Antioquia; Cúcuta and Tibú, Norte de Santander; Condoto, Chocó; and Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz said that Norte de Santander and its conflictive Catatumbo region will come first. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s crop monitoring report covering 2019, Catatumbo has the country’s largest concentration of coca crops.

✔️ Have the National Health Institute (INS, sort of like the United States’ Centers for Disease Control) perform a study finding that the planned spraying poses a low health risk. While this study, commissioned to the University of Córdoba, won’t be made public until the entire process is complete, it is all but finished.

🔲 Gain the approval of the National Narcotics Council (CNE), a body made up of relevant ministers and heads of some other branches of government. The CNE has the authority to undo the spray program’s 2015 suspension. As the Council’s current members are all considered close to the government, this step may happen quickly.

Among the CNE’s members, though, is Health Minister Fernando Ruiz who, when serving as a vice-minister during Juan Manuel Santos’s government in 2015, defended the fumigation program’s suspension on public health grounds. “The main cancer attributed to glyphosate is Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer in the lymphatic organ that can develop 15 to 20 years after exposure,” Ruiz told an interviewer. This puts the Minister in an awkward position. He is seeking to have an alternate take his place in the CNE proceedings as an “ad hoc” minister who might approve the fumigation.

With this week’s decree and environmental approval, and with a decree last week (reported in our last update) seeking to divert challenges to fumigation away from the courts, the fight over fumigation “seems to have tipped in favor of the government,” El Espectador reported.

Critics like María Alejandra Vélez of the Universidad de los Andes Center for Security and Drugs Studies (CESED) contend that the April 12 decree is flawed. It “is focused on reaction and not on prevention, as it explains how complaints of possible damages will be handled, but not how to prevent them,” she told El Espectador. Isabel Pereira of DeJusticia worries that the ANLA and other agencies charged with oversight have almost no presence in remote areas where spraying will occur. Ana María Rueda of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz recalls that the program’s design appears to violate the peace accord: “The spirit of the Accord… was that first, crop substitution should be tried with communities and, if it did not work, then spraying would operate. That was what the [Constitutional] Court asked for, but we do not see it anywhere in the decree.”

A major objection has to do with the Constitutional Court’s requirement that the environmental approval process include informed consultation with communities, especially Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities. The Court has agreed to take up several communities’ complaint that, from remote areas with poor internet service, they haven’t been able to participate meaningfully in “virtual” consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court’s action on the consultation question could be a “roadblock” that prevents fumigation from restarting in June, according to an El Espectador analysis.

If fumigation does restart in coming weeks or months, we can expect a wave of protest across rural Colombia, as happened in 1996 (with heavy FARC encouragement) when the program first got started. The protests might not be massive, though, notes a La Silla Vacía analysis based on interviews with coca growers’ organization leaders in six zones. The investigation finds these organizations weakened by the worsening security situation as new armed groups proliferate, the difficulty of doing organizing work in a climate of constant threats and killings of social leaders, and a social base demotivated by the government’s poor compliance with the peace accord’s crop substitution commitments. “The communities saw fumigation as something off in the distance,” said Pedro Arenas of Viso Mutop.

After the decree’s release, Colombia’s pugnaciously hardline defense minister, Diego Molano, said, “the only ones worried here about precise aerial spraying against coca, which we are about to start, must be the criminals who profit from this criminal business and want to subject our peasant population to a new slavery.”

Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, a much-cited scholar of rural Colombia, offered a sharply different view in an El Espectador column:

Prioritizing fumigation over substitution is a brutal violation of everything the peace accord stood for. It has two notorious consequences. On the one hand, it affects the core of the agreement (which sought to build a new form of relationship between the central state and the territories). On the other, it carries high legitimacy costs…

What will this country reap if its government persists in sowing poison? These air strikes are perceived—correctly, in my opinion—as an aggression from distant forces that have no regard for the population’s interests. The Duque government responds to territories that have demanded for decades a greater state presence with the “magic formula” of presence through spraying.

Fighting appears reduced, but situation is very tense, in Venezuela border zone

“From Arauquita, Arauca, no explosions have been heard for a week on the other side of the river, on the Venezuelan side,” La Silla Vacía reported on April 12. There has been a notable lull in the combat that began on March 21 between Venezuelan security forces and the “10th Front” FARC dissident group—one of three guerrilla or rearmed guerrilla groups active in Venezuela’s border state of Apure. The official toll of dead and injured has not increased since last week’s update. Security analyst Andrei Serbín (interviewed in this week’s WOLA Venezuela podcast) told Tal Cual there has been a “considerable reduction” in fighting in recent days, but that “doesn’t mean that the threat has been eliminated. The FARC has this ability to lower its profile, avoid confrontation and attack elsewhere.”

The halt in fighting may owe, too, to the steady arrival of more Venezuelan forces into the zone. In addition to regular military units and the feared FAES police shock force, the Maduro regime announced that it would be sending 1,000 members of the citizen militia. This part-time force, which reports directly to the president, is hardly combat-ready—many of its members are middle-aged or older, or more oriented toward political work than fighting—but it may provide logistical and other backup to the Venezuelan forces arrayed near the Colombian border.

Most of the civilian population, meanwhile, appears to have vacated the zone. Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum said that her government had counted 5,737 Venezuelan citizens displaced into Arauca. Though fighting may have slowed, La Silla Vacía reports, “fear of the excesses that their own country’s authorities may commit is the main reason why the displaced still cannot conceive of returning to their homes.” These include “in addition to fleeing the crossfire… detentions, assaults, looting, and even the murder of a family.” Though they have taken a toll on the civilian population, Serbín points out that the Venezuelan military “hasn’t shown a great capacity. It hasn’t demonstrated results.”

On April 10 the 10th Front FARC dissident group’s putative leader, Jorge Eliécer Jiménez Martínez alias “Arturo,” put out an audio message insisting that his group “doesn’t seek problems” with the Venezuelan armed forces, which have singled out the 10th Front for attack even as the ELN and a second dissident group, the “Segunda Marquetalia,” operate in the same region.

The 10th Front is part of the largest network of former FARC guerrillas to rearm, the so-called “1st Front” structure headed by alias “Gentil Duarte,” who rejected the peace accord in 2016 and refused to demobilize. The other main network of dissidents, the Segunda Marquetalia, is headed by Iván Márquez, who was the FARC’s lead negotiator in Havana but rearmed in 2019. Most of both groups’ rank-and-file membership is new recruits with no past membership in the old FARC.

In his message Arturo, a former FARC front leader who deserted in 2004 and spent time in prison, acknowledged that the 10th Front has differences with the Segunda Marquetalia, and called on the Venezuelan Army to stop collaborating with the rival group. He said he is willing to dialogue.

For his part Iván Márquez, whose group is less visible in the zone but purportedly has closer ties to the Maduro regime, released a video on April 13 insisting that the Segunda Marquetalia does not consider neighboring countries’ forces to be “military targets” or “collect taxes” from—that is, extort—their citizens.

On his television program, Diosdado Cabello, a former military officer and legislator who is perhaps the second most powerful figure in Nicolás Maduro’s regime, appeared to issue a warning to all Colombian armed groups inside Venezuela, including the Segunda Marquetalia. “Venezuelan territory is impregnable. This applies to any group, no matter who the leader is, no matter what his name is. If they want to wage war against the Colombian government, they should do it in their territory, don’t do it in ours.”

The border-zone situation continues to highlight the very poor state of relations between Colombia and Venezuela. Blum, Colombia’s foreign minister, said on April 14 that she had communicated to the United Nations about the “serious situation” resulting from “the support given by the illegitimate Venezuelan regime to armed narco-terrorist groups.” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza issued a tweet calling Blum “Doña”—a misogynistic putdown—and demanding that Colombia guard its borders and keep Colombian armed groups out of Venezuelan territory.

Decrees make changes to military justice system

A series of three presidential decrees, made public on April 14, aim to increase the autonomy and performance of Colombia’s military justice system, which is charged with trying and punishing military and police personnel who violate their services’ codes of conduct.

While years of Colombian jurisprudence appear to make clear that violations of civilians’ human rights should be tried in the civilian criminal justice system, many cases still do end up in the military system. Once there, guilty verdicts and punishments are exceedingly rare.

“It’s no secret that citizens have a problem of trust” with the military system, an El Espectador questioner pointed out in an interview this week with the system’s current director, adding that “for most Colombians it is equivalent to impunity.” Shockingly, the system is so untransparent and sluggish—tracking cases with Excel spreadsheets and a written method dating back to the 1960s—that its director cannot say how many cases of “false positive” killings its judges have yet to decide (or to transfer to the civilian system).

The new decrees set regulations to implement reform laws passed in 2010 and 2015. They will move the military justice system out of the Defense Ministry’s purview, creating a new Specialized Administrative Unit within the executive branch. The current head of the military justice system, Fabio Espitia, who served for a time as Colombia’s acting chief prosecutor (Fiscal General), will head this new unit. The unit will have its own prosecutor’s office, investigators, tribunals, and judges. It is to use an oral, accusatory trial system instead of the military system’s current slow, opaque system. This should make it easier to see where cases stand, and what has happened. The president of the civilian Supreme Court will have a seat on its board of directors.

While this is a big step toward autonomy for a justice system that had been within the military chain of command, it is not quite autonomous. While out of the Defense Ministry, the system will still be in the government’s executive branch, under the President, and not the judicial branch. All, or nearly all, of its judges will continue to be active-duty or retired military officers. Espitia defended this to El Espectador, insisting that “in military and police operations there is something called operational law, and this is known to those who are part of the forces. It is only natural that it cannot be known by a civilian.”

The separate justice system, too, still applies to police—which remain part of Colombia’s Defense Ministry—even though police are charged with protecting and serving the population, not confronting enemies in battle. Espitia defended this, too, arguing that Colombia is not a typical country: “the police must be in joint operations with the military to disrupt organized crime groups.”

The unfortunate consequence, though, is that police who abuse human rights may see their cases go to the historically more lenient military justice system even when “organized crime groups” have nothing to do with what happened. An egregious recent case placed before the military system is that of Dilan Cruz, an 18-year-old protester killed in downtown Bogotá in November 2019 by a policeman who clearly appeared to be misusing a nonlethal crowd control weapon.

Another major case of police human rights abuse is the rampage of indiscriminate force against protesters that followed the September 9, 2020 police killing of lawyer Javier Ordóñez. Over two nights, police killed 13 people in the streets of Bogotá. So far, three policemen have been charged, and their lawyers failed to transfer their cases to the military justice system. There was further good news this week, as the civilian Fiscalía decided to transfer the entire September 2020 Bogotá police riot investigation to its human rights unit. That greatly increases the likelihood of a prosecution that takes the entire context into account, rather than treating the cases like individual, unrelated murders.

Links

  • Fr. Fernán González offers a summary of a new book about the ELN published by the Jesuit think tank CINEP. It argues that while the guerrilla group maintains its decentralized, “federated” structure, its center of gravity is shifting toward the front dominated in the eastern department of Arauca, which is the most “successful.” Meanwhile, local organizations that form the ELN’s “social base” are becoming increasingly independent.
  • La Silla Vacía sounds alarms about rapidly increasing violence in rural zones of Valle del Cauca department, whose principal cities, Cali and Buenaventura, get most attention. Actors “include armed groups seeking routes from Cauca and Chocó, criminal micro-trafficking groups, silent narcos, returned extradited persons, and a homegrown [ex-FARC] dissidence in Colombia’s third richest department.”
  • Just to the south, in the department of Cauca, the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación offers an overview of which armed groups are active in which sub-regions.
  • Colombia’s Inspector-General’s office (Procuraduría) called off a longstanding investigation against former chief of police Rodolfo Palomino. Since 2016, Palomino was being investigated for scandals that occurred during his 2013-2016 tenure: revelations of a male prostitution ring using police cadets, wiretaps of journalists, and an irregular land purchase.
  • On April 14 in La Macarena, Meta, Fayber Camilo Cufiño Mondragón became the 264th former FARC combatant killed since the 2016 peace accord.
  • Irregular road-building is feeding a sharp rise in deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon basin, Reuters reports. “According to the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, more than 280 km [174 miles] of unplanned roads were opened in key areas during the first 100 days of last year. It expects more roads were built in 2020 than in any other year, driven by rising land speculation.”
  • The post-accord transitional justice tribunal (JEP) is calling two senior active-duty generals to testify in May. Gen. Edgar Alberto Rodríguez Sánchez and Gen. Marcos Evangelista Pinto Lizarazo commanded units alleged to have committed large numbers of “false positive” killings. Today, Rodríguez commands the Army’s Education and Doctrine Command, while Pinto commands the Army’s Second Division in northeastern Colombia.
  • FARC dissidents in the Orinoco and Amazon basin departments of Guainía and Vaupés are enriching themselves from illicit mining of the mineral coltan, a source of the elements niobium and tantalum used in the manufacture of mobile phones and other electronics, El Espectador reports.
  • The elements of Colombia’s transitional justice system—the JEP, the Truth Commission, and the Commission to Search for the Disappeared—pledged to assist civil society groups in the search for more than 841 residents of the port city of Buenaventura who disappeared during the conflict. At PRI’s The World, Steven Grattan reports on Buenaventura’s ongoing public security crisis and its impact on social leaders.
  • At Anthropology News, Gwen Burnyeat, a junior research fellow at Oxford, looks at how the Santos government’s rational, unemotional, technocratic “peace pedagogy” efforts got steamrolled by accord opponents’ disinformation campaigns in the runup to the failed October 2016 plebiscite.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters photo at the Washington Post. Caption: “A woman passes by a poster displaying images of Fidel and Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel in Havana this week. The billboard says: ‘We are continuity.'”

(Even more here)

April 16, 2021

Brazil

While Brazil wants to receive money upfront to pay for the protection of the world’s largest rainforest, the United States is insistent on seeing results first

Chile

La Dirección de Inteligencia del Ejército había investigado por medio de escuchas telefónicas a un grupo de funcionarios activos y en retiro -quienes habían denunciado una serie de irregularidades en la institución

Colombia

Con el cambio avanza en la búsqueda de autonomía, pero se queda corto, ya que la unidad seguirá dependiendo del Gobierno. Además, quienes juzgarán a los uniformados seguirán siendo, en su mayoría, militares y policías

Significa un intento de respuesta al desconcierto que algunas acciones, aparentemente contradictorias de este grupo, despiertan en la opinión pública en general

El gran reto de enfrentar la fragmentación del crimen en el Valle, décadas después de la caída de los grandes carteles del Valle, y del conflicto armado, cuatro años tras la firma del Acuerdo de Paz. Las autoridades y analistas están apenas entendiendo qué pasa

Cuba

Fidel Castro’s younger brother has hinted for a decade at an expiration date to his public life; he’s expected to step down as first secretary of the Communist Party when it meets this weekend in Havana

Mexico

Growers expect the price of marijuana to drop further and think their trade will become economically unfeasible

“Espero que hablen, que digan qué hicieron, si lo asesinaron o algo, cualquier cosa que nos diera información de ellos”, dice

Un juez federal de Reynosa, vinculó a proceso a 30 marinos por la desaparición forzada de cuatro personas en Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, en 2018. El Consejo del Poder Judicial informó que los elementos navales permanecerán el prisión al menos 6 meses

Lejos de una vida apacible y de convivencia, la población de Michoacán ha vivido por años el terror impuesto por el crimen organizado. En esa entidad el narcotráfico se ha convertido en un cogobierno

Fiscales estadounidenses dijeron el jueves que tienen más de un millón de páginas en documentos para ser usados como pruebas contra el ex secretario de Seguridad Pública de México, Genaro García Luna

U.S.-Mexico Border

A Texas judge allowed the government this week to take possession of a family’s land because the Biden administration has yet to end lawsuits seeking property along the border

Of the 50 Facebook pages identified in the Tech Transparency Project report, more than half were created since mid-November and of those, a dozen popped up in the last month

Father Pat Murphy blames a combination of migrants’ misinformed asylum expectations, limited shelter space due to COVID-19, and U.S. Title 42 expulsions for creating the present situation

Venezuela

Hasta ahora ni el Ministro de la Defensa ni el jefe del Ceofan se han trasladado a la zona de conflicto

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 15, 2021

Brazil

Some pundits speculate that Mr Bolsonaro, who cheered on the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6th, is arming his base in preparation for 2022, when he will probably face Lula at the ballot box

Central America Regional

Worries over extensive government corruption in the region, particularly in Honduras, underscore the challenge Harris faces in leading the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts

Central America Regional, Mexico

Mexico and Costa Rica have taken steps to leverage their existing migration institutions to improve operational capacity, though notable challenges remain. Meanwhile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama are at earlier stages

Colombia

More than 280 km of unplanned roads were opened in key areas during the first 100 days of last year

Luego de que el Gobierno de Iván Duque firmara esta semana un decreto con el que regularía la reactivación de la aspersión con el herbicida a los cultivos de coca, la autoridad ambiental aprobó el procedimiento, trámite que estaba suspendido

Colombia, Venezuela

El experto en seguridad y defensa Andre Serbin indica que los milicianos no necesariamente participarán en el conflicto fronterizo en Apure. Ronna Risquez, también especialista en el tema, cree que Apure necesita de oportunidades

Ecuador

Conservative Guillermo Lasso will take office as an isolated president with a weak mandate, tasked with restoring faith in the country’s institutions

Mexico

La Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) exhortó a la Fiscalía General del Estado de Veracruz y a la Secretaría de Gobernación a que reabran las investigaciones

On a recent morning it looked like business as usual on this remote stretch of the Mexico-Guatemala border, which follows the mighty Usumacinta River

U.S.-Mexico Border

Just when they thought they’d won a reprieve, it was President Biden — not Trump — who would end up defeating the family in their years-long fight for the ranch

“These are really significant, important wildlife areas,” said Babbitt, who was also Arizona governor from 1978 to 1987. “And the idea that it all requires a 30-foot wall just makes no sense.”

White House officials have demanded HHS speed up releases from its overloaded shelter system to free up space for children packed into crowded border patrol stations

The Monitor captured video of the restricted Donna tents and Anzalduas International Bridge sites by flying a drone overhead

Colombia peace update: April 10, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Updates on the situation at the Venezuela border

Fighting continued this week on the Venezuelan side of the common border in Apure, across from Colombia’s department of Arauca, between Venezuelan forces and a Colombian guerrilla dissident group. While confirmed information remains scarce, the intensity of combat and number of casualties appeared to be less than in the prior two weeks, since Venezuela’s initial March 21 attack on dissident targets. The combativeness of Colombian and Venezuelan officials’ statements, however, has intensified.

“We’re witnessing the escalation of tensions between the two countries, which is extremely dangerous,” observed defense analyst Rocío San Miguel of the Venezuelan think tank Control Ciudadano, adding, “I don’t remember, in terms of duration, a similar situation in the last 30 years.”

Indeed, Venezuelan forces likely did not anticipate that the 10th Front dissident group—whose leaders, and some of whose members, spent years as FARC guerrillas—would fight back with such ferocity. On April 5 Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino reported that eight Army personnel had been killed since March 21, including four officers. A mortar misfire on April 3 killed three members of an artillery unit, including its commander, a lieutenant colonel, and wounded nine others. Gen. Padrino added that a total of 34 troops had been injured, and that Venezuelan forces had killed 9 rearmed guerrillas and captured 33.

Despite the continued fighting, Venezuelan officials insisted that they are consolidating control of the Apure border zone. Measures include deployment of a temporary military command, an Integrated Operational Defense Zone (ZODI) for the region. (Reuters reports that “Venezuela’s military maintains standing ZODI units for each of its 23 states and the capital Caracas.”) In the zone, military personnel are restricting the population’s movements. Units from elsewhere are being reassigned to Apure and equipped with Russian-made Orlan-10 surveillance drones.

Venezuela continues to face charges that it is focusing its efforts on only one of three Colombian guerrilla, or post-guerrilla, groups active in Apure. Rocío San Miguel, according to Tal Cual, “pointed out that the Armed Forces’ actions do not seem to be similar with respect to all the armed groups present in the area, and that there seems to be a pattern of neutrality with respect to the actions of the National Liberation Army (ELN).”

Colombia’s defense minister, Diego Molano, alleged that Venezuela is deliberately favoring a third group, the “Nueva Marquetalia” FARC dissidents headed by Iván Márquez, who was the guerrillas’ chief negotiator in the 2012-2016 peace talks but rearmed in 2019. “The objective of the operations there is not protection of the border, it’s protection of the drug trafficking business,” Molano told the newspaper.

Security expert Jorge Mantilla told the BBC that something must have happened to cause a breakdown in “arrangements, sometimes tacit, for the distribution of rents and territorial control” between Venezuelan forces and the three Colombian groups, causing Caracas to target the 10th Front.

Venezuelan officials haven’t addressed charges of armed-group favoritism, instead claiming that they are dealing with the effects of Colombia’s failure to govern its side of the border. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called Colombia a “failed state” and a “narco-state” lacking control of its territory. “I’d say it’s Colombia’s ineptitude, but sometimes I think this is in their interest,” added Gen. Padrino.

The humanitarian toll of the fighting continues to be grave. At least 5,000 Venezuelans have fled across the border into Arauca, Colombian officials say. Venezuelan officials claim the number is lower, insisting the border municipality of La Victoria had a total population of about 3,500. They also deny displaced people’s claims that Venezuelan forces extrajudicially executed civilians during the operation.

Javier Tarazona of the Venezuelan NGO FundaRedes said that some residents of the region have remained there amid continuing combat, mainly out of fear of losing their livestock or other property, or having their houses burned or sacked. Tarazona also alleged that elements from the 28th Front FARC dissidents—part of the same “First Front” dissident network as the 10th—were arriving in the region to reinforce the 10th Front in Apure.

Tarazona and FundaRedes don’t have a 100 percent accuracy record, though. The Venezuelan NGO director also alleged that Rodrigo Londoño, the maximum leader of the demobilized FARC’s legal political party, Comunes, had been holding quarterly coordination meetings with leaders of both main dissident networks. This made little sense to observers within Colombia, where Londoño has been a strong advocate of the peace accord and outspoken critic of the dissidents. It’s also hard to imagine the party leader, who is 62 and has had health problems, shaking his police guard for days to meet with dissident leaders in the jungle. “There is absolutely nothing that identifies me with them, and I am not an a**hole,” Londoño said in a video.

Amid concerns about the remote—but not zero—possibility of the border situation escalating into conflict with Colombia, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Arreaza said that his regime would submit a letter to Secretary-General António Guterres asking the UN to mediate or provide good offices, “establishing a direct and permanent communication channel” between the two neighboring countries, whose de facto governments maintain no diplomatic relations, “to resolve all issues related to the border.” This runs along somewhat similar lines to a civil society proposal, issued a week earlier, calling on the UN to name a special envoy to the border crisis.

At the same time, other Venezuelan officials issued more bellicose rhetoric. “The incursions into Venezuelan geographic space should be considered an aggression sponsored by [Colombian President] Iván Duque,” said Gen. Padrino, the defense minister. Diosdado Cabello, a politician often considered the second most-powerful individual in the Maduro regime, was characteristically even more blunt. “Colombia has declared, internally, that it is going to try to set the table for U.S. imperialism to attack Venezuela. They will be making a mistake because if we have a war…with Colombia, we are going to do it in their territory.”

A decree makes it harder to challenge the president, and fumigation, through legal means

With a new decree changing how citizens can seek redress before the presidency, “the government of Iván Duque made an unprecedented display of power,” in the words of the news website La Silla Vacía. While it raises strong concerns about democratic checks and balances and will certainly face constitutional challenges, the decree could open the door to a much faster restart of a controversial U.S.-backed program to spray herbicides from aircraft over territories where farmers grow coca.

The change affects the “tutela,” a figure in Colombian law that gives citizens the right to seek a quick response from courts when government is infringing their rights. Supporters view the tutela as a major victory won in the drafting of Colombia’s progressively worded 1991 Constitution. It has been unpopular on Colombia’s political right, which views it as an obstacle, since it gives minority interests and activists the ability to block policies’ implementation.

Decree 333 of 2021, which Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz issued on April 6, states that from now on (and possibly retroactively—it’s not clear), all tutelas filed against the President, or considered important for national security—like those having to do with coca eradication—will no longer go to courts of law. They are to be considered by the Council of State (Consejo de Estado), a Bogotá-based high court that makes administrative rulings.

Going to the Council of State will make it harder for communities to challenge a re-start of the aerial fumigation program. This program, active since 1994, was suspended in 2015 due to public health concerns about spraying the chemical glyphosate over residential coca-growing zones. In response to a tutela, in 2017 Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out a series of health, environmental, and consultative requirements that the government would have to meet in order to restart the spraying, as Iván Duque has pledged to do. In 2020, as the pandemic made it difficult for communities to participate in consultations about renewed spraying, another tutela resulted in regional court rulings that paused the controversial program’s restart.

The decree may put fumigation on a fast track to re-starting. First, it appears to offer a way around regional courts that have ruled on the side of affected communities. Second, filing complaints with the Bogotá-based State Council is more challenging for people in the very remote areas where coca is cultivated and spraying may happen. “There is a direct violation of the right to equality,” explained Diana Bernal of the Orlando Fals Borda Lawyers’ Collective, which has represented communities subject to fumigation. “The decisions will fall to judges who lack regional context, and who will not have the same ability to go deeper because the plaintiffs will be in remote areas.”

Either way, if the decree stands, fumigation could restart in as little as a couple of months, once the government determines that it has met the Constitutional Court’s requirements. “The Government believes that the current actions will favor it, and that is why announcements have been made that spraying will begin in a short time,” an unnamed Justice Ministry source told La Silla Vacía.

Beyond coca fumigation, the new decree raises concerns about democratic checks and balances. It presumes that the Presidency can “choose its own judge” on a constitutional issue, cutting out courts that have proved more likely to issue rulings unfavorable to it. “The proposed reform is subtle and may go unnoticed by the general public,” wrote EAFIT University constitutional law professor Estaban Hoyos. “The Duque government is issuing decrees for its own interest, intending to evade judges’ oversight of its actions or omissions that disregard fundamental rights. This is profoundly undemocratic.” Hoyos recalled to El Espectador that President Duque is further weakening checks and balances at a time when he has already named political allies to the leadership of oversight bodies like the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) and Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría).

It’s not at all clear that such a change can happen by decree, bypassing the legislature. Law professors and opposition legislators, probably together with legal NGOs, are preparing a legal challenge to the decree. It is not clear when a lawsuit might be filed.

The peace accord’s special congressional seats for victims suffer a new setback

The 2016 peace accord had sought to “place victims at its center,” according to its negotiators. As part of that commitment, it promised to create special congressional districts that would represent 16 regions of Colombia hardest-hit by the conflict. For two congressional terms (eight years), residents of those zones would elect to Colombia’s House of Representatives candidates chosen by victims’ organizations, not political parties.

This never happened, and while Colombia’s Constitutional Court considers whether to make it happen, the special congressional districts plan suffered another setback this week with an unfavorable recommendation from the Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría).

The long story begins in 2017, as Colombia’s Congress was passing a series of laws to make peace accord commitments official. Among those was a bill creating the special districts for victims. The measure passed Colombia’s House of Representatives, and passed the Senate by a vote of 50 to 7 at the end of November 2017.

That, apparently, wasn’t enough. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the measure had failed, arguing that it needed 52 votes to pass, as there are 102 senators. In fact, there were 98 senators at the time, because four senators had lost their seats due to legal problems like corruption. Still, that argument has not prospered in lower court challenges.

In December 2019 Colombia’s Constitutional Court agreed to consider the case of the special electoral zones and the 2017 Senate vote. This week the Procuraduría issued its recommendation to the Constitutional Court, which dealt another blow to the plan to create the special districts for victims. The agency—now headed by a political ally of President Duque, whose party opposes the seats—called for the Court to strike down the measure because it lacks sufficient “immediacy and subsidiarity.”

The Constitutional Court could still decide that the special congressional zones are valid, ignoring the Procuraduría opinion and making this peace accord commitment to victims a reality. It is not clear how the Court might rule, or whether it would issue a decision with enough lead time before Colombia’s March 2022 legislative elections.

Links

  • The UN Verification Mission issued its latest quarterly report, which counted 14 murders of former FARC combatants and 24 killings of social leaders during the previous 3 months. 262 former FARC members of about 13,000 who demobilized, or 2 percent, have been killed since the group demobilized in 2017. The report also noted that “several actors… continue to question the Government’s view of the development programs with a territorial focus [PDETs], claiming that its approach is not in line with the Comprehensive Rural Reform as envisioned in the Final Agreement.”
  • WOLA published its latest monthly alert on Colombia’s nationwide human rights and humanitarian situation.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken placed a phone call to Colombian President Iván Duque on April 5. They discussed “ways to renew our focus on issues including climate change, the protection of human rights, and the regional economic recovery from the pandemic,” as well as “the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela and Colombia’s efforts to promote democracy throughout the region.”
  • The Colombian government’s State Legal Agency (ANDJE) asked the Constitutional Court to review a Supreme Court order calling on the National Police to curb rights abuses during social protests. It argued that the right to protest should be regulated because “the public will take advantage of it, ‘discrediting the police’s authority,’” El Espectador reported.
  • The ELN carried out 58 percent fewer offensive actions (27), was involved in 30 percent fewer combat incidents (14), and was responsible for 9 percent fewer deaths (19) during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020, according to CERAC, a Bogotá think tank.
  • A Bogotá court met on Tuesday and Friday to consider the Prosecutor-General’s (Fiscalía’s) controversial request to drop witness-tampering charges against former president Álvaro Uribe.
  • Colombia’s Defense Ministry signed an 898 million peso (US$245,000) no-bid contract with a public relations firm that Minister Diego Molano “knows very well,” El Espectador reported. The contract seeks “to improve ‘public perception’ and ‘protect the collective imagination’” about the Defense Ministry.
  • As the former FARC leadership decides whether to accept the JEP’s charges of ordering and overseeing tens of thousands of kidnappings of civilians, its members are worried about their historical legacy, reports La Silla Vacía. “They fear they will go down in history as a criminal gang that committed crimes against humanity if they accept the charges against their leaders.”

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 9, 2021

Central America Regional

For those who remember recent history, the idea that the United States will uphold “security and rule of law” in Central America has an ominous ring

Colombia

Tras pasar 12 años extraditado en Estados Unidos, lo primero que pidió fue obtener el beneficio de libertad a prueba, pero un juez de Bogotá le negó la petición

Además de que centralizó en el Consejo de Estado todas las tutelas en su contra, determinó que todas las acciones relacionadas con la erradicación de cultivos ilícitos recaerían sobre esa misma corte

Honduras

Santos Rodríguez Orellana denuncia que hay un plan del presidente Hernández para asesinarlo

Mexico

For years, Mexico has sought humane treatment of Mexican and Central American immigrants in the United States. But that sort of moral authority has to be earned

El gobierno mexicano debe reorientar su política migratoria a una centrada en el acceso a la protección y avanzar en la cooperación regional para atender las causas estructurales

Lejos de la profesionalización y de una depuración eficaz, las policías del país siguen tan corruptas como antaño; en el Gobierno de la Cuarta Transformación este sector responsable de la seguridad pública está abandonado

U.S.-Mexico Border

President Biden’s discretionary funding request for fiscal 2022 nixed all funding for a border wall, including unused funds previously allocated to the project

Ms. Jacobson said that her appointment as a special assistant to the president and as the border coordinator in the White House was always intended to last for only about 100 days

Desperate immigrants who have sold everything back home to make the journey are trying to cross the border more than once after initially failing

Venezuela

La periodista Sulay García señala que la presencia de grupos militares en la zona no es un hecho nuevo sino histórico y que se debe, en gran medida, a la ausencia de políticas en la región por parte del gobierno

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Lynda M. González photo at the Dallas Morning News. Caption: “A young boy played with a single roller skate as expelled migrants sat around a gazebo in a public square in the Mexican border city of Reynosa on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Migrants have resorted to living at the plaza as the U.S. continues to expel them after they cross the border under Title 42 — a pandemic-related public order still in place and left over from the Trump administration.”

(Even more here)

April 8, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The effort is expected to uncover a small number of additional separations on top of thousands that have already been reported

Brazil

Mr Bolsonaro’s approval rating has fallen below 30%. And the pandemic is still raging: a record 4,211 deaths were reported on April 6th. To the army’s embarrassment, Eduardo Pazuello, a general, was in charge as health minister

Colombia

The recruits are useful. They can collect extortion fees, work in cocaine labs, or be forced into sex work. They can also sell and smuggle drugs, are used as assassins, and are often sent to the front lines of battle

La Andje pide urgente la regulación del derecho fundamental a la protesta pues, a su juicio, la ciudadanía se aprovechará del mismo, “desprestigiando a la autoridad policial”

La propuesta, bautizada también como las “curules de paz”, no prosperó en la plenaria del Senado y tampoco en los estrados judiciales, por lo que la única posibilidad que para sobrevivir depende de la Corte Constitucional

Temen pasar a la historia como una banda criminal que cometió delitos de lesa humanidad, si aceptan los cargos que les fueron imputados a sus jefes

El Salvador

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele refused to meet with a visiting senior U.S. diplomat this week over what he sees as a pattern of slights from Democrats and the Biden administration

Dos meses han transcurrido desde aquel desplante y, lejos de apaciguarse, las aguas no han dejado de estar revueltas entre Washington y San Salvador

Haiti

No longer is traveling Haiti’s already chaotic roadways a question of whether Haitians will reach their destination, but rather will they make it back home alive as armed robberies and kidnapping-for-ransom become almost daily occurrences

Mexico

Las menciones de los organismos internacionales de derechos humanos son falsas. Estas instancias han sido clave para documentar y llamar la atención sobre la crisis de derechos humanos que empezó a cernirse sobre México con el recrudecimiento de la llamada guerra contra las drogas

Mientras tanto la depuración y profesionalización de las fuerzas de seguridad locales – una de las justificaciones para la puesta en marcha de la Guardia Nacional – ha quedado en el limbo

Murieron más civiles de los que fueron lastimados en los enfrentamientos de la SEDENA (por cada civil herido, fallecieron 4.7 civiles)

The encounter between Ms. Salazar, a Salvadoran living in Mexico on a humanitarian visa, and four police officers was videotaped by a bystander. Her death sparked nationwide protests

La FGR exoneró al general Salvador Cienfuegos sin haber interrogado a Jesús Ricardo Patrón, el ‘H3’, único testigo encarcelado en México y quien de acuerdo a la DEA identificó al exsecretario

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

As a result of intensifying pressure from the U.S. to secure the border, the Mexican and Central American governments have cracked down on people trying to make their way to the U.S.

“I have a big concern that the numbers will increase to the point where we have a refugee camp like in Matamoros,” Pimentel said

U.S.-Mexico Border

Conditions on the southwest border represent a serious political challenge to President Biden

Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar reports back from her visit to an El Paso facility housing unaccompanied migrant children

The increase last month was so large that it did not fit on the y-axis of the CBP chart that tracks changes in monthly enforcement data

A record number of people petitioned for asylum in Mexico last month, drawn by family ties and high approval rates — and discouraged by the difficulty of getting into the U.S.

“We are doing our best to expel under Title 42 authority where we can and where there is capacity on the Mexican side,” the official added

Now that we have the official data, it is also clearly true that the administration’s efforts to play down the increase don’t hold up very well

Venezuela

Según el también vicepresidente del Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), los comunicadores sociales cubren las noticias en Apure a la espera de que asesinen a venezolanos para «hacer fiesta»

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 7, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

In the Americas, Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights documents how women, refugees, migrants, under-protected health workers, Indigenous Peoples, Black people and other groups historically forgotten by governments have borne the brunt of the pandemic

Colombia

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about 24 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders

La fórmula de negociación de tierras y curules no funcionará con el Eln, pues en cada territorio tiene reclamos diferentes

Vía decreto, el Gobierno dispuso que las tutelas contra la Presidencia que involucran erradicación de cultivos ilícitos o seguridad nacional sean estudiadas exclusivamente por el Consejo de Estado. Se les anuló la competencia a los juzgados regionales

“I ask myself, ‘Maybe if she stayed in school, had some way to keep her mind occupied, maybe we wouldn’t be at this cemetery,’” said her father

Colombia, Venezuela

La presidenta de Control Ciudadano señala que no parece similar la actuación de la FAN frente a todos los grupos armados presentes en la zona y que además parece estarse dando un esquema de neutralidad frente a la actuación del Ejército de Liberación Nacional

A través de redes sociales ha sido revelado el despliegue por parte de la Dirección Conjunta de Fuerzas Especiales, de vehículos aéreos no tripulados (UAV) Orlan-10 de fabricación rusa

Arreaza insistió que la frontera venezolana está representada por la administración de Maduro, mientras que por el lado colombiano no existe la representatividad del Ejecutivo presidido por Iván Duque

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The White House is looking to create legal ways for Central American migrants to reach the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy Ricardo Zuñiga said

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is deploying a Disaster Assistance Response Team to respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

Honduras

Now, in Honduras, the Biden administration’s task has been made even more daunting because of the criminal cases against men linked to President Juan Orlando Hernández

Mexico

Ha de señalarse que entre 2019 y 2020 se incorporó un número de nuevos elementos superior al estado de fuerza total operativo de la extinta Policía Federal.

Paradójicamente, este orden moral justifica el uso de la violencia para la protección de la comunidad y se funda en ella para asentar la legitimidad de las autodefensas

López Obrador expuso que México está dispuesto a colaborar y “sumar voluntades” para que se salvaguarde la vida y los derechos humanos de las y los migrantes, pero especialmente de las niñas y los niños

Paraguay

Ulises Quintana “participó en actos que facilitaron la delincuencia organizada transnacional, socavaron el estado de derecho y obstruyeron la confianza de la población en los procesos públicos de Paraguay”, según dijo Antony Blinken

Peru

Indigenous communities in Peru’s central Amazon are experiencing an increase in violence, threats and harassment as drug gangs target their land to grow coca

U.S.-Mexico Border

Cecilia Muñoz discusses the Biden Administration’s response to the recent surge of arrivals and how conversations about the border have changed during the past thirty years

“We’re not bringing any Americans into this because of the cartels,” she said. “We just keep ourselves safe at all times and we keep our heads down and mind our business. But, we try not to dwell on the cartel part

From February 24 to March 23, there were 435 incidents in the south Texas region where children were apprehended crossing the border alone after previously being expelled with their family as a part of the pandemic health order

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Milenio (Mexico). Caption: “La Guardia Nacional actualmente cuenta con alrededor de 100 mil elementos.”https://www.milenio.com/policia/guardia-nacional-reconocen-institucion-2-anos-creacion

(Even more here)

April 6, 2021

Brazil

Is it possible that, inspired by Donald Trump, Mr Bolsonaro contemplates hanging on to power through the use of might? No. It is probable

Brazil, South America Regional

The P.1 variant, which packs a suite of mutations that make it more transmissible and potentially more dangerous, is no longer just Brazil’s problem. It’s South America’s problem — and the world’s

Central America Regional, U.S.-Mexico Border

Last year, amid the pandemic, Central Americans endured the formation of 30 cyclones that devastated entire regions and fueled the need to emigrate

Colombia

La medida, que pretende erradicar los cultivos ilícitos de coca, mantiene en vela a los campesinos de la zona por las consecuencias económicas, medioambientales y sociales que puede acarrear

Forced eradication can undermine counterinsurgency efforts, which depend on winning support from local populations

Colombia, Venezuela

El teniente coronel del Ejército Raúl Roilander Quintero falleció este lunes 5 de abril en el Hospital Militar de San Cristóbal, en el estado Táchira, tras resultar herido en un accidente con un mortero

«Digo que es ineptitud de Colombia, pero a veces pienso que es interés de ellos», apuntó

Cuba

El artista Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara había planificado un “cumpleaños colectivo” y congregó a los residentes del área. La policía rodeó la sede e intentó impedir la actividad

Honduras

El presidente Hernández rechazó los cargos y criticó a la justicia estadounidense por basarse, según él, en testimonios de excapos de la droga perseguidos por el gobierno hondureño

Mexico

Varios de sus artículos personales, incluyendo equipo de cómputo, televisiones y dinero, fue robado, aprovechando que se encontraba fuera de la ciudad junto con su familia

Los datos recabados por la Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda al Refugiado (Comar) muestran que 22 mil 606 extranjeros llegaron al país para pedir protección en los tres primeros meses del año

>

Los señalamientos de Andrés Manuel López Obrador a la organización Artículo 19 fueron efectivos. Lograron desviar la discusión del tema sustancial que debiera estarse discutiendo estos días en el espacio público: la imparable y creciente crisis de derechos humanos

Ese punto es la entrada a Tierra Caliente y a lo más profundo donde se cocina la droga

Rosa Icela Rodríguez, titular de la SSPC, aseguró que quedaron atrás los tiempos de los cuerpos de seguridad reactivos, punitivos y autoritarios

U.S.-Mexico Border

Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the wall, has submitted a plan for what it wants to see happen moving forward

The recent increase in migration had begun well before Biden took office, and the reasons behind it form a complex web that was a long time in the making

Venezuela

Las cifra de presos por motivos de conciencia registra nueve personas menos con respecto al balance del mes de febrero, cuando que se realizaron algunas excarcelaciones

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Presidência da República photo at Veja (Brazil). Caption: “O presidente Jair Bolsonaro recebe continência do então comandante do Exército, Edson Leal Pujol Marcos Corrêa”

(Even more here)

April 5, 2021

Bolivia

La coca ilegal se incrementó en un 45% en 2020, según reveló el propio presidente Luis Arce, cuando presentó un anticipo del informe anual que la Oficina de Naciones Unidas contra la Droga y el Delito (Unodc) entregará en junio

Brazil

A sugestão do presidente, recebida como completamente despropositada, acabou ignorada pelo Ministério da Defesa durante a elaboração da Ordem do Dia

Central America Regional, U.S.-Mexico Border

The ad campaign is designed to combat a range of factors driving migrants to the border, including a slew of misinformation being spread by smugglers and the widespread belief among migrants that under the Biden administration, border enforcement has been relaxed

Colombia

Este centro penitenciario, inaugurado en 1960, lleva décadas siendo escenario de todo tipo de crímenes. Expertos creen que ocultaría hasta fosas comunes

Las Agc se tomaron el territorio, después de un llamado de auxilio de Los Rastrojos, que estaban a punto de perder la guerra con el Eln

Colombia, Venezuela

«El conflicto se mantiene», afirma Tarazona, quien agrega este sábado 3 de abril persisten las explosiones y ataques en distintos sectores

The patterns of migration on this border have changed since the advent of COVID-19. The border may be closed, but there are hundreds of labyrinthine routes available to those wishing to cross for a price

La ONG FundaRedes reportó bombardeos en el estado Apure desde este viernes y la madrugada de este sábado 3 de abril, como parte del conflicto armado entre militares venezolanos y el frente 10 de disidentes de las Farc

Cuba

The plan to consolidate the prisoners was devised during the Trump administration, when their former compound, Camp 7, was failing

El Salvador

Bukele’s choice for security minister raised eyebrows due to Villatoro’s alleged ties to officials and political operators involved in major corruption schemes

Mexico

“They know that if they’d awarded the stretch here to a private company it would be easy to organise resistance, but not when it’s the army”

Un grupo de 33 migrantes menores de edad y 28 adultos fueron localizados en condiciones de hacinamiento y con signos de deshidratación en carretera Monterrey-Reynosa

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Policies that restrict families with minors over age 6 from crossing into the U.S. can dash hopes of migrants

U.S.-Mexico Border

Two inspectors appointed by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee to monitor conditions faced by children in U.S. immigration custody detailed “severe overcrowding” at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in south Texas

Solo en marzo, llegaron 18.000 niños y adolescentes no acompañados. En Roma, uno de los puntos más activos de la frontera de Texas, EL PAÍS es testigo de cómo una decena de embarcaciones cruzan en una noche

More Americans disapprove than approve of how President Joe Biden is handling waves of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, and approval of his efforts on larger immigration policy falls short of other top issues

Venezuela

Se envió un contingente de las FAES al estado Apure para “apoyar” en el conflicto. A partir de allí, iniciaron las denuncias de atropellos contra la población civil de la zona

Los periodistas de NTN24 Luis Gonzalo Pérez y Rafael Hernández denuncian que fueron detenidos, incomunicados y robados por funcionarios militares cuando intentaban cubrir el enfrentamiento en La Victoria, estado Apure

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, April 5

  • 8:30 at atlanticcouncil.org: Emerging markets recovery in 2021: A conversation with Mexico’s Finance Minister Herrera (RSVP required).
  • 10:30 at atlanticcouncil.org: Leaders of the Americas: A conversation with H.E. Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 6

  • 10:00 at cries.org: América Latina y el impacto de la pandemia del COVID-19 (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:15 at wola.org: “None of the Above”: Peru’s Fragmented Politics and the April 11 Elections (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 7

  • 10:00-11:00 at wola.org: Civil Society in Colombia’s Catatumbo Region Demand a Humanitarian Accord, Not Militarization (RSVP required).
  • 10:00-11:00 at thedialogue.org: Developments in the US-China-Mexico Triangular Dynamic (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-11:45 at heritage.org: Democratic Socialism: A Warning from Venezuela (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at wola.org: Report Launch: Defending Human Rights in Venezuela (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-5:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Argentina’s Lithium Industry and its Role in the Global Renewable Energy Transformation (RSVP required).

Thursday, April 8

  • 10:00-1:00 at thedialogue.org: ¿Cómo medimos la calidad de los servicios de educación inicial en América Latina? (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Digital Autocracy: Maduro’s control of the Venezuelan information environment (RSVP required).
  • 3:00 at FundaRedes: Refugiados venezolanos y colombianos entre la espada y la pared (RSVP required).
  • 7:30-9:00pm at mobilize.us: Wall of Nations: Mexico, Guatemala and the New Southern Border (RSVP required).

Colombia peace update: April 4, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Fighting continues between Venezuelan military and 10th Front dissident group

Nearly two weeks since Venezuelan security forces attacked a FARC dissident group in Apure, along the border with Colombia, unusually intense combat continues, displacing large numbers of civilians.

On March 21, Venezuelan armed forces carried out bombings and land raids on six sites used by the 10th Front, an ex-FARC group. The New York Times called it “several days of airstrikes that security experts described as Venezuela’s largest use of firepower in decades.” Venezuelan forces also carried out house-to-house raids in border towns like La Victoria and El Ripial, terrorizing the population.

The 10th Front, made up of a few former FARC guerrillas and many new recruits, is affiliated with the 1st Front headed by alias “Gentil Duarte,” Colombia’s largest network of ex-FARC guerrillas who refused to demobilize. It is one of three Colombian armed groups active inside Venezuela in this part of the border zone. Venezuela’s military operations have not affected the other two: the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and a second dissident group, the “Nueva Marquetalia,” which is led by Iván Márquez, who had headed the FARC’s negotiating team during 2012-16 peace talks.

The 10th Front has retaliated repeatedly. It has attacked a local office of Venezuela’s taxation agency, knocked out electrical power, attacked Army road checkpoints, and destroyed a Russian-made armored personnel carrier with either a rocket-propelled grenade or an improvised explosive device. “That civilian and military facilities are being damaged is something we had not seen to date,” Fr. Eduardo Soto, the director of Jesuit Refugee Service Venezuela, told Venezuela’s Tal Cual.

Estimates of the combat’s toll are high. Venezuelan officials cite nine dead, including four soldiers, along with 32 arrests and nine guerrilla dissident camps destroyed. The 10th Front denies that any of its fighters have been captured or killed.

Venezuelan human rights group statements, and press interviews with refugees who have crossed the river into Colombia’s also-conflictive department of Arauca, reveal many testimonies of Venezuelan soldiers and members of the notorious Police Special Actions Forces (FAES) unit raiding homes, looting possessions, dragging people into the street and beating them, forcing people to hold weapons while photographing them, detaining people and holding them incommunicado, and massacring a family in El Ripial, presenting the dead as combatants. The guerrilla dissidents, meanwhile, are accused of widespread and indiscriminate use of landmines and explosives.

On March 31 Venezuelan forces detained two reporters with the NTN24 news network, along with two members of the FundaRedes human rights group. They were released after 24 hours, without their cameras, mobile phones, or other equipment. A statement from Venezuela’s Defense Ministry mentioned “media scoundrels that deploy their dirty manipulations to fuel violence” in the region. “The role that NGOs are playing in this operation is striking,” it added.

As of March 31, Colombia’s migration agency had counted 4,741 people displaced by the fighting, who had taken refuge in 19 shelters in Arauquita, Colombia. That represents more than 10 percent of Arauquita municipality’s estimated population of 44,000. About 40 percent are children. At least several hundred of the displaced have Colombian citizenship but had settled on the Venezuelan side of the border. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is in Arauquita helping with tents, mattresses, hygiene kits and face masks. An unknown number of people have also displaced to other parts of Venezuela.

It is not clear why Venezuela has chosen to confront the 10th Front to the exclusion of other Colombian armed groups in Venezuelan territory, or why it has done so now. Colombia’s defense minister, Diego Molano, claims that Nicolás Maduro’s regime “doesn’t seem to be defending its sovereignty, but protecting its drug-trafficking business” and that it “orders that one narco-criminal group be combated selectively.” Most educated guesses do point to a corrupt relationship between Venezuelan security forces and organized crime.

Caracas may have decided to favor the “Nueva Marquetalia” dissident group, or perhaps, the Washington Post posits, “the 10th Front may have simply crossed a line by extorting powerful landowners in the area.”

An unnamed expert cited in El Espectador had a lengthy hypothesis:

An expert consulted by this newspaper, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that drug trafficking in the area involves “paying extortion, or a bribe, to public entities, particularly to the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB). According to the expert, since 2019, both the dissidents of the Segunda Marquetalia, as well as those of Gentil Duarte, began to default on payments. “That undoubtedly generated a series of tensions with the FANB that escalated.”

…The expert added that the 10th Front began to increase the volume of drug trafficking passing through the route. “Then more members of the FANB began to charge and raise the rates. That’s when ‘Ferley’ appeared, he is the finance chief of the 10th Front and he began to have disputes with people in the FANB,” this person added.

The same article cited Sebastiana Barráez, a Venezuelan journalist, contending that “the sympathies that have been expressed, even by Nicolás Maduro himself, have been towards Iván Márquez, not towards Gentil Duarte.” Still, the Segunda Marquetalia presence in the region is less notable. “They have a strange presence because it is not so clear to identify who their combatants are, at least in Arauca and Apure,” researcher Naryi Vargas told El Espectador.

At the moment it is impossible to predict whether the violence will die down or escalate. The dissidents are showing a much greater willingness to keep attacking the Venezuelan forces than they do in Colombia, where attacks on military targets are usually followed by lengthy retreats.

The dissidents are reportedly calling for negotiations that might lead to a truce with the Venezuelan regime. Over 60 Colombian and Venezuelan organizations sent a March 31 letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres asking him to name a special envoy to mediate, since the Colombian government and the regime in Venezuela have almost no remaining contacts with each other.

The two governments continue to ramp up bellicose rhetoric. While Colombia’s defense minister alleges Caracas is colluding with the Nueva Marquetalia, Venezuela’s defense minister insists that the Colombian armed groups “cross the river, make their skirmishes and return to Colombia with the protection of their authorities.” A Venezuelan Defense Ministry communiqué even sought to bring the United States into the picture:

They [the armed groups] are sponsored by the Colombian government and the Central Intelligence Agency, which is why their incursions into the Venezuelan geographic space should be considered an aggression sponsored by [Colombian President] Iván Duque, since he provides them with logistical and financial support, creating a criminal corridor on the border with the advice of the U.S. Southern Command.”

Though the probability of escalation into inter-state conflict remains low, it can’t be discarded. “This is the worst crisis I’ve seen in decades here,” an unnamed human rights worker told the Guardian. The paper went on: “The activist added that the bellicose rhetoric from Bogotá and Caracas was hardly helping. ‘I would say it is making it worse.’”

Car bombing raises concern about Cauca’s deteriorating security situation

The department of Cauca, in southwest Colombia, remains one of the most conflictive parts of the country. On March 26, a car bomb detonated in the center of Corinto, in the northern part of the department not far from Cali. Last week also saw the murder of a judicial police investigator near Corinto, and the forced displacement of 2,000 people in Argelia, in the department’s south.

The car bomb went off next to the mayor’s office in Corinto, wounding 43 people including 11 municipal employees. President Iván Duque said that a FARC dissident group powerful in the area, the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column, was responsible. The Dagoberto Ramos, like the 10th Front in Arauca and Venezuela, is believed to be part of the dissident network headed by “Gentil Duarte” and the 1st Front. Led by a former mid-level FARC leader named Johany Noscué alias “Mayimbú,” the unit has carried out some bloody high-profile attacks, including the 2019 assassination of mayoral candidate Karina García in Suárez municipality. The dissidents and the armed forces had been fighting in a nearby village in the days leading up to the bombing.

The Dagoberto Ramos unit is also believed responsible for the March 27 kidnapping and murder of Mario Fernando Herrera, an investigator with the Technical Investigations Unit (CTI) of the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía). Herrera was taken on March 26 at a roadblock that the dissidents had set up on the road between Corinto and the northern Cauca municipality of Santander de Quilichao. HIs body was found the next day.

Further south in Argelia, fighting remains intense between the ELN and another dissident group purportedly aligned with “Gentil Duarte,” the Carlos Patiño front. (To make things more complicated, this region also has a dissident group aligned with the Segunda Marquetalia, and the two have poor relations: Kyle Johnson and Juanita Vélez of Conflict Responses observed last year that Argelia may be the only zone where units of the two dissident networks are fighting each other.) ELN-dissident firefights have left residences riddled with bullets and shrapnel in the middle of the town of El Plateado, Argelia. Starting on March 27, 2,000 residents fled “at great speed.” Most headed for the county seat of Argelia, where many are gathered in the main church and the soccer arena.

Cauca has only about 1.35 million people, but has always been over-represented in measures of violence. It is strategically located for narcotrafficking, with coca fields, laboratories, and routes leading to Pacific transshipment points. Northern Cauca is also a center of Colombia’s illicit marijuana trade, with grow lights dotting the region’s hillsides at night. Illicit mining is common, especially near the Pacific. It is one of Colombia’s most ethnically diverse departments, but indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have historically been poor and excluded from political power, which has concentrated in the hands of a European-descended elite. Its topography is complex: Colombia’s three Andean mountain chains all converge there in what’s called the Macizo Colombiano (Colombian Massif).

Cauca leads the country in murders of social leaders and human rights defenders since 2016. So far in 2021, the department has suffered four massacres. The homicide rate in 2020 was 53.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than all but four or five U.S. cities. The ELN, three dissident units, a fragment of the EPL, and the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitary group all operate in Cauca, as do smaller regional organized crime groups.

Argelia social leader Walter Aldana described the situation to El Espectador:

What we have today in the department of Cauca is the presence of eight or ten illegal armed groups that exercise power and dominion in the territories. They fight among themselves for territorial control. But whoever is there at the time is the authority in the territory. For more than a year, since before the pandemic, we have had a curfew from 7 o’clock at night—depending on the armed group and how they want to handle things.

In response to all this, “the government has recurred to old formulas,” wrote Santiago Torrado at Spain’s El País, “such as holding a security council meeting, announcing the deployment of 2,000 uniformed personnel in addition to the 8,000 already in the department, and offering rewards for the ringleaders.”

“The improvisation, the lack of planning, the lack of systematic persecution of crime is very evident,” wrote Alfonso Luna Geller, of the group Proclama del Cauca, at El Espectador. “The military and police are always surprised. It seems that there is no military or police intelligence, no strategic or tactical operations, because they have been replaced by useless security councils. … The National Government only appears to make bombastic and opportunistic declarations on the smoking streets of our towns.”

“The only way to transform these conditions is with transformations driven by the State as a whole,” former human rights ombudsman Carlos Negret told Torrado. “With long-term policies and not with circumstantial projects; with sustainable and durable decisions, and not with fire extinguishers that sooner rather than later use up their loads. I believe that implementation of the peace agreement has many of these elements”.

Links

  • 25 U.S. and Colombian organizations sent a letter to President Biden asking his administration to cease funding for aerial herbicide fumigation in territories where farmers grow coca, before Colombia’s government re-starts the suspended program.
  • From Vorágine and Connectas, a new accusation that the government’s coca eradication statistics are artificially inflated: eradicators “arrived at the coca fields to negotiate with the landowner. This was a ‘pact’ in which the eradicators only completed half of their task or did it badly on purpose: they did not uproot the bush from its roots, but only stripped it halfway down its stem.”
  • Mutante, Baudó AP, and La Liga Contra el Silencio published an investigation alleging that nine farmers were killed in the context of coca eradication operations in 2020. The total death toll for coca eradication in 2020, then, was 25, since the Defense Ministry reported 16 eradicators or security-force escorts killed last year.
  • The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy published a “Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One,” which places emphasis on access to evidence-based treatment, harm reduction, and “a collective and comprehensive response” to supply reduction in Latin America. It does not specifically mention forced eradication of illicit crops.
  • The State Department’s annual human rights report draws attention to some of the more notable abuses that took place in 2020, while noting that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) “continued to take effective steps to hold perpetrators of gross violations of human rights accountable in a manner consistent with international law.”
  • Defense Minister Diego Molano told El Tiempo that the JEP’s estimate of 6,402 victims of military “false positive” killings of civilians between 2002 and 2008 “is a figure that seeks to create a negative image of our Armed Forces and extort the real debate, the one we need so that this country can have forces with greater legitimacy.”
  • An InsightCrime investigation into armed groups’ recruitment of children finds “the areas of most concern since 2016 include Bajo Cauca [Antioquia] and the Amazon state of Vaupés.”
  • It has been a year since Salvatore Mancuso, once a top leader of Colombia’s national AUC paramilitary network, completed a criminal sentence for narcotrafficking in the United States. He remains in a Georgia Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, seeking to prevent his deportation to Colombia, either by staying in the United States under the Convention Against Torture, or being removed to Italy, as he is a dual citizen. By video, Mancuso has been sharing information with the JEP and the Truth Commission. He is revealing names of military officers and civilian third parties who aided and abetted the right-wing groups that, at the conflict’s peak in the late 90s and early 00s, committed the majority of killings and forced displacements.
  • Colombia’s chief prosecutor (Fiscal General) Francisco Barbosa, a longtime personal friend of President Iván Duque, drew criticism this week for indicting one of the opposition-party candidates with highest poll numbers ahead of March 2022 presidential elections, former Medellín mayor and Antioquia governor Sergio Fajardo. The Fiscalía is accusing Fajardo of a 2013 case of contracting irregularities: approving a loan to the Antioquia government that was denominated in dollars, without first performing a risk study.
  • Fiscal General Barbosa paid a visit to the United States this week, where he met with ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Marshals representatives, among others. Barbosa’s delegation included Gabriel Jaimes, the prosecutor in the super-high-profile witness-tampering case against former president Álvaro Uribe. Jaimes has asked to drop the charges in Uribe’s case, and will present arguments before a judge on April 6. Investigative journalist Daniel Coronell points out that the majority of witnesses on Uribe’s behalf in this case have some relationship with the Oficina de Envigado, an organized crime structure descended from the old Medellín cartel.
  • Without Catholic Church-led organizing and a 1993 law recognizing Afro-descendant communities’ collective landholdings, the jungles of Chocó “could have been destroyed by the logging interests of the time,” says Quibdó Bishop Juan Carlos Barreto in an interesting interview with La Silla Vacía. “If it weren’t for that work, we would have this forest full of monocultures and agribusiness.”
  • The Colombian government appears determined to move ahead with a US$4.5 billion purchase of 24 F-16 fighter jets. This is controversial because the contract, equivalent to more than 1 percent of GDP, comes at a time when resources are lacking for other priorities, like peace accord implementation.
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