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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Some articles I found interesting this morning

Benjamin Flores photo at Proceso (Mexico). Caption: “Militares en la conmemoración de la Independencia de México.”

(Even more here)

August 28, 2018

Chile

With the discovery of secret bank accounts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pinochet’s prestige crumbled. Pinera hasn’t commented on the Supreme Court ruling

Colombia

The vessels will support maritime patrol efforts in the Pacific and Caribbean to counter transnational crime. Colombia expects two more boats by the end of 2018

El documento, denominado ‘Génesis’, incluye un detallado análisis y recopilación de las infracciones al DIH cometidas por la extinta guerrilla en medio del conflicto armado interno

La Comisión de la Verdad, la cual había solicitado información reservada sobre manuales y política militar desarrollada durante el conflicto armado

Después de muchas vueltas, la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz recibirá a los parapolíticos que logren mostrar que en sus nexos con grupos armados hubo intención de sostener el conflicto

Las cuatro propuestas (“temas”, como los llama Ceballos) son a futuro y no modifican lo pactado, por lo que no afectarían a la Farc, aunque sí al ELN

The recent arrest of Colombia’s own corruption tsar on bribery charges laid bare the gravity of a problem that President Iván Duque has dubbed a “cancer.”

Informes de inteligencia señalan que llegó a esa ciudad de vacaciones y salió de Colombia dejando ‘envenenado’ con cocaína pura un avión militar de Estados Unidos

En entrevista, habla un vocero autorizado de la organización delictiva más poderosa de Colombia

Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

Ecuador y Colombia son los dos países que están impulsando iniciativas para lograr una respuesta coordinada a la crisis migratoria. Entre los que no comparten frontera, México, Chile y Argentina son los más activos

Mexico

Videgaray said that the wall payment issue isn’t one that the U.S. has brought to the table with Mexico recently

Recomendó “tener un plan cierto, conocido por la población para que esa transitoriedad sea eso y no permanencia”

While Mr. Trump may try to change the name, the agreement reached with Mexico is simply a revised Nafta, with updates to provisions surrounding the digital economy, automobiles, agriculture and labor unions

Venezuela

Los Chamos actually are Yoswal, Yosser and Walter Flores, the children of First Lady Cilia Flores from a previous relationship and thus Maduro’s stepsons

Un-Uribe-like

One of the central questions in Colombian politics this year: how independent is the new president, Iván Duque—a 42-year-old technocrat with a light political resume—from his political party’s 500-watt boss, the incendiary far-right former president Álvaro Uribe?

The word “puppet” gets tossed around a lot. But Duque is in fact showing some genuine flashes of independence.

We saw a very bright one yesterday, when Duque showed up at the polls to vote in an anti-corruption referendum, the result of a citizen signature-gathering initiative, that Uribe bitterly opposed. In angry tweets, the ex-president attacked the anti-corruption measure’s promoters personally, accusing them of wasting US$100 million to hold yesterday’s vote. [No idea if that figure is accurate. In the end, the anti-corruption consultation didn’t reach the voter-participation threshold needed to make its measures law. This was expected—but few expected 11.6 million Colombians, 32 percent of all registered voters, to show up on a Sunday in August.]

In a piece titled “Anticorruption Consultation: the first Duque-Uribe Disagreement,” Semana magazine notes the contrast between President Duque and his “patron”:

The ex-president became, in the hours before, the initiative’s fiercest opponent. “I will not vote in the deceptive consultation, and I have cared for the state’s resources throughout my public career with transparency and austerity,” Uribe tweeted.

…Uribe’s lashing out contrasted with the words that his candidate, now the president, Iván Duque, had said earlier. From San Jacinto, Bolivar, the head of state assured that “it is a citizen’s duty, in the conscience of each, to go to the polls and vote on the questions with which he feels identified.”

Duque’s words stand out both for their vague, lawyerly/academic language, but especially for their distinctly un-Uribe-like quality. He spoke similarly at an August 23 event in the Urabá region of northwest Colombia—hardcore Uribe territory—to launch a new policy to protect threatened social leaders:

In his speech [reports El Nuevo Siglo], Duque said that “if we want to guarantee the life and integrity of our social leaders, we have to dismantle the structures of organized crime that are attacking them.”

“What we want is to seek an integral response of preventive actions and investigative speed to guarantee freedom of expression to all the people who are exercising the defense of human rights,” said the head of state [according to El Espectador].

Again, those are two sentences one could never imagine Álvaro Uribe uttering; the ex-president instead has a long record of calling his civil-society critics guerrilla supporters, terrorists, or even child molesters.

Duque’s sentences in defense of social leaders are good ones. Though a bit imprecise, their tone and content offer assurance that the “puppet” narrative may be overblown—and that the Duque government, though conservative and traditional, may not end up being a third Álvaro Uribe term after all.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

August 27, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Trump has publicly and repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for a border wall — and has recently expanded his demands

“You can be in a neighborhood where kids are playing in the streets, and there could be a stash house next door”

ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said immigration court attendance is strong for immigrants in intensive supervision, but that ankle monitors and other measures are “not an effective tool” after deportation orders are issued

Argentina

Since news of the notebooks became public, powerful figures in business and the government, implicated in the scandal, have come forward, describing to prosecutors a vast system of kickbacks

Argentina, Bolivia

Morales acusó a la Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte (OTAN) de estar detrás de la iniciativa militar argentina

Brazil

“Isso não é uma profecia. É uma conclusão. Ao se defrontar com o criminoso, a tendência da polícia, por falta de meios, era se omitir”

Colombia

Habla el nuevo alto comisionado de Paz, Miguel Ceballos, quien deberá asumir duros retos

The vote attracted an “unprecedented” number of voters for a citizen-driven initiative

El jefe del Gobierno de España, el socialista Pedro Sánchez, anunció que le ofrecerá su apoyo al proceso de paz con el Ejército de Liberación Nacional, Eln, que se encuentra congelado en la actualidad

Costa Rica, Nicaragua

Unos 500 ticos se manifestaron en el parque de la Merced, el pasado sábado 18 de agosto, en contra de la gran cantidad de nicas qué han llegado a Costa Rica en los últimos días

Honduras

El presidente Juan Orlando Hernández anunció que en septiembre próximo se iniciarán operativos conjuntos de la Policía Militar del Orden Público (PMOP), la Policía Nacional y la Fuerza Nacional Anti Maras y Pandillas (FNAMP)

Mexico

Advirtieron que si no hay un plan de retiro paulatino de las fuerzas castrenses, se repetirían los graves abusos y violaciones que han ocurrido en los últimos dos sexenios

El tabasqueño sostuvo que su gobierno cuidará que marinos y militares respeten los derechos humanos del pueblo y no reprimirlo

Nicaragua

In the moments when they aren’t worried about being discovered or where their next meal will come from, many of those in hiding grow despondent over an unraveling future

A senior U.S. official whom I spoke to feared that Ortega was using death squads to silence his opposition. “We’ve moved from a climate of fear to one of terror”

Policías y paramilitares atacan caravana y suprimen por la fuerza libertad de movilización, pero las protestas continúan

I keep rereading this paragraph

“For many Argentines, then, the military represented not a subjugation to arbitrary rule, but a release from the frustrations, complexity, and compromises of representative government. A large part of society clasped with joy the extended hand of totalitarian certainty. Life was suddenly simplified by conformity to a single, uncontested power. For those who cherish democracy, it is necessary to comprehend the secret delight with which many greeted its passing. A quick fix to the insurgency seemed infinitely preferable to plodding investigations, piecemeal arrests, and case-by-case lawful trials. Whipped up by the irrational fear of a communist takeover, this impatience won the day. And once Argentina had accepted the necessity for a single, absolute solution, the killing could begin.”

From Argentine journalist Uki Goñi’s remarkable essay, “‘Silence Is Health’: How Totalitarianism Arrives,” from the current New York Review of Books.

Five links from the past week

After clashes with native groups over development, and controversial maneuvers to stay in office, indigenous voters are now turning against him

Funcionarios públicos como notarios, registradores y jueces se alían con los criminales para amenazar a los campesinos y obligarlos a vender a precios muy por debajo del valor real de los predios

The conclusions listed in the report point to serious challenges in building some, if not all, of the prototypes as they were erected in San Diego, because of structural issues in their design or with construction

The killings have probably been orchestrated by more powerful political and financial interests, with links to the drug trade and the military

Dom Phillips and Gary Calton joined an expedition to track the whereabouts of an uncontacted tribe, who threaten the safety of Brazil’s Marubo people

Corruption in Latin America: links from the past month

Argentina

The investigation was begun after the newspaper La Nación obtained notebooks belonging to a driver who took meticulous notes about bags of cash he purportedly ferried around the city

Colombia

Funcionarios públicos como notarios, registradores y jueces se alían con los criminales para amenazar a los campesinos y obligarlos a vender a precios muy por debajo del valor real de los predios

Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gould, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, was arrested after Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 40 kilograms of cocaine in two backpacks on a military airplane in Colombia

En una decisión sin precedentes, Fernando Carrillo decidió abrir procesos contra tres altos oficiales, en medio del escándalo de desvío de fondos reservados y el presunto espionaje ilegal al interior del Comando de las Fuerzas Militares

El Salvador

Su confesión es una ventana a estructuras de corrupción que van más allá de su presidencia y sus lujos, y debe dar lugar a investigaciones que lleguen mucho más lejos

Saca, who was arrested in 2016, had made a deal with the Attorney General’s Office: If he confessed, he would face a lighter sentence

Guatemala

The circle is nearly closed. Jimmy Morales, who won power precisely because of his predecessor’s corruption, is now facing down accusations that he committed some of the same transgressions. It was a biblical lesson he apparently missed

The move has quelled doubts about Porras’ independence and further isolated Guatemala’s embattled president

The Pérez Molina and Baldetti government clearly understood that in order to be in politics and make money in Guatemala, corrupt politicians and businessmen use what they call “quotas of power,” or favors, which open doors to contracts and government benefits

Powerful Guatemalan politicians and businessmen accused in the investigations have been repeatedly trying to undermine the CICIG and stop the investigations against them and their allies, including through recent overtures to Washington

On July 4, the Interior Ministry withdrew 20 officers assigned as security to the facilities and personnel of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

Honduras

Nájera’s response to the move by the US Congress fits into a broader pattern of elites accused of corruption trying to muddy the waters by impugning the reputations of others

Mexico

Half of the 10 retired or active officers who agreed to speak to Al Jazeera, admitted that in their force some sort of quota system existed

Peru

Desde el 7 de julio, unos audios dejaron al descubierto que en vez de administrar justicia, unos jueces y fiscales se habían dedicado a delinquir

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

August 24, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Troxell and his 24-member Defense Senior Enlisted Leader Council traveled about 1,000 miles of Southwest border territory from Aug. 13 to 15 to observe and report back to their leaders about border concerns

Argentina

The investigation was begun after the newspaper La Nación obtained notebooks belonging to a driver who took meticulous notes about bags of cash he purportedly ferried around the city

Bolivia

After clashes with native groups over development, and controversial maneuvers to stay in office, indigenous voters are now turning against him

Brazil

De acordo com o general, estamos “nos infelicitando, diminuindo nossa autoestima e alterando nossa identidade”. Acrescentou que o país “não consegue vislumbrar um projeto para o seu futuro”

Newspapers have nicknamed him the Trump of the Tropics for his perceived similarities to the populist U.S. President

Colombia

The ex-FARC mafia — networks of former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) — have rapidly emerged as central players in the Colombian underworld

Una reducción increíble, sin embargo las buenas noticias se estancaron desde 2017, y particularmente en el segundo semestre de ese año

Funcionarios públicos como notarios, registradores y jueces se alían con los criminales para amenazar a los campesinos y obligarlos a vender a precios muy por debajo del valor real de los predios

Jozef Merkx, representante de la Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados, alertó sobre la crítica situación que se vive en Colombia por cuenta del desplazamiento forzado

“We’re not asking for socialism,” he said, adding that his rebels are mainly looking for basic protections for peasants and a way that the rebels can lay down arms

Así lo reveló la vicefiscal general de la Nación, Maria Paulina Riveros, quien denunció que el problema radica en la reclamación de tierras

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela

The three nations would meet on Monday and Tuesday to discuss problems caused by thousands of Venezuelans who cross borders each day and the impact of recently implemented passport controls

Colombia, Venezuela

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has led to one of the largest mass migrations in Latin America’s history

Cuba

The Cuban government has said that its hotels are safe, but the U.S. travel advisory still recommends that American travelers avoid the Hotel Nacional and the Hotel Capri

Ecuador, Venezuela

Explicó que Ecuador mantiene “una posición de principios” y que esta no se alinea con los de “ningún grupo en particular en la propuesta de que el problema de los venezolanos sea resuelto entre ellos, en el marco democrático”

El Salvador

The El Salvadoran government’s receptiveness to China’s apparent interference in the domestic politics of a Western Hemisphere country is of grave concern to the United States, and will result in a reevaluation of our relationship

Guatemala

The circle is nearly closed. Jimmy Morales, who won power precisely because of his predecessor’s corruption, is now facing down accusations that he committed some of the same transgressions. It was a biblical lesson he apparently missed

Mexico

Mexico’s president-elect is promising a new approach to end the country’s brutal drug violence. It won’t be enough

Nicaragua

On July 5, 2018, the US Treasury Department had sanctioned Díaz under the Global Magnitsky Act, alleging that under his command “the National Police has engaged in serious human rights abuse against the people of Nicaragua”

Según Cuadra, el espaldarazo de Ortega a su consuegro Francisco “Paco” Díaz fortalece el esquema de control político familiar que ejerce la pareja presidencial sobre la Policía

Venezuela

While a full embargo on purchasing Venezuelan oil — the so-called “nuclear option” —is being actively discussed, the administration is zeroing in on more surgical sanctions that block the sale of oil and oil processing products

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

August 23, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

The main focus, the official added, has been to “map out” how the government can detain asylum seekers as they wait for a hearing before an immigration judge, which can take several months

Brazil

Those allegations included killing and leaving the bodies of several young men in a forest atop the complex of slums

Colombia

EL COLOMBIANO conoció que 33 personas que entran en esa categoría ya han solicitado someterse a la JEP, entre ellos dos paramilitares, el resto son agentes del Estado

La Sección de Primera Instancia de la JEP emitió un auto de 30 páginas en el que se emiten diez órdenes con el propósito de establecer con exactitud la cantidad de bienes y activos que pertenecieron a las antiguas Farc

At least 123 of those killings took place in the first six months of this year, in what the country’s human rights ombudsman described as “an extermination”

Su nacimiento, sus intentos para negociar con el Gobierno, sus jefes, los crímenes que cometió y los golpes que recibió. Esta es la evolución histórica de la guerrilla de las Farc

Cuba

Decree 349 issued by the Culture Ministry tries to control art not sponsored by the government. It bars independent artists from presenting their work in both public and private spaces, and from being paid for their work

Mexico

La relación de López Obrador con las fuerzas armadas ha sido polémica al menos desde 2016, pues su posición, respecto de la militarización desde el sexenio del panista Felipe Calderón, incomodó a los mandos castrenses

Many in Mexico say the country’s crime-fighting efforts are also partly to blame for the rising body count

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of August 12-18)

Constitutional Court Upholds, Modifies Law Governing Transitional Justice System

Colombia’s maximum judicial review body, the Constitutional Court, completed an 8½-month review of the law governing the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which is the body that the peace accords set up to put on trial, and punish, those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. In Colombia’s system, the Court has the power to make alterations to laws, and it addressed some provisions that Colombia’s Congress had controversially added to the JEP Statutory Law’s text last November.

According to press coverage of the 800-page judicial decision, the Court’s changes include:

Allowing those accused of, or guilty of, war crimes to hold political office—as long as they are participating fully in the JEP. This largely upholds what the peace accord and the statutory law allow. War criminals may hold office as long as they have submitted to the JEP, are recognizing and confessing the full truth of their crimes, and are making reparations to victims. Those who do this serve sentences of “restricted liberty,” but not prison, lasting up to eight years. It is not yet clear whether these sentences—which are up to the judge in each case—might interfere with an individual’s ability to hold office.

The Court specifies, though, that those found to be withholding information from their confessions, or those who refuse to recognize crimes and are found guilty, may not hold political office. The accord and law dictate that people in this category must go to regular prison.

The JEP can look at the evidence when it makes extradition decisions. When an ex-combatant is wanted in another country for a crime, the JEP must certify whether the crime happened during the conflict or after it (that is, after December 2016, when the peace accord was ratified). If the crime occurred during the conflict and is covered by the JEP—including the crime of narcotrafficking, if it wasn’t for personal enrichment—Colombia will not extradite the individual.

In April, U.S. prosecutors began the process of asking Colombia to extradite top FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine to the United States in 2017-18. The ensuing process raised confusion about whether the JEP’s role is simply to sign off on the date of the alleged crime, or whether it is able to consider the evidence backing up the allegation. In June, when it passed a law laying out the JEP’s internal procedures, Colombia’s Congress limited the JEP to certifying the date only. The Constitutional Court just reversed that: the JEP may now consider the proof underlying the extradition request.

Judges who’ve worked in human rights during the previous 5 years may remain. The Congress had added a provision to the statutory law banning the JEP from including any judges who, in the past five years, had brought cases against the government, participated in peace negotiations, or taken part in any case related to the armed conflict. This would have disqualified at least 15 of the JEP’s 53 already-chosen judges and alternates. As most observers expected, the Constitutional Court threw this provision out.

Sexual crimes against minors remain under JEP jurisdiction. In the statutory law, the Congress had excluded sexual crimes against minors from JEP jurisdiction, demanding that those accused of such heinous crimes be punished with prison sentences in the regular criminal-justice system. The Constitutional Court stripped out this exclusion.

Some legal and victims’ groups had argued that even though the penalties for child violators would be harsher in the regular justice system, trying such crimes through the JEP will allow victims to hear the truth and receive reparations much more quickly. “If the perpetrators know that they will receive high prison sentences instead of those contemplated in the peace agreement, it is very likely that they would have no reason to recognize sexual crimes against girls, with would force the state to go about proving the allegation, and the victims would have to wait a long time to obtain truth, justice and reparation,” read a statement from Dejusticia, Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, Women‘s Link WorldWide and Red de Mujeres Víctimas y Profesionales.

Third parties’ participation in the JEP remains voluntary, not obligatory. But prosecutors in the regular criminal justice system must prioritize their cases. The Congress—in an apparent move to protect landowners, narcotraffickers, local officials, and other politically influential individuals who sponsored armed groups or planned killings—had added language to the statutory law preventing the JEP from compelling private citizens to participate. The concern is that such powerful individuals have little to fear from an overburdened, institutionally deficient “regular” justice system that is unlikely to take up old cases. The Constitutional Court maintained the “voluntary” participation standard, but, as El Espectador puts it, “emphasized that the Prosecutor-General’s Office has the obligation to prioritize, in the criminal justice system, investigations against third parties and non-combatant government agencies who have not voluntarily submitted to the JEP.”

Though there might be language about these items in the very long text of the Constitutional Court’s opinion, it appears to have left untouched the following concerns about the JEP:

  • It remains up to the judges in individual cases how austere the conditions of “restricted liberty” will be for those who give full confessions and reparations.
  • A watered-down definition of “command responsibility” for war crimes committed by the military, which may exonerate commanders who should have known what their subordinates were doing, remains in place. This could set Colombia on a collision course with the International Criminal Court, whose founding statute uses a “should have known” standard to determine command responsibility.
  • It remains unclear under which circumstances “false positive” killings may or may not be tried within the JEP. It appears that most of these thousands of extrajudicial killings were committed by soldiers for personal gain, and thus unrelated to the armed conflict. It will be up to judges to decide on a case-by-case basis. Of 2,159 current or former security-force members participating in the JEP, at least 1,824 are accused of committing extrajudicial executions, most of them probably “false positives.”

Top FARC Leaders Have Gone Off the Grid

FARC Senator Victoria Sandino confirmed to reporters that two top FARC leaders have left the demobilization site where they had been staying, and that their current whereabouts are unknown. They are Iván Márquez, a former FARC Secretariat member who was the guerrilla group’s lead negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias El Paisa, who headed the guerrillas’ Teófilo Forero Column, a notoriously lethal unit once active in southern Colombia.

Both had been in the Miravalle “reincorporation zone” in Caquetá department. Márquez had relocated there in April when his close associate, former negotiator Jesús Santrich, was arrested pending possible extradition to the United States for narcotrafficking. While they are not required to remain at the site, that their whereabouts have been unknown for about two weeks raises concerns that the two leaders, both considered hardliners, might have abandoned the peace process.

Sandino, the FARC senator, told Colombia’s Blu Radio that Márquez and Velásquez left the Miravalle site after “a situation that happened about a month ago, where there were several operations [nearby] with some pretty complicated aspects, in which people wearing face masks came to the dwelling where Iván Márquez was present. They left beforehand. At this moment, they’re not there, and in my personal case I don’t know where they are.”

In July, the two leaders had sent a letter to the chief of the UN verification mission, Jean Arnault, claiming that “since Friday, July 6, special Army counter-guerrilla troops, belonging to the 22nd and High Mountain Battalions, have deployed a land operation around the El Pato region, which we have no doubt aims to sabotage the progress of hope for peace.” Luis Carlos Villegas, the defense minister at the time, denied that military operations were occurring. He said that drone overflights that the leaders may have observed, which are not prohibited, were actually those of oil companies carrying out seismic explorations.

Sen. Sandino said that she has had no contact with Márquez and Velásquez, as there is no phone service where they are. Asked whether the two could be in Venezuela, according to El Espectador, “the senator said that is only speculation, and that they remain active members of the [FARC] political party.”

Personnel Changes

Newly inaugurated President Iván Duque has named the two officials who will be most responsible for implementing the FARC peace accord and for carrying out negotiations with the ELN, should they continue.

Miguel Ceballos will be the Presidency’s next high commissioner for peace, directing negotiations and some aspects of accord implementation. He replaces Rodrigo Rivera, who in 2017 replaced Sergio Jaramillo, a chief architect of the FARC accord and of the Santos government’s post-conflict territorial implementation strategy. The nomination of Ceballos, a former vice-minister of justice who taught at Georgetown University and Bogotá’s Conservative Party-tied Sergio Arboleda University, was well-received. Though he was a key advisor to the Conservative Party wing that supported a “no” vote in the October 2016 plebiscite on the peace accords, Ceballos is viewed as a pragmatist who would not seek to “tear up” the accords, as some in President Duque’s coalition have urged. He takes over the process of deciding whether to continue the Santos government’s peace talks in Havana with the ELN; in his inaugural speech, President Duque called for a 30-day review period to make this decision.

Emilio José Archila replaces Rafael Pardo as high counselor for the post-conflict, a position within the Presidency that manages implementation of the peace accord. Archila, too, is identified with the Conservative Party. A lawyer focused on economic issues, he served in the past as head legal officer in the Commerce and Industry Ministry. He will oversee the struggling coca crop-substitution program set up by the peace accord’s fourth chapter, and the ambitious Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDET) program foreseen in the first chapter, which seeks to build state presence and provide basic services in sixteen conflictive regions.

Ceballos and Archila will sit on the Committee for Follow-up, Stimulus, and Verification of Peace Accord Implementation (CSIVI), the main oversight mechanism to guarantee that accord implementation is on track, along with representatives of the FARC and the accord’s guarantor countries.

Ariel Ávila, an analyst at Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, voiced concern about possible name changes for both officials’ agencies: the High Commissioner for Peace might become the High Commissioner for Legality, and the High Counselor for the Post-Conflict might become the High Counselor for Stabilization. “All state institutions must act under legality, there’s no need to create an office for that,” Ávila noted, adding that “stabilization” is just the first phase of a post-conflict period—it should be followed by “normalization,” which he defines as “the building of a new society, long-term reforms, and reconciliation.”

Meanwhile historian Gonzalo Sánchez, the longtime head of the government’s autonomous Center for Historical Memory, resigned this week. The Center has produced dozens of highly regarded reports and an extensive public archive documenting some of the most severe violations of human rights, committed by all sides, during the long conflict. El Tiempo reports that the two most likely candidates to head the Center are Eduardo Pizarro, who headed the Center’s precursor, the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation, during the government of Álvaro Uribe, and Alfredo Rangel, a onetime academic conflict analyst who later became a hardline senator in Uribe’s party.

ELN May Release Captives and Kidnap Victims

Colombia’s Defense Ministry announced that protocols have been activated for the release of nine people—seven security-force personnel and two civilians—whom the ELN had captured or kidnapped in Arauca and Chocó departments. The Ministry said it is awaiting the ELN’s provision of geographic coordinates for the handovers.

Pablo Beltrán, the guerrilla group’s chief negotiator in Havana, said on August 14 that the liberation should happen in eight days, although a guerrilla communiqué stated that nearby security-force operations could complicate logistics and put the victims’ lives “at high risk.” The guerrillas also provided a proof-of-life recording of three policemen and one soldier whom they had taken from a boat on a tributary of the Atrato River in Quibdó municipality, Chocó.

In his August 7 inauguration speech, President Iván Duque said that he would spend 30 days reviewing whether to continue peace talks with the ELN. Duque said that an end to ELN kidnappings, and the freeing of all guerrilla captives, is a precondition for any resumption of negotiations.

Meanwhile, after the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) denounced that the ELN has recruited 24 minors so far this year, the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) issued arrest warrants for sixteen ELN leaders, including all five members of the group’s Central Command. Chief negotiator Beltrán, speaking from Havana, denied that the ELN had committed a war crime: “Here, nobody is recruited or kept against their will. Those who want to enter, enter; those who want to leave, leave.” Tacitly admitting that minors are recruited, Beltran said that the group does not recruit anyone under 15 years old. (The ELN’s maximum leader, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista alias “Gabino,” joined the group in 1964 at age 14.)

The ELN negotiator said the group remains willing to engage in a bilateral ceasefire, like the one in place during a 100-day period that ended in January. President Duque was not warm to the idea: “I haven’t agreed with those who now seek to intimidate the country seeking bilateral ceasefires while they commit acts that are deplorable and despicable in the light of any eye.” Speaking before a military audience, he continued, “What we want is that anyone who wants to demobilize, disarm and reinsert does so on the basis of the immediate suspension of all criminal activities.”

A week before the end of Juan Manuel Santos’s administration, government and ELN negotiators closed a sixth round of talks in Havana without an agreement on either a ceasefire or a mechanism for involving civil society in the talks, as the ELN demands. Citing “two sources who have access to privileged information about the negotiations,” Ana León of La Silla Vacía noted that the ELN is now willing to consider a halt to kidnappings and extortion during a ceasefire. But she cited three issues on which the ELN talks are stuck:

  1. How to monitor and verify a ceasefire. While the ELN would keep in place the mechanisms employed during the late-2017 ceasefire, the government wants more specificity. During the earlier ceasefire, a source told León, “There was no clear definition of what a hostility was, what a ceasefire violation was, and so the UN was not going to commit to verification.” That source said the ELN is unwilling to ease monitoring by providing more detail about its zones of geographic control, since many of these are in dispute with other illegal armed groups.
  2. The ELN’s demand that the government commit to halting murders of social leaders. While virtually all analysts agree that the government should be doing more to protect social leaders, the government does not have the power to stop the killings completely, especially those that result from local dynamics.
  3. The definition of “civil society participation” in the negotiations, a longtime ELN demand that is included, but poorly defined, in the talks’ agreed agenda.

Anticorruption bill, with a clause preventing ex-guerrillas in politics, is withdrawn

The new Duque government introduced a bill to fight corruption, but abruptly withdrew it after it was found to include language that would prevent former guerrillas from holding political office. Juanita Goebertus, a former government peace negotiator recently elected to Congress as a Green Party representative, denounced the presence of text deep within the bill stating, “those who have been convicted at any time for crimes related to membership, promotion, or financing of illegal armed groups, crimes against humanity, or drug trafficking cannot be registered as candidates for popular election.”

Colombian politics has a term for a snippet of unrelated and probably unpopular legislative language stuck into a larger bill: a “mico” or “monkey.” Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez withdrew the anti-corruption bill and pledged to re-submit it without the mico. (In Colombia, the Interior Minister manages the Presidency’s legislative agenda.)

Minister Gutiérrez also pulled back the nomination of Claudia Ortiz to head the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP), which provides bulletproof vests, bodyguards, vehicles, and other protection to threatened individuals, from politicians to opposition figures to ex-guerrillas to social leaders. An outcry followed the revelation of tweets from Ortiz, a longtime supporter of ex-president Álvaro Uribe, attacking opposition figures. The tweets’ vicious language called into question Ortiz’s will to protect those who disagree with and criticize the government. No new nominee to head the UNP has been named.

Visit from Defense Secretary Mattis

The U.S. secretary of defense, James Mattis, paid a brief visit to Colombia on August 17, the last stop of a South America tour that took him to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Mattis met with President Duque and with Defense Minister Guillermo Botero.

We know little about the subject matter of Mattis’s discussions. “The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues, and the secretary thanked the minister for their country’s regional leadership role as a security exporter” was how a Pentagon spokesman vaguely put it. Mattis also thanked Duque for Colombia’s regional diplomacy to “denounce undemocratic actions” in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Earlier on his trip, Mattis criticized Venezuela’s authoritarian government, but made clear that the crisis in Venezuela is “not a military matter.” In Bogotá, he discussed the heavy flow of Venezuelan migrants into Colombia. “A subject [that] came up in both of my meetings this morning … was on what we’re working on in terms of the Venezuelan refugees and their destabilizing impact they have,” Mattis said.

He announced that sometime this fall, the Defense Department would dispatch the USNS Comfort, a giant Navy hospital ship, to Colombia’s Caribbean coast to attend to Venezuelans in Colombia. The Secretary added that President Duque and Colombian defense officials “not only agreed in principle” to the Comfort deployment, “they gave details on how we might best craft the cruise through the region,” Mattis said. The State Department and USAID have otherwise committed US$46 million in assistance to Colombia to help attend to Venezuelan refugees.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry has announced that it will ask the United Nations to name a special envoy to coordinate humanitarian aid for Venezuelans in Colombia and elsewhere in the region.

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