I’d like to post these all year without missing a week. Travel plans may complicate that, but I’m going to try.
ELN ceasefire breaks off
For 102 days, while peace talks proceeded in Quito, the Colombian government and ELN guerrillas mostly honored a cessation of hostilities. That period saw 33 possible ceasefire violations committed by the ELN—of which 12 were verified—killing 26 noncombatants and involving the kidnapping of 13 people and forced recruitment of 14. Still, this was a much lower tempo of violence than normal. And there were zero incidents of combat between the ELN and Colombia’s security forces.
The cessation of hostilities ended on January 9, when the parties failed to agree to extend it. Overall analysis of the non-renewal placed most blame on the ELN, which appeared to lack internal consensus, or even unity of command, about whether to continue the truce.
The ELN’s standing in public opinion plummeted further as the group immediately launched a series of attacks on security forces and infrastructure, mostly in the northeast of the country. The week saw approximately 13 attacks, leading to the deaths of at least two police and at least three bombings of the 485-mile-long Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline.
The Colombian government pulled its negotiating team from Quito, and appeared to suspend talks until the ELN agrees to a new ceasefire. This is a reversal of the 2012-16 FARC negotiations, when the guerrillas repeatedly demanded a bilateral ceasefire but the government preferred to keep fighting while talks proceeded.
France, the European Union, the “guarantor countries” of the ELN talks (Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Norway, and Venezuela), and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño all called on the parties to return to the table and agree on a new cessation of hostilities. The UN noted that it cannot keep its monitoring and verification structure in place very long with no ceasefire to monitor.
The U.S. government issued a travel warning for four departments where the ELN is most active: Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, and Norte de Santander.
Visit of UN Secretary-General
The need to restart the ELN talks and ceasefire was a main message of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a January 13 visit to Colombia. Guterres visited Bogotá and Meta to get a sense of how implementation of the FARC accord is going, to give political support to the ELN process, and to support the work of the UN verification mission in Colombia.
That mission’s latest 90-day report to the Secretary-General, made public on January 5, voiced concern about the government’s implementation of the FARC accord: “Overall, the implementation of the peace-related legislative agenda has progressed unevenly, compounded by events relating to the presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held in the first semester of 2018.”
Military sets up giant task force in Nariño
Colombia’s Defense Ministry has set up a joint task force, “Hercules,” with about 9,800 soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and police stationed in Nariño, on the Pacific coast in the southwestern corner of the country. Nariño is Colombia’s number-one coca-growing department and a heavily used corridor for cocaine shipments into the eastern Pacific. It has very active FARC ex-militia dissident groups and a growing presence of the ELN. Not all of the 9,800 personnel are new: many are already stationed in Nariño but now form part of this joint command structure.
“This plan has had a big media deployment in the region and in Bogotá,” writes Laura Soto in La Silla Vacía. “But four sources who know the zone (members of the Tumaco mayor’s office, two human rights defenders who have worked closely with Caritas, and a social leader) aren’t hopeful that the panorama will approve, at least not in the short term.”
Lowest homicide rate in 40 years
President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated that Colombia’s 2017 homicide rate reached the lowest point in 42 years: 24 violent deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants (about the same as Washington DC). Security analyst Hugo Acero cast some doubt on the statistics, though the overall trend points to declining homicides.
Nastiness between Santos and Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro told his countrymen that “thousands of Colombian patients cross the border to get operated on here, to treat a flu, to clear up a cataract, to seek medicines in Venezuela” where the health system is “free.” (Venezuela in fact suffers from severe shortages of most medicines, while Colombia’s healthcare system is also theoretically free.) President Santos called this comment “cynical,” pointing out that the reverse phenomenon is happening with Venezuelans recurring to Colombia’s border-zone hospitals. “President Maduro, don’t try to use the Colombian people to hide the enormous shortcomings of your failed revolution,” he said. Maduro responded that Santos “has his country in chaos” and isn’t complying with the FARC peace accord.
- Eduardo Alvarez Vanegas, Tatiana Prada Collazos, “Suarez, Cauca: La Punta del Iceberg” (Fundación Ideas para la Paz (Colombia), El Espectador (Colombia), January 12, 2018).
- Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia (New York: United Nations Security Council, December 27, 2017).
- Sebastian Rodriguez, “Monitor del Cese el Fuego Bilateral y Temporal Con el Eln – Reporte Final” (CERAC (Colombia), January 12, 2018).
- Juanita Velez, “Sin Farc y Con Disidencias, la Deforestacion se Disparo en el Caguan” (La Silla Vacia (Colombia), January 11, 2018).
- Ana Karietna Leon Quiroga, Jineth Prieto, Tatiana Duque, “Las Dos Caras del Cese del Eln” (La Silla Vacia (Colombia), January 10, 2018).
- Víctor De Currea-lugo, “Sobre el Error del Eln de Finalizar el Cese al Fuego” (Semana (Colombia), January 10, 2018).
- “No Habra Continuidad del Cese al Fuego Bilateral Con el Eln” (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), January 10, 2018).
- Juan Carlos Garzon Vergara, “Drogas: La Guerra Que No Acabo y los Riesgos Que Emergen” (Fundacion Ideas para la Paz, Razon Publica (Colombia), January 9, 2018).