Greetings from Bogotá. I’m here briefly after a few days in the department of Arauca, in northeastern Colombia along the border with Venezuela. We visited the towns of Arauca (the departmental capital), Arauquita, and Saravena, holding 17 interviews with human rights defenders, political office holders, social movements, the armed forces, youth groups, trade unionists, and academics.
Arauca, population less than 300,000, has a tough reputation. It’s a cattle and oil-producing region that since the 1980s has been one of the main strongholds of the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrillas. Because of that, the 2016 peace accord with the FARC brought only a modest dose of tranquility—and even that is fraying.
The ELN has historically been strongest in Arauca’s north and west, along the Venezuelan border and a frequently bombed oil pipeline. The FARC overlapped in the south and center of the department, coexisting uneasily. Right-wing paramilitary groups entered, and caused a spike in violence and victimization, during the first half of the 2000s—a time when the Bush administration gave Arauca-based Colombian military units more than $100 million in assistance to help guard oil infrastructure. During the second half of the 2000s, the FARC and ELN fought a bloody conflict that, though it drew little media attention, killed perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 people—we don’t know how many, because so many families across Arauca had to bury their dead and keep quiet.
A pact ended the inter-guerrilla fighting around 2010, but the ELN, which has grown deep roots in Arauca, was widely viewed to have “won” that conflict. Its Domingo Laín Front, founded in 1980, may today make up the majority of the ELN’s national membership. This front decreed that farmers must not grow coca, a crop that the FARC had encouraged, and today there is virtually no coca planted in Arauca.
The FARC’s 10th and 45th Fronts demobilized in Arauca after the peace accord’s signature and ratification. Almost 500 fighters turned in their weapons at a village-sized demobilization site in Filipinas, in the center of the department. Araucans recall 2017 and 2018, a period during which the ELN was in peace talks with Colombia’s government, as the most peaceful period in memory: a time when transportation was less risky, businesses could open up, and the guerrillas’ social control was a bit looser.
That began to end in January of this year when, in a plot hatched in Arauca, an ELN truck bomb killed 21 cadets at Colombia’s police academy in Bogotá. The peace talks ended. Meanwhile, FARC dissidents—most of them new recruits, not demobilized ex-combatants from Filipinas—have sprouted up in some of the areas that were previously under FARC control. 2019 has been a year of increased homicides and attacks on military targets; the military says it has also increased its captures of guerrillas.
Just about everyone we talked to said that Arauca is in a state of tense calm. Campaigning for the October 27 mayoral and gubernatorial elections has been peaceful, unlike several other regions of Colombia. Violence levels are still nowhere near a few years ago, though ambushes and IED attacks on military and police targets are increasing. A pact between the ELN and FARC dissidents appears to be in place.
That, however, is an unstable equilibrium; it could collapse at any time, bringing a new wave of violence. ELN units and FARC dissidents are recruiting new members, and aiming to control areas through campaigns of “social cleansing”—murdering petty criminals, drug users, Venezuelan migrants—that underlie a jump in homicides. Social groups worry that paramilitary organizations are trying to insert themselves, citing recent threats; whether that is actually happening is unclear. They also worry that, with the ELN peace process over, a military offensive may be coming. We didn’t see evidence of that, though the government is drawing up plans to increase its presence in a portion of the department billed as a “Zona Futuro,” a plan that will have a military component.
Meanwhile, there’s the 200-plus-mile border with Venezuela. Refugees come south in large numbers, though not as large as in the city of Cúcuta further north along the border. We heard many accusations that sounded downright xenophobic—even from human rights defenders—about these refugees’ alleged participation in crime and crowding out of Colombians from the labor market. Colombia’s armed groups are recruiting Venezuelans, mostly minors. And their leaders are spending most of their time on the Venezuelan side of the border. Kidnap victims are often taken across the Arauca river into Venezuela. And all kinds of contraband crosses both ways: drugs to the north, and weapons, cheap gasoline, and stolen cattle to the south.
I was struck by how much distrust Araucans have for their government: it is nearly total. I heard the word “desconfianza” (mistrust) in nearly every meeting. They feel abandoned to the guerrillas by a government that has done little more than send the military. The military itself devotes most of its resources to protecting oil company infrastructure. We also kept hearing the word “estigmatización” (stigmatization): Araucans believe that the security forces—indeed, the rest of the country—views them as guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers, as outlaws, and treats them with constant suspicion.
Arauca is badly ungoverned, and its tense calm could flare up into severe violence at any time. Colombia’s government could address this by implementing the Development Plans with a Territorial Focus (PDET), a commitment in the peace accord to bring basic government services into 170 of Colombia’s most conflict-battered counties, including Arauca’s western half. (Colombia has about 1,100 counties.)
The PDETs’ delivery of promised roads, healthcare, and development projects are moving slowly on a 10 to 15-year timeline. Meanwhile, President Iván Duque’s government plans at least to jump-start service delivery in a portion of Arauca’s PDET territory, under the “Zonas Futuro” plan, which some we interviewed fear will be too focused on military action. Government officials respond that the military and police in Arauca’s “Zona Futuro” will hand off responsibilities to the civilian government as quickly as possible. It won’t get going until next year.
Whatever the plan for improving governance and daily life in Arauca, it will need to address the incredibly deep and pervasive mistrust that the population feels toward government institutions. Building relations between state and population will mean honoring commitments already made, keeping one’s word—and doing it by bringing in parts of the government that don’t carry guns and wear uniforms. It will mean formalizing landholdings, a huge bottleneck to any other development effort in Arauca. It will mean punishing corruption that has reached epic proportions in an oil-producing region that exemplifies the “resource curse.” And it will mean an end to stigmatization of a population that, for the most part, is tired of living under armed groups’ constant influence, and just wants to move in from the periphery and be a normal part of Colombia.
We’re leaving Bogotá shortly for another region of Colombia. I’ll post again when we get back.
Guillermo Botero is at it again. Colombia’s defense minister said that the security forces he oversees can’t capture a wanted criminal because, as a demobilized FARC member, that criminal is somehow protected by the peace accord.
Leider Johani Noscue, alias “Mayimbú,” is a rearmed FARC dissident in Cauca department whose group is believed to be behind the brutal September 1 assassination of mayoral candidate Karina García on a rural road in Suárez municipality. As a former guerrilla, “Mayimbú” faces trial in the post-conflict justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), for war crimes committed during the conflict. The JEP, a deliberative judicial body, hasn’t yet formally expelled him from its list of defendants.
For that reason, Botero seems to think that “Mayimbú” is untouchable. On Tuesday he told Colombia’s Senate chamber, “We consider that he should be taken out of the JEP in order to be arrested. If not, we’ll have to confront him ‘enfusilao’ [on the battlefield, or in the act of committing a crime].” Botero then tweeted that he had sent a letter to JEP President Patricia Linares asking that Mayimbú be expelled “so that the security forces may act.”
But of course the security forces can act. Just because he’s still on the JEP’s list doesn’t mean that “Mayimbú” is exempt from arrest for any crimes committed after December 1, 2016, when the FARC peace accord was ratified. There is ample proof that he has taken up arms again, and indications that he was involved in the attack on Karina García. Of course Colombia’s police and military are free to arrest him without regard to the JEP, and an arrest order exists regardless of his JEP status.
Defense Minister Botero, who oversees both Colombia’s armed forces and police, must know that. So either he was badly confused, or cynically launching a false attack on the JEP, and by extension Colombia’s peace process. Neither case is good.
In a letter to Botero, the JEP responded yesterday that “The security forces have NO limitation to pursue or capture the accused parties who have rearmed or are committing crimes.” “Let the JEP work,” read a statement from Colombia’s increasingly active “Defendamos la Paz” movement. “It does damage to institutions and the peace process to keep promoting this discrediting campaign against the JEP, with inexact, imprecise statements or with lies, to seek to generate a perception in public opinion that transitional justice is promoting or tolerating impunity.”
Guillermo Botero is a problem. He is supposed to be managing military and police forces totaling nearly 450,000 people, including Latin America’s second-largest armed forces. His tenure of more than a year has seen human rights and corruption scandals within the military, signs of discontent among some officers, and some erosion in security gains.
He also makes frequent misstatements that reveal either an alarming lack of diligence about, or deliberate disregard for, critical security concerns. Botero has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the past few years’ hundreds of threats and murders of human rights defenders and social leaders. He has demanded changes in the law that would allow the security forces to confront social protests. Earlier this year, opposition legislators sought to censure him for these and other missteps, including promoting a false narrative about soldiers’ April extrajudicial execution of a former FARC member in the Catatumbo region.
I have heard that Botero is in his position because he was the preferred choice of Álvaro Uribe, the former president and current senator who is the central figure in President Iván Duque’s ruling Centro Democrático party. During his eight years in the presidency, though, Uribe never had a defense minister who was quite this ideologically hidebound, gaffe-prone, or divorced from reality. Guillermo Botero is showing serious managerial shortcomings, he doesn’t appear to have a grip on the truth, and he keeps making egregious public misstatements. He’s out if his depth, and he’s making Colombia’s security apparatus less effective.
“Fewer than three years after Colombia’s oldest guerrilla group signed a peace agreement with the government, the terror leaders have said never mind,” reads today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal’s influential and ultraconservative editorial page. For the Journal, the defection of former chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez and a handful of other ex-leaders means that the peace accord is over: “[T]he country’s war on terrorism is back on. But the truth is that it was never off. The sooner everyone admits that the better.”
There are three things wrong with this analysis. (You can read my analysis of Márquez’s August 29 defection in the September 3 New York Times.) They are:
1. Assuming that today’s FARC is a monolith. The Journal doesn’t distinguish between re-armed “dissidents” like Márquez, and the 90-plus percent of ex-guerrillas and leaders who remain committed to the peace process. It’s hard to conclude otherwise from a paragraph like this:
It’s doubtful there was ever a FARC commitment to peace. A better read is that the guerrillas took a deal that included amnesty and 10 unelected FARC seats in Congress, but that they had no intention of giving up the lucrative cocaine business or their dream of bringing down Colombia’s democracy.
In fact, maximum leader Rodrigo Londoño and other FARC political party members have been outspokenly critical of Márquez and other dissidents. In Spain’s El País the other day, Londoño called them “a handful of deluded compañeros who, with a proclamation of armed struggle outdated in time and space, want to hide their own mistakes.” (Londoño seems to be more engaged these days going to spiritual reconciliation retreats with ex-paramilitaries and top recording artists.) Meanwhile, preliminary reports indicate that rank-and-file ex-guerrillas, who have long since begun new lives at peace, aren’t being tempted by Márquez’s call to arms. “Everyone saw the video [of Márquez’s August 29 announcement], nobody talked about it, not even the slightest comment. There were activities already scheduled and everyone went out to do their work, and that was it,” an ex-combatant toldEl Espectador. “I don’t know if they really thought we’d just throw everything aside.”
2. Assuming that Márquez’s group has huge convening power. “Mr. Márquez’s paramilitary will pull together thousands of FARC who abandoned the demobilization process,” the Journal warns. That’s not impossible, but it’s not likely.
After nearly three years, about 1,050 ex-guerrillas who demobilized, out of 13,000, are “whereabouts unknown.” Some of them are probably members of over 20 rearmed “dissident” groups around the country. Another 800 or so never demobilized in the first place, they’ve been dissident from the start. These dissidents have probably recruited several hundred more people with no FARC background.
Where does Márquez’s group—whose inaugural video showed only about 20 people, no more—fit in with them? If you’re one of the main dissident leaders, like “Gentil Duarte” or “Iván Mordisco,” it’s not clear what benefit you’d gain from an alliance with high-profile figures like Márquez, “El Paisa,” or “Romaña,” other than adding several commanders with long combat experience. Would you have to share resources with them? Would they challenge your command and your decisions? Would they compete with you internally?
While the FARC dissident phenomenon is a growing security challenge for Colombia (and Venezuela, and Ecuador, and Guyana, and Suriname), they are far from unified, and it’s far from clear that Márquez’s rearmed faction will be their center of gravity.
3. Assuming that “post-accord” really meant “post-conflict.” A sentence like “the country’s war on terrorism is back on” tells us that the Journal‘s editorial-writers haven’t been paying close attention. Violence indicators have been rising in many former conflict zones since at least early 2018. A social leader is killed about every two and a half days. The government failed to fill the vacuum of authority in formerly FARC-influenced territories. Instead, other groups have rushed in: the ELN, FARC dissidents, the Gulf Clan post-paramilitary network, and regional organized-crime militias (“La Constru”, the “Caparros,” the EPL, the “Puntilleros,” “La Empresa,” and many others).
The International Committee of the Red Cross identifies five distinct armed conflicts going on in post-accord Colombia. Of 281 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation prioritized for post-conflict analysis, “there are 123 in which the FARC had previously operated and have since been taken over by illegal armed groups and criminal organizations.”
It is normal for an immediate post-accord period to be more violent than the last years of a conflict, as violent competition continues in ungoverned territories. But that’s where the problem lies: the Colombian government is not doing enough to fill the vacuum in these territories.
The Journal misses that completely. Its editorial-writers apparently have an axe to grind about Colombia’s peace accord, and are keen to declare it prematurely dead. But that analysis not only misses the greater security challenges Colombia faces today: it’s based on some glaring analytical flaws. Good policy will not be based on analyses like these.
We’ve done this every year since 2012: organize a day-long, open-to-the-public event about Colombia. Mostly Colombia-based people, chosen because they’re good explainers, share their on-the-ground knowledge of security challenges, peace efforts, drug policy, and human rights.
We will also have a livestream at that site, though you’ll have to be familiar with both English and Spanish to follow it without an interpreter feed. If I can, I’ll embed that here too.
Some of the speakers on the agenda are can’t miss.
Ariel Ávila of Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation is on TV constantly in Colombia because he’s a clear, analytical, and energetically opinionated explainer of the conflict, organized crime, corruption, and similar issues. Don’t miss the Foundation’s late-August annual report on the conflict (in Spanish, English summary).
Christoph Harnisch, the longtime head of the International Commission of the Red Cross office in Bogotá, is also a brilliant explainer of what is happening right now in Colombia. The ICRC’s alarming analysis finds “five conflicts” coinciding in this “post-accord” moment.
Xiomara Balanta is the vice president of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the transitional justice system set up by the 2016 peace accord.
Luis Eduardo “Lucho” Celis of REDPRODEPAZ knows more than nearly anybody about the ELN, and what it would take to make a peace process with them function.
Socorro Ramírez, who unfortunately will have to appear via Skype, has been studying the conflict for decades and I’ve learned a lot from her.
Jacqueline Castillo Peña lost a brother to the Colombian Army’s “false positive” killings a decade ago, and now heads a victims’ group, the Mothers of False Positives.
Father Sterlin Londoño is a longtime social leader from central Chocó department and member of the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council.
Marco Romero, a longtime colleague, heads CODHES, a human rights group that pioneered work on internal displacement in the 1990s and has grown in recent years.
I first knew Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno when she was Human Rights Watch’s Colombia person and, later, author of the excellent book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia. Now, she’s the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
I enjoyed participating in a June 10 panel discussion at a seminar in Washington, “The Colombian peace process after two years,” hosted by Notre Dame University’s Kroc Institute for International Affairs. Colombia’s 2016 peace accord gives this Institute, which maintains a database of worldwide peace processes, a formal role in monitoring the accord’s implementation.
I chose to talk about the challenge of getting government into vast rural areas that used to have a heavy guerrilla presence, before the FARC demobilized. Here’s what the notes on my index cards said:
I. I’d like to focus on Chapter 1 of the accord. (Comprehensive Rural Reform)
A. It’s where the Colombian government’s executive branch has the most to do.
B. It is a part of the accord that should be less controversial, because it appeals both to peace advocates and counter-insurgency advocates
1. It provides a blueprint for getting the state into vast areas of the country that need a state presence
2. A part of the accord that shouldn’t be thought of as a concession to the FARC. The end of FARC presence in these zones was supposed to provide an opportunity to enter these zones without having to shoot one’s way in.
a. As new armed groups fill the vacuum, that security obstacle is growing
b. But except for a few really troubled zones, the window is still open. For now.
C. Implement this well, and much else should fall into place
1. Coca doesn’t get grown in areas with a robust state presence
2. Reintegration of excombatants: land and productive projects
3. Predictability, rules, someone to settle disputes
II. The commitments made in Chapter 1 are ambitious
A. List a few
1. Land Fund
2. “Massive formalization” of landholdings.
3. A National Cadaster System.
4. Establishment of Campesino Reserve Zones for small landholders.
5. Tertiary road building.
6. Irrigation and drainage.
7. Rural electrification and internet connectivity.
8. Rural health care.
9. Rural education.
10. Rural housing.
11. Food security.
12. (Basically, supporting the smallholding agriculture model)
13. Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET).
B. This is a fine plan. It’s common sense whether you support peace and a small-producer model, or whether you want to “clear hold and build” in order to weaken armed groups. It works well enough for both priorities.
C. The PDETs (Territorially Focused Development Plans) got established
1. 170 municipalities (counties, out of 1,100); 6.7 million people; 94% of coca; homicide rate 12 per 100,000 higher than national average; poverty rate 2.5 times higher than national average
2. Officials visited many thousands of veredas (hamlets), consultative process
3. In March, signed the last of 16 regional plans
4. 15 years of commitments
D. National Development Plan gives PDETs its blessing, though there’s debate over whether they’re resourced enough.
III. However, Chapter 1 faces big challenges. I see 7 big ones.
A. It’s 85% of the cost of the accord (15 years)
1. So something like $3 billion per year. In reality, probably more.
2. At a time when deficits are already high
3. Expensive items: road, cadaster
4. So you’re talking about a moon shot or a Marshall Plan
B. There are locally powerful interests that don’t like it
1. Landowners, political bosses
a. (Local elites are under-studied)
b. They are very influential during national elections, at get-out-the-vote time.
2. People in private sector who favor capital-intensive model in the countryside, don’t want to pay taxes for the campesino economy
C. There are armed actors that will block efforts, in some zones
1. ELN, FARC Dissidents, Gulf Clan, regional groups
D. Success really depends on social leaders doing much of the work, and much of the oversight.
1. Community Action Boards in some places.
2. Ethnic leaders where there are resguardos and community councils.
3. Women’s groups, victims’ groups.
4. Many others.
5. But those leaders are being being terrorized right now.
E. There are other priorities that are big distractions
1. Venezuelan refugees
2. U.S. pressure to take care of coca first
F. It’s something Colombia’s state has failed at before.
1. Or rather than “failed at,” I should say it hasn’t tried it in a long-term, sustained way.
2. Past efforts sort of fade away after a change in government. (Big example National Territorial Consolidation Plan 2006-12)
G. It’s something Colombia’s state isn’t really set up for, for 3 reasons
a. Military and civilians
i. 20-year-old soldiers and 30-year-old officers are representatives of the state, but they’re not the state. They can’t provide all state services, it’s not what they’re trained for.
ii. Meanwhile civilians go slow, they can’t “surge” into new zones the way the military can.
b. National government and local/departmental governments, which are turning over at the end of the year
c. The Justice System, which hardly appears in the plan (judges and prosecutors)
ZEII (Strategic Comprehensive Intervention Zones – National Security Council – 5 years) in the PDETs
i. Planning says they’re supposed to be articulated when they overlap
ii. But gives sense that there’s not a whole-of-government approach
2. Incentives: what gets you promotions, raises, and medals?
3. Timeframes: must go beyond the gobierno de turno
IV. New National Development Plan calls for a new “road map for intervention” in PDET zones, to deal with coordination/articulation issues.
A. Hope it’s not just another reshuffling of the org chart.
B. The process of drawing up the PDETs has greatly raised expectations in some very volatile territories. Populations are going to want to see results that are tangible for them.
V. There are many in government in Bogotá who want to see this succeed, for the reasons I mentioned. A few of them are here with us today. But they’ve got a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to make good intentions in the capital play out in the countryside, over the long term.
A. They’re going to have to be very creative.
B. And we really really need the United States government to be on board and firmly supportive. No wavering. Let’s not get distracted. This is a huge opportunity and the window is still open.
Note as of June 5: Kyle Johnson at the International Crisis Group reminds me that several hundred of the FARC dissidents never demobilized in the first place: they “went dissident” even before the peace accord was signed. So although this is all very inexact, my estimate here should probably be closer to 10 percent of demobilized FARC who have rearmed.
A very good New York Timesanalysis by Nick Casey, which ran on May 17, looked at the Colombian government’s failures to honor commitments made in the 2016 FARC peace accord. It included this troubling finding:
Experts estimate that as many as 3,000 militants have taken up arms again — a figure equal to more than 40 percent of those who initially demobilized. It includes new recruits.
That’s correct, as written. However, more than one reader probably saw that and came away with the notion that “40% of the FARC have already rearmed.”
Some rearmament happens after nearly all peace accords, as dissident or residual groups form. But a recidivism rate of 40 percent would be disastrous. It would make it very hard to defend the notion that the government should honor its accord commitments.
Colombia’s past demobilizations saw much recidivism—but not 40 percent. Between 2002 and 2013, about 55,000 guerrillas and paramilitaries demobilized. About 20 percent went on to commit crimes, according to the official estimate.
How does the FARC process compare so far?
Let’s accept that figure of 3,000 members of FARC dissident groups, large and small, scattered around the country. That sounds right, even though the commander of Colombia’s army reported 2,000 members in March. The dissidences are growing fast, attracting some disillusioned fighters and recruiting from a large pool of underemployed rural youth.
Let’s say that 2,000 of them were once FARC members who demobilized. I think this estimate is a bit high, but we have no way to know: it’s impossible to do a survey of dissident fighters.
6,804 FARC fighters reported to demobilization sites in 2017, where they turned in a larger number of weapons to a UN mission, and remained for several months.
But that is not the entire universe of demobilized FARC fighters. One must add FARC members who were released from prison, and FARC militia members: part time, mostly urban guerrillas who had only to report to the demobilization zones for a few days.
That yields an entire universe of 13,061 former FARC members, the number that had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace as of late March, according to the UN Verification Mission.
2,000 recidivist fighters out of a universe of 13,061 would be 15 percent of all who demobilized. That’s bad, but not unusually high for a peace process, especially one in which the accord has been implemented so slowly and partially.
Because of that slow, partial implementation, and the evident lack of political support the accord has from Colombia’s current government, this percentage is bound to get worse. Every day right now, ex-guerrillas, tired of uncertainty and poor economic prospects, may be accepting the dissidents’ offers.
The outcome of that vote was confusing and full of the procedural legalisms in which Colombia’s political class excels. But it appears to amount to a big victory for the transitional justice system at the heart of the peace accord. Still, the peace process remains in intensive care.
Senate proponents of the peace accord are jubilantly predicting that the court will rule in their favor, either deciding that 47 votes is enough to sink Duque’s veto, or simply upholding its 2018 ruling in favor of the tribunal statute. That would be the right outcome for transitional justice and the full implementation of the accord. Even so, Colombia’s peace process is losing precious time.
At least 128 former members of the FARC guerrillas have been killed since Colombia signed its peace accord in November 2016. That’s not even counting 7-month-old Samuel David Gonzalez Pushaina, killed in an April 15 attack on his parents, both demobilized FARC members, in La Guajira.
But the case of Dimar Torres, a former FARC militia member killed in the Catatumbo region of northeast Colombia, is even more serious because it involves the security forces. Colombia’s military is going on the offensive in Catatumbo, a region of smallholding farmers with lots of armed groups, coca, and proximity to Venezuela. Catatumbo has big security needs—but in the past, the armed forces have been complicit in serious human rights violations there. Those include aiding and abetting a paramilitary terror campaign, with multiple massacres, that was most intense there between 1999 and 2002.
So this account of what happened to Dimar Torres on April 22, recounted by Jineth Prieto in La Silla Vacía, is especially concerning:
His fellow campesinos from the village of Carrizal, in the district of Miraflores [in Convención municipality], noticed his absence after hearing shots. They went out to look for him when they realized that he was the only one not answering calls. They demanded that the Army [camped nearby] produce him. They entered into the camp and found him dead with three shots (one in the head), half naked and lying next to a road.
They realized that the soldiers were digging a hole that was big enough to bury him and his motorcycle, and they cordoned off the area after sending an alert on WhatsApp -with videos and audios- to request that media and authorities arrive at the village to verify what was happening.
Dimar Torres Arévalo, excombatiente de las Farc, fue asesinado por militares del Ejército en Norte de Santander, según señalan habitantes de la vereda Carrizal. Los militares iban a esconder el cuerpo en una fosa común.
It’s encouraging that the residents of Carrizal, Convención—a remote area far from the nearest paved road—were bold enough to confront the Army about what had happened. We also have modern smartphones to thank for getting the word out. One wonders how the worst years of Colombia’s conflict (late 90s, early 00s) would have gone if campesinos had cameras and broadband back then.
Right now, the Army’s campaign in Catatumbo, just getting underway, could go one of two ways: horrific scorched earth, or “hearts and minds.” The spectacle of soldiers digging a grave for an extrajudicially executed civilian is a big warning sign of the former. Prieto’s article discusses some other recent incidents involving military personnel. Colombia needs to bring the Dimar Torres case to justice swiftly and conspicuously, or the military can forget about winning the trust of Catatumbo’s population. Note added April 28: the commander of the military task force in Catatumbo has acknowledged the crime and asked forgiveness. This is no substitute for a judicial process, but it is a very good first step on the “hearts and minds” front.
Almost exactly 1 percent of demobilized guerrillas have now been killed. (Not counting dissident guerrillas killed in combat.) Colombia needs to get a handle on this quickly, improving protection and punishing those responsible, or the gains of the 2016 accord will evaporate.
On March 10, Colombian President Iván Duque sent a shock wave through the country’s delicate peace process with the former FARC guerrillas. He sent several objections to Congress—sort of a line-item veto—about the law underlying the transitional justice system at the heart of the accord, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
All governments that have supported Colombia’s peace process, along with the United Nations, voiced concern—except for one: U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker went on national radio in support of Duque’s objections, saying they were necessary for the U.S. government’s ability to extradite former combatants who may have committed crimes after the November 2016 peace accord signing.
This week, Colombia’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected Duque’s objections, in a thunderous and embarrassing defeat for the president. Meanwhile, news began to leak out about Ambassador Whitaker’s quiet lobbying for the objections with members of Colombia’s Congress in early April.
Here is a full English translation of the most thorough account of the Ambassador’s meetings to appear so far in Colombian media, which was posted last night to the Bogotá daily El Espectador. It shows Kevin Whitaker, a career diplomat now completing his fifth year as ambassador, sounding unhinged, gone “full Trump.”
In the accounts of legislators who leaked the meetings’ contents, Whitaker hints that all U.S. aid to Colombia will be cut if Congress defeats the objections. He indicates that the Obama administration kept him distant from the 2012-2016 peace negotiations because of his personal distaste for them. He doesn’t rule out President Trump “decertifying” Colombia in September for being a poor partner in the drug war. And he is personally rude to those who disagree with him.
If even half of what is reported here is accurate, then April 2019 is the month when the U.S. government moved officially from support of Colombia’s peace process to open opposition. Read on:
Details of the Breakfast between Whitaker and Congress
By Lorena Arboleda Zárate and Alfredo Molano Jimeno
This is an account of meetings the U.S. diplomat held with senators and representatives of the House, to seek to prevent the government’s defeat in the legislature on the objections to the Statutory Law of the JEP.
After the vote on Monday of this week in the plenary of the House, information emerged about the content of a series of meetings that ambassador Whitaker convened, with the presence of senators and representatives, in his diplomatic residence. Although confidentiality of the meetings was requested—and there was even a pact not to disclose details until after the objections had been voted—El Espectador was able to reconstruct the conversations Whitaker may have had with the legislators, and also with the former president and current director of the Liberal Party, César Gaviria, a group that has led the bloc in defense of the Peace Agreement.
On Monday, April 1, Whitaker invited the senators managing the objections legislation to a breakfast. At 7:00 in the morning, José David Name (Party of the U), Iván Marulanda (Green Alliance), Paloma Valencia (Centro Democrático), John Milton Rodríguez (Colombia Justa-Libres), Antonio Zabaraín (Cambio Radical), and David Barguil (Conservative Party) arrived at the ambassador’s house in the exclusive Rosales neighborhood, in the north of Bogotá. The appetizer was eggs with bacon and, to drink, Whitaker’s favorite: Don Pedro coffee. But the main dish was the objections [to the JEP law] and, particularly, his concern about the effects of the Peace Agreement on the extradition treaty between the two countries.
“The first thing to note is that the meetings with the Senate and the House were very different. In ours almost everyone was in favor of objections, except Senator Marulanda. Therefore, the atmosphere was not tense, as it was with the representatives, and the ambassador spoke with greater ease,” detailed one of the guests at breakfast. The meeting lasted for about an hour and a half, and according to five of the six attendees, the conversation revolved around three issues: the impact that the Santrich case might have on judicial cooperation between both countries; the reprisals that the United States could take; and the displeasure with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos and with the management that the current one, Iván Duque’s, is giving to anti-drug policy.
“He said that Santos, Jaramillo (Sergio [Santos’s high commissioner for peace]) and (Humberto) De la Calle [Santos’s chief negotiator in Havana] were liars, who had deceived Barack Obama’s government with the Peace Agreement, that Santos always said that, with the Agreement, the FARC would turn over its drug trafficking routes and that it would be easier to fight narcotrafficking, but what happened was the opposite,” said another attendee. And although some guests said that the Cambio Radical senator, Antonio Zabaraín, suggested that the ambassador go to microphones and openly say that his country felt cheated, Whitaker said it was not appropriate, among other things, because in the Obama administration a special delegate, Bernard Aronson, had been sent to accompany the dialogue table. In fact, people close to the Havana dialogues commented that ambassador’s strong position is explained because Obama always kept him apart from the peace process, given his rejection of it.
Some members of the negotiating table in Cuba we consulted explained that one of the red lines of the Santos government was not to affect the extradition treaty, to such an extent that in the Peace Agreement it was very clear that the judicial cooperation mechanism remained intact . That is, the concerns of the United States today are the product of the modulations of the laws derived from the agreement in Havana, which included a series of requirements before accepting the sending of a former member of the Farc to that country. And that of everything that happened in Cuba, Aronson was a rigorous witness. In the opinion of one of the former government negotiators, it was precisely the Jesus Santrich entrapment operation, “with a vengeful spirit,” that raised the volume of the extradition issue and put the need to shield the process within the sights of the Constitutional Court.
They also say that although the atmosphere was one of detente, [uribista senator] Paloma Valencia was uncomfortable with Whitaker’s statements about the effects of the extradition and took the opportunity to complain about the support that the U.S. government had given to the Havana table and the Peace Agreement. They relate that she even said that in that same house [ambassadorial residence], during the renegotiation after the triumph of the no [in the October 2016 plebiscite], her side warned the United States that this was going to happen. “Paloma asked him directly about the possibility of a decertification and the ambassador did not answer, but he did say that the consequences could be those that have been applied in Central America, withdrawing aid resources. Regarding Trump’s first statement this week, he said that we shouldn’t take it personally,” said one of the witnesses.
The only dissonant voice of the Senate group invited to the ambassador’s residence was that of Iván Marulanda, of the Green Alliance, an opposition party. His companions say that his discomfort was visible, that unlike his colleagues he found the ambassador’s words intimidating and rude, even more so when the diplomat spoke ill of Santos and each senator contributed some comment criticizing the former president. “The ambassador said that his government was Colombia’s largest aid donor and that since 2016, when the Agreement was signed, they had contributed US$1 billion, which would be at risk if the main interest of the United States in Colombia was affected: extradition. Marulanda replied that Colombians care more about the peace of the country than American money.“
Regarding the Santrich case, Whitaker was insistent that his government was not going to give any evidence to the JEP, that U.S. authorities were going to demand him from Colombia and that this case was a “point of honor” for the United States. “Not so much for Santrich , but for the future of the extradition treaty. He also told us he had information that other members of the FARC were trafficking drugs, although he did not give us names,” a legislator said. He added that the diplomat warned them that if the country did not hand over Santrich, Colombia would be targeted by a possible intervention, specifically by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The senators’ meeting with the ambassador ended with a curious anecdote. Out in the parking lot, some told, Senator Zabaraín said that “the fault of all this is with (former president) Álvaro Uribe who, after winning the plebiscite, went to talk with Santos and accepted his invitation to the presidential palace.” Paloma Valencia immediately recalled that “I told him not to go.” In the end, they concluded that the presidential objections to the Statutory Law of the JEP will have the same fate in the Senate as in the House of Representatives, so for the objections’ supporters it is absolutely clear that “President Duque is going to file constitutional reforms around the special jurisdiction in the Congress of the Republic, “said one legislator.
The second meeting
Little of that encounter made it into the media, but what alerted about the ambassador’s movements in the Congress was the meeting that he maintained on Tuesday, April 2 (the following day), with the House representatives. Also at 7:00 in the morning, and with the same American breakfast, Whitaker received six of the seven legislators in charge of studying the objections in the lower house. Juanita Goebertus (Green Alliance), John Jairo Cárdenas (U), David Racero (Decentes), Carlos Ardila (Liberal Party), José Daniel López (Cambio Radical), and Álvaro Hernán Prada (Centro Democrático) attended. A composition very different from that of the pro-government majorities that visited the ambassador’s house the previous day.
El Espectador consulted five of the six attendees and, as in the Senate, they agreed on the purpose and the manner with which the meeting was held. For all, except the uribista representative, the ambassador’s exposition was intimidating, undiplomatic, and tense. They also agreed on the three positions presented by the ambassador. He told them, for example, that Congress should act as an autonomous power without attending to the decisions of the Constitutional Court, as it “could also be wrong.” He also repeated that the United States is not going to send any proof against Santrich [because the extradition agreement only requires probable cause], and will do everything possible to take him away. And, finally, he reiterated that the economic aid to Colombia could be at risk if the objections are defeated.
“Whitaker said that he expected total confidentiality of the meeting because he wanted to speak with total frankness. That his government was very worried, and he detailed his country’s central priorities. Then, Representative Cardenas explained the reasons why he opposed the objections, arguing legal and not political reasons. From that moment on, the atmosphere became tense and even, with a gesture of arrogance, he questioned Cárdenas saying: ‘I don’t understand those inanities.’ Then José Daniel (López) spoke and pointed to the principle of separation of powers and the ambassador went after him, saying: ‘Don’t come at me with legalisms’. Then he added the idea that the United States’ affection towards its friends expresses itself with money. ‘Love is money’, was the phrase he used [in English],” said a representative.
But Prada, who was representing uribismo, said that the phrase used by the ambassador should be contextualized. He noted that, from his perspective, that expression was not used in a blackmail tone but “to express to us that the United States has affection for Colombia, that bilateral relations are excellent and that they are willing to continue helping us,” he said. In addition, he criticized that the confidentiality the ambassador requested for the meeting has been broken, “taking advantage of the fact that this year we have [local] elections, making it look like the ambassador had been pressuring, and it wasn’t like that. And in addition, the ambassador has the right to know what is happening with a peace process that we are trying to remedy on some issues.”
In the second intervention the ambassador made, another lawmaker told, he said: “In my government we have invested US$1 billion since the agreement was signed, and it doesn’t seem fair if we can’t suggest anything and not be heard”; He added that Whitaker was especially rude in his treatment of representative Carlos Ardila. “He interrupted him when he was explaining his reasons and, as he was with his arms folded, he said ‘do something for your country instead of going around with your arms folded. That’s why they elected you.’ He said he did not understand how it was possible for the Court to be above Congress and spoke about the well-known Dred Scott decision.”
The representatives said that Juanita Goebertus at that time asked to speak, replied to the ambassador and told him that she knew that sentence very well, which was from 1857, and that it had cost the United States a civil war and two constitutional amendments. The ambassador looked at her haughtily and said: “I see you know a lot about us.” Juanita replied that she had studied in his country. “During the meeting, Whitaker repeated several times that he was not a lawyer, but that he did not doubt that the president’s objections were correctly presented. On extradition, he reiterated that the treaty was clear and that they were not going to provide evidence, period. He never asked for our vote, but he did say that Congress should accept the objections.” The Congresswoman of the Green Alliance concluded by telling the ambassador that, from her experience in the United States, she could say that she admired the separation of powers in that country and that she had never been in a meeting “so far out of diplomatic tone” as the one he had summoned.
The reading that some representatives gave to the meeting with Whitaker is that, according to what they said, it left in evidence a “flawed” relationship between the U.S. government and President Iván Duque: ” They do not see him with enough capacity to move his commitments forward. They see him as weak,” said one representative. Undoubtedly, the meeting with those of the House was highly tense, and that explains that why it leaked a few hours after it happened. That same day the bill rejecting Duque’s objections was filed in the chamber, and news also filtered of an ambassadorial dinner invitation to the magistrates of the Constitutional Court, which the justices rejected as highly inappropriate.
Whitaker closed the week by visiting former President Gaviria at his home to ask for a political concept on the objections. However, the government’s defeat in the House was inevitable, as was Trump’s scolding of President Duque. An epilogue of the week that shows that the United States is moving strongly in domestic politics, as in the times of Plan Colombia.
Last week I sat down with my WOLA colleague Gimena Sánchez and with Lisa Haugaard, director of the Latin America Working Group, to talk about the state of Colombia’s peace accord implementation. All three of us had done recent fieldwork there.
Last week, WOLA posted to YouTube the five-plus-hour video of our October 16 conference, “Staying on Course: Security, Coca, Justice, and Accord Implementation in Colombia.” There, you can see the entirety of the outstanding panels in which visiting experts from Colombia talked about transitional justice, coca, and the security situation. Note that it’s in both English and Spanish—we didn’t have the capability to record and dub in the interpreter’s feed.
Prosecutor’s Office Raids Transitional Justice System Headquarters
On the afternoon of October 4 agents of Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía, which investigates and prosecutes crimes in the regular criminal justice system) showed up at the offices of the new, separate transitional justice system created by the peace accords (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes committed during the armed conflict). The agents, sent by the Fiscalía, demanded to be allowed to carry out a “judicial inspection” of the files in the new justice system’s first and largest case so far, numbered “case 001”: charges of mass kidnapping against 31 FARC leaders.
This action, which appeared to be a blatant interference in the new justice system’s workings, generated expressions of outrage against Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, a frequent critic of the JEP and other aspects of the FARC peace accord. Though Martínez quickly rescinded the order and called back the agents, JEP President Patricia Linares declared, “the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a digital copy of the casefile, due to the hasty manner in which the procedure was carried out.”
Linares “strongly and emphatically reject[ed]” what she called “the Fiscalía’s undue interference with the autonomy and judicial independence” of the JEP, adding that it was “openly violative of the judicial reserve that covers the investigations carried out by JEP judges.”
The UN Verification Mission and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia issued a joint declaration following the incident:
The rights of victims and the legal security of participants in the armed conflict depend on strict respect of all public powers for the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We underline the importance that collaboration between jurisdictions be harmonious and fully respectful of their respective competences.
What Colombian media called a “train crash” between the old and new judicial bodies could have consequences for the peace process. It appeared to be a political move seeking to intimidate the JEP and demonstrate the Fiscalía’s relative power. It may have increased former FARC leaders’ fear of being arrested in a similar future show of political power, which risks causing more of them to abandon the process, either going into hiding or taking up arms again.
Missing FARC Leaders Send a Harshly Worded Letter
Two of the most prominent leaders who have already gone clandestine surfaced in a letter sent to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress. Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa,” once head of a powerful FARC mobile column, have been missing since June or July. Their letter, the first communication from them in months, had some very harsh words for a process they view as failing.
“The peace accord has been betrayed,” reads the letter, which laments having agreed to turn in weapons before reaching more specific agreement on the terms of ex-combatants’ reintegration. The letter outlines what, in the missing leaders’ view, are three “structural flaws” in the November 2016 accord.
First, they cite “judicial insecurity,” believing themselves vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and possible extradition. They allege that this is what happened to Jesús Santrich, a guerrilla negotiator close to Márquez who was arrested in April and faces an extradition request to the United States on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine. The two ex-guerrilla leaders write that these charges are a “judicial setup hatched by the Attorney General, the U.S. Ambassador, and the DEA.” Writing in La Silla Vacía, analyst Héctor Riveros notes that regardless of the truth behind the Santrich case, the “judicial insecurity” argument has served “hundreds of ex-guerrillas” as a pretext for exiting the process and joining armed dissident groups.
The second “flaw” noted in the letter are the changes made to the accord after it was narrowly rejected in an October 2016 plebiscite, which in their words “transfigured the Havana Accord into a horrific Frankenstein.” Third, they cite the Colombian Congress’s failure to pass all the legislation needed to implement the accord, especially reforms to the political system and the failure to create special temporary congressional districts to represent victims’ groups.
The FARC political party held a press conference in the Congress, with its legislators rejecting the arguments in Márquez and Montero’s letter. “They’re totally wrong,” said FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada.
“I could hardly go and say that there are no conditions or guarantees while I’m sitting in the Senate press room leading a press conference. What we’re saying is that the process has difficulties, the implementation has not been consistent on the part of the state, but there are some spaces that have been won, we value them and they are very important to achieve progress in the implementation of the peace accords.”
Lozada called on the missing leaders to “understand” that the ex-guerrilla party has adopted a supportive but critical position on the accord’s implementation, and that they “reconsider their position.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told the Blu Radio network that “the police have intelligence reports” about Márquez and Montero’s current location. While refusing to reveal anything on the radio, Botero acknowledged that both are in Colombia.
US Ambassador Pushes for Santrich Extradition
The Jesús Santrich case remains a big test for Colombia’s new transitional justice system. The former guerrilla negotiator remains in prison awaiting a decision from the JEP about whether he may be extradited to face charges in a New York federal court of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the peace accord was ratified.
“Extradition is a very strong tool for Colombia, for the United States, for the victims and for the peace agreement,” U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker said this week. “Jesus Santrich is accused in a United States Court of having violated U.S. law, that is why we are seeking his extradition and we will continue in that.” The ambassador added, “Any person or institution that can stop the extraditions affects the interests of the United States, affects the interests of Colombia and of all those who long for peace.”
The FARC insists that Santrich, a FARC ideologist who has poor eyesight and little apparent prior involvement in the guerrillas’ narcotrafficking, is innocent. They doubt the evidence made public so far, which appears to show Santrich offering approval to a plan, hatched by a nephew of Iván Márquez, to send coca to Mexican narcotraffickers who are, in fact, DEA agents or informants.
Farc Senator Victoria Sandino said, “It’s been more than six months since they captured Jesus Santrich, with the argument that U.S. justice has the evidence,” but “the Prosecutor-General’s office then goes out and says it does not have it. And now the Embassy persists in the extradition. What we say is show the evidence and present it to the JEP. And Santrich’s legal defense demands freedom, because no evidence has been shown.”
Sandino is referring to this chain of events:
When another country requests the extradition of an individual facing trial in the JEP, the peace accord requires the JEP to determine whether the alleged crime took place before or after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord—the official end of the conflict. If the crime happened before that date, then extradition would be blocked.
This procedure left unclear whether the JEP was merely to perform the clerical task of certifying the date of the alleged crime, or whether it was also empowered to decide whether there was enough evidence to back up the allegation.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court settled this question in August, when it determined that the JEP does have the ability to evaluate the evidence backing an allegation.
On September 18, the JEP asked the Fiscalía to turn over all the evidence in its possession about the Santrich case.
On September 27, the Fiscalía sent a letter to the JEP stating that it had turned over everything it its Santrich file. La Silla Vacía commentator Héctor Riveros characterized this as “the ‘bureaucratic file,’ that is, some letters and little else.”
On October 1, the Fiscalía announced via Twitter that it had sent 12 more audio files to the JEP. But it also surprisingly announced that it “does not have audio or video evidence. …The elements being requested now are those that form part of a judicial process in the United States.” That the proof against Santrich is not available in Colombia drew much attention in Colombian media.
According to Riveros, the Chief Prosecutor then tried to do some damage control: “Prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez, aware of the seriousness of Santrich’s detention, invited the directors of the most influential media in the country to his office to show part of the evidence on the basis of which the former negotiator’s arrest was ordered. They were short videos and some photos that, although they did not reveal anything, hinted that Santrich may have been literally caught ‘with his hands in the cookie jar.’”
“If everything keeps going like this,” Riveros wrote, “that Jurisdiction [JEP] can not say anything other than that there is no proof that Santrich has committed crimes after the accord’s signing.”
New Security Council Report
The UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued its latest quarterly Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on the demobilization and reintegration process. It covers July 21 to September 26. Some of its key findings:
As of August 30, approximately 13,000 demobilized FARC members had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and 12,773 of them had been provided with their accreditation, an increase of 150 since July. It’s hard to notify some of these ex-guerrillas of their accreditation because of their “increased dispersal.”
On August 10 the FARC gave the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace a list of about 1,000 additional former members, who were not on the “final” list of August 15, 2017, the date the FARC officially disarmed. Most of the new names, the Secretary-General’s report notes, “come from areas affected by continuing security challenges and where the integration of the individuals into the process could be beneficial. As such, I hope that this matter will be treated by the new Government as a priority.”
As of late August, 232 accredited ex-guerrillas were still in prison, even though the accord calls for amnesty for their crime of sedition, and then for their future appearance before the JEP for more serious crimes.
The UN Mission reiterated concerns about “the departures of several former FARC-EP commanders from the territorial areas for training and reintegration in the south-eastern region. Some of them have cited concerns about their physical and legal security as a motivating factor.” Ominously it adds, “this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups.”
The Mission’s chief, UN diplomat Jean Arnault, said that about 4,000 ex-FARC members remain in the “territorial areas,” or demobilization sites, or their immediate vicinity. (Ex-guerrillas have been free to leave these sites since August 15, 2017.) More than 2,000 have moved to “several dozen new regrouping points and thousands are dispersed throughout all of the country, including in the main cities.”
“The process of economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind other dimensions of reintegration,” the report states. “[T]he fundamental goal of providing income-generating opportunities to some 14,000 former combatants is far from being realized, as illustrated by the fact that only 17 projects have been approved, of which only 2 are currently funded.” Former FARC members are carrying out dozens of productive projects, informally, on their own. Many could succeed, the UN report contends, “if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector, among others.”
Nine former FARC members were killed during the 90-day period, making a total of 71. The Fiscalía’s Special Investigation Unit, set up by the peace accord to investigate these killings, notes that three-quarters of these killings took place in five departments: Nariño (16), Antioquia (15), Cauca (12), Caquetá (8), and Norte de Santander (7). The UN report notes further, “In 34 cases, the Unit reported significant progress in its investigations, with 17 instigators or perpetrators arrested. Of these, 15 cases involved dissident groups, 7 involved private individuals, 6 were attributed to ELN, 4 cases were attributed to the Clan del Golfo criminal group, 1 involved local criminal organization and 1 case remains under investigation. According to the Investigation Unit, the principal motives behind the attacks are related to territorial control (21 cases) and revenge (3 cases).”
Even without direct negotiations, the UN report states that “continued direct communication between the Government and ELN is welcome.” The report finds that renewed peace talks are certainly possible: “The Government has made it clear that it expects a cessation of all violence; the ELN, for its part, has stated that it aims to bring about substantive change based on a broad social dialogue. The two goals are not incompatible.”
The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think-tank founded by members of the business community, released an extensive report on October 3 about deteriorating security guarantees for practicing peaceful politics in post-conflict Colombia. “From a feeling of tranquility and expectation for the returns that the implementation of what was agreed with the FARC would bring,” the report reads, post-conflict regions “have passed into distrust and fear for the reactivation of violence.” It zooms in on four conflictive regions: Arauca, Catatumbo, Cauca, and southern Bolívar.
Among the report’s findings:
In the 170 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that Colombia has prioritized for post-conflict Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), homicides increased 28 percent in January-July 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.
In these municipalities, forced displacement tripled, from 5,248 people to 16,997.
In these municipalities, crimes against social leaders also nearly tripled, from 24 to 67.
Throughout the country, 93 social leaders were killed between January and August, compared to 50 during the same period in 2017.
In the four regions it looked at, the FIP found common patterns:
an unstable confluence of armed actors;
a reactivation of social conflicts;
vulnerability of social leaders;
delays in the implementation of the peace accord;
weaknesses in ex-combatants’ reincorporation process; and
difficulties in implementing security guarantees at the local level.
The FIP calls for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration of post-conflict zones’ security situation. “Under these conditions, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical moment. We still have time to prevent and contain the manifestations of violence and intimidation in the territories affected by the presence of illegal armed groups and armed confrontation.”
Kidnapping of Mayor’s Son, Age Five, in Catatumbo
Two armed, motorcycle-mounted men kidnapped the five-year-old son of the mayor of El Carmen, a municipality in the violence-torn region of Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. The mayor, Edwin Contreras, is part of a political dynasty in the 2,000-person municipality; his uncle had held the post before him. “Since he became mayor, he has received strong intimidations,” reportsEl Espectador.
The Catatumbo region, with 11 municipalities and a population of about 300,000, has suffered frequent fighting between the ELN and a local guerrilla group, the EPL, since March. The two groups previously had cordial relations, but the departure of the FARC from part of the zone, and a sharp rise in coca cultivation, undid the local power equilibrium. Violence has since shuttered schools at times and displaced thousands.
While the kidnappers’ identity is unknown, speculation points to the ELN. “In this municipality, even a needle can’t move without the ELN knowing about it,” local residents who asked to remain unnamed toldEl Espectador. “We’re so exposed that on any given day they can kidnap the mayor’s son,” the municipal ombudsman said. “There is no Army here. There is a police presence, but they can’t do their job. They can’t go out. We’ve reiterated this issue in all official security meetings. We are abandoned to our fate.”
Seven weeks into his presidency, Colombian President Iván Duque had his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, outside the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. “It was a great meeting,” Duque later told the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth. “We are going to strengthen our relationship with the U.S.—not only the military cooperation, but also trade and development assistance. We also talked about Venezuela and got the president’s strong support for the refugee situation we’re facing due to the [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro regime.”
The leaders had an 18-minute exchange with reporters. Trump stressed the U.S. desire that Duque address Colombia’s recent increase in coca and cocaine production.
What I want — what I want and what we’ve discussed, and one of the reasons I was so happy to see the President’s victory — that was a great victory and there was a very worldwide, world-renowned victory because of his strong stance on drugs.
Now, if he comes through, we think he’s the greatest. If he doesn’t come through, he’s just another President of Colombia. (Laughter.) But I think he’s going to come through. I really do.
Semanareported that Duque has set a goal of reducing the number of hectares of coca grown in Colombia by 70 percent during his four years in office. This is a very ambitious goal. Even eradicating 70 percent of the coca that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime detected in Colombia in 2017 would mean 120,000 eradicated hectares per year (much of which would quickly be replanted); Colombia eradicated 18,000 in 2016 and about 60,000 in 2017. Getting to 120,000 would probably only be possible through a vast expansion in forced eradication through aerial herbicide spraying, and an intense series of confrontations with organized coca cultivators. Duque says he favors herbicide fumigation but has not yet announced a plan.
Asked about Colombia’s peace process, Trump appeared startled and unprepared.
Q Are you going to talk about FARC and ELN, the peace process?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Are you asking me that question? We’re going to be talking about everything.
Much of the presidents’ conversation surrounded the crisis in neighboring Venezuela. President Trump resisted commenting on a “military option” for dealing with Venezuela, though he did state that the Venezuelan military could easily overthrow President Nicolás Maduro if they so chose.
“It was known” that in their bilateral meeting, Trump “had discarded the idea of a military solution” for Venezuela, El Colombianoreported. The U.S. president supported his Colombian colleague’s plan for a concerted campaign of diplomatic pressure and sanctions to remove Maduro, including a six-country petition to the International Criminal Court alleging the Venezuelan government’s commission of crimes against humanity.
Duque criticized Venezuela in his Washington Post interview, calling the Caracas government “a narco-trafficking state. It is a human rights violator. They have been sponsoring and helping and providing safe haven to Colombian terrorists in their territory.” He concluded, though, that “I don’t think that a military solution is the solution, because that’s what Maduro wants. Maduro wants to create a demon so that he can exacerbate patriotism and remain in office.”
The Venezuelan armed forces meanwhile announced a deployment of troops to the Colombia-Venezuela border, in the state of Táchira across from Norte de Santander department. The commander of the Venezuelan military’s Strategic Operational Command said that the deployment’s purpose was to combat narcotrafficking and illegal groups’ cross-border activity. During the UN sessions, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence seized on this news to offer Colombia an explicit security guarantee.
News reports today are that the Maduro regime has moved military troops to the border of Colombia, as they have done in the past. An obvious effort at intimidation. Let me be clear: the United States of America will always stand with our allies for their security. The Maduro regime would do well not to test the resolve of the president of the United States or the American people in this regard.
Back in Bogotá, the leader of President Duque’s party, former president Álvaro Uribe, called on Venezuela’s military “not to aim at the sister country of Colombia, but to aim at the Miraflores [Presidential] Palace to kick out the dictatorship.”
Some FARC Leaders Reappear, Voice Discontent and Security Concerns
Some questions were answered in the crisis of at least nine top former FARC leaders who have gone missing in recent months. Some have “clandestinized” themselves citing security concerns, some have voiced fear of trumped-up judicial charges against them, and some, it is feared, may be inclining toward re-armed dissident groups.
In addition to Henry Castellanos alias “Romana”—an eastern-bloc chieftain responsible for numerous kidnappings who penned a letter ratifying his continued participation in the peace process—top Southern Bloc leader Fabián Ramírez also surfaced. Ramírez sent a letter to the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP) complaining about the inadequacy of the vehicle-and-bodyguard scheme that the Unit had assigned to him.
“I request for the third time that you resolve for me, quickly, the reinstatement of two missing bodyguards and a conventional car, which are part of my security scheme that the UNP, through its approved risk study, had given me for my protection since the beginning of this year,” Ramirez wrote. He added that he has never abandoned the peace process, although he left the demobilization site where he had been staying. Ramirez says he is now assembling a group of ex-guerrillas in the southern departments of Caquetá, Putumayo, and Huila to pursue income-generating projects. Ramírez writes that he seeks this reinforced security scheme because this work requires him to “be moving through zones where there are armed dissident-group personnel.”
For their part, three unnamed former FARC commanders have sought precautionary protection measures from the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, citing personal insecurity. The formal request went through lawyers, and the FARC leaders asked that their names be held in reserve. El Tiemporeported, though, that one of the three is among nine ex-FARC leaders whose wheareabouts are currently unknown.
The FARC submitted a 10-page report to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress alleging that only 87 of the guerrillas’ 14,000 ex-members have received government funds to carry out productive income-generating projects, as laid out in the peace accord. Seventeen such projects are so far under consideration or nearing approval, covering about eight percent of the FARC’s membership, but only two have yet been approved and begun to receive funds. The report claims that on a less-formal basis, former FARC fighters have started 259 income-generating projects on their own, two-thirds of them with their own funds and 12 percent of them with international support.
Displacement is Up Sharply
The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a human rights group that has closely tracked forced displacement trends for over 20 years, issued a report counting 38,490 Colombians displaced by violence during the first eight months of 2018. This represents an increase over 2017.
CODHES counts 126 events of mass displacement. Of the victims, 8,376 were members of Afro-Colombian communities and 7,808 were indigenous. The majority of displacements happened in three departments; Norte de Santander, Antioquia, and Nariño. Fighting for territorial control between illegal armed groups, principally the ELN, EPL, post-paramilitary groups, and guerrilla dissidents, was the main cause.
Rightist Parties Advance Plan to Try Military Human Rights Cases Separately
Legislators from the governing Democratic Center party, together with the center-right Radical Change party, introduced legislation that would create a new chamber in the new transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to judge current and former military personnel accused of war crimes.
A procedural law for the JEP, passed in June and awaiting Constitutional Court review, freezes human rights cases against military personnel while the Congress designs a new chamber to judge them separately from former guerrillas. The bill introduced this week would do that—though the Constitutional Court could invalidate the whole effort if, when it completes its review, it strikes this provision from the June procedural law.
The law calls for the new chamber’s judges to be experts in international humanitarian law with prior knowledge of how the armed forces function. It would allow military personnel who recognize their crimes, tell truth, and give reparations to victims to serve their sentences in special military facilities. After five years, they could be released on probation.
By contrast, former guerrillas who fulfill their truth and reparations duties would be held in “restricted liberty”—a term that the judge in each case will need to define, though it can’t be prison—for up to eight years.
The chief of the Democratic Center bloc in the Senate, former president Álvaro Uribe, introduced the bill, arguing that “the Armed Forces of a democratic country can not be equalized, put on the same level as those who have committed terrorist acts.”
ELN Talks Remain Stalemated; Venezuela Removed from Guarantor Countries
The Duque government, which pulled back its negotiating team last week, continues to suspend talks in Havana with the ELN guerrillas until the group releases all individuals it has kidnapped and agrees to cease hostilities. The ELN this week put out a statement claiming that, if the Duque government changes the rules and agenda agreed with the prior government of Juan Manuel Santos, then it is showing that “the Colombian state is unable to keep its word” from one government to the next. The guerrilla delegation in Cuba tweeted a picture of its negotiators sitting across a table from a row of empty chairs with the caption “We’re ready here. The counterpart is missing.”
President Duque, in New York, insisted on his terms: “I have every wish to be able to establish a dialogue with the ELN, but you have heard me say it: I hope that the basis of the construction of a dialogue will be the liberation of all the kidnapped and an end to criminal activities.”
Duque also announced that Venezuela was no longer welcome to be one of the ELN talks’ “guarantor” countries, a list that also includes Norway, Brazil, and Chile. Duque blamed Venezuela’s harboring of ELN fighters on its soil, which made the neighboring government less than an honest broker. “A country that has sponsored the ELN in its territory, that has protected it, that has allowed criminal acts against the Colombian people to be formed from its territory, is far from being a guarantor, it is a dictatorship that has been an accomplice of many criminal activities, I’m not saying that for the first time.”
“Most of the ELN kingpins are in Venezuela,” Duque told the Washington Post. “It’s impossible to come to consider a ceasefire when part of their troops or of their membership is in another country,” said High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos. The ELN’s chief negotiator, Pablo Beltrán, dismissed allegations of guerrilla presence in Venezuela as “a myth that has been invented in Washington,” adding, “I don’t see any association between a ceasefire and where the ELN’s leaders are.”
Semanacites a recent opinion column by Carlos Velandia, a former ELN leader who went by the name “Felipe Torres” and is now a go-between for peace talks, voicing the belief that in the event of a conflict involving Venezuela, the ELN might take Venezuela’s side on Venezuelan soil.
Semana notes that Venezuela had played a big role in getting the ELN talks started during the Santos government, “the dialogues’ public phase—which opened in 2017—was even achieved and announced from Venezuela.” The magazine sees no other country stepping up to fill the vacuum.
Which country can join the group? Among the guarantors who were there when the table opened is also Cuba, but that idea doesn’t convince the government at all.
Norway, Brazil and Chile are also in the group of guarantor countries. But each has its own problems to serve even as a place to relaunch the table. Brazil is in a presidential campaign and is quite divided about it. Norway has its attention placed on the [FARC] post-conflict and the chances of it serving as the venue for negotiations are very low. Chile has had a better disposition, it even offered itself as headquarters when Ecuador withdrew as a guarantor country following a wave of “terrorist attacks” on the border.