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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Colombia Post-Conflict

My notes from Monday’s talk at the Kroc Institute’s Colombia peace conference

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

1. Coordination

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.

It’s possible that 15% of the FARC have re-armed

From La Silla Vacía (Colombia).

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.

Leer en español

A very good New York Times analysis 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.

Duque Has Left Colombia’s Peace Process Rudderless

https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/27824/duque-has-left-colombia-s-peace-process-rudderless

Here, posted to World Politics Review on Wednesday, is a look at where the ongoing drama over implementing Colombia’s peace accord stands right now. Consider it an update to this site’s April 29 “Big JEP vote in Colombia’s Senate” post.

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.

Read the whole thing here. It may be paywalled, but it often isn’t.

Soldiers apparently caught digging a grave for a murdered ex-FARC member

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.

Three big takeaways here:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Colombia’s peace process, the U.S. government has moved from “support” to “opposition”

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

El Espectador (Colombia), April 13, 2019 (boldface items are from El Espectador)

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.

This week will go down in history as one of the most difficult for the government of Ivan Duque. To the defeat in the House of Representatives, which rejected, with a vote of 110 against 44, the presidential objections to the Statutory Law of the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP), is added the hard complaint from the president of the United States, Donald Trump, about the increase in drug trafficking from Colombia to their country. An episode that attracted attention, since in recent days the American ambassador in Bogota, Kevin Whitaker, has moved quietly to prevent Congress from definitively sinking Duque’s objections to the norm.

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.

Those consulted agreed that the ambassador gave a brief explanation of the issues that concerned them, which were reflected in the objections, and that then each of the senators intervened explaining their political interpretation. “He also said that if Congress didn’t approve the objections relating to extradition, the United States could take measures, such as stop sending the US$500 million in aid to the country, and he foresaw this week’s Trump onslaught against President Duque,” recounted another of the guests. However, he also narrated that Whitaker had clarified that he was aware that Duque “had received a complicated inheritance.”

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.

Video and Audio of “Uncertain Times: What Lies Ahead for 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.

WOLA has posted the video to YouTube, here and embedded below.

If you prefer things offline, you can download the video from my Vimeo page, or grab just the audio as an mp3 file.

(I had an earlier speaking engagement across town, and come into this more than half an hour after it begins. I’m seeing that bit for the first time now, too.)

Downloadable video and audio of our October 16 conference

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.

If you prefer offline viewing, as I often do (those long airplane trips), I’ve also posted the video to Vimeo with a download link. Or you can hear just the audio as a monster (250-plus-megabyte) mp3 file here.

But again, you need to be comfortable in both English and Spanish. Sorry about that.

Here’s the YouTube stream:

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of September 30-October 6)

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.”

FIP Report Finds Deteriorating Security Conditions

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,” reports El 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 told El 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.”

In-Depth Reading

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of September 23-29)

Presidents Duque and Trump Meet in New York

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.

Semana reported 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 Colombiano reported. 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 Tiempo reported, 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.”

Semana cites 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.

In-Depth Reading

Disarmament, Demobilization, and LinkedIn

“I remember once, in September 2016, he started to laugh because he tried to sign up on the LinkedIn social network and when he came to the page where you have to put where you worked before, he said: ‘What the [expletive] do I put? Guerrilla leader?’ He tried to skip that part but the page didn’t let him move forward, so gave up and said, gravely: ‘We’re not ready for LinkedIn yet, we’re ready to leave the mountains, but we’re not trained, we need learning.'”

—then-demobilizing FARC leader “Carlos Antonio Lozada,” in an account by journalist Jon Lee Anderson

Colombia’s peace accord “may erode to its barest essence”

Here’s my 250-word response to a question in today’s edition of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor publication, about the state of peace accord implementation in Colombia.

Q: The U.N. Security Council on Sept. 13 extended the mandate of its mission overseeing the implementation of Colombia’s peace agreement with the FARC rebels. The council also called on the FARC and President Iván Duque’s government “to renew momentum” in implementing the peace deal. Could both sides indeed speed up implementation of the peace accord, and what should they do to achieve that? What is the significance of reports that FARC commanders Hernán Darío Velásquez, also known as “El Paisa,” and Luciano Marín, also known as “Iván Márquez,” have gone missing? Will the peace accord remain intact during Duque’s administration?

A: The FARC peace accord will remain in place, and President Duque will not “tear it to shreds.” We’ll see some efforts toward implementation. Still, the sad but likely scenario is that, over the course of the Duque government, the accord will erode to its barest essence.

The accord’s vital first chapter, on rural reform and territorial governance, is moribund. Guarantees of political participation are undermined by a wave of social-leader killings. Promises of crop-substitution support for coca-growing households are uncertain.

The main reason is that there’s no money. Colombia’s budget deficit is ballooning, and resources are being eaten up by the need to attend to Venezuelan migrants and by pressure to step up coca-eradication operations.

There’s also little political interest or institutional capacity to capitalize on the FARC’s absence and bring a state presence into long-abandoned areas. That would take a “Marshall Plan” or “moon shot” level of investment and mobilization, and it’s not happening. Meanwhile, new armed groups are filling in the territorial vacuums that the FARC left behind and the state failed to fill.

FARC members are defecting, or just “clandestinizing” themselves out of fear that they might be capriciously arrested and extradited. In the near term, the Duque government must at least get right the reintegration of ex-combatants. The cost isn’t large, but it will mean providing land to those who want to work it. And the U.S. government must state publicly that it is not seeking to round up ex-FARC leaders for extradition, that those who are sticking to their accord commitments need not abandon the process out of fear of being sent to a U.S. jail.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of September 16-22)

UNODC Publishes Its 2017 Coca Cultivation Estimate

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime published an executive summary of its 2017 estimate of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. The UN agency has usually produced this document, in complete form, in June or July of each year. Among the latest report’s most notable findings:

  • Coca cultivation increased by 17 percent in Colombia between 2016 and 2017, growing from 146,000 to 171,000 hectares. (A hectare is about two and a half acres.) In June, the U.S. government publicized its own estimate for 2017, finding an 11 percent increase to 209,000 hectares. According to Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, the UN figure is “the official statistic that the Colombian government works with.”
  • 64% of the increase was concentrated in four departments: Antioquia, Putumayo, Norte de Santander and Cauca. Nearly all coca is grown in municipalities where coca was grown a decade ago.
  • The department with the most coca is still Nariño, as has been the case every year since 2006. Nariño makes up 27% of all Colombian coca cultivation, but the crop increased by only 7% there in 2017.
  • Tumaco, a giant municipality (county) in southwestern Nariño, remains the number-one coca-growing municipality in the country. However, coca cultivation declined by 16% in Tumaco last year.
  • The department of Guaviare saw the largest decrease, shrinking 28% from 6,800 to 4,900 hectares. Guaviare, along with Tumaco, has been a main focus of crop-substitution efforts within the framework of the peace accord. In Meta, another department that saw a lot of crop substitution, coca increased 2%.
  • The areas where the Colombian government has managed to get crop-substitution programs up and running comprise 14% of coca-growing territories. But in those territories, cultivation fell 11% in 2017.
  • 33% of coca crops were detected in “isolated areas, 10 km away from any populated center.”
  • 34% of coca crops were detected in areas that were covered by forests in 2014.
  • Probably due to increased supply, prices crashed in 2017. Coca leaf prices fell 28%; cocaine paste fell 14%, and cocaine fell 11% inside Colombia. This isn’t entirely supply and demand: local circumstances, like changes in armed-group control, may be more important factors in some areas.
  • Colombia’s cocaine exports were worth about US$2.7 billion in 2017. Colombia’s coffee exports totaled about US$2.5 billion. Only oil and coal produced more export revenue.
  • All cocaine base produced in the country was worth US$1.315 billion. All coca leaf was worth US$371 million.
  • In the ten municipalities (counties) with the most coca crops, the coca leaf market adds up to US$302 million. These counties’ combined municipal budgets were US$196 million.
  • 5% of coca was planted within national parks, and another 27% within 20 kilometers of a national park.
  • 10% was planted within indigenous reserves. 15% was planted in land belonging to Afro-Colombian communities.
  • 16% of coca was planted within 10 kilometers of a border, mainly those with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • The National Comprehensive Substitution Program (PNIS), the voluntary crop-substitution program set up by the FARC peace accord, had enrolled 54,027 families by the end of 2017. By June 2018, that had climbed to 77,659 families.
  • Mainly because the bushes have had time to grow taller than they used to be, their yield—the amount of cocaine that can be produced from a hectare of coca—has increased by one third since 2012. As a result, Colombia’s potential cocaine production grew from 1,053 tons in 2016 to 1,379 tons in 2017.
  • Processing that much cocaine required that 510 million liters of liquid precursor chemicals, and 98,000 tons of solid precursors, be smuggled in to very remote areas.
  • “When we talk about coca growers,” UNODC Colombia Director Bo Mathiasen told El Espectador, “we talk about there being today about 119,500 households that depend on that. If we estimate that each family has four members, we are talking about almost half a million Colombians, just those involved with crops.” That is 1% of Colombia’s population of about 50 million.

Asked whether the increase in coca-growing was “a failure of the peace agreement,” Mathiasen replied that Colombia’s government over-promised to coca-growing families.

It’s an agreement with promises that had no basis. They promised more than they could fulfill. The Government does not have the money to fulfill the prior commitments. There was a lack of realistic communication about the resources that were available and what could be delivered. This caused the campesinos to think that if they planted more coca, they could have subsidies and be part of the substitution program.

Mathiasen also criticized the simultaneous implementation of crop substitution and crop eradication, two strategies that “work with different timeframes.” He cautioned against relying too heavily on renewed fumigation of coca with the herbicide glyphosate.

The United Nations does not have an opinion either in favor or against the use of glyphosate, and I must add that it is widely used in agriculture in Colombia and in many countries. The effectiveness of forced eradication has limits. Yes, the plant is done away with, but replanting has historically been high in eradication zones where there is no program of social and economic intervention going hand-in-hand. If you want a more sustainable outcome over time you have to combine forced or voluntary eradication with investment programs to develop these territories.

President Iván Duque said that in coming days, “he would present a new plan to combat drugs that would ‘strengthen our air, sea and land interception capacity’ and ‘dismantle completely the supply chain, both precursors and product,’” the New York Times reported, adding that “so far, he has provided no details.”

Interviewed by El Tiempo, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker reiterated his support for glyphosate-spraying, despite a California jury’s August ruling that a gardener who contracted cancer was entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from Monsanto, the company that produces most glyphosate herbicide sold in the United States.

I have always said, and I maintain, that the use of glyphosate is safe and effective. It can be a very important tool in the fight against narcotics as part of eradication, which is only one aspect of a comprehensive program. Evidently there was a jury decision in California, and you have to respect that. But that decision does not change the science at all, and the science is clear.

Government Won’t Name an ELN Negotiating Team Until Conditions Met

In a statement, the ELN’s negotiators in Havana called on the government to re-start frozen peace talks, citing its release of nine captives during the first half of September. The Duque government announced that it would not name a new negotiating team until the ELN releases all hostages. The government has a list of ten individuals who remain in ELN captivity. It is unclear whether all are alive, and the guerrillas have not addressed their cases.

This week the ELN released Mayerly Cortés Rodríguez, a 16-year-old whom guerrillas had kidnapped in Chocó. By holding a minor, government High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos said, the ELN “broke all the rules.” The ELN’s Chocó-based Western War Front stated that it was holding Cortés not as a hostage, but “to clear up her collaboration with the Marines,” accusing her of providing intelligence to the local unit. The commander of Colombia’s Pacific Naval Force (Marines are part of the Navy) insisted that it does not seek intelligence from minors.

The ELN talks remain stalled. “It’s evident that neither the government nor the ELN wants to be seen as the one slamming the door on the peace process, but neither of the two parties wants to be the one that gives up the most to restart the dialogues,” El Tiempo’s Marisol Gómez observed.

Elsewhere in Chocó, combat between the ELN and Army displaced about 80 indigenous people from the Murindó River reserve.

FARC Dissident Leader “Guacho” is Wounded, Military Says

A military offensive against FARC dissident groups has intensified in Nariño, along what may be Colombia’s busiest cocaine production and trafficking corridor. Last week, troops killed alias “David,” commander of the United Guerrillas of the Pacific dissident group. This week, special forces reported wounding his rival, Walter Arízala alias “Guacho,” commander of the Oliver Sinisterra Front dissident group.

Though born in Ecuador, Guacho rose through the FARC’s ranks in Narino over 15 years, becoming deeply involved in narcotrafficking. He refused to demobilize in 2017, then became one of the two or three most-wanted armed-group leaders in Colombia earlier this year, after he staged attacks on government forces in Nariño and across the border in Ecuador, and then kidnapped and killed two Ecuadorian reporters and their driver. The tragedy of the El Comercio journalists was front-page news in Ecuador for weeks.

On September 15, at a site in the northern part of Tumaco further from the border, a joint unit seeking to capture Guacho was closing in, but was detected by the dissident leader’s innermost security ring. During the resulting firefight, troops shot a fleeing Guacho twice in the back, but his men helped him to escape.

Though Colombian and Ecuadorian troops reportedly did not coordinate, Ecuador’s military and police strengthened security on their side of the border with the aim of preventing Guacho from crossing. There were no new reports about the guerrilla leader’s condition or whereabouts during the rest of the week.

Semana magazine, claiming that Guacho’s influence in Nariño had been declining, reported that the guerrilla leader “is fleeing with the last of his bodyguards, and the search continues.”

Three Mining Company Geologists Killed in Antioquia; Guerrilla Dissidents Blamed

A group of armed men burst into a mining company camp in the predawn hours of September 20 in Yarumal, Antioquia, opening fire and killing Laura Alejandra Flórez Aguirre, Henry Mauricio Martínez Gómez, and Camilo Andrés Tirado Farak. The three were geologists carrying out explorations for Continental Gold Mines, a Canadian company.

No group has claimed responsibility. Colombian authorities told the media that dissident members of the FARC’s 36th Front are very active in Yarumal. Precious-metals mining has been a principal income stream for organized crime groups here and in many parts of the country.

In the nearby municipality of Buriticá, Continental Gold is building what El Espectador calls “the first large-scale subterranean gold mine in Colombia,” which is to begin operation in 2020 and produce an average of 253,000 ounces of gold per year over 14 years.

Accord Implementation Budget Appears Insufficient

Colombia’s Comptroller-General’s Office (Contraloría) sent a new report to Congress on expenditures to implement the FARC peace accord. It concludes that, over the next 15 years, the government will need to come up with about US$25 billion to fulfill the commitments made in the accord. Most of the resources needed would go to the accord’s first chapter on rural development.

The Treasury Ministry has estimated a 15-year cost of accord implementation at 129.5 trillion pesos, or about US$43 billion. The Contraloría sees a need for an additional 76 trillion pesos, which

would represent 0.4% of annual GDP that would be added to the fiscal deficit projected for the coming years. These calculations could increase to up to 1.1% of GDP if we add the additional costs of covering all the municipalities with scattered rural territories as contemplated in the Final Agreement, and the reparation measures in the public policy of attention to victims.

The Contraloría report found that the government spent 6.9 trillion pesos (about US$2.3 billion) in 2017 on activities related to the FARC peace accord.

El Espectador meanwhile notes that Colombia’s defense budget has increased during the post-accord period, growing 8 percent from 2017 to 2018.

FARC Remains on U.S. Terrorist List

The U.S. Department of State released its annual report on international terrorism on September 19. This report includes and updates the Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The FARC—recognized as a political party today in Colombia—remains on that list.

“Colombia experienced a continued decrease in terrorist activity in 2017, due in large part to the November 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” the report reads, citing the disarmament, demobilization, and reincorporation process that the ex-guerrillas underwent last year. Still, a footnote in the report explains that the FARC remains on the terrorist list because the party’s ties to increasingly active guerrilla dissident groups are “unclear”:

The FARC remains a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, the Colombian government classifies FARC dissidents as criminals. While the ideological motivations of such groups and ongoing connections with demobilized FARC are unclear, we have included acts of violence by FARC dissidents in this report.

Although the UN verification mission and other observers fault both the Colombian government and the FARC for the slow pace of ex-guerrillas’ reintegration programs, the State Department report places all the blame on the FARC. It essentially faults the ex-guerrillas for insisting on collective reintegration, instead of accepting the government’s standard individual reintegration offer:

The Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN), formerly the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR), is the implementing arm of this process. Delays in implementing the program, caused by the refusal of FARC leadership to permit members to actively and effectively participate, increased the prospects that some ex-combatants would return to engaging in criminal activities.

Asked by a reporter why the FARC party remains on the list, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales offered no specifics.

I’m not going to be in a position to comment on any internal deliberations that may or may not be taking place. What I can tell you is that the statutory standards for getting on the FTO list or getting off the FTO list are very clear, and it – we apply the standards that Congress has given us consistent with the evidence in front of us, and we do that regardless of the organization or country.

Interviewed by El Tiempo, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker insisted that Washington would push for the extradition of any wanted FARC members believed to have committed crimes after the peace accord’s December 2016 ratification. “Any effort, by any actor or institution, to limit extradition, affects U.S. interests.”

Whitaker criticized a Constitutional Court finding that appears to give the transitional justice system (JEP) the power to review evidence against those wanted in extradition for alleged post-accord crimes, like FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich. The way extradition works, he said, is that the requesting country evaluates the evidence.

The Ambassador also rejected the idea that wanted individuals should first remain in Colombia to provide victims with truth and reparations. “I don’t accept the mistaken idea that if there is extradition, then there can be no truth. In the case of the paramilitaries extradited a decade ago, we have set up 3,000 hearings, including victims, prosecutors, magistrates, etcetera. There has been every opportunity to clarify the truth. So both can be done.”

President Duque Meets UN Mission Chief

Jean Arnault, the chief of the UN verification mission that just had its mandate extended for another year, met with President Iván Duque. Arnault’s mission is overseeing the reintegration and security of FARC ex-combatants, which have moved forward but faced setbacks and obstacles over the past year.

Appearing publicly with the President, Arnault said, “I encourage you to continue with a difficult process, full of obstacles and still very fragile. We encourage you to continue not only for the sake of Colombia, but also for the sake of the international community.” Duque said that the government remains committed to “the people who have genuinely bet it all on demobilization, disarmament, reintegration and non-repetition, can make a transition to coexistence and a life of legality.”

Arnault said that Duque’s six-week-old government was in the midst of a “useful reflection” about its ex-combatant reincorporation policy. Duque and Arnault agreed that finding productive projects for ex-combatants was a priority. These projects, Duque said, “had to incorporate more than 10,000 people in the process, but today do not exceed 100 people.” The President and the mission chief agreed that future reintegration projects should benefit entire communities, not just the ex-guerrillas.

In response to a written request from FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño, Duque’s government named its representatives to the Commission of Follow-up, Impulse and Verification (CSIVI), the government-FARC mechanism meant to oversee implementation of the peace accord. They are Emilio José Archila, the High Counselor for the Post-Conflict; High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos; and Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez.

Meanwhile, one of the highest-profile demobilized guerrilla leaders, Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez—the guerrillas’ lead negotiator during the Havana peace process—remains missing. FARC leaders insist that Márquez has not abandoned the peace process, that he has “clandestinized” himself out of concern for his security.

Márquez is free to roam the country pending his eventual transitional-justice trial for war crimes. But he now faces calls to clarify his situation.

  • The Congressional Peace Committee, which recently traveled to the demobilization site in Caquetá that Márquez abandoned in June or July, published a letter calling on him to “unequivocally reiterate your commitment to this process very soon.”
  • During the week of September 9, the transitional-justice system (JEP) called on Márquez and 30 other former FARC commanders to submit a written statement that each remains committed to the process and intends to comply with the peace accord. The JEP demanded a response within ten business days. Márquez’s lawyer may have bought some additional time by submitting an official information request to the JEP about its demand.

In-Depth Reading

Ouch, this statement did not age well.

This is William Brownfield, then the assistant secretary of state for narcotics and law enforcement affairs, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 2, 2017:

Tranche one in this four-stage Colombian strategy was the southwest. Down in Tumaco and the province of Nariño. We are unable to support that because the FARC has, in a sense, captured the alternative development part of that. The next step is going to be up in Antioquia. That’s further to the north and slightly to the west, but still central Colombia.

There, we are trying to work specifically an arrangement whereby the government will work directly with the campesinos themselves, the individual farmers. And we have told the government we will support alternative development. We will provide INCLE funding—generously provided by the United States Congress to the Department of State and INL—and we will support alternative development there.

We will then, ladies and gentlemen, have a test. We’ll see how it worked in the southwest [Tumaco], with the FARC largely running the process, and how it works up in Antioquia with the FARC out of the process. And then we’ll reach some conclusions. What works best?

Brownfield throws down the gauntlet. Within the framework of the peace accords, the Colombian government of then-president Juan Manuel Santos can carry out its own coca strategy in Nariño. The Americans will do things their own way up north in Antioquia. And we’ll see what works best.

On September 19, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its department-by-department estimates of coca growing in Colombia. And Nariño comes off looking a lot better than Antioquia. Here are the numbers:

  • Colombia, nationally, saw a 17 percent increase in coca cultivation.
  • Nariño, which the U.S. government avoided, saw a 7 percent increase: less than the national average. In Tumaco, Nariño, the municipality (county) that has more coca than any other—and thus a key focus of the Santos government’s efforts—coca declined by 16 percent.
  • Antioquia, on the other hand, saw a 55 percent increase.

Assistant secretary Brownfield’s “test” was not off to a good start in 2017. Who knows, maybe 2018 will be different; the so-called “Plan Antioquia” was also just getting going. But the UN’s 2017 numbers show that coca really did stop increasing, or even start reducing, in the areas where the Colombian government managed to get it together enough to implement crop substitution, in line with Chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord.

In those areas, the UNODC reports, the peace accords’ National Substitution Program (PNIS) managed to enroll 54,027 families in voluntary coca substitution by the end of 2017. By June 2018, this had risen to 77,659 families. In areas where the PNIS got going, covering 14 percent of coca-growing territory, 2017 saw an 11 percent reduction in crops.

The UN data, troubling as they are, show that things are far more complicated than “let’s have a test.” They especially underscore the importance of keeping commitments made to the tens of thousands of families who signed up to eradicate their coca voluntarily. UNODC Colombia Director Bo Mathiasen adds that there are currently 119,500 families growing coca in Colombia: about half a million people in a country of 50 million. A successful coca-control strategy, then, would measure success in number of families instead of number of hectares.

The Past Week in Colombia’s Peace Process

(Week of September 9-15)

ELN Talks Remain Suspended

In his August 7 inaugural speech, President Iván Duque said that he would take 30 days to decide whether to continue peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. That period has expired, and Duque did not end the talks—but he has suspended them pending the ELN’s renunciation of kidnapping and release of all captives.

ELN fighters freed nine captives over two releases in September. On the 7th, guerrillas in Arauca released three soldiers whom they had taken on August 8. On September 11 in Chocó, they released three policemen, a soldier, and two civilians taken on August 3 from a boat on an Atrato River tributary. The Duque government did not negotiate these releases’ protocols; the ELN performed them unilaterally in coordination with the Catholic Church, the government’s independent Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría), and the International Committee of the Red Cross. “This did not imply any negotiation with the national government,” insisted the Duque government’s peace commissioner, Miguel Ceballos.

While Ceballos and President Duque recognized this gesture, they said there is more to do: they count 10 more individuals who remain in ELN custody. “There were 20 on the list,” Ceballos said, “later there was one liberation in Arauca, and later three more. If we take away the three in Chocó, 10 remain.” Of the ten, one has been a hostage since April 2002; two were taken in 2011, and one in 2012. The ELN has offered no responses about these captives, if they are even still alive.

“The door is not necessarily closed” to peace talks with the ELN, Ceballos told El Tiempo. But Duque’s demands for changed ELN behavior, including a cessation of kidnapping and all other hostilities, may be more than what some ELN commanders might agree to. “I want to be clear,” President Duque said this week. “If we want to build a peace with this organized armed group, they must start with the clearest show of goodwill, which is the suspension of all criminal activities.”

Still, Ceballos told El Espectador the ELN may be flexible. “I think the ELN is understanding things, because if not, this process of liberation of kidnapped people would not have begun. I believe that in these 30 days a space of understanding has been achieved beyond the need for the formal structure of a [negotiating] table. These have been 30 days in which no armed actions have been presented. There’s a dynamic here.”

The Peace Commissioner added that, should talks re-start, the Duque government may seek to alter the negotiating agenda agreed with the Santos government, which has been criticized for imprecise language that has made it difficult to implement. “President Duque said it in a very clear way in Amagá (Antioquia), last Saturday,” he said. “Any future scenario would need a credible agenda and specific timeframes; that necessarily implies the consideration of adjustments.”

Gen. Montoya, Former Army Chief, Appears Before the JEP

Gen. Mario Montoya, who headed Colombia’s army from 2006 to 2008, appeared before the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord. The retired general denied any guilt for human rights crimes. Montoya is the highest-ranking officer to appear before the JEP so far, though another retired general, Henry Torres Escalante, has already appeared in relation to a case of extrajudicial executions.

Montoya resigned in November 2008, amid revelations that members of the Army had killed thousands of civilians, then presented them falsely as combat kills in a criminal effort to boost body counts and earn rewards for battlefield performance. Montoya allegedly pressured subordinates to rack up body counts and produce “rivers of blood” in counter-guerrilla operations, thus creating an environment that rewarded extrajudicial executions, making him emblematic of what Colombians call the “false positives” scandal.

Montoya decided in July to submit to the JEP rather than the regular criminal justice system, where some cases against him had been stalled since 2016. The highly decorated, U.S.-trained general denies any wrongdoing, lawbreaking, or knowledge of his subordinates’ criminal behavior. Though most defendants enter the JEP to confess crimes in return for reduced non-prison sentences, Montoya intends to challenge any charges against him. Should the JEP find him guilty anyway, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in regular prison.

During his initial hearing in the JEP’s Definition of Legal Situations Chamber, Montoya and his lawyers heard a listing of accusations and investigations against him that had been filed in the regular justice system. Cases included a few dozen “false positives” victims, as well as the “Operation Orion” military offensive in Medellín’s western slums, in October 2002 when Montoya headed the local army brigade, which killed several civilians and benefited from open support of paramilitary groups. Relatives of “false positives” victims attended the hearing.

Montoya’s defense lawyer argued that the general cannot be held responsible for the “false positive” crimes committed when he headed the Army, since the murders took place in units several levels below his command. In the end, Montoya’s hearing had a disappointing outcome: as defense lawyers challenged the standing of some of the victims involved, Magistrate Pedro Díaz suspended the session and put it off for a later date.

FARC Party Holds Conference Marked By No-Shows

News coverage took stock of a “National Council of the Commons,” a meeting of the new FARC political party’s leadership, in Bogotá the week earlier. The “Council” sought to bring together 111 delegates whom the ex-guerrilla membership had elected a year ago, to make decisions about the party’s future.

In the end, 29 of the 111 did not appear. Five have resigned their posts. Seven offered excuses for being unable to attend. Another 17, though, gave no reason for their absence. That number includes:

  • Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks. Márquez left Bogotá and abandoned the Senate seat that awaited him in April 2018, after the arrest of Jesús Santrich, a close Márquez associate and fellow negotiator. Santrich is wanted in extradition by a U.S. federal court in New York on charges of conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. Until June or July, Márquez—a hardliner on the FARC’s left flank who was the top vote-getter when the membership chose delegates last year—abandoned the demobilization site where he had been staying in the southern department of Caquetá. He blamed nearby “military operations” and concerns for his security. His whereabouts are now unknown. It is not clear at the moment whether he intends to continue participating in the peace process.
  • Hernán Darío Velásquez alias El Paisa, the former head of the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero mobile column, disappeared around the same time as Márquez; he was managing the Caquetá demobilization site where Márquez had been staying.
  • Henry Castellanos alias Romaña, who led FARC units that kidnapped hundreds in a region just south of Bogotá, had been managing a demobilization site in Nariño but has also gone clandestine.
  • Fabián Ramírez, a former top leader of the FARC’s Southern Bloc.
  • Zarco Aldinever” and “Enrique Marulanda,” who managed the demobilization site in Mesetas, Meta.
  • Iván Alí,” who ran a site in Guaviare. (Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos said that he met with “Alí” days before his disappearance, and that the FARC leader had told him “he was going to [the remote eastern department of] Vichada and that communication would be difficult.”)
  • Albeiro Córdoba,” who ran another site in Guaviare.
  • Manuel Político,” who ran a site in Putumayo.

Most of the missing 17, points out La Silla Vacía, come from the former guerrilla group’s Eastern and Southern blocs, where were its strongest militarily at the time the peace accord was signed.

Most members of the Colombian Congress’s Peace Committee visited Caquetá September 10 to seek information about the missing leaders. Sen. Iván Cepeda, a close supporter of the FARC peace process, said that people “very close” to Márquez and “El Paisa” told them that the two men remain committed to the peace process, and in fact are still in Caquetá. Both, however, fear being extradited capriciously, Cepeda said, adding that both had heard spurious rumors about pending arrest warrants. The Colombian government, Cepeda said, needs to find a way to keep “extradition from becoming a sort of detonator for the end of the peace process.”

Some of the missing leaders sent messages insisting that they remain in the peace process. A letter from “Romaña” appeared in which he reiterated his will to honor his demobilization commitments. Fabián Ramírez also sent a letter affirming his continued participation, though he expressed deep mistrust as a result of Santrich’s arrest. Ramírez said that, along with 100 other ex-guerrillas, he was seeking to set up a new, safer demobilization space with the goal of preventing their defection to dissident groups.

The disappearances are a sign of deepening internal divisions within the FARC. These were laid bare in a strongly worded letter from former Southern Bloc leader Joaquín Gómez and high-ranking ex-commander Bertulfo Álvarez. It accuses maximum leader Timoleón Jiménez and other Bogotá-based FARC bosses—most of whom have turned out to be political moderates—of “spiteful and vengeful lack of leadership.” The letter accused Jiménez of “dedicating himself to defending the bourgeois order with surprising and unexpected zeal.” The letter’s authors, who run the demobilization site in La Guajira, cited health reasons for their absence from the Bogotá meeting.

FARC Senator Victoria Sandino blamed security concerns for many of the no-shows, and denied that the FARC is dividing.

“No, there is a debate. Many people make criticisms within the party, but none will make criticisms like ‘oh no, let’s go back to guns, let’s create another party.’ No. There are internal political debates, but those debates aren’t about separating. There are some comrades who are critical of [accord] implementation, but I guarantee that in these debates none, absolutely nobody, has expressed the idea that the way out of here is to return to arms. No one.”

In the end, the FARC “Council of the Commons” agreed to set up an executive committee to prepare for October 2019 local elections, with regional representatives including Joaquín Gómez. They decided that going clandestine for security concerns was acceptable behavior, but established procedures to kick out renegade members.

U.S. Officials Visit, Speculation Over a Return to Coca Fumigation Increases

On September 11 the White House issued an annual memo to the State Department identifying major illicit drug producing and transit countries, and highlighting which of these are “decertified”—subject to aid cuts and other penalties—for failing to cooperate with U.S. counter-drug strategies. As in past years, Venezuela and Bolivia were decertified.

Last years’s memo included controversial language stating that President Trump “seriously considered” adding Colombia to the decertified blacklist because of sharply increased coca and cocaine production. This year’s document did not repeat that threat, but called out Colombia, Mexico, and Afghanistan for “falling behind in the fight to eradicate illicit crops and reduce drug production and trafficking.” The U.S. government estimated that Colombia’s coca crop increased 11 percent in 2017, to a record 209,000 hectares.

The certification memo’s release coincided with a visit to Bogota from the deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, James Carroll, and the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz. According to El Tiempo, in a meeting that lasted over an hour, the two officials told President Duque that, under normal circumstances, the White House would have decertified Colombia:

“During the meeting the White House’s envoys told Duque that the amount of coca planted in Colombia, more than 200,000 hectares, was enough for the country to be decertified.

“However, they clarified that they understand that this is an ‘inherited’ problem [for the recently inaugurated president], which comes from previous years. In that sense, they expressed the Washington government’s confidence in the policies that Colombia is going to implement to eradicate crops and counteract the cartels who carry the drug to their nation.”

Duque told the U.S. officials he plans to respond with a mix of strategies, referring to “a principle of integrality” (comprehensiveness), rather than putting all focus on forced coca eradication. That mix, however, may include a return to eradication through aircraft-based spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, reviving a U.S.-backed program that Colombia carried out on a massive scale between 1994 and 2015. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended aircraft-based spraying in 2015 after some studies pointed to a possible link between glyphosate and cancer; officials also argued that spraying had proved to be ineffective.

Duque, however, may bring it back. “Fumigation can happen if some protocols are complied with,” he said. “In the comprehensive policy that we want in the fight against illicit crops, these protocols should be reflected in such a way that any action is upheld by the Court’s guidelines.”

The president refers here to 2015 and 2017 decisions by Colombia’s Constitution Court, its highest judicial review authority, which placed significant restrictions on coca eradication via aerial glyphosate spraying. Any future fumigation must avoid nature reserves, indigenous reservations, and campesino reserve zones—sites that host a significant portion of current cultivation. Spraying can only proceed after an “objective and conclusive” scientific study showing a lack of health and environmental damage. Colombia’s National Drug Council (CNE), a decision-making body incorporating several ministries and agencies, must agree on a set of regulations to govern future spraying, in a process that includes ethnic communities’ participation, and these regulations must be passed as a law. An ethnic representative must be added to the CNE. Colombia must undergo prior consultation with ethnic communities in areas where it plans to spray, although the Court allows spraying in the absence of consent if the CNE issues a finding.

Duque’s government includes some aggressively enthusiastic backers of renewed glyphosate fumigation. “I don’t see any alternative to using herbicides,” Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said in August. “You have to use it because the world is not going to accept us swimming in coca. …Glyphosate is used in Colombia since time immemorial.” Added Francisco Santos, the new ambassador to the United States: “Fumigation is essential. The Constitutional Court must understand that it must return, because we are facing a social, economic and national security emergency. It has to come back, understanding the restrictions.”

Dissident Leader “David” Killed in Nariño

The Defense Ministry announced that a military-police operation killed Víctor David Segura Palacios, alias “David,” the chief of one of the two main FARC dissident groups operating in Nariño, Colombia’s largest coca and cocaine-producing department. Soldiers arrived at 2:00AM on September 8 at a house where “David” was staying; he and his sister, who allegedly handled his group’s finances, were killed in an ensuing shootout.

A former member of the FARC’s Nariño-based Daniel Aldana mobile column, David refused to demobilize, along with his brother Yeison Segura, alias “Don Y.” The dissident group they formed, the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific” (GUP), recruited former FARC militias along Nariño’s coast and took over cocaine trafficking routes. After “Don Y” was killed in a November 2016 firefight with former FARC comrades, “David” assumed command.

Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told reporters that the GUP had grown to control 4 percent of Colombia’s cocaine exports. The Nariño governor’s office said that the group has control or influence in at least 10 of the department’s 64 municipalities (counties).

For the past year, David had been the main rival of Walter Artízala alias “Guacho,” leader of the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS), a Nariño-based FARC dissident structure that gained region-wide notoriety after it kidnapped and killed three Ecuadorian journalists in early 2018. David blamed Guacho for his brother’s death, and the two groups had been battling for control of cocaine routes, and of urban neighborhoods in Tumaco, all year.

“According to various reports,” notes InsightCrime, the rival GUP and FOS are both “associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations, who will have an interest in maintaining the steady passage of cocaine out of the country.” La Silla Vacía reports that, “According to the Police, during recent months David already had contacts with the [Mexican] Jalisco New Generation cartel (while Guacho, according to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, is one of the links of the Sinaloa cartel), and had an Interpol Blue Notice.”

David’s death is the largest battlefield result against guerrilla dissidents or organized crime so far in President Iván Duque’s 6-week-old government, but it is unlikely to reduce violence in Nariño. Citing sources in Colombia’s Navy and the Tumaco ombudsman’s office, La Silla counts 12 other major armed or criminal groups active in “post-conflict” Nariño besides the GUP, “like Guacho’s dissident group, the Gulf Clan [paramilitary successor group], the ELN which has tried to enter the south of Nariño, and other groups of lesser national impact like La Oficina [paramilitary successor], La Gente del Orden [ex-FARC militias], Los de Sábalo, and, more recently, the so-called ‘Stiven González’ front.”

In-Depth Reading

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