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.

Categories

Get a weekly update in your email




Colombia Post-Conflict

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

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(This covers the week of August 26-September 1; as I was traveling in Colombia during the week of September 2-8, there will be no update for that week.)

Peace Commissioner Lays Out Four “Adjustments” to FARC Accord

In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, President Iván Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four modifications that Duque’s government will seek to make to the FARC peace accord. As WOLA noted on its Colombia Peace site, the four proposals “either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty.”

The modifications the Duque government will pursue are:

  1. In future peace processes, kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance insurgents’ war effort may no longer be amnestied.
  2. Those who continue to commit crimes after the peace accord lose their right to amnesty for past political crimes, reduced sentences for past war crimes, or protection from extradition to other countries.
  3. Those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity cannot hold political office.
  4. While the Duque government will respect commitments to coca-growers who signed crop-substitution agreements, eradication will be mandatory from now on.

These adjustments, an analysis in La Silla Vacía contends, “are more symbolic than real.” Indeed, they may change little about the FARC process.

The first change, eliminating drug trafficking without personal gain as an amnesty-able “political” crime, cannot be done retroactively, so it will not impact demobilized FARC members. If implemented, however, it could be a stumbling block for a future accord with the ELN. And the FARC accord already doesn’t amnesty kidnapping: those who held civilians captive must make full confessions to the accords’ transitional justice system (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP), make reparations to victims, and serve reduced sentences of “restricted liberty.”

The second change simply repeats the existing terms of the peace accord. Any demobilized combatant guilty of committing crimes in the post-accord period already loses his or her benefits. “This doesn’t touch the accord even minimally,” La Silla Vacía notes.

If Duque gets enough votes in Congress to restrict ex-guerrilla war criminals from holding office—which is far from guaranteed and would involve a bitter fight—it could cause some former FARC leaders to abandon the process. The guerrillas’ leadership commanded a war effort that, over the course of decades, involved numerous crimes against humanity. Despite this, they demobilized with the expectation of practicing peaceful politics while paying the agreed-upon penalties. If their ability to serve as legislators or local officials is barred, some may drop out.

The decision to stop signing up coca-cultivating families for voluntary eradication is unfortunate, as many municipalities where the program hasn’t started up yet may be subjected to an “all stick and no carrot” approach of eradication without assistance, which has failed in the past. WOLA’s earlier post argues, “If by ‘mandatory eradication’ Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, then as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.”

Duque Meets With All Parties, Including FARC, To Discuss Anti-Corruption Measures

On August 26 Colombians voted in a referendum on seven anti-corruption measures, the result of an initiative launched by citizen groups and the opposition Green Party. It came closer to passing than any analysts predicted: 11.7 million Colombian voters participated, less than half a million fewer than the one-third voter participation threshold the measure needed to make it binding. Though it failed, the “Anti-Corruption Consultation” got about 3 million more votes than Iván Duque received in the June presidential elections.

President Duque showed up early on the 26th to cast a vote, marking distance from his political party’s de facto leader, Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, who had taken to social media to attack the initiative.

Going still further, Duque held a meeting in the presidential palace the evening of the 29th with the Consultation’s organizers and the leaderships of all political parties represented in the Congress. Most notably, “all political parties” included the FARC, which as a result of the peace accord holds an automatic five seats in the Senate and five in the House until 2026. The meeting was only the second time that FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño had ever been inside the Nariño Palace, and the first time for most other FARC legislators. Semana magazine described the scene:

When he arrived, they greeted him and a “welcome to Democracy” was heard. There was an ex-president, César Gaviria, congressmen from all political parties, including Gustavo Petro, the only senator who has no party. The promoters of the anti-corruption consultation. Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, Internal Affairs Chief [Procurador] Fernando Carrillo, and outgoing Comptroller-General Edgardo Maya Villazón were already seated.

President Duque congratulated Timochenko for having laid down his arms. The president of the FARC party thanked him for taking them into account and opening the doors to reconciliation. The atmosphere was cordial, although when Timo spoke, some congressmen from the Democratic Center [Uribe and Duque’s party] preferred to listen to him with their heads down.

FARC Conference Marked By No-Shows

At the end of the week, the FARC was to hold its first party-wide meeting in a year, its “National Council of the Commons” gathering 111 members of its political directorate. It did so amid speculation over whether all leaders of the increasingly divided group would actually attend.

They did not. The two most prominent missing leaders were Iván Márquez and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa.” None of the guerrilla leaders in attendance, in fact, could say with certainty where either of them are currently located. Márquez, the guerrillas’ chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, a hardliner who represents the party’s radical wing, was the number-one vote-getter when the party chose its 111 leaders. Montero had headed the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column, a unit that carried out some of its most spectacular attacks on civilian targets during the conflict.

Márquez left Bogotá and abandoned his automatic Senate seat in April, when his close associate, FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, was arrested pending extradition after a U.S. grand jury charged him with conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. He retreated to a FARC demobilization site in Caquetá, south-central Colombia, where Montero was already located. Sometime in June or July, both Márquez and Montero abandoned that site and have since been incomunicado.

FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada told La Silla Vacía that the party’s leadership has tried and failed to locate Márquez, even after sending Senator Pablo Catatumbo to Caquetá. Both Márquez and Montero are awaiting war-crimes trials before the JEP; under the terms of the peace accord, neither may leave Colombia without permission. If it is revealed that they have crossed a border—into Venezuela, for instance—they could lose their benefits under the peace accord.

The situation reveals growing divisions within the FARC party. The main split appears be between the leadership in Bogotá and the rank-and-file, most of which remains in the countryside, at the former demobilization sites and dozens of unofficial gathering points around the country. The Bogotá contingent, represented most visibly by the ex-guerrillas’ ten legislators, who appear to be following a more moderate political line than the middle and lower ranks. The latter are angry about the slow pace of peace accord implementation, worried about facing the same fate as Jesús Santrich, concerned about the election of a president who opposed the accord, and feeling unrepresented by top leadership. Some are contemplating following the path of Iván Márquez and “El Paisa.”

La Silla Vacía reported an illustrative example:

A week ago, La Silla spoke with Iván Merchán, a mid-level commander from La Macarena and a member of the political leadership, who told us that his plan was to disappear.

“It’s not about joining the ‘dissidences,’ like everyone says. It’s about going to a small town, where one has friends, where there are no signs or ways to be located. So one is calmer and less afraid of falling victim to a setup like Santrich,” he told us.

When we tried to communicate with Merchán again for this story, he no longer received calls or messages. According to him, other middle managers in Meta department had already “clandestinized,” as he told us to refer to what Márquez did.

“They (the ex-combatants) feel that those in the FARC Secretariat are happy wearing a tie in Congress, while they continue to have a bad time due to money and security,” a source in Santander told La Silla.

Spain Offers To Accompany ELN Peace Talks

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, paid a visit to Colombia as part of a tour of the region. Meeting with President Duque, Sánchez offered Spain’s assistance to push forward the flagging peace talks with the ELN guerrillas. “Anything Colombia needs from Spain to consolidate and advance peace we will say yes to. We will be with our Colombian brothers so that this will be a reality sooner rather than later,” said Sánchez, a member of Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party.

President Duque, who announced at his August 7 inauguration that he was taking 30 days to review whether to continue the ELN talks, was circumspect. Duque is demanding that the 2,000-member guerrilla group cease all hostilities, including kidnapping and extortion, as a pre-condition for resuming talks that began officially in February 2017. “If there’s a suspension of criminal activities, a will for peace, we very much welcome the offer that has been made by our good friend President Pedro Sánchez,” the President said at a joint press conference with Sánchez.

Interviewed by El Tiempo, Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos reiterated the demand that the ELN state clearly that it will respect humanitarian standards and cease kidnapping, “which would be excellent news for Colombians and would facilitate the [peace] table’s continuity.” Ceballos said that he had opened up a confidential line of communication with chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán, who is in Havana, but “unfortunately, this confidentiality wasn’t maintained, as several ELN spokespeople have made public my telephone contracts with Beltrán.”

JEP Takes on a “False Positive” Case

The transitional justice system (JEP) called 11 members of Colombia’s army to appear for the so-called “false positive” killings of 13 people in Casanare department in 2006 and 2007. The term “false positive” refers to soldiers’ grim practice of killing civilians and then presenting the bodies, falsely, as those of armed-group members killed in combat, in order to reap rewards for battlefield results. At least 3,000 Colombians may have fallen victim to such killings at the hands of the military between 2002 and 2008.

Major Gustavo Soto Bracamonte, former head of the Army’s GAULA anti-kidnapping unit in Casanare, appeared before the JEP’s Definition of Legal Situations Chamber, the first step for a case in the new system, with ten former subordinates, to answer for the killings they allegedly committed and falsified. All said they are prepared to contribute to clarifying the truth of what happened and to make reparations to their victims. In a dramatic moment, María Isabel Riascos, the mother of victim Darwin Esnin Riascos, demanded to know why the soldiers killed her son.

To date, 1,944 current and former security-force members have requested to have their human rights cases tried in the JEP. Of those, about 90 percent are false-positive cases. The inclusion of “false positive” cases in the transitional-justice system—where perpetrators can receive vastly reduced sentences—remains controversial. Some human rights organizations contend that they were criminal activities—murders for rewards—that had no relationship to the conflict. For now, the killings’ entry into the JEP is being determined on a case-by-case basis under unclear criteria.

The same is true for civilian officials who participated in human rights crimes by aiding paramilitary groups. In April, the JEP had refused to take the cases of Álvaro Ashton and David Char, two former congressmen from the Caribbean coast who had been convicted in the “para-politics” scandal for aiding and abetting paramilitary groups. The Definition of Legal Situations Chamber determined that the former legislators had aided the paramilitaries for political gain, making their crime irrelevant to the armed conflict. Ashton and Char appealed their case, and the JEP’s Appeals Section overturned the earlier decision, making them the first “para-politicians” to enter the transitional justice system.

Military Presents Report to Truth Commission

On August 27 Colombia’s armed forces presented a 50-volume, 18,380-page document to the new Truth Commission, detailing international humanitarian law and human rights violations committed by the FARC over the course of the conflict. Armed Forces commander Gen. Alberto Mejía said that the volumes resulted from an “inter-disciplinary study” involving the Prosecutor-General’s Office and intelligence services. “This isn’t meant to be a smokescreen, it doesn’t seek to hide the errors committed by soldiers in this war,” he added.

Father Francisco de Roux, the president of the Truth Commission, thanked the armed forces. “When you come to us with 50 volumes, this places in evidence what the FARC war was; this shows the meaning of the peace process.”

Asked about the report, FARC Senator Julian Gallo alias Carlos Antonio Lozada said:

We appreciate that all bodies want to contribute to the truth, and we invite not only the Armed Forces, but also businessmen, political parties, the church, the entire Colombian society to go to these bodies and contribute their version of what they consider conflict to have been, so that Colombia might have a complete version of what happened in the conflict and not just a biased version like the one that was told during the confrontation.

Gen. Mejía added a troubling bit of news: the new Duque government is “reviewing” the agreement that the prior administration of Juan Manuel Santos had signed with the Truth Commission regarding the handover of classified information in military policy and manuals. This, along with legislation introduced by members of Duque’s party in Congress, may throw up obstacles to the Truth Commission’s ability to access information in the military’s files that, unlike this week’s 50-volume submission, portrays the armed forces’ behavior in a less flattering light.

In-Depth Reading

Day 7 in Colombia

Good morning from Bogotá. It’s day seven of our visit, and we’ve finished the field-work portion of the trip. Nothing left but two days of meetings here with experts, activists, government and UN personnel.

This 90-100 mile boat journey, out in to the ocean and then up the Naya River, appears to have killed the trackpad on my laptop. It was really painful just now trying to draw that arrow using an app that (sort of) makes my phone act like a mouse.

 

We spent Saturday through Tuesday in Colombia’s Pacific coast region, in the city of Buenaventura and then way up the Naya River, which serves as the border between Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments. This is a huge corridor for drug trafficking. The FARC’s exit from these areas has led to a proliferation of armed groups and organized crime. They are not fighting each other very frequently right now—something seems to be maintaining the peace—and many measures of violence are down for the moment.

There is absolutely no peace, however, if you are a community leader. If you’re active in your local Community Action Board, Afro-Colombian Community Council, coca substitution program, indigenous reserve, labor union, or other structure, you have seen a sharp increase in death threats. The national wave of social-leader murders has not spared this area. Four leaders along the Naya river were disappeared by an unidentified armed group in April and May.

We’ll turn this fieldwork into a full report within a few weeks. I already have a 30-page matrix roughed out based on most of my notes so far. (Sometime when things slow down, I’ll write a post about the method I’m using.) In the meantime, here are some photos from the past few days.

Our first stop was a meeting with a community of Wounaan indigenous people on the outskirts of Buenaventura, the largest city on Colombia’s Pacific coast. The community had been displaced several years ago by fighting between ELN guerrillas and paramilitaries near the San Juan River in Chocó department, to the north. For four years, dozens of people have been subsisting on about an acre of land.

 

Our boat leaves Buenaventura.

 

Puerto Merizalde, near the mouth of the Naya River, was the last place to have mobile phone signal as we went upriver.

 

Many of the 64 towns along the Naya River have, with the support of non-governmental organizations and social movements, declared themselves “refuge zones” open only to the civilian population. All armed groups are meant to stay out.

 

Though towns have declared themselves “refuge zones” open only to the civilian population, within the past year and a half the military (in this case, the Army) has begun setting up camp in some of them.

 

The Naya River gets shallow as you go upstream, and ceases to be navigable not far from Concepción, where we spent the night. A couple of times, our boat’s propeller hit the rocky bottom, and we had to get out and push, or walk along the bank until the boat got past the shallows.

 

The riverside community of Concepción, where we spent a night.

 

Low-quality selfie with Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s Andes director, just before meeting with dozens of community members in Concepción, on the Naya River. We met in the evening in the schoolhouse, which was not wired for electricity, by the light of a single CFL bulb on a very long extension cord.

 

Going downriver with WOLA colleagues and several Naya River and Buenaventura community leaders.

 

Meeting with human rights defenders at the offices of NOMADESC in Cali.

Colombia’s New President Wants to Modify the FARC Peace Accord. His Proposals Aren’t Dealbreakers.

President Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos (left), meets with Joaquín Gómez (center), the now-demobilized former head of the FARC’s Southern Bloc. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace photo.

Along with his conservative political party, Colombia’s new president, Iván Duque, fiercely opposed the peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group negotiated by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos. On the campaign trail during the first half of 2018, he pledged to make “adjustments” to the November 2016 accord, which had taken more than four difficult years to negotiate. Since he was inaugurated on August 7, the peace accord’s supporters have been wondering which of Duque’s “adjustments” might prove to be dealbreakers that cause the FARC deal to fall apart.

In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four proposed modifications.

Publicly, President Duque has raised four issues. First, in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Second, that in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits. Third, that those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming, and fourth, that the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office.

While there are reasons for concern, Ceballos’s comment has led most peace accord proponents to breathe a sigh of relief. These “adjustments” either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty. Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website headlined them as “more symbolic than real.” If this is all that the Duque government is contemplating, the FARC accord will survive. Let’s look at all four:

  1. in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking

In just about every peace process in the world, the state party forgives the non-state party for the crime of “rebellion,” or sedition or treason—nobody goes to prison for the crime of rising up against the government. In Colombia, though, it’s a bit more complicated, as the non-state parties often break other criminal laws in order to fund themselves. They traffic drugs and other contraband. They kidnap for ransom. They extort. They degrade the environment.

In the past, members of the FARC, and of the AUC paramilitaries before them, could get their past drug-trafficking and similar crimes amnestied as “connected” political crimes—as long as a judge decides that all the financial proceeds went into the group’s war effort and nobody enriched himself or herself personally.

Here, Ceballos says that the Duque government will try to change that: in the future, any armed group that practices drug trafficking will have to pay a criminal penalty—no amnesty—no matter what.

That doesn’t affect the FARC accord, which Ceballos and Duque don’t propose to revisit. It may, however, complicate any future accord with the ELN guerrillas, with which the Santos government has left behind an unfinished negotiation process. Members of the ELN participate in narcotrafficking, and it’s safe to assume many are not personally enriching themselves. ELN guerrillas may be less willing to turn in their weapons if they face years in prison—or even extradition to the United States—for past drug trafficking.

The government’s lead negotiator in the FARC talks, Humberto de la Calle, raised this point in an August 12 El Espectador column:

The ELN has mixed itself with drug trafficking. Does this close the door for an agreement with that group? If peace with that organization comes to be around the corner, will it be necessary to repeal the offer being made today?

Ceballos mentions undoing a connection between sedition and kidnapping. No such connection exists. Kidnapping non-combatants is a war crime, and cannot be amnestied. Former FARC members who led or participated in kidnappings must answer to the transitional justice system, the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), which will require that they spend up to eight years under “restricted liberty,” issue complete confessions, and make reparations to their victims. A proposal to undo a “connection” between kidnapping and sedition would change nothing, as this describes the status quo.

  1. in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits

This changes nothing. Any former FARC fighter found to have committed a crime after December 2016, when the peace accord was ratified, must answer to it in the regular criminal justice system and would lose the right to lighter penalties in the JEP. This is what may happen to FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, whom U.S. authorities accuse of conspiring to ship cocaine to the United States in 2017 and 2018. Santrich is under arrest while Colombian authorities consider a U.S. extradition request. Here too, Ceballos is describing the status quo.

  1. those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming

Colombia’s highest judicial review body, its Constitutional Court, just ruled on this in mid-August, when it decided on the basic law underlying the JEP, the new transitional justice system. It found that war criminals may hold political office as long as they have submitted to the JEP, are recognizing and confessing the full truth of their crimes, and are making reparations to victims. Those who do this serve sentences of “restricted liberty,” but not prison, lasting up to eight years. It is not yet clear whether these sentences—which are up to the judge in each case—might interfere with an individual’s ability to hold office.

To change this ruling, President Duque and his congressional supporters would have to amend Colombia’s constitution. If they succeeded in doing that and end up disqualifying many FARC members from holding office, it’s possible that some of them—who agreed to demobilize specifically so that they could participate in peaceful politics—would abandon the peace process, remobilize, and add to the growing ranks of armed guerrilla “dissident” groups. It’s far from certain, though, that Duque and his allies would have the votes necessary for such a constitutional amendment.

  1. the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office

This means that the voluntary coca eradication program begun under Chapter 4 of the peace accord would continue for the families who are already participating in it—but the program will not sign up any new families. Any coca grower who has not yet been reached by the Chapter 4 program, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS), will be shut out and, most likely, will face forcible eradication and no assistance.

For smallholding coca-growers unlucky enough to live in a municipality where the PNIS didn’t get started before Santos left office, this may be a violation of the peace accord’s terms. Colombia’s courts may have to decide that.

We also need to be vigilant about what happens to the 124,745 coca-growing families covered by the framework PNIS agreements the Santos government signed, including individual accords with 77,659 of them. The Colombian government has promised them two years of stipends, technical support, and other assistance to help them integrate into the legal rural economy. The Duque government must uphold this commitment. To break a promise to so many would destroy the Colombian government’s credibility in some of the most precarious parts of the country. The effect on coca cultivation and insecurity could be worse than never attempting either eradication or substitution in the first place.

Accord commitments aside, what Ceballos proposes sounds like bad policy. For decades now, Colombia—with U.S. support—has subjected smallholding coca-growers to forced eradication, while leaving no government presence behind in their communities. No basic services (usually, not even security), no land titles, no farm-to-market roads. The result has been quick and repeated recoveries of coca-growing. Nearly all of Colombia’s current coca boom is taking place in municipalities that had coca when “Plan Colombia” began ramping up forced eradication in 2000. Very little coca is showing up in new areas. If by “mandatory eradication” Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.

The upshot here: these four proposals could bring some problems if the Duque government manages to implement them. But they would not shake the FARC peace process to its foundations.

Iván Duque and Miguel Ceballos would do better, though, if they made other “modifications” to the peace accord’s implementation:

  • By making a small amount of land available to demobilized FARC members to work collectively, they could do much to slow the flow of ex-fighters into the ranks of the “dissidents.” Though a large number of ex-FARC fighters want to become farmers, the peace accord said nothing about making land available to them. An effort to do so is afoot, but moving slowly.
  • By reinvigorating and fully funding the national government’s new Territorial Renovation Agency (ART), local governments, and other agencies carrying out Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs) in 170 municipalities, they could take a large leap toward addressing the severe lack of government presence and services that underlies so much illegality—armed-group activity, drug trafficking, illicit mining—in abandoned rural areas. The peace accord’s first chapter on rural development offers a blueprint for the government’s “entry” into historically conflictive territories. It also accounts for 85 percent of the anticipated cost of implementing the entire accord. Chapter 1 is moribund right now; making it work would be a tremendously important “adjustment.”
  • They could improve the peace accord’s promise of allowing Colombians to practice politics without fear of being murdered. This would mean increasing protection for threatened social leaders around the country, and dismantling—through careful but aggressive investigative work—the networks of landowners, drug traffickers, businesses, rogue government actors, and organized criminals behind many of the 343 social-leader murders committed between 2016 and late August. President Duque signed a “pact” promising to do more to protect social leaders at an event on August 23. As the killings mount, it’s past time to move from promises to action.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of August 19-25)

ELN Still Hasn’t Released Captives and Hostages

The ELN’s release of four soldiers, three police, and two civilians in its custody, believed imminent, still hasn’t happened yet. Guerrilla fronts in Chocó and Arauca captured the nine on August 3rd and 8th, and President Iván Duque (who was inaugurated August 7th) has demanded their unconditional release before deciding whether to continue peace talks begun by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos.

A week ago, Colombia’s Defense Ministry stated that it had agreed with the ELN on a protocol for freeing the captives, with the participation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In Havana, chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán told The New York Times that “the nine captives would be released ‘within the next week.’ But two days later, a recording from the ELN’s Western War Front, its hard-line bloc, which has released pictures of some of the hostages, said no agreement had been reached.”

The situation remains unclear. The Defense Ministry has refused to recognize the liberation as part of the peace negotiation, which the Duque government still hasn’t committed to continuing. The ELN has meanwhile reportedly sent members of its negotiating team to Colombia to work out handover details, but it is not known whether they have yet been in touch with the government.

“Uriel,” the commander of the ELN’s Western War Front, “complained about military pressure in the zone,” according to El Tiempo, which in his judgment is reducing the kidnap victims’ [security] guarantees.”

Interviewed by The New York Times, negotiator Beltrán insisted that the ELN wants to continue dialogue with the new Duque government, and promised reasonable terms. “‘We’re not asking for socialism, he said, adding that his rebels are mainly looking for basic protections for peasants and a way that the rebels can lay down arms.” Beltrán noted that guerrillas he has spoken with, after viewing the sluggish implementation of the FARC peace accord, are concerned that the government won’t honor an agreement. “We have an example that has us scared,” he told the Times, referring to the FARC process.

Murders of Social Leaders Are Not Slowing

On August 23 President Duque, accompanied by the internal-affairs chief (Procurador), human rights ombudsman (Defensor), the U.S. ambassador, the ministers of Defense and Interior, and other officials, presided over an event to lay out a policy for protecting threatened social leaders and human rights defenders. The “Second Table for the Protection of Life” took place in Apartadó, in the troubled Urabá region of northwest Colombia, a zone of drug transshipment, much stolen landholding, and frequent attacks on social leaders. About 90 social organizations were in attendance.

Those present signed a “pact for life and protection of social leaders and human rights defenders,” which El Nuevo Siglo described as “an immediate roadmap to ‘rebuild trust in justice and to judge the material and intellectual authors of this criminal phenomenon.’”

The phenomenon remains intense. Ombudsman Carlos Negret announced that the August 22 murder of Luis Henry Verá Gamboa, a 51-year-old Community Action Board leader in Cesar department, was the 343rd killing of a social leader in Colombia since January 2016: one every 2.8 days. At least 123 killings—two every three days—took place during the first six months of 2018, The Guardian reported.

Deputy Chief Prosecutor (Vicefiscal) María Paulina Riveros, who attended the Apartadó event, said that her office has arrested 150 people and identified 200 suspects tied to the killings of social leaders; she did not say how many are suspected trigger-pullers versus those believed to have planned or ordered killings. In Urabá and northern Antioquia department, she added, businesses and landowners who resist restitution of stolen landholdings are heavily involved in killings of land claimants.

Procurador Fernando Carrillo said that his office will pressure mayors and governors to take more actions against killings of human rights defenders, adding that 30 officials are currently under investigation for failing to prevent the murders.

“If we want to guarantee the life and integrity of our social leaders, we have to dismantle the structures of organized crime that are attacking them,” Duque said. He added, “What we want is to seek an integral response of preventive actions and investigative speed to guarantee freedom of expression to all the people who are exercising the defense of human rights.”

Some social leaders, while glad to see a high-profile commitment, voiced concern about follow-through. “It’s not enough to draw up a lot of norms and mechanisms, if they don’t end up being effective instruments in their application, if they’re handed down from above but get lost on their way to the regions,” said Marino Córdoba of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians.

New Peace Commissioner Meets Senior FARC Leader

The Duque government’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, toured some of the sites (“Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation”) where many demobilized FARC members are still living. Accompanied by UN Verification Mission chief Jean Arnault at the site in Pondores, La Guajira, Ceballos met with former FARC Secretariat member Joaquín Gómez of the former Southern Bloc. Ceballos’s message was that the new government intends to respect the Santos government’s commitments for the reintegration of demobilized guerrillas.

Two of the most prominent demobilized FARC leaders, however, are still unaccounted for. Former Secretariat member Iván Márquez, a hardliner who was the FARC’s chief negotiator in Havana, has not been heard from in about a month. The same is true of Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias El Paisa, the former head of the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column. Both Márquez and Velásquez had been staying at a demobilization site in Caquetá; Márquez moved there in April, after renouncing his assigned Senate seat in the wake of the arrest, on narcotrafficking charges, of his close associate and fellow FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich.

FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada told Colombian media that he doesn’t know where Márquez and Velásquez are and hasn’t heard from them. He said he hoped to see Márquez at a late August meeting of FARC political party leaders. Ariel Ávila, an analyst at the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, told El Colombiano, “there are many rumors about what they could be doing, that they’re in Venezuela, that they’re in hiding, that they’ve joined the dissident groups.”

FARC Dissidents Expanding in Catatumbo Region

Catatumbo, a poorly governed region of smallholding farmers in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border, has already been suffering a wave of violence between the ELN and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small guerrilla group that is almost exclusively active there. Now, reports La Silla Vacía, the largest FARC dissident group has arrived in Catatumbo, especially in areas that had previously been the dominion of the FARC’s disbanded 33rd Front.

Basing itself mainly on military intelligence sources, La Silla claims that dissidents from the FARC’s 7th Front, active in south-central Colombia, are branching out. 7th Front leader “Gentil Duarte” has sent one of his most notorious deputies, “John 40”—a FARC leader with a long history in the cocaine trade—to Catatumbo to build up recruitment and recover control of trafficking routes.

According to Army Intelligence information, his appearance in the area occurred between four and five months ago, when it was already known in the region that several ex-FARC members had decided to return to arms, and those who were not organizing on their own in small groups were dividing themselves between the ranks of the ELN and the EPL. What is clear is that John 40 came to organize them to prevent the new reorganizations from being dispersed or ending up simply strengthening the other two guerrilla groups, at a time when the coca market in Catatumbo is skyrocketing.

Wilfredo Cañizares of the Fundación Progresar think-tank in nearby Cúcuta told La Silla that Catatumbo may now have as many as 30,000 hectares of coca, at least 6,000 more than were measured in 2016.

Duarte and John 40 both abandoned the FARC in 2016, objecting to the peace accord the guerrillas were signing with the government. They are now part of the largest dissident group in the country, beginning to coordinate well beyond their center of operations in Meta and Guaviare departments. While La Silla’s military intelligence source said that the group has only about 33 men in the Catatumbo region, “seven sources we talked to in Catatumbo, among them local authorities and social leaders, said that the number could be between four and seven times larger.”

The 7th Front has avoided drawing attention to itself in Catatumbo, even as ELN-EPL fighting has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region. However, some of La Silla’s sources say the dissidents may have been behind a massacre three weeks ago in the central Catatumbo municipality of El Tarra.

Two sources in El Tarra told us that with the passing of days, the hypothesis that has grown strongest is that it was a dispute between dissidences. “Everything points to the dissidence of John 40 being the one that ordered the massacre, because the dissidents who died did not want to align with him and the model he came to put together,” one of those sources told La Silla.

Citing a human rights defender, an Army source, a social leader, and two local authorities, the report adds that the presence in Catatumbo of middlemen from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel is adding fuel to the fire. Three sources told La Silla Vacía that, while Sinaloa’s representatives aren’t behaving like an armed group in the region, they have a great deal of money, and as a result are under the protection of both guerrillas and corrupt members of the Army and Police.

Displacement Has Already Surpassed 2017 Levels

Speaking at a Cali event organized by El Espectador’s Colombia 2020 program, Jozef Merkx, the Colombia country representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, drew attention with a grim piece of data: “in August 2018 Colombia has surpassed the number of internally displaced people that was measured in all of 2017.” That makes more than 20,000 Colombians forced from their homes by violence so far this year.

Merkx added that displacement is most severe along the Pacific Coast, in Catatumbo, and in Antioquia’s Bajo Cauca region. Mass displacements have also occurred in Meta, Arauca, and Córdoba departments. All of these zones have seen intense fighting this year between still-existing guerrillas like the ELN and EPL, armed organized crime groups like the Urabeños, or FARC dissidents.

The UNHCR official noted that 60 percent of the displaced have settled in 29 cities, where they often continue face severe security challenges. The same neighborhoods are also seeing a large flow of Venezuelans, a migration emergency that is much larger in number and has been getting much more attention. A UN Secretary-General spokesman said in mid-August that 2.3 million Venezuelans—7 percent of the neighboring country’s population—had abandoned the country as of June. Of those, 1.3 million were “suffering from malnourishment.”

WSJ Report Reveals New Details About Drone Coca Eradication Plan

An August 19 Wall Street Journal report gave some new information about Colombia’s plan to start eradicating the country’s still-increasing coca crop by spraying herbicides from low-flying drones. The herbicide would continue to be glyphosate, which Colombia stopped spraying from higher-flying aircraft in 2015, after a World Health Organization study pointed to some probability that the commonly used herbicide is carcinogenic.

Colombian police, along with a company called Fumi Drone, have been testing the new method using 10 drones in Nariño, the department with Colombia’s highest concentration of coca. Fully loaded with herbicide, each drone weighs 50 pounds and must be recharged after about a dozen minutes. “The small, remotely guided aircraft destroyed hundreds of acres of coca in a first round of tests,” police and Fumi Drone told the Journal.

The United States backed an aircraft-based glyphosate spraying program for more than 20 years. It proved capable of achieving short-term reductions in coca cultivation, in specific areas—but in an on-the-ground context of absent government and no basic services, growers tended to replant quickly. Because spraying from dozens or hundreds of feet in the air is very imprecise, farmers also alleged health and environmental damage—which U.S. officials denied—and the destruction of legal food crops.

Since 2015, Colombia’s forcible coca eradication has mainly involved individual eradicators either pulling the plants out of the ground or directly applying glyphosate. This is dangerous work, and hundreds of eradicators or security-force accompaniers have been killed or wounded since the mid-2000s by ambushes, snipers, landmines, and booby traps.

Critics warn that, while drones are safer for eradicators and less likely to spray people and legal crops, they do not solve the fundamental problem: coca-growing areas are abandoned by the government, and those who live there have shaky property rights, no farm-to-market roads, and few economic options. Spraying from the air and leaving no presence on the ground, then, virtually guarantees that coca cultivation will recur. “It’s a short-term solution,” Richard Lapper of the U.K.-based Chatham House think tank told the BBC. “Ultimately, there’s a lot of international demand for cocaine.”

U.S. government officials told the Wall Street Journal that they’re not completely sold on the drone idea. “[T]hey are open to using drones but need to learn more about their capabilities once Colombia’s police complete tests, which could run until January.” As he has in the past, Ambassador Kevin Whitaker made clear that the door remains open to using spray aircraft.

Seven or eight of the crop dusters that had worked the coca fields here remain in Colombia. [There were 14.] In a few months, U.S. officials say, they could become operational again. “I told embassy personnel and the Colombians the same thing: We need to be ready for a restart,” said the U.S. ambassador, Mr. Whitaker.

Meanwhile, participants in the voluntary crop substitution program begun under Chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord remain uncertain about whether Iván Duque’s government will continue the effort, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS). Defense Minister Guillermo Botero raised concerns when he announced: “Voluntary eradication is over, and it will become obligatory… the fumigations will surely have to take place… we’re going to dedicate ourselves tenaciously to the eradication of illicit crops.”

Ten social and coca-grower organizations that have served as intermediaries for the PNIS program responded with a letter to President Duque asking him to keep the program in place. As laid out in the accord, the Santos Presidency’s crop substitution program has already promised two years of financial and technical assistance to 124,745 coca-growing households, signing individual accords with 77,659 of them. About 47,910 have eradicated about 22,000 hectares of coca in exchange for promised support, which has been arriving slowly.

In other bad drug-trade news, a decorated U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, Daniel Gould, was arrested after DEA agents found 90 pounds of cocaine inside two backpacks aboard a military transport plane in Colombia. The plane was bound for Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed the allegations, which were revealed by NBC News, but did not elaborate, citing “the integrity of the investigation and the rights of the individual.”

In-Depth Reading

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of August 12-18)

Constitutional Court Upholds, Modifies Law Governing Transitional Justice System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top FARC Leaders Have Gone Off the Grid

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

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

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

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

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

Personnel Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELN May Release Captives and Kidnap Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit from Defense Secretary Mattis

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

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

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

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

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

In-Depth Reading

Two speeches show the bipolar nature of Colombia’s new ruling party

President-elect Iván Duque and Senate President Ernesto Macías gave very different addresses at Duque’s inauguration on Tuesday. (EFE photo at El Espectador.)

Inauguration day in Colombia, August 7, will be remembered for two speeches that left observers scratching their heads about what direction the new government of President Iván Duque will take the country.

  • Duque gave an hourlong speech listing dozens of policy priorities. There were so many, it was hard to pick out those he viewed as most important. The speech’s tone, though, was conciliatory and optimistic. Duque is viewed as a center-right politician, one of the most moderate members of a mostly hardline conservative political party (ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s “Democratic Center”). The speech highlighted Duque’s centrism.
  • He was preceded, though, by a half-hour diatribe from Democratic Center politician Ernesto Macías, who for the next year will be the president of Colombia’s Senate. Macías’s speech bore little resemblance to Duque’s. It had lots of red meat for the far-right wing of Duque’s party: much of it was a lengthy, blistering attack on the outgoing government of ex-president Juan Manuel Santos. The speech was roundly criticized by Bogotá’s political establishment; some pro-Santos senators even got up and left the inauguration ceremony.

The two contrasting speeches showed the incoming government’s “good cop bad cop” or “Jekyll and Hyde” nature. A 42-year-old moderate president with a thin political resume is ruling with the support of a party, and a congressional bloc, that is well to his right and often seems more beholden to ex-president, now Senator, Uribe.

Here, translated into English, is what Duque and Macías had to say about several topics important for Colombia’s peace process and U.S. policy.

On “Correcting” the FARC peace accord

Duque: Out of respect for Colombia and for the citizen mandate that we have received, we will deploy corrective measures to assure the victims truth, proportional justice, that they may also receive effective reparation, and that there may be no repetition anywhere in the territory.

We will also correct structural failures that have become evident in the implementation [of the accords].

Macías: On the Havana Accords, we have to turn the page on the previous government dividing us between friends and enemies of peace. We Colombians are all friends of peace. During the plebiscite of October 2016, convened by the Government, the citizens mostly voted no to the Havana Agreements, but the government of ex-president Santos refused to modify them and, on the contrary, ignored the popular mandate.

This new Congress of the Republic has the responsibility to modify and adjust them to restore the rule of law and return to Colombians the trust lost in their institutions. We must recover legality. We always believed that, in order to sign this agreement, it was not necessary to tear the Constitution or the institutions to shreds, because in Colombia there has not been a civil war or an armed conflict, but a terrorist threat against the state. For this reason, it is urgent to move ahead with the necessary modifications, without falling into the fanaticism of destroying the accords.

Notes: Both Duque and Macías are outspoken critics of the FARC peace accord. Here, though, only Macías uses the inauguration as an opportunity to voice these criticisms. Both call for corrections or modifications to the accord without offering specifics, much less explaining how to “correct” it without destroying it. They are probably referring mainly to tightening the conditions of punishment for ex-FARC members found guilty of war crimes, and preventing FARC members from holding political office while facing war crimes trials.

On illicit crops:

Duque: We’re going to be effective in the eradication and substitution of illicit crops, together with communities, as well as in the launching of productive projects. We’re going to break narcotrafficking structures’ logistical supply chains.

Macías: Today you receive a country with the dishonorable record of being the number-one coca producer in the world, with more than 210,000 hectares planted and a production of 921 metric tons of cocaine. Regarding the worrying increase of illicit crops in Colombia, we celebrate your announcements, President Duque, to combat them decisively without contemplations. The mere act of doing away with voluntary eradication, which is not complied with, and if necessary returning to fumigation, is a hopeful advance.… We must assume decisively the policy of eradication and substitution of illicit crops, and to do it with the support of that great ally of Colombia: the United States. A country with which, in addition, we have to permanently strengthen our relations.

Notes: It’s interesting that Duque didn’t give specific mention to increasing forced eradication of coca crops, including through herbicide fumigation. He has been on record supporting that. Macías not only supports renewing the fumigation program that was suspended in 2015, he would abandon the voluntary eradication effort launched in 2017 in compliance with chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord.

On the ELN peace talks:

Duque: I want to be clear. During the first 30 days of our government we will make a judicious, prudent and analytical evaluation of the last 17 months of talks that the outgoing government has advanced with the ELN. We are going to meet with the United Nations, with the Catholic Church and the countries that have been supporting this process, so that in the framework of institutional independence they may give us their opinion about it.

But I want to make clear, I want to make absolutely clear, that a credible process must be based on the total cessation of criminal actions, with strict international supervision, and defined time periods. We want to move forward, but in order to move forward we must make very clear that the Colombian people will not be intimidated by violence or be pressured by any form of violence.

Macías: (no mention)

Notes: This points to at least a slight softening of Duque’s line on whether to continue or break off the slow-moving ELN talks. Earlier, he had said he would only continue peace talks with the smaller guerrilla group if its members not only declared a cessation of hostilities, but concentrated its members into specific zones in order to verify that cessation. Here, Duque doesn’t repeat the “concentration into zones” pre-condition.

On reintegration of ex-combatants:

Duque: I believe in the demobilization, disarmament, and reinsertion of the guerrilla base. Many of them were forcibly recruited or separated from their surroundings by the intimidation of arms. I’m convinced and committed to seeking productive opportunities for these organizations’ base, and to look after their protection.

Macías: (no mention)

Notes: There is little doubt that Duque’s government will fund reintegration programs for ex-combatants who choose to demobilize individually. However, most ex-FARC fighters wish to demobilize collectively, staying together in a single, usually rural, location. The Santos government and the FARC didn’t really manage to arrive at a plan for collective reintegration. This has left thousands of ex-fighters unclear about their futures. Duque doesn’t talk about collective reintegration here.

On governance in post-conflict territories:

Duque: We will also strive to provide public goods in all regions of the country, starting with those that have been hit the most painfully by violence.

Macías: Today you receive a country, from a government that took on a commitment of 130 trillion pesos (US$44.5 billion), without the necessary resources existing, to finance the Havana accords during the next 15 years.

Notes: The lack of government presence and services in vast areas of the country is a key reason why coca cultivation is growing and criminal groups are expanding. Duque prioritizes providing “public goods”—something for which the peace accord’s first chapter offers a plan. But Macías complains about that plan’s price tag.

On the military and human rights:

Duque: Today I want to tell the soldiers and police of the fatherland that we are going to promote a serious and rigorous institutional and legal framework so that they can fulfill their constitutional duty in strict adherence to Human Rights, while feeling with all their hearts the affection of the people.

Macías: It is up to you, President Duque, as supreme commander of the security forces, not only to carry out changes in the high command, but to generate a change in the new commanders’ mentality in order to recover Colombians’ security and tranquility.

Notes: As we saw during the recent debate over the post-conflict transitional justice system’s procedural law, many in Duque’s party wish to shield the armed forces from human rights charges. We should view any talk of a new “legal framework” in light of that. Macías’s call for a new high command with a different “mentality” is especially ominous, as the high command of the past few years has been relatively moderate and supportive of the peace process.

On attacks on social leaders:

Duque: Legality means defending the lives of all Colombians and protecting the integrity of political and social leaders, and of our journalists.

Every homicide hurts us, every attack hurts us, every threat hurts us. And that is why we are going to work with the Ombudsman’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office to prevent violence against them and sanction exemplarily those who have acted as intellectual and material authors of the crimes and intimidations that cause mourning, that hurt, that eat away the feeling of love of country.

Macías: Ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, since the end of 2010, abandoned the Democratic Security policy, and today hands over the country immersed in a new war that to date has left more than 300 civic and communal leaders murdered, just in the last 2 years.

Notes: Duque’s words on the urgent crisis of social-leader killings are correct and encouraging. Let’s hope they’re followed up with actions, and with personnel choices better than the now-withdrawn nomination of Claudia Ortiz to head the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit. For his part, however, Macías cites the social-leaders crisis only for political reasons, as another line of attack against the outgoing Santos government.

On Venezuela:

Duque: (no mention)

Macías: Today you receive a country, President Duque, to which about 1 million Venezuelans have arrived, whom we welcome in a fraternal manner with solidarity; citizens displaced by a dictatorship that has subjected the people of that brother country to hunger, unemployment and despicable political persecution. A dictatorship that has been sustained by the permissiveness of several governments like the one that just ended in Colombia.

Notes: It’s not hard to imagine why Duque chose not to attack Venezuela’s authoritarian government in his presidential inauguration speech. But Duque’s position on how to approach Venezuela’s regime differs little from Macías’s.

USAID Colombia evaluation is out

I’m very happy that the U.S. Agency for International Development has posted our independent evaluation (PDF) of its “Colombia Transforma” program, which through 2018 has supported $43 million in “rapid response” efforts to implement Colombia’s peace accord. I worked on this evaluation earlier this year; regular visitors to this site know that this work had me in Colombia for the whole month of February.

In general, we found that the program made important progress in empowering civil society and responding rapidly to some immediate post-conflict needs in the departments of Arauca, Norte de Santander, and Putumayo. They worked in areas where neither the Colombian government nor foreign donors had much prior presence, and they worked with many civil-society organizations that, due to prior experience with “Plan Colombia,” were quite distrustful of the United States. The program, though, did bump up against the frustrations of working with a central Colombian government whose “rapid response” capacity has been abysmal: hidebound by bureaucracy, lack of resources, and unclear leadership.

I’m glad that the evaluation preserves our recommendation that the U.S. government rethink its enforcement of “material support” statutes that make it a federal crime even to buy a cup of coffee for a demobilized FARC member, because the FARC remains on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.

Now that 14,000 ex-FARC members are at large—many in communities where Colombia Transforma seeks to improve rapid response—the likelihood of inadvertently conferring a benefit upon them has increased. This threatens to paralyze some activities in an absence of clarity about the statute’s applicability to low-rank individual ex-combatants.

…[Recommendation:] Raise awareness within the U.S. interagency about the need for common-sense guidelines for interpreting material support provisions so that they are congruent with Colombia’s current context. Trust that USAID and its implementing partners know not to strengthen a group on the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. These guidelines should permit low-level engagement with ex-FARC who are (1) not top leaders; (2) not awaiting war crimes trials in the transitional justice system; (3) not facing U.S. indictments or extradition requests; and (4) reasonably determined to have abandoned violence. Keep a database of supported events with FARC presence for reporting and monitoring purposes. Only halt an activity if it violates the four criteria above, or if the database detects a pattern indicating an attempt to take over the space. Continue to support activities with non-FARC citizens around demobilization sites.

View the whole document here on USAID’s “Development Experience Clearinghouse” site (which is a super useful resource in general, lots to read here).

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process

(Week of July 1-7)

Social Leader Killings Begin Getting Mass Attention

At least four local social movement leaders were killed during the week:

  • Felicinda Santamaría in Quibdó, Chocó
  • Luis Barrios in Palmar de Varela, Atlántico
  • Margarita Estupiñán in Tumaco, Nariño
  • Ana María Cortés in Cáceres, Antioquia

The latter two had worked on the presidential campaign of left-of-center candidate Gustavo Petro.

The fresh wave of murders turned intense media attention on the post-conflict vulnerability of independent civil-society leaders, especially in territories from which the FARC withdrew after the 2016 peace accord. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) counts 311 leaders and human rights defenders killed between January 2016 and June 2018, about one every three days. The think-tank INDEPAZ, working with the Marcha Patriótica and Cumbre Agraria civil-society groups, issued a report counting 123 murders between January 1 and July 5, 2018—that is, two every three days.

According to INDEPAZ, 80.5 percent of this year’s victims have been members of campesino organizations, Community Action Boards (local advisory committees set up by a 1960s law), or ethnic community organizations. The report estimates that 13 percent of murders had something to do with coca crops—either participation in crop substitution or opposition to forced eradication. It finds that 83.2 percent had something to do with disputes over land, territory, or natural resources.

Violence against social leaders and human rights defenders has reached the level of “a humanitarian crisis,” said Carlos Guevara, coordinator of Somos Defensores, an organization that seeks to protect social leaders. Guevara contended that the killings seek to close spaces for citizen participation that opened up after the peace accord. “The violent arms [brazos violentos] want to shut that up, to stop people from participating politically, on the Community Action Boards, demanding land restitution, defending labor rights.”

“We went to the Atlantic coast, the southwest, center-west, Arauca, Meta, Guaviare, and what human rights defenders tell us is that the security forces have a plan tortuga [a ‘turtle plan’ or deliberate work slowdown] that allows things like these to happen in the territories. The Early Warning System works to locate the Gulf Clan [the “Urabeños” or “Gaitanistas” neo-paramilitary group] in a place, but it seems that they [the security forces] are not then doing everything possible to confront them.”

Social leaders fear “a militarization of peace,” Guevara told Semana magazine, which interpreted that to mean “that the next government’s policies once again empower the security forces, placing them above mayors and thus diminishing participation spaces for social organizations.”

“We don’t have a state response,” Guevara said. “There is a massive violence situation, I can’t say that it’s generalized or that it’s systematic, because at the moment we can’t prove it, but it is certainly massive.”

On the evening of July 6, thousands of Colombians gathered in cities and town squares to demand a halt to the killings. The murder that seems to have inspired the most mobilization was that of Ana María Cortés, killed on July 4 by gunmen as she dined in a cafeteria in Cáceres, in Antioquia department’s conflictive Bajo Cauca region. Cortés had coordinated Gustavo Petro’s campaign in Cáceres, and the defeated candidate, now opposition senator, tweeted his outrage. Petro also tweeted that Cortés had been threatened by the police commander of Cáceres. Antioquia police said they opened an investigation.

Tensions were compounded by a tweet from Colombia’s Defense Ministry insinuating, without evidence, that Cortés had ties to the Urabeños. Those who knew her denied that immediately.

Colombia’s prosecutor-general, Néstor Humberto Martínez, claimed (but did not present) “irrefutable and categorical” proof pointing to the “Caparrapos,” a gang that has splintered off from the Gulf Clan, with about 100-150 members, as Cortés’s killers. The Caparrappos and Gulf Clan are violently contesting control of the Bajo Cauca, a strategic zone for coca cultivation and cocaine production and transshipment. Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera alleged that the Caparrapos are killing social leaders in order to draw the authorities’ attention and thus avoid direct confrontation with the much larger Gulf Clan.

Luis Eduardo Llinás, who worked with Cortés on the Petro campaign in Cáceres, told El Tiempo that she had been receiving threats and intimidation since March. She had denounced the threats before the municipal ombudsman and was “very concerned and tense.”

Guevara, of Somos Defensores, was among those criticizing the government’s sluggish reaction to the new wave of killings. “It would seem that the institutions became silent after the [June 17] elections, and they’e watching from the sidelines as these social leaders and human rights defenders are being killed.”

By July 5, President Santos tweeted that he would convene a July 10 meeting of the government’s National Security Guarantees Committee, adding, “The Fiscalia has important results. I repeat my instruction to act with full force against those who attack social leaders. We won’t let our guard down.” Santos called on the security forces to increase their presence in zones where killings have occurred.

Interior Minister Rivera said that those responsible for the killings “are clearly organizations dedicated to narcotrafficking, dedicated to illegal mining and to theft of land,” and recognized that more effective efforts are needed to protect people. He refused to say that the social-leader killings are “systematic,” which according to Colombia’s Supreme Court would mean that there is a carefully orchestrated national plan behind them. “If recognizing a systematic nature could avoid the killing of social leaders, we would have recognized it a long time ago,” Rivera said. Instead, he said the government should focus on how to improve physical protection of threatened leaders.

The official protective response to threats has been plagued by delays. The Constitutional Court ordered the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP) to resolve social leaders’ protection requests within 30 days, and noted that protection “should go beyond that offered by the UNP.”

The UN verification mission in Colombia issued a statement making clear that it “vehemently rejects and condemns the killings of human rights defenders and community and social leaders.” The new director of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Colombia, Alberto Brunori, published a July 7 column in El Espectador, and an interview in El Tiempo, calling for urgent action to protect leaders and identify the killings’ masterminds.

The U.S. embassy made no public comment on the issue.

“Censurable discourse is becoming louder in the country,” reads an El Espectador editorial,

“stating, from social networks, that we need not lament the death of murdered social leaders, associating them with the guerrillas. Are we once again going to commit the historic error of stigmatizing those who work to give voice to the marginalized? It should be enough to look at the story of every victim to find that they are people committed to democracy and struggling, in clearly hostile environments, for their communities’ rights.”

Petro called on his erstwhile opponent, President-Elect Iván Duque, to denounce the killings. “Your silence allows the empowerment of the assassins.”

Tweeting from Washington, where he was on a several-day visit, Duque stated “I categorically reject the violent acts that have presented themselves in recent days in Colombia with social leaders and the violence seen against people who carry out political leadership.” From Spain later in the week, he tweeted, “We have to guarantee security for social leaders. No citizen should be intimidated by violence. We call on the authorities to advance investigations and bring to justice these crimes’ authors.”

Duque Finishes Washington Visit

The President-Elect spent the first several days of the week finishing a lengthy (June 27-July 5) visit to Washington, a city where he lived for many years. Before the July 4 holiday, Duque had a face-to-face meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.

In this and other official meetings (detailed in last week’s update), Duque reportedly heard a great deal of concern about Colombia’s increasing illicit coca crop and about the crisis in Venezuela. It is less evident that he heard many concerns about implementation of the 2016 peace accord.

Duque has been vocally critical of Venezuela’s regime. His messaging in Washington, though, was colored by an Associated Press report, published July 5, revealing that President Donald Trump had repeatedly brought up the possibility of military action in the neighboring country during conversations in August and September 2017. “I’ve never spoken of military interventions, or of encouraging military interventions,” Duque told reporters. “What must be done is to exercise diplomatic pressure against the dictatorship.”

Duque called for Latin American governments to support OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro’s hard line on Venezuela, including his finding, in a May report, that “a reasonable foundation” exists to accuse Maduro and ten other Venezuelan officials of crimes against humanity and to bring them before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

In July 2017, then-Senator Duque led an effort to denounce Venezuela’s regime before the ICC. If he persists in this claim as president, it will be the first time since the Court’s 2002 founding that one state has denounced another before the ICC.

Duque expressed to his reporters a desire that Almagro and the OAS become the main vector for Western Hemisphere diplomatic pressure on Venezuela. He called for Colombia’s exit from UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, a body dating back to the mid-2000s that today is moribund due to sharp ideological divisions across the continent. “UNASUR has really been an organization that has converted into an accomplice of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” Duque said. In April, six UNASUR member states (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru) suspended their participation.

Duque said he invited Vice-President Pence to attend his inauguration on August 7, and that he got no positive or negative response. “We want the United States to have the highest possible representation at our inauguration,” he added.

The President-Elect’s visit was also colored by the White House’s June 25 release of estimates showing yet another annual increase in Colombia’s coca crop in 2017. The topic of Colombian coca and cocaine production came up frequently in his meetings with U.S. officialdom.

In his remarks before reporters, Duque endorsed the outgoing Santos administration’s plan to increase forced eradication by employing low-altitude herbicide-spraying drones. He sought to make clear, though, that this would be one of a series of tools his government would employ. He referred specifically to financing productive projects for coca-growing families—but without referring to implementing Chapter 4 of the 2016 peace accord, which is already serving as a framework for financing such projects (although implementation of these projects is lagging badly behind).

While he did not offer specifics about all of the tools his strategy would use—or how that strategy might differ from what the peace accord foresees—Duque said he told U.S. officials that it would take about two years to begin showing concrete results. He said that the Americans were supportive: “Instead of talking about commitments in terms of numbers of hectares, what I received was a great show of support for our security agenda, and our agenda to confront illicit crops in Colombia.” He added that he would ask the U.S. government to increase its annual aid outlay, both for counternarcotics and for accord implementation.

Duque would not commit to re-establishing a program, suspended in 2015, to spray herbicides with aircraft. Doing so would require reversing a Constitutional Court sentence banning this practice, with the herbicide glyphosate, as too inaccurate and thus posing a potential health risk.

On July 5 Duque left for Spain, where he attended a conference about technological and economic innovation that also featured former U.S. president Barack Obama. Duque and Obama met, according to Duque’s Twitter account, and talked “about our country’s security and economic development challenges.”

Seven People Massacred in Southern Cauca

Unknown assailants dumped the bodies of seven men, roughly 25 to 35 years of age, on the side of a dirt road in the municipality of Argelia, Cauca, in the pre-dawn hours of July 3. They had apparently been killed in adjacent El Tambo municipality. Those responsible for the massacre are unknown, but its scale drew attention to Argelia, a troubled municipality of 12,000 people in south-central Cauca, along the border with Nariño department, that had been strongly under FARC influence during the armed conflict.

Cauca is the number-two department, after Antioquia, for killings of social leaders. A week earlier in Argelia, a group calling itself the “People’s Cleansing Command” circulated a pamphlet threatening to kill anyone who sells or uses drugs. This is the second large-scale killing in Argelia so far this year; masked men killed four people at a liquor store in January.

The commander of the Colombian Army’s 29th Brigade blamed the ELN for the massacre, which occurred in a zone of the guerrilla group’s influence. The ELN quickly issued a statement denying any role.

On July 4, Colombia’s National Police announced that two of the bodies had been identified as those of demobilized FARC members: one who had abandoned the FARC disarmament zone in Policarpa, Nariño, not far from Argelia; and one who had abandoned training to be a FARC bodyguard with the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit.

Argelia sits in a geographically strategic zone for organized crime, along a corridor between Cauca’s mountain highlands and Pacific-coast piedmont. About 3,500 hectares of coca are grown there, making it Cauca’s second most heavily planted municipality. Armed groups active there include the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan or Urabeños neo-paramilitary network.

Transitional Justice System Calls on FARC to Appear in Kidnapping Hearing

The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the body established by the peace accord to judge war crimes committed during the armed conflict, is beginning to work in earnest. With a preliminary hearing on July 13, it is to launch Case 001, covering kidnappings committed by the FARC between 1993 and 2012. The JEP’s Recognition of Truth Chamber has called on 31 former FARC leaders to appear.

The ex-guerrillas—or their legal representatives if they are unable to appear in person—are to be notified about the beginning of the case, and will be given copies of evidence against them, much of it in a report, “Illegal Retention of Persons by the FARC-EP,” that the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) compiled from case files. The information covers between 2,500 and 8,500 kidnappings or extortions that the FARC committed during these 20 years. The Fiscalía report includes 312 sentences for kidnappings that the regular judicial system has already handed out. Of these, 68 involve members of the ex-guerrillas’ Secretariat and General Staff. The JEP is also working off of reports from the Free Country Foundation, an NGO focused on anti-kidnapping, and the governmental but autonomous Center for Historical Memory.

Among the 31 guerrillas called to appear are 6 who are to be legislators in the congressional session that begins on July 20. Also among them will be maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko.

After the hearing, according to the chamber’s president, Julieta Lemaitre, “The accused will be given a prudent amount of time to prepare, and then we will call them to give voluntary confessions to provide a report on what they received. The chamber is also considering a hearing with victims.” In the case of kidnapping-disappearances, the JEP hopes that ex-combatants will help identify where remains are located.

Presumed Dissident Ex-FARC Leader “Rambo” Captured in Caquetá

Luis Eduardo Carvajal, alias “Rambo,” could be the second FARC leader subject to extradition to the United States for crimes allegedly committed after the peace accord went into effect. (The first is former top negotiator Jesús Santrich, currently imprisoned in Bogotá and wanted in New York for allegedly conspiring to ship 10 tons of cocaine.)

Police and Fiscalía personnel captured Carvajal in Puerto Rico municipality, in the southern department of Caquetá, sometime before July 4. He was wanted by U.S. authorities since before the peace accord went into effect, as he headed the powerful Daniel Aldana Mobile Column, which was particularly active in the southwestern department of Nariño. Nariño leads all Colombian departments in coca production and probably cocaine production.

Carvajal spent 35 years in the FARC, 15 of them commanding the Daniel Aldana. He controlled much, or most, illegal activity in the Pacific port of Tumaco and nearby zones along the Colombia-Ecuador border, which is the busiest cocaine transshipment corridor in the country. Authorities accuse his unit of shipping about 90 tons of cocaine per year, and of inviting Mexican narcotraffickers to operate in Tumaco. He and 300 other fighters disarmed and demobilized in Nariño during the first half of 2017. On January 18, 2018, he registered his case with the JEP, the transitional justice system.

It was widely suspected by 2018 that “Rambo” had gone rogue and joined FARC dissident groups active in the region’s cocaine trade. But his profile was very low, far lower than that of Walter Arizara alias “Guacho,” leader of the so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front FARC dissident group active in and around Tumaco. Guacho attracted enormous attention earlier this year when his men kidnapped and killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. But Carvajal’s whereabouts and activities were a mystery.

His arrest reportedly owes to testimony given by Prado Álava, referred to as “the Pablo Escobar of Ecuador,” whom Colombia extradited to the United States in April.

“Rambo’s risk of criminalization was extremely high,” reports Insight Crime. “He allegedly returned quickly to criminal activities well-armed with strategic knowledge about contacts, modus operandi and drug trafficking routes. But this time he seems to have sought more benefits for himself.” The next step in his case is for the JEP to certify that the allegations against him cover a time period after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord. Upon that certification, Carvajal could be subject to extradition to the United States.

Framework Accord Implementation Plan Crosses Another Bureaucratic Hurdle

Eighteen months after the peace accord’s ratification, the Colombian Presidency’s National Planning Department has produced a document, called a CONPES, that is an essential step to commit the government to spending long-term resources on its implementation. Based on a Framework Implementation Plan issued in March, the CONPES divides responsibilities among government agencies for activities whose cost could add up to about 129.5 trillion Colombian pesos (US$44.5 billion) by 2031, 15 years after the peace accord’s ratification.

Another CONPES approved in late June covers the reintegration of former FARC members. It commits the government to 6.3 trillion pesos (US$2.2 billion) in spending on reintegration by 2026. According to El Tiempo, as of June 13 there were 4,082 former FARC members still residing in 24 “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces (ETCRs),” the sites where they turned in their weapons and began their reintegration, plus about 1,000 family members. (This is out of 7,126 who entered these zones and disarmed there.) These individuals presumably seek to demobilize collectively, staying together. Another 6,044 former guerrillas, including militias and those released from prison, have shown an interest in demobilizing individually. The government was scheduled to stop providing food to residents of the ETCRs on June 30, but this has been extended until the end of August.

The CONPES on reintegration commits government agencies to report every six months on compliance with their assigned tasks. “Unlike the earlier reinsertion policy, this takes very much into account not just the strengthening of individual capacities, but also the collective aspect,” said Mauricio Restrepo, an advisor to Colombia’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN), who helped draft the document. Another ARN advisor, Alfredo Gómez, told El Tiempo that the new policy “has a particular emphasis on rural areas, due to ex-guerrillas’ interest in carrying out agricultural tasks, since the majority are of campesino origin.”

The incoming government of Iván Duque can issue new CONPES documents altering these spending commitments. Unless it does so, however, Colombian law requires this and future governments to carry out the activities laid out in the CONPES that were published this week and in late June.

In-Depth Reading

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(This covers the week of June 24-30—a very eventful period. Sorry this is so behind schedule, but there’s no way around it with the present workload. Last week’s update is coming soon.)

Congress Makes Big Changes To Transitional Justice System

On June 27 Colombia’s Congress passed a Procedural Law for the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the separate justice system that will confer lighter penalties (“restriction of liberty”) on those who committed war crimes during the conflict, in exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims. The new law is necessary for the JEP to function properly, and its long-awaited passage is an important step.

However, the congressional bloc supporting Iván Duque, the rightist president-elect who is a critic of the FARC peace accord, added some last-minute changes that—if ruled to be constitutional—would diverge from the accord’s vision and intent.

Before going into that, a quick overview of the JEP legislative process so far. The new system, enshrined in chapter 5 of the peace accord, requires three laws to function:

  • A constitutional amendment enshrining the JEP within Colombia’s legal system, which Congress passed as part of the post-accord “fast track” legislative process in March 2017, and which the Constitutional Court reviewed and approved, with minor modifications, in November 2017.
  • A statutory law (ley estatuaria) to implement the JEP, which Congress passed in November 2017, adding some controversial provisions contrary to the accord’s original intent. The Constitutional Court has not yet completed its review of this law.
  • An “ordinary law” (ley ordinaria) governing the JEP’s procedures, which Congress passed on June 27, 2018. This law is also certain to undergo a months-long Constitutional Court review.

Even without all of its laws in place, the JEP is starting to operate, though it is a long way from issuing its first verdict and sentence to a war criminal.

  • A five-member panel of Colombian and international jurists named 38 magistrates and 13 alternates in September 2017, as well as JEP director Patricia Linares, a legal expert who had most recently consulted with the government’s Historical Memory Commission.
  • The JEP officially opened its doors in March 2018. It has received a large initial volume of conflict-related case files from the “regular” criminal justice system (the criminal prosecutor’s office, or Fiscalía).
  • It has been required to rule on whether an ex-FARC leader’s potentially extraditable drug-trafficking offense occurred before or after the peace accord went into effect, which will be its first ruling—but it has not done so yet.
  • As of April, 6,094 former FARC members facing war crimes charges had agreed to appear before the JEP, as have 2,159 members of the armed forces (as of June) and 50 civilians accused of aiding and abetting armed groups’ war crimes: 44 who worked in government and 6 private citizens.

Congress passed the procedural law troublingly late, as the JEP has been working without clear regulations. Legislators from the party of President-Elect Duque, led in the Senate by Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, had been holding up its consideration.

On June 26, with the legislative session nearing its end, the UN Mission in Colombia put out a statement voicing alarm about “obstacles” to the JEP’s functioning: “the victims are still awaiting the first hearings and appearances of those who were involved in serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations.” A harsh reply from Uribe and Duque’s rightist party, the “Democratic Center,” made clear that it “rejects and doesn’t accept their demands.” The party’s proposed modifications to the JEP, it said, “can’t be viewed as obstacles” but as a reflection of “the desire of the majority of Colombians” as reflected in the October 2016 plebiscite rejecting the peace accord’s first version, and by Duque’s June 2018 election.

The following day, though, Colombia’s Senate considered and approved the new procedural law. It passed, though, with two amendments introduced by the Democratic Center, which passed thanks to votes from several senators who until recently had been part of President Juan Manuel Santos’s pro-peace coalition. The uribistas’ (Uribe supporters’) changes are, in the words of La Silla Vacía analysts Juan Esteban Lewin and Julian Huertas, “a first indication that, while [Duque’s party] won’t destroy the accord, it will seek to remove its teeth and make it resemble FARC surrender terms.”

The FARC political party put it even more starkly:

The elites that have historically covered themselves in impunity and made the war into an immense business for corruption and land theft, took advantage of the delayed and chaotic consideration of the JEP’s procedural norms to render ineffective the basic pillars of the peace accord.

“Welcome to the Iván Duque government” is how uribista Senator Paloma Valencia, who led the legislative push for the two amendments changing the JEP, greeted their approval.

Changing the JEP’s role in extraditions of former combatants

The first amendment would restrict the JEP’s role in determining whether a former combatant can be extradited to another country. The JEP is currently required to determine, within 120 days, whether the crime triggering the extradition request happened before or after the November 2016 ratification of the peace accord (if it took place before, it is likely subject to amnesty and non-extradition). It wasn’t clear, though, whether the JEP could actually consider whether a criminal allegation is built on solid or flimsy evidence.

The uribistas’ amendment says that no, the JEP cannot consider the quality of the evidence, only the date on which the crime allegedly occurred. If the alleged crime took place after November 2016, it must send the ex-combatant’s case to Colombia’s Supreme Court, which rules on extraditions. If the Court green-lights an extradition, the President has discretion about whether or not to hand over the accused individual.

This issue has already come up. On April 9, following an indictment by a U.S. grand jury, Colombian authorities arrested Jesús Santrich, one of the FARC’s negotiators in Havana, on charges of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States starting in 2017. Rather than simply rule on the date of this alleged conspiracy, the JEP had frozen Santrich’s extradition process and asked Colombian criminal prosecutors to provide more evidence. On June 12, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the regular justice system, “un-freezing” Santrich’s case and ruling that the JEP does not have the power to delay an extradition process.

The new amendment, according to Sen. Valencia, guarantees that “extradition requests won’t be unjustifiably delayed when the Supreme Court is empowered to investigate.” Sen. Roy Barreras, a Santos supporter who led the procedural law’s passage in the Senate, opposed the amendment on grounds that it places U.S. counter-drug interests above the stability of peace. “To extradite those who signed the peace sends a terrible message to those who did the work of breaking up a guerrilla group.” The response from super-hardline uribista Sen. José Obdulio Gaviria: “Don’t distinguish between Colombia’s peace and illicit crops, doctor Roy. You [peace supporters] filled Colombia with the damned manure of coca money. That’s the main result of the peace policy that you all pushed.”

Separating out members of the security forces, and freezing their trials for 18 months

The Democratic Center at first sought to change the procedural law so that members of the military and police could be tried in a new, separate chamber of the JEP. Its legislators argued that soldiers shouldn’t be tried on equal footing, in the same tribunals, as former guerrillas. Critics suspect that they are in fact seeking to protect the armed forces from accountability by delaying and weakening efforts to bring their war crimes to justice.

The uribista legislators didn’t quite get a new tribunal, which would be a change too fundamental to be made through the procedures of an “ordinary law.” Senator Valencia and her colleagues instead got an amendment stating that current and former members of the armed forces and police awaiting judgment before the JEP do not have to appear before the new system until a new “special and differentiated process” exists to judge them, a change that would probably require a constitutional reform. The text gives 18 months to do that, during which the military and police perpetrators’ cases are suspended.

Currently, 2,159 active or former members of Colombia’s security forces have signed up to have their cases tried before the JEP. (2,109 from the Army, 34 from the National Police, and 16 from the Navy.) 1,578 of them have been released from custody pending trial.

Sen. Barreras, the pro-peace legislator who managed the JEP bill in the Senate, called the amendment a “serious error,” as it weakens the “judicial certainty” the armed forces had achieved in negotiating the JEP’s design. The appearance of a “self-pardon,” he said, will attract the attention of the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, the Senator added,

while the FARC submit now to the JEP and begin to tell the truth in favor of the victims, other victims, like the Mothers of Candelaria [a Medellín-based victims’ organization] for example, have to wait 18 months to be able to know the truth, and the families of the disappeared also have to sit and wait. This is called re-victimization, and it implies that there is an indifference and a lack of consideration for the victims. These 18 months of waiting are truly unacceptable.

The amendment favoring military and police personnel is probably unconstitutional, opponents said, predicting that it will not survive Constitutional Court review. “At the end of last year, the Court stated that the participation of ex-combatants from the FARC and members of the security forces had to be mandatory. On this issue it will be the Constitutional Court that has the last word,” said Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera.

Though it was purportedly designed to favor them, Colombia’s armed forces, in fact, opposed the uribistas’ amendment. On June 26, the Minister of Defense, the Director of the National Police, and the Commander of the Armed Forces sent a letter to Sen. Valencia asking her to allow the procedural law to pass without her proposed language. The officials are concerned that the Democratic Center’s changes prolong judicial uncertainty for more than 2,000 accused soldiers and police, and may cause the International Criminal Court to involve itself more deeply in their cases. “We need the Congress to advance in approving this regulation,” said armed-forces chief Gen. Alberto Mejía. “We need to mark out the playing field of the JEP, because if we don’t do it, we’ll end up being exposed.”

One major who was given conditional release from prison last November so that the JEP could consider his case, told El Colombiano that having to wait another 18 months complicates things for him. “This keeps us in a ‘sub judice’ situation [not yet judicially decided], which worries us, given that nobody is giving us job opportunities because we still have criminal records, which would only be lifted once we pay the penalty that the JEP procedures impose.”

Colombia’s BLU Radio reported that two active-duty generals, who asked that their identities not be revealed, had received pressure from uribista legislators to support the proposed changes to the JEP. “People from the Democratic Center are saying ‘you’re all pro-Santos generals, bought off, fond of the peace process, and you forget that there’s a new president now,’” the radio cited the generals as saying.

Retired officers, who tend to be harder-line and commanded the military during a time of more frequent human rights issues, were more favorable toward the uribista amendment. Retired Gen. Jaime Ruiz, president of the powerful association of retired officers ACORE, praised the Senate’s move:

Ever since the list of [JEP] magistrates was announced, we saw that they were no guarantee of justice because of their ideological leanings. The approval of this provision, to remain within the JEP but not to appear until a new reform is made, favors us. We hope there may not be any problem with the [International Criminal] Court.

The Court in The Hague (ICC) does have Colombia under preliminary investigation, and is alert for any sign that Colombia’s justice system may fail to hold accountable those who committed crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. The ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has shown particular interest in the “false positives,” thousands of military murders of civilians especially during the 2002-2008 period, who were then falsely presented as combat kills in order to claim high body counts. Delaying such cases for 18 months pending the uncertain creation of a new judicial chamber will certainly attract the prosecutor’s attention.

Interior Minister Rivera, as well as at least two Colombian human rights NGOs (the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective and the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination), filed lawsuits before the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of the amendments that the uribistas inserted.

Duque Visits Washington

President-Elect Iván Duque visited Washington on June 27 through July 5. It is a city he knows well: he did coursework at both American and Georgetown Universities, and worked at the Inter-American Development Bank for 12 years. He was accompanied by veteran politician-diplomat Carlos Holmes, a longtime Álvaro Uribe supporter who is Duque’s likely choice for foreign minister. Senator and ex-president Uribe was not present.

The visit came two days after Duque received a telephone call from President Trump to congratulate him on his victory and to discuss unspecified “security challenges” that Duque’s government is likely to face. No details about that call have emerged, and Trump was outside of Washington for most of Duque’s visit.

According to media reports, Duque’s meetings included:

  • Vice-President Mike Pence
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • National Security Advisor John Bolton
  • CIA Director Gina Haspel
  • Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona)
  • Staff of relevant committees from both the House and Senate
  • OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro
  • Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno
  • International Monetary Fund (not clear with whom)

Support for peace accord implementation did not seem to be a frequent topic in these meetings. The State Department’s spokeswoman said that “Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed U.S. support for a just and lasting peace in Colombia.” Speaking to reporters while in Washington, Duque reiterated his call for the ELN to agree to a “suspension of all criminal activity” and “a prior concentration of forces with international supervision” as pre-conditions for continuing peace talks begun under the Santos government. The ELN are highly unlikely to agree to the second condition, a cantonment of forces.

The crisis in Venezuela was a frequent subject of Duque’s meetings. Sen. Rubio tweeted that they talked about “regional efforts to help the Venezuelan people put an end to their crisis and restore democracy.” After meeting with OAS Secretary-General Almagro, a vociferous critic of Venezuela’s authoritarian government, Duque recommended that Latin American presidents denounce the Maduro regime before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. (In July 2017, then-senator Duque led an effort to send the ICC a 56-page petition asking its prosecutor to “place Venezuela under observation and open a formal investigation.” The document bore the signatures of 76 Colombian and 70 Chilean senators.) Duque also recommended that South American governments permanently abandon the fading UNASUR political bloc, which he called an “accomplice of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” and strengthen the OAS.

Drug policy was perhaps the most frequent topic addressed at Duque’s meetings. The White House’s June 25 release of its 2017 estimate of Colombian coca cultivation—which showed a further 11 percent increase in the crop last year—guaranteed that this would be the top priority of the incoming president’s Washington discussions.

On June 28 Duque told reporters he had received expressions of support for his anti-drug strategy, which though lacking in specifics would rely more heavily on forced coca eradication than did the Santos government during its second term. “Obviously the backsliding has been very large in the last few years, and that’s why we have to seek effective and fast mechanisms,” he added. “They showed much confidence in the agenda we presented,” Duque said of the Americans, noting that his objective is to show measurable results against the coca crop within two years.

In an interview that El Tiempo published July 1, Duque said his government’s approach to coca would have a large alternative development component. He hinted, though, that unlike the model laid out in chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord, he sees oil palm—a capital-intensive crop favorable to large landholdings—as a promising legal alternative to coca.

In some places, coca is almost the only crop that offers opportunities. Nobody can deny it. But exactly what we want to do is alternative development and productive development. We should begin from this baseline: as it is going to be very hard for a licit crop to be more profitable than an illicit crop, substitution and eradication must be made obligatory, but while opening new opportunities leading to labor formalization and stable incomes. There are important substitutions of coca crops with palm crops.

Asked in Washington whether he would prefer to eradicate crops by spraying herbicides from aircraft or from drones (discussed in the next section), Duque said, “at this moment we have to look at all the options, and they have to be the options that guarantee greater precision, greater effectiveness, and that minimize damage to third-parties to the greatest extent possible.”

US Releases Coca Figure, and Colombian Government Approves Fumigation With Drones

On June 25, about three months later than usual, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released its estimate of Colombia’s coca crop during the previous year. The U.S. government reported finding 209,000 hectares of coca in Colombia in 2017, 11 percent more than the 188,000 measured in 2016. Both figures were the highest the United States has ever reported. The 2017 increase was the fifth annual uptick in a row. However, 11 percent is the smallest percentage increase of the five, which may at least indicate some leveling off in a year that saw forced manual eradication triple from 18,000 to 53,000 hectares, along with the launch of the peace accords’ crop substitution effort, which eradicated at least 7,000 more hectares.

The White House estimated a 19 percent increase in potential cocaine production, from 772 to 921 tons. Both are records, and the 2017 figure is quadruple the U.S. government’s 2013 estimate. This indicates U.S. estimators see a sharp increase in yield—the number of kilograms of cocaine being produced from each hectare—as plants grow taller and more mature.

“President Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: the record growth in cocaine production must be reversed,” the White House release cites ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll. “Even though Colombian eradication efforts improved in 2017,

they were outstripped by the acceleration in production. The Government of Colombia must do more to address this increase. The steep upward trajectory is unacceptable.”

President Juan Manuel Santos argued that the increase owed to short-term factors and will be reversed by the government’s strategy, which includes the National Integral Crop Substitution Plan foreseen in chapter 4 of the peace accord (whose implementation, like so much of the accord, is underfunded and behind schedule). “It’s very easy to come and criticize Colombia because illicit crops increased,” Santos said. “But measure the other circumstances and the other indicators: the effectiveness of drug seizures, how many members of the mafias we have extradited, the immense effort that we have made and will continue making.”

In an interview, Vice-President Óscar Naranjo, a former National Police chief, pointed out that because Colombia’s cocaine seizures—much of them in coastal areas—have increased from 148 tons in 2014 to 432 tons in 2017, the amount of the drug actually making it into world markets has increased only somewhat and may still be less than it was during the early years of “Plan Colombia,” instead of the quadrupling of supply that the U.S. tonnage estimate might indicate. Increased interdiction may explain why data about cocaine abuse in the United States show an increase that is far less steep than data about cocaine supply. Another explanation is greater cocaine consumption outside the United States. In 2000, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report estimated that North America accounted for 50 percent of world cocaine consumption; its 2018 report, released in June, attributed only a 32 percent share to North America.

As past analyses from WOLA, the Ideas for Peace Foundation, InsightCrime and others have pointed out, Colombia’s coca boom owes to several factors. Proponents of vastly increased forced eradication point to the 2015 suspension of aerial herbicide spraying, and to the peace accord’s promise of cash for those who planted coca, as the main reasons for the increase. These undeniably contributed, but the Colombian government’s failure or inability to replace eradication with state presence and development assistance in rural areas—effectively leaving most coca-growing areas in a state of neglect—gets at least as much blame. So does a decline in gold prices, as many coca-growers had turned to artisanal mining in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, when sky-high prices caused the metal to be more profitable than the crop.

Last September, due to rising production statistics, President Trump sought to decertify Colombia for failing to cooperate fully in anti-drug efforts, a move that would cut some forms of aid and place Colombia in the same category as Venezuela or Burma. Top advisors talked him out of it, but the White House’s statement noted that decertification remains “an option.” Despite the unencouraging 2017 numbers, the White House is unlikely to greet Iván Duque with a decertification six weeks after his inauguration.

Two days after the White House announcement, Colombia’s National Drug Council, an advisory body of ministers and high officials, approved the use of drones to apply herbicides to coca plants. The move comes after several months of pilot testing of the remote-controlled craft. Each of the chosen models costs about US$10,000. It flies about one meter above the plants, and can spray about 1 liter of herbicide mixture at a time in 10 minutes of operation between recharges. Spraying began in the final days of June in Putumayo, Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, and Nariño departments.

For now at least, the herbicide will continue to be glyphosate, marketed by the U.S. chemical giant Monsanto, but at a concentration about 50 percent weaker than that used by U.S.-funded, contractor-flown aircraft during the years of the now-suspended aerial eradication program (1994-2015). Since that program’s suspension, much manual eradication has been carried out by eradicators wearing backpack-mounted herbicide sprayers applying this weaker mixture. This is a dangerous practice, as hundreds of eradicators or their police escorts have been killed or injured in the past 15 years by landmines, booby traps, ambushes, and sniper attacks. The idea is that using drones would curtail that risk, while applying the herbicide more accurately than aircraft flying 50-150 meters above the ground.

The aircraft-spraying program was suspended in October 2015 after a World Health Organization literature review found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Colombia’s Constitutional Court later ratified this suspension because of the possible risk. However, glyphosate has not been banned for agricultural use in Colombia, and officials expect that application by more accurate drones, which poses less risk of spraying residential areas or legal crops, gets around the Court’s restrictions.

While critics of the drone decision acknowledge a reduced risk to human health, they lament that this method of eradication will probably be carried out with no permanent state presence in abandoned rural areas, little face-to-face dialogue with coca-growing families, and perhaps with little coordination with food security and other assistance. “They’re making decisions from a desk without caring about the territory,” Nariño governor Camilo Romero tweeted in response to the drone decision. “I’ll say it clearly: any anti-drug policy that doesn’t involve the dozens of thousands of families that lack opportunities today, is condemned to failure. You can’t fumigate people only to have them plant again!”

A State Department spokesperson told EFE that the drone plan is up to Colombia: “The choice of eradication methods is a sovereign decision of the Colombian government. However, the United States believes that all tools should be used to turn back the sharp increase in cocaine production.”

In-Depth Reading

An early incident casts doubt on the incoming Colombian president’s independence—and the peace accord’s future

An incident late last week in Bogotá, getting reported as hearsay in Colombia’s media, raises serious concerns about the independence of President-Elect Iván Duque from his patron, the hardline former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe. It also raises concerns that the peace accord with the FARC, which Duque and Uribe both criticize but Duque has promised not to “tear up,” is in grave trouble.

Here, writing in Spain’s El País, is analyst Ariel Avila of the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a critic of Duque and Uribe:

The transition between the outgoing and incoming government has begun and, as expected, the peace issue has been the most decisive. Currently, the Congress is considering a bill that would become the procedural law for the JEP, or Special Peace Jurisdiction [the peace accords’ transitional justice mechanism for trying the most serious war crimes]. Though it is an ordinary law that only impacts timeframes and procedures, the Democratic Center Party [that of Iván Duque and ex-president Álvaro Uribe] opposed it and has blocked its advance through the Congress.

In their meeting last week, both President Juan Manuel Santos and the president-elect, Iván Duque, decided to call the president of the Constitutional Court, Colombia’s maximum judicial tribunal, in order to clear up some of the new government’s doubts about this law. Several sources said that Congresswoman Paloma Valencia, one of the most active in ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s party, upon hearing that Duque green-lighted a meeting of congressional blocs to move the bill forward, immediately took out her telephone and apparently called Uribe, not Iván Duque. And as would be expected, Uribe added conditions to President-Elect Duque’s decision.

El Espectador offers a bit more detail about this bizarre incident.

There is a final detail that El Espectador learned. Sources with seats in the Capitol confirmed that, while the Santos-Duque meeting was happening, another meeting was taking place in the Interior Ministry with a subcommittee of legislators who were delegated to review the JEP’s situation. …What drew attention was the phone call that the uribista congresswoman [Senator Paloma Valencia] made while the meeting was going on.

What happened? The first agreement that Santos and Duque arrived at, as the President himself said on Friday, was to call the president of the Constitutional Court, Alejandro Linares, to get him to clear up the president-elect’s doubts about whether or not procedure allowed the JEP’s law to be approved [before the Court has ruled on the constitutionality of the JEP’s larger statutory law, passed last November. The Constitutional Court ruling on that is due any day now].

Linares said that the Santos administration was right, and there was a green light to pass the law. With these doubts cleared up, the incoming chief of state asked for a meeting between his party’s congressional bloc and representatives of other parties to hear proposals about the bill that would become the procedural law.

The message—and this is what those present in the Interior Ministry say—arrived immediately. The government conveyed the message to Paloma Valencia who, surprised, apparently said, “Iván said that?”

She immediately grabbed her mobile phone: “Hola, pre [as in ‘presidente’].”

But she wasn’t talking to Duque, but to ex-president Álvaro Uribe, whom she consulted about the new president’s decision, asking him for instructions.

Uribe gave his approval to what was agreed between the outgoing and incoming presidents, but he asked the Senator [Valencia] to add three conditions: that FARC members responsible for the most serious crimes would be prohibited from participating in politics, to create a new separate chamber to judge military personnel within the JEP, and to establish a special procedure for third-party civilians involved in the conflict [for instance, landowners or politicians who aided paramilitaries. These three conditions radically alter what is in the peace accord and could be dealbreakers].

Without alluding directly to this episode, President Santos said, “Those issues would require a constitutional reform, but any modification on which there is consensus, that improves the accords, would be welcome.” …However, he alerted that “it’s not the right moment to block efforts to do our duty to the victims. I hope that you vote on the JEP procedural law. I’m leaving government and I leave peace in your hands.”

What happened behind the backdrop is a first bit of evidence about the independence of the president-elect, Iván Duque, and the leadership that he will exercise over his party’s bloc in the Congress, of which ex-president Uribe is also a part.

Ávila concludes:

For context, two considerations. On one hand, Iván Duque’s independence is going to be rather complicated, and the fear that he may look more like a puppet than a president is starting to circulate in the corridors of politics. It would be something like the relation between Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev in Russia. And on the other hand, everything seems to indicate that the idea of destroying all of President Santos’s legacy, and obviously the peace deal, is their first and most important objective.

Newer Posts
Older Posts
Get a weekly update in your e-mail:




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.