Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Colombia Post-Conflict

President No

The votes are counted in Colombia. Today’s elections were not a “second referendum” on the 2016 peace accord with the FARC: issues like corruption, a semi-collapsed healthcare system, and Venezuela’s crisis came to the fore.

Nonetheless, the coalition that criticized negotiations to end Colombia’s conflict with the FARC, and narrowly won an October 2016 plebiscite to reject the accord, is now in power.

In May of last year a prominent voice in the plebiscite’s “No” coalition, Fernando Londoño—who served as Álvaro Uribe’s first minister of interior and justice, and is now a right-wing radio host—said that “the first challenge” of Iván Duque’s and Uribe’s political party, the “Democratic Center,” is “to rip to shreds this damned paper that they call the final accord with the FARC.” Londoño had also argued that Duque was insufficiently rightist to be the Democratic Center’s standard-bearer, though—so what he says doesn’t tell us what Duque will do.

With Duque and his party now in power, Colombia will not be going back to war with the FARC. President Duque will bend the peace accord, both by seeking modifications and failing to act, but he won’t break it in a way that causes thousands of demobilized guerrillas to take up arms again. But neither will Duque’s government carry out the parts of the accord that aren’t about the FARC, but instead about guaranteeing non-repetition of armed conflict in Colombia.

Duque has promised to make changes to the accord’s transitional justice mechanism—still in its infancy—which intends to hold accountable people on both sides, guerrilla and government, who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. It took the government and guerrillas 19 months to negotiate this system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). It is deeply unpopular with the No coalition, and with most Colombians, because it offers weak punishments to murderers and kidnappers in exchange for confessions and reparations to victims. Duque calls it a “monument to impunity.”

Duque wants to strengthen the penalties handed out to ex-guerrillas, to make them look more like prison, or at least like life in an agricultural penal colony. He is unlikely to be able to do this, as Colombia’s highest courts have already approved the structure agreed in the accords. Should he succeed, though, the demobilized guerrillas will surely reject a punishment that resembles that normally meted out to combatants defeated on the battlefield, which the FARC were not.

7,100 ex-guerrillas have registered with the JEP; with the promise of real jail time, many if not most would melt away into the jungle. Duque doesn’t want this, so he probably won’t pursue a tightening of penalties.

Duque has also proposed a constitutional amendment to ban amnesties for narcotrafficking. The peace accord considers former FARC members’ drug trafficking on a case-by-case basis: if the JEP finds evidence that a former fighter gained personally from trafficking, he or she must pay the regular criminal penalty. If all the proceeds went into the FARC’s war effort, though, the trafficking would be amnestied as a “political crime.” (Any trafficking after November 2016, when the peace accord went into effect, cannot be amnestied and is a regular crime.) Duque would do away with that amnesty—but almost definitely cannot do so retroactively. Any constitutional change would apply to future peace processes, and wouldn’t apply to the ex-FARC.

Duque also strongly opposes the accords’ allowing ex-FARC members to hold political office—including five automatic seats in each of Colombia’s two houses of Congress until 2026—before they’ve paid their penalties for war crimes. This part of the accord does raise the absurd likelihood of former guerrilla leaders starting and ending their days in “restricted liberty,” but serving in Congress, or perhaps mayors’ offices, in between. Altering it, though, might cause some of the FARC’s most prominent leaders to abandon the process, bringing many of their followers with them. The number of dissidents this would create would be lower, though, than those created by an attempt to toss ex-FARC members into regular prison.

Despite the red-meat rhetoric of the more vociferous No coalition leaders, then, Duque is most likely to walk a fine line on the peace accord’s transitional justice measures. He will seek some retroactive changes that look tough, but will avoid taking steps that send thousands of humiliated ex-guerrillas back into combat.

Instead of striking dramatic blows against the accord, it’s more likely that Duque and his coalition will kill it through neglect. Casting the accord adrift, failing to take action and failing to spend money, will bring much the same end result as dramatically tearing it to shreds.

The peace accord envisions a 15-year implementation period. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has made clear that it is the law of the land and that the country’s next three presidents must implement it. But the accord can be slow-walked to death.

The accord’s chapter on rural reform and development would take up 85 percent of the foreseen cost of implementation. It promises measures to benefit smallholding farmers, ranging from a national mapping of landholdings, to building roads and irrigation systems, to offering credit, healthcare, and food security in the countryside. Duque’s coalition, though, is made up of large landholders who benefit from the current rural status quo, and urban-dwellers who would rather see resources go to urgent needs in cities, where 77 percent of Colombians live. They are unlikely to devote billions of dollars to the countryside just because the FARC-Santos accord says they must.

President Santos’s government drew up an ambitious plan for increased state presence and basic government services in 170 municipalities (or counties—Colombia has 1,100) where armed conflict and coca cultivation have been most intense. The “Development Plans with a Territorial Focus” (PDETs) have been the subject of thousands of meetings between Bogotá officials and rural communities, raising expectations in long-abandoned zones even while only the most incipient investments have begun to arrive.

But Santos never got around to introducing the legislation necessary to implement most of the rural accord. It’s most unlikely that this will be part of Duque’s agenda, nor is it likely that the PDETs will be generously funded, if they’re continued at all. Hopes are dim for a greater state presence in Colombia’s conflictive and neglected countryside, other than perhaps a presence of more soldiers and police.

The same goes for the peace accord’s provisions (chapter 4) promising a new approach to coca cultivation. Smallholding peasants who grow coca are the weakest and least profitable link in the cocaine production chain, but get-tough policies have tended to target them because coca bushes are a lot easier to find than cocaine shipments or financial flows. Following the accord’s principle of attacking the root causes for coca cultivation, the Santos government sought to sign agreements with more than 100,000 coca-growing families around the country, promising two years of assistance in moving to legal crops in exchange for voluntary eradication of their coca. This program has already been struggling, and Duque is unlikely to continue it: he promises a large-scale campaign of forced eradication, perhaps to include (if courts allow it) a resumption of aerial herbicide fumigation, whether by aircraft or small drones.

Breaking the Santos government’s promises to coca-growing households, and ramping up forced eradication, will make Washington happy; policymakers in both the Obama and Trump administrations have been alarmed by record levels of coca and cocaine production in Colombia’s ungoverned rural zones. But we can also expect a sharp rise in violent confrontations in those zones, as growers’ associations that were working on slow-moving solutions with one government suddenly find themselves facing eradicators and herbicides from the next government.

It’s well-documented that the outgoing government of Juan Manuel Santos was not implementing the FARC accord with great energy. But now, hopes of full implementation are all but dashed. Most of the accord’s 310 pages may end up as unkept paper promises.

If that indeed happens, this will be a tragic squandering of a historic opportunity. What the No coalition misses is that the FARC accord wasn’t a gift to the FARC. The ex-guerrillas got little—no land reform, no constitutional amendments, no amnesty, not even land for ex-combatants—and they have since suffered utter defeat at the ballot box, their 74 congressional candidates winning a combined 0.3 percent of the vote in March.

Instead, the FARC accord, especially its chapters on rural development, coca, victims, and political participation, offered an opportunity to make Colombia a modern, prosperous country. It offered—still offers—a blueprint for replacing feudalism with rules-based market capitalism in a countryside that has been the source of ills ranging from coca to armed violence to deforestation.

For a moment in time, the accord buys time for government to “enter” rural Colombia without having to shoot its way in, and to provide the rule of law and other public goods that all states are supposed to supply. That moment in time is fleeting—rising violence data make that clear—but can be prolonged by having the state be present, keep promises, and punish corrupt or abusive behavior.

Slow-walking that plan, or defunding it, blows this opportunity to solve generations-old security and governance challenges in rural Colombia. The moment will end. In fact, the door into Colombia’s ungoverned territories is already closing as new criminal groups and guerrilla dissidences add to their numbers. Duque’s No coalition risks slamming the door shut, with results that Colombia would feel for a generation.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of May 27 – June 2)

First-Round Election Results: Petro vs. Duque

As polls predicted, no single candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in Colombia’s May 27 first-round presidential election. The candidates who will go on to a second round runoff on June 17 are rightist Senator Iván Duque and leftist former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro. Duque got 39 percent of the vote, Petro 25 percent. Duque is broadly viewed as likely to win that runoff and ascend to the presidency on August 7—but most analysts caution that a Petro win, while improbable, is not impossible.

Some facts about the vote:

  • At 53 percent, voter turnout was the highest in a presidential election since 1998, and the highest in a first-round vote since 1974. Improved post-accord security conditions get some of the credit.
  • Sergio Fajardo, a former mayor of Medellín leading a center-left coalition, outperformed poll predictions by winning 24 percent of the vote, nearly overtaking Petro. Pollsters’ head-to-head matchups had generally given Fajardo a higher probability than Petro of defeating Duque in a second round.
  • Former vice-president Germán Vargas Lleras was expected to perform better than the 7 percent he received, as he worked assiduously to court local political bosses—some of them rather corrupt—throughout the country. This shady get-out-the-vote “machinery,” which has contributed enormously to past elections, failed Vargas Lleras this time.
  • Humberto de la Calle, a former vice president who led the government’s negotiating team with the FARC in Havana, won the Liberal Party’s nomination but took in only 2 percent of the vote.
  • Candidates in favor of the FARC peace accord won a combined 51 percent of the vote, or 58 percent if one counts Vargas Lleras, who has flip-flopped a bit on whether he supports the accord or not (he most recently decided that he does).
  • Petro and Duque were in a virtual tie, far ahead of the other candidates, in zones most affected by the conflict.
  • Petro won, 35 percent to Duque’s 31 percent, in municipalities that voted “yes” in the October 2016 plebiscite on the FARC peace accord. Duque carried “no” municipalities with 42 percent, over 23 for Fajardo and 12 for Petro.

Third-place finisher Fajardo, who like Petro supports the FARC peace accord, is not throwing his support behind either of the two second-round candidates. He announced that he will turn in a blank ballot on June 17, and said his 4.6 million voters are free to vote as they wish. This was a blow to Petro, whose only hope of winning is to have a large majority of Fajardo’s voters go to him. “To vote blank is to vote for Uribe,” Petro said, invoking hardliner Álvaro Uribe, Senator Duque’s patron and party chief, a former president (2002-2010) and current senator. (A blank ballot can be strategic under some circumstances: under Colombian law, if “blank ballot” gets more votes than other candidates in a first-round vote, a new election with different candidates must be held. This doesn’t apply to second-round voting, in which voting blank is only symbolic.)

Candidates’ Positions on Peace

Iván Duque actively supported the “no” vote in the October 2016 plebiscite on the FARC accord. He was the main plaintiff in the case that led Colombia’s Constitutional Court, in May 2017, to strip out much of the legislative “fast track” authority needed to pass laws to implement the accord—a key reason so many accord commitments haven’t become law. The same Court ruled last October that Colombian governments during the next three presidential terms are required to implement the peace accord and cannot change it. But since he is a leading opponent, a President Duque would be unlikely to implement it with vigor.

The ideal of Duque, and of ex-president Uribe and his supporters, is an accord that is generous with individual ex-combatants who demobilize and aren’t accused of serious war crimes, but offers no political reforms in exchange for that demobilization: just surrender terms. It is possible, then, that a Duque presidency might implement reintegration programs for former FARC fighters more energetically than has the Juan Manuel Santos government. But the accord’s other chapters—rural development, political participation, crop substitution, victims and transitional justice—could get short shrift, or Duque could even seek legislation to change them.

Duque has described as a “monument to impunity” the transitional justice system set up by the accord, the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), which hands out punishments for war criminals that he and his party view as too lenient. Duque has proposed pursuing at least four big changes to transitional justice:

  • Tightening penalties for those found guilty of war crimes. These are currently foreseen as a maximum eight years of “restricted liberty”—not prison—for those who make full confessions and reparations to victims.
  • Eliminating amnesty for the crime of narcotrafficking, even if the perpetrator did not benefit personally from the trafficking activity.
  • Getting government personnel who perpetrated war crimes out of the JEP and into the jurisdiction of Colombia’s Supreme Court.
  • Prohibiting guerrillas accused of war crimes from holding office until they’ve paid a penalty.

All of these are very hard to change, not least because it took 19 months to negotiate these provisions and altering the deal could cause many guerrillas to prefer to take up arms again. As an analysis from La Silla Vacía points out, the transitional justice provisions have been made into law and approved by Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Even if Duque manages to get a law passed that sends guerrilla war criminals to a proper prison, La Silla argues, the “favorability principle” in Colombian law states that when two laws contradict, the accused pays the lighter penalty—the “restricted liberty” foreseen in the JEP. Any change to amnesty for non-personal-gain narcotrafficking could not be retroactive, it could only apply to crimes committed after the peace accord, or to future peace processes. It would not affect demobilized FARC who have behaved.

La Silla foresees some possibility that Duque could push through a constitutional change prohibiting un-punished guerrillas from holding office, which could force changes in who holds the ten congressional seats granted to the FARC between 2018 and 2026. This, the site contends, “could cause mid-level commanders to leave the demobilization zones with some of their fighters and join the dissidences or start new groups.”

Duque would be likely to abandon the slow-moving peace talks taking place between the government and the ELN guerrilla leadership in Havana, out of a desire to negotiate only the guerrillas’ surrender and submission to justice and nothing else. Duque has said, according to El Espectador, that he would only continue the ELN talks under four conditions:

[The ELN’s] prior concentration in some part of the country with international supervision, suspension of all criminal activities, a defined timeframe for the conversations, and negotiations limited to a substantial reduction of sentences, but not an absence of penalties.

The ELN, which remains quite rooted in three or four parts of the country, is very unlikely to accept these terms. The group wants to continue talks, though. “If Duque wins, well, he’ll find us here, at the table,” chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán said this week.

Duque has no enthusiasm for the coca crop-substitution scheme being implemented (slowly) under Chapter 4 of the peace accord, which he calls a “disastrous chapter.” He favors to a return of massive forced eradication, including through aerial herbicide spraying.

While the Constitutional Court prevents Duque from doing away with the accord—and he insists that he doesn’t want to do away with it, just modify it—the rightist candidate can certainly “slow-walk” its implementation, carrying it out at a bare minimum. The choice between Petro and Duque, the La Silla analysis puts it, is about “whether the peace accord will serve as a roadmap for Colombia’s future, or whether it will be a marginal policy to guarantee that the demobilized don’t take up arms again.”

It explains that Duque can marginalize the accord, without killing it, by underfunding the agencies and programs set up to implement it, including the JEP and the Territorial Renovation Agency (ART) that is supposed to build state presence and rural development in the countryside. He can also “name second-tier functionaries,” with little political pull, to head such agencies, if he doesn’t abolish them entirely.

Gustavo Petro takes the opposite view. Although it doesn’t go into great detail, his campaign rhetoric mentions not only preserving the FARC peace accord, but improving the level of victims’ participation in it. He says he would increase civil-society’s direct role in accord implementation, particularly in the struggling coca-substitution programs, for which he proposes a greater role for coca-growers in “design, execution, and evaluation.” Petro would change the overall FARC accord, he says, only in ways that would make it possible for the Congress to pass the remaining laws needed to implement it fully. Petro also proposes levying a tax on unproductive large landholdings and directing the proceeds to programs that benefit conflict victims.

On a tour of Europe, President Santos told an audience in Brussels that “it’s impossible, legally and politically, to tear the peace accords to shreds.” He added, “Those of us who last Sunday saw the leader of the FARC, Timochenko, casting his vote within democracy—are we going to give him a rifle again so that he might return to the jungle? That’s irrational.”

Increase in European Union Assistance

During President Santos’s visit to Brussels, the European Union announced its approval of an additional €15 million of assistance “in support of the consolidation and implementation of the peace process in the country.” The aid, El Espectador reported with little additional detail, “will increase concrete measures, such as new programs to encourage economic activity and to contribute to rebuilding the social fabric in conflict-affected areas and the reinsertion of hundreds of FARC ex-combatants.” The aid is in addition to an EU trust fund announced in December 2016, which has provided €96.4 million to support accord implementation, especially in rural conflict zones.

73 U.S. House Members Call for Improved Protection of Social Leaders

Seventy-three members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all of them Democrats, signed and sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging more U.S. government action to help Colombia’s government protect human rights defenders and social leaders. “A Colombian social leader is murdered every two and a half days,” the letter warns.

“In the past,” it continues, “Colombian authorities have shown that when it is important to them to lower the number of such killings, they are capable of doing so. And, while physical protection is important for those facing the highest known level of risks, it is expensive and impractical to provide it for every individual under threat.”

The letter makes five concrete recommendations:

For these reasons, protection mechanisms must be combined with other decisive action. First and most importantly is to swiftly bring to justice those who plan and orchestrate these murders, and not just the “triggermen” who execute the killings. Second, is for Colombian authorities at all levels to send clear, public and consistent messages that perpetrators, collaborators and beneficiaries of these crimes will face consequences. Third, is to dismantle illegal and violent armed actors that continue to murder and attack social leaders and the economic structures that support them. Fourth, is for the Colombian authorities to establish security and functioning state resources and presence in regions vacated by the FARC guerrillas, as required by the peace accords. And fifth, is for Colombia to achieve a complete peace by advancing the peace process in Havana with the ELN.

The signers include 14 ranking Democratic members of House committees. All would rise to these committees’ powerful chairmanships if, as some polls indicate might happen, the Democrats win majority control of the House in mid-term elections.

Local Officials Meet ELN in Havana To De-Escalate Catatumbo Violence

Since mid-March, a wave of fighting between the ELN and a smaller, locally influential guerrilla group, the EPL, has brought violence back up to conflict-era levels in Catatumbo, a poorly governed coca-producing region near the Venezuelan border in Norte de Santander department. In an effort to stop it, officials from the Norte de Santander departmental government gained permission to visit Havana to speak with ELN leaders participating in the peace talks with the national government. It is not clear what concrete gains the commission, led by departmental victims’ office director Luis Fernando Niño, achieved after meeting with the guerrilla leaders. However, the intensity of ELN-EPL fighting, which had displaced thousands, appears to have ebbed in the past few weeks.

Handoff of Cases To Transitional Justice System

The transitional justice system (JEP) is beginning to operate, even though it is still awaiting a Constitutional Court decision on the basic law governing its structure, and Congressional approval of another law governing its procedures. On May 30, the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) handed over to the JEP three of eighteen expected reports on crimes committed during the conflict by guerrillas and government agents. The documents register 223,282 cases involving 280,471 suspects and 196,768 victims of serious human rights abuses. According to Semana’s coverage:

  • 52,220 of the Fiscalía’s cases correspond to the FARC;
  • 13,934 cases correspond to the security forces;
  • 10,164 cases correspond to the ELN;
  • 55,768 cases correspond to the former AUC paramilitaries;
  • 3,324 cases correspond to other guerrilla groups; and
  • 87,872 cases do not identify a responsible group.

For the notorious extermination of the Patriotic Union, a FARC-tied political party, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Fiscalía’s records include 863 cases covering 1,620 victims and 277 perpetrators who were government forces.

The JEP will use this information to choose emblematic cases to pursue, and as evidence in trials of the nearly 8,000 ex-guerrillas, security-force personnel, and government civilians who have agreed to cooperate with the JEP in exchange for lighter sentences.

Visit from International Criminal Court Prosecutorial Official

The deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague paid a visit to Colombia this week. At an event about transitional justice, James Stewart reiterated the Court’s concerns about aspects of the peace accord’s provisions for judging war crimes.

Stewart praised the accord and the JEP as “an innovative, complex, and ambitious system, designed to assure accountability as part of the peace accord’s implementation.” However, Stewart—reiterating what chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said in the past—recalled that the Court has its eye on how Colombia handles the following issues:

  • Cases of sexual or gender-based violence.
  • Extrajudicial executions or “false positive” killings, for which Stewart contended, Colombia’s “legal processes…don’t seem to have centered on the people who might bear the greatest responsibility within the military hierarchy.”
  • The responsibility of military commanders for crimes committed by their subordinates. At particular issue is whether the JEP will hold commanders accountable for crimes they “should have known” about (the Rome Statute standard), or just crimes that it can be proved that they knew about (the peace accord standard).

The ICC can only intervene in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity if it determines that Colombia’s own system is not meeting the accountability standards laid out in the 2002 Rome Statute, to which Colombia is a signatory.

Three More Former FARC Combatants Killed

The FARC political party denounced the killings of three more of its members, all demobilized combatants, between May 22 and May 26 in the southwestern departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca. Cristian Bellaizac, Jhon Jairo Ruiz Pillimue, and Wilinton Bravo Angulo were murdered in the respective municipalities of Jamundí, Valle; Suárez, Cauca; and Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC communiqué cited 24 murders of ex-combatants so far this year, and alleged that “paramilitary successor criminal groups” are threatening and harassing its members in Bogotá. A day earlier, President Santos said that 40 reintegrating ex-guerrillas had been killed since the accord was signed in November 2016. The FARC says the number is now near 60. In early April, the UN Secretary General cited 44 murdered ex-combatants and 18 relatives of ex-combatants.

In-Depth Reading

This is a striking graphic

Although the peace accord was reportedly a low priority among Colombian voters, this graphic of Sunday’s first-round presidential vote shows a sharp divergence between the half of the country that voted “yes” for the FARC peace accord on October 2, 2016, and the half of the country that voted “no.”

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of May 13-19)

Transitional Justice System Suspends Santrich Extradition

The case of FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, arrested on April 9 with the possibility of extradition to the United States for narcotrafficking, grew more complicated this week. The Review Chamber of the new Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP, the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord) ordered his extradition suspended. Other entities within Colombia’s government contended that the Chamber doesn’t have the right to do that.

Santrich, a hardliner who represented the FARC at the negotiating table during the entire Havana process, is currently confined at a Bogotá facility run by the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference. His health is precarious, as he has been on a hunger strike since his arrest. Santrich is charged by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York with conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.

As he allegedly committed the crime after the peace accord went into effect, Santrich’s case could go to Colombia’s regular justice system, where he would face long prison terms or extradition. First, though, the JEP must determine that the crime did indeed take place after the peace accord’s December 1, 2016 ratification.

That is the task of the JEP’s Review Chamber, which must fulfill it within 120 days. This chamber contended, by a unanimous vote, that fulfilling its duty required a temporary suspension of Santrich’s extradition. The Chamber asked for more evidence of the allegations against the FARC leader, and instructed the “regular” justice system’s Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía) to provide, within five days, information about the extradition process.

Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez responded with a strongly worded 16-page letter alleging that the JEP has no authority to freeze an extradition process, adding that the newly formed body’s action “has left democratic institutionally threatened.” And in fact, the director of another body of the JEP, its Investigations and Accusations Unit, tweeted “I separate myself from the extradition suspension decision.”

The Colombian government’s Justice and Interior Ministries responded with a communiqué arguing that the JEP could not suspend Santrich’s extradition because the United States had not formally requested it yet. Colombian law gives countries requesting a citizen’s extradition 60 days to issue a formal request after that citizen has been detained. That would give the U.S. government until June 8 to issue the request. It has not done so, perhaps out of a desire not to appear to be influencing the May 27 presidential election campaign.

The JEP Chamber, however, stated that in its view, “the extradition process has already begun, because a detention for extradition purposes has been requested.”

There is no sense of when the Chamber may issue its determination of when Santrich committed a crime, or whether the Chamber may seek to determine whether there is even enough evidence that a crime took place. “Still, the political effect of the decision is immediate,” wrote Juanita León, director of La Silla Vacía.

Above all when the JEP issues it a few days before elections in which the candidate with the best chances of making it to a second round and reaching the Presidency [Iván Duque of the right-wing Centro Democrático party] proposes to make “adjustments” to the JEP that, in practice, would do away with it.

Debate over whether to extradite Santrich continues. Rodrigo Uprimny, founder of the judicial think-tank DeJusticia, believes Santrich should be tried in Colombia so that he may answer to his victims. An analysis in Semana magazine worries about the effect on ex-guerrillas’ desertion:

In the end, the consequences won’t be those of an ideal transition to peace or a return to the open war of the last decades. The scenario in play is intermediate, and has to do instead with the size of the dissidences that may return to the jungle. In other words, if Santrich’s possible extradition creates uncertainty among guerrillas that increases the number of dissidents, it may be best to allow him to serve his sentence inside the country.

An El Tiempo editorial contends that “rules are rules,” despite Santrich’s victims’ right to learn the truth from him.

It could be proposed that, without leaving aside at any moment the importance of the truth, the precept must come first that whoever doesn’t comply with the agreed rules must pay for it.

This, the editorial clarifies, only applies if the evidence against Santrich “leaves no doubt about his criminal conduct.” If so, “there would be no reason to insist that this [his extradition] poses an insurmountable obstacle to the implementation of what was agreed in Havana.”

Government Will Miss Its Coca Substitution Target

The Colombian government recognized on May 15 that it will not meet its target, set for this month, of 50,000 hectares of coca eradicated by growers voluntarily destroying their crops in exchange for economic assistance. That was the one-year goal the Presidency had set for its implementation of chapter 4 of the Havana peace accord, which establishes a national crop substitution program.

In fact, the program fell significantly short. Eduardo Díaz, the director of the crop substitution program, announced that families participating in the program had eradicated 36,000 hectares, of which 11,700 have actually been verified by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The U.S. government measured 188,000 hectares in Colombia in 2016, and media have reported that the U.S. estimate for 2017 could be as high as 230,000. (UNODC’s 2016 estimate was 146,000, and media reports point to 180,000 in 2017.) The government forcibly eradicated 53,000 hectares in 2017.

Díaz blamed security conditions for the shortfall. He told CNN en Español, “In different zones where there are crops, narcotraffickers’ networks have advanced, have killed communities, have killed leaders, have threatened government officials and UN officials.”

Independent analysts place more blame on the slow performance of the Colombian bureaucracy. The idea of the government’s National Comprehensive Illicit Crop Substitution Program (PNIS, the main focus of the accord’s chapter 4) was to provide small-scale coca-growing households with two years’ worth of payments and help with productive projects in exchange for eradicating their coca. The economic benefits for each household would total about US$12,000 over two years. This week, the Ideas for Peace Foundation released a detailed report and dataset (Excel file) laying out the progress of the PNIS program as of March 31. In sum:

  • 123,225 families had signed collective framework community accords agreeing in principle to substitute crops.
  • 62,181 families (50.4 percent of above) had signed specific accords committing to a timetable of voluntary eradication and receipt of benefits.
  • 32,010 families (51.4 percent of above) had received at least one monthly payment.
  • 7,009 families (11 percent of the 62,181) had received any technical assistance to pursue an alternative productive project.
  • UNODC had found (in 2106) 22,025 hectares of coca in the municipalities (counties) where families had begun receiving payments.
  • UNODC had verified and certified the eradication of 6,381 hectares of coca (28.9 percent of above). (This is far fewer than the 11.700 hectare figure that the government substitution program’s Eduardo Díaz had given CNN.)

The report concludes,

The greatest advances of PNIS are found in the signing up of campesinos and the disbursement of payments, while it is falling most behind in technical assistance and in the supply of goods and services. Under those conditions, three months before the end of President Santos’s government, it will be difficult for the program to meet the goal of 50,000 voluntarily eradicated hectares.

The Ideas for Peace report notes that while homicides across Colombia have increased by a troubling 8 percent over this time last year, they are up by a very alarming 57 percent in the municipalities with crop substitution programs.

The Verdad Abierta website visited Briceño, Antioquia, where the PNIS began as a pilot project in 2015. In the coming weeks, the national government is to announce that the municipality’s residents will have eradicated all of their coca, about 567 hectares.

However, Briceño’s farmers told the site that “the campesinos complied, but the government has not.” While monthly payments have come on time, assistance for productive projects has hardly begun. “They did give us the payments, but in the agreement it said that as the payments arrived, then the productive projects to implement them would also arrive, so that we wouldn’t end up the way we are now: with our arms crossed and worried because the money has run out,” said a Community Action Board president.

“The state has a great responsibility with respect to the families who expressed their will to abandon the coca crops and who took part in the substitution process,” the Ideas for Peace report reads. “In the zones where the PNIS began to be developed, the link between populations and the state has been re-established. However, the lack of compliance with what was agreed not only has implications for institutions’ trust and credibility, it generates a risk of re-planting and a possible increase in hectares of coca.”

ELN to Cease Fire During Presidential Voting

The ELN announced that it will cease military activities for five days, from May 25-29, “to contribute to favorable conditions that might permit Colombian society to express itself in the elections” that will take place on May 27.

This raised hopes for a more permanent bilateral cessation of hostilities between government and guerrillas. However, the ELN’s chief negotiator in Havana, Pablo Beltrán, intimated that the group would be unlikely to agree to a ceasefire as long as social leaders continue to be killed at a rapid pace around the country: “We are fully disposed to do a cessation, but what about all the others? It’s not just a call on the military forces, but on paramilitarism, on all these attacks that different popular sectors are receiving.”

Asked about President Juan Manuel Santos’s hope that the ELN talks will leave behind a framework agreement—which, for the next president, would increase the cost of pulling the plug on the talks—Beltrán said that the ELN wants “to leave the accords at such a point of consolidation that any incoming government would have to respect them.” Any advancement, Beltrán added, would have to include more civil society participation; he did not specify what that might look like.

Timoleón Jiménez to Uribe: Let’s Go To the Truth Commission Together

Maximum FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez alias Timochenko published a lengthy communiqué about the status of the peace process on the eve of Colombia’s presidential election. “The peace accord is shielded,” it reads.

That’s what the Constitutional Court understood when it upheld Legislative Act 02 of 2017. The UN Security Council recognizes it. The community of nations accepts it and applauds it. We’re not going to force absolutely anything, the issue is simply to honor what was agreed when the Colombian state and our former insurgency gave our word. The beautiful dream of peace could be an irreversible reality if you [President Santos] decide to act.

Timochenko’s tone contrasts with that of the FARC’s de facto number-two leader, Iván Márquez, who said that if his close collaborator Jesús Santrich dies of a hunger strike while awaiting a possible extradition, his death “would also be the death of the peace process.”

In his statement, Timochenko asked forgiveness of Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, Sigifredo López, and other civilians whom the FARC held hostage for years. He called on former President Álvaro Uribe to join him in appearing together before the newly established Truth Commission to show the country “what the search for truth and the clarification of the truth look like.” Uribe led an intense military offensive against the FARC during his 2002-2010 presidency, and enjoyed the political support of many backers of right-wing paramilitary groups.

The presidential candidate of Uribe’s party, poll frontrunner Iván Duque, rejected the FARC leader’s invitation. “He can’t come here like a shameless person trying to appear as the equal of a good citizen. Instead, they should give reparations to their victims, tell all the truth, and pay their penalties.”

Military Operations Against FARC Dissidents

A joint Colombian Army-Air Force-Police operation killed 11 members of the FARC’s 7th Front dissident group in Putumayo. Among the dead was a commander named alias “Cachorro,” reportedly a close collaborator of Edgar Salgado, alias “Rodrigo Cadete,” who commanded the FARC’s 27th Front and abruptly abandoned the demobilization process last September. The 7th Front dissidents are a recent presence in Putumayo; they have been most active in Meta and Caquetá.

In Bello, just north of Medellín in Antioquia, an operation carried out by the Army and the Fiscalía captured Henry Arturo Gil Ramírez alias “el Feo” (the Ugly One), a top commander of the 36th Front dissident group.

In-Depth Reading

My LASA presentation slides

If I were smarter, I’d have recorded my Latin American Studies Association panel discussion and shared the audio as a podcast, like Greg Weeks did.

Instead, here’s the 36-slide presentation I used to explain the experience of U.S. support for Colombia’s peace process under the Trump administration. It’s below, or just download the 16mb PDF file here. Scroll further down for a quick overview.

In a nutshell, here’s the story this is trying to tell.

Since Trump’s inauguration, there have been three battle lines:

  1. How to talk about Colombia’s peace accord.
  2. How to talk about Colombia’s coca production problem.
  3. What the aid package should look like.

And there have been four key sets of actors in Washington:

  1. The Trump White House.
  2. Veteran diplomats and other pragmatic officials.
  3. Foreign aid appropriators and foreign relations authorizers in Congress.
  4. Hardliners in Congress. (Sen. Marco Rubio, who has played a big role, straddles 3. and 4.)

Spoiler: so far at least, (2) and (3) have won the day on all three battle lines. But if Colombia elects Duque, and if Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo harden the U.S. line and work the bureaucracy harder, the coming year could be much worse.

I have this all written out as a 19-page draft, still in need of unifying prose, edits, and footnotes. In the meantime, enjoy the slideshow, which has links to sources for nearly everything.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of April 29-May 5)

Dire Warning from Former Chief Negotiator De La Calle

Humberto de la Calle, a respected former vice president and the Liberal Party’s low-polling candidate for May 27 elections, led the Colombian government’s team for all four years of peace talks with the FARC in Havana. On the campaign trail, he has been largely silent on the government’s subsequent implementation of what the accords promised. This silence ended April 29, when he published a brief statement to his website entitled “They’re throwing away peace.” An excerpt:

They’re throwing away peace. That’s it, in plain Spanish, without hypocrisy. They’re throwing away peace.
First, [former president Álvaro] Uribe and [Ivan] Duque [the presidential candidate of Uribe’s Democratic Center party] have been building a fabric of fallacies and hatreds that have brought much of the population into a nostalgia for the war.
The Constitutional Court opened the door for Congress to betray and slow down the accord. Cambio Radical [the party of right-of-center candidate German Vargas Lleras] joined with the Democratic Center in this task, with the support of Dr. Vargas’s vacillations. The FARC have also failed to take the step of showing enough empathy for Colombians.
And implementation has proved to be too much for the government.
This is a call on the nation. As we’re going, we’re heading into war with our eyes closed.

President Juan Manuel Santos emphatically rejected De la Calle’s assertion that his government has dropped the ball on accord implementation. Talking to reporters after a meeting with his “post-conflict cabinet,” Santos contended that their “exhaustive” review of what the government has done brought a “positive evaluation.” Critics of the process, he added, “can’t come and tell us now that the peace accords’ implementation is failing.”

Even though the armed forces have estimated that dissident guerrilla groups’ membership now totals 1,200, Santos insisted that the majority are the result of “forced recruitment.” The real proportion of guerrillas who have dropped out of the process and rearmed, he said, is “7 percent.”

Nearly a year and five months after the accords’ ratification, Santos said that the government has complied with 70 percent of the 80 indicators it had laid out for itself for the first two years of the post-accord period. He noted that by the end of May, the illicit crop substitution program carried out to fulfill the accords’ fourth chapter would bring about the voluntary eradication of 30,000 hectares of coca. The original goal for this program’s first year, Santos did not mention, was 50,000 hectares.

Aftermath of Jesús Santrich Arrest

FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich was moved from Bogotá’s La Picota prison to its El Tunal hospital for “preventive care,” as he has been on a hunger strike since his April 9 arrest. Santrich was indicted April 4 by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York on charges of conspiring with Mexican traffickers to transship ten tons of cocaine. Colombian judicial authorities are awaiting an extradition request from the U.S. government.

The Wall Street Journal reported late on April 28 that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has evidence pointing to a more senior FARC commander. Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, who served as the guerrillas’ chief negotiator in Havana and is often regarded as the FARC’s number-two leader, apparently appears in a cellphone video speaking “to an associate of a known Mexican trafficker.” The video was recorded after the peace accord went into effect, a source told the Journal.

[T]he video in which he speaks was intended as a message to reassure Mexican gang contacts following the seizure in Miami of an alleged drug payment. The Drug Enforcement Administration seized $5 million in Miami that the officials said was an alleged payment for a shipment of cocaine. The date of that seizure remains unclear.

After Santrich’s arrest, Márquez—a close Santrich ally within the FARC—abandoned Bogotá for an ex-guerrilla concentration site in his home department of Caquetá, in southern Colombia. From there, Márquez charged that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal General), Nestor Humberto Martínez, was behind the Journal report. (Martínez has been critical of aspects of the peace accord.) Martínez, however, announced that his office “is not working on any investigation against Mr. Iván Márquez with regard to narcotrafficking or actions that took place after peace was signed.”

While Colombian prosecutors may not be working a case, the U.S. Spanish-language outlet Univisión confirmed what the Wall Street Journal reported: that the DEA appears to have incriminating evidence.

The U.S. anti-narcotics agency (DEA) is investigating a high member of the Venezuelan government and one of the maximum leaders of the demobilized FARC Colombian guerrilla group, Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, for drug trafficking, U.S. government sources confirmed to Univision Noticias. The identity of the Venezuelan official remains confidential so as not to affect the investigation’s advance.
U.S. authorities are investigating a video of the 62-year-old ex-guerrilla leader in which he presumably speaks with someone presenting himself as a collaborator of the Mexican capo Rafael Caro Quintero, in a meeting that happened after the peace accord went into effect.

From Caquetá, Iván Márquez said that he would not take his seat in the Colombian Senate on July 20, when the new legislative session begins, if Santrich is not freed. (The peace accord gives the FARC five automatic seats in Colombia’s Senate and House during the 2018-22 and 2022-26 congressional periods.) FARC leader Carlos Antonio Lozada said that the ex-guerrillas are asking Márquez to reconsider. Because Márquez served briefly as a congressman during a failed 1980s peace process, Lozada said, “He has parliamentary experience and this would be extremely helpful to us.”

When the FARC met in late August and early September to launch its political party and choose its leadership, the delegates in attendance gave Iván Márquez the most votes. Though Márquez has not explicitly threatened to do so, should he abandon the process, because of this internal popularity he would be likely to take many ex-guerrillas with him. La Silla Vacía spoke with several former mid-level leaders who are seriously considering a return to clandestinity.

The same La Silla article analyzed how the Santrich case is exacerbating divisions within the ex-guerrillas. While Márquez has taken a hard line and insisted that his friend’s arrest is a “setup,” maximum leader Timoleón Jiménez and other moderates have stated that those who violate the law in the post-accord period must face consequences as agreed. These divisions existed during the peace talks, the article continues.

From Havana, while the negotiations were occurring, two sources told us separately that his [Santrich’s] sharp tongue and intransigence not only bothered the government’s negotiating team. Within the FARC team they also began to feel that he wasn’t allowing the discussions to advance, to the point at which they once said that it would be better if he returned to Colombia.
“Iván defended him and said that if Santrich went, he would go too,” one of the sources told us.
Later, during the convention from which the party emerged in September of last year, “Santrich and his people, most of them academics who had helped us from clandestinity, questioned Timo’s [Timoleón Jiménez’s] command. They said that it was the moment to renew and have civilian commanders, with more time and youth ahead of them, instead of military commanders. Some were quite rude to him,” a source who is part of the FARC party and attended those meetings told us.

In his missive warning about “throwing away peace,” former government negotiator De la Calle urged Colombia’s justice system to try Santrich in Colombia, rather than swiftly extraditing him to the United States. “His victims have the right to know the truth; don’t cast them adrift, as occurred with the extradited paramilitaries’ victims.” El Tiempo reported that De la Calle’s proposal was not catching on in Bogotá political circles.

Meanwhile, El Espectador reminds that the U.S. government continues to offer a US$5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Timoleón Jiménez or Iván Márquez, who are both wanted on charges of narcotrafficking that took place before the peace accord.

Alleged Irregularities in Management of Peace Funds

Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) continues to investigate allegations of malfeasance in the awarding of contracts to implement programs to fulfill the peace accords. The Fiscalía is now looking at 12 people who may have served as intermediaries, receiving kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to businesses or individuals. Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez says that evidence includes 80,000 telephone records.

A key witness in this investigation is Marlon Marín, a nephew of FARC leader Iván Márquez, who also happens to be a key witness in the case against Jesús Santrich. Marín went to the United States on April 17, where he has agreed to give evidence against Santrich. The Fiscalía has also reached an agreement with U.S. authorities to allow them to question Marín about misuse of peace funds. Marín gave Colombian prosecutors hours of testimony about this before leaving the country. In a recording, Marín can be heard asking a would-be contractor for a 5 percent kickback, instead of the 12 percent “that traditional politicians ask for,” and said that his ties to the new FARC party’s leadership would be useful in securing contracts.

Colombia’s Treasury Ministry has hired the accounting firm Ernst and Young to review contracts granted by the Colombia in Peace Fund, the mechanism channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in funds from many international donors and from Colombia’s national budget.

Two Afro-Colombian Leaders Remain Detained

Prosecutors released several of 33 social leaders from southwest Colombia who had been arrested the previous week to face charges of collaborating with the ELN. However, two women leaders from an Afro-Colombian community along the border with Ecuador, in the Alto Mira region of Tumaco, Nariño, remain in custody.

In a Cali court, Sara Quiñones of the Alto Mira Community Council and her mother, Tulia Marys Valencia, were among a group of 11 local leaders being charged. Two of this group were freed, and one confined to house arrest. The other eight, including the two women, remain in custody. Prosecutor Roberto Gordillo demanded this because they are “a danger to society,” asking that they be charged with sedition and aggravated conspiracy to traffic drugs.

According to Verdad Abierta, “Several sources consulted, who for security reasons asked not to use their names, contended that Gordillo, the number 11 Specialized Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, made serious discriminatory, racist, and condemnatory references.” The prosecutor reportedly referred to Colombia’s Pacific coast as “a nest of criminals” inhabited by an “extremely violent” population. He went on, “attacking human rights defenders by saying that we mask ourselves in subversive activities and narcotrafficking,” a source told Verdad Abierta.

Presiding judge Moisés Malaver was apparently convinced by the prosecutor’s arguments, as he sent Quiñones and Valencia to await trial in the Jamundí women’s prison outside Cali. “Although the decision was appealed,” Verad Abierta reported, “its resolution could take two months.”

Tumaco Violence Degrades Further with “Casas de Pique”

Nearly 20,000 people marched in the Pacific port city of Tumaco, in Nariño near the Ecuador border, on April 27 to demand an end to violence between an assortment of dissident guerrilla bands, the ELN, and organized crime groups. La Silla Vacía noted that the march was organized mainly by the mayor’s office, the Catholic church, and the local Chamber of Commerce, with little participation of civil-society groups.

Tumaco’s police had been celebrating a streak of 25 days without a homicide in the city’s urban core (population about 100,000), even though it sits along the busiest cocaine trafficking route in Colombia. Local Police Chief Col. José Palomino credited a security crackdown including 24-hour military patrols of neighborhoods.

However, La Silla reported, “other sources don’t dismiss the possibility that homicides have been replaced with disappearances that, according to three sources, have shot upward.”

Many of the disappeared, it seems, are being tortured and dismembered alive in so-called “chop houses” (casas de pique) in the midst of Tumaco neighborhoods. This is a return to a practice that horrified many circa 2014, when reports emerged of gangs and paramilitaries using casas de pique in the larger Pacific port of Buenaventura.

The grisly news comes from the government Internal-Affairs Office (Procuraduría), whose Land Restitution unit issued an as-yet unpublished report documenting the existence of at least seven such houses in Tumaco. At least one may be operated by the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific,” a FARC dissident group headed by alias “David,” and at least one more by the “Oliver Sinisterra Front” dissidents headed by Walter Artizala alias “Guacho.” After disappearing and chopping up their victims, the groups take the bodies onto boats and dump them in the open sea.

“It’s a strategy to discipline people,” Internal Affairs chief (Procurador) Fernando Carrillo said. A Tumaco-based investigator told La Silla Vacía that most victims are “snitches” who gave information about the criminal groups, or people who didn’t make extortion payments.

Meanwhile in rural Tumaco, or perhaps just over the border in Ecuador, the dissident group headed by “Guacho” continues to hold two Ecuadorian citizens hostage. The group also continues to hold the remains of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver, whom it kidnapped and killed in March. Ecuador’s government received an apparent message from Guacho early in the week asking that security forces pull out to create a “humanitarian corridor” to allow the group to free its captives and hand over the bodies.

Nothing has since happened, though. By the end of the week, Ecuador’s presidency secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, told a local television outlet, “We don’t have contact with the criminals,” and said that the situation of the two kidnapped people is in Colombian hands because they are not on Ecuadorian soil.

Violence in Catatumbo

Transportation and commerce resumed in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia on April 30 after the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small but locally strong guerrilla group, lifted an “armed stoppage” that prohibited vehicles from transiting and businesses from opening for at least two weeks. The situation in the region remains tense, though, as the EPL and ELN, which have been in open combat since mid-March, continue to fight.

Norte de Santander human rights ombudsman Nélson Arévalo told El Colombiano that the historically conflictive coca-growing region had returned to “a semi-tranquility …because the conflict between those two illegal groups continues and may generate more displacement. For example, in the last several hours new combats have been reported.” Arévalo said that many of the thousands of people displaced by lack of food during the armed stoppage might now return to their homes, but that those who displaced for humanitarian reasons might remain in their places of refuge.

In a report for The Guardian, reporter Mathew Charles visited the region, and noted that much of the fighting seeks to occupy parts of Catatumbo abandoned by the FARC’s 33rd Front, which demobilized in early 2017.

Down the road, in the town of El Tarra, a group of locals gathered in the midday heat to call for peace. “The guerrillas should be fighting for the people, not against us. With Farc, we knew where we stood. They had their laws and they’d sort out any problems we had. Since they’ve gone, it’s just got worse,” said one woman.
Hovering above the protest is a Colombian army helicopter. “This is as close as the government gets,” said Álvaro, 22, pointing upwards.

Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, visiting the Catatumbo municipality of Tibú, said that security forces there continue to carry out a campaign called “Sparta,” begun since January. Villegas said that security forces in that time have captured 168 members of the ELN and other groups.

The two presidential candidates who are furthest to the right on the political spectrum, frontrunner Iván Duque and Germán Vargas Lleras, have both paid recent visits to Catatumbo, a region where voters overwhelmingly supported the peace accord in a October 2016 referendum.

Vargas advised the region’s armed groups “to take full advantage of the three months they have left, because on August 7 [inauguration day] we’re going to fight them like they’ve never imagined.” Duque promised that “I will hold my first security council meeting in Tibú.” Both spoke as well about infrastructure investments. Neither mentioned forced eradication of coca, including aerial herbicide spraying, an option that both strongly favor. Past eradication campaigns have drawn fierce protests from organized farmers in Catatumbo.

In-Depth Reading

Colombia’s ungoverned, conflictive margins

While looking for a graphic to use in a presentation for tomorrow, I found this cartogram of Colombia’s population at a site called World Mapper. A cartogram re-sizes territories on a map, usually using software, to reflect an attribute. This one shows what Colombia’s map might look like if each pixel contained an equal number of people.

The map shows what a heavily urban country Colombia is. About 77 percent urban in 2016, according to the World Bank.

The parts of the country that have most suffered the conflict, including those where coca is most heavily planted, are all scrunched down to almost nothing. They are rural, and often marginal to the country’s civic and economic life. (I added the red labels pointing out some of those regions.)

Similarly scrunched are all of Colombia’s border zones (except the city of Cúcuta along the border with Venezuela, bulging between Catatumbo and Arauca, where the metro population is about 800,000). Like most South American border regions, Colombia’s are sparsely populated. The Pacific Coast, similarly diminished, until the end of the 20th century was a forgotten region with a mostly Afro-Colombian and indigenous population. Today, it may be the most violent part of the country.

This image makes clear how, at least for the past 10 years or so, the rural armed conflict was something that most Colombians only saw on television. It also makes clear why neither peace accord implementation, nor drug production, nor any other rural issue leads polled voters’ concerns in the runup to May 27 presidential elections. In a mostly urban country, political reality works against doing what it takes to bring a rural conflict to a definitive end.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of April 22-28)

Jesús Santrich Case

Arrested FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich remains in Bogotá’s La Picota prison, where he is continuing a hunger strike that began after his April 9 arrest. He agreed to receive medical attention, but only from “trusted personnel.”

Colombia’s judicial system—both the transitional system set up by the FARC peace accord and the regular criminal system—are awaiting a formal request for Santrich’s extradition from the U.S. Justice Department’s Southern District of New York. That is where Santrich was indicted on April 4 to face charges of conspiring with Mexican traffickers to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.

The Colombian investigative website La Silla Vacía reported that three people with whom the site consulted,

(a journalist who has covered narcotrafficking for decades, an investigator who is an expert on the issue, and a lawyer who used to defend narcos), said that upon viewing the evidence, they were convinced that the case is not a fake setup.
… What they do believe is that it looks like “entrapment” by the DEA, which over several months put together an operation with undercover agents in order to catch someone in the act who believed he was negotiating with narcos.

Santrich’s closest ally in the FARC leadership, Iván Márquez, told an interviewer that until the jailed ex-guerrilla leader is freed, Márquez will not take his seat in Colombia’s Senate. (The peace accord gives the FARC five seats in each chamber of Colombia’s Congress for eight years, starting when the new session begins in July.) “How can I go on July 20 and be a senator… when they could go and tell me I’m a narcotrafficker? …What I’m saying is very hard because it means the failure of the peace process in Colombia.”

Márquez, who was the FARC’s lead negotiator in the Havana peace talks and is often referred to as the group’s number-two leader, was elected to Congress and served briefly during a failed 1980s FARC process. He left Bogotá in mid-April, relocating to a former demobilization site in a rural zone of his native department of Caquetá. If Márquez does not serve in the Senate, his seat will go to Israel Alberto Zúniga alias Benkos Biojó, the former commander of the FARC’s 34th front in Chocó and Urabá.

Márquez’s angry statements about the Santrich situation contrast with calls from other top FARC leaders, who have called for calm. “The moment we signed the accord, we accepted the constitution and the laws,” reads a statement from top FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, “and it is our duty to act according to them. Whoever does not should prepare for the consequences, and it would be difficult for them to ask the [FARC] party’s solidarity.” A source in the FARC told El Tiempo of “alarm” within the organization about apparent divergence between the group’s hardliners, like Márquez, and moderates.

A key hardliner, Hernán Darío Velásquez alias “El Paisa,” abandoned the Caquetá demobilization site where he was living (Miravalle, the same site where Márquez is now), conditioning his return on Santrich’s freedom. During the conflict, Velásquez headed one of the FARC’s most deadly and powerful units, the Teófilo Forero Column active in south-central Colombia and occasionally in cities. According to La Silla Vacía, this unit carried out the 2003 El Nogal bomb attack in Bogotá, which killed 36 people; the 2001 kidnapping of 12 from a building in Neiva, the capital of Huila; the 2003 “house bomb” that killed 6 in Neiva; the 2000 assassination of congressman Diego Turbay; the 2002 airplane hijacking and kidnapping of a senator that triggered the end of the 1998-2002 peace process; and the 2012 bomb in Bogotá targeting former interior minister Fernando Londoño.

Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera pointed out that “El Paisa” is free to leave anytime. “The Territorial Training and Reincorporation Spaces are not a prison. People can come and go freely.” This is true at least until they are called to stand trial for war crimes in the new transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

“Alias ‘El Paisa’ was always resistant to the peace process,” Angela Olaya and James Bargent of the Colombian Organized Crime Observatory told La Silla. “It wouldn’t be strange if he finally dropped out of the process.”

“Of course he is in the process,” Iván Márquez told an interviewer.

Don’t you see how he’s working? I’m going to take his place while I’m here [at the demobilization site]. …I would like to keep seeing “Paisa” in this situation, and not in another, not in a confrontation. He isn’t thinking of war, he’s not thinking about being a dissident. He’s thinking of Santrich being freed and in resources coming to finance productive projects.

Local Leaders Swept Up in Wave of Arrests on Charges of ELN Collaboration

On April 20 and over the following weekend, Colombian authorities arrested between 33 and 42 individuals, including social leaders and former municipal officials, in the southwestern department of Nariño and the city of Cali. The Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía) is charging many with being part of the ELN or its support network. Some have been released for lack of evidence.

Perhaps the best known of the arrested was Harold Montúfar, who served between 2004 and 2007 as mayor of Samaniego municipality in Nariño. One of several former Samaniego mayors or officials arrested, Montúfar was known as an active promoter of peace during, and since, his tenure. Samaniego has long been an ELN stronghold, and is notorious throughout the country for the large number of guerrilla-laid landmines scattered throughout its territory. Montufar has led efforts to make humanitarian demining possible, an effort that requires dialogue with local ELN leaders. In addition, he promoted a Local Peace Pact that brought important reductions in violence to the Samaniego region. Montúfar had traveled to Quito, where the government’s peace negotiations with the ELN until recently were taking place, to promote the idea of reviving the Pact.

“Activists who know Montúfar’s social and political trajectory” told Verdad Abierta “that at least since 2000, authorities have tried to link him to the ELN guerrillas.” Samaniego priest Jhon Fredy Bolívar told La Silla Vacía,

“Here anybody who doesn’t have a link to those people [the ELN] can’t live in Samaniego, because they enter houses, demand things, take food and basic goods, it’s part of the dynamic of the conflict we’re living through. Farmers, church, officials, everyone ends up getting tied to the conflict in some way because you help, or if you don’t help you must prepare for the consequences.”

Montúfar was freed later in the week.

Still in custody is Sara Quiñones, a leader of the Alto Mira y Frontera Community Council, an Afro-Colombian community settlement in Tumaco, Nariño, along the Ecuador border. She was arrested in Cali, where she had been taking refuge from death threats, along with her mother, Tulia Marys Valencia, who was also arrested. The Fiscalía accused Quiñones of being an ELN member since 2013, “in charge of financial tasks directed at subversive activities and narco-trafficking.” It accused her mother of being a presumed “guerrilla militia member” since 2013 “who has used her social work to carry out intelligence and recruitment tasks.”

Quiñones’s and Valencia’s arrests come just weeks after the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, on March 11, ordered protective measures for Quiñones and other members of the Alto Mira y Frontera leadership. Verdad Abierta reports that they are now being subject to cruel treatment.

Those present at this judicial hearing expressed their concern about the poor treatment that Sara Quiñones and her mother are receiving: “They’re strong, but they want to break them with the conditions. While some women are placed in a jail in the south that is newer with better conditions, they ended up in a station in the center of Cali, the most disgusting of all.”

The chief of the Fiscalía’s organized crime unit, Claudia Carrasquilla—who has a past record of going after paramilitary organizations—responded to questions with tough talk, as Verdad Abierta reported.

“It’s an investigation that had been ongoing in the Organized Crime Directorate against the ELN’s Southwestern War Front, in which it was evident that some former public officials and leaders were possibly at the ELN’s service, above all in the management of support networks and finances,” Carrasquilla explained.
“We knew that this was a complex process, that was going to generate what it is generating, the disagreement of the majority of human rights collectives, precisely because the majority of the arrest orders went against that type of people. But we wanted to go very strong, with very compelling elements, to be able to try them.”

The Black Communities Process (PCN), a grouping of Afro-Colombian organizations especially active in the Pacific region, condemned the arrests of Quiñones and Valencia as “judicial false positives.” PCN leader Charo Mina told Contagio Radio, “It’s a criminalization process, and it’s what we’re used to seeing from the Fiscalía, showing its opposition to the ELN dialogues.”

Procedural Law for Transitional Justice System Introduced in Congress

The transitional justice system set up by the peace accords to try war crimes, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), took another step toward being able to function fully. The last piece of legislation needed to establish it is now before Congress. Justice Minister Enrique Gil Botero presented a 76-article bill, drafted with input from the new system’s judges, that would become the JEP’s Procedural Law.

This is the third piece of needed legislation. Colombia’s Congress approved the first, a constitutional amendment, in May 2017, and it received Constitutional Court approval in November. The second, the statutory law governing the JEP’s functioning, passed the Congress in late November and the Constitutional Court is still reviewing it. Congress will also have to pass the new bill—which is far from guaranteed before the next session begins on July 20—and it will probably have to undergo court review.

These long delays occur while 6,094 former guerrillas, 1,792 current and former armed-forces members, 44 former civilian officials, and 6 private citizens await judgement in the JEP for alleged involvement in serious human rights crimes. Still, even without all laws in place, the JEP has been able to start working, getting established and beginning written reviews of case files. It has stumbled in recent weeks, though, as internal disagreements over structure and procedure turned nasty, resulting in the April exit of tribunal administrator Nestor Raul Correa.

Army Patrols Medellín’s Troubled Comuna 13

Comuna (Ward) 13, a complex of poor neighborhoods on Medellín’s western edge, became nationally known in 2002 when recently elected president Álvaro Uribe ordered an intense military offensive there against guerrilla militia groups. Operations Mariscal and Orion ejected the militias (essentially, guerrilla-tied gangs) with significant loss of life, only to end up replacing them with paramilitary-tied gangs, some of whom participated in the operations alongside the troops.

The Army was back in Comuna 13 this week, amid a crime wave. 300 soldiers are patrolling the neighborhoods in an effort to weaken violent gangs that residents call “combos” and local officials call “ODINs” (Organizaciones Delincuenciales Integradas al Narcotráfico, Narcotrafficking-Linked Criminal Organizations). Fighting between gangs in recent days had killed four people, confined people to their houses, and shuttered schools.

El Espectador explains the complicated situation:

As Medellín Security Secretary Andrés Felipe Tobón explained it, two illegal groups are present in the Comuna: La Agonía and El Coco, which have not only occupied territory for years, but are also aligned with two other larger, more powerful armed structures: the ODIN Caicedo and the ODIN Robledo. Carlos Pesebre formed part of the second group, and until recently it was under the command of Cristian Camilo Mazo Castañeda, alias Sombra, who was captured last Saturday in El Peñol municipality. As a result, the authorities’ conclusion is that the fighting this week responds—in large part—to ODIN Caicedo taking advantage of the momentary lack of leadership in ODIN Robledo to attack its structures.

Transportation companies—which are routinely extorted by gangs—have been especially targeted. A public bus was set on fire in the Calasanz neighborhood. Medellín Mayor Federico Gutiérrez blamed “Juancito,” the 45-year-old leader of the “Betanía” combo, for the threats and attacks on bus companies.

Authorities dismissed as fake several flyers circulating in parts of the city declaring a curfew enforced by the “Gaitanistas,” one of the names used by the Urabeños neo-paramilitary group. Still, residents of the marginal neighborhoods tell reporters that they are restricting their movements.

Medellín Police commander Gen. Óscar Gómez Heredia told El Colombiano that his force has 320 men patrolling the neighborhoods, in addition to the soldiers. But a reporting team from the Medellín daily wrote, “We passed through eight neighborhoods of Comuna 13 yesterday morning. In all of the zone, El Colombiano only found two police patrolling in the La Torre sector, and several soldiers posted alongside a military base.”

EPL “Armed Stoppage” Pauses in Catatumbo, Violence Continues

A humanitarian crisis continues in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border. Home to the country’s second-largest concentration of coca crops, this neglected territory has strong social organizations and a historic presence of FARC, ELN, and EPL guerrillas.

The latter group (Popular Liberation Army), which is only active in Catatumbo, has been enforcing an “armed stoppage” for about two weeks, preventing road travel, confining people in their communities, and forcing businesses and schools to close. In the face of emphatic protests from communities faced with the possibility of running out of food, the EPL announced a 60-hour pause in its stoppage, from the morning of April 24 to the evening of the 26th.

The April 23 announcement read, “our guerrilla organization is open to dialogue to solve the differences between the two guerrilla organizations.” This refers to fighting that broke out between the EPL and ELN around March 14, and has since killed about 30 people and forced over 4,600 to displace.

The government calls the EPL “Los Pelusos,” and considers them a regional organized crime structure. The organization calls itself an insurgent group, organized as the Libardo Mora Toro Front, that can trace its lineage to a Maoist guerrilla organization that mostly demobilized in 1991. The EPL remnant has been growing, and estimates of its current size range from 130 to 400-500 combatants, which would make it at least as large as the ELN contingent active in Catatumbo. The EPL is also regarded as the wealthiest illegal group in Catatumbo. Its longtime leader alias “Megateo”—killed by the security forces in late 2015—built a vigorous operation trafficking cocaine across the Venezuelan border.

Verdad Abierta explained the EPL’s origins in a lengthy article published this week. It reports that the Libardo Mora Toro Front has been in Catatumbo since early 1982, where it coexisted alongside the FARC’s 33rd Front and two ELN fronts. As soon as it decided not to participate in the EPL’s late 1980s-early 1990s peace process, the Front involved itself in drug trafficking. After the 2015 killing of “Megateo,” alias “David León” took over leadership. He emphasized ideology and growth through recruitment until his September 2016 capture.

Since then, the EPL’s leadership has been in flux. “It’s gotten so that very young people arrive in power, who don’t have enough political education and who are more contaminated by narcotrafficking,” Wilfredo Cañizares of the Cúcuta-based human rights group Fundación Progresar told Verdad Abierta. “At least, that’s what the ELN members say: that they want to get the EPL out of the region because they’re tired of their mafioso way of acting, that they’ve lost their revolutionary vocation.”

Until recently, Verdad Abierta notes, “ELN guerrillas and members of the Libardo Mora Toro Front walked together through the same Catatumbo hamlets as though they were members of the same family, or at least the same organization.” They patrolled together and fought the military or paramilitary groups together. “Here in the region there were accords between guerrillas, and between guerrillas and the community: for example, not to use weapons or wear camouflage in the town centers; respect the work of social organizations; respect international humanitarian law; respect each armed group’s boundaries,” a resident of the central Catatumbo town of El Tarra told Verdad Abierta. “But the ELN and EPL mutually accuse each other of having violated those accords, of not respecting community work, of not respecting boundaries.”

The same source says much disagreement centers on the marketing of coca paste that they purchase from the region’s growers. The FARC had controlled much of this business until its late 2016-early 2017 demobilization. Competition between the ELN and EPL intensified.“The ELN pay COP$3.2 million or COP$3.1 million [just over US$1,100] per kilo of coca paste, two, three, four months at a time. On the other hand, “The Pelusos,” to win people over, started paying COP$3.5 million per kilo [US$1,242], all at once. And the ELN didn’t like that at all.”

Verdad Abierta reports that the situation has grown still more complicated with the presence of another actor in the region: intermediaries from Mexican cartels. “The Sinaloa Cartel is buying the majority of coca that’s coming out of Catatumbo. They are in the territory,” said Cañizares of the Fundación Progresar. Today, “we’re not talking about campesinos with three or four hectares, we’re talking about campesinos with more then 10 hectares of coca leaf.”

Criminal groups also make money by trafficking cheap gasoline from Venezuela, precursor chemicals, and weapons. Some specialize in refining a crude gasoline from oil siphoned from the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline, which passes through Catatumbo’s center. This gets used to refine coca paste from the dried leaves.

After a March 14 meeting between the two groups erupted in violence, ELN-EPL fighting has raged unabated. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 90,000 Catatumbo residents have seen their ability to travel in the zone reduced or curtailed, in some places resulting in total confinement. At least 80 schools have closed their doors, leaving 45,000 kids without classes. OCHA also notes that armed-group pressure has 10 social leaders to abandon their organizations.

A leader of CISCA, a Catatumbo campesino network, noted to Verdad Abierta that some of the most violent communities are those that the Colombian government had pinpointed as priorities for implementing the FARC peace accord. “But, what has been done? Nothing. Neither crop substitution nor Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs). Nothing. Later, they’ll say they couldn’t do it because of the violence, even though the Accord was signed two years ago and this violence got worse only a month ago.” Cañizares of Fundación Progresar held a similar view:

“The FARC concentrated in Caño Indio [the demobilization site in Tibú municipality] and the Santos government said: now the state will arrive. And nothing. Before [2004], when the paramilitaries demobilized in Campo Dos [Tibú], the Uribe government said: the state is arriving. And nothing. When the EPL concentrated in Campo Giles [Tibú], the Gaviria government committed to building an aqueduct for that township. Today there is no potable water. The state never arrived, but those who did come quickly were the illegal armed actors.”

This week, in response to the crisis in Catatumbo, Mariana Escobar, director of the Territorial Renovation Agency—the new entity that implements the PDETs in compliance with Chapter 1 of the Havana accord—promised to present within 10 days a “road map” for structuring PDETs in the region. And a group of 2,000 soldiers from the Army’s Engineering Brigade arrived with promises to help meet infrastructure needs in the areas of ELN-EPL fighting. Vice-President Óscar Naranjo, visiting the city of Ocaña at Catatumbo’s periphery, said that 12,000 members of the police and military are already deployed in the region.

However, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas and Army Commander Gen. Ricardo Gómez Nieto angered some in Catatumbo by insisting that conditions in the zone were calm. Villegas questioned the Norte de Santander governor’s decision to suspend classes in the region’s schools, and Gen. Nieto said that after a visit he saw little evidence of war.

According to La Silla Vacía, “part of the complexity of combating both the ELN and the EPL is that their men, in their majority, are born and bred in the region.”

They were recruited there and are relatives or friends of the zone’s inhabitants. So networks of paid informants don’t work as well here as in other regions. In addition, since both groups’ guerrillas spend much of their time dressed in civilian clothing, it is very hard to identify them. And as they’re in a border zone, when they’re chased, they go to the Venezuelan side.

Somos Defensores Reports on January-March Attacks on Social Leaders

The non-governmental organization Somos Defensores, which monitors attacks on human rights defenders and social leaders, published its latest quarterly report. It documents a dramatically worsening situation.

Forty-six rights defenders or local leaders were murdered during January through March: one every two days. That is up from 20 in the same period of 2017. Somos Defensores categorized their work as follows:

  • Community Action Board leader: 13 victims
  • Community leader: 11 victims
  • Campesino or Agrarian leader: 8 victims
  • Indigenous leader or rights defender: 7 victims
  • Economic, Social, Cultural rights defender: 3 victims
  • Afro-Colombian leader: 3 victims
  • Victims leader: 1 victim

Leaders of Community Action Boards (Juntas de Acción Comunal), hamlet or neighborhood-level advisory bodies first established in the 1960s, are heavily represented because many of their members are independent local leaders. Nine of the dead were members of a cross-cutting category: participants in coca substitution programs established by Chapter 4 of the Havana peace accord.

In 11 of the homicide cases, the report identifies the group presumed responsible. The security forces appear four times, paramilitary/organized crime groups three times, FARC dissidents twice, and the ELN twice. Thirty of the forty-six murders took place in just five departments: Cauca (8), Antioquia (7), Norte de Santander (7), Arauca (4), and Córdoba (4).

As Colombia’s slow-moving government apparatus struggles to respond to the problem, the Interior Ministry promulgated a decree that would make possible more collective protection measures for entire communities. According to Contagio Radio, the decree “seeks to create and implement an Integral Security and Protection Program for Communities and Organizations in the Territories, and define necessary measures that protect communities in an comprehensive manner.”

President Santos Visits U.S. Southern Command in Miami

While briefly in Miami, President Santos paid a visit to the headquarters of U.S. Southern Command, the Defense Department body responsible for U.S. military activities in all of Latin America except Mexico, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico. In remarks, he effusively thanked those in attendance for 18 years of military assistance since Plan Colombia was launched in 2000. He also talked up the peace process using defense-friendly language.

Any asymmetric war today ends in a negotiation, regardless of what ends up being negotiated. And that’s what we did: a negotiation that from our point of view was a cheap negotiation. With regard to what we sacrificed, compared to what they were demanding at the beginning of the process, it was practically free of cost.
…That’s something the world is applauding, admiring, and studying, and this is something that was possible thanks to the very special relationship we’ve had with the Southern Command.

Meanwhile, while testifying in Colombia’s Congress about a military corruption scandal, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Alberto Mejía mentioned that during the previous week, they signed a 5-year cooperation agreement with the U.S. government to combat narcotrafficking.

In-Depth Reading

The Bogotá Bubble Is Impenetrable

From yesterday’s edition of Colombia’s El Tiempo:

After doing an ‘exhaustive’ review, together with his government team, of how peace accord implementation is going so far, President Juan Manuel Santos delivered a “positive evaluation” of the development of what was agreed in Havana.

…”The detractors of the process can’t come to us and say that the peace accords’ implementation is failing,” Santos said forcefully, referring to compliance with the indicators the government has drawn up.

According to him, in the year and four months ofthe peace accord’s development, 70 percent of the 80 indicators drawn up for the first two years have been met.

For contrary views from people outside the Bogotá Bubble, see these recent reports just from April. Alarm bells are ringing.

And also, from me:

Amazing maps, but what a mess

It’s hard to believe anyone would even try to map out the tangled, shifting patchwork of violent groups active in “post-conflict” Colombia’s Pacific coastal region. But the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think tank, accepted the challenge.

This map, from an April 10 FIP report on rearmed FARC “dissident” groups, depicts the department of Nariño in Colombia’s southwest corner, along the border with Ecuador. Nariño and neighboring Esmeraldas, Ecuador, appear to be the busiest cocaine trafficking corridor in South America right now. Colombia’s Navy has been cited as saying that 60 percent of Colombia’s cocaine comes through here (though this sounds a bit high). It is here where the dissident group headed by alias “Guacho” (denoted on the map as “FOS”) has been causing so much mayhem.

Map of Narino

This map, from the same FIP report, zooms in on the downtown of Tumaco, Nariño’s principal port city. In just the first 85 days of 2018, Tumaco’s urban core (population perhaps 125,000) saw 67 homicides, an annualized homicide rate well over 200 per 100,000 residents. This map of who purportedly controls which neighborhoods—with even a spot for Mexican intermediaries! (orange)—shows why.

Map of Tumaco

This one, from a July 2017 report, shows Chocó department, Colombia’s poorest, in the country’s northwest corner. Here, the ELN and the Urabeños organized crime group have been fighting bitter territorial battles, and FARC dissident bands were just emerging.

Map of Chocó

On a Twitter DM with one of these maps’ creators, I joked that they’re probably already out of date. The reply was “some parts are.” In the absence of government, territorial control over illegal economies shifts constantly, with every murder of a low-level leader, every mass displacement, every fragmentation of a criminal group. This makes mapping almost impossible. It also makes living there almost impossible: the population, terrified and unprotected, suffers. Residents quietly pay extortion demands and lose children to recruitment—or they leave for somewhere else, abandoning their land, much of it Afro-Colombian community councils’ shared landholdings.

Congratulations to the team at Fundación Ideas para la Paz for putting these maps together. What a tragedy that the government has shown such a lack of urgency in filling the post-conflict territorial vacuum in a part of the country that’s crucial for both humanitarian and counter-drug priorities.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Still catching up. This is the week of April 15-21.)

Ecuador Will No Longer Host the ELN Negotiations

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, announced April 18 that his country will no longer host the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN. Government representatives and guerrilla leaders had held five rounds of talks in Quito since February 2017. Moreno’s announcement came days after the murder of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver, whom a group of re-armed FARC guerrillas had abducted in late March on Ecuador’s side of the border with Colombia.

“I have asked the foreign minister of Ecuador to put the brakes on the conversations and put the brakes on our role as a guarantor of the peace process while the ELN does not commit to ending terrorist actions,” Moreno told Colombian cable news network NTN24.

“President Santos understands the reasons why President Moreno has decided to move away from his role as guarantor and host of these negotiations,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín responded, adding that Colombia will seek a new foreign country in which to hold the talks, which have made only very modest progress on their agenda. The candidate leading polls for Colombia’s May 27 presidential election, rightist Iván Duque, endorsed Ecuador’s move: “President Moreno was completely right to suspend the dialogues with the ELN. What President Santos did not do, the Ecuadorian government did well.”

The talks’ remaining five guarantor countries are Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela. Analysts asked by Colombian media coincided in the view that Cuba or perhaps Chile is the best choice for a new venue: Brazil is about to have elections, Chile just inaugurated a new conservative government, Norway is too far away, and Venezuela is roiled by political and economic instability. Another option would be to continue the original vision of “itinerant” negotiations that move from country to country, which poses logistical challenges.

Moreno’s decision came after the journalists’ kidnapping-murder, another kidnapping of two Ecuadorians who remain in custody, and several attacks on Ecuador’s security forces in the border region, mainly in the Pacific province of Esmeraldas. All of these actions were perpetrated by the so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front, a grouping of ex-FARC members headed by Walter Arizara, an Ecuadorian-born former FARC member who goes by the alias “Guacho.” Though the ELN has nothing to do with Guacho’s group’s actions, the attacks on Ecuadorian soil have soured public opinion in the country toward Colombian armed groups in general.

The Colombian journalism website Verdad Abierta adds that Ecuador’s government was also probably miffed at the “lack of diplomatic tact” with which Colombia’s government handled the reporters’ kidnapping and murder.

For more than two years, annoyance has been incubating within the Ecuadorian Defense Ministry over their Colombian counterparts’ lack of commitment to the design of a joint border security strategy that would include contingency plans. Since that time, it was known that some FARC units wouldn’t accept the accords signed with the Colombian government.
… A researcher who has studied the armed conflict dynamic in that border region for several years, and who asked not to use his/her name, affirmed… “The Ecuadorian government has always felt undervalued by the Colombian government. The situation intensified with President Juan Manuel Santos’s response to the situation with the murdered journalists. This had several elements, for example that he did not go to Ecuador to meet with Moreno at a moment of intense pain for Ecuadorians. This was seen as an affront.”
That atmosphere became even tenser after President Santos’s clumsy statements saying that “Guacho” was Ecuadorian and that the reporters were killed in Ecuador. Those statements were interpreted by many Ecuadorian people, including by international bodies as saying “that’s Ecuador’s problem.”

On April 15, two days after President Moreno announced the reporters’ death, President Santos recognized that the reporters were killed on Colombian soil. The bodies remain there, unrecovered.

On April 19 someone—the Colombian military said the ELN—bombed a power pylon in Nariño, Colombia, shutting off electricity throughout the border region, including the troubled port city of Tumaco. The peace talks, meanwhile, continue to seek a new venue at which to resume their fifth round.

Aftermath of the Arrest of Jesús Santrich

Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, the FARC ideologist and negotiator arrested April 9 on charges of conspiring to traffic cocaine, was transferred to southern Bogotá’s La Picota prison, where he will remain as Colombian judicial authorities determine whether he should be separated from the peace accords’ transitional justice process and extradited to the United States. Colombia’s Supreme Court denied a habeas corpus motion seeking his release; his lawyers contended, unsuccessfully, that the transitional justice system (Special Jurisdiction for Peace or JEP) should have executed the arrest order instead of the regular criminal justice system.

From his confinement, Santrich gave an interview to Colombia’s W Radio news station. He confirmed that he had spoken to Mexican traffickers —who were either undercover DEA agents, or had one or more DEA agents embedded in their group—but thought that they were potential investors in post-conflict agricultural projects. Santrich had been put into contact with the Mexicans by Marlon Marín, a lawyer who is the nephew of chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, a close associate of Santrich’s on the FARC party’s hardline wing.

Santrich said his relationship with Marín “is a working relationship about ideas for productive projects, specifically about farms growing native crops, to implement in zones where the accord on integral rural reform will be carried out.” He said that he did not know the name of Rafael Caro Quintero, the top Mexican drug trafficker whom his intermediaries claimed to be representing. “It’s very hard for me to keep in mind who could be a narco or not. Many people came to my house with the idea of contributing to moving the peace process forward, and all of the people who came were registered with the National Police.” Asked about the ink drawing he gave the Mexicans, dedicated to Caro Quintero, he said that he thought Caro was a potential investor, and that he had given similar drawings to Vice-President Óscar Naranjo and presidential post-conflict chief Rafael Pardo.

“You will never hear words like ‘cocaine, payment, five-kilogram packages’ come out of my mouth,” Santrich said. “This is like an Indiana Jones movie, everyone adding special effects and the setup is right around the corner.” He added, “It’s more likely that cocaine passed through the nose of the chief prosecutor of the nation than through my hands.” Recordings of Santrich’s conversations with the Mexicans, currently in U.S. authorities’ possession, may give a clearer idea of to what extent Santrich knowingly discussed a plan to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States, or how he reacted when Marlon Marín—who had urged Santrich to meet the Mexicans—discussed the plan in his presence.

Yezid Arteta, a former FARC member turned columnist for Semana magazine’s website, called Marín “the typical lizard that one finds in all political parties and institutions, who seems to be one of the planners of the trap laid for Santrich.” On April 16, Marlon Marín boarded a flight to New York, where he has agreed to testify against Jesús Santrich as a cooperating witness. Asked about his relationship with his nephew, FARC leader Iván Márquez only said he was a “gentleman” whose “conduct will have to be investigated.”

On April 19 Márquez, who is slated to take a seat in Colombia’s Senate on July 20, notified Colombia’s Police and National Protection Unit that he was leaving Bogotá, moving “temporarily to the territorial space [FARC demobilization site] in Miravalle,” in the southern department of Caquetá, “due to the situation and until there is greater clarity and certainty about what comes next.” Santrich, on a hunger strike in La Picota, said he would rather starve to death than be extradited.

Aftermath of Revelation of Peace Fund Irregularities

A week after Colombian media reported on letters from European ambassadors and from Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) voicing concerns about the management of special peace accord implementation funds, President Santos announced a “crash plan” to improve monitoring of resources and administrative steps to restructure management of resources from international donors.

The concerns center around the “Colombia in Peace Fund,” which concentrates a few hundred million dollars in resources for peace accord implementation projects, most of them from foreign donors. Though the fund is subject to close oversight and reporting, in order to speed delivery of aid it is largely exempt from often cumbersome procedures in regular Colombian law designed to prevent corruption in contracting.

The government found that 97 percent of the fund’s resources so far have gone to 40 contracts. “That’s why the denunciations and suspicions that persist about supposed poor management are so concerning,” reads an editorial in El Espectador. “In synthesis, it seems that the corrupt political bureaucracy that is so rooted in our country has also tried to stick its hand in the investments that should be consolidating the accord’s implementation.”

The concerns led to the dismissal of Carlos Fidel Simancas, a contractor of the International Organization for Migration who worked in the Presidency’s Post-Conflict Secretariat. “In that Secretariat,” El Tiempo reported, Simancas

was the manager of former Green Party congressional candidate Sonia Elvira Veloza Mogollón, who last Friday was called for questioning at the Fiscalía as part of the “group of people who played specific roles” in the presumed irregularities in the management of productive projects for demobilized FARC.
Another eight people—a list that does not include Simancas—were also called to the Fiscalía, and their offices and homes were searched on suspicion of being part of the network of Marlon Marín Marín, who according to the investigative body was a sort of articulator of a network that sought to enrich itself with peace contracts.
Marlon Marín first sought to obtain a cut of the contracts for basic healthcare at the demobilized combatants’ concentration sites.

This is the same Marlon Marín involved in the arrest of Jesús Santrich, the FARC leader’s nephew whom columnist Yezid Arteta referred to above as a “lizard.” Before discovering his efforts to strike a cocaine deal with Mexicans, Colombian authorities were already monitoring Marín because they suspected he was mishandling these health contracts.

Vice President Óscar Naranjo said that the government will seek “to accelerate the accords’ implementation, especially with relation to productive projects.” Treasury Vice-Minister Paula Acosta said that the government has contracted the accounting firm Ernst and Young to audit the contracts awarded so far.

Naranjo promised a detailed review of post-conflict productive projects. He said there are 214 such projects so far, in different states of development. Among them, 35, involving 1,533 ex-FARC members, are in the “formulation phase” and will cost about COP$22.764 billion (US$8.081 million).

“This is no reason, certainly, to slow implementation” of the peace accord, concluded El Espectador’s editorial. “The accord has already faltered too much for the government to keep delaying compliance with its promises. The money is there precisely to be spent as soon as possible and to put in motion everything that was promised. Can’t we do this with transparency?”

UN Secretary General Reports on Peace Process

The UN Security Council convened on September 19 to hear the Secretary General’s latest report on the peace process and the work of the UN Verification Mission. The ambassadors in attendance gave supportive statements and celebrated the progress away from conflict that Colombia has made. Some, most notably Russia, voiced concerns about the pace of implementation.

“While it is obviously too early to take stock of a peace process that has set ambitious and long-term goals,” UN Mission Head Jean Arnault told the Council that there is reason for optimism.

[W]e have already observed that it has achieved a notable reduction of violence in the context of the congressional elections. Similarly, it has created a series of institutions dedicated to overcoming patterns of social, economic and political violence in the conflict areas. …Throughout the implementation phase of the Peace Agreement, circumstances have occasionally tested the commitment of the two parties to stay the course. They have stayed the course.

Nonetheless Arnault, and the Secretary-General’s report, warned of problems. “[T]he resurgence of violence in several of the areas most affected by the conflict and the persistent pattern of killings of community and social leaders are the main subjects of concern at present,” the report emphasized.

The report highlights the slowness with which Colombia is reintegrating former FARC combatants.

Socioeconomic reintegration is lagging behind. The transition from early reinsertion to sustainable reintegration has not yet been completed, and this uncertainty continues to undermine the confidence of former members of FARC-EP in their reintegration and in the peace process itself.

Lack of progress in this respect is in good part responsible for the movement of former FARC-EP members outside the territorial areas, hence the growing importance of access to land, the design, funding and implementation of viable productive projects linked to local development and the creation of cooperatives to implement them.

Remarkably, Colombia still does not have a plan in place for reintegrating ex-combatants, violating a cardinal precept of how a peace accord should be implemented.

I reiterate the need for the National Reintegration Council to adopt, as provided for in the Peace Agreement, its national reintegration plan linking reintegration to development.

The Secretary-General’s report also voices concern for the security of former FARC members located outside the former concentration zones, and of threatened social leaders throughout the country.

I am concerned that, by all accounts, the killing of community leaders and human rights defenders has continued unabated in the past three months, despite several measures to address the alarming number of killings registered in 2017. This trend and the proliferation of illegal armed actors associated with it should be brought under control as a matter of urgency, as has been acknowledged by the President and top officials of his Government.
Of particular concern are the attacks against persons working to implement government programmes related to coca substitution and land restitution. Members of local community boards, the governance mechanism established in rural districts, are among the main targets of violence.

A Supportive Statement From U.S.-UN

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, read a statement that was significantly more supportive of the peace effort than has been customary for the Trump administration. It calls for greater government presence in territories, reintegration of former combatants, and action on land tenure. The expected exhortation to “accelerate its counter-narcotics effort” doesn’t appear until the 11th of 15 paragraphs.

The agreement that ended five decades of war in Colombia has created the conditions for the just and lasting peace that Colombians deserve. It was a historic achievement. But peace in Colombia remains an unfinished project. All of us have a role in ensuring that it succeeds.
…We cannot allow formerly FARC-controlled areas to fall into the hands of criminals and illegal armed groups. That would undo much of the progress of the peace accord. We encourage the government to continue efforts to eliminate Colombia’s ungoverned spaces. The United States also urges the government to continue the full implementation of the comprehensive peace plan. This includes efforts to reintegrate former combatants into civilian life.
The peace accord provides an important opportunity to address historical land issues that have driven conflict and violence in Colombia. We welcome President Santos’ landmark decree meant to formalize land ownership for more than 2.5 million farmers. Improving access to land is essential in transforming rural livelihoods. Criminal groups and narco-traffickers have dominated rural areas of Colombia for decades. With secure land titles, the Colombian people can provide for their families without feeling beholden to these groups.

DEA Investigating Corruption Allegations Against Agent

A story by BuzzFeed reporter Aram Roston, later picked up by the New York Times, reveals that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating veteran agent José Irizarry, who had been stationed in the agency’s field office in Cartagena, Colombia. The nature of the now-resigned agent’s misconduct is not clear, but three anonymous sources told Roston “the scope of the case is believed to be unprecedented in the agency’s history.” One source said that Irizarry is also being investigated by the Justice Department’s Inspector-General and the FBI.

Proposal To Eradicate Coca With Drones

El Tiempo reported that the U.S. government’s estimate of the amount of coca planted in Colombia in 2017 reached a new record of between 220,000 and 230,000 hectares, up from 188,000 in 2016. The White House has not yet published its 2017 figure. Nor have Colombian authorities published their estimate, but the same article cites a Colombian estimate of 170,000-180,000 hectares, up from 146,000 in 2016. This apparent increase occurred even though Colombian government, police, and military eradicators uprooted, cut down, or directly applied herbicides to 53,000 hectares of coca bushes last year, and worked with farmers for the voluntary eradication of about 20,000 more.

As a result, the same El Tiempo article revealed, the Colombian National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DIRAN) is pursuing the possibility of employing drones to spray herbicides on the coca fields. Each would fly a meter or less over the bushes, spraying the herbicide glyphosate.

In 2015, Colombia suspended the U.S.-funded practice of spraying glyphosate from aircraft after the UN World Health Organization published a literature review finding that the chemical “is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is still commonly used in Colombian (and U.S.) agriculture, and eradicators still kill coca with the more precise method of applying it from backpack-mounted dispensers, which presumably minimizes spray drift to populated areas and destruction of legal food crops. The drone proposal would enable similar close-proximity spraying without the risks that sharpshooters, ambushes, landmines, and booby traps have posed to human eradicators working in the fields.

On April 13, the DIRAN began testing drones from five companies. It is prepared in 2018 to spend COP$21 billion (US$7.5 million) on drones that meet a series of standards:

  • Ability to fly between 50 centimeters and one meter above the plants.
  • Ability to operate in temperatures ranging from -5 to 40 degrees Celsius.
  • Two GPS systems to guarantee precision of spraying.
  • An anti-collision sensor.
  • An automatic recording system that records the drone’s location at every second.

The DIRAN expects that each drone would be able to spray between 10 and 15 hectares per day, whereas a human eradicator can only destroy 3 to 5 hectares of coca per day. In an absence of government presence in coca-growing zones, though, it remains unclear what would prevent farmers with limited economic options from replanting the crop.

Fighting Between Armed Groups in Bajo Cauca and Catatumbo Has Displaced Thousands This Year

In addition to the Colombia-Ecuador border region, where the FARC dissident group commanded by alias “Guacho” has drawn much attention, two other regions saw intensified violence during the week between groups that remain active, and are growing, in post-accord Colombia.

The Bajo Cauca region in northeastern Antioquia, a coca production and cocaine transshipment zone a few hours’ drive from Medellín, is the scene of frequent combat between two organized crime groups. The Urabeños (also known as Gulf Clan, or Usuga Clan, or Gaitanistas), the largest organized armed group in the country, is battling a regional group called the “Caparrapos” (also known as the Virgilio Peralta Arenas Front). Both groups can trace their lineage back to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary network that terrorized much of Colombia, and enjoyed some support on the political right, in the 1990s and 2000s.

So far this year, fighting between the two groups has displaced at least 2,175 people in the Antioquia municipalities of Cáceres, Caucasia, Tarazá, and Ituango. Violence has also been intense across the departmental border in southern Córdoba. Fighting on April 13-15 killed five people and displaced 210. In the sports complex in Tarazá’s town center, 120 of the displaced are currently taking refuge.

Sergio Mesa Cárdenas of the Medellín NGO Corpades told El Colombiano that the warring groups are getting support from the Mexican cartels that buy their illicit product.

The “Caparrapos” gang, led by alias “Ratón,” has alliances with Mexico’s Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Medellín’s “Los Triana” gang. Regarding the “Gulf Clan,” led by alias “Gonzalito,” the investigator says they have the support of the “Pachelly” gang from [the Medellín suburb of] Bello and the “Zetas” cartel.

The situation is arguably worse in Catatumbo, a poorly governed coca-growing region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border. This zone had a longtime presence of the FARC, the ELN, and the EPL. The latter group, the People’s Liberation Army, is descended from the dissident remnant of a larger group that demobilized in 1991. (The Colombian government often calls them “Los Pelusos.”) The EPL remained active in Catatumbo, profiting from the production and transshipment of drugs into Venezuela; today it has about 200 members and appears to be growing.

With the FARC’s exit from the scene—the 33rd Front concentrated in a demobilization zone in Tibú municipality over a year ago—the EPL and ELN began to compete for control of its previous territories of influence. A longstanding non-aggression arrangement broke down in mid-March, and combat has intensified ever since. “According to voices in the region who spoke to reporter Salud Hernández-Mora,” El Tiempo noted, “it is all because the ELN believes that the ‘Pelusos’ violated accords to share the business that the FARC left behind.”

After a month of tensions and sporadic combat, the situation worsened April 15 with the EPL’s declaration of an “armed stoppage”: a several-day prohibition on all road travel, and often a requirement that local businesses shut their doors. Residents of several Catatumbo municipalities received pamphlets informing them of the stoppage, and many of the region’s population centers became “ghost towns.” Schools closed all week, “affecting about 45,000 children and 2,000 teachers,” according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Norte de Santander Governor William Villamizar declared a state of humanitarian emergency in Catatumbo, and asked the national government to authorize a dialogue between ELN and EPL leaders at the ELN negotiating table. The commander of the Colombian Army’s “Vulcan” Task Force, stationed in the region, said that “a special deployment has been done.”

Civil society groups in Catatumbo, along with the Catholic church and local governments, have joined in calls on the armed groups to leave the civilian population out of the fighting. Business owners tried to open their establishments for half-day periods, but, according to El Colombiano, were met by armed people “who obligated them to close with the threat: ‘we’re the ones who have the weapons here.’”

The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs says that 2,500 people have been displaced by Catatumbo’s violence since the situation deteriorated in mid-March. A government source told El Colombiano that the actual number is probably higher, as many displaced are fearful of registering and may be staying with relatives and friends. If the situation continues for another week, the source said, food could start running out in some communities.

In-Depth Reading

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Still catching up. This is the week of April 8-14. But this synopsis of the Santrich case is still worth your time, there’s no similar synthesis out there in English.)

FARC Leader Jesús Santrich Arrested, May Be Extradited

On the evening of April 9, police arrested demobilized FARC leader Seuxis Pausivas Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” at his home near the Bogotá airport. The arrest complies with an Interpol Red Notice, issued days after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York convinced a grand jury to indict Santrich for conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. The guerrilla leader is now being held in the concrete-walled Bogotá headquarters (often called the “bunker”) of Colombia’s prosecutor-general’s office (Fiscalía).

An ideologist more than a fighter—he nearly always wears sunglasses due to poor eyesight—the 50-year-old Santrich was a fixture during all four years of peace talks in Havana, often delivering the FARC’s declarations to reporters after negotiating sessions. “Santrich was, by far, the most radical, intelligent and intransigent of the plenipotentiary negotiators,” Juanita León of La Silla Vacía wrote after his arrest. “In addition to a close friendship with [chief FARC negotiator] Iván Márquez, Santrich has much leadership among the guerrilla base, because he defended several points that were important to them.” In mid-2017, Santrich went on a lengthy hunger strike to pressure the government to speed its promised releases of amnestied guerrilla prisoners.

The U.S. prosectors’ indictment of Santrich, dated April 4, accuses the guerrilla leader of agreeing to export ten tons of cocaine to the United States in exchange for US$15 million. It states that the events in question took place starting in June 2017. The Havana peace accord protects FARC members from extradition to the United States for crimes committed before the accord’s December 2016 ratification. The accusations against Santrich, however, fall outside of that timeframe, making his extradition to the United States a distinct near-term possibility.

As a result, León contends, his arrest “is the greatest challenge to the peace process since Congress accepted the re-negotiated accord” after voters rejected the first version in an October 2016 plebiscite.

Over the course of the week, Colombian prosecutors made public some of the evidence against Santrich. “Very few cases have so much probatory accreditation [evidence] as this one,” Chief Prosecutor (Fiscal General) Néstor Humberto Martínez said. The story is as follows:

Mid-2017: members of the Fiscalía’s Technical Investigations Corps (CTI) investigating possible irregularities in healthcare contracts for demobilized guerrillas begin to focus on an associate of Santrich’s, Marlon Marín, a 39-year-old lawyer who is Iván Márquez’s nephew.

Telephone intercepts detect periodic references to a group calling itself “The Family.” It apparently includes Marín; Fabio Simón Younes, director of a Florida-based company listed as “inactive”; and Armando Gómez, a businessman and the father of a Colombian beauty queen. The intercepts include conversations with Mexicans about a possible drug trafficking operation. A Fiscalía investigator shares with Chief Prosecutor Martínez his suspicion that the Mexicans may be DEA agents. Martínez checks with U.S. embassy contacts, who confirm that they are. (Or they may be genuine Mexican traffickers with a DEA mole in their midst—it’s not clear.)

August 14, 2017: In a phone conversation Gómez, the businessman, mentions “five televisions that the buyers are interested in testing out,” an apparent reference to five kilograms of cocaine whose quality the Mexicans insist on evaluating before moving ahead with any deal. He says that the sample is for “Marco,” one of the Mexicans, who are apparently Sinaloa cartel representatives.

October 2017: The phone calls intensify. Before sealing the deal, the Mexicans tell Marín that they wish to meet with someone of higher rank within his organization. That is when Santrich’s name comes up in the conversations. Marín begins trying to convince Santrich to meet with the would-be Mexican purchasers.

October 18, 2017: Marín is recorded trying to convince Santrich’s assistant to get Santrich to meet with the Mexicans. Marín says he just needs “the blind man” to “simply say to them, everything’s cool, everything’s good, it’s all up to me, we’re good to go.” Sometime after that, Santrich agrees to meet with the Mexicans on the condition that Marín be present.

Late October 2017: Fulfilling the Mexicans’ precondition for holding a high-level meeting, Gómez meets with the Mexicans at a Bogotá hotel and hands them the five kilograms of cocaine (the “televisions”). The Mexicans later agree that the cocaine is of good quality.

Early November 2017: Santrich hosts the Mexicans at a pre-dawn meeting at his house. The Mexicans say they are in the employ of Rafael Caro Quintero, a top figure in the Sinaloa cartel who was released from prison on a technicality in August 2013, early in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. Caro had been given a 40-year term for the 1985 torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena; he remains an archenemy of the U.S. agency. His release after 28 years angered the U.S. government, distancing U.S.-Mexican relations. Upon gaining his freedom, Caro instantly disappeared.

One of the Mexican group takes an incriminatory photo with a camera apparently hidden in his clothing. The photo shows Santrich seated at the head of a table alongside Marín.

In the meeting, Marín tells the Mexicans that “The Family” has control of several cocaine laboratories. They agree to send seven tons in March, and the remaining three later.

The Mexicans ask that the purchase take place on U.S. soil (though it apparently ends up happening in Barranquilla). They give Santrich what they call a “token” to prove the identity of the FARC’s contact when the transaction takes place: a photocopy of a U.S. dollar bill that will be in the cocaine buyer’s possession. Sometime later, the DEA seizes the token in Florida during an apparent operation against “The Family.” U.S. prosecutors now have it in their custody, as evidence.

Santrich gives the Mexican visitors an ink drawing (he is a prolific artist). He inscribes it, “For don Rafa Caro, with esteem and hope for peace. Santrich.” It, too, is now in U.S. prosecutors’ possession.

Sometime afterward, Younes, the “Family” member, begins making connections in Miami for aircraft.

February 2018: “The Family” tells the Mexicans that they are having difficulty obtaining the cocaine because of recent “bombings.” Colombian investigators note that during this time period, Colombia’s army bombed some guerrilla dissident group encampments in southern Colombia. The Fiscalía believes that the cocaine suppliers are in Cauca and Nariño departments in southwestern Colombia, a zone with a significant presence of un-demobilized or recidivist FARC members.

Probably March 2018: Santrich gets a call from someone named “Fabio,” who warns him that there is a plan afoot to arrest and extradite him. Fabio says that “a man in the Police” told him. “We got sold out,” Prosecutor-General Martínez reportedly says. Sometime afterward, U.S. prosecutors decide to go ahead and indict Santrich based on existing evidence. This happens on April 4, and Santrich is arrested on April 9.

The arrest set off alarms within the FARC, for whom non-extradition for crimes committed before the accord was a non-negotiable point during the Havana talks. In at least some of the “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces” (ETCR), the sites where much of the ex-guerrillas remain congregated and protected by the security forces, “they were glued to the television and the situation was very tense,” La Silla Vacía reported. “‘There’s a lot of anxiety, they’re basically afraid that now they can grab anybody,’ a source in one of the spaces told us. One of the FARC’s leaders in the south told us: ‘if this is breakfast, what will dinner be like.’” Protests continued at the remote sites all week.

Iván Márquez, the FARC’s former chief negotiator and the uncle of co-conspirator Marín, told reporters that the arrest of his friend (and fellow hardliner) Santrich was “the worst moment in the peace process.” He called the case a setup arranged by the Fiscalía and the United States that will sow distrust throughout the guerrilla ranks, hinting that many might be tempted to re-arm. “With Jesús Santrich’s arrest, the process is threatening to be a real failure,” reads a FARC statement. “The coincidence with Saturday’s visit of Donald Trump draws my attention,” said FARC legal advisor, Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago. (Trump was to stop in Colombia after the April 13-14 Summit of the Americas in Peru. Later in the week, he canceled his entire trip.)

FARC leaders demanded to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos, and a delegation led by the party’s maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko, did so on April 11. All agreed that Santrich’s due process rights would be fully respected. They also agreed to establish (yet another) commission to speed implementation of the government’s peace accord commitments, many of which are lagging badly.

“I won’t extradite anyone for crimes committed before the accord’s signing and in relation to the conflict,” Santos said in a carefully worded statement. “Having said that, if after receiving due process and with irrefutable proof there are grounds for extradition for crimes committed after the accord’s signing, I will not hesitate to authorize it, based on the Supreme Court’s finding.”

In an April 11 statement, Timochenko said that the FARC remains committed to the peace accord. “Colombia’s peace isn’t conditioned on the problems, or the people, who form part of the organization,” he said, appealing for unity among the ex-combatants. That same day, though, an angry Iván Márquez told reporters, “One mustn’t lie like in this case, just to obstruct the progress of peace. Santrich told me: ‘the second one will be you [Márquez].’”

While this timetable of publicly available evidence points to Santrich’s guilt, it also shows him to be a reluctant conspirator, pulled into a meeting at the repeated insistence of Marín, who seems to handle all of the details. The right thing for Santrich to do, of course, would have been to report Marín, his friend’s nephew, to the police—not a natural instinct for a lifelong insurgent. Instead, he fell into the sort of trap that other guerrilla leaders are doubtless aware could easily ensnare them.

What happens next will be a big test of the peace process. It could bolster support in public opinion, taking away critics’ argument that the peace accord grants the FARC too much impunity. However, it also feeds into the narrative, common among right-wing critics, that the FARC are still up to their old ways. On the other side, any perception that Santrich’s due process is being denied, and that he is being extradited in haste, may send dozens or hundreds of ex-guerrillas back into the jungle for fear of sharing his fate.

The next steps will also test the new judicial institutions being set up to implement the accords. Santrich’s case must begin in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), whose Review Chamber will have to take the step of finding that the evidence points to crimes committed after the accord’s signing. The JEP would then have to turn the case over to Colombia’s regular criminal justice system, where Santrich could be subject to longer prison sentences for war crimes, or to extradition.

The JEP, which is to try cases of war crimes and other aspects of ex-guerrillas’ legal status like narcotrafficking charges, has barely begun to function. The Constitutional Court hasn’t yet finished reviewing its enabling law, passed at the end of November, and the law to govern its day-to-day functioning hasn’t yet been introduced in Congress.

Since the JEP is supposed to get the first “bite at the apple” in cases like these, there is some debate in Bogotá about whether it was correct for the Fiscalía—Colombia’s regular justice system—to have been the agency to arrest him. Opponents say that the Fiscalía may have violated procedure and given Santrich’s lawyers a technicality that they might try to use to get the case dropped. Proponents, though, say there was too great a risk that Santrich would flee once he heard about the indictment in New York.

It;s not clear when the JEP will make its determination about whether Santrich committed an extraditable offense after the accords’ signing, a momentous decision essentially kicking a top guerrilla negotiator out of the peace process. Meanwhile, though, the United States must issue a formal extradition request within 60 days, which must then go to Supreme Court review and finally to the President for signature.

In the meantime, Santrich is in a cell in the Fiscalía’s “bunker,” where he has been on another hunger strike, refusing food since his arrest.

He was to occupy one of the five House of Representatives seats that the peace accord granted the FARC for the 2018-2022 legislative session that starts in July. Colombian law states that when a member of Congress runs afoul of justice, his or her seat must remain empty for the remainder of the legislative session. It is not yet clear whether Santrich’s absence, then, reduces the FARC’s House delegation to four seats. The current president of the chamber, Rodrigo Lara, said there should be no “empty seat,” that the FARC could replace Santrich because he hadn’t been sworn in yet. (Lara, incidentally, is no peace proponent: during the last legislative session he helped to delay or water down much legislation to implement the accords.)

Urabeños Attack Kills 8 Police

An attack with explosives killed eight Colombian police and wounded two more on the morning of April 11 in the rural zone of San José de Urabá, Antioquia, in northwestern Colombia. The zone is a stronghold of the Urabeños, Colombia’s largest organized crime/paramilitary organization (also known as the Gulf Clan, the Usuga Clan, and the Gaitanistas). Authorities blame local Urabeños leader alias “Chiquito Malo” (“Bad Little Boy”) for the attack.

The explosive destroyed a vehicle carrying police who were accompanying a visit from the government’s Land Restitution Unit. Urabá is one of the most challenging territories in Colombia for land restitution: there, paramilitaries and local landowners massively displaced communities of small farmers in the 1990s and early 2000s, and are resisting efforts to return landholdings to their rightful owners.

Kidnapped Ecuadorian Reporters Believed Dead

An apparent communiqué from a FARC dissident organization stated that the group has killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. The “Oliver Sinisterra Front,” active in Nariño, near the Ecuador border, had kidnapped the three men on March 26. Its statement reads that the governments of Ecuador and Colombia “didn’t want to save the lives fo the three retained people and chose the military route, making landings in several points where the retained people were located, which produced their death.”

Upon hearing that Javier Ortega and Paul Rivas Bravo of Quito’s daily El Comercio were likely dead, along with their driver Efraín Segarra, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno left the Summit of the Americas meetings in Lima, Peru. At week’s end, he gave the dissident group, led by former FARC member Wálter Arizara alias “Guacho,” 12 hours to produce proof that the hostages were still alive.

Earlier, President Moreno had lamented that Colombia’s persistent conflict was reaching into Ecuador. He blamed his predecessor, Rafael Correa (in whose government he was vice president, but who is now his political enemy) for allowing problems to fester at the border. “Of course, we lived in peace, but we lived in a peace in which drugs were allowed to transit through our territory.” Ecuador’s border regions have long been an important transshipment point for cocaine, and Colombian armed groups have freely crossed for decades. Security analysts often refer to an informal arrangement in the border zone, in which Ecuadorian forces would not confront Colombian armed groups as long as they abstained from inciting violence or harming Ecuadorian citizens. If such an agreement exists, Guacho’s group has violated it several times this year with attacks on Ecuadorian security forces.

ELN-EPL Violence Continues in Catatumbo

Fighting between the ELN and a smaller, local guerrilla group, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL, which the government often calls “Los Pelusos”) continues to generate a humanitarian crisis in Catatumbo, a barely governed agricultural region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border, that includes one of the country’s largest concentrations of coca. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented the displacement of about 1,350 people in the region in the month since a longtime arrangement between the ELN and the EPL broke down.

Both groups have been active in Catatumbo for decades. The EPL, with perhaps 200-300 members, can trace its lineage back to a remnant that refused to demobilize when a Maoist insurgency with the same name negotiated a peace agreement in the late 1980s. The EPL lost its longtime leader (alias “Megateo”) to a military attack in late 2015, and a year later the FARC—also present in Catatumbo—pulled out and demobilized in compliance with the peace accord. This opened up lucrative spaces for cocaine smuggling and other organized crime activity.

These changes upended the cordial ELN-EPL relationship, and fighting broke out between the two groups in mid-March. As both have deep roots in Catatumbo communities, the region’s population is caught in the crossfire; schools have suspended classes and many businesses are shuttered.

In-Depth Reading

Colombia’s Grade on Implementing the FARC Peace Deal So Far Is a C Minus

Published this evening at World Politics Review:

Harsh perhaps, but sadly true: Colombia is dropping the ball badly on implementing the FARC peace accord.

Its 1,300 words are behind a paywall. Here’s a sample:

On reintegration of ex-fighters: Incredibly, to this day the implementation process is still missing one of its most essential elements: a written plan for how to help all former guerrillas earn legal livelihoods and adjust to post-combat life. As a result, with so many ex-combatants left idle, “dissident” groups of rearmed guerrillas are growing fast: Their membership now totals about 1,200, up from 300 a year ago.

On filling “ungoverned spaces”: Strangest of all, the Colombian government just hasn’t been filling the territorial vacuum. Except for infrequent visits from government agencies created to implement the accord, mainly to hold meetings, the presence of the state has changed little in vast areas of the countryside that were historically under FARC domination or influence.

On U.S. policy: It’s so important that the U.S. Congress undid the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 aid cuts to Colombia, maintaining current funding levels for programs that are crucial to the early phases of the peace deal’s implementation. U.S. officials also need to be aware that helping Colombia to govern ungoverned areas, as envisioned in the accord, offers the best hope for permanent reductions in coca cultivation. People don’t grow illicit crops where there’s a government presence.

Go here to read the whole thing.

Colombia’s Dumbest Trafficker

In mid-March Jeremy McDermott, a longtime investigator of organized crime in the Americas, published a study at the site of InsightCrime, the organization he co-directs. He profiled the thriving new cohort of Colombian drug traffickers, which he calls the “fourth generation” of narcos, or just “the invisibles.”

With the FARC’s and AUC’s exits from the criminal scene, narcotrafficking has been left more exposed than ever, with nowhere to hide. Once identified by national and international authorities, the useful life of an important capo is short, at least unless he is prepared to live as a guerrilla in the jungle, passing from one shack to another every night, and renouncing the comforts and opportunities that a great fortune might offer. That’s why today’s narcotrafficker prefers to hide behind the facade of a successful businessman, avoiding the ostentation and extreme violence that characterized earlier generations.

In an English summary, McDermott added:

Colombian drug traffickers have learned that violence is bad for business. The new generation of traffickers have learned that anonymity is the ultimate protection, that “plata” (“silver”) is infinitely more effective than “plomo” (“lead,” as in bullets). …Today’s Colombian drug trafficker is more likely to be clad in Arturo Calle [Colombia’s equivalent of Men’s Wearhouse] than Armani, wear classic European shoes rather than alligator boots, drive a Toyota rather than a Ferrari, live in an upper middle class apartment rather than a mansion with gold taps. He will have the face of a respectable businessman.

With Colombia producing record-high amounts of cocaine, there is much money to be made as a drug trafficker today. But unlike past generations, the last thing a trafficker wants to be is high profile. It attracts too much attention.

But that’s exactly what Wálter Patricio Arizala Vernaza, alias “Guacho,” has chosen to do. In just a couple of months, this former FARC fighter has risen from obscurity to be possibly the most sought-after criminal in both Colombia and Ecuador. And it’s all due to his own actions.

Guacho gives a Colombian television interview, which is also a dumb move.

An Ecuadorian citizen from the border province of Esmeraldas, Arizala joined the FARC in 2007. He was a member of the group’s powerful Daniel Aldana Mobile Column, active in Nariño along the Colombia-Ecuador border. There, he specialized in explosives but was also found to be very good at math. He was promoted to management of the Column’s finances in a territory that today is the busiest cocaine superhighway in South America:

Guacho developed contacts with Mexican narcotraffickers who buy and transship cocaine in southwestern Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. This makes him the classic example of the mid-level guerrilla leader whose demobilization was so important for the peace process to guarantee: someone with contacts in the criminal underworld who would be tempted to abandon the peace process at the first lucrative opportunity. And that’s what he did: when the FARC headed to its demobilization sites in early 2017, Guacho went on the lam.

His “Oliver Sinisterra Front,” named for a FARC colleague killed in 2015, grew very fast, a rapid rise documented by the International Crisis Group’s Kyle Johnson in a piece published this week to Razón Pública. Guacho may now be commanding as many as 450 people. Many of them are former FARC militias in the port city of Tumaco, and many are fresh recruits. His group reportedly controls cocaine labs capable of producing at least 10 tons per month. It is currently the largest in an ever-shifting patchwork of criminal groups fighting for control of Tumaco, whose surrounding municipality (county) has more coca than any other in Colombia.

Guacho and his “front” could have kept a low profile and become quite wealthy, had they followed McDermott’s suggestion to use “plata” much more than “plomo,” seeking to corrupt and penetrate institutions.

Instead, though, they have picked spectacular fights with authorities on both sides of the border.

  • In November 2017, Guacho’s group attacked a checkpoint of Ecuador’s Special Mobile Antinarcotics Group (GEMA) with grenades and gunfire, killing four.
  • In January, it set off a car bomb outside a police station in Guacho’s hometown of San Lorenzo, Ecuador, that wounded 28 people. This was an apparent retaliation for an Ecuadorian police raid and search of his mother’s house.
  • In February, it launched a mortar at an Ecuadorian Army post, with no casualties.
  • On March 20, it set off a roadside bomb in Ecuador, killing four Ecuadorian soldiers and wounding ten.
  • On April 5, Guacho’s group knocked out an electric tower in Colombia, plunging Tumaco into darkness. This was an apparent retaliation for the Ecuadorian government arresting one of his brothers-in-law. Power lines again went down on April 18.

The most spectacular action, though, was the March 26 kidnapping of two reporters from Quito’s El Comercio newspaper, together with their driver. The captives’ plight became daily front page news in Ecuador. The #NosFaltan3 (“we’re missing 3”) hashtag continues to get constant use on social media. Sometime before April 13, Guacho’s group killed Javier Ortega, Paul Rivas Bravo, and Efraín Segarra on Colombia’s side of the border, under circumstances that have yet to be cleared up. Sometime last week, Guacho’s group kidnapped two more Ecuadorian citizens, Vanesa Velasco Pinargote and Oscar Efrén Villacís Gómez, who remain in custody.

Hostages Rivas, Ortega, and Segarra, murdered sometime before April 13.

From a drug trafficker’s perspective, these are incredibly stupid things to do. The message Guacho has sent is, “look at me, put a target on me, make me a top priority.” And indeed, Colombia and Ecuador have offered a combined reward of more than US$230,000 for information leading to his capture. Using McDermott’s frame, Wálter Arizara is a first or second-generation drug trafficker in a fourth-generation world.

Nine years ago Colombian Police Chief Gen. Óscar Naranjo (now the Vice President) said that the authorities had reduced the “useful lifespan” of the average top drug trafficker to 24 months, after which they are captured or killed. Today, a “well behaved” trafficker like one of McDermott’s “invisibles” may hang on for far longer. But for someone like Guacho, who has committed very grave errors, two years sounds like far too long an estimate.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Catching up. This is the week of April 1-7.)

Concerns Emerge About Irregularities in Government Peace Fund

Prosecutor-General (Fiscal General) Néstor Humberto Martínez sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos alleging corruption and influence-peddling within government agencies administering projects to implement the FARC peace accord.

“According to evidence obtained through technical controls and legal surveillance, it is noted that there exists a network of intermediaries who may be interested in winning project contracts for certain businesspeople or contractors, in exchange for undue economic benefits like percentages of these contracts’ value,” the letter reads. El Tiempo reported that the prosecutor’s office has videos and audios of this network’s members requesting payment for help getting chosen to carry out lucrative infrastructure, agriculture, fish-farming and similar project contracts for ex-combatants or communities affected by the conflict. The same intermediaries, El Colombiano reported, then pay bribes to contracting officials. The corruption extends to firms that oversee and evaluate the contracts.

The Fiscal said he decided to make his office’s investigation public after El Tiempo revealed a letter from the ambassadors of Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland to a vice-minister of the Treasury Ministry. That letter voices concern about the slowness and lack of transparency of contracting for projects funded by the Sustainable Colombia Fund (FCS), a US$200 million “peace checkbook” to which the three governments have contributed.

The ambassadors asked the Treasury Ministry for a meeting to discuss the recent exit of Marcela Huertas, the head of the FCS Technical Consultative Unit, and “the qualifications required for an optimal functioning of the FCS.” It adds, “the experience of recent months has shown that it is necessary to reinforce the functioning of these bodies and compliance with regulations.”

El Tiempo mentions an earlier document from the ambassadors, a confidential memorandum, that is more strongly worded. It refers to a “general concern about the integral management of the Sustainable Colombia Fund.” It calls for “establishing a clear route so that the execution of these resources no longer suffers from delays and occurs in a completely transparent manner.”

The Foreign Ministry pointed out that the ambassadors’ concerns “cannot be interpreted as accusations of corruption in the management of this aid fund’s resources. The comments make reference to procedures, operations, functioning, and compliance with fundamental regulations.” President Santos echoed this point. This is true: only the Fiscal’s letter appears to allege corruption.

The government announced that it would carry out an audit of the Sustainable Colombia Fund as foreseen in the grant agreements with the donor countries. The Comptroller’s Office (Contraloría) and Internal Affairs Office (Procuraduría) are also to increase their oversight of peace resources. “The only luxury that the country cannot allow itself is to let the peace process collapse due to poor administration of resources at the hour of its launch,” said Internal Affairs chief (Procurador) Fernando Carrillo, whose office is currently reviewing 1,800 contracts granted so far by the new transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).

El Colombiano notes that the government announced plans to increase post-conflict spending this year by 31.5 percent over last year, to a total of COP$2.4 trillion (US$852 million). The paper cites an estimated 15-year accord implementation cost of COP$128.5 trillion (US$45.6 billion), 86 percent of it (COP$110 trillion) to implement the accord’s rural reform chapter. The rest would go to implementing:

  • The political participation chapter (COP$4.3 trillion / US$1.5 billion);
  • The “end of conflict” chapter, mainly ex-combatant reintegration (COP$1.9 trillion / US$680 million);
  • The illicit crops chapter (COP$8.3 trillion / US$2.9 billion); and
  • The victims chapter, which includes transitional justice (COP$4.3 trillion / US$1.5 billion).

Troubles With FARC Dissidents Continue at Ecuador Border

Two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver remained captive of a former FARC “dissident” armed group somewhere along the Colombia-Ecuador border. Reporter Javier Ortega and photographer Paul Rivas Bravo of Quito’s El Comercio newspaper, along with their driver Efraín Segarra, have been hostages of the so-called “Oliver Sinisterra Front” since March 26. Relatives received a brief proof-of-life video this week.

Many members of this “front” were FARC militia members in the troubled port of Tumaco, Nariño, whose municipality borders Ecuador. The ex-guerrilla group numbers from several dozen to up to 400 members who either failed to demobilize, abandoned the demobilization process, or are newly recruited. Nariño, and Ecuador’s coastal provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabí, comprise what are probably the busiest cocaine trafficking routes in South America. The Oliver Sinisterra group exists mainly to participate in the drug trade, and authorities allege that it is tightly linked to Mexican cartels.

It is headed by Walter Patricio Artízala Vernaza, alias “Guacho,” an Ecuadorian citizen who joined the FARC in 2007. Under his command, the group has carried out high-profile attacks this year: a roadside bomb that killed four Ecuadorian soldiers in Mataje, Esmeraldas; a car bomb against an Ecuadorian police station in San Lorenzo; and an attack on power lines that left Tumaco in the dark for days.

The most dramatic action so far, though, is the kidnapping of the El Comercio group, which is dominating the news in Ecuador. The dissidents captured the reporters while they were working on a story near the border, and have since held them almost totally incommunicado. The reporter’s brother asked that the Colombian and Ecuadorian governments not attempt a rescue mission that might endanger the hostages’ lives. “They shouldn’t take such drastic measures, we prefer a negotiation to risking their lives. We haven’t discussed that with my parents. This is the first case like this in the country, this is something new for us.”

Ecuador is deploying more troops to the border region. Since January, the Colombian armed forces’ Joint Task Force Hercules has included 10,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen deployed in Nariño. Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told reporters, “We have offered all all support in intelligence, mobility, special forces, and military coordination” to the effort to free the hostages, though he added, “so far we don’t have documentation indicating that the journalists are in Colombian territory.”

Local ELN Leader Killed Upon Crossing from Venezuela

The Colombian military ambushed and killed José Trinidad Chinchilla, a top commander of the ELN’s Luis Enrique León Guerra front in northeast Colombia, as he was passing from Venezuela to Colombia via an unofficial border crossing. The April 1 operation, in a rural part of Tibú, in Norte de Santander’s troubled Catatumbo region, came after “a long intelligence effort, which included four unsuccessful operations,” El Colombiano reported.

Chinchilla, alias “Breimar,” joined the ELN 22 years ago and had long been active in Catatumbo. He was considered the mastermind of a 2012 kidnapping of two German citizens, who were held for five months but eventually released.

“It concerns us that the ELN is planning and carrying out attacks in Colombian territory from Venezuela, both along the Norte de Santander and Arauca borders,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said in February. The minister alleged that, except for those involved in negotiations in Ecuador, all top ELN leaders are taking refuge in Venezuela, including Gustavo Giraldo alias “Pablito,” the head of the ELN’s Northeastern War Front in Arauca, the guerrilla group’s largest structure. “Pablito” is probably the member of the ELN’s five-person Central Command who is least supportive of negotiations.

Two FARC Members Killed in Less than 48 Hours

Two members of the Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Common People (FARC), the party descended from the demobilized guerrilla group, were killed on April 3 and 4. Nelson Andrés Zapata Urrego, a 32-year-old who was known as “Willinton” during his time in the FARC’s 4th Front, was shot by two masked men who intercepted him in the rural zone of Remedios municipality, Antioquia. In Piamonte, Cauca, an assailant shot 34-year-old Darwin Londoño Bohórquez, once known as “El Loco,” six times while he was eating alone in a restaurant.

According to the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), 52 demobilized FARC members were killed between January 2017 and March 2018. About 13,000 former FARC members are currently at large throughout the country (including those who have re-armed as dissidents).

Some of those killings, including a multiple murder in Nariño in February, were committed by the ELN. This week, four FARC leaders traveled to Quito, Ecuador, to discuss the issue with ELN leaders who are in the city to participate in peace talks with the government. In a video posted to his Twitter account, one of the FARC leaders, Pastor Alape, said, “We agreed to carry out clarification activities and, most important, they guaranteed to us that there is no ELN policy against the FARC.”

Meanwhile in Quito, the fifth round of talks between the government and ELN continues, with the topic shifting to the details of a possible new bilateral ceasefire. “If the agenda is to advance, it requires that the ceasefire be indefinite,” without an end date like a 100-day truce that lasted from October to January, chief government negotiator Gustavo Bell told El Tiempo.

Government Cites Progress in De-Mining

President Santos announced that of 673 municipalities with a presence of landmines, 225 are now mine-free. (Colombia has about 1,100 municipalities, or counties.) “We have advanced to 33 percent of the total,” Santos said. That is the total of municipalities: in fact, de-miners have cleared about 6.08 million square meters (2.35 square miles) of a total of 52 million square meters (20 square miles) believed to be contaminated with mines, laid mostly by guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

Sergio Bueno, the director of Colombia’s Department for Integrated Action Against Anti-Personnel Mines (DAICMA), celebrated “a very important reduction” in the number of landmine victims. In 2012, landmines killed or wounded 589 Colombians. That fell to 56 in 2017 and 14 so far in 2018.

The country has increased its de-mining personnel strength from 1,300 to 5,478 trained people. Support for this effort comes from the “Global Demining Initiative for Colombia,” a 23-donor, US$144.5 million fund (including US$42 million pledged so far from the United States).

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