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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Post-Conflict Colombia

With Glaring Omissions, a U.S. Ambassador Delivers a Dark View of Post-Conflict Colombia

Just posted to WOLA’s website: my response to U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker’s aggressive critique of Colombia’s peace process, which appeared in an interview posted Sunday to the country’s most-circulated newspaper.

“Last weekend marked the moment Kevin Whitaker truly became Donald Trump’s ambassador to Colombia.… His interview marks the sharpest reversal yet in U.S. support for the process.”

It goes on from there. The tone is harsh, but it’s much more fact-filled and much less personal than that excerpt. I’ve known Kevin Whitaker for a long time and respect him. Which is why I found Sunday’s interview so perplexing.

Some photos from the weekend in Cauca, Colombia

Meeting with community leaders in Alsacia, Buenos Aires, Cauca: WOLA Executive Director Matt Clausen (left), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts, right), Rep. McGovern’s legislative director, Cindy Buhl (second from right)

As in several parts of rural Colombia right now, coca plants are visible from the unpaved road. Locals say that many of the growers are recent arrivals from elsewhere in Colombia.

The FARC demobilization zone in Buenos Aires, Cauca, remains only semi-built. Even though the guerrillas handed over their last weapons on August 15 and are now free to go. (There were very few of them there.)


Colombians complain constantly about their government’s ossified bureaucracy. But when they get a chance to approach a problem in a new way—with a sweeping peace accord—this is what happens:

In the executive branch, there are at least six entities or authorities with competencies related to the illicit crops issue, including the Defense Ministry. In addition, there are three different “directorates” with similar functions—in the Vice-Presidency, in the Ministry of Justice, and in the High Presidential Ministry for the Post-Conflict. To these must be added the challenges of effectively articulating the PNIS [National Integral Program for Substitution of Illicitly Used Crops] with the Territorial Renovation Agency in the framework of the implementation of the Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET), as well as with the Land Agency, the Rural Development Agency, and the Agriculture Ministry itself.

That’s from page 14 of a July report from Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation think-tank.

Colombia’s peace accord provides a huge opportunity to reverse generations-old failings that hold back the country’s development. Especially the lawlessness and abandonment in the countryside that enable coca cultivation.

But if this soup of agencies with unclear mandates and poor coordination is what’s going to implement the accord’s coca provisions—well, we can predict the outcome, can’t we.

The U.S. government’s strident approach to Colombia’s coca boom

The “answers” in this imagined dialogue are direct quotes from Wednesday’s Senate testimony of Amb. William Brownfield, the longtime assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. This “imagined conversation” format is a bit goofy, but it illustrates how knotted and constrained the U.S. approach to coca is right now.

Q: Colombia’s government says it plans to manually eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca plants this year, the most since 2009. As of early July, it was at 20.297 hectares, up from 18,000 hectares in all of 2016. Is that effort robust enough?

A: Colombian leadership must find a way to implement a robust forced manual eradication effort to create a disincentive to coca cultivation and an incentive to participation in the government’s crop substitution effort.

Q: So the U.S. view is that Colombia needs to step up manual eradication even further. What about Colombia’s ambitious (perhaps too ambitious) program to work with coca-growing families to voluntarily eradicate another 50,000 hectares?

A: We are strongly encouraging the Colombian government to limit the number of voluntary eradication agreements they negotiate and sign to make implementation feasible.

Q: So the U.S. view is that Colombia should scale back voluntary eradication and crop substitution? But this program was foreseen in the peace accords, and former FARC members are supposed to be helping once they leave their disarmament zones.

A: To be successful, the Colombian government’s voluntary eradication and crop substitution program needs adequate financial and human resources as well as a clear implementation plan to succeed.

Q: Sure. Then, if Colombia is short on voluntary eradication funds, why doesn’t U.S. assistance help fill the funding and expertise gaps?

A: The United States is not currently supporting the Colombian government’s voluntary eradication and crop substitution program because the FARC is involved in some aspects of the program and remains designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under several U.S. laws and sanctions regimes.

Q: We could debate whether a demobilized FARC member participating in coca substitution is really still a “terrorist.” But never mind that.

In the end, if Colombia carries out so much forced eradication that it outpaces economic assistance for affected communities, what happens to the families who live in ungoverned, abandoned coca-growing zones? The UNODC estimates that 106,900 Colombian households depended on coca last year, earning an average of only US$960 per person per year. If you take their main income source away and don’t replace it with anything, won’t these families go out and protest?

A: Making manual eradication work includes overcoming the persistent social protests that disrupt forced eradication operations. Without a permanent solution to the social protest issue, forced eradication efforts are unlikely to have a significant effect on coca cultivation levels in 2017. In 2016, 675 attempted eradication operations were cancelled in the field due to restrictive rules of engagement that prevented security forces from engaging protestors. In 2017, the protests continue.

Take these responses together, and the U.S. approach to Colombia’s coca boom appears to be:

  • Increase the pace of forced eradication.
  • Do less to help coca-growing families in ungoverned areas.
  • If the families protest, unleash the security forces so they can “engage” them.


The past week in Colombia’s peace process

EFE photo at El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia). Caption: “La disminución en las muertes violentas coincide con el proceso de paz con las Farc.”

  • The Colombian government has begun implementing “Development Plans with a Territorial Focus” or PDET. This effort, foreseen in the FARC peace accords’ first chapter, is to manage large-scale rural development investments in 170 municipalities most affected by the conflict. (Colombia has about 1,100 municipalities, or counties.)
  • The UN verification and monitoring mission published its latest monthly report (PDF). It found that Colombia’s government has finally built most guerrilla disarmament sites, after months of delays. It reported having extracted 94 FARC arms caches around the country. Almost 900 more remain in remote areas around the country. The UN has information about approximately 660, including the 94 that the mission has emptied.
  • Juan Fernando Amaya, in Ituango, Antioqua, became the sixth former FARC member to be assassinated since the peace accord’s signing. A local human rights group said he had been receiving threats. Ituango’s mayor called it “an isolated act.”
  • Colombia’s Interior Ministry reported a drop in murders of social leaders and activists since April. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman counted 52 such murders during the first six months of 2017. The Prosecutor-General’s office said that 51 percent of cases since 2016 have been “clarified”—a claim human rights groups rejected. On Friday Héctor Mina of the Marcha Patriótica, a leftist political movement, became the latest victim. Four assassins shot him in the center of Guachené, Cauca.
  • The UN mission issued an “urgent call” on the government to release FARC members who remain in Colombian prisons six months after passage of an amnesty law for political crimes. FARC leader Jesús Santrich ended up in intensive care after an 18-day hunger strike to pressure for prisoners’ release.
  • Colombia’s government and leaders of the ELN guerrillas will launch a third round of talks next week. The stated goal is to arrive at terms for a ceasefire (which the ELN wants) or a full cessation of all hostilities (which the government wants). The round is to continue until just before Pope Francis’s scheduled September 6 visit to Colombia.
  • The Ideas for Peace Foundation published a very detailed mapping of Colombia’s current and upcoming organized crime and “armed saboteur” groups.
  • The New York Times published a largely optimistic assessment of Colombia’s post-conflict coca substitution effort in Putumayo, where the FARC appear to be cooperating. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime published its detailed annual report documenting coca cultivation in Colombia in 2016 (PDF). It found a 52 percent increase in the crop over 2015.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

Photo from La Silla Vacía (Colombia). Caption: “Los guerrilleros construyen un puesto de salud para la comunidad del resguardo de Pueblo Nuevo, en el sitio que era la “recepción” de la zona veredal.”

  • The UN Security council unanimously authorized (PDF) a new political mission to Colombia. It will oversee reintegration of ex-FARC members, as well as security of ex-combatants and conflict-affected communities. It will start work on September 26, and will have a renewable one-year mandate. A good El Espectador analysis summarizes some of the main challenges the mission will face, and some of the main concerns about its role.
  • 7,400 former FARC members have now been amnestied of political crimes (sedition, disturbance, carrying illegal weapons, etc.). About 2,700 more still await political amnesty.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court has begun reviewing the constitutional amendment setting up the transitional justice system that will judge serious war crimes. The amendment was mandated by the FARC peace accords and passed by Colombia’s Congress earlier this year. The Court may alter or strike down elements of what Congress passed. A decision may take weeks or even months. Human Rights Watch has published suggested changes.
  • A National University of Colombia survey of 10,015 demobilizing FARC members reveals a wealth of data, much of it surprising. Twenty-three percent are women, sixty-six percent are from rural areas, and fifty-four percent have at least one child. See an overview (PDF) of the study, an infographic from Semana magazine, and an overview in El Tiempo.
  • Colombia’s government continues signing agreements with coca-growing families. These promise support in exchange for voluntary eradication of their illicit crops. Twenty-nine collective, regional accords are being translated into specific accords with individual communities. A report from the Ideas for Peace Foundation think-tank raises 10 issues that implementation of the plan so far has raised. (La Silla Vacía summarizes the report and includes responses from the Colombian government’s “crop substitution” coordinator.) La Silla Vacía also takes a look at the Catatumbo coca-growing region. It finds that farmers’ organizations are becoming divided over how to respond to the government’s offer.
  • An Oxfam study of land census data finds that 0.1 percent of farms now control 60 percent of land in Colombia.
  • FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño alias “Timochenko” is in Cuba recovering from a stroke.
  • A dissident FARC group in the southern department of Guaviare released Herley López, an official of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The group had kidnapped López in early May.

Podcast: “U.S.-Colombia Relations ‘in a Challenged Place'”

It’s nice to put one of these out again, for the first time in 2 1/2 months.

Relations between the United States and close ally Colombia have hit their roughest patch in years. The situation is aggravated by the Trump administration’s much darker view of the FARC peace accord, and open disagreement about how to deal with coca eradication. Messages from Washington, meanwhile, have been confusingly mixed. A better-briefed Secretary of State could deal with this more effectively, but that doesn’t seem to be Rex Tillerson’s style.

WOLA Podcast: Colombia’s FARC demobilizes, but new challenges await

Here’s a half-hour conversation with Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s senior associate for Colombia.

On June 20, 2017 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ceased to be an armed group. But as Gimena makes clear, the hard part awaits.

In a wide-ranging discussion about the current moment, we discuss next steps in the FARC demobilization, the ominous appearance of armed groups in zones of previous guerrilla influence, recent social protests on the Pacific Coast, Colombia’s ability to implement its accord commitments, civil society’s role in making it happen, and our growing concerns about where the Trump administration is headed.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(1) In a decision announced late on May 17, Colombia’s Constitutional Court appears to have dealt a severe blow to implementation of the FARC peace accord. In a 5–3 vote, the magistrates did away with key parts of “fast track,” the special legislative authority the Court approved last December to allow swift passage of laws to enact the November 2016 peace accord’s commitments.

The new changes result from the Court’s consideration of a suit brought by Iván Duque, a senator from the opposition party led by former president Álvaro Uribe, the peace accord’s most vocal opponent. The Court struck down the ability to get a vote on a full bill without amendments or modifications (votar en bloque, similar to how the U.S. Congress approved free-trade agreements in the 1990s and 2000s). It also struck down a requirement that the executive branch approve of changes to implementing laws under “fast-track” (a protection against changes that might violate the accord’s commitments). The decision does not undo the few peace-implementation laws that have already passed, like the amnesty for ex-guerrillas not accused of war crimes.

Without “fast track,” the danger is that Colombia’s Congress might treat what was agreed after four years of negotiations in Havana as a mere suggestion. Legislative wrangling could delay, change unrecognizably, or quietly kill some of the government’s accord commitments.

We still need to see the actual text of the decision to interpret the potential damage. In the meantime, here is a sample of what analysts are saying.

  • The government’s lead negotiator in the FARC talks, Humberto de la Calle, said the Court’s decision “opens the door to a cascade of modifications to what was agreed,” calling it a “swindle.”
  • Juanita León and Tatiana Duque of La Silla Vacía discuss the “hard blow” that the Court’s decision represents for the peace accord’s implementation, which they say is a “triumph” for Uribe’s right-wing opposition party. On the bright side, though, León and Duque say that congressional deliberation and compromise might restore to the accord some of the credibility it lost when voters rejected it by a 50.2 to 49.8 percent margin in an October 2, 2016 plebiscite.
  • “The legalistic complexity of the debate is such that few Colombians have managed to understand the devastating effects that this decision has on the future of peace in Colombia,” wrote Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán.
  • Rodrigo Uprimny, a much-cited legal scholar from the think-tank DeJusticia, believes the decision was “legally incorrect” and worries that it might “make accord implementation slower and harder, as political groups opposed to or skeptical of peace could use the ability to introduce changes, and to vote article by article, to attempt, in bad faith, to block the accord’s implementation.”
  • Semana magazine lays out seven pessimistic effects that the decision will have on the peace process, concluding that “the ball is now in Congress’s court” at a bad time–just 10 months before the next quadrennial legislative elections.

(2) President Juan Manuel Santos visited Washington and met with Donald Trump at the White House. Trump appeared not to have been well-briefed about Colombia. “Trump did not mention Colombia’s hard-fought peace process until a reporter asked about it,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “He then praised Santos’ efforts. ‘There’s nothing tougher than peace,’ Trump said, ‘and we want to make peace all over the world.’”

Santos’s visit came just 13 days after the 2017 foreign aid budget became law, including the $450 million post-conflict aid package (called “Peace Colombia”) that the Obama administration had requested in February 2016. (The link points to $391 million in aid, because it doesn’t include assistance through the Defense Department budget and a few smaller accounts.)

As the Trump administration prepares to issue to Congress its request for foreign assistance in 2018—which is expected today—two senators appear to be occupying the Republican legislative majority’s “turf” on Colombia policy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) explained in a Miami Herald column that he opposes the FARC peace accord, but supports the “Peace Colombia” aid package with conditions. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) supports a more generous approach to lock in the peace accord’s security gains. Sen. Blunt, along with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), co-chaired an Atlantic Council task force that issued a report coinciding with Santos’s visit, which endorsed aid within the “Peace Colombia” framework.

(3) The Colombian Presidency’s post-conflict advisor, Rafael Pardo, says the government will launch 12 pilot projects this year to start work on one of the most ambitious parts of the peace accord’s rural development chapter: a cadaster, or mapping of all landholdings in the country.

The FARC really appears to be abandoning coca—which may mean violence

This is a remarkable paragraph in a Semana magazine column from Daniel Rico, a former Colombian government counter-drug official who now analyzes the cocaine trade and security at the Ideas for Peace Foundation, a Bogotá think tank. In last year’s peace accords, Rico writes,

“…with regard to narcotrafficking, the FARC committed itself to ‘put an end to any relationship which, as a function of rebellion, may have presented itself with this phenomenon.’ And for now everything indicates that they have complied. As an organization the FARC has exited from its intermediary role as a buyer of coca base between farmers and narcos. Today, the laboratories and cocaine routes don’t belong to it, although they still exist. The ‘de-narcotization’ of the FARC is one of the main causes of the drop in coca base prices in hamlets from Nariño [southwest Colombia] to Catatumbo [northeast Colombia], where people are burying their kilos of processed coca waiting for new buyers to return and for prices to improve. They’re not stupid, they’ve lived through this before and they know that the coca market will stabilize sooner rather than later.”

With the FARC truly out of the drug trade, and Colombia’s state dithering in filling the governance vacuum in most previously FARC-dominated areas, several regions of the country may soon see a very violent competition to determine who will be the next dominant coca-base buyer and processor. Ariel Ávila, of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation think tank, is calling this “criminal anarchy.” This could get ugly.

“Peace Colombia” aid is still in the 2017 appropriation

The table of aid to Colombia following this paragraph comes from the explanatory statement for the State Department and foreign aid part of the 2017 budget bill (PDF). It reflects the deal struck in Congress on Sunday to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, averting a government shutdown.

Screenshot of budget totaling $391.253 million

And here is what the Obama administration had asked Congress for back in February 2016. This table came from an exchange with congressional staff that month.

Screenshot of aid totaling $391.253 million

The aid accounts are listed in different order, but they make clear Congress did not change or cut the Obama White House’s so-called “Peace Colombia” request for post-conflict Colombia in 2017. This is good news.

Since “International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement” pays for some judicial programs, it is probably a majority non-military package—depending perhaps on how you count the $21 million for de-mining. That is the first time I’ve seen Colombia get a majority non-military / non-police aid package in the 22 years since I started keeping track in 1996.

You may have heard that this was a $450 million aid package. That’s right. The same exchange with legislative staff pointed out that an additional $44.6 million is estimated to come through the Defense Department’s Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime account, and $14.7 million comes through non-aid State Department accounts: “Public Diplomacy,” “Voice of America,” and “Trade and Development Agency.” (I dispute whether that extra $14.7 million should actually count as aid—but whatever.)

Brookings post about coca and peace in Colombia

Screen shot of the Brookings blog post.

This just went up on the Brookings Institution’s “Order from Chaos” foreign policy blog. I’ll be talking about “drugs and peace” in post-conflict Colombia at a Brookings panel on Monday morning.

Colombia’s peace accords point the way to a solution. But will they be implemented?

The “illicit crops” part of the peace accord is more transactional than the “rural reform” part of the accord. Instead of addressing state weakness or absence, it says: “eradicate this much, and you’ll receive this benefit.” That its text has been public since 2014 has created a perverse incentive for farmers around the country to plant coca in order to qualify for cash benefits.

Read the whole thing at the Brookings website.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

Photo from Presidency of Colombia. Caption: “President Juan Manuel Santos greets a FARC member during a surprise visit to the La Carmelita disarmament zone in Putumayo.”

  • Ex-presidents and peace process opponents Álvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana had either a conversation or a brief contact with Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Good Friday. They were guests of one of the resort’s members, and the Miami Herald reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) may have helped arrange the meeting, or encounter, or whatever it was. The ex-presidents no doubt had at least a brief opportunity to express to Trump their opposition to the FARC peace accord.
  • Ex-president and sitting Senator Uribe sent a blistering missive to the U.S. Congress, and to much of the Washington community interested in Colombia, attacking the peace accord. The document included many false claims, which were rebutted by WOLA, by Colombia’s La Silla Vacía investigative journalism site, and by 50 members of Colombia’s Congress (PDF).
  • The occupation of formerly FARC-dominated territories by new armed groups was the subject of coverage by The Guardian in Cauca, La Silla Vacía in Chocó, and Rutas del Conflicto in Meta.
  • The dilemma of ex-FARC splinter or “dissident” groups is the subject of reporting by Verdad Abierta in Tumaco, Nariño, and Medellín’s daily El Colombiano, looking at the roughly 110-member “1st Front” in Guaviare.
  • FARC leaders are hinting that the disarmament process may be delayed as much as 90 days beyond the originally foreseen 6 months. They blame government slowness in complying with commitments. The government is reluctant to bear the political cost involved with granting such an extension.
  • The FARC is also hinting that it may want to allow its members to stay in the 26 disarmament zones after the 6-month (or perhaps 9-month) process concludes, or even to settle in them permanently.
  • President Juan Manuel Santos paid a surprise visit to one of those zones, in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, after visiting the site of a massive mudslide that killed hundreds in Putumayo’s capital two weeks earlier. VICE documented a visit to the site in Tumaco, Nariño.
  • Speaking of extensions, Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said that, due to the legislature’s slowness in approving legislation to implement the peace accords, the government may seek to extend “fast track” lawmaking authority for another several months. The six-month authority expires at the end of May.
  • Colombian soldiers and police found a FARC arms cache in Putumayo. Opposition politicians called it a sign of guerrilla bad faith in the disarmament process. Maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño said the guerrillas are working with the UN mission to collect 900 arms caches hidden around the country.
  • WOLA called for the UN’s post-disarmament mission to make guaranteeing human rights, and the security of human rights defenders, a central focus of its work. This should include a prominent and autonomous role for the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • An essay in Semana looks at the international community’s growing concerns about the Colombian government’s continued stumbles in implementing the peace accord.
  • Verdad Abierta asks what will happen if the military’s thousands of “false positive” killings end up being tried by the special transitional-justice system established by the peace accords. Since many involved hiring criminals to murder civilians so that soldiers could win rewards granted for high body counts, these cases’ link to the armed conflict is tenuous at best.

Response to Álvaro Uribe’s whopper-filled “Message to U.S. Authorities”

(This was just posted to WOLA’s site and will go up at in a little while.)

Álvaro Uribe’s Questionable “Message to U.S. Authorities” About Colombia’s Peace Effort

By Adam Isacson and Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli

Inaccurate=pink. Debatable=orange.

On Easter Sunday Colombia’s former president, Álvaro Uribe, wrote a blistering attack on Colombia’s peace accords with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas. He sent it in English as a “message to the authorities and the Congress of the United States of America.” It went to every U.S. congressional office, as well as to Washington’s community of analysts, advocates and donors who work on Colombia.

Uribe, now Colombia’s most prominent opposition senator, is the most vocal critic of the peace process led by his successor, President Juan Manuel Santos. The ex-president’s missive leaves out the very encouraging fact that 7,000 members of the FARC, a leftist guerrilla group, are currently concentrated in 26 small zones around the country, where they are gradually turning all of their weapons over to a UN mission. One of the organizations most involved in the illicit drug business has agreed to stop using violent tactics for political purposes and to get out of the drug economy. The process currently underway is ending a bloody conflict that raged for 52 years, and holds at least the promise of making vast areas of Colombia better governed, and less favorable to illicit drug production.

Colombia’s peace accord implementation is going slowly, and faces daunting problems. There is a responsible, fact-based critique that a conservative analyst could make. Uribe’s document is not that critique. It suffers from numerous factual inaccuracies and statements that are easily rebutted. Its fixation on the FARC, a waning force, deliberately lacks important facts regarding other parties to the conflict and it does little to explain how the United States can help Colombia address post-conflict challenges.

Here is WOLA’s evaluation of several of the points made by Álvaro Uribe in this document, and evaluations of their accuracy. The vast majority of his claims are either inaccurate, or debatable.


“Coca plantations were reduced from 170,000 ha to 42,000 ha, now there are 188,000 ha according to the lowest estimate.”

Inaccurate. Two sources estimate Colombian coca-growing: the U.S. government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (working with the Colombian government). Their highest, lowest, and most current estimates of Colombian coca-cultivation are as follows.

Source Highest before current Lowest Most current
U.S. government 170,000 (2001) 78,000 (2012) 188,000 (2016)
UNODC 163,300 (2000) 48,000 (2012-13) 96,000 (2015)

No estimate shows a drop from 170,000 to 42,000 hectares. Both show the lowest estimate in 2012, two years after Uribe left office. 188,000 hectares is not the “lowest” current estimate, it is the higher of the two. Using the 188,000 hectare (U.S.) figure yields an increase from a baseline of 78,000, not 42,000.

Nobody denies that Colombia’s post-2012 coca boom is a problem, but Uribe’s statement exaggerates its severity still further.


“THE CAUSE OF THIS DANGEROUS TREND: The government has stopped spraying illicit crops to please the terrorist FARC.”

Inaccurate. First, the October 2015 suspension of “spraying illicit crops” with herbicides from aircraft is one of seven causes for the boom in coca cultivation, which WOLA explained in a March 13 report. (The other six are a decline in manual eradication, a failure to replace eradication with state presence and services, a drop in gold prices, a stronger dollar, a promise that people who planted coca would get aid under the FARC peace accords, and an increase in organized coca-grower resistance.) Giving all explanatory weight to the suspension of herbicide fumigation is misleading, as even the State Department recognized that the program’s effectiveness was “significantly reduced” by “counter-eradication tactics” like swift replanting and pruning sprayed plants.

Second, the suspension of aerial spraying had nothing to do with the FARC. Colombia’s Health Ministry pushed to end spraying with the herbicide glyphosate after a 2015 World Health Organization literature review concluded that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” (In March 2017, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment came to a similar conclusion.)

Third, the FARC-government peace accord (PDF) does not prohibit aerial spraying. It reads, “If crop substitution does not prove possible, the government does not renounce the instruments it believes to be most effective, including spraying, to guarantee the eradication of crops of illicit use.” And today, government personnel continue to spray coca fields with glyphosate from the ground, even though this may “displease the FARC.”


“Manual eradication was reduced and it moves forward preferably with communities’ consent, that is, with FARC’s consent.”

Debatable. The equation of rural “communities” with “the FARC” exaggerates the FARC’s power—many if not most of these communities’ members are not FARC supporters (PDF). By implicitly tying them to what until recently was a violent, radical group, this formulation also marginalizes and endangers these communities’ residents.


“FARC has designed its own justice.”

“FARC’s kingpins and their aides have been granted impunity”

Inaccurate. If the FARC were allowed to design its own justice, its members who violated human rights would be amnestied, and their denials of their crimes’ severity would go unchallenged. Also the transitional justice system established by the accords, the “Special Jurisdiction for Peace,” would include the full participation of international judges. Instead, FARC members accused of war crimes must provide full confessions, a full accounting of their assets, and carry out reparations to victims. An independent tribunal will issue sentences of up to eight years of “restricted liberty,” to be served in spaces the size of a small village or hamlet. If FARC members do not abide by the conditions stated in the accord, then they will be subject to ordinary justice that includes longer sentences in regular prisons.

The judges will be Colombian. The negotiations between the two parties on the issue of justice were greatly influenced by international jurists, the International Criminal Court, and the current state of practice within international law. Most importantly, the agreed-upon justice system prioritizes the recommendations that truth, justice and reparations prevail over jail time made by the over 60 victims who traveled to Havana to demand that the process respect their rights.

This is not “prison,” as Uribe points out, and the austerity of conditions in the restricted-liberty zones remains to be determined by the sentencing judges in each case. But it is far from impunity, and far from what the FARC would “design” for its members. Given the sheer number of cases of abuses that took place during five decades of conflict, this special jurisdiction for peace will ensure that emblematic cases are tried. This greatly contrasts with the current justice system, which is unable to produce quick and effective sanctions.


“Judges will be appointed by people permissive with terrorism and akin to FARC’s alleged ideology.”

Inaccurate. The judges are being selected by a committee made up of a representative of the UN Secretary General, the European Court of Human Rights, the Criminal Chamber of Colombia’s Supreme Court, the non-governmental International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), and the Permanent Commission of the Colombian State University System. (The list of appointing bodies, agreed in August 2016, also included the Vatican, which declined to participate.) None of these institutions, or their representatives, can seriously be considered “permissive with terrorism” or sharing the FARC’s political views. Not only is this statement inaccurate, it stigmatizes judges in a manner that can undermine their security.


“These sanctions are inadequate, they lack incarceration, and are inapplicable because those who are guilty will enjoy simultaneous eligibility for Congress or any other political post.”

Debatable. These sanctions are only modestly less “inadequate” than the 5-8 years in prison given to pro-government paramilitary leaders under a process developed under Uribe’s presidency. (The paramilitaries didn’t kidnap, recruit children, or lay landmines as often as the FARC did, but during their years of greatest activity they killed and displaced far more civilians.) It remains to be seen how austere conditions will be in the village-sized zones where FARC members will serve sentences for war crimes. It also remains to be seen whether sentencing judges will even allow FARC members to hold political office in locations outside their zones of confinement.


“Narco trafficking is accepted as a political related crime for funding rebellion, with full impunity, eligibility and no extradition.”

Debatable. Narcotrafficking will be amnestied if it can be shown that the demobilizing guerrilla channeled all profits into the FARC’s war effort and did not profit personally. Demobilizing paramilitary group members were held to the same standard during Uribe’s presidency. Each demobilizing guerrilla must declare his or her assets, and if found to be lying, will be kicked out of the transitional justice system and face regular, criminal justice instead.


“Simon Trinidad serves a sentence in the United States because of narco trafficking and the kidnapping of three American citizens, however, his accomplices enjoy impunity in Colombia.”

Inaccurate. FARC leader Simón Trinidad, who was captured in 2004, is in a U.S. prison for his indirect role in kidnapping three U.S. citizen defense contractors. He was not found guilty of narcotrafficking. FARC members who participated in kidnapping will not be amnestied, they will serve sentences in the transitional justice system.


“Our Constitution has been substituted by the agreement with FARC. This amendment will be in place during 12 years.”

Inaccurate. The peace accord does not substitute for anything, as nothing in it suppresses or substitutes anything in Colombia’s constitution. For 12 years, the accord has a legal standing that prevents Colombia’s Congress from passing laws that might violate or undermine its commitments. That is a sound mechanism, and it’s hard to imagine any peace accord going forward without a similar protection, even if it may resemble a temporary constitutional amendment.


“The NO VOTE won the Plebiscite.”

True with a caveat. Uribe’s U.S. audience should be aware that the “NO” victory was not overwhelming: the margin was 50.2 to 49.8 percent. More troubling was the remarkably low level of voter participation: 63 percent of eligible Colombians failed to vote on October 2, 2016. The majority of Colombians in regions currently impacted by the conflict voted in favor of the accord. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, who are disproportionate victims of displacement, violence and conflict, resoundingly voted in favor of peace.


“The Government did not include substantial changes, and, with the non-understandable support from the Constitutional Court, did ratify the agreement through a proposition in Congress, in clear contradiction to the Plebiscite outcome.”

Debatable. After the original August 2016 accord was defeated by the October 2 plebiscite, Colombia’s government heard proposals from leading opponents, which it took to the FARC for several weeks of re-negotiation. The resulting November 2016 accord included over 500 changes. Substantial adjustments included severely restricting the size of zones to which FARC war criminals would be confined, requiring FARC members to declare all of their assets and provide “exhaustive and detailed” information about links to the drug trade, and requiring case-by-case consideration instead of blanket amnesty for drug trafficking. One change that Uribe and other accord opponents did not get was a revocation of the 10 automatic seats in Congress (5 in the 166-person House and 5 in the 102-person Senate) that FARC members will occupy between 2018 and 2026.

Uribe’s complaint that the government, the Constitutional Court, and the Congress overruled the Plebiscite outcome is, in fact, a recognition that three branches of government unanimously approved an accord that was significantly amended after losing the October 2 vote by a hair-thin margin.


“the current Government has not gone as far as Maduro in Venezuela, but the inheritance will allow the possible weak or pro FARC Governments of the future to adopt the same path”

Inaccurate. The government of Juan Manuel Santos, which will be in office for one more year, has weakened neither free speech nor judicial independence: in fact, the Constitutional Court already struck down one of its first decrees for implementing the peace accords. It is not clear why Uribe thinks that Colombians might suddenly opt for a pro-FARC, pro-Venezuela political path. The latest bi-monthly Gallup poll (February, PDF) gave the FARC a 19 percent approval rating and 2 percent for Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela. (It also showed Uribe’s own rating at 49 percent with +3-point net favorability, down from consistent measures over +40 during his presidency.) This statement is completely unfounded.


“Colombia has poverty and unequal income distribution not because of the private sector, but because the lack of many more and robust private enterprises.”

Inaccurate. It is frankly odd to assert that Colombia’s poverty and inequality have a single cause. It is further bizarre not to include corruption and a weak rule of law among the causes. Meanwhile, the World Bank places Colombia in 53rd place, out of 190, among the world’s most business-friendly countries: not a stellar ranking, but not low enough to be the single explanation for poverty and one of the world’s worst rates of inequality (PDF). If anything, peace in conflictive regions would do much to improve security and opportunities for international investment in Colombia.


“Only a few children have returned to their families out of more than 11,000 that were kidnapped.”

Debatable/Inaccurate. The statistic refers to all FARC recruitment of minors between 1975 and 2014. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of these children have long since grown up. Many deserted, were captured, or were killed by government forces. Some became guerrilla leaders. As of January, according to Colombia’s Defense Ministry, there were about 170 child combatants still in the ranks of demobilizing FARC; though turnovers to the Red Cross have begun, the process has been too slow.


“Our secret services, some years ago, estimated at 40,000 the number of guns in the hands of FARC. The President of Colombia expressed recently that the organization was going to give up 14,000, however, FARC ́s members have announced that 7,000 guns will be let down.”

Debatable. There is no way to verify a statistic that comes from “our secret services,” but since the FARC are demobilizing about 7,000 fighters, a statistic of more than five guns per combatant seems laughably high.

Uribe’s statement doesn’t refer to FARC “militia” members: part-time, non-uniformed guerrilla supporters who operate mainly in urban areas. About 6,000 militia members—nobody knows the true amount—are expected to report to disarmament sites, where they are required to spend a few days registering and handing over whatever weapons they possess. This may increase the final weapons count beyond the 7,000 of which the UN mission is currently aware.


“Nothing has been informed about the missiles and other dangerous weapons owned by FARC.”

Debatable. If the FARC have, or had, missiles, they did not use them during the conflict. The only evidence we’ve seen is in a 2012 video of a single unsuccessful use of a SAM-7 shoulder-fired missile.


“Chavez and Maduro have been the supporters of terrorism in our country.”

Debatable. The Venezuelan government has done very little about the freedom with which Colombian guerrilla groups operate on the Venezuelan side of the common border. However, Colombian organized crime and paramilitary groups have also operated with great freedom in these poorly governed territories. Captured guerrilla communications indicate that FARC leaders discussed financial support with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, especially during a 2007 period when Uribe authorized Chávez to serve as a go-between in a failed effort to free guerrilla hostages. We don’t know whether any financial support was actually delivered.

In their contacts with guerrillas, Venezuelan leaders encouraged them to negotiate peace and to win power, as they did, through non-violent electoral politics. Venezuelan diplomatic and logistical support, too, contributed importantly to the success of Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC. If Venezuela was trying to promote “terrorism” in Colombia, why did it so robustly support peace negotiations?

This is taking a while

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a rightwing politician who is the FARC peace accords’ most prominent opponent, had a meeting in Florida on Friday with Donald Trump. (Uribe was joined by his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, who also opposed the 2012-16 FARC peace talks despite spending much of his presidency on an unsuccessful 1998-2002 attempt to negotiate with the FARC.) (Note as of 5:30PM EDT: CNN Español is reporting that this meeting didn’t happen, just a hallway encounter between Trump and Pastrana at Mar-a-Lago.)

Uribe's statement, with incorrect statements highlighted in pink and debatable assertions highlighted in orange.

Uribe followed up his meeting with a one-page “Message to the authorities and the Congress of the United States of America” opposing the peace accord. His political party sent his document to all U.S. congressional offices and even to Colombia-concerned individuals like me.

The document is riddled with false or inaccurate statements (highlighted in pink) and debatable claims (highlighted in orange). I’m writing up a point-by-point response, but it’s taking a long time because there are so many of them. Stay tuned.

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