juan manuel santos

Colombia election only one step in long road to peace

On June 15th, Colombians went to the polls to choose their next president. Former Finance Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga had pulled off an upset win in the first round of elections on May 25, besting the incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos by a margin of 29.3 to 25.6%. After the defeat, Santos went on the offensive, attempting rouse the supporters around the county who had stayed home and contributed to the low voter turnout that cost him a win…

Read this piece in its entirety at Upside Down World.

Colombia’s Presidential Election and the Prospects for Peace with the FARC

Colombia has been at war for over 50 years. The internal armed conflict between the government and the Marxist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC after their Spanish acronym, originated in the aftermath of a bloody period of political violence during the 1950s known as “La Violencia,” or “The Violence…”

Read this piece in its entirety at Truthout.

Colombia: Peace talks with FARC enter 24th round

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 20 April to 26 April 2014.

On Thursday, the 24th round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC commenced in Havana. The previous round ended on April 11 without an agreement on the issues of illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking, which are expected to be the focus of the new session. President Santos said earlier that he expects to reach a deal with the FARC regarding their involvement in the drug trade “in the near future.”

The FARC reiterated their desire for the government to commit to forming a truth commission “to clarify the history of the conflict” before they will discuss reparations for victims. The government has previously said it is willing to form such a commission only after a final deal is reached.

The chief negotiator for the Colombian government in the ongoing peace negotiations, Humberto de la Calle, pushed back against reports that the government was negotiating a drawdown of military and police forces or a demilitarization of the “peasant reserve zones” as part of the talks. “I say categorically that none of this is true,” he said during a statement to the press.

Messages obtained by El Universal appear to show the top leader of the FARC, “Timochenko,” venting his frustration with the “apathy and indolence” of some of the group’s members to other guerrilla leaders. The messages seem to acknowledge that the government’s military efforts against the rebels are succeeding. The FARC “are being beaten every day,” reads one message.

A pamphlet allegedly produced by the FARC was discovered, which threatened members of former President and Senator-elect Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center party as well as a radio station and workers for multinational corporations in the department of Arauca.

The Colombian government claims that emails found on confiscated FARC computers indicate coordination between the FARC and the ELN for attacks planned in the next month. According to one message the plan was “to select feasible military objectives and that they impact…and seriously affect the economy.”

Headlines:

The closure of the Caño Limon-Coveñas pipeline in northwestern Colombia due to a series of attacks allegedly carried out by the ELN has cost the government $136 million in royalties, taxes and dividends. The U’wa indigenous group have refused to allow workers access to their land in order to repair to the pipeline. Negotiations with the group ended in failure for the government with the group’s spokesperson saying “The proposals they offered weren’t close to what we were demanding…We will continue to not authorize the repair of the oil pipe.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reinstated ousted Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro following a court order requiring him to do so. However, Santos has promised to challenge the decision in a higher court. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights lauded the ruling in favor of Petro, noting that the organization will “continue to monitor the situation.” The IACHR previously made a similar ruling, which was ignored by Santos.

One Colombian soldier was killed and thirteen others were wounded when an army convoy set off mines allegedly laid by FARC guerrillas in the Norte de Santander region.

Colombian rancher and union leader Luis Alberto Álvarez, who was kidnapped by the ELN last week, was found dead near the Venezuelan border. Álvarez’s death may have an impact on the agricultural strike planned for April 28.

Two Hondurans, two Venezuelans and one Colombian national were detained by Colombian security forces in Caribbean waters. They were carrying 750 kilos of cocaine as well as fuel, communications equipment and firearms. Authorities claimed the cache belonged to Víctor Ramón Navarro, alias “Megateo,” a member of the People’s Liberation Army (EPL).

To Watch:

The ministers of Interior, Agriculture and Finance held a meeting to discuss new efforts to head off a strike planned by Colombian farmers on 28 April. Some of the proposals included subsidy policies, debt refinancing plans, a halt to confiscation of debtors’ farms and social investments. Colombia’s Coffee Federation (Fedecafe) has announced that it will pay stipends to 74,000 coffee farmers who had not received the payments promised after a nationwide strike last August that resulted in five deaths and hundreds of injuries as police clashed with demonstrators. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón claimed that organized crime groups are involved in the organization of the planned agricultural strike.

Colombia may do away with its aerial cocaine eradication program as part of its efforts to reach an agreement with the FARC over the drugs issue. The United States suspended its fumigation program last year after two US pilots were shot down by FARC guerillas.

Colombia’s largest daily newspaper, El Tiempo, has reported in further detail on how recently-reinstated Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro’s lawyers received government contracts in the lead-up to his dismissal. Petro has consistently denied that the contracts had any link to his legal defense.

Chiquita Brands International, a multinational fruit and vegetable company, has asked a US Federal Court to dismiss a lawsuit against the company brought by families of victims of paramilitary violence, arguing that the company cannot be directly linked to the killing of over 4,000 people by the illegal armed groups. In 2007, Chiquita was found guilty of paying paramilitaries $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 and was fined $25 million.

Colombia: Vitriol, violence and threats of strikes as election approaches

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 13 April to 19 April 2014.

report from the Washington Office on Latin America entitled “Ending 50 Years of Conflict” expressed confidence in the potential of ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC to realize a final deal by the end of this year. The report also called on the US to increase financial and diplomatic support to ensure that Colombia can meet post-conflict challenges, such as “bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims.” US aid to Colombia has been declining by an average of 10-15% per year for the past few years.

Colombia’s military spending rose by 13% in 2013, one of the largest increases in the region. Military spending throughout all of Latin America increased by 2.2% in 2013, bringing the total regional increase since 2004 to 61%. Colombia spends more than any other country in the region on its military as a percentage of GDP, and is second only to Brazil – the largest country in the region – in total expenditures. The majority of Colombia’s military spending is directed at fighting armed groups like the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as violent organized crime groups.

President Santos reaffirmed his commitment to the peace negotiations with the FARC in an interview with W Radio. He criticized the FARC for ongoing attacks during the negotiations, saying “What objective are you seeking? What military advantage does it give you? None, it only undermines the confidence of the people in the peace process.” The FARC were suspected of bombing another section of the Panamerican highway this week after a similar attack on April 1. Last week, three policemen were killed in an ambush by FARC forces.

Santos also criticized opponents of the peace process as “lords of fear,” perhaps referring to one of his main rivals in the upcoming presidential election, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who (along with his highest-profile supporter, former President and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe) has been critical of the negotiations.

In an interview with a Colombian news outlet, the leader of the ELN, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (alias “Gabino”), said that his group is seeking peace talks with the government. The ELN is not party to the ongoing negotiations between the government and the FARC. Gabino slammed the Santos administration and Colombia’s “oligarchy” saying that they have “no desire” for peace, “they are thirsty for blood and violence” and they “get rich with war…They are selfish, arrogant, warmongering. They despise the humble and only look at them as a work force that enriches [the powerful].”

Two policemen were killed in the northeastern department of Arauca. RCN Radio attributed the attack to the ELN, which is known to be active in the area, but neither that group, nor the FARC have claimed responsibility for the killings. An unidentified group intimidated a work crew making repairs to an oil pipeline in the northeastern region of the country and torched their truck. Last week, repeated ELN attacks on an oil field in that area forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave.

In the interview, Gabino also expressed outrage over the political dismissals of former Senator Piedad Cordoba and former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro and admitted that there were minors associated with his group. Colombia’s Ombudsman’s office demanded that the ELN disclose the number of minors in their ranks.

The ELN is Colombia’s second-largest armed group after the FARC, with about 2,000 troops. President Santos has indicated his willingness to begin a peace dialogue with the ELN in the past.

Headlines:

According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Colombia has the 10th highest murder rate in the world, even though the country’s homicide rate has dropped by nearly half since 2002.

Colombia is the eighth-worst country in the world for impunity in attacks on the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Members of the U’wa indigenous group met with Colombia’s ministers of mines and energy, the interior and the environment after refusing to allow repairs to the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline following attacks from rebel guerrillas that had damaged it.

Four members of the Colombian military were sentenced to decades in prison for killing civilians and presenting them as combat fatalities in order to boost their “body count” in the country’s armed conflict. The ongoing “false positives” scandal has involved hundreds of members of Colombia’s military. In an July 2013 report, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it had found that the armed forces and civilian collaborators had killed 3,896 civilians since 1986.

Two young men were found dismembered in Buenaventura, the port city considered to be one of the most dangerous areas of Colombia. The deaths were the first murders reported since the army took over security operations in the city in late March. For more on the situation in Buenaventura see our previous post.

Seven members of the Urabeños gang were killed in an army operation in the department of Antioquia.

Colombian miners said they will join with farmers in a nationwide strike planned for April 28, less than a month before the country’s presidential elections. For more on the planned strike, see our previous post.

Colombian authorities arrested 15 members of the criminal group known as “La Línea” who were accused of assassinating a businessman last year for failing to make a $50,000 extortion payment.

Colombian police arrested 5 men wanted for extradition to the United States to face charges of cocaine trafficking.

Members of a neo-Nazi group known as Tercero Fuerza (“Third Force”) allegedly vandalized a Bogotá graffiti mural honoring the thousands of victims of violence committed against the Union Patriótica (Patriotic Union or “UP”), the political party co-founded by the FARC in the 1980s. The UP performed better during the 1986 elections than any other leftist party in Colombian history. However, after the election, a brutal campaign of assassination and murder by right-wing paramilitaries brought about the massacre of 4,000-6,000 UP members, including the party’s leader, Jaime Pardo.

To Watch:

Colombia’s success in combating the production of cocaine within its borders is likely pushing drug traffickers to use product sourced from Peru. “We are seeing the same phenomenon as 30 years ago, when coca base arrived from [Peru and Bolivia] and they produced [cocaine] hydrochloride here,” said the chief of the Anti-Narcotics Police General Ricardo Restrepo. Restrepo said that the port of Cartegena is particularly affected because of its status as a major point of departure for containers, especially those destined for European markets.

One of the oldest crime syndicates in Medellín, the Oficina de Envigado, apparently wants to lay down its weapons. According to two of the group’s self-proclaimed leaders, the demobilization “won’t happen overnight” but their desire to dismantle the gang is fueled by the feeling that “those who have been victimized most are [their] own families.”

The FARC may be selling coca plantations and cocaine labs to the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel in anticipation of a peace deal with the Colombian government. The FARC are estimated to control a majority of the country’s cocaine trade.

Extra:

Acid attacks against women in Colombia are receiving increased attention after a wealthy woman was victimized. According to Colombian officials, more than 900 cases of acid attacks have been recorded in the last 10 years.

Criminals in the US, Central America and even Colombia appear to be using homemade guns more often. As Fusion puts it, these weapons are “unserialized, unregistered and totally legal – and they’re being used to kill people.”

World-renowned Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away this week. President Santos declared three days of national mourning for the “most loved and most admired compatriot of all times.”

Colombia: Citizens remember victims of conflict as peace talks continue ahead of elections

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 6 April to 12 April 2014.

Colombia commemorated the National Day of Victims this week, remembering those who have suffered in the country’s decades-long internal armed conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing-paramilitaries, criminal gangs and state security forces . Many citizens took the opportunity to reflect on the progress of the Law of Victims and Land Restitution signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2011, which aims to return stolen and abandoned land to internally displaced Colombians and provide reparations to victims of human rights violations and infractions of international humanitarian law.

Ana Teresa Bernal, a tenured lecturer at the High Council for Victims Rights, Peace and Reconciliation said there are still “many issues to be corrected” with the law. According to Bernal, “compensations and restitution of lands [are happening] at quite a slow pace.” Even President Santos admitted in a  radio interview that despite a “monumental institutional and financial effort” by his administration, the state “does not have the capacity to attend to all the victims right now.” Most estimates put the number of victims of the conflict at 6 million or more.

The national director of the Liberal Party, Simon Gavaria Muñoz, said in a statement that he “[would] like to apologize to all the victims of Colombia’s internal conflict, on behalf of the Liberal Party, the historical party that has both victim and victimizer.” In the 1950s, Colombia experienced a period of unrest known as La Violencia (“The Violence”), during which Liberal- and Conservative-aligned paramilitaries battled for years, helping to the scene for the decades of armed conflict that followed.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court announced that President Santos – along with the inspector general, prosecutor general, peace commissioner and other officials – will be expected to make a public appearance before the court to provide details on the agreement reached with the FARC regarding their potential future political participation. In November last year, the negotiators came to an agreement regarding the FARC’s possible participation in the formal political process, but the details of the deal have remained under wraps. The court is expected to ask how that deal would be implemented in accordance with the 2012 Legal Framework for Peace, a law passed by congress that lays out some stipulations for the political incorporation of the FARC in the event of a final peace deal. The hearing will be held just five days before the country’s presidential election, which is scheduled to take place on May 25.

The FARC have ruled out pausing the peace negotiations with the government during the presidential election to be held next month. The group also reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process saying that “it is the majority will of the Colombian people that in Colombia there is peace.”

President Santos said he would “think twice” about ordering the killing of FARC leader “Timochenko,” although he claimed that military intelligence showed “more or less” the location of the rebel leader. Santos said that he was “not telling whether [he] would or would not take that decision.” The FARC issued a statement in response saying that the way to peace is not by “acting like bullies.”

Headlines

Over 10,000 displaced people are seeking refuge from Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict in the Caribbean state of Atlantico already this year. According to the US Human Rights Council, 4.7 million people – more than 10% of the country’s total population – were internally displaced, one of the highest rates in the world.

Three policemen were killed in an attack by FARC guerrillas, who took for themselves the prisoner the police had been transporting with them.

Repeated ELN (National Liberation Army) attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oilfield have forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave. The site, which is Colombia’s second-largest oilfield, has been attacked dozens of times in recent months, causing significant damage.

Three hundred soldiers will be sent to Bogotá to assist with security operations in 10 areas of the city. The army has denied that this move represents a “militarization” of law enforcement in the capital.

President Juan Manuel Santos claimed that security forces had arrested 136 members of criminal gangs over the last month and a half in the pacific port city of Buenaventura. He also touted $100 million worth of investments in social programs aimed at helping the city recover from devastating violence caused by a turf war between the Los Urabeños and Rastrojos gangs.

The Colombian government seized $90 million worth of property linked to Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias “Comba” or “Combatiente,” the leader of the Rastrojos gang who surrendered to US authorities in October 2012.

Seven tons of cocaine were seized by authorities in the port city of Cartegena, bringing the total amount of cocaine seized this year to 30 tons.

Costa Rican authorities arrested four Colombian nationals who were allegedly transporting a ton of cocaine in the Gulf of Mexico.

A municipal judge ordered the Santos administration to publicly apologize for statements made by its predecessor hinting that some of the country’s unions and their members had ties to guerrilla groups. Although there have been some improvements in the protection of worker’s rights to free association and collective bargaining, 73 Colombian labor activists have been executed in the last three years, and nearly 1,000 death threats were registered in 2013 by the Escuela Nacional Sindical (National Union School, or ENS). 

Senator Juan Manuel Corzo accused Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo and his brother Andres Cristo of having ties to paramilitary groups. Cristo and dozens of his colleagues been investigated for links to paramilitary groups in the past. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, more than 11,000 politicians, officials and businessmen are suspected of having made pacts with such groups.

To Watch

Farmers are planning a national strike later this month, similar to the strike conducted during August of last year. Agricultural workers are upset at government policies such as free trade agreements, which they view as harmful to their livelihoods. They are also frustrated because the government has fulfilled less than half of the promises it made after last year’s strike. President Santos’s administration is pressing for a dialogue with the farmers to head off a major protest just weeks before the presidential election. Last month, tens of thousands of farmers took to the streets of Bogotá to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with government policies. Rice growers planned a national strike this week. The Colombian government has offered a promise to purchase rice at $52 per ton to avoid a strike by the farmers.

President Santos said that he will reinstate ousted Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro if he is ordered to do so by a Colombian court now considering the case. Petro was removed from office and banned from politics for 15 years over supposed “irregularities” that occurred during his attempt to de-privatize the city’s trash collection services. Santos’s recent decision to ignore an order from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights demanding that he reinstate Petro spurred the resignation of the entire government of the city of Bogotá.

President Santos announced that his government will begin demolishing and repossessing dozens of buildings being used as points-of-sale for drugs, saying that “We have recognized that if we manage to destroy these [buildings] – literally destroy them…we will be able to tackle the root of these mini-structures that are causing so much damage.” However, many experts believe that this effort will harm legitimate property-owners while causing only a small inconvenience to drug dealers forced to relocate their operations. Santos also announced the addition of 100 police to target “micro-traffickers” in Antioquia state, designating such criminals “high value targets.”

Spain extradited suspected Urabeños member Carlos Andrés Palencia (alias ‘Visaje’), who was wanted on multiple drug trafficking and murder charges.

President Santos signed an order approved by Colombia’s Supreme Court authorizing the extradition of seven gang members accused of an attempted kidnapping that resulted in the death of US DEA agent James Terry Watson in June 2013.

The family of Conservative politician Alvaro Hurtado Gomez, who was killed in 1995, plans to sue the Colombian government at the InterAmerican Court on Human Rights. The family alleges that the Prosecutor General’s Office has impeded the investigation into Gomez’s death causing “monetary and moral damages” to his family, constituting a human rights violation. Gomez, the son of former Colombian president Laureano Gomez, ran for president three times and was a media mogul who founded the newspaper “El Siglo,” the magazine “Sintesis Economica” and a TV news station. His family alleges that he was murdered for editorials he wrote claiming that contemporary president Enrique Samper’s campaign was funded partially by the Cali drug cartel.

Extra

The Red Cross presented a report documenting 207 violations of human rights in 39 Colombian cities. The spike in violence in likely attributable to the supposed demobilization during the mid-2000s of right-wing paramilitary groups known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, which were originally formed to protect wealthy landowners from attacks by left-wing guerrillas. Since then, many former members of those groups have integrated into criminal organizations, such as the Urabeños and Rastrojos gangs.

Colombia: With election just weeks away, presidential campaign heats up

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 30 March to 5 April 2014.

The preliminary round of Colombia’s presidential elections will be held on May 25 of this year. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes in the first election, a run-off between the two top-finishing candidates will take place on June 15.

This week, the Centro Nacional de Consultoria (National Consulting Center) published a poll showing former Bogotá mayor and Green Party candidate Enrique Peñalosa finishing 26% to 18% behind the incumbent president Jose Manuel Santos in the first ballot, but beating him in the June runoff 46% to 36%. These results are consistent with previous polling.

Also this week, Peñalosa accused president Santos of “playing politics” with the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC. Peñalosa has said that he supports dialogue but has also said that he would not support a military ceasefire between the combatants while the talks proceed.

Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga, backed by former president and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, has been critical of the peace process and has challenged Santos for not withdrawing from the talks following the torture and killing of two policemen by the FARC.

Conservative presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez has said that, if elected, she would put a deadline of four months on the talks. Leftist candidate Clara López of the Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Poll) has been a consistent supporter of the peace talks.

Zuluaga and Uribe’s far-right party made a strong showing in Senate elections a few weeks ago, but it seems increasingly likely that the second round will be a closely-contested race between the relatively centrist candidates Santos and Peñalosa. Most Colombians support a diplomatic solution to Colombia’s decades-long civil conflict, but they are also increasingly skeptical about the prospects that a deal will be reached.

Headlines

Colombia’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, a member of the Conservative party, publicly criticized the peace talks between the government and the FARC, saying a possible deal with the government would be a “slap in the face” to the victims of the FARC’s crimes.

More than 6 tons of cocaine have been seized in Colombian ports so far this year. Shipping drugs through Colombia’s busy ports, through which millions of containers filled with a wide variety of goods travel each year, remains one of the most popular ways to smuggle drugs into and out of that country.

Two policeman were killed in southwestern Colombia early Friday morning, allegedly by elements of the FARC rebel group. No official evidence has been presented confirming the rebels’ involvement and the FARC has not taken credit for the attack.

Authorities in Bogotá arrested a man who goes by the alias “Machaco.” Machaco allegedly acted as finance chief to Henry Castellanos (alias “Romagna”), a major guerrilla leader of the Eastern Bloc of the FARC.

Six FARC guerrillas were killed, four captured and four surrendered as part of “Operation Maximus,” an army operation taking place in Nariño province. The army also seized various firearms and 50 kilograms of cocaine. Also this week, FARC guerrillas in that region used dynamite to blast a hole in a portion of the Pan-American Highway.

Police have arrested 14 people from the Cali-based gang known as “La Libertad,” who were accused of recruiting child soldiers by falsely promising to sponsor their pursuit of a future career in professional soccer.

More people were killed by land mines in Colombia during 2013 than in any other country, with 368 injuries, including 49 deaths. Vice produced a highly compelling documentary on this issue last year entitled “Colombia’s Hidden Killers.” You can watch it for free here.

FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez said that the rebel group is “willing to reach an agreement” regarding the use of land mines, which he pointed out are also used by Colombian government forces. According to official data, antipersonnel mines have killed at least 2,000 people since 1990, wounding thousands more.

Residents of the northeastern city of Cucuta took to the streets, protesting the worsening economic condition of the region, which is suffering from impeded trade with neighboring Venezuela. 80% of the city’s businesses were closed and 70% of the city’s public transport was forced to suspend the service. More than 450 riot police were called in to break up the protests, which Cucuta Public Security Secretary Ruby Johana Ascanio claimed were illegal because they didn’t follow the proper procedure to obtain legal permission.

A Colombian court struck down a rule allowing aerial fumigation of suspected coca crops in national parks. The court also ruled against the Ministry of Defense and the National Police, saying that the government can be held responsible for damage to legitimate crops, contamination of drinking water, and poisoning of local populations. Colombia’s minister of justice recently asked the United States to shift the focus of its anti-narcotics aid to Colombia away from crop eradication and fumigation efforts.

To Watch

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that Fundacion Karisma, a Colombian NGO focusing on human rights in the digital age, along with other Colombian NGOs, sent a letter to the Colombian President requesting the ability to participate in a high-level commission at the Organization of American States (OAS) responsible for revising and analyzing the national intelligence legal framework. According to the EFF, ‘This secretive committee currently includes government officials, national security experts and “selected” private sector companies—but no representatives from the NGO community.’

At the conference organized by the OAS, the Colombian Government released a report stating that they had discovered over 40 websites where illegal drugs are bought and sold.

In other cyber-security and surveillance news, a recent report from Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine contained a document that indicates that former Colombian president and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe was one of more than 100 world leaders selected as a target for NSA and GCHQ surveillance. According to the article, “An internal NSA description states that employees can use [the “Target Knowledge Database”] to analyze ‘complete profiles’ of target persons.”

FARC rebels continue to attack oil pipelines in the run-up to the presidential election next month. Complicating matters, the U’wa indigenous community will not permit repair crews to enter an area of eastern Colombia until the government cleans up environmental damage and provides more security assistance. The blockade is one of a wave of protests in recent months by rural and indigenous groups over oil companies’ environmental damages and hiring practices.

Extra

The department of Valle del Cauca, home to the cities of Cali and Buenaventura, was the most violent area of the country for the fourth straight year during 2013. With a homicide rate of 85 per 100,000 residents, Cali is one of the most murderous cities in the world, while Buenaventura has gained a reputation for horrific gang violence. InSight Crime reports that the battle between the Urabenos and Rastrojos gangs for control of the strategically-important port of Buenaventura is straining the resources of the Urabenos, who will likely fail to win the city. Nevertheless, the bloody war will almost certainly continue for some time, causing even more civilian casualties and displacements than it has already.

Dr. Ginny Bouvier’s blog “Colombia Calls” has a thorough round-up of political developments related to the most recent round of peace negotiations between the FARC and the government, which recently ended. The negotiators began a new session – their 23rd – on Friday.

 

Colombia: Ousted Bogota mayor continues legal fight

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 23 March to 29 March 2014.

Days after President Juan Manuel Santos rejected an order from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to reverse the decision to remove the now-former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, from office, he and interim mayor Rafael Pardo announced an “emergency plan” for the city.

Petro’s firing brought tens of thousands into the streets protesting against the decision back in December. This week, Petro filed another appeal for a court to overturn the decision to remove him from office and ban him from politics for 15 years. A poll released this week showed 57% of respondents said Santos’s decision will affect the upcoming election “a lot,” but the poll did not ask how the decision would affect their vote.

Another recently-released poll showed the incumbent Santos and Green Party Enrique Penalosa advancing to the second round of Colombia’s upcoming presidential election, with Penalosa winning the second round by a small margin. Polling results published last week had similar results.

General Secretary of the Mayor of Bogotá Susana Muhamad called for the legalization and regulation of the marijuana trade in Colombia. While it is unlikely that such a move would do much to curb violent crime in Colombia, Muhamad’s statements align somewhat the FARC’s position in the latest round of peace talks with the FARC, which have focused on the issue of illicit drugs.

In the past, President Santos has also expressed support for such a policy. Despite recent tensions, the FARC said they were “optimistic” about the negotiations with the government, saying that they “have without a doubt advanced the construction of peace accords.”

Headlines

General John Kelly of the US Southern Command released a statement saying the US will do “everything in our power” to help the Colombian military fight “terrorism,” presumably referring to the FARC, which is designated by the US as a terrorist organization.

Police blamed the FARC for a bomb blast that killed 1 police officer killed and injured 9 people injured in the Guapi municipality of the southern state of Cauca.

Two soldiers were killed and two civilians injured in a bomb attack attributed to the FARC in the Amazonas department.

A ton of cocaine, with an estimated value of $13 million, was seized in Buenaventura just 24 hours after Colombia’s Defense Ministry sent additional security forces to the city. The cocaine is believed to have belonged to the Urabeños gang.

Hector Castro, alias “Hector Largo”, a member of the Urabeños who controlled the largest synthetic drug distribution ring in the country, was arrested. In addition to drugs charges, Castro was also wanted for a number of homicides.

87 homicides have been reported in the port city of Buenaventura so far this year and more than 1,000 have been displaced due to violence stemming from the presence of drug gangs. The city is widely considered to be the most dangerous place in Colombia.

Authorities in Medellin imprisoned four alleged drug traffickers with ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office seized $7.5 million worth of assets from Victor and Miguel Angel Mejia, alias “Los Mellisos” (The Twins). The brothers were considered to be among the country’s primary narco-traffickers. Victor was killed during his arrest in 2008 and his brother was subsequently extradited to the United States.

A report from watchdog group Amnesty International said Colombia has “failed spectacularly” to guarantee the human rights of its citizens during the country’s decades-long civil war ahead of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual review. The group plans to deliver a statement to the Human Rights Council highlighting its concern with forced displacement, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, abductions, and enforced disappearances.

A spokesman for the International Office for Human Rights in Colombia criticized the ongoing peace talks with the FARC for not allowing “direct participation” by victims of the guerrillas. The spokesman also voiced his concern that negotiations will end in impunity for FARC.

A report by Oxfam estimates that almost 50,000 children have been victims of sexual violence during Colombia’s civil war. However, the report claimed that many acts of sexual violence have become normalized to the point where they are no longer considered crimes or even wrong and therefore may go unreported. Other reasons these crimes may be unreported include shame on the part of victims and fear of retributive attacks by perpetrators.

To Watch

Coffee farmers are considering an agrarian strike to protest unfulfilled promises made by the government after demonstrations last year. The farmers say that a new crop subsidy program has not been fully implemented, causing farmers to take losses on their harvests, and that a debt forgiveness program has not been realized.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the FARC to hand over the guerillas responsible for the murder of two policmen last week. President Santos said the “cowardly assassination…will not go unpunished.”

Kidnappers appear to be opting for the “express kidnapping” technique more often as of late. The technique involves asking for smaller amounts of money and releasing victims more quickly.

Carlos Arnoldo Lobo, alias “El Negro,” a drug trafficker with links to Colombia’s Rastrojos gang, was arrested in Honduras.  The US Southern District Court of Florida is seeking El Negro’s extradition under a 2012 Honduran law that allows for the extradition of Hondurans charged with drug trafficking, terrorism, or organized crime. If he is extradited, “El Negro” would be the first person to whom this law has been applied.

According to Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, the United States has approached the Colombian government about receiving some of the prisoners currently held at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. It was reported that Uruguay was contacted with a similar proposal. [CITE]

Extra

Colombia reports published part one of a planned three-part series that was highly critical of many of the US-led policies of the Drug War. Part one criticized the extradition of over 1,600 criminals to the US since 1997, claiming that extradition feeds the US “prison industrial complex” while simultaneously allowing Colombian government officials to avoid investigating crimes they might be linked to.