peace talks

New Infographic Shows Human Costs of Colombian Conflict

Last week, representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group began a 29th round of peace negotiations in Havana. Over the coming days, victims of the conflict will give testimony to the negotiators, who will eventually decide on the process for recognizing and compensating the many victims of the decades-long civil struggle…


Read this piece in its entirety at Security Assistance Monitor.

New steps forward in FARC peace process as conflict continues

When Colombians elected President Juan Manuel Santos to a second term on 15 June 2014, many attributed his victory not to the voters who supported him, but to those who opposed his rival, Oscár Iván Zuluaga. In fact, Santos lost the first round of the election process to Zuluaga on 25 May 2014. Surveys indicated relatively low rates of voter participation, signifying apathy and complacency on the part of Santos supporters…

Read this piece in its entirety at Southern Pulse.

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.”


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: 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.”


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]


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.

A Primer on the Peace Talks between Colombia and the FARC

Colombia has experienced one of the longest periods of political conflict of any country in the modern era. The main source of tension has been the decades-long struggle of the Marxist paramilitary group calling themselves the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) against the Colombian government. The rebel group’s demands have largely centered around agrarian reform and peasants’ rights. Peace talks between the government and the FARC leadership were initiated in November 2012 and are still ongoing.


The roots of the conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government are commonly traced back to the efforts of the Communist Party of Colombia in the 1920s and 1930s to organize peasants and indigenous groups to agitate for land rights. For most of the early 20th century, Colombia was governed by an elite-controlled coalition consisting of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, led by the Conservatives until 1930 when the Liberals won the presidency. During this time, both political parties tolerated and even encouraged violence against political opponents. Peasant movements and protests were criminalized and forcibly oppressed. The Conservatives returned to power in 1946 and stepped up the repression of leftist peasants, leading the peasants to establish armed self-defense groups

The assassination of the populist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948 was a major turning point in Colombia’s history. His killing sparked massive riots in the capital Bogota, which became known as the BogotazoThis event kicked off a decade of horrifically violent political struggles throughout the country, which Colombians refer to as “La Violencia” (“The Violence.”) Liberal- and Conservative-aligned rural workers organized into paramilitary factions, which fought each other as well as the Communist-organized self-defense forces.

La Violencia ended in 1959, when the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to a ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement that kept the vast majority of political power in the hands of the elite. The government formed by the two factions, which called itself the National Front, excluded the Communists and other alternative political parties. It introduced an aggressive program of economic development that included the forcible privatization of lands settled by subsistence farmers who proclaimed those areas “peasant republics.” The economic plan and the repression of peasant activism were both extensively supported by the United States and traditional elites in Colombia, who were made very nervous by the recent success of the socialist Cuban revolution. This mass displacement, carried out largely by the Colombian army, led the peasants to conclude that their only path to autonomy from the repressive National Front government was through military victory.

In 1964, the various self-defense factions issued a unified agrarian reform plan and two years later, the FARC was officially established by Manuel Marulanda. For the next decade, the FARC remained a relatively marginal military force, funded mostly by extortion, bank robberies and random kidnappings. However, with the explosion of the “coke craze” in the US during the 1970s, the FARC (and a rival, right-wing paramilitary organization called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC) discovered a lucrative revenue source in the drug trade. In the 1980s, wealthy landowners (along with the Colombian army) backed militias that organized under the umbrella of the AUC to protect themselves from attacks by the FARC.

As the violence between the rival paramilitary forces escalated, the government initiated peace talks with the FARC, which eventually led to a ceasefire that lasted from 1984 to 1987. In 1985, members of the FARC, along with a large number of other leftist and communist groups, formed a political party known as the Union Patriotica (UP) that 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. 

Re-radicalized by the bloody results of their experiment with the formal political process and flush with an influx revenue from the cocaine trade, FARC expanded its forces from roughly 1,000 in the early 1960s to nearly 20,000 by the mid-1990s. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the group intensified its attacks against the state and employed increasingly extreme measures, such as the kidnapping of high-level government officials. Another round of peace talks begun in 1998 fell through in 2002 after then-President Andres Pastrana offered the FARC a 16,200 sq mi “safe haven” zone as a gesture of goodwill, which the rebels used for growing cocaine, holding hostages, and building up their forces to the strongest levels ever.

Álvaro Uribe – whose father, Alberto, was killed by the FARC in a botched 1983 kidnapping attempt – was elected president in 2002, running on a hard-line anti-FARC platform. Under his administration, the army rolled back many of the military gains made by the rebels in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but only at the expense of much bloodshed, various human rights abuses by both sides, and massive internal displacement of civilian populations. Uribe’s Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, was elected in 2010. The former chief of the military generally continued the hard-line policies of his former boss and oversaw a military offensive that killed two top FARC commanders in two years (Mono Jojoy in 2010 and Alfonso Cano in 2011) – major blows to the rebel group.

In late 2011, “Timochenko” (the nom de guerre of Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri) took over the top post in the FARC and quickly called for a re-initiation of the peace process. President Santos later accepted the request. Despite their public overtures for peace, FARC attacks on infrastructure and other targets, including government officials, spiked in 2012, possibly as a show of strength to achieve bargaining power in the forthcoming negotiations. The formal negotiations began in Oslo in October 2012 and moved to Havana the next month.

Current Situation

Both the government and the FARC have continued to carry out military operations throughout the peace talks, most likely because each party views military strength as proportional to bargaining power. The war-weary public generally favors a diplomatic, rather than military approach to resolving the conflict, but they are also increasingly skeptical that the talks will succeed. This belief is bolstered by plausible predictions that up to 20% of the rebels could reject the final settlement and defect from formal political participation.

The agenda for the talks (English translation of the full text here, h/t Colombia Reports) consists of six basic items:

  1. Integral agricultural development policy (land reform, property rights, infrastructure, food supply)
  2. Political participation (formation of political parties, access to media)
  3. End of the conflict (ceasefire, disarmament, security reform)
  4. Illicit drugs (crop substitution, prevention and harm mitigation programs for consumers)
  5. Victims (human rights inquiries and justice for victims)
  6. Implementation (international involvement, budget, schedule, etc.)

There are a number of procedural rules, perhaps the most significant of which is the stipulation that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” This means, for example, that even if an agreement is reached on the five substantive policy areas, the deal could still fall apart over disagreements about implementation. Another potential stumbling block is the decision by the Colombian government to require any final agreement to pass a referendum of the general populace.

After reaching an agreement on land reform (point #1) in May of last year, the government and the FARC signed a deal to allow for the FARC’s participation in the country’s formal political system (point #2) in November. As of this writing, talks are ongoing over point #4, the issue of illicit drugs. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is fraught with accusations that the FARC had planned to assassinate former president Uribe and charges that the military was wiretapping the peace talks while embezzling funds for the war against the rebels. The US initially expressed nominal support for a peace deal, but has notably restrained from publicly weighing in throughout the process.

There has indeed been historically unprecedented progress toward reaching an peace settlement. Nevertheless,  since nothing less than an “all-or-nothing” agreement, ratified by voters will suffice, the whole process is on extremely shaky ground. The will to end the conflict is certainly there – on both sides of the negotiating table as well as in the street – but there are still many more paths forward that lead to failure than to success.