Blog entries, commentaries, and statements from WOLA’s Colombia team

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of April 15-21

April 23, 2018

Ecuador Will No Longer Host the ELN Negotiations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aftermath of the Arrest of Jesús Santrich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aftermath of Revelation of Peace Fund Irregularities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN Secretary General Reports on Peace Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Supportive Statement From U.S.-UN

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

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

DEA Investigating Corruption Allegations Against Agent

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

Proposal To Eradicate Coca With Drones

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

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

In 2015, Colombia suspended the U.S.-funded practice of spraying glyphosate from aircraft after the UN World Health Organization published a literature review70134-8/fulltext) finding that the chemical “is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is still commonly used in Colombian (and U.S.) agriculture, and eradicators still kill coca with the more precise method of applying it from backpack-mounted dispensers, which presumably minimizes spray drift to populated areas and destruction of legal food crops. The drone proposal would enable similar close-proximity spraying without the risks that sharpshooters, ambushes, landmines, and booby traps have posed to human eradicators working in the fields.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Drug Policy, ELN Talks, Reintegration, U.S. Policy, UN, Weekly update

Solicitud de extradición EE.UU. socava proceso de paz en Colombia

April 18, 2018

Ex líder guerrillero, y congresista electo, en huelga de hambre en la cárcel

Por Anthont Dest, Candidato para PhD, University of Texas en Austin

El lunes por la noche, agentes del Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación (CTI) de la Fiscalía General de la Nación arrestaron a Seuxis Hernández Solarte en su casa en Bogotá. Mejor conocido como Jesús Santrich, quien es congresista elegido del partido político de las FARC, jugó un papel central en las negociaciones entre el gobierno colombiano y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). A propósito de su arresto, Santrich inició su segunda huelga de hambre del ultimo año: su primera huelga de hambre duró veinticinco días por el continuo encarcelamiento de presos políticos de las FARC después de la firma de los Acuerdos de Paz.

Según la circular roja de la INTERPOL al que se hizo referencia en su arresto, el Tribunal de Distrito Sur de Nueva York acusó a Santrich y otros tres integrantes de las FARC de conspirar para importar diez toneladas métricas de cocaína a los Estados Unidos, el consumidor de cocaína más grande del mundo. Alega que entre el 1 de junio de 2017 y el 4 de abril de 2018, Santrich y sus cómplices “acordaron proporcionar 10,000 kilogramos de cocaína y los compradores acordaron proporcionar $15 millones de dólares para la compra de esa cocaína, que los compradores entregarían a uno de los asociados de los conspiradores en Miami, Florida.” Estas acusaciones son serias y podrían resultar en su extradición si fueran aprobadas por el sistema judicial colombiano.

Durante una conferencia de prensa el 10 de abril, el líder de las FARC, Iván Márquez, criticó el arresto de Santrich, quien es ciego y está bajo una fuerte vigilancia desde la firma del Acuerdo de Paz del 2016, como “otro sistema corrupto del sistema judicial estadounidense”. Según la declaración oficial de las FARC: “Con la captura de nuestro camarada Jesús Santrich el proceso de paz se encuentra en su punto más crítico y amenaza ser un verdadero fracaso”.

El arresto y posible extradición de Santrich representa un fuerte golpe para el ya tambaleante proceso de paz de Colombia con las FARC. Después de más de medio siglo de conflicto armado interno, el grupo guerrillero clandestino más antiguo de América Latina conservó su sigla y se convirtió en un partido político, la Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común. Los Acuerdos de Paz representan un logro importante que, de ser implementado, abordaría algunas de las causas fundamentales del conflicto colombiano.

Sin embargo, el gobierno colombiano ha tardado en pasar del papel a la práctica. Las reformas que prometen titulación de tierra para el campesinado y programas de desarrollo alternativo para la sustitución de cultivos de uso ilícito apenas están iniciando. En lugar del apoyo del gobierno, muchos cultivadores de coca enfrentan el cañón de un fusil o los humos tóxicos de los pesticidas utilizados en la erradicación forzosa de cultivos de uso ilícito, como lo demuestra el asesinato de siete manifestantes por la Policía Antinarcóticos en octubre de 2017. Después de gastar más de $ 10 mil millones en su mayoría ayuda militar y policial a través del Plan Colombia, el gobierno de los EE. UU. se niega a apoyar cualquier programa de construcción de paz que incluya a las FARC, que permanece en la lista de organizaciones terroristas del Departamento de Estado.

Ahora, con tasas de reincidencia de más del 10% entre los ex guerrilleros de las FARC, el compromiso faltante del gobierno para reintegrar de manera efectiva y segura a los excombatientes augura una nueva etapa de violencia. La amenaza de extradición solo amplifica la desconfianza de los ex guerrilleros hacia el gobierno. El ELN, el segundo grupo guerrillero más grande de Colombia que actualmente negocia con el gobierno en Ecuador, se dio cuenta. El martes por la mañana, publicó una pronunciamiento sobre el arresto de Santrich titulado: “Estados Unidos ataca los acuerdos de paz”.

A lo largo de las negociaciones, el tema de la extradición representó una línea roja para las FARC: los guerrilleros no estaban dispuestos a entregar sus armas solo para pasar condenas en una prisión de los EE. UU. Es importante recordar que las FARC mantuvieron una ficha (¿?) de alias Simón Trinidad, líder de las FARC quien actualmente cumple una condena de 60 años en los Estados Unidos, y lo incluyeron en la lista de negociadores mientras que exigieron su libertad sin éxito. Actualmente, unos 60 miembros de las FARC son buscados por el sistema judicial de los EE. UU. La Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) establecida por los Acuerdos de Paz alivió ostensiblemente las preocupaciones de las FARC acerca de la extradición por medio de garantizar la inmunidad para los crímenes cometidos antes de los Acuerdos (excluyendo los crímenes de lesa humanidad). Pero los cargos contra Santrich violan las estipulaciones de inmunidad porque ocurrieron después de la firma de los Acuerdos. Si se le encuentra culpable de los cargos, no tendrá inmunidad de enjuiciamiento, ya que los hechos ocurrieron después de la firma de los acuerdos. Ahora, el caso de Santrich servirá como la primera prueba importante de la JEP, ya que determina el procedimiento para el enjuiciamiento. Como una de las voces más radicales de las FARC, el arresto de Santrich despierta preocupaciones sobre el posible uso de medidas judiciales para silenciar a la oposición política luego de los Acuerdos de Paz.

La decisión de dar prioridad a la extradición por parte del Departamento de Justicia de EE. UU. Jeff Sessions y Donald Trump justo antes de la Cumbre de las Américas no debería ser una sorpresa, especialmente si se considera su apoyo vigoroso para perseguir sentencias máximas por delitos relacionados con las drogas. Esto incluye sentencias de muerte sancionadas por el estado y el apoyo a la guerra asesina contra las drogas del presidente filipino, Rodrigo Duterte. Sin embargo, al buscar la extradición de Santrich y otros miembros de las FARC, las autoridades estadounidenses y colombianas corren el riesgo de perder el apoyo de las FARC en este momento crucial para construir la paz en Colombia y volver a caer en un círculo vicioso de violencia.

Tags: Extradition, U.S. Policy

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process

April 16, 2018

(Week of April 8-14)

FARC Leader Jesús Santrich Arrested, May Be Extradited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urabeños Attack Kills 8 Police

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

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

Kidnapped Ecuadorian Reporters Believed Dead

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

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

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

ELN-EPL Violence Continues in Catatumbo

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

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

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

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Drug Policy, Extradition, U.S. Policy, Weekly update

U.S. Extradition Request Undermines Colombian Peace Processes

April 12, 2018

Former Guerrilla Leader Turned Congressman on Hunger Strike in Jail

By Anthony Dest, PhD Candidate, University of Texas at at Austin

On Monday evening, federal agents arrested Seuxis Hernández Solarte at his home in Bogota. Better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, the recently elected congressional representative of the FARC’s political party played a central role in the negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In protest of his arrest, Santrich engaged in his second hunger strike of the last year—the first twenty-five day hunger strike responded to the continued incarceration of FARC political prisoners after the signing of the Peace Accords.

According to the INTERPOL Red Notice referenced in his arrest, the Southern District Court of New York indicted Santrich and three other FARC members for conspiring to import ten metric tons of cocaine into the United States, the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. It alleges that between June 1, 2017 and April 4, 2018, Santrich and his accomplices “agreed to provide 10,000 kilograms of cocaine and the buyers agreed to provide $15 million USD toward the purchase of that cocaine, which the buyers would deliver to one of the co-conspirators’ associates in Miami, Florida.” These charges are serious and could result in his extradition if approved by the Colombian judicial system.

During a press conference on Tuesday morning, FARC leader Ivan Marquez criticized the arrest of Santrich – who is blind and under heavy surveillance since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord – as “another set up by the crooked U.S. judicial system.” According to the FARC’s official statement, “With the capture of our comrade Jesus Santrich, the peace process is at its most critical moment and is on the verge of becoming a true failure.”

The arrest and possible extradition of Santrich deals a strong blow to Colombia’s already shaky peace process with the FARC. After more than half a century of internal armed conflict, Latin America’s oldest clandestine guerrilla group kept its initials and converted into an aboveground political party, the Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Commons. The Peace Accords represent a major accomplishment that, if implemented, would address some of the root causes of the Colombian conflict.

However, the Colombian government has been slow to move from paper to practice. The reforms promising to provide the rural poor with land titles and alternative development programs to substitute illicit crops are barely off the ground. Instead of support from the government, many coca growers confront the barrel of a gun or the toxic fumes of pesticides used in the forced eradication illicit crops, as evidenced by the police killing of seven protestors in October 2017. After spending more than $10 billion in mostly military and police aid through Plan Colombia, the U.S. government refuses to support any peacebuilding programs that include the FARC, which remains on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Now, with recidivism rates upwards of 10% among former FARC guerrillas, the government’s lackadaisical commitment to effectively and safely reintegrating disarmed combatants portends a new stage of violence. The threat of extradition only amplifies the ex-guerrillas’ distrust of the government. The ELN, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group currently negotiating with the government in Ecuador, took note. On Tuesday morning, they published a statement on Santrich’s arrest entitled: “The United States Attacks the Peace Accords.”

Throughout the negotiations, the issue of extradition represented a red line for the FARC—guerrillas were not willing to trade in their arms only to do hard time in a U.S. prison. As a reminder, the FARC kept a cut out of alias Simon Trinidad, a FARC leader currently serving a 60-year sentence in the United States, and included him in the list of negotiators, as they unsuccessfully demanded his freedom. Currently, about 60 members of the FARC are wanted by the U.S. judicial system. The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) established by the Peace Accords ostensibly alleviated the FARC’s concerns about extradition by ensuring immunity for crimes committed prior to the Accords (excluding crimes against humanity). But the charges against Santrich violate the stipulations for immunity because they occurred after the signing of the Accords. If found guilty of the charges, he would not have immunity from prosecution, since the events happened after the signing of the accords. Now, Santrich’s case will serve as the first major test of the JEP, as it determines the procedure for prosecution. As one of the most radically defiant voices in the FARC, Santrich’s arrest raises concerns about the potential use of judicial measures to silence political opposition in the aftermath of the Peace Accords.

The move to prioritize extradition by the U.S. Department of Justice under Sessions and Trump right before the Summit of the Americas should not come as a surprise, especially considering their vigorous support for pursuing maximum sentencing for drug-related crimes. This includes state-sanctioned death sentences and support for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous Drug War. Yet, by pursuing the extradition of Santrich and other FARC members, U.S. and Colombian authorities risk losing the FARC’s buy-in during this crucial moment for building peace in Colombia and falling back into a vicious cycle of violence.

Tags: Extradition, U.S. Policy

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process

April 9, 2018

Concerns Emerge About Irregularities in Government Peace Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troubles With FARC Dissidents Continue at Ecuador Border

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

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

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

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

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

Local ELN Leader Killed Upon Crossing from Venezuela

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

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

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

Two FARC Members Killed in Less than 48 Hours

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

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

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

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

Government Cites Progress in De-Mining

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

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

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

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Weekly update