After much delay, Colombia’s Constitutional Court publishes the final text of its July 2019 decision on aerial spraying of coca-growing areas using the herbicide glyphosate. The decision laid out the steps that the government must take to re-start such a program, which was suspended due to public health concerns in 2015.
The Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) releases its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It includes criticisms of the government’s implementation of the peace accord’s rural governance provisions and protections of social leaders, while documenting abuses committed by the security forces.
President Iván Duque criticizes “imprecisions,” adding that the report’s recommendation that the National Police pass from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry is an “infringement of sovereignty.” High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila calls the report a “blunder” (chambonada).
At a February 27 UN Human Rights Council meeting to review the report, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expresses grave concern about Colombia’s human rights situation. Colombian government representatives regret that the UN High Commissioner’s Office “missed the opportunity to produce a complete, balanced, comprehensive, and updated report that reflects precisely Colombia’s complex reality, and takes into account the precise context in which that reality happens.”
The “Defendamos la Paz” coalition releases a statement backing the UN agency.
Following the killing of two demobilized guerrillas in the previous week, in Huila and Chocó, the FARC raises the volume of its calls for stronger protections of ex-combatants. In a video shared on social media, top leader Rodrigo Londoño says, “The President is indolent, his inaction makes him complicit with the genocide that is presenting itself with the ex-guerrillas.”
“It’s absurd and irresponsible for the leader of an opposition party to link the President to the attacks on ex-combatants,” responded High Counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation Emilio Archila. “The FARC party is playing politics with peace. The enemies are in the dissidences and in narcotrafficking: not in the government.”
After the latest killings, Truth Commission chief Francisco De Roux asks, “Why do they kill those who want peace? Why don’t the state security forces care especially for those who trusted institutions and took the risk of working for reconciliation? Are we going to repeat the shocking truth of the Patriotic Union genocide?
The FARC convenes a cacerolazo (pot-banging protest) in Bogotá to draw attention to their protection needs.
Fighting between the Gulf Clan and dissidents from the FARC’s 18th Front displaces 863 people in the rural zone of Ituango, Antioquia, which lies on a strategic trafficking route. Some say they were given ten minutes to leave their homes on pain of death.
Intelligence sources tellEl Colombiano that the displacement is a tactic that armed groups use when they are in a position of weakness. “The people in the 18th Front residual group are surrounded by Gulf Clan personnel. So they pressure the communities to displace the that automatically obligates the Army to mobilize its troops, avoiding the other group’s advance.
Earlier in the month, the entire remaining population of the Santa Lucía FARC demobilization site (ETCR) in Ituango—62 former fighters and 45 relatives—decided to abandon the site within 60 days due to threats. Twelve former FARC members have been killed in Ituango, more than any other municipality. Departmental and national government agencies are discussing options with the ETCR’s residents.
The Army’s 7th Division reports on January 30 that it had learned of a plot by FARC dissident groups to assassinate ex-guerrillas living at the Santa Lucía facility.
One of the FARC’s most prominent former hostages, ex-senator Ingrid Betancourt, sends a strongly worded letter to the chief judge of the JEP’s Chamber for Recognition of Truth, Responsibility, and Determination of Acts and Conducts. She is responding to a news report about some of the FARC’s testimony to the JEP, in which the guerrillas attempt to play down the severity of Betancourt’s six years in jungle captivity. “It is not up to the FARC to issue good-behavior certificates for its victims. Nor is it up to us to agree with what they do.” Betancourt objects strongly to the FARC defendants’ insistence on using the word “retention” as a euphemism for kidnapping.
The government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, says that some factions of the ELN have been sending messages to the government indicating a willingness to negotiate. He mentions a leader, alias “Lenin,” who apparently supports reducing attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline.
The president of the FEDEGAN cattlemen’s federation, José Félix Lafaurie, delivers two reports to the National Center for Historical Memory attesting that “approximately 11,000 cattlemen have declared themselves conflict victims.” Cattle ranchers are widely alleged to have been a key support for paramilitary groups, and Lafaurie’s predecessor, Jorge Visbal, was imprisoned for supporting the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
Alarm grows over environmental damage wrought by armed groups. FARC dissidents are believed responsible for a fire in La Macarena National Park, near the popular Caño Cristales tourist destination.
FARC dissidents, some from the “Carolina Ramírez Front,” threaten park rangers in Chiribiquete National Park in Caquetá, ordering them to leave. Similar threats occur in as many as nine other parks. More than 9 million hectares of parks in Colombia’s Amazon basin region lack official presence.
Security forces believe the dissidents intend to expand coca cultivation in the parks. They contend that the groups’ actions are a response to “Operation Artemis,” a military operation that aims to curtail deforestation.
JEP personnel investigating “false positive” killings have extracted about 54 bodies of possible Army victims from a mass grave in the town cemetery of Dabeiba, Antioquia. In this historically conflictive municipality, the practice of killing civilians and claiming them as combat deaths may have gone on for 25 years. Victims have had little or no recourse until the JEP’s effort began.
Police capture Gerardo Antonio Bermúdez, also known as “Francisco Galán,” a former ELN guerrilla who served as a key link to the group during past efforts to negotiate peace. A judge in Cali seeks to try Galán for his possible role in a September 2000 mass kidnapping on the highway between Cali and Buenaventura.
Galán is known as a peace promoter who has served a complete term in prison and has long since abandoned violence. His arrest inspires an outcry across the political spectrum, including a tweet from former President Álvaro Uribe.
News emerges that, at some point in recent weeks, the Colombian government terminated its contract with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to monitor and verify the crop-substitution effort carried out under chapter 4 of the peace accord.
In a thorough February 4 report, UNODC found high levels of compliance with the crop substitution program, with very little re-planting of coca despite delays in government compliance with commitments.
Seven top former FARC commanders meet in a closed session with Colombia’s Truth Commission. They announce an agreement to provide reports on seven topics: land and territory; counter-insurgency; insurgency; blocs and fronts; FARC relations with the civilian population; FARC politics; and “self-criticism.”
The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) amnesties Marilú Ramírez, a FARC member who infiltrated the Nueva Granada Military University in Bogotá in order to set off a car bomb there in 2006. The attack wounded 33 people; Ramírez was sentenced to over 27 years in prison in 2015. After two years of deliberation, the transitional justice tribunal determines that the school was a legitimate military target, and the attack was therefore amnistiable under the peace accord.
“Let’s eliminate the JEP, the Democratic Center Party has said so for a long time,” tweets the governing party’s founder, former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe.
Gen. Mario Montoya, who headed Colombia’s army between 2006 and 2008, testifies for two days before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). At least 41 victims are in attendance, others gather outside to protest.
The JEP is holding hearings for its “macro-case” about so-called “false positive” killings, in which military personnel murdered thousands of civilians and claimed them later as combat kills. Eleven military witnesses have signaled Gen. Montoya as playing a key role in creating the incentives for these killings.
The law governing the JEP dictates that when a person has been implicated by a report or testimony, the JEP will give that person the opportunity to give his or her version of what happened. At that opportunity, the person may recognize or deny the allegations.
In 40 minutes of comments, Gen. Montoya denies any responsibility for the “false positives,” and invokes his “right to remain silent,” responding vaguely to magistrates’ questions.
Gen. Montoya’s silence causes an outcry among victims. They particularly object to Montoya’s response when magistrates ask him how to prevent “false positive” killings in the future. Montoya reportedly replied by citing most soldiers’ low social class origins. “We have to teach them how to use the bathroom, how to use silverware, so it’s not easy.”
On February 18, active-duty Col. Álvaro Amórtuegi tellsCaracol Noticias that in 2001, Montoya had ordered him to kill some people captured by paramilitaries, adding that he would send him some armbands with which to pass them off as guerrillas. When he refused, the colonel alleges that Montoya replied, “You’re a coward, you disgust me and I spit on your boots… If you’re afraid, go kill an idiot or a crazy person, or take them from the morgue.”
Some victims’ groups call on the JEP to expel Gen. Montoya for his non-cooperation, which would send his case to the regular criminal justice system.
Hopes for a prompt resolution of the status of 16 special temporary congressional seats for conflict victims are dashed, as opponents’ delaying tactics prevent the State Council (one of Colombia’s high courts) from meeting to decide the issue.
The peace accord had resolved to create the 16 temporary legislative seats, in which victims’ associations—not political parties—would be able to run for office to represent historically conflictive zones. The measure to create the seats won a majority in Colombia’ Senate in 2017, but disagreement over whether a numerical quorum existed for that vote remains unresolved.
The Colombian Presidency issues a decree giving the FARC until July 31 to turn over all of its declared assets, as agreed in the peace accord.
“What the former FARC announced was around a trillion pesos,” says High Commissioner for Stabilization and Consolidation Emilio Archila. “Of those, 500 billion are goods that have never been possible to use for that purpose because it was things like vaccination campaigns and roads. Of the other 500 billion, what has been possible to monetize are a little more than 3 billion.”
Pablo Elías González resigns as head of the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit, which is charged with providing security for threatened social leaders, ex-combatants, officials, and others. González cites “personal reasons” for leaving.
González’s replacement, at least on an interim basis, is the vice-minister of Interior for political relations, Daniel Palacios. FARC leaders object to having Palacios in charge of their protection. In 2017, Palacios wrote on social media, “It’s inadmissible that FARC terrorists should stroll down the streets of Bogotá with the excuse of carrying out pedagogy for peace, without even having confessed their crimes or given reparations to their victims.”
Chocó-based ELN commander “Uriel” announces on social media that the guerrilla group has declared a new nationwide “armed strike,” prohibiting vehicle travel between February 14 and 17.
Most of the country is unaffected by the armed strike, but travel grinds to a halt in areas where the guerrillas have strong influence, like Arauca and Catatumbo. According to InsightCrime, “Colombia saw at least 27 operations by the ELN around the country, including attacks on electrical infrastructure, clashes with the Colombian Army, closures of national highways due to bomb threats, explosive devices left in cities, one sniper attack, as well as numerous graffitis and flags hailing the group.”
While visiting Montelíbano, Córdoba on February 13, President Duque responds, “Colombia is united to confront this criminal group, this terrorist group, these recruiters of minors, these eco-killers.”
The Defendamos la Paz civil-society coalition issues a statement rejecting the ELN’s announcement, contending that “the time for war has passed.”
In Medellín, where the ELN was believed responsible for the recent downing of an electrical pylon on the city’s outskirts, authorities reactivated an 80-man Army Special Urban Forces Battalion.
Afterward, the ELN issues a communiqué justifying its actions but apologizing for “discomforts caused.”
“What we saw last weekend wasn’t a strike, but a threat to the tranquility of some regions of the country,” High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos says on February 18.
After a four-month selection process, the Unit for the Search for Disappeared People announces the two civil society organizations that will play a formal role on the Unit’s Consultative Council. They are the Coordinating Committee for the Pueblo Bello Case and the Association of Nariño Women Victims of Forced Disappearance.
A Bogotá judge sends to preventive detention six people with alleged ties to FARC dissident groups, who stand accused of infiltrating Colombia’s massive November 21 protests and committing acts of violence and vandalism. They are allegedly tied to the dissident organizations of Gentil Duarte in Guaviare and “Jerónimo” in Arauca.
The Constitutional Court conditions the government’s plan to implement a rapid increase in state presence in five “Strategic Comprehensive Intervention Zones” (ZEII, or “Zonas Futuro”). It requires the Zones to take into account the mandates of the peace accord and to include, explicitly, the participation of communities.
The five small zones, just getting underway with the December emission of a decree, overlap with the peace accord’s Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs) in five regions: Catatumbo; the Pacific zone of Nariño; the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia and Córdoba; Arauca; and the zone around the Chiribiquete National Park in Caquetá.
The law and decree had placed the zones under the purview of the government’s National Security Council, which is made up entirely of government bodies. The modification is the result of a suit brought by several human rights groups.
Alias “Pablito,” the commander of the ELN’s powerful Eastern War Front, issues a communiqué offering to cease the group’s attacks on Colombia’s energy infrastructure if the country meets seven conditions. The conditions are unlikely to receive the Duque government’s serious consideration: they include a 50 percent cut in fuel prices, the elimination of tolls, a sharp increase in social investment using oil revenues, and a suspension of fracking.
The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a global network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives, sends a letter notifying Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory that it has been expelled from the organization.
The Coalition’s director, Elizabeth Silkes, had sent a letter in September 2019 to the National Center’s director, Darío Acevedo, asking him to reconfirm the Center’s commitment to the conflict’s victims and to recognize the existence of the armed conflict, among other issues. Acevedo did not respond to that letter.
Acevedo, a very conservative intellectual, took office in February 2019 as a very controversial choice for a government body dedicated to preserving the memory of conflict victims. In a 2017 interview with Medellín’s El Colombiano, he had said, “Some people believe that what Colombia lived through was an armed conflict, something like a confrontation between the state and some organizations that rose up against it. Others think that it was the state defending itself against a terrorist threat and from some organizations that had degenerated in their political perspective by mixing themselves in with kidnapping, narcotrafficking, and crimes against humanity. Though the Victims’ Law says that what was lived was an armed conflict, that can’t become an official truth.”
On February 5, President Duque and Director Acevedo preside over a ceremony commemorating the laying of the first stone at the construction site where the Historical Memory Center will build a Museum of Memory, a project begun during the Santos government. Some victims’ groups, most notably the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, which wasn’t invited to attend, protest outside the event.
A February 11 letter from 63 prominent international scholars voices concern “for the ostensible loss of credibility” that the National Center for Historical Memory has suffered under Acevedo’s leadership.
Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo pays a visit to the United States. He visits the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force-North in Key West, Florida, which monitors suspicious aerial and maritime trafficking. He meets with top officials at Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Miami. And he travels to Washington for a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.