The Colombian National Protection Unit’s Risk Assessment and Protection Measures Recommendation Committee announces that, for public health reasons, it had suspended meetings to conduct risk assessments and respond to requests for protective measures on March 19.
Former ELN leader Francisco Galán, named by the government as a “peace promoter” empowered to facilitate contacts with the guerrilla group, is freed from prison. A second former leader named a peace promoter, Felipe Torres, has an arrest order lifted. Both were wanted by a judge for their purported role in a 2000 ELN kidnapping (which occurred while both were already in prison).
The ELN rejects Galán’s and Torres’s mediation, saying the they are no longer members of the group and are instead “functionaries named by the government.” On April 8, Galán and Torres send a message to their former comrades calling on them to release kidnap victims. The ELN’s preferred interlocutor, active leader Juan Carlos Cuéllar, remains in prison.
- The government’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN) announces that, during the period of COVID-19 social distancing, it will continue food and medical assistance for the 2,893 FARC ex-combatants who remain in 24 former demobilization sites (ETCRs). Monthly transfers of 90 percent of minimum wage are to continue through August. Nearly all outside visits to the ETCRs have been suspended by quarantine measures, and most ARN services, like medical consultations and technical training, are being provided virtually or by telephone.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deports a planeload of 64 undocumented Colombian citizens to Bogotá. Twenty-three of them test positive for COVID-19.
- The ELN announces a unilateral ceasefire during the month of April in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The guerrillas’ statement asks the government to send negotiators to Havana to discuss making the ceasefire bilateral.
- The Defendamos la Paz movement issues a statement on March 30 hailing the ELN’s decision.
- The government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, turns down the ELN’s demand that local military units pull back to their barracks during the ceasefire. He calls the ELN’s announcement “a good gesture, but late and insufficient,” calling on the group to make the unilateral ceasefire permanent.
- The government names former ELN leaders Francisco Galán and Felipe Torres “peace promoters”—advisors and possible interlocutors with the guerrilla group. This releases Galán from preventive prison for his alleged role in a 2000 kidnapping, and suspends an arrest order against Torres.
- This is the day when Salvatore Mancuso, former top leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network, is scheduled to have been released from federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. He was extradited to face drug trafficking charges in May 2008. Mancuso, 55, was likely transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention; it is not clear whether he is requesting U.S. asylum or will be returned to Colombia, or whether COVID-19 is delaying his return.
- 20-year-old Alejandro Carvajal is killed in an “incident,” as the Army calls it, with soldiers accompanying coca eradication in the municipality of Sardinata, in the Catatumbo region. The Catatumbo Campesino Organization (ASCAMCAT) states that Carvajal, the nephew of a local social leader, was killed in his home.
- On March 19, the Defense Ministry had pledged to continue manual coca eradication despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Colombia’s government declares a national lockdown in an effort to arrest the spread of COVID-19. It creates an emergency fund equal to 2.8% of gross domestic product.
- Marco Rivadeneira, a well-known campesino leader who had accompanied peace accord-mandated crop substitution programs in Putumayo, is killed in Puerto Asís municipality. Three men took Rivadeneira from a crop-substitution meeting by force; his body was found shortly afterward.
- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office, the OAS Mission in Support of the Peace Process, and the Truth Commission are among organizations issuing statements rejecting the murder.
- Three days after Rivadeneira’s murder, the government steps up forced manual eradication operations in Putumayo’s coca-growing areas.
- More than 100 ethnic and rural organizations call on all armed groups to observe a two-week cessation of hostilities in order to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
- The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) accords victim status to the Patriotic Union (UP) political party. The UP was founded during a 1980s peace process with the FARC, as a means to ease the guerrillas’ foreseen entry into civilian life. More than 3,000 of its members were killed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
- The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) refuses to admit former top paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jiménez alias “Macaco,” who was extradited to the United States in 2008 and returned to Colombia in 2019. Macaco’s war crimes, the JEP contends, are already covered by the Justice and Peace transitional justice system set up for the AUC paramilitaries’ 2003-06 demobilization. However, the JEP holds out the possibility that Jiménez might participate in order to be held accountable for crimes he committed as a paramilitary supporter, before he joined the AUC.
For public health reasons, President Iván Duque orders the closure of all seven official Colombia-Venezuela border crossings, and deploys 5,000 security-force personnel to guard unofficial crossings.
- El Tiempo reveals that corrupt Colombian police embezzled funds, including U.S. assistance, by falsifying over 25,000 hours of aircraft flight time over several years.
- On its Twitter account, Colombia’s army briefly creates a reading list called “Opposition,” which includes the accounts of 33 journalists, former guerrillas, politicians, opinion leaders, and non-governmental advocates. The Army apologizes, and either deletes the list or takes it private.
- The JEP requires former police general Mauricio Santoyo to stand trial for his role in the 2000 disappearance of two members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared (ASFADDES) in Medellín. Santoyo stands accused of working with the paramilitaries who disappeared Claudia Patricia Monsalve and Ángel José Quintero when he was commander of the Medellín Police anti-kidnapping unit. He later went on to be the chief of then-president Álvaro Uribe’s security detail before being extradited to the United States to face drug charges. He was returned to Colombia in 2019.
- President Iván Duque meets with UN Secretary General António Guterres in New York. “A framework agreement has been reached for the UN and its agencies’ [presence] in our country for the 2020-2023 period,” Duque says. The meeting appears to ease some tensions between the government and UN agencies over recent human rights reports and a canceled contract for verifying crop substitution programs.
- The bodies of 13 people are found in Palmarito, outside the city of Cúcuta, and across the border in Venezuela. The massacre is believed to be the result of fighting between the ELN and the Rastrojos—the remnant of a once much stronger post-paramilitary group—for control of cross-border smuggling routes. “The most conservative estimates,” Semana reports, “say that this war has left 37 dead in recent months.”
- The White House announces that the U.S. government’s estimate of Colombian coca cultivation increased from 208,000 hectares in 2018 to 212,000 in 2019. The declaration calls it a “stabilization” of coca cultivation. Referring to a counter-narcotics dialogue that took place on the same day, it reports, “A focus of the discussion was expanding the results of Colombia’s integrated coca eradication program by ensuring full use of all available tools, including manual eradication, alternative development, and a Colombian-led aerial eradication component, supported by rural development and rural security programs.”
- Assailants in Cali kill Arley Hernán Chalá, a bodyguard of prominent Chocó social leader Leyner Palacios, who is not with him at the time. Chalá is shot 18 times outside his home. “This must have been a message for me and for our process,” says Palacios, a survivor of the 2002 Bojayá massacre who was forced to leave Chocó in February after receiving threats. The threats continued even after Palacios met with President Duque and foreign ambassadors in January.
- Michel Forst, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, presents his report on Colombia to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Forst had a difficult relationship with the Duque government, which prevented him from traveling to the country in 2019 to do follow-up work on his preliminary findings.