A U.S. embassy announcement that a military training unit will be coming to Colombia generates much controversy. A team from the U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, a recently created unit whose sole mission is training other security forces, is to send 53 trainers at the beginning of June to several conflictive sites around the country designated as “Zonas Futuro,” where they will remain for four months. U.S. Southern Command states that the unit “will focus on logistics, services and intelligence capabilities directly supporting U.S.-Colombia counter-narcotics collaboration and information sharing.” A statement from the FARC political party calls the deployment part of the U.S. strategy to pressure the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
Colombia’s National Police announces that it measured 1,321 homicides during the pandemic quarantine period of March 20-May 20, a 34 percent drop from the 2,012 homicide cases measured between those dates in 2019.
Venezuelan opposition leader Iván Simonovis alleges that former FARC negotiator turned dissident “Jesús Santrich” is residing in Caracas under the protection of a regime-tied colectivo.
In a video, maximum FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño voices discomfort with the party’s name, saying it sends “a pretty complicated message, which even generates distance when one tries to talk to people.” Changing the name, though, would require a decision of an assembly of the party’s membership.
In an event that recalls the George Floyd killing for many Colombians, a 21-year-old Afro-descendant man, Anderson Arboleda, dies from blows to the head inflicted by police in Puerto Tejada, Cauca.
The FARC formally requests protective measures from the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, citing attacks on former guerrillas around the country, with a death toll approaching 200. “We want to avoid a genocide,” says FARC representative Diego Martínez.
A Defense Ministry resolution fires another nine Army officers. Though no motive is named, press coverage notes that the firings come after revelations of intelligence abuse and corruption earlier in the month.
A statement from the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitary group rejects the government’s decree offering favorable terms for those who demobilize, denying that any commander has been in contact with the government.
Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) issues arrest warrants for 10 mayors, alleging corruption in COVID-19-related contracting. The Comptroller’s office announces that it has detected US$110 million in likely contracting cost overruns, mainly for medical equipment, food, and related coronavirus services.
Ariolfo Sánchez Ruiz, a campesino opposing an Army-led eradication operation in Anorí, Antioquia, is detained and killed by soldiers, according to local campesino organizations.
Citing information from the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), Interior Minister Alicia Arango claims that between Januay 1 and May 15, 2020, only 25 social leaders had been killed in Colombia, a drop from 41 during the same period of 2018 and 46 during the same period of 2019. The 25 is the number of “verified” cases; Arango does not state how many 2020 homicides remain to be verified.
Following an online meeting with Cauca indigenous leaders, Interior Ministry officials unintentionally leave their microphones on. “How about those motherf******s, I don’t give an a** about them at this moment,” one can be heard saying. “They’re never going to change and they’re going to be miserable and stupid their whole lives. …I hate those sons of b*****s.”
The Interior Ministry names 30-year-old Jorge Tovar, son of top ex-paramilitary leader “Jorge 40,” to coordinate its Internal Coordination Group for Armed Conflict Victims Policy. Though Tovar is not accused of any of his father’s crimes and has participated in reconciliation efforts, the nomination is highly controversial. In past tweets, Tovar has called his father—currently imprisoned in the United States on drug charges—a “political prisoner” and a “hero,” and has attacked leftist politicians. The Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) strongly opposes the nomination, as do Colombia’s national platforms of human rights groups.
On May 20, maximum FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño angers many within his party by defending the Interior Ministry’s hiring of Tovar. Londoño calls Tovar “a person who seems committed to supporting peace and reconciliation processes.”
The Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría) initiates disciplinary proceedings against 13 Army officers, including 3 retired generals, for their role in misuse of intelligence against civilians.
The U.S. embassy’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) section announces a donation of 288 bulletproof vests and other riot control and security equipment to Colombia’s prison system. INL officer director Brian Harris says the donation is a response to the wave of prison riots that occurred on March 21, as coronavirus fears began to spread.
Legislators from the ruling Centro Democrático party call a hearing on “the FARC’s non-compliance with the accord,” alleging that only 85 percent of FARC members reported in 2017 are continuing in the process,” and that the FARC has yet to turn over the vast majority of its declared assets. FARC legislators respond that the government was slow to secure assets like real estate, much of which may have fallen into the hands of dissident groups.
At that hearing, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo—a politician who was a leading voice urging a “no” vote in the October 2016 plebiscite on the peace accord—suggests looking into “whether or not it would be appropriate to make some changes” in the accord’s implementation, without affecting its text.
A court in Nariño orders a halt to virtual online consultations with communities in remote areas to discuss the environmental impact of renewed aerial herbicide eradication of coca. The court was responding to a complaint filed by communities fearful of being fumigated with herbicides without proper consultation. In order to restart the U.S.-backed fumigation program, Colombia’s Constitutional Court had required the environmental licensing agency ANLA to consult with communities on an eradication plan. COVID-19 had made those consultations impossible to carry out in person, so the agency had sought to perform them over internet, even though many of the affected rural communities have little or no internet access. The court’s order may delay the reinitiation of fumigation, originally expected for mid-2020.
Security forces kill Digno Emérito Buendía, a coca-growing campesino, during an eradication operation in the rural zone of Cúcuta, Norte de Santander. Three other campesinos are wounded.
The Colombian newsweekly Semana reveals the existence of “Operación Bastón,” a counterintelligence effort that sought to root out corruption inside the country’s army. The operation found 16 of the Army’s 63 generals involved in suspicious behavior, including one who likely helped the FARC for years. The magazine alleges that Operación Bastón—begun in response to a house-cleaning recommendation from NATO when Colombia affiliated itself as a partner of the alliance—was greatly weakened by the high command that President Duque named at the beginning of 2019.
“Operation Orion V,” a Colombian-led, multinational naval drug interdiction operation inaugurated on April 1, comes to an end. “Orion V” was launched alongside “Enhanced Counter Narcotics Operations, a U.S.-led, multinational naval drug interdiction operation also inaugurated on April 1. The U.S. operation continues. U.S. Southern Command lists 26 participant countries in Orion V, including the United States and Colombia.
Citing health and COVID-19 concerns, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) grants conditional release from prison to retired Gen. Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales, who led the Army’s Bogotá-based 13th Brigade during the 1985 M-19 guerrilla takeover of, and subsequent military assault on, the Palace of Justice in the city’s center. Gen. Arias Cabrales had been jailed for the torture and disappearance of civilians during that operation.
Colombia’s Supreme Court opens a new investigation of former president and ruling-party Senator Álvaro Uribe. The Court begins looking into allegations that Uribe may been the beneficiary of military units’ illegal intelligence-gathering activities against civilians, carried out throughout 2019 in what has become a major scandal. The Court is already investigating the former president for allegations of encouraging witnesses, some of them former paramilitary members, to give false testimony against a political rival.
Colombia’s air force bombs an ELN encampment in southern Bolívar department. The think tank CERAC, which maintains a database of conflict events, finds this to be the security forces’ first offensive operation against the ELN in 63 days. (In May, though, CERAC records “11 non-violent security force operations in which at least 20 guerrillas were captured.”)
The U.S. State Department adds Cuba to its list of “Countries Certified as Not Cooperating Fully With U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts,” for the first time since 2015. This listing, while not as severe as that of the State Department’s “terrorist-sponsoring states” list, carries strong symbolic weight. The main reason cited for Cuba’s addition to the list: its refusal to turn ELN negotiators over to Colombian justice in January 2019, after a guerrilla bombing of Colombia’s police academy brought an end to peace talks that the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) had been carrying out in Havana. Santos government negotiators had signed protocols for those talks stipulating that, should they break down, the ELN negotiators would be allowed to return to Colombia. The Duque government rejected those protocols and demanded the extradition of the ELN negotiators, who remain in Havana. The State Department finds that Cuba’s honoring of the protocols “demonstrates that it is not cooperating with U.S. work to support Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security, and opportunity for its people.”
High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos celebrates the U.S. government’s addition of Cuba to the “not cooperating fully” list, calling it “a huge support from the U.S. government to the Colombian government’s, President Duque’s and the Foreign Ministry’s insistent request that these people be turned over to Colombian justice.” He tells El Espectador, “The United States doesn’t recognize the protocols.”
On May 14, in response to Ceballos’s comments in support of the U.S. move, the FARC suspends its participation in the joint body for verification of the 2016 peace accord’s implementation (Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement, CSIVI), demanding that the government clarify its position about Cuba’s status as a guarantor country. Cuba’s representative also refuses to attend a meeting of the CSIVI.
On May 16 the former chief government negotiator during the FARC peace process in Havana, Humberto de la Calle, publishes a column lamenting the U.S. government’s move, defending Cuba’s honoring of the protocols, and criticizing Ceballos’s statements.
On May 20, Norway’s ambassador to Colombia, John Petter Opdahl, tells El Tiempo that Cuba acted correctly in honoring the protocols for the end of the ELN negotiations. Norway and Cuba served as the two guarantor countries for the ELN talks, as well as the 2012-16 FARC process.