WOLA’s latest monthly urgent update on the situation of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia.
Between now and the end of the year, we’re producing weekly sub-1,000-word updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. After that, we will evaluate the experience—both audience response and our own time commitment—before deciding whether to produce these permanently.
Four ex-FARC members killed in a week
Four demobilized FARC combatants were assassinated this week, bringing the total of murdered ex-guerrillas to 242 since the peace accord’s December 2016 ratification. Of those, 50 happened during the first nine months of 2020, according to the UN Verification Mission.
The latest victims are:
- Heiner Cuesta Mena alias Yilson Menas, shot November 14 in Neguá, Quibdó, Chocó.
- Jorge Riaño, shot November 15 in Florencia, Caquetá. Riaño had left the FARC demobilization site (ETCR) in Montañita, Cauca, to raise fish and chickens with his wife and young daughter.
- Enod López, shot on November 15 along with his wife Nerie Penna, a Conservative party municipal council representative and community leader in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo. The department’s police commander blamed the “Carolina Ramírez” FARC dissident group, part of the 1st Front structure headed by alias “Gentil Duarte.”
- Bryan Steven Montes alias Jairo López, shot November 19 in Puerto Caicedo, Putumayo.
FARC Senator Victoria Sandino responded to Montes’s killing by calling on the government “to stop simulating the peace accord’s implementation and to implement it comprehensively.” In an article published on November 16, InsightCrime described a very precarious security situation in eight of the twenty-four former ETCRs.
At the end of October, over 200 former FARC combatants carried out a “Pilgrimage for Life and Peace” march to Bogotá to call for better protections. Twelve of the march’s leaders met on November 6 with President Iván Duque at the presidential palace.
Security Forces kill top “paramilitary” and capture a FARC dissident; a second dissident is killed in Venezuela
A November 16 army-police operation killed Emiliano Alcides Osorio Macea, alias “Caín” or “Pilatos,” the head of the “Caparros” neo-paramilitary group. “Caín” reportedly died in combat as forces raided a ranch in Tarazá, in northeastern Antioquia’s violent Bajo Cauca region.
Osorio, a longtime paramilitary who demobilized from the AUC’s Antioquia-based Mineros Bloc in 2006, was what the authorities consider a “high value target.” With over 400 estimated members, the Caparros, also known as the Caparrapos or the Virgilio Peralta Arena Bloc, is one of the larger single-region armed groups active in Colombia. It split off in early 2017 from the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitary organization and, possibly in tandem with the ELN and FARC dissidents, has been violently disputing control of the Bajo Cauca region and neighboring southern Córdoba. It is believed responsible for several killings of local social leaders. It is doubtful that the death of Caín will reduce violence in this territory, which sees much coca cultivation and cocaine transshipment.
Another mid-level commander, in this case of the dissident group headed by former chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, was killed in Venezuela this week. Venezuelan forces killed Olivio Iván Merchán, alias “Loco Iván,” under unclear circumstances in Venezuela’s Bolívar state. Merchán was a FARC member for more than 30 years, part of the military command (estado mayor) of the powerful Eastern Bloc. He demobilized in 2017. He joined Iván Márquez’s “Nuevo Marquetalia” dissident group when it formed in 2019.
Researcher Miguel Ángel Morffe told El Espectador that Venezuelan forces either killed “Loco Iván” by mistake, or that they did it at the bidding of his fellow dissidents who wanted him dead for some reason. Morffe saw little possibility that Venezuelan forces did so out of a desire to keep order.
Meanwhile in rural La Macarena, Meta, an Army-Fiscalía team wounded and captured Rolan Arnulfo Torres Huertas, alias Álvaro Boyaco, whom the government identified as the “finance chief” for Gentil Duarte, who heads what is probably the largest national FARC dissident group.
Military questioned for misogynistic chants
Adriana Villegas, a columnist for the La Patria newspaper in Manizales, Caldas, lives across the street from the base of the Colombian Army’s Ayacucho Battalion. Soldiers on training drills routinely run past her house, chanting cadence rhymes.
On October 18, Villegas wrote a column about the content of some of those rhymes, which alarmed her and her daughter. We won’t reproduce them here; they included some vivid imagery about committing violence against girlfriends, mothers, mothers-in-law, and women related to their enemies.
Villegas’s cause got taken up by a local feminist group and the president of the Caldas legislature, who called on the Army to apologize. It did not: it issued a statement maintaining that the misogynistic cadences were not part of training or doctrine. The Battalion’s commander called Villegas for more information, a conversation during which, she noted, he kept calling her “doctorcita” and insisted that the misogynistic rhymes were “an isolated case.”
Colombia’s Free Press Federation (FLIP) got involved after Villegas received citations from the Battalion calling on her to their base to give a statement. While this may be part of the Battalion’s internal investigation, Villegas said she found the formal requests intimidating.
“I regret that the Army is wasting this opportunity to recognize a problem and, instead, is assuming an attitude of denial,” Villegas wrote in her November 15 column.
- Hurricane Iota passed over the Colombian Caribbean archipelago of San Andrés y Providencia as a Category 5 storm. On Providencia, El Tiempo reports, “There is no house that hasn’t suffered damage. And the majority are destroyed.”
- A Guardian longread by Mariana Palau, about the “False Positives” scandal and former Army chief Gen. Mario Montoya, is a nuanced portrait of 21st century Colombia.
- In an El Espectador blog post, an unnamed scholar who spent months accompanying military personnel at Colombia’s Superior War College is struck by officers’ frustration with forced coca eradication, which “turns the campesinos into enemies.”
- Colombia’s Senate passed a bill extending for another 10 years the “sunset date” for Colombia’s 2011 Victims’ Law, which was to expire in 2021. It goes to President Duque’s desk for signature.
- Ariel Ávila of the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación visited an encampment of FARC dissidents in Cauca, and published an overview in El Espectador of these violent groups, dividing them into three coalitions or categories.
WOLA had a good experience this fall producing weekly updates, on a pilot basis, about U.S. border security and migration. Between now and the end of the year, we’re carrying out a similar pilot for Colombia, producing weekly sub-1,000-word updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. After that, we will evaluate the experience—both audience response and our own time commitment—before deciding whether to produce these permanently.
Revelations about Santrich case point to entrapment
The Bogotá daily El Espectador reported on November 8 that 24,000 audios from the Prosecutor’s office (Fiscalía) pointed to “an entrapment operation against guerrilla negotiators,” with a possible political motive against the FARC peace accord.
The revelations surround the case of Seuxis Pausías Hernández alias “Jesús Santrich,” a top FARC ideologist. The nearly blind Santrich was close to Luciano Marín alias “Iván Márquez,” the politically radical top leader who led the guerrilla group’s negotiating team during the 2012-16 peace talks. Santrich was a vocal member of that team.
- In April 2018, just before he was to be sworn in as one of the FARC’s five members of Colombia’s House of Representatives, Santrich was arrested for conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. Video showed him in a meeting with purported Mexican narcotraffickers.
- The meeting was arranged by Márquez’s nephew, Marlon Marín, who was not a FARC member and was under investigation for improprieties in peace accord implementation contracts.
- At the Mexicans’ insistence, Marín drew Santrich into a scheme to ship cocaine to the United States, bringing him into the meeting recorded on video.
- The narcotraffickers were, in fact, DEA personnel. The U.S. government requested Santrich’s extradition, and brought Marlon Marín to the United States, where he is now a protected witness.
- A year later, in May 2019, after failing to get compelling evidence out of the attorney-general’s office (Fiscalía) or the U.S. Department of Justice, the peace accords’ transitional justice tribunal (Special Jurisdiction for Peace, or JEP) ordered Santrich’s release. The decision led an infuriated chief prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez to resign.
- Santrich was then sworn into Congress, but disappeared shortly afterward. He and Iván Márquez turned up again in late August 2019, in a video announcing that they and other former FARC leaders had rearmed.
The episode dealt the FARC peace process its severest blow. Now, the El Espectador revelations cast doubt on the extent to which Santrich was involved in the fake drug deal. This appears to be a case of entrapment, involving the DEA and former prosecutor-general Martínez, who had bitterly opposed the peace accord’s transitional justice provisions.
The Fiscalía’s 24,000 audio clips are mainly Marlon Marín’s intercepted communications. In the weeks leading up to Santrich’s arrest, the newspaper notes, “the calls between the ‘Mexicans’ and Marín were many and extensive, and in almost all of them the fundamental characteristic was the former’s insistence on putting Marín on the phone with the former chief peace negotiator of the Farc, Iván Márquez.” They failed to do that, but Marín did get them a brief meeting with Santrich.
The revelations have the Fiscalía under a cloud. “There remains the feeling that the Fiscalía did everything possible to sabotage the reputation and actions of the JEP,” contends an El Espectador editorial. “It is regrettable to find that there was ‘friendly fire’ with something as delicate as the treatment of former Farc combatants.” At a November 11 press conference, the JEP’s new director, Eduardo Cifuentes, said that the Fiscalía had shared very little evidence from the Santrich case with his tribunal, turning over only 12 audios and keeping the remaining 24,000 secret.
As for the former chief prosecutor, Néstor Humberto Martínez: President Iván Duque’s government has just named him to be its next ambassador to Spain.
US Senate reveals its draft 2021 aid bill
The Senate Appropriations Committee released a draft of its version of the 2021 aid bill on November 10. The 2021 aid bill hasn’t become law yet, and might not until the next presidential administration. The House of Representatives passed its version of the aid bill in July.
As our latest table of aid to Colombia shows, the two chambers’ foreseen amounts don’t differ widely. The House would appropriate $458 million, and the Senate $456 million. (Another $55-60 million or so would come through the Defense budget.)
Both the House and Senate packages would dedicate a bit less than half of 2021 aid to Colombia’s military and police. This is a big contrast from the peak years of Plan Colombia between 2000 and 2015, when military and police aid in some years exceeded 80 percent of the total. It also contrasts with the Trump administration’s aid request, which would have slashed economic aid in a $413 million aid package.
Like the House bill, the Senate attaches human rights conditions to a portion of Foreign Military Financing aid, and specifies that some support go to the Truth Commission and the Unit for the Search for the Disappeared (but not the JEP).
The Senate appropriators’ bill also requires the State Department to produce a report about Colombian government actions to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for illegal military intelligence spying on civilians.
- Rodrigo Pardo (who has since joined the parade of journalists abandoning Semana magazine, where this appears) writes that Colombia can expect more U.S. engagement on the peace accord once Joe Biden is inaugurated.
- La Silla Vacía believes Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, former vice-president Fransicso Santos, is staying in his post. This despite allegations by his cousin, ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, that the ambassador actively sought to help the Trump campaign.
- “The proliferation of coca cultivations in southwestern Colombia undermines black and indigenous struggles for autonomy,” writes Lehman College’s Anthony Dest (formerly of WOLA’s Colombia program) in an article based on fieldwork in Cauca.
- The FARC admitted on November 3 that it had twice tried to kill former vice-president Germán Vargas Lleras. The right-of-center politician responded in a column that he wants to know the full truth about what happened, and that the JEP should be allowed to work to do that.
The Senate Appropriations Committee released a draft of its version of the 2021 aid bill this morning. And two weeks ago, a Congressional Research Service report revealed new data about Defense Department assistance.
The 2021 aid bill hasn’t become law yet, and might not until the next presidential administration. This table depicts the White House’s February request and the House and Senate versions of the bill. The two chambers’ amounts don’t differ widely.
Both the House and Senate packages would dedicate less than half of 2021 aid to Colombia’s military and police. This is a big contrast from the peak years of Plan Colombia between 2000 and 2015, when military and police aid in some years exceeded 80 percent of the total.
Sources for most of these numbers:
- 2016: the 2018 State Department Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations
- 2017: page 1607 of the explanatory statement for the 2017 Omnibus Appropriation, and the 2019 CBJ for Foreign Operations
- 2018: page 1803 of the explanatory statement for the 2018 Omnibus Appropriation, and the 2020 CBJ for Foreign Operations
- 2019: page H908 of the explanatory statement for the 2019 Omnibus Appropriation, and the 2021 CBJ for Foreign Operations
- 2020: Page 53 of Division G of the explanatory statement for the 2020 Omnibus Appropriation
- 2021: The 2021 aid request to Congress from the White House
- 2021 House: The House Appropriations Committee’s July 9, 2020 narrative report
- 2022 Senate: The Senate Appropriations Committee’s November 10, 2020 narrative report
- Defense Department aid 2016-19: Congressional Research Service 2020.
- 2020 transfer of aid from Central America: we’ve heard it from legislative staff, but the only document we can cite right now is coverage of an October 2019 announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Colombia’s El Tiempo.
Not reflected here is assistance to Colombia to manage flows of Venezuelan refugees.
On November 5, the Cooperation Space for Peace, which WOLA forms part of, published a statement to reject the stigmatizing claims against the Humanitarian Caravan to Cañón del Micay in the Cauca department.
Between October 29 and November 2, Campesino, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities from Cañón del Micay, a region located between the municipalities of Argelia and El Tambo in the Cauca department, organized a Humanitarian Caravan that sought to raise awareness of and reject the violence experienced by these communities.
However, according to the statement, the work of these social movements and the lives of these individuals are at risk due to the stigmatizing declarations made by Emilio Archila, Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation. He referred to the Caravan’s actions as “pure politicking” from sectors that “use violent acts to continue dividing Colombians.”
The Cooperation Space for Peace notes that the stigmatization of human rights defenders, based on their advocacy work, increases the risk of attacks and violations targeted against them. The statement calls on the State to assume measures to investigate these cases and bring the intellectual and material authors of the incidents, denounced by the Campesino, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous organizations and populations in the region, to justice.
It asks the international community to urge the Colombian government to take comprehensive measures in coordination with the communities to address the structural causes of the humanitarian crisis in the Cauca department, and to urge Colombian government officials to refrain from making defamatory statements that increase the life-threatening risks to social leaders and human rights defenders.