Colombia’s Foreign Ministry issues a statement denying that it lobbied the U.S. government to include Cuba on its list of states not sufficiently cooperating against terrorism, which it did on May 13. The U.S. listing cites Cuba’s refusal to extradite ELN negotiators stranded in Havana since talks ended in January 2019, which would have violated the parties’ signed protocols for an eventual breakdown in talks. The Colombian government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, angered the Cuban government at the time by publicly celebrating the U.S. move as a “huge support” for Colombia.
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.
A presidential decree lowers judicial penalties to members of criminal groups who agree to demobilize peacefully and submit to the High Commissioner for Peace.
It does not apply to the ELN, whose “political character” the state recognizes, making benefits available to individual ELN deserters. It applies instead to FARC dissident groups, the Gulf Clan and Caparros neo-paramilitary groups, and the Pelusos or EPL. These are the groups that, according to the government, meet the Geneva Conventions Protocol II definition of those “which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations.”
The ELN announces that it will not renew the one-month unilateral ceasefire that it declared for April, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was unfortunate that the Duque government did not respond in a reciprocal manner,” reads the guerrilla communiqué. The ELN missive calls for its negotiators to be allowed to leave Cuba, where they have been since peace talks broke down in January 2019, and re-enter Colombia as agreed in the talks’ protocols.
“We think there’s an enormous lack of harmony between the ELN’s leaders. Two have made declarations, one in Cuba and one is in Venezuela,” says High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos. “It would seem that they don’t have good contact with their organization’s members and they seem disconnected with the reality that needs non-violent action.”
Earlier in the day, the UN Mission in Colombia had called on the ELN to prolong the ceasefire.
CERAC, a Bogotá think-tank that monitors security, measured no ELN offensive actions during April.
- 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.
- Senate President Lidio García raises the possibility that the body might re-visit legislation, foreseen in the peace accord, that would create 16 temporary congressional districts for conflict victims, not political parties. Though legislation to create these districts won a majority of Senate votes in late 2017, the absence of senators from the chamber raised questions about whether a quorum existed. A quorum did exist if one excluded the seats of senators who had been suspended, for corruption or similar reasons, but the legislation was ruled as failing to pass, and the special districts were not created for the 2018 legislative elections. In light of a 2019 Constitutional Court decision on the quorum question, Senator García signals an intention to send the 2017 bill to President Duque as approved legislation. If Duque signs it, the temporary seats for victims, representing 16 conflict zones, would be created.
- High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos casts doubt on the temporary congressional districts, contending that the Constitutional Court’s 2019 decision cannot be applied retroactively to a vote that took place in 2017.
- Amid reports of 23 homicides of social leaders in December, a large-scale “Gulf Clan” paramilitary incursion in Bojayá, Chocó, and the murder of human rights defender Gloria Ocampo in Putumayo, the Presidency convenes a rare meeting of the National Security Guarantees Commission that was established by the peace accord.
- Bojayá social leader Leyner Palacios, who denounced serious recent threats on his life, is invited to join the Commission’s meeting. Palacios is known nationally as a survivor of the 2002 FARC indiscriminate bombing that destroyed the village’s church, killing 79 people—including 5 of Palacios’s relatives—seeking refuge inside.
- High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos voices doubt that 300 Gulf Clan members could be deployed all at once in Bojayá, as local groups have denounced.