Interviewed by the New York Times, President Iván Duque said “he had done more than his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, to put in place the peace deal’s landownership overhauls and development plans that would give poor farmers and former rebels jobs and opportunities.”
Former president Álvaro Uribe, the country’s most vocal opponent of the 2016 peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group, met at one of his ranches on August 15 with the president of the Truth Commission created by that accord, Fr. Francisco de Roux, along with two other commissioners. Uribe, who faces questions about human rights abuses committed during his time as governor of Antioquia (1995-1997) and president (2002-2008), spoke at great length during the meeting, with little pushback from the commissioners.
The ex-president surprised many by calling for an amnesty for human rights and other crimes committed during the armed conflict. “Perhaps this country will need a general amnesty, almost a clean slate,” he told Fr. de Roux. This would appear to contradict one of Uribe’s many criticisms of the peace accord: that, in his view, it confers “impunity” on ex-guerrillas who (along with military personnel) will receive light sentences if they make full confessions and reparations.
On August 26 Uribe presented a draft amnesty law to legislators of his Centro Democrático party, a bill “to overcome judicial asymmetries and asymmetries in access to government employment.” Under the proposal, those accused of conflict-related crimes would receive a full amnesty if they ask forgiveness, recognize what they did “or, failing that, contribute to the truth, without this implying self-incrimination.”
Members of the military would be released from prison and allowed to hold office. A new chamber of the post-conflict transitional justice tribunal (Special Jurisdiction for Peace, or JEP) would be set up to judge military personnel separately. Anyone who in the past has investigated, denounced, or made public statements about these military human rights crimes would be disqualified from serving as a judge in that chamber.
Uribe’s proposal makes no distinction between commanders and subordinates involved in past crimes. He would not amnesty people accused of “war crimes, crimes against humanity, or public corruption.” The current list of non-amnistiable crimes that must go before the JEP, however, is longer and more specific: “War crimes, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial executions, child recruitment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, genocide, hostage taking or other serious deprivation of liberty, torture, enforced disappearance, child abduction, and forced displacement.”
“Let’s not talk about general amnesty, let’s talk about amnesty as a strong word to generate a national debate and look for a solution,” Uribe said last week. A national debate is very much underway, as the ex-president’s proposal has generated strong reactions.
“People can’t be ‘washing their faces’ with total amnesties, this will not happen as long as I am prosecutor, I will not allow this to go forward,” said the prosecutor-general (fiscal general), Francisco Barbosa, who is close to President Iván Duque, who in turn is a member of Uribe’s party.
The lead government negotiators in the 2012-16 talks that led to the FARC peace accord issued a 12-point document rejecting Uribe’s proposal. Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo argue that it “would undermine the investigation and prosecution of those most responsible for serious violations, and victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.” They recalled having to explain to the FARC negotiators in Havana, “in January 2015, one of the most difficult moments in almost five years of negotiations,” that Colombia’s international commitments (the 2002 Rome Statute, the Inter-American human rights system) prohibited amnesties.
Were Uribe’s proposal to go into effect, the former negotiators add, “the first victims, in addition to the conflict victims of course, would be the members of the armed forces and other agents of the state who are currently participating in the transitional process and who will see their legal security disappear.” Notes Gustavo Gallón of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, “His [Uribe’s] argument is that they [the military] must not be equated with guerrillas. But it is the crimes they have committed that make them equal. In addition, in his effort to favor them, he would do them harm: the [peace] agreement and the JEP are more lenient than the ordinary justice system, in theory.”
Álvaro Uribe faces human rights questions ranging from many political associates’ sponsorship of paramilitary groups, to those groups’ rapid growth during his tenure as governor, to the military’s killings of several thousand civilians during his presidency (discussed in the next section). Jaramillo, the former negotiator—who served as vice-minister of defense under Uribe—told Colombia’s Blu Radio that Uribe “has long been seeking a general amnesty and a clean slate. This is something that has been on his mind for a long time and he will continue to insist on it.”
The Supreme Court orders former President Álvaro Uribe, the most powerful politician in 21st century Colombia, placed under house arrest pending trial for tampering with witnesses. Uribe allegedly urged his lawyers to convince imprisoned former paramilitary members to give false testimony against a political rival, Senator Iván Cepeda. Uribe is confined to his ranch in Córdoba department, where he publishes a tweet falsely blaming his detention on “testimonies against me purchased by the FARC, its new generation, and its allies.”
- One of the FARC’s five senators, Griselda Lobo Silva alias Sandra Ramírez, is named the second vice-president of the Senate for the chamber’s 2020-21 term. Lobo was the partner of maximum FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, who died in 2008. Ex-president and then-senator Álvaro Uribe praises Lobo for her “coherence.” Two days later, the senator ignites controversy by denying that the FARC recruited minors.
Press reports reveal an internal FARC party document recommending reprimands and even expulsions of high-ranking party leaders regarded as divisive and insubordinate to leadership. They include Benedicto González, Jesús Emilio Carvajalino (Andrés París), Ubaldo Enrique Zúñiga (Pablo Atrato) and José Benito Cabrera (Fabián Ramírez). González accuses maximum leader Rodrigo Londoño and other moderate party leaders as “submissive to the state” and favoring multinationals’ involvement in productive projects at excombatant reincorporation sites.
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.”
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.
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.
High Commissioner for Stabilization and Consolidation Emilio Archila denies that the government is seeking to remove former FARC leaders from the congressional seats that they currently occupy as a result of the peace accord. “We believe that ethically, those who are convicted of crimes against humanity should retire from the Congress, but we’ve never tried to impose that,” he says. The allegation appeared in a letter from the Defendamos la Paz coalition.
The La FM radio station reveals that the Colombian Presidency is using money from its Peace Fund, created in 1997 to ease ex-combatants’ reincorporation into civilian life, to contract a marketing company to support President Duque’s communications strategy via public opinion measurements.
Responding to a proposal by governing-party congressman Edward Rodríguez, High Commissioner for Stabilization and Consolidation Emilio Archila says that the government has no intention to take funds intended for peace accord implementation and divert them to COVID-19 public health needs.
Congressional representatives from the governing Centro Democrático party propose to divert planned peace accord spending into COVID-19 relief efforts. The Duque administration does not agree.
- 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.
- 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.
- Maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño alias “Timochenko” publishes an open letter alleging that the government is failing to honor its peace accord commitments and that the process is approaching a “precipice.” Demobilized guerrillas, the FARC leader writes, “now find no other solution other than to abandon the ETCR [former demobilization zones] and seek another place to settle and continue their reincorporation process. They are forcibly displaced.… In the Havana peace accords the Colombian state committed itself to provide the reincorporated guerrillas with [security] guarantees. And to social leaders and opposition leaders, all who participate in politics. It’s absolutely clear that none of that has been complied with.”
- On February 3 the government’s high counselor for stabilization and consolidation, Emilio Archila, dismisses the FARC leader’s communication as “a political letter.” Archila says that Londoño “is mistaken surely in good faith, ignorant, but in good faith,” about the Prosecutor’s Office’s alleged failure to prosecute killings of FARC members. He tells reporters, “The FARC director is wrong to believe that he can impose the way in which the accords should be implemented. The Constitutional Court has been clear that the accords should be implemented during three presidential terms… according to each President’s vision.”
- On January 27, Archila had announced a package of ten protection measures for ex-combatants. These include an attention plan for the majority of ex-fighters who no longer live in the ETCR; increased training in self-protection; more resources for the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía); and monthly meetings of agencies responsible for protection to review new threats and response measures.
- Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez criticizes the peace process, which she opposed, in a forum hosted by Semana magazine. “There’s pressure for implementation of the accord with the FARC,” she says. “An accord, that I would personally say, is semi-failed, even though the government has respected the accord’s institutionally. But the FARC as such, they didn’t keep their commitments to those who believed in them.”
- President Duque contradicts Minister Gutierrez, assuring that implementation advances “a little more” every day, and that “peace with legality is going well, it is being executed.”
- Stabilization Advisor Emilio Archila says that the government does have concerns about “the pace with which some of the FARC’s obligations are being fulfilled, like information about child combatants and landmines.”
- FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño tells El Tiempo that Gutiérrez’s comments are “unfortunate, very unfortunate. I could practically tell you that she is putting a tombstone over us when she says that we haven’t complied.”
- 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.
- The FARC political party suffers some high-profile defections. Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dutch citizen who joined the guerrillas in 2002 and was part of the negotiating team in Cuba, left the party “because I’ve had years without feeling in sync with what is decided, discussed, or planned.” Also leaving for political reasons was Martín Batalla, who ran one of the most successful ex-combatant reintegration processes. Neither defector appeared to be taking up arms—just leaving the ex-guerrilla political party.
- President Duque meets with UN Verification Mission Head Carlos Ruiz Massieu to go over the Mission’s findings, as documented in the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council. Duque calls on the Mission to extend its mandate to 2022. It is currently set to expire at the end of 2020.
- Ruiz Massieu says that although “very important advances” had been made in the accord’s implementation, it faced “great challenges.”
- A FARC communiqué rejects President Duque’s claims, following his meeting with Ruiz Massieu, that the government has made significant advances in implementing the peace accord. The process “is going through a critical moment,” according to the ex-guerrillas, who called on the UN verification to exercise “greater neutrality.” The FARC called out the government for referring at all moments to its own “peace with legality” policy instead of to the peace accord.