Carlos Lehder, a top leader of the Medellín cartel in the 1980s who pioneered aerial cocaine transshipment to the United States, completes a lengthy sentence in U.S. prison. A dual citizen of Germany, the 70-year-old Lehder departs for Berlin.
Colombia’s Senate holds a debate over the presence in the country of a 53-person U.S. training brigade (Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB). The debate is called by opposition senators, who allege that the deployment violates Colombia’s constitution, which requires Senate approval for the transit of troops through national territory. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, in an hourlong statement, insists that the U.S. personnel are not “transiting through” on their four-month deployment, but are collaborating to fight narcotrafficking. Ruling-party Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe leads the bloc of senators defending the U.S. troop deployment. Opposition legislators voice strong concern that the U.S. deployment could be a step toward Colombian involvement in a conflict with Venezuela.
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 president of the State Council, the Supreme Court chamber that deals with administrative issues, sends a letter to President Duque requesting an explanation of the deployment, announced May 28, of a 53-person U.S. military Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). Magistrate Álvaro Namén notes that Colombia’s constitution requires the State Council to be consulted about the transit of foreign troops through national territory.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) and Ministry of Justice submit an extradition request to the United States for Salvatore Mancuso, the former maximum leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group. The government of Álvaro Uribe extradited Mancuso and 13 other paramilitary leaders to the United States to face drug-trafficking charges in 2008; Mancuso is about to complete his U.S. sentence.
Colombia announces the launch of Operation Orion V, a multi-national naval drug interdiction effort in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. Orion 5 includes the participation of at least 17 countries, officials say. At the White House, President Donald Trump announces a tandem operation involving the U.S. Navy and partner nations in the same maritime space. Opposition legislators voice concern that Colombia may be participating in an operation meant to put military pressure on neighboring Venezuela.
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- President Iván Duque makes a hastily planned visit to Washington, where he meets with President Donald Trump at the White House. Asked by a reporter about coca cultivation in Colombia, Trump tells Duque, “Well, you’re going to have to spray. If you don’t spray, you’re not going to get rid of them. So you have to spray, with regard to the drugs in Colombia.” Duque responds, “We have to combine all the elements that we have: obviously, precision spraying, but also the record highs that we reached in 2019 on manual eradication and also dismantling the drug cartels.”
- Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo pays a visit to the United States. He visits the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force-North in Key West, Florida, which monitors suspicious aerial and maritime trafficking. He meets with top officials at Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Miami. And he travels to Washington for a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
- The U.S. Department of Justice communicates that top former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, who headed the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), will be returned to Colombia on March 27, twelve years after his extradition to the United States. A Colombian judge has determined that Mancuso has already served his required jail time under the “Justice and Peace” process that governed the AUC’s 2003-06 demobilization, though he must continue to cooperate with that process. Mancuso intends to collaborate with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) because, as a landowner, he supported paramilitary groups for several years before becoming a paramilitary leader.
- The CEO of the International Development Finance Corporation, a U.S. government body that issues loans and loan guarantees, visits Tumaco, the Pacific coast municipality that leads all Colombian municipalities in land area planted with coca. Adam Boehler promises US$5 billion in financing for private development projects, and witnesses a coca eradication operation.