Updates from WOLA tagged “ELN Peace Talks”

Blog entries, commentaries, and statements from WOLA’s Colombia team

Inaccurate Trump Administration Charges Against Cuba Damage Prospects for Peace Talks in Colombia and Elsewhere

May 14, 2020

Cross-posted from wola.org / Español

On May 12, the Department of State notified Congress that Cuba and other countries were certified under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019. This is the first year that Cuba has been certified as not fully cooperating since 2015. In its statement, the State Department referred to Cuba’s denial of Colombia’s request for the extradition of National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) leaders who are stranded in Havana after broken-off peace talks, and the presence of fugitives wanted by U.S. authorities who have lived in Cuba for decades. These politically motivated charges, aimed at pleasing U.S. political constituencies, undermine existing U.S.-Cuba security cooperation as well as the possibility of peace negotiations in Colombia and potentially elsewhere. 

The sanctions attached to the “non-cooperation” designation—a prohibition on the sale or export of defense equipment and services to the designated country—do not have practical consequences for Cuba, since U.S. embargo regulations already prohibit the sale of defense-related equipment and services. However, this designation further poisons the diplomatic atmosphere between Cuba and the United States. 

Designating Cuba as “non-cooperative” might be one step short of returning the country to the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism (Cuba was officially removed from the list in 2015).  The rationale cited by the State Department for labeling Cuba as “non-cooperative”   is similar to the justifications previous administrations invoked for keeping Cuba on the terrorism list. 

Since Cuba’s removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list, the U.S. government and Cuba have deepened security cooperation on issues of mutual interest for mutual benefits. In January 2017, these efforts culminated in the signature of a memorandum of understanding on law enforcement issues, where both governments committed to expanding operational collaboration on counter-terrorism, illicit drug traffic, cybercrime, and cybersecurity, among other issues. In addition, both governments established specific working groups in nine separate areas to exchange information, share best practices, and direct operational coordination in specific cases including counterterrorism.

The most recent public technical meeting took place in January of 2018 between the Cuban Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs and officials from the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State, who highlighted the importance of cooperation in these areas and agreed to continue the technical meetings in the future

One of the factors cited by the State Department for Cuba’s 2015 removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list was Cuba’s critical role in the successful peace talks between the Colombian government and rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In May 2018, Colombia’s government, the ELN guerrilla group, and the government of Norway asked Cuba to host peace talks between Colombia and the ELN, which had been taking place in Ecuador. Cuba and Norway were serving as “guarantor countries” for those talks, aimed at ending a conflict that began in 1964. 

In April 2016, at the outset of the talks, all involved —including Colombian government representatives—signed a set of protocols. These stated clearly that, should the ELN talks break down, the ELN’s negotiators would not be arrested—they would have 15 days to leave Cuba and receive safe passage back to Colombia. However, President Iván Duque’s administration, which took office in August 2018, was much more skeptical about peace talks. In January 2019, the ELN set off a truck bomb on the premises of Colombia’s National Police academy, killing 22 people and forcing an end to the negotiations. After that, the Colombian government did not honor the protocols governing a breakdown of talks. It demanded that Cuba turn over the ELN’s negotiators for arrest, later formally requesting their extradition. Cuba would not do that, and the guerrilla negotiators remain stranded in Cuban territory. The ELN leaders themselves continue to demand to be allowed to leave Cuba, as detailed in the protocols that Colombia’s government signed.

The communities where the ELN operates have consistently pleaded with the Colombian government to engage in exploratory peace talks with the guerrilla group, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These recent actions by the U.S. and Colombian governments disregard the security and well-being of afro-colombians, indigenous, and rural farmers who have no alternative but to deal with the negative implications of illegal groups like the ELN that operate in their territories. Rather than create obstacles to consolidating peacemaking efforts, the Colombian government should be taking all possible steps to create the conditions needed to reinstate dialogue and work towards establishing a durable peace. 

The “non-cooperation” designation sets a damaging precedent for future peace processes.

It sends the message that if a state agrees to host peace talks, and doesn’t violate its word, that state could still face severe consequences for its contribution to global peace and security. In Colombia, as reprehensible as the ELN’s actions were, this sends a perverse message to any group that might decide to enter into a future peace process with the government. 

Ultimately, this step by the Trump administration undermines ongoing cooperation on national security and law enforcement cooperation between Cuba and the United States, while undercutting effective international diplomacy.

Tags: Counter-Terrorism, ELN, ELN Peace Talks, U.S. Policy

COVID-19: a Window of Opportunity for Negotiations With the ELN?

May 11, 2020

By Gwen Burnyeat and Andrei Gomez-Suarez at Rodeemos el Diálogo on April 25, 2020. Cross-posted with permission.

There has been recent speculation about whether the COVID-19 pandemic might offer a window of opportunity for reigniting negotiations between the government of Iván Duque and Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), at war with the state since 1964. These speculations stem principally from two unilateral gestures, one by the ELN, one by the Duque government.

First, on 29 March, Duque’s High Commissioner for Peace, Miguel Ceballos, re-designated two former ELN commanders, Francisco Galán and Felipe Torres, as “Peace Promoters”, a role given to members or ex-members of armed groups who commit to contributing with their experience to paving the way for peace negotiations with illegal armed groups, while the government suspends any legal process against them for their actions in that group. Galán and Torres, who both formally dropped out of the ELN and demobilised many years ago, had previously been designated by the administration of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) as “peace promoters”. In January 2019, after the ELN detonated a car bomb in the General Santander National Police Academy, killing 23 people, Duque had cancelled the status of all peace promoters, reactivating arrest warrants against them. In addition to Galán and Torres, this included active ELN members Juan Carlos Cuéllar and Eduardo Martínez, who had also been designated peace promoters. Galán and Cuéllar were captured; Martínez and Torres went into hiding. Galán and Torres were wanted on charges against the whole of the ELN Central Command (COCE) for a 1999 kidnapping, in which they did not participate because they were imprisoned at the time, but until this investigation is formally closed, they need a presidential pardon to walk freely.

Second, on 30 March, the ELN declared a unilateral ceasefire for the whole of April. In their accompanying statement, the ELN emphasised that this decision responded to the request made by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic, a petition echoed by millions of people worldwide, including UN officials in Colombia who specifically called on the ELN to cease hostilities and alleviate the humanitarian dimension of the current crisis.

Both these unilateral gestures are encouraging. However, to be realistic about the possibilities of new negotiations between the government and the ELN, and to understand the challenges and opportunities these gestures offer, it is necessary to consider the perspectives of both sides. We draw on public statements by both sides, closed-door meetings with key stakeholders, and a recent public dialogue organised by Rodeemos el Diálogo with various experts on the possibilities of a peace process with the ELN, to try to put ourselves in the shoes of each.

Contextualising the Perspectives of Each Side: “Resistance” versus “Legality”

Neither the ELN nor the Duque government are homogenous entities. Both are complex ecosystems, each with their own internal dynamics, identity narratives, political power balances, and ideas about how Colombian public opinion perceives them. 

The ELN, Colombia’s oldest insurgency, ideologically rooted in Marxism and Liberation Theology, has over 4000 fighters, and has steadily expanded its geographical control to areas previously controlled by the FARC. The ELN’s cohesion is based on shared ideological commitments held by a number of local factions with great territorial diversity and considerable autonomy. The COCE’s decisions fluctuate according to dynamic interaction across its factional and geographical complexity, and between moderates and hardliners. The ELN’s Fifth Congress in 2014 reached a consensus on exploring peace negotiations with the Santos government – an expression of the moderate wing having the upper hand. An exploratory phase followed, which resulted in formal negotiations beginning formally in February 2017 in Quito, with the announcement of a formal six-point agenda

Between October 2017 and January 2018, a virtuous cycle of unilateral and bilateral gestures led to a hundred-day bilateral ceasefire, which included a hybrid monitoring mechanism comprising representatives of the international community and Colombian civil society. While this bilateral ceasefire was welcomed by pro-peace networks as it alleviated humanitarian suffering, the ELN and the government had different interpretations as to what constituted breaches of the ceasefire, and it was ultimately not possible to extend it. Paradoxically, what was meant to be a trust-building step created a major deadlock in the negotiations. This, compounded by the short time that the Santos government had left in power, the ELN’s growing criticism of the government’s implementation of the Havana Peace Agreement signed with the FARC in 2016, and the ELN’s kidnapping of two Ecuadorian journalists, among other things, derailed progress of the negotiations under Santos. The support within the ELN and among their sympathisers shifted towards the hard-line faction, which does not see a negotiated peace as a viable solution, and rather supports the strengthening of the ELN’s military might to continue what they see as their resistance against an unchanging oligarchy.

President Duque, the candidate of the right-wing Democratic Centre party, won the 2018 elections on a promise of drastically modifying the Havana Peace Agreement with the FARC and taking a hard-liner stance with the ELN. Governments themselves are complex dynamic ecosystems within the wider state structure, comprising multiple people and institutions, immersed in relationships within themselves, with various players in the political establishment, with their political opposition, and with Colombian public opinion.

Duque’s political capital draws overwhelmingly on the support of ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), today Senator, whose popularity rested on his ‘democratic security’ policy, and who had staunchly opposed the negotiations with the FARC, leading to the triumph of the ‘No’ vote in the 2016 Peace Referendum. However, his government also comprises a key alliance with the Conservative Party, via his vice-president Marta Lucía Ramírez, and multiple other alliances with national and local-level politicians of different parties.

When Duque took power in August 2018, the ELN negotiation team was in Havana, where the negotiations were transferred in May 2018. They waited there and stated publicly their willingness to continue the dialogue with the new government. Duque announced that he would evaluate the state of the negotiations before taking a definitive decision. His government consistently pushed for the release of all the ELN’s hostages and the cessation of all criminal activities as conditions for negotiating. The ELN, in turn, argued that such actions would be made in a series of bilateral humanitarian gestures, as negotiations progressed.

Meanwhile, the negotiations remained frozen, no government delegation arrived in Havana, and the conflict intensified in regions such as Catatumbo, Cauca, Chocó and Nariño. With the ELN’s car bomb in January 2019 Duque formally ended the negotiations, saying the ELN did not show a willingness for peace, and requested an Interpol warrant against the ELN negotiation delegates in Cuba. He urged Cuba and Norway, both guarantors to the Santos negotiations with the ELN, to ignore protocols signed with his predecessor which guaranteed the safe return of the ELN negotiation team to the Colombian jungle in the case of breakdown of peace talks, and return the negotiators to Colombia to be arrested. 

Ever since, two members of the ELN COCE (Nicolás Rodríguez and Pablo Beltrán) have remained in Havana (Cuba decided to respect the protocols), giving frequent press interviews expressing their wish to reignite negotiations, urging Duque to send a negotiation team to continue with the existing negotiation agenda, as it was an agenda signed with the Colombian state. The Duque government, meanwhile, contends that the previous agenda was signed with the Santos government, and that new negotiations would require a new agenda. Duque continues to emphasise further unilateral permanent gestures by the ELN as conditions for negotiating, especially hostage release and cessation of criminal activities, in line with his government’s key slogan, “peace with legality”.

Interpreting the Unilateral Gestures

While some observers speculated that the gesture by the ELN to declare a ceasefire and the gesture by the Duque government to re-instate Felipe Torres and Francisco Galán as peace promoters was a sign of secret negotiations being underway, the public statement by the ELN rejecting Torres and Galán as legitimate facilitators of dialogue, and their subsequent declaration on 27 April, announcing the end of the unilateral ceasefire, confirmed that these two unilateral gestures coincided by chance. Nevertheless, both gestures are encouraging in their own right, if we take them in the context of each side’s perspectives.

The ELN tends to reject unilateral gestures, claiming that the government does not see them as a gesture of a strong group willing to make concessions and pave the way to peace collaboratively between two antagonists, but rather as a show of weakness. The ELN’s gesture is thus suggestive of a possible shift towards a consensus at least on seeking a way to alleviate humanitarian suffering. The compliance of all the ELN’s Fronts with the ceasefire so far (between 1-22 April there were zero attacks by the ELN) is also positive, considering the ELN’s geographical fragmentation and non-vertical hierarchy, and is indicative of the COCE’s capacity of command and control. The Colombian army has not instigated any attack since 12 March, which suggests that the government is likewise prioritising the response to the Coronavirus crisis. This convergence of unilateral strategies has materialised in a tacit truce, which could nurture a virtuous cycle of decisions that lead to long-term de-escalation of the conflict. Many sectors of civil society and the international community have welcomed the positive impact of the ceasefire in the lives of war-torn communities. 

However, this cannot be misinterpreted as a step towards the opening of a negotiation table, and a shift within the ELN towards a consensus for a negotiated peace. On the contrary, the geopolitics around Venezuela offer a ripe context for a radicalisation of the ELN. Donald Trump’s constant threats to the Maduro regime and Duque’s confrontational approach to Venezuela reinforce the ELN’s self-perception of being a bastion of resistance against global neoliberalism and fascism. The unilateral ceasefire thus could also be read as a move to regain international legitimacy in the global context of failing neoliberal democracies, and position themselves as standing against Trump. 

The Duque administration’s gesture of reinstating Torres and Galán as peace promoters suggests of a willingness within at least one sector of the government to take tangible steps towards peace, responding to the many calls by pro-peace sectors of Colombian civil society and the international community for the government to seek a “complete peace” – one that encompasses all illegal armed groups in the country. Just as an insurgency has harder and more moderate positions internally, which fluctuate in power and visibility according to the unfolding political present, so does a government. The intensifying violence of the conflict with the ELN, and the humanitarian crisis of Venezuelan migrants arriving in Colombia, have now been compounded by the coronavirus crisis. Pro-peace elements within the government now have the opportunity to elevate the protection of life as the central mandate of the Duque administration, beyond the scrabbles of right/left sectarianism which have thus far dominated its political narratives, in which it has been stuck since coming to power on the basis of opposing Santos and his peace process. 

Possibilities and Challenges for Peace: Opening the Window of Opportunity

Peace is not a linear process. Even if these two unilateral gestures do not immediately bring the parties to a negotiation table, they give oxygen to pro-peace elements in the government, in the wider political establishment, among Colombian civil society and in the international community. 

The impacts of these positive gestures must be recognised and protected, to allow the possibility of a window to be opened that could eventually bring back the derailed negotiations. For example, multi-party political platform Defendamos la Paz has increased their lobby for negotiations, calling on the ELN to extend the ceasefire or even make it permanent, and for the government to respond in kind. Importantly, Álvaro Uribe has also made statements in support of peace via Twitter, adding his voice to the international call for ceasefires in the context of coronavirus, and encouraging the re-designation of Felipe Torres and Francisco Galán as peace promoters. Uribe’s support would be crucial for any future dialogue to prosper, as his influence would determine not only the outlook of the Democratic Centre party, but could could also shape public opinion towards negotiations with the ELN.

We see four interdependent and mutually reinforcing conditions as essential for a future Duque-ELN negotiation. First, the Duque government needs to show both sufficient political will and political capital to engage successfully in peace negotiations. Second, the ELN must build sufficient consensus internally to commit to a negotiated solution to the conflict, and accepting that this may have to look different to what they envisaged when they committed to negotiating with the Santos administration. Third, the growth in support in Colombian public opinion for an end to violence in the country. Fourth, a favourable geopolitical environment for fostering a sustainable peace in Colombia, which had been adversely affected by the Trump administration’s disdain for the 2016 Havana Peace Agreement with the FARC and the worsening of the Venezuela crisis. 

The Coronavirus pandemic is radically reshaping our world. As governments worldwide are extending lockdowns, might not the ELN similarly reconsider, and extend their ceasefire? Might increased political and citizen support crystallise around a government mandate for protecting life? And might the government continue to abstain from military engagement with the ELN, and offer an explicit unilateral gesture of de-escalation? Might the outcome of the coming US elections create a more favourable geopolitical context for future negotiations with the ELN? The transformations of political identities around the world under coronavirus will change global trends on everything from neoliberal economic policies, state welfare, populism, and community solidarity. These transformations could redefine how the Duque government and the ELN see themselves and each other, and how Colombian society feels about a negotiated solution to the conflict. The window of opportunity remains to be opened.

Tags: Ceasefire, ELN, ELN Peace Talks, Politics of Peace, Public Health

Defend the Peace Virtually Advocates for Peace with ELN

May 11, 2020
On April 17, 2020, Defend the Peace Colombia hosted a webinar that explored the prospects for peace with the ELN.

On April 17, WOLA participated in the Defend the Peace Colombia (Defendamos La Paz Colombia, DLPwebinar that explored the prospects for peace with the ELN. Following the guerrilla group’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire due to the global pandemic, hope was reawakened that this temporary truce could serve as a stepping stone for restarting peace dialogues with the ELN. DLP, of which WOLA forms part, released a statement commending the ELN for paying heed to the UN Secretary-General and Colombian civil society’s calls for ceasefires. The Government of Colombia announced that two former ELN commanders, Francisco Galán and Carlos Velandia, would serve as “peace promoters”. The DLP statement emphasizes that these steps serve as an opportunity to consolidate a full peace by opening a much-needed space for exploratory dialogues with the ELN. DLP urges the Colombian State and illegal armed groups to agree to a multilateral ceasefire in order to advance peace and as a response to the public health crisis.

The findings of the latest report by the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos, CERAC) were presented. This noted that (as of April 17) the ELN had not engaged in armed actions and that no military offensives against the ELN were initiated. Clara López, representing DLP, stated that the public health crisis should not reduce efforts for consolidating peace and that the Iván Duque administration should increase its political will to foster dialogue with the rebel group. Former Senator and Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando stated the CERAC report’s main finding- the positive developments between the Colombian government and the ELN – were not getting media attention because the pandemic was dominating the headlines. Given this, proponents of peace had to adapt their advocacy and be strategic so as to guarantee that both issues, peace promotion and the health crisis, get attention. To help mobilize efforts by civil society in support of advancing peace with the ELN, it was necessary that positive developments obtain visibility. 

Senator Roy Barreras argued that the Duque administration continues to carry out warmongering acts against the ELN that generate obstacles for advancing dialogue with the rebel group. Violence committed by the group, fuels fear in Colombian society and the administration takes advantage of this to justify its military actions. Further, Senator Barreras noted that humanitarian emergencies weaken governmental plans and this is also used to explain away poor leadership. The pandemic allows governments in general to reframe political narratives in their respective countries, which can unfortunately result in assaults against critical rights. The Senator believes that the Colombian government should take advantage of this unprecedented public health emergency to reframe the political narrative around peace with the ELN. The speakers closed by asking that Colombia’s government fully implement the 2016 Peace Agreement with FARC and start peace dialogues with the ELN.

Speakers went on to emphasize that civil society participation is crucial to any peace process. César Sandino from Paz Completa said that civil society needs to be treated like an actor at the negotiating table because they are the ones directly affected by the conflict and are essential to guaranteeing a sustainable peace. Diana Sánchez added that continued oversight and support by the United Nations’ was needed.

Afro-Colombian leader and Bojayá massacre survivor from Chocó Leyner Palacios emphasized that guarantees of non-repetition are needed and that victims are central to peace negotiations. A multilateral ceasefire is needed in order to protect innocent civilians throughout Colombia. At the current juncture, communities in the Pacific face infrastructure issues, institutional neglect, and armed conflict. The health crisis is compounding all of these structural issues. Leyner pleaded that the government take action to protect the territories of ethnic minorities now affected by the pandemic. Throughout the discussion, it was pointed out that the communities affected by the ELN’s armed actions are the same that are likely to be most negatively affected by the pandemic. Despite the national quarantine, forced coca crop eradication operations continue and armed actors are murdering social leaders. Marylen Serna, a social leader from Cauca, and Ediver Suárez, an activist from Catatumbo, pointed out that the government was not implementing the 2016 peace agreement. They recommend that it be fully implemented and that negotiations with the ELN are prioritized. 

Cali’s Monsignor Dario Monslave of Cali urged the ELN to free any hostages it has in its possession. He asked that the ELN respect the territories and communities it typically operates in. When doing so, the rebel group needs to be environmentally conscientious, as its operations are detrimentally impacting ecosystems. U.S. Reverend Douglas Leonard from the Global Council of Churches spoke of the importance of peace, particularly during the Easter season.   

In sum, these are challenging times for communities facing on-going armed conflict and now a pandemic. Senator Iván Cepeda closed the meeting by underscoring the need to uphold democracy during these times. He stated that democracy should not be seen as an obstacle but rather a vital part of the solution to pandemic. Senator Cepeda called on other armed groups including the Gulf Clan to lay down their weapons. He said: “Facing the pandemic is a war in itself. Peace is fundamental to civilian security and is the only path forward.”

Tags: Civil Society Peace Movement, ELN Peace Talks, Post-Conflict Implementation

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of September 23-29

October 7, 2018

Presidents Duque and Trump Meet in New York

Seven weeks into his presidency, Colombian President Iván Duque had his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, outside the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. “It was a great meeting,” Duque later told the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth. “We are going to strengthen our relationship with the U.S.—not only the military cooperation, but also trade and development assistance. We also talked about Venezuela and got the president’s strong support for the refugee situation we’re facing due to the [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro regime.”

The leaders had an 18-minute exchange with reporters. Trump stressed the U.S. desire that Duque address Colombia’s recent increase in coca and cocaine production.

What I want — what I want and what we’ve discussed, and one of the reasons I was so happy to see the President’s victory — that was a great victory and there was a very worldwide, world-renowned victory because of his strong stance on drugs.

Now, if he comes through, we think he’s the greatest. If he doesn’t come through, he’s just another President of Colombia. (Laughter.) But I think he’s going to come through. I really do.

Semana reported that Duque has set a goal of reducing the number of hectares of coca grown in Colombia by 70 percent during his four years in office. This is a very ambitious goal. Even eradicating 70 percent of the coca that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime detected in Colombia in 2017 would mean 120,000 eradicated hectares per year (much of which would quickly be replanted); Colombia eradicated 18,000 in 2016 and about 60,000 in 2017. Getting to 120,000 would probably only be possible through a vast expansion in forced eradication through aerial herbicide spraying, and an intense series of confrontations with organized coca cultivators. Duque says he favors herbicide fumigation but has not yet announced a plan.

Asked about Colombia’s peace process, Trump appeared startled and unprepared.

Q Are you going to talk about FARC and ELN, the peace process?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Are you asking me that question? We’re going to be talking about everything.

Much of the presidents’ conversation surrounded the crisis in neighboring Venezuela. President Trump resisted commenting on a “military option” for dealing with Venezuela, though he did state that the Venezuelan military could easily overthrow President Nicolás Maduro if they so chose.

“It was known” that in their bilateral meeting, Trump “had discarded the idea of a military solution” for Venezuela, El Colombiano reported. The U.S. president supported his Colombian colleague’s plan for a concerted campaign of diplomatic pressure and sanctions to remove Maduro, including a six-country petition to the International Criminal Court alleging the Venezuelan government’s commission of crimes against humanity.

Duque criticized Venezuela in his Washington Post interview, calling the Caracas government “a narco-trafficking state. It is a human rights violator. They have been sponsoring and helping and providing safe haven to Colombian terrorists in their territory.” He concluded, though, that “I don’t think that a military solution is the solution, because that’s what Maduro wants. Maduro wants to create a demon so that he can exacerbate patriotism and remain in office.”

The Venezuelan armed forces meanwhile announced a deployment of troops to the Colombia-Venezuela border, in the state of Táchira across from Norte de Santander department. The commander of the Venezuelan military’s Strategic Operational Command said that the deployment’s purpose was to combat narcotrafficking and illegal groups’ cross-border activity. During the UN sessions, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence seized on this news to offer Colombia an explicit security guarantee.

News reports today are that the Maduro regime has moved military troops to the border of Colombia, as they have done in the past. An obvious effort at intimidation. Let me be clear: the United States of America will always stand with our allies for their security. The Maduro regime would do well not to test the resolve of the president of the United States or the American people in this regard.

Back in Bogotá, the leader of President Duque’s party, former president Álvaro Uribe, called on Venezuela’s military “not to aim at the sister country of Colombia, but to aim at the Miraflores [Presidential] Palace to kick out the dictatorship.”

Some FARC Leaders Reappear, Voice Discontent and Security Concerns

Some questions were answered in the crisis of at least nine top former FARC leaders who have gone missing in recent months. Some have “clandestinized” themselves citing security concerns, some have voiced fear of trumped-up judicial charges against them, and some, it is feared, may be inclining toward re-armed dissident groups.

In addition to Henry Castellanos alias “Romana”—an eastern-bloc chieftain responsible for numerous kidnappings who penned a letter ratifying his continued participation in the peace process—top Southern Bloc leader Fabián Ramírez also surfaced. Ramírez sent a letter to the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP) complaining about the inadequacy of the vehicle-and-bodyguard scheme that the Unit had assigned to him.

“I request for the third time that you resolve for me, quickly, the reinstatement of two missing bodyguards and a conventional car, which are part of my security scheme that the UNP, through its approved risk study, had given me for my protection since the beginning of this year,” Ramirez wrote. He added that he has never abandoned the peace process, although he left the demobilization site where he had been staying. Ramirez says he is now assembling a group of ex-guerrillas in the southern departments of Caquetá, Putumayo, and Huila to pursue income-generating projects. Ramírez writes that he seeks this reinforced security scheme because this work requires him to “be moving through zones where there are armed dissident-group personnel.”

For their part, three unnamed former FARC commanders have sought precautionary protection measures from the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, citing personal insecurity. The formal request went through lawyers, and the FARC leaders asked that their names be held in reserve. El Tiempo reported, though, that one of the three is among nine ex-FARC leaders whose wheareabouts are currently unknown.

The FARC submitted a 10-page report to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress alleging that only 87 of the guerrillas’ 14,000 ex-members have received government funds to carry out productive income-generating projects, as laid out in the peace accord. Seventeen such projects are so far under consideration or nearing approval, covering about eight percent of the FARC’s membership, but only two have yet been approved and begun to receive funds. The report claims that on a less-formal basis, former FARC fighters have started 259 income-generating projects on their own, two-thirds of them with their own funds and 12 percent of them with international support.

Displacement is Up Sharply

The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a human rights group that has closely tracked forced displacement trends for over 20 years, issued a report counting 38,490 Colombians displaced by violence during the first eight months of 2018. This represents an increase over 2017.

CODHES counts 126 events of mass displacement. Of the victims, 8,376 were members of Afro-Colombian communities and 7,808 were indigenous. The majority of displacements happened in three departments; Norte de Santander, Antioquia, and Nariño. Fighting for territorial control between illegal armed groups, principally the ELN, EPL, post-paramilitary groups, and guerrilla dissidents, was the main cause.

Rightist Parties Advance Plan to Try Military Human Rights Cases Separately

Legislators from the governing Democratic Center party, together with the center-right Radical Change party, introduced legislation that would create a new chamber in the new transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to judge current and former military personnel accused of war crimes.

A procedural law for the JEP, passed in June and awaiting Constitutional Court review, freezes human rights cases against military personnel while the Congress designs a new chamber to judge them separately from former guerrillas. The bill introduced this week would do that—though the Constitutional Court could invalidate the whole effort if, when it completes its review, it strikes this provision from the June procedural law.

The law calls for the new chamber’s judges to be experts in international humanitarian law with prior knowledge of how the armed forces function. It would allow military personnel who recognize their crimes, tell truth, and give reparations to victims to serve their sentences in special military facilities. After five years, they could be released on probation.

By contrast, former guerrillas who fulfill their truth and reparations duties would be held in “restricted liberty”—a term that the judge in each case will need to define, though it can’t be prison—for up to eight years.

The chief of the Democratic Center bloc in the Senate, former president Álvaro Uribe, introduced the bill, arguing that “the Armed Forces of a democratic country can not be equalized, put on the same level as those who have committed terrorist acts.”

ELN Talks Remain Stalemated; Venezuela Removed from Guarantor Countries

The Duque government, which pulled back its negotiating team last week, continues to suspend talks in Havana with the ELN guerrillas until the group releases all individuals it has kidnapped and agrees to cease hostilities. The ELN this week put out a statement claiming that, if the Duque government changes the rules and agenda agreed with the prior government of Juan Manuel Santos, then it is showing that “the Colombian state is unable to keep its word” from one government to the next. The guerrilla delegation in Cuba tweeted a picture of its negotiators sitting across a table from a row of empty chairs with the caption “We’re ready here. The counterpart is missing.”

President Duque, in New York, insisted on his terms: “I have every wish to be able to establish a dialogue with the ELN, but you have heard me say it: I hope that the basis of the construction of a dialogue will be the liberation of all the kidnapped and an end to criminal activities.”

Duque also announced that Venezuela was no longer welcome to be one of the ELN talks’ “guarantor” countries, a list that also includes Norway, Brazil, and Chile. Duque blamed Venezuela’s harboring of ELN fighters on its soil, which made the neighboring government less than an honest broker. “A country that has sponsored the ELN in its territory, that has protected it, that has allowed criminal acts against the Colombian people to be formed from its territory, is far from being a guarantor, it is a dictatorship that has been an accomplice of many criminal activities, I’m not saying that for the first time.”

“Most of the ELN kingpins are in Venezuela,” Duque told the Washington Post. “It’s impossible to come to consider a ceasefire when part of their troops or of their membership is in another country,” said High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos. The ELN’s chief negotiator, Pablo Beltrán, dismissed allegations of guerrilla presence in Venezuela as “a myth that has been invented in Washington,” adding, “I don’t see any association between a ceasefire and where the ELN’s leaders are.”

Semana cites a recent opinion column by Carlos Velandia, a former ELN leader who went by the name “Felipe Torres” and is now a go-between for peace talks, voicing the belief that in the event of a conflict involving Venezuela, the ELN might take Venezuela’s side on Venezuelan soil.

Semana notes that Venezuela had played a big role in getting the ELN talks started during the Santos government, “the dialogues’ public phase—which opened in 2017—was even achieved and announced from Venezuela.” The magazine sees no other country stepping up to fill the vacuum.

Which country can join the group? Among the guarantors who were there when the table opened is also Cuba, but that idea doesn’t convince the government at all.

Norway, Brazil and Chile are also in the group of guarantor countries. But each has its own problems to serve even as a place to relaunch the table. Brazil is in a presidential campaign and is quite divided about it. Norway has its attention placed on the [FARC] post-conflict and the chances of it serving as the venue for negotiations are very low. Chile has had a better disposition, it even offered itself as headquarters when Ecuador withdrew as a guarantor country following a wave of “terrorist attacks” on the border.

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration, ELN Peace Talks, U.S. Policy, Venezuela Crisis, Weekly update

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of September 16-22

October 1, 2018

UNODC Publishes Its 2017 Coca Cultivation Estimate

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime published an executive summary of its 2017 estimate of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. The UN agency has usually produced this document, in complete form, in June or July of each year. Among the latest report’s most notable findings:

  • Coca cultivation increased by 17 percent in Colombia between 2016 and 2017, growing from 146,000 to 171,000 hectares. (A hectare is about two and a half acres.) In June, the U.S. government publicized its own estimate for 2017, finding an 11 percent increase to 209,000 hectares. According to Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, the UN figure is “the official statistic that the Colombian government works with.”
  • 64% of the increase was concentrated in four departments: Antioquia, Putumayo, Norte de Santander and Cauca. Nearly all coca is grown in municipalities where coca was grown a decade ago.
  • The department with the most coca is still Nariño, as has been the case every year since 2006. Nariño makes up 27% of all Colombian coca cultivation, but the crop increased by only 7% there in 2017.
  • Tumaco, a giant municipality (county) in southwestern Nariño, remains the number-one coca-growing municipality in the country. However, coca cultivation declined by 16% in Tumaco last year.
  • The department of Guaviare saw the largest decrease, shrinking 28% from 6,800 to 4,900 hectares. Guaviare, along with Tumaco, has been a main focus of crop-substitution efforts within the framework of the peace accord. In Meta, another department that saw a lot of crop substitution, coca increased 2%.
  • The areas where the Colombian government has managed to get crop-substitution programs up and running comprise 14% of coca-growing territories. But in those territories, cultivation fell 11% in 2017.
  • 33% of coca crops were detected in “isolated areas, 10 km away from any populated center.”
  • 34% of coca crops were detected in areas that were covered by forests in 2014.
  • Probably due to increased supply, prices crashed in 2017. Coca leaf prices fell 28%; cocaine paste fell 14%, and cocaine fell 11% inside Colombia. This isn’t entirely supply and demand: local circumstances, like changes in armed-group control, may be more important factors in some areas.
  • Colombia’s cocaine exports were worth about US$2.7 billion in 2017. Colombia’s coffee exports totaled about US$2.5 billion. Only oil and coal produced more export revenue.
  • All cocaine base produced in the country was worth US$1.315 billion. All coca leaf was worth US$371 million.
  • In the ten municipalities (counties) with the most coca crops, the coca leaf market adds up to US$302 million. These counties’ combined municipal budgets were US$196 million.
  • 5% of coca was planted within national parks, and another 27% within 20 kilometers of a national park.
  • 10% was planted within indigenous reserves. 15% was planted in land belonging to Afro-Colombian communities.
  • 16% of coca was planted within 10 kilometers of a border, mainly those with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • The National Comprehensive Substitution Program (PNIS), the voluntary crop-substitution program set up by the FARC peace accord, had enrolled 54,027 families by the end of 2017. By June 2018, that had climbed to 77,659 families.
  • Mainly because the bushes have had time to grow taller than they used to be, their yield—the amount of cocaine that can be produced from a hectare of coca—has increased by one third since 2012. As a result, Colombia’s potential cocaine production grew from 1,053 tons in 2016 to 1,379 tons in 2017.
  • Processing that much cocaine required that 510 million liters of liquid precursor chemicals, and 98,000 tons of solid precursors, be smuggled in to very remote areas.
  • “When we talk about coca growers,” UNODC Colombia Director Bo Mathiasen told El Espectador, “we talk about there being today about 119,500 households that depend on that. If we estimate that each family has four members, we are talking about almost half a million Colombians, just those involved with crops.” That is 1% of Colombia’s population of about 50 million.

Asked whether the increase in coca-growing was “a failure of the peace agreement,” Mathiasen replied that Colombia’s government over-promised to coca-growing families.

It’s an agreement with promises that had no basis. They promised more than they could fulfill. The Government does not have the money to fulfill the prior commitments. There was a lack of realistic communication about the resources that were available and what could be delivered. This caused the campesinos to think that if they planted more coca, they could have subsidies and be part of the substitution program.

Mathiasen also criticized the simultaneous implementation of crop substitution and crop eradication, two strategies that “work with different timeframes.” He cautioned against relying too heavily on renewed fumigation of coca with the herbicide glyphosate.

The United Nations does not have an opinion either in favor or against the use of glyphosate, and I must add that it is widely used in agriculture in Colombia and in many countries. The effectiveness of forced eradication has limits. Yes, the plant is done away with, but replanting has historically been high in eradication zones where there is no program of social and economic intervention going hand-in-hand. If you want a more sustainable outcome over time you have to combine forced or voluntary eradication with investment programs to develop these territories.

President Iván Duque said that in coming days, “he would present a new plan to combat drugs that would ‘strengthen our air, sea and land interception capacity’ and ‘dismantle completely the supply chain, both precursors and product,’” the New York Times reported, adding that “so far, he has provided no details.”

Interviewed by El Tiempo, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker reiterated his support for glyphosate-spraying, despite a California jury’s August ruling that a gardener who contracted cancer was entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from Monsanto, the company that produces most glyphosate herbicide sold in the United States.

I have always said, and I maintain, that the use of glyphosate is safe and effective. It can be a very important tool in the fight against narcotics as part of eradication, which is only one aspect of a comprehensive program. Evidently there was a jury decision in California, and you have to respect that. But that decision does not change the science at all, and the science is clear.

Government Won’t Name an ELN Negotiating Team Until Conditions Met

In a statement, the ELN’s negotiators in Havana called on the government to re-start frozen peace talks, citing its release of nine captives during the first half of September. The Duque government announced that it would not name a new negotiating team until the ELN releases all hostages. The government has a list of ten individuals who remain in ELN captivity. It is unclear whether all are alive, and the guerrillas have not addressed their cases.

This week the ELN released Mayerly Cortés Rodríguez, a 16-year-old whom guerrillas had kidnapped in Chocó. By holding a minor, government High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos said, the ELN “broke all the rules.” The ELN’s Chocó-based Western War Front stated that it was holding Cortés not as a hostage, but “to clear up her collaboration with the Marines,” accusing her of providing intelligence to the local unit. The commander of Colombia’s Pacific Naval Force (Marines are part of the Navy) insisted that it does not seek intelligence from minors.

The ELN talks remain stalled. “It’s evident that neither the government nor the ELN wants to be seen as the one slamming the door on the peace process, but neither of the two parties wants to be the one that gives up the most to restart the dialogues,” El Tiempo’s Marisol Gómez observed.

Elsewhere in Chocó, combat between the ELN and Army displaced about 80 indigenous people from the Murindó River reserve.

FARC Dissident Leader “Guacho” is Wounded, Military Says

A military offensive against FARC dissident groups has intensified in Nariño, along what may be Colombia’s busiest cocaine production and trafficking corridor. Last week, troops killed alias “David,” commander of the United Guerrillas of the Pacific dissident group. This week, special forces reported wounding his rival, Walter Arízala alias “Guacho,” commander of the Oliver Sinisterra Front dissident group.

Though born in Ecuador, Guacho rose through the FARC’s ranks in Narino over 15 years, becoming deeply involved in narcotrafficking. He refused to demobilize in 2017, then became one of the two or three most-wanted armed-group leaders in Colombia earlier this year, after he staged attacks on government forces in Nariño and across the border in Ecuador, and then kidnapped and killed two Ecuadorian reporters and their driver. The tragedy of the El Comercio journalists was front-page news in Ecuador for weeks.

On September 15, at a site in the northern part of Tumaco further from the border, a joint unit seeking to capture Guacho was closing in, but was detected by the dissident leader’s innermost security ring. During the resulting firefight, troops shot a fleeing Guacho twice in the back, but his men helped him to escape.

Though Colombian and Ecuadorian troops reportedly did not coordinate, Ecuador’s military and police strengthened security on their side of the border with the aim of preventing Guacho from crossing. There were no new reports about the guerrilla leader’s condition or whereabouts during the rest of the week.

Semana magazine, claiming that Guacho’s influence in Nariño had been declining, reported that the guerrilla leader “is fleeing with the last of his bodyguards, and the search continues.”

Three Mining Company Geologists Killed in Antioquia; Guerrilla Dissidents Blamed

A group of armed men burst into a mining company camp in the predawn hours of September 20 in Yarumal, Antioquia, opening fire and killing Laura Alejandra Flórez Aguirre, Henry Mauricio Martínez Gómez, and Camilo Andrés Tirado Farak. The three were geologists carrying out explorations for Continental Gold Mines, a Canadian company.

No group has claimed responsibility. Colombian authorities told the media that dissident members of the FARC’s 36th Front are very active in Yarumal. Precious-metals mining has been a principal income stream for organized crime groups here and in many parts of the country.

In the nearby municipality of Buriticá, Continental Gold is building what El Espectador calls “the first large-scale subterranean gold mine in Colombia,” which is to begin operation in 2020 and produce an average of 253,000 ounces of gold per year over 14 years.

Accord Implementation Budget Appears Insufficient

Colombia’s Comptroller-General’s Office (Contraloría) sent a new report to Congress on expenditures to implement the FARC peace accord. It concludes that, over the next 15 years, the government will need to come up with about US$25 billion to fulfill the commitments made in the accord. Most of the resources needed would go to the accord’s first chapter on rural development.

The Treasury Ministry has estimated a 15-year cost of accord implementation at 129.5 trillion pesos, or about US$43 billion. The Contraloría sees a need for an additional 76 trillion pesos, which

would represent 0.4% of annual GDP that would be added to the fiscal deficit projected for the coming years. These calculations could increase to up to 1.1% of GDP if we add the additional costs of covering all the municipalities with scattered rural territories as contemplated in the Final Agreement, and the reparation measures in the public policy of attention to victims.

The Contraloría report found that the government spent 6.9 trillion pesos (about US$2.3 billion) in 2017 on activities related to the FARC peace accord.

El Espectador meanwhile notes that Colombia’s defense budget has increased during the post-accord period, growing 8 percent from 2017 to 2018.

FARC Remains on U.S. Terrorist List

The U.S. Department of State released its annual report on international terrorism on September 19. This report includes and updates the Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The FARC—recognized as a political party today in Colombia—remains on that list.

“Colombia experienced a continued decrease in terrorist activity in 2017, due in large part to the November 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” the report reads, citing the disarmament, demobilization, and reincorporation process that the ex-guerrillas underwent last year. Still, a footnote in the report explains that the FARC remains on the terrorist list because the party’s ties to increasingly active guerrilla dissident groups are “unclear”:

The FARC remains a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, the Colombian government classifies FARC dissidents as criminals. While the ideological motivations of such groups and ongoing connections with demobilized FARC are unclear, we have included acts of violence by FARC dissidents in this report.

Although the UN verification mission and other observers fault both the Colombian government and the FARC for the slow pace of ex-guerrillas’ reintegration programs, the State Department report places all the blame on the FARC. It essentially faults the ex-guerrillas for insisting on collective reintegration, instead of accepting the government’s standard individual reintegration offer:

The Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN), formerly the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR), is the implementing arm of this process. Delays in implementing the program, caused by the refusal of FARC leadership to permit members to actively and effectively participate, increased the prospects that some ex-combatants would return to engaging in criminal activities.

Asked by a reporter why the FARC party remains on the list, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales offered no specifics.

I’m not going to be in a position to comment on any internal deliberations that may or may not be taking place. What I can tell you is that the statutory standards for getting on the FTO list or getting off the FTO list are very clear, and it – we apply the standards that Congress has given us consistent with the evidence in front of us, and we do that regardless of the organization or country.

Interviewed by El Tiempo, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker insisted that Washington would push for the extradition of any wanted FARC members believed to have committed crimes after the peace accord’s December 2016 ratification. “Any effort, by any actor or institution, to limit extradition, affects U.S. interests.”

Whitaker criticized a Constitutional Court finding that appears to give the transitional justice system (JEP) the power to review evidence against those wanted in extradition for alleged post-accord crimes, like FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich. The way extradition works, he said, is that the requesting country evaluates the evidence.

The Ambassador also rejected the idea that wanted individuals should first remain in Colombia to provide victims with truth and reparations. “I don’t accept the mistaken idea that if there is extradition, then there can be no truth. In the case of the paramilitaries extradited a decade ago, we have set up 3,000 hearings, including victims, prosecutors, magistrates, etcetera. There has been every opportunity to clarify the truth. So both can be done.”

President Duque Meets UN Mission Chief

Jean Arnault, the chief of the UN verification mission that just had its mandate extended for another year, met with President Iván Duque. Arnault’s mission is overseeing the reintegration and security of FARC ex-combatants, which have moved forward but faced setbacks and obstacles over the past year.

Appearing publicly with the President, Arnault said, “I encourage you to continue with a difficult process, full of obstacles and still very fragile. We encourage you to continue not only for the sake of Colombia, but also for the sake of the international community.” Duque said that the government remains committed to “the people who have genuinely bet it all on demobilization, disarmament, reintegration and non-repetition, can make a transition to coexistence and a life of legality.”

Arnault said that Duque’s six-week-old government was in the midst of a “useful reflection” about its ex-combatant reincorporation policy. Duque and Arnault agreed that finding productive projects for ex-combatants was a priority. These projects, Duque said, “had to incorporate more than 10,000 people in the process, but today do not exceed 100 people.” The President and the mission chief agreed that future reintegration projects should benefit entire communities, not just the ex-guerrillas.

In response to a written request from FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño, Duque’s government named its representatives to the Commission of Follow-up, Impulse and Verification (CSIVI), the government-FARC mechanism meant to oversee implementation of the peace accord. They are Emilio José Archila, the High Counselor for the Post-Conflict; High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos; and Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez.

Meanwhile, one of the highest-profile demobilized guerrilla leaders, Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez—the guerrillas’ lead negotiator during the Havana peace process—remains missing. FARC leaders insist that Márquez has not abandoned the peace process, that he has “clandestinized” himself out of concern for his security.

Márquez is free to roam the country pending his eventual transitional-justice trial for war crimes. But he now faces calls to clarify his situation.

  • The Congressional Peace Committee, which recently traveled to the demobilization site in Caquetá that Márquez abandoned in June or July, published a letter calling on him to “unequivocally reiterate your commitment to this process very soon.”
  • During the week of September 9, the transitional-justice system (JEP) called on Márquez and 30 other former FARC commanders to submit a written statement that each remains committed to the process and intends to comply with the peace accord. The JEP demanded a response within ten business days. Márquez’s lawyer may have bought some additional time by submitting an official information request to the JEP about its demand.

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Coca, ELN Peace Talks, Extradition, Illicit Crop Eradication, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy, Weekly update

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of September 9-15

September 21, 2018

ELN Talks Remain Suspended

In his August 7 inaugural speech, President Iván Duque said that he would take 30 days to decide whether to continue peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. That period has expired, and Duque did not end the talks—but he has suspended them pending the ELN’s renunciation of kidnapping and release of all captives.

ELN fighters freed nine captives over two releases in September. On the 7th, guerrillas in Arauca released three soldiers whom they had taken on August 8. On September 11 in Chocó, they released three policemen, a soldier, and two civilians taken on August 3 from a boat on an Atrato River tributary. The Duque government did not negotiate these releases’ protocols; the ELN performed them unilaterally in coordination with the Catholic Church, the government’s independent Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría), and the International Committee of the Red Cross. “This did not imply any negotiation with the national government,” insisted the Duque government’s peace commissioner, Miguel Ceballos.

While Ceballos and President Duque recognized this gesture, they said there is more to do: they count 10 more individuals who remain in ELN custody. “There were 20 on the list,” Ceballos said, “later there was one liberation in Arauca, and later three more. If we take away the three in Chocó, 10 remain.” Of the ten, one has been a hostage since April 2002; two were taken in 2011, and one in 2012. The ELN has offered no responses about these captives, if they are even still alive.

“The door is not necessarily closed” to peace talks with the ELN, Ceballos told El Tiempo. But Duque’s demands for changed ELN behavior, including a cessation of kidnapping and all other hostilities, may be more than what some ELN commanders might agree to. “I want to be clear,” President Duque said this week. “If we want to build a peace with this organized armed group, they must start with the clearest show of goodwill, which is the suspension of all criminal activities.”

Still, Ceballos told El Espectador the ELN may be flexible. “I think the ELN is understanding things, because if not, this process of liberation of kidnapped people would not have begun. I believe that in these 30 days a space of understanding has been achieved beyond the need for the formal structure of a [negotiating] table. These have been 30 days in which no armed actions have been presented. There’s a dynamic here.”

The Peace Commissioner added that, should talks re-start, the Duque government may seek to alter the negotiating agenda agreed with the Santos government, which has been criticized for imprecise language that has made it difficult to implement. “President Duque said it in a very clear way in Amagá (Antioquia), last Saturday,” he said. “Any future scenario would need a credible agenda and specific timeframes; that necessarily implies the consideration of adjustments.”

Gen. Montoya, Former Army Chief, Appears Before the JEP

Gen. Mario Montoya, who headed Colombia’s army from 2006 to 2008, appeared before the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord. The retired general denied any guilt for human rights crimes. Montoya is the highest-ranking officer to appear before the JEP so far, though another retired general, Henry Torres Escalante, has already appeared in relation to a case of extrajudicial executions.

Montoya resigned in November 2008, amid revelations that members of the Army had killed thousands of civilians, then presented them falsely as combat kills in a criminal effort to boost body counts and earn rewards for battlefield performance. Montoya allegedly pressured subordinates to rack up body counts and produce “rivers of blood” in counter-guerrilla operations, thus creating an environment that rewarded extrajudicial executions, making him emblematic of what Colombians call the “false positives” scandal.

Montoya decided in July to submit to the JEP rather than the regular criminal justice system, where some cases against him had been stalled since 2016. The highly decorated, U.S.-trained general denies any wrongdoing, lawbreaking, or knowledge of his subordinates’ criminal behavior. Though most defendants enter the JEP to confess crimes in return for reduced non-prison sentences, Montoya intends to challenge any charges against him. Should the JEP find him guilty anyway, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in regular prison.

During his initial hearing in the JEP’s Definition of Legal Situations Chamber, Montoya and his lawyers heard a listing of accusations and investigations against him that had been filed in the regular justice system. Cases included a few dozen “false positives” victims, as well as the “Operation Orion” military offensive in Medellín’s western slums, in October 2002 when Montoya headed the local army brigade, which killed several civilians and benefited from open support of paramilitary groups. Relatives of “false positives” victims attended the hearing.

Montoya’s defense lawyer argued that the general cannot be held responsible for the “false positive” crimes committed when he headed the Army, since the murders took place in units several levels below his command. In the end, Montoya’s hearing had a disappointing outcome: as defense lawyers challenged the standing of some of the victims involved, Magistrate Pedro Díaz suspended the session and put it off for a later date.

FARC Party Holds Conference Marked By No-Shows

News coverage took stock of a “National Council of the Commons,” a meeting of the new FARC political party’s leadership, in Bogotá the week earlier. The “Council” sought to bring together 111 delegates whom the ex-guerrilla membership had elected a year ago, to make decisions about the party’s future.

In the end, 29 of the 111 did not appear. Five have resigned their posts. Seven offered excuses for being unable to attend. Another 17, though, gave no reason for their absence. That number includes:

  • Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks. Márquez left Bogotá and abandoned the Senate seat that awaited him in April 2018, after the arrest of Jesús Santrich, a close Márquez associate and fellow negotiator. Santrich is wanted in extradition by a U.S. federal court in New York on charges of conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. Until June or July, Márquez—a hardliner on the FARC’s left flank who was the top vote-getter when the membership chose delegates last year—abandoned the demobilization site where he had been staying in the southern department of Caquetá. He blamed nearby “military operations” and concerns for his security. His whereabouts are now unknown. It is not clear at the moment whether he intends to continue participating in the peace process.
  • Hernán Darío Velásquez alias El Paisa, the former head of the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero mobile column, disappeared around the same time as Márquez; he was managing the Caquetá demobilization site where Márquez had been staying.
  • Henry Castellanos alias Romaña, who led FARC units that kidnapped hundreds in a region just south of Bogotá, had been managing a demobilization site in Nariño but has also gone clandestine.
  • Fabián Ramírez, a former top leader of the FARC’s Southern Bloc.
  • Zarco Aldinever” and “Enrique Marulanda,” who managed the demobilization site in Mesetas, Meta.
  • Iván Alí,” who ran a site in Guaviare. (Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos said that he met with “Alí” days before his disappearance, and that the FARC leader had told him “he was going to [the remote eastern department of] Vichada and that communication would be difficult.”)
  • Albeiro Córdoba,” who ran another site in Guaviare.
  • Manuel Político,” who ran a site in Putumayo.

Most of the missing 17, points out La Silla Vacía, come from the former guerrilla group’s Eastern and Southern blocs, where were its strongest militarily at the time the peace accord was signed.

Most members of the Colombian Congress’s Peace Committee visited Caquetá September 10 to seek information about the missing leaders. Sen. Iván Cepeda, a close supporter of the FARC peace process, said that people “very close” to Márquez and “El Paisa” told them that the two men remain committed to the peace process, and in fact are still in Caquetá. Both, however, fear being extradited capriciously, Cepeda said, adding that both had heard spurious rumors about pending arrest warrants. The Colombian government, Cepeda said, needs to find a way to keep “extradition from becoming a sort of detonator for the end of the peace process.”

Some of the missing leaders sent messages insisting that they remain in the peace process. A letter from “Romaña” appeared in which he reiterated his will to honor his demobilization commitments. Fabián Ramírez also sent a letter affirming his continued participation, though he expressed deep mistrust as a result of Santrich’s arrest. Ramírez said that, along with 100 other ex-guerrillas, he was seeking to set up a new, safer demobilization space with the goal of preventing their defection to dissident groups.

The disappearances are a sign of deepening internal divisions within the FARC. These were laid bare in a strongly worded letter from former Southern Bloc leader Joaquín Gómez and high-ranking ex-commander Bertulfo Álvarez. It accuses maximum leader Timoleón Jiménez and other Bogotá-based FARC bosses—most of whom have turned out to be political moderates—of “spiteful and vengeful lack of leadership.” The letter accused Jiménez of “dedicating himself to defending the bourgeois order with surprising and unexpected zeal.” The letter’s authors, who run the demobilization site in La Guajira, cited health reasons for their absence from the Bogotá meeting.

FARC Senator Victoria Sandino blamed security concerns for many of the no-shows, and denied that the FARC is dividing.

“No, there is a debate. Many people make criticisms within the party, but none will make criticisms like ‘oh no, let’s go back to guns, let’s create another party.’ No. There are internal political debates, but those debates aren’t about separating. There are some comrades who are critical of [accord] implementation, but I guarantee that in these debates none, absolutely nobody, has expressed the idea that the way out of here is to return to arms. No one.”

In the end, the FARC “Council of the Commons” agreed to set up an executive committee to prepare for October 2019 local elections, with regional representatives including Joaquín Gómez. They decided that going clandestine for security concerns was acceptable behavior, but established procedures to kick out renegade members.

U.S. Officials Visit, Speculation Over a Return to Coca Fumigation Increases

On September 11 the White House issued an annual memo to the State Department identifying major illicit drug producing and transit countries, and highlighting which of these are “decertified”—subject to aid cuts and other penalties—for failing to cooperate with U.S. counter-drug strategies. As in past years, Venezuela and Bolivia were decertified.

Last years’s memo included controversial language stating that President Trump “seriously considered” adding Colombia to the decertified blacklist because of sharply increased coca and cocaine production. This year’s document did not repeat that threat, but called out Colombia, Mexico, and Afghanistan for “falling behind in the fight to eradicate illicit crops and reduce drug production and trafficking.” The U.S. government estimated that Colombia’s coca crop increased 11 percent in 2017, to a record 209,000 hectares.

The certification memo’s release coincided with a visit to Bogota from the deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, James Carroll, and the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz. According to El Tiempo, in a meeting that lasted over an hour, the two officials told President Duque that, under normal circumstances, the White House would have decertified Colombia:

“During the meeting the White House’s envoys told Duque that the amount of coca planted in Colombia, more than 200,000 hectares, was enough for the country to be decertified.

“However, they clarified that they understand that this is an ‘inherited’ problem [for the recently inaugurated president], which comes from previous years. In that sense, they expressed the Washington government’s confidence in the policies that Colombia is going to implement to eradicate crops and counteract the cartels who carry the drug to their nation.”

Duque told the U.S. officials he plans to respond with a mix of strategies, referring to “a principle of integrality” (comprehensiveness), rather than putting all focus on forced coca eradication. That mix, however, may include a return to eradication through aircraft-based spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, reviving a U.S.-backed program that Colombia carried out on a massive scale between 1994 and 2015. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended aircraft-based spraying in 2015 after some studies pointed to a possible link between glyphosate and cancer; officials also argued that spraying had proved to be ineffective.

Duque, however, may bring it back. “Fumigation can happen if some protocols are complied with,” he said. “In the comprehensive policy that we want in the fight against illicit crops, these protocols should be reflected in such a way that any action is upheld by the Court’s guidelines.”

The president refers here to 2015 and 2017 decisions by Colombia’s Constitution Court, its highest judicial review authority, which placed significant restrictions on coca eradication via aerial glyphosate spraying. Any future fumigation must avoid nature reserves, indigenous reservations, and campesino reserve zones—sites that host a significant portion of current cultivation. Spraying can only proceed after an “objective and conclusive” scientific study showing a lack of health and environmental damage. Colombia’s National Drug Council (CNE), a decision-making body incorporating several ministries and agencies, must agree on a set of regulations to govern future spraying, in a process that includes ethnic communities’ participation, and these regulations must be passed as a law. An ethnic representative must be added to the CNE. Colombia must undergo prior consultation with ethnic communities in areas where it plans to spray, although the Court allows spraying in the absence of consent if the CNE issues a finding.

Duque’s government includes some aggressively enthusiastic backers of renewed glyphosate fumigation. “I don’t see any alternative to using herbicides,” Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said in August. “You have to use it because the world is not going to accept us swimming in coca. …Glyphosate is used in Colombia since time immemorial.” Added Francisco Santos, the new ambassador to the United States: “Fumigation is essential. The Constitutional Court must understand that it must return, because we are facing a social, economic and national security emergency. It has to come back, understanding the restrictions.”

Dissident Leader “David” Killed in Nariño

The Defense Ministry announced that a military-police operation killed Víctor David Segura Palacios, alias “David,” the chief of one of the two main FARC dissident groups operating in Nariño, Colombia’s largest coca and cocaine-producing department. Soldiers arrived at 2:00AM on September 8 at a house where “David” was staying; he and his sister, who allegedly handled his group’s finances, were killed in an ensuing shootout.

A former member of the FARC’s Nariño-based Daniel Aldana mobile column, David refused to demobilize, along with his brother Yeison Segura, alias “Don Y.” The dissident group they formed, the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific” (GUP), recruited former FARC militias along Nariño’s coast and took over cocaine trafficking routes. After “Don Y” was killed in a November 2016 firefight with former FARC comrades, “David” assumed command.

Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told reporters that the GUP had grown to control 4 percent of Colombia’s cocaine exports. The Nariño governor’s office said that the group has control or influence in at least 10 of the department’s 64 municipalities (counties).

For the past year, David had been the main rival of Walter Artízala alias “Guacho,” leader of the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS), a Nariño-based FARC dissident structure that gained region-wide notoriety after it kidnapped and killed three Ecuadorian journalists in early 2018. David blamed Guacho for his brother’s death, and the two groups had been battling for control of cocaine routes, and of urban neighborhoods in Tumaco, all year.

“According to various reports,” notes InsightCrime, the rival GUP and FOS are both “associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations, who will have an interest in maintaining the steady passage of cocaine out of the country.” La Silla Vacía reports that, “According to the Police, during recent months David already had contacts with the [Mexican] Jalisco New Generation cartel (while Guacho, according to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, is one of the links of the Sinaloa cartel), and had an Interpol Blue Notice.”

David’s death is the largest battlefield result against guerrilla dissidents or organized crime so far in President Iván Duque’s 6-week-old government, but it is unlikely to reduce violence in Nariño. Citing sources in Colombia’s Navy and the Tumaco ombudsman’s office, La Silla counts 12 other major armed or criminal groups active in “post-conflict” Nariño besides the GUP, “like Guacho’s dissident group, the Gulf Clan [paramilitary successor group], the ELN which has tried to enter the south of Nariño, and other groups of lesser national impact like La Oficina [paramilitary successor], La Gente del Orden [ex-FARC militias], Los de Sábalo, and, more recently, the so-called ‘Stiven González’ front.”

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Drug Policy, ELN Peace Talks, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy, Weekly update

Last week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of August 26-September 1

September 16, 2018

(As program staff were traveling in Colombia during the week of September 2-8, there will be no update for that week.)

Peace Commissioner Lays Out Four “Adjustments” to FARC Accord

In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, President Iván Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four modifications that Duque’s government will seek to make to the FARC peace accord. As WOLA noted on its Colombia Peace site, the four proposals “either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty.”

The modifications the Duque government will pursue are:

  1. In future peace processes, kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance insurgents’ war effort may no longer be amnestied.
  2. Those who continue to commit crimes after the peace accord lose their right to amnesty for past political crimes, reduced sentences for past war crimes, or protection from extradition to other countries.
  3. Those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity cannot hold political office.
  4. While the Duque government will respect commitments to coca-growers who signed crop-substitution agreements, eradication will be mandatory from now on.

These adjustments, an analysis in La Silla Vacía contends, “are more symbolic than real.” Indeed, they may change little about the FARC process.

The first change, eliminating drug trafficking without personal gain as an amnesty-able “political” crime, cannot be done retroactively, so it will not impact demobilized FARC members. If implemented, however, it could be a stumbling block for a future accord with the ELN. And the FARC accord already doesn’t amnesty kidnapping: those who held civilians captive must make full confessions to the accords’ transitional justice system (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP), make reparations to victims, and serve reduced sentences of “restricted liberty.”

The second change simply repeats the existing terms of the peace accord. Any demobilized combatant guilty of committing crimes in the post-accord period already loses his or her benefits. “This doesn’t touch the accord even minimally,” La Silla Vacía notes.

If Duque gets enough votes in Congress to restrict ex-guerrilla war criminals from holding office—which is far from guaranteed and would involve a bitter fight—it could cause some former FARC leaders to abandon the process. The guerrillas’ leadership commanded a war effort that, over the course of decades, involved numerous crimes against humanity. Despite this, they demobilized with the expectation of practicing peaceful politics while paying the agreed-upon penalties. If their ability to serve as legislators or local officials is barred, some may drop out.

The decision to stop signing up coca-cultivating families for voluntary eradication is unfortunate, as many municipalities where the program hasn’t started up yet may be subjected to an “all stick and no carrot” approach of eradication without assistance, which has failed in the past. WOLA’s earlier post argues, “If by ‘mandatory eradication’ Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, then as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.”

Duque Meets With All Parties, Including FARC, To Discuss Anti-Corruption Measures

On August 26 Colombians voted in a referendum on seven anti-corruption measures, the result of an initiative launched by citizen groups and the opposition Green Party. It came closer to passing than any analysts predicted: 11.7 million Colombian voters participated, less than half a million fewer than the one-third voter participation threshold the measure needed to make it binding. Though it failed, the “Anti-Corruption Consultation” got about 3 million more votes than Iván Duque received in the June presidential elections.

President Duque showed up early on the 26th to cast a vote, marking distance from his political party’s de facto leader, Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, who had taken to social media to attack the initiative.

Going still further, Duque held a meeting in the presidential palace the evening of the 29th with the Consultation’s organizers and the leaderships of all political parties represented in the Congress. Most notably, “all political parties” included the FARC, which as a result of the peace accord holds an automatic five seats in the Senate and five in the House until 2026. The meeting was only the second time that FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño had ever been inside the Nariño Palace, and the first time for most other FARC legislators. Semana magazine described the scene:

When he arrived, they greeted him and a “welcome to Democracy” was heard. There was an ex-president, César Gaviria, congressmen from all political parties, including Gustavo Petro, the only senator who has no party. The promoters of the anti-corruption consultation. Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, Internal Affairs Chief [Procurador] Fernando Carrillo, and outgoing Comptroller-General Edgardo Maya Villazón were already seated.

President Duque congratulated Timochenko for having laid down his arms. The president of the FARC party thanked him for taking them into account and opening the doors to reconciliation. The atmosphere was cordial, although when Timo spoke, some congressmen from the Democratic Center [Uribe and Duque’s party] preferred to listen to him with their heads down.

FARC Conference Marked By No-Shows

At the end of the week, the FARC was to hold its first party-wide meeting in a year, its “National Council of the Commons” gathering 111 members of its political directorate. It did so amid speculation over whether all leaders of the increasingly divided group would actually attend.

They did not. The two most prominent missing leaders were Iván Márquez and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa.” None of the guerrilla leaders in attendance, in fact, could say with certainty where either of them are currently located. Márquez, the guerrillas’ chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, a hardliner who represents the party’s radical wing, was the number-one vote-getter when the party chose its 111 leaders. Montero had headed the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column, a unit that carried out some of its most spectacular attacks on civilian targets during the conflict.

Márquez left Bogotá and abandoned his automatic Senate seat in April, when his close associate, FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, was arrested pending extradition after a U.S. grand jury charged him with conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. He retreated to a FARC demobilization site in Caquetá, south-central Colombia, where Montero was already located. Sometime in June or July, both Márquez and Montero abandoned that site and have since been incomunicado.

FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada told La Silla Vacía that the party’s leadership has tried and failed to locate Márquez, even after sending Senator Pablo Catatumbo to Caquetá. Both Márquez and Montero are awaiting war-crimes trials before the JEP; under the terms of the peace accord, neither may leave Colombia without permission. If it is revealed that they have crossed a border—into Venezuela, for instance—they could lose their benefits under the peace accord.

The situation reveals growing divisions within the FARC party. The main split appears be between the leadership in Bogotá and the rank-and-file, most of which remains in the countryside, at the former demobilization sites and dozens of unofficial gathering points around the country. The Bogotá contingent, represented most visibly by the ex-guerrillas’ ten legislators, who appear to be following a more moderate political line than the middle and lower ranks. The latter are angry about the slow pace of peace accord implementation, worried about facing the same fate as Jesús Santrich, concerned about the election of a president who opposed the accord, and feeling unrepresented by top leadership. Some are contemplating following the path of Iván Márquez and “El Paisa.”

La Silla Vacía reported an illustrative example:

A week ago, La Silla spoke with Iván Merchán, a mid-level commander from La Macarena and a member of the political leadership, who told us that his plan was to disappear.

“It’s not about joining the ‘dissidences,’ like everyone says. It’s about going to a small town, where one has friends, where there are no signs or ways to be located. So one is calmer and less afraid of falling victim to a setup like Santrich,” he told us.

When we tried to communicate with Merchán again for this story, he no longer received calls or messages. According to him, other middle managers in Meta department had already “clandestinized,” as he told us to refer to what Márquez did.

“They (the ex-combatants) feel that those in the FARC Secretariat are happy wearing a tie in Congress, while they continue to have a bad time due to money and security,” a source in Santander told La Silla.

Spain Offers To Accompany ELN Peace Talks

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, paid a visit to Colombia as part of a tour of the region. Meeting with President Duque, Sánchez offered Spain’s assistance to push forward the flagging peace talks with the ELN guerrillas. “Anything Colombia needs from Spain to consolidate and advance peace we will say yes to. We will be with our Colombian brothers so that this will be a reality sooner rather than later,” said Sánchez, a member of Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party.

President Duque, who announced at his August 7 inauguration that he was taking 30 days to review whether to continue the ELN talks, was circumspect. Duque is demanding that the 2,000-member guerrilla group cease all hostilities, including kidnapping and extortion, as a pre-condition for resuming talks that began officially in February 2017. “If there’s a suspension of criminal activities, a will for peace, we very much welcome the offer that has been made by our good friend President Pedro Sánchez,” the President said at a joint press conference with Sánchez.

Interviewed by El Tiempo, Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos reiterated the demand that the ELN state clearly that it will respect humanitarian standards and cease kidnapping, “which would be excellent news for Colombians and would facilitate the [peace] table’s continuity.” Ceballos said that he had opened up a confidential line of communication with chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán, who is in Havana, but “unfortunately, this confidentiality wasn’t maintained, as several ELN spokespeople have made public my telephone contracts with Beltrán.”

JEP Takes on a “False Positive” Case

The transitional justice system (JEP) called 11 members of Colombia’s army to appear for the so-called “false positive” killings of 13 people in Casanare department in 2006 and 2007. The term “false positive” refers to soldiers’ grim practice of killing civilians and then presenting the bodies, falsely, as those of armed-group members killed in combat, in order to reap rewards for battlefield results. At least 3,000 Colombians may have fallen victim to such killings at the hands of the military between 2002 and 2008.

Major Gustavo Soto Bracamonte, former head of the Army’s GAULA anti-kidnapping unit in Casanare, appeared before the JEP’s Definition of Legal Situations Chamber, the first step for a case in the new system, with ten former subordinates, to answer for the killings they allegedly committed and falsified. All said they are prepared to contribute to clarifying the truth of what happened and to make reparations to their victims. In a dramatic moment, María Isabel Riascos, the mother of victim Darwin Esnin Riascos, demanded to know why the soldiers killed her son.

To date, 1,944 current and former security-force members have requested to have their human rights cases tried in the JEP. Of those, about 90 percent are false-positive cases. The inclusion of “false positive” cases in the transitional-justice system—where perpetrators can receive vastly reduced sentences—remains controversial. Some human rights organizations contend that they were criminal activities—murders for rewards—that had no relationship to the conflict. For now, the killings’ entry into the JEP is being determined on a case-by-case basis under unclear criteria.

The same is true for civilian officials who participated in human rights crimes by aiding paramilitary groups. In April, the JEP had refused to take the cases of Álvaro Ashton and David Char, two former congressmen from the Caribbean coast who had been convicted in the “para-politics” scandal for aiding and abetting paramilitary groups. The Definition of Legal Situations Chamber determined that the former legislators had aided the paramilitaries for political gain, making their crime irrelevant to the armed conflict. Ashton and Char appealed their case, and the JEP’s Appeals Section overturned the earlier decision, making them the first “para-politicians” to enter the transitional justice system.

Military Presents Report to Truth Commission

On August 27 Colombia’s armed forces presented a 50-volume, 18,380-page document to the new Truth Commission, detailing international humanitarian law and human rights violations committed by the FARC over the course of the conflict. Armed Forces commander Gen. Alberto Mejía said that the volumes resulted from an “inter-disciplinary study” involving the Prosecutor-General’s Office and intelligence services. “This isn’t meant to be a smokescreen, it doesn’t seek to hide the errors committed by soldiers in this war,” he added.

Father Francisco de Roux, the president of the Truth Commission, thanked the armed forces. “When you come to us with 50 volumes, this places in evidence what the FARC war was; this shows the meaning of the peace process.”

Asked about the report, FARC Senator Julian Gallo alias Carlos Antonio Lozada said:

We appreciate that all bodies want to contribute to the truth, and we invite not only the Armed Forces, but also businessmen, political parties, the church, the entire Colombian society to go to these bodies and contribute their version of what they consider conflict to have been, so that Colombia might have a complete version of what happened in the conflict and not just a biased version like the one that was told during the confrontation.

Gen. Mejía added a troubling bit of news: the new Duque government is “reviewing” the agreement that the prior administration of Juan Manuel Santos had signed with the Truth Commission regarding the handover of classified information in military policy and manuals. This, along with legislation introduced by members of Duque’s party in Congress, may throw up obstacles to the Truth Commission’s ability to access information in the military’s files that, unlike this week’s 50-volume submission, portrays the armed forces’ behavior in a less flattering light.

In-Depth Reading

Tags: ELN Peace Talks, Transitional Justice, Weekly update

Last week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of August 19-25

August 29, 2018

(Week of August 19-25)

ELN Still Hasn’t Released Captives and Hostages

The ELN’s release of four soldiers, three police, and two civilians in its custody, believed imminent, still hasn’t happened yet. Guerrilla fronts in Chocó and Arauca captured the nine on August 3rd and 8th, and President Iván Duque (who was inaugurated August 7th) has demanded their unconditional release before deciding whether to continue peace talks begun by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos.

A week ago, Colombia’s Defense Ministry stated that it had agreed with the ELN on a protocol for freeing the captives, with the participation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In Havana, chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán told The New York Times that “the nine captives would be released ‘within the next week.’ But two days later, a recording from the ELN’s Western War Front, its hard-line bloc, which has released pictures of some of the hostages, said no agreement had been reached.”

The situation remains unclear. The Defense Ministry has refused to recognize the liberation as part of the peace negotiation, which the Duque government still hasn’t committed to continuing. The ELN has meanwhile reportedly sent members of its negotiating team to Colombia to work out handover details, but it is not known whether they have yet been in touch with the government.

“Uriel,” the commander of the ELN’s Western War Front, “complained about military pressure in the zone,” according to El Tiempo, which in his judgment is reducing the kidnap victims’ [security] guarantees.”

Interviewed by The New York Times, negotiator Beltrán insisted that the ELN wants to continue dialogue with the new Duque government, and promised reasonable terms. “‘We’re not asking for socialism, he said, adding that his rebels are mainly looking for basic protections for peasants and a way that the rebels can lay down arms.” Beltrán noted that guerrillas he has spoken with, after viewing the sluggish implementation of the FARC peace accord, are concerned that the government won’t honor an agreement. “We have an example that has us scared,” he told the Times, referring to the FARC process.

Murders of Social Leaders Are Not Slowing

On August 23 President Duque, accompanied by the internal-affairs chief (Procurador), human rights ombudsman (Defensor), the U.S. ambassador, the ministers of Defense and Interior, and other officials, presided over an event to lay out a policy for protecting threatened social leaders and human rights defenders. The “Second Table for the Protection of Life” took place in Apartadó, in the troubled Urabá region of northwest Colombia, a zone of drug transshipment, much stolen landholding, and frequent attacks on social leaders. About 90 social organizations were in attendance.

Those present signed a “pact for life and protection of social leaders and human rights defenders,” which El Nuevo Siglo described as “an immediate roadmap to ‘rebuild trust in justice and to judge the material and intellectual authors of this criminal phenomenon.’”

The phenomenon remains intense. Ombudsman Carlos Negret announced that the August 22 murder of Luis Henry Verá Gamboa, a 51-year-old Community Action Board leader in Cesar department, was the 343rd killing of a social leader in Colombia since January 2016: one every 2.8 days. At least 123 killings—two every three days—took place during the first six months of 2018, The Guardian reported.

Deputy Chief Prosecutor (Vicefiscal) María Paulina Riveros, who attended the Apartadó event, said that her office has arrested 150 people and identified 200 suspects tied to the killings of social leaders; she did not say how many are suspected trigger-pullers versus those believed to have planned or ordered killings. In Urabá and northern Antioquia department, she added, businesses and landowners who resist restitution of stolen landholdings are heavily involved in killings of land claimants.

Procurador Fernando Carrillo said that his office will pressure mayors and governors to take more actions against killings of human rights defenders, adding that 30 officials are currently under investigation for failing to prevent the murders.

“If we want to guarantee the life and integrity of our social leaders, we have to dismantle the structures of organized crime that are attacking them,” Duque said. He added, “What we want is to seek an integral response of preventive actions and investigative speed to guarantee freedom of expression to all the people who are exercising the defense of human rights.”

Some social leaders, while glad to see a high-profile commitment, voiced concern about follow-through. “It’s not enough to draw up a lot of norms and mechanisms, if they don’t end up being effective instruments in their application, if they’re handed down from above but get lost on their way to the regions,” said Marino Córdoba of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians.

New Peace Commissioner Meets Senior FARC Leader

The Duque government’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, toured some of the sites (“Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation”) where many demobilized FARC members are still living. Accompanied by UN Verification Mission chief Jean Arnault at the site in Pondores, La Guajira, Ceballos met with former FARC Secretariat member Joaquín Gómez of the former Southern Bloc. Ceballos’s message was that the new government intends to respect the Santos government’s commitments for the reintegration of demobilized guerrillas.

Two of the most prominent demobilized FARC leaders, however, are still unaccounted for. Former Secretariat member Iván Márquez, a hardliner who was the FARC’s chief negotiator in Havana, has not been heard from in about a month. The same is true of Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias El Paisa, the former head of the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column. Both Márquez and Velásquez had been staying at a demobilization site in Caquetá; Márquez moved there in April, after renouncing his assigned Senate seat in the wake of the arrest, on narcotrafficking charges, of his close associate and fellow FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich.

FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada told Colombian media that he doesn’t know where Márquez and Velásquez are and hasn’t heard from them. He said he hoped to see Márquez at a late August meeting of FARC political party leaders. Ariel Ávila, an analyst at the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, told El Colombiano, “there are many rumors about what they could be doing, that they’re in Venezuela, that they’re in hiding, that they’ve joined the dissident groups.”

FARC Dissidents Expanding in Catatumbo Region

Catatumbo, a poorly governed region of smallholding farmers in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border, has already been suffering a wave of violence between the ELN and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small guerrilla group that is almost exclusively active there. Now, reports La Silla Vacía, the largest FARC dissident group has arrived in Catatumbo, especially in areas that had previously been the dominion of the FARC’s disbanded 33rd Front.

Basing itself mainly on military intelligence sources, La Silla claims that dissidents from the FARC’s 7th Front, active in south-central Colombia, are branching out. 7th Front leader “Gentil Duarte” has sent one of his most notorious deputies, “John 40”—a FARC leader with a long history in the cocaine trade—to Catatumbo to build up recruitment and recover control of trafficking routes.

According to Army Intelligence information, his appearance in the area occurred between four and five months ago, when it was already known in the region that several ex-FARC members had decided to return to arms, and those who were not organizing on their own in small groups were dividing themselves between the ranks of the ELN and the EPL. What is clear is that John 40 came to organize them to prevent the new reorganizations from being dispersed or ending up simply strengthening the other two guerrilla groups, at a time when the coca market in Catatumbo is skyrocketing.

Wilfredo Cañizares of the Fundación Progresar think-tank in nearby Cúcuta told La Silla that Catatumbo may now have as many as 30,000 hectares of coca, at least 6,000 more than were measured in 2016.

Duarte and John 40 both abandoned the FARC in 2016, objecting to the peace accord the guerrillas were signing with the government. They are now part of the largest dissident group in the country, beginning to coordinate well beyond their center of operations in Meta and Guaviare departments. While La Silla’s military intelligence source said that the group has only about 33 men in the Catatumbo region, “seven sources we talked to in Catatumbo, among them local authorities and social leaders, said that the number could be between four and seven times larger.”

The 7th Front has avoided drawing attention to itself in Catatumbo, even as ELN-EPL fighting has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region. However, some of La Silla’s sources say the dissidents may have been behind a massacre three weeks ago in the central Catatumbo municipality of El Tarra.

Two sources in El Tarra told us that with the passing of days, the hypothesis that has grown strongest is that it was a dispute between dissidences. “Everything points to the dissidence of John 40 being the one that ordered the massacre, because the dissidents who died did not want to align with him and the model he came to put together,” one of those sources told La Silla.

Citing a human rights defender, an Army source, a social leader, and two local authorities, the report adds that the presence in Catatumbo of middlemen from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel is adding fuel to the fire. Three sources told La Silla Vacía that, while Sinaloa’s representatives aren’t behaving like an armed group in the region, they have a great deal of money, and as a result are under the protection of both guerrillas and corrupt members of the Army and Police.

Displacement Has Already Surpassed 2017 Levels

Speaking at a Cali event organized by El Espectador’s Colombia 2020 program, Jozef Merkx, the Colombia country representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, drew attention with a grim piece of data: “in August 2018 Colombia has surpassed the number of internally displaced people that was measured in all of 2017.” That makes more than 20,000 Colombians forced from their homes by violence so far this year.

Merkx added that displacement is most severe along the Pacific Coast, in Catatumbo, and in Antioquia’s Bajo Cauca region. Mass displacements have also occurred in Meta, Arauca, and Córdoba departments. All of these zones have seen intense fighting this year between still-existing guerrillas like the ELN and EPL, armed organized crime groups like the Urabeños, or FARC dissidents.

The UNHCR official noted that 60 percent of the displaced have settled in 29 cities, where they often continue face severe security challenges. The same neighborhoods are also seeing a large flow of Venezuelans, a migration emergency that is much larger in number and has been getting much more attention. A UN Secretary-General spokesman said in mid-August that 2.3 million Venezuelans—7 percent of the neighboring country’s population—had abandoned the country as of June. Of those, 1.3 million were “suffering from malnourishment.”

WSJ Report Reveals New Details About Drone Coca Eradication Plan

An August 19 Wall Street Journal report gave some new information about Colombia’s plan to start eradicating the country’s still-increasing coca crop by spraying herbicides from low-flying drones. The herbicide would continue to be glyphosate, which Colombia stopped spraying from higher-flying aircraft in 2015, after a World Health Organization study pointed to some probability that the commonly used herbicide is carcinogenic.

Colombian police, along with a company called Fumi Drone, have been testing the new method using 10 drones in Nariño, the department with Colombia’s highest concentration of coca. Fully loaded with herbicide, each drone weighs 50 pounds and must be recharged after about a dozen minutes. “The small, remotely guided aircraft destroyed hundreds of acres of coca in a first round of tests,” police and Fumi Drone told the Journal.

The United States backed an aircraft-based glyphosate spraying program for more than 20 years. It proved capable of achieving short-term reductions in coca cultivation, in specific areas—but in an on-the-ground context of absent government and no basic services, growers tended to replant quickly. Because spraying from dozens or hundreds of feet in the air is very imprecise, farmers also alleged health and environmental damage—which U.S. officials denied—and the destruction of legal food crops.

Since 2015, Colombia’s forcible coca eradication has mainly involved individual eradicators either pulling the plants out of the ground or directly applying glyphosate. This is dangerous work, and hundreds of eradicators or security-force accompaniers have been killed or wounded since the mid-2000s by ambushes, snipers, landmines, and booby traps.

Critics warn that, while drones are safer for eradicators and less likely to spray people and legal crops, they do not solve the fundamental problem: coca-growing areas are abandoned by the government, and those who live there have shaky property rights, no farm-to-market roads, and few economic options. Spraying from the air and leaving no presence on the ground, then, virtually guarantees that coca cultivation will recur. “It’s a short-term solution,” Richard Lapper of the U.K.-based Chatham House think tank told the BBC. “Ultimately, there’s a lot of international demand for cocaine.”

U.S. government officials told the Wall Street Journal that they’re not completely sold on the drone idea. “[T]hey are open to using drones but need to learn more about their capabilities once Colombia’s police complete tests, which could run until January.” As he has in the past, Ambassador Kevin Whitaker made clear that the door remains open to using spray aircraft.

Seven or eight of the crop dusters that had worked the coca fields here remain in Colombia. [There were 14.] In a few months, U.S. officials say, they could become operational again. “I told embassy personnel and the Colombians the same thing: We need to be ready for a restart,” said the U.S. ambassador, Mr. Whitaker.

Meanwhile, participants in the voluntary crop substitution program begun under Chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord remain uncertain about whether Iván Duque’s government will continue the effort, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS). Defense Minister Guillermo Botero raised concerns when he announced: “Voluntary eradication is over, and it will become obligatory… the fumigations will surely have to take place… we’re going to dedicate ourselves tenaciously to the eradication of illicit crops.”

Ten social and coca-grower organizations that have served as intermediaries for the PNIS program responded with a letter to President Duque asking him to keep the program in place. As laid out in the accord, the Santos Presidency’s crop substitution program has already promised two years of financial and technical assistance to 124,745 coca-growing households, signing individual accords with 77,659 of them. About 47,910 have eradicated about 22,000 hectares of coca in exchange for promised support, which has been arriving slowly.

In other bad drug-trade news, a decorated U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, Daniel Gould, was arrested after DEA agents found 90 pounds of cocaine inside two backpacks aboard a military transport plane in Colombia. The plane was bound for Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed the allegations, which were revealed by NBC News, but did not elaborate, citing “the integrity of the investigation and the rights of the individual.”

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration, Drug Policy, ELN Peace Talks, Human Rights Defenders, Weekly update

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of August 12-18

August 23, 2018

Constitutional Court Upholds, Modifies Law Governing Transitional Justice System

Colombia’s maximum judicial review body, the Constitutional Court, completed an 8½-month review of the law governing the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which is the body that the peace accords set up to put on trial, and punish, those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. In Colombia’s system, the Court has the power to make alterations to laws, and it addressed some provisions that Colombia’s Congress had controversially added to the JEP Statutory Law’s text last November.

According to press coverage of the 800-page judicial decision, the Court’s changes include:

Allowing those accused of, or guilty of, war crimes to hold political office—as long as they are participating fully in the JEP. This largely upholds what the peace accord and the statutory law allow. War criminals may hold office as long as they have submitted to the JEP, are recognizing and confessing the full truth of their crimes, and are making reparations to victims. Those who do this serve sentences of “restricted liberty,” but not prison, lasting up to eight years. It is not yet clear whether these sentences—which are up to the judge in each case—might interfere with an individual’s ability to hold office.

The Court specifies, though, that those found to be withholding information from their confessions, or those who refuse to recognize crimes and are found guilty, may not hold political office. The accord and law dictate that people in this category must go to regular prison.

The JEP can look at the evidence when it makes extradition decisions. When an ex-combatant is wanted in another country for a crime, the JEP must certify whether the crime happened during the conflict or after it (that is, after December 2016, when the peace accord was ratified). If the crime occurred during the conflict and is covered by the JEP—including the crime of narcotrafficking, if it wasn’t for personal enrichment—Colombia will not extradite the individual.

In April, U.S. prosecutors began the process of asking Colombia to extradite top FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine to the United States in 2017-18. The ensuing process raised confusion about whether the JEP’s role is simply to sign off on the date of the alleged crime, or whether it is able to consider the evidence backing up the allegation. In June, when it passed a law laying out the JEP’s internal procedures, Colombia’s Congress limited the JEP to certifying the date only. The Constitutional Court just reversed that: the JEP may now consider the proof underlying the extradition request.

Judges who’ve worked in human rights during the previous 5 years may remain. The Congress had added a provision to the statutory law banning the JEP from including any judges who, in the past five years, had brought cases against the government, participated in peace negotiations, or taken part in any case related to the armed conflict. This would have disqualified at least 15 of the JEP’s 53 already-chosen judges and alternates. As most observers expected, the Constitutional Court threw this provision out.

Sexual crimes against minors remain under JEP jurisdiction. In the statutory law, the Congress had excluded sexual crimes against minors from JEP jurisdiction, demanding that those accused of such heinous crimes be punished with prison sentences in the regular criminal-justice system. The Constitutional Court stripped out this exclusion.

Some legal and victims’ groups had argued that even though the penalties for child violators would be harsher in the regular justice system, trying such crimes through the JEP will allow victims to hear the truth and receive reparations much more quickly. “If the perpetrators know that they will receive high prison sentences instead of those contemplated in the peace agreement, it is very likely that they would have no reason to recognize sexual crimes against girls, with would force the state to go about proving the allegation, and the victims would have to wait a long time to obtain truth, justice and reparation,” read a statement from Dejusticia, Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, Women‘s Link WorldWide and Red de Mujeres Víctimas y Profesionales.

Third parties’ participation in the JEP remains voluntary, not obligatory. But prosecutors in the regular criminal justice system must prioritize their cases. The Congress—in an apparent move to protect landowners, narcotraffickers, local officials, and other politically influential individuals who sponsored armed groups or planned killings—had added language to the statutory law preventing the JEP from compelling private citizens to participate. The concern is that such powerful individuals have little to fear from an overburdened, institutionally deficient “regular” justice system that is unlikely to take up old cases. The Constitutional Court maintained the “voluntary” participation standard, but, as El Espectador puts it, “emphasized that the Prosecutor-General’s Office has the obligation to prioritize, in the criminal justice system, investigations against third parties and non-combatant government agencies who have not voluntarily submitted to the JEP.”

Though there might be language about these items in the very long text of the Constitutional Court’s opinion, it appears to have left untouched the following concerns about the JEP:

  • It remains up to the judges in individual cases how austere the conditions of “restricted liberty” will be for those who give full confessions and reparations.
  • A watered-down definition of “command responsibility” for war crimes committed by the military, which may exonerate commanders who should have known what their subordinates were doing, remains in place. This could set Colombia on a collision course with the International Criminal Court, whose founding statute uses a “should have known” standard to determine command responsibility.
  • It remains unclear under which circumstances “false positive” killings may or may not be tried within the JEP. It appears that most of these thousands of extrajudicial killings were committed by soldiers for personal gain, and thus unrelated to the armed conflict. It will be up to judges to decide on a case-by-case basis. Of 2,159 current or former security-force members participating in the JEP, at least 1,824 are accused of committing extrajudicial executions, most of them probably “false positives.”

Top FARC Leaders Have Gone Off the Grid

FARC Senator Victoria Sandino confirmed to reporters that two top FARC leaders have left the demobilization site where they had been staying, and that their current whereabouts are unknown. They are Iván Márquez, a former FARC Secretariat member who was the guerrilla group’s lead negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias El Paisa, who headed the guerrillas’ Teófilo Forero Column, a notoriously lethal unit once active in southern Colombia.

Both had been in the Miravalle “reincorporation zone” in Caquetá department. Márquez had relocated there in April when his close associate, former negotiator Jesús Santrich, was arrested pending possible extradition to the United States for narcotrafficking. While they are not required to remain at the site, that their whereabouts have been unknown for about two weeks raises concerns that the two leaders, both considered hardliners, might have abandoned the peace process.

Sandino, the FARC senator, told Colombia’s Blu Radio that Márquez and Velásquez left the Miravalle site after “a situation that happened about a month ago, where there were several operations [nearby] with some pretty complicated aspects, in which people wearing face masks came to the dwelling where Iván Márquez was present. They left beforehand. At this moment, they’re not there, and in my personal case I don’t know where they are.”

In July, the two leaders had sent a letter to the chief of the UN verification mission, Jean Arnault, claiming that “since Friday, July 6, special Army counter-guerrilla troops, belonging to the 22nd and High Mountain Battalions, have deployed a land operation around the El Pato region, which we have no doubt aims to sabotage the progress of hope for peace.” Luis Carlos Villegas, the defense minister at the time, denied that military operations were occurring. He said that drone overflights that the leaders may have observed, which are not prohibited, were actually those of oil companies carrying out seismic explorations.

Sen. Sandino said that she has had no contact with Márquez and Velásquez, as there is no phone service where they are. Asked whether the two could be in Venezuela, according to El Espectador, “the senator said that is only speculation, and that they remain active members of the [FARC] political party.”

Personnel Changes

Newly inaugurated President Iván Duque has named the two officials who will be most responsible for implementing the FARC peace accord and for carrying out negotiations with the ELN, should they continue.

Miguel Ceballos will be the Presidency’s next high commissioner for peace, directing negotiations and some aspects of accord implementation. He replaces Rodrigo Rivera, who in 2017 replaced Sergio Jaramillo, a chief architect of the FARC accord and of the Santos government’s post-conflict territorial implementation strategy. The nomination of Ceballos, a former vice-minister of justice who taught at Georgetown University and Bogotá’s Conservative Party-tied Sergio Arboleda University, was well-received. Though he was a key advisor to the Conservative Party wing that supported a “no” vote in the October 2016 plebiscite on the peace accords, Ceballos is viewed as a pragmatist who would not seek to “tear up” the accords, as some in President Duque’s coalition have urged. He takes over the process of deciding whether to continue the Santos government’s peace talks in Havana with the ELN; in his inaugural speech, President Duque called for a 30-day review period to make this decision.

Emilio José Archila replaces Rafael Pardo as high counselor for the post-conflict, a position within the Presidency that manages implementation of the peace accord. Archila, too, is identified with the Conservative Party. A lawyer focused on economic issues, he served in the past as head legal officer in the Commerce and Industry Ministry. He will oversee the struggling coca crop-substitution program set up by the peace accord’s fourth chapter, and the ambitious Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDET) program foreseen in the first chapter, which seeks to build state presence and provide basic services in sixteen conflictive regions.

Ceballos and Archila will sit on the Committee for Follow-up, Stimulus, and Verification of Peace Accord Implementation (CSIVI), the main oversight mechanism to guarantee that accord implementation is on track, along with representatives of the FARC and the accord’s guarantor countries.

Ariel Ávila, an analyst at Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, voiced concern about possible name changes for both officials’ agencies: the High Commissioner for Peace might become the High Commissioner for Legality, and the High Counselor for the Post-Conflict might become the High Counselor for Stabilization. “All state institutions must act under legality, there’s no need to create an office for that,” Ávila noted, adding that “stabilization” is just the first phase of a post-conflict period—it should be followed by “normalization,” which he defines as “the building of a new society, long-term reforms, and reconciliation.”

Meanwhile historian Gonzalo Sánchez, the longtime head of the government’s autonomous Center for Historical Memory, resigned this week. The Center has produced dozens of highly regarded reports and an extensive public archive documenting some of the most severe violations of human rights, committed by all sides, during the long conflict. El Tiempo reports that the two most likely candidates to head the Center are Eduardo Pizarro, who headed the Center’s precursor, the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation, during the government of Álvaro Uribe, and Alfredo Rangel, a onetime academic conflict analyst who later became a hardline senator in Uribe’s party.

ELN May Release Captives and Kidnap Victims

Colombia’s Defense Ministry announced that protocols have been activated for the release of nine people—seven security-force personnel and two civilians—whom the ELN had captured or kidnapped in Arauca and Chocó departments. The Ministry said it is awaiting the ELN’s provision of geographic coordinates for the handovers.

Pablo Beltrán, the guerrilla group’s chief negotiator in Havana, said on August 14 that the liberation should happen in eight days, although a guerrilla communiqué stated that nearby security-force operations could complicate logistics and put the victims’ lives “at high risk.” The guerrillas also provided a proof-of-life recording of three policemen and one soldier whom they had taken from a boat on a tributary of the Atrato River in Quibdó municipality, Chocó.

In his August 7 inauguration speech, President Iván Duque said that he would spend 30 days reviewing whether to continue peace talks with the ELN. Duque said that an end to ELN kidnappings, and the freeing of all guerrilla captives, is a precondition for any resumption of negotiations.

Meanwhile, after the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) denounced that the ELN has recruited 24 minors so far this year, the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) issued arrest warrants for sixteen ELN leaders, including all five members of the group’s Central Command. Chief negotiator Beltrán, speaking from Havana, denied that the ELN had committed a war crime: “Here, nobody is recruited or kept against their will. Those who want to enter, enter; those who want to leave, leave.” Tacitly admitting that minors are recruited, Beltran said that the group does not recruit anyone under 15 years old. (The ELN’s maximum leader, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista alias “Gabino,” joined the group in 1964 at age 14.)

The ELN negotiator said the group remains willing to engage in a bilateral ceasefire, like the one in place during a 100-day period that ended in January. President Duque was not warm to the idea: “I haven’t agreed with those who now seek to intimidate the country seeking bilateral ceasefires while they commit acts that are deplorable and despicable in the light of any eye.” Speaking before a military audience, he continued, “What we want is that anyone who wants to demobilize, disarm and reinsert does so on the basis of the immediate suspension of all criminal activities.”

A week before the end of Juan Manuel Santos’s administration, government and ELN negotiators closed a sixth round of talks in Havana without an agreement on either a ceasefire or a mechanism for involving civil society in the talks, as the ELN demands. Citing “two sources who have access to privileged information about the negotiations,” Ana León of La Silla Vacía noted that the ELN is now willing to consider a halt to kidnappings and extortion during a ceasefire. But she cited three issues on which the ELN talks are stuck:

  1. How to monitor and verify a ceasefire. While the ELN would keep in place the mechanisms employed during the late-2017 ceasefire, the government wants more specificity. During the earlier ceasefire, a source told León, “There was no clear definition of what a hostility was, what a ceasefire violation was, and so the UN was not going to commit to verification.” That source said the ELN is unwilling to ease monitoring by providing more detail about its zones of geographic control, since many of these are in dispute with other illegal armed groups.
  2. The ELN’s demand that the government commit to halting murders of social leaders. While virtually all analysts agree that the government should be doing more to protect social leaders, the government does not have the power to stop the killings completely, especially those that result from local dynamics.
  3. The definition of “civil society participation” in the negotiations, a longtime ELN demand that is included, but poorly defined, in the talks’ agreed agenda.

Anticorruption bill, with a clause preventing ex-guerrillas in politics, is withdrawn

The new Duque government introduced a bill to fight corruption, but abruptly withdrew it after it was found to include language that would prevent former guerrillas from holding political office. Juanita Goebertus, a former government peace negotiator recently elected to Congress as a Green Party representative, denounced the presence of text deep within the bill stating, “those who have been convicted at any time for crimes related to membership, promotion, or financing of illegal armed groups, crimes against humanity, or drug trafficking cannot be registered as candidates for popular election.”

Colombian politics has a term for a snippet of unrelated and probably unpopular legislative language stuck into a larger bill: a “mico” or “monkey.” Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez withdrew the anti-corruption bill and pledged to re-submit it without the mico. (In Colombia, the Interior Minister manages the Presidency’s legislative agenda.)

Minister Gutiérrez also pulled back the nomination of Claudia Ortiz to head the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP), which provides bulletproof vests, bodyguards, vehicles, and other protection to threatened individuals, from politicians to opposition figures to ex-guerrillas to social leaders. An outcry followed the revelation of tweets from Ortiz, a longtime supporter of ex-president Álvaro Uribe, attacking opposition figures. The tweets’ vicious language called into question Ortiz’s will to protect those who disagree with and criticize the government. No new nominee to head the UNP has been named.

Visit from Defense Secretary Mattis

The U.S. secretary of defense, James Mattis, paid a brief visit to Colombia on August 17, the last stop of a South America tour that took him to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Mattis met with President Duque and with Defense Minister Guillermo Botero.

We know little about the subject matter of Mattis’s discussions. “The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues, and the secretary thanked the minister for their country’s regional leadership role as a security exporter” was how a Pentagon spokesman vaguely put it. Mattis also thanked Duque for Colombia’s regional diplomacy to “denounce undemocratic actions” in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Earlier on his trip, Mattis criticized Venezuela’s authoritarian government, but made clear that the crisis in Venezuela is “not a military matter.” In Bogotá, he discussed the heavy flow of Venezuelan migrants into Colombia. “A subject [that] came up in both of my meetings this morning … was on what we’re working on in terms of the Venezuelan refugees and their destabilizing impact they have,” Mattis said.

He announced that sometime this fall, the Defense Department would dispatch the USNS Comfort, a giant Navy hospital ship, to Colombia’s Caribbean coast to attend to Venezuelans in Colombia. The Secretary added that President Duque and Colombian defense officials “not only agreed in principle” to the Comfort deployment, “they gave details on how we might best craft the cruise through the region,” Mattis said. The State Department and USAID have otherwise committed US$46 million in assistance to Colombia to help attend to Venezuelan refugees.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry has announced that it will ask the United Nations to name a special envoy to coordinate humanitarian aid for Venezuelans in Colombia and elsewhere in the region.

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration, ELN Peace Talks, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy

Two speeches, two dissimilar messages

August 10, 2018

President-elect Iván Duque and Senate President Ernesto Macías gave very different addresses at Duque’s inauguration on Tuesday. (EFE photo at El Espectador.)

Inauguration day in Colombia, August 7, will be remembered for two speeches that left observers scratching their heads about what direction the new government of President Iván Duque will take the country.

  • Duque gave an hourlong speech listing dozens of policy priorities. There were so many, it was hard to pick out those he viewed as most important. The speech’s tone, though, was conciliatory and optimistic. Duque is viewed as a center-right politician, one of the most moderate members of a mostly hardline conservative political party (ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s “Democratic Center”). The speech highlighted Duque’s centrism.
  • He was preceded, though, by a half-hour diatribe from Democratic Center politician Ernesto Macías, who for the next year will be the president of Colombia’s Senate. Macías’s speech bore little resemblance to Duque’s. It had lots of red meat for the far-right wing of Duque’s party: much of it was a lengthy, blistering attack on the outgoing government of ex-president Juan Manuel Santos. The speech was roundly criticized by Bogotá’s political establishment; some pro-Santos senators even got up and left the inauguration ceremony.

The two contrasting speeches showed the incoming government’s “good cop bad cop” or “Jekyll and Hyde” nature. A 42-year-old moderate president with a thin political resume is ruling with the support of a party, and a congressional bloc, that is well to his right and often seems more beholden to ex-president, now Senator, Uribe.

Here, translated into English, is what Duque and Macías had to say about several topics important for Colombia’s peace process and U.S. policy.

On “Correcting” the FARC peace accord

Duque: Out of respect for Colombia and for the citizen mandate that we have received, we will deploy corrective measures to assure the victims truth, proportional justice, that they may also receive effective reparation, and that there may be no repetition anywhere in the territory.

We will also correct structural failures that have become evident in the implementation [of the accords].

Macías: On the Havana Accords, we have to turn the page on the previous government dividing us between friends and enemies of peace. We Colombians are all friends of peace. During the plebiscite of October 2016, convened by the Government, the citizens mostly voted no to the Havana Agreements, but the government of ex-president Santos refused to modify them and, on the contrary, ignored the popular mandate.

This new Congress of the Republic has the responsibility to modify and adjust them to restore the rule of law and return to Colombians the trust lost in their institutions. We must recover legality. We always believed that, in order to sign this agreement, it was not necessary to tear the Constitution or the institutions to shreds, because in Colombia there has not been a civil war or an armed conflict, but a terrorist threat against the state. For this reason, it is urgent to move ahead with the necessary modifications, without falling into the fanaticism of destroying the accords.

Notes: Both Duque and Macías are outspoken critics of the FARC peace accord. Here, though, only Macías uses the inauguration as an opportunity to voice these criticisms. Both call for corrections or modifications to the accord without offering specifics, much less explaining how to “correct” it without destroying it. They are probably referring mainly to tightening the conditions of punishment for ex-FARC members found guilty of war crimes, and preventing FARC members from holding political office while facing war crimes trials.

On illicit crops:

Duque: We’re going to be effective in the eradication and substitution of illicit crops, together with communities, as well as in the launching of productive projects. We’re going to break narcotrafficking structures’ logistical supply chains.

Macías: Today you receive a country with the dishonorable record of being the number-one coca producer in the world, with more than 210,000 hectares planted and a production of 921 metric tons of cocaine. Regarding the worrying increase of illicit crops in Colombia, we celebrate your announcements, President Duque, to combat them decisively without contemplations. The mere act of doing away with voluntary eradication, which is not complied with, and if necessary returning to fumigation, is a hopeful advance.… We must assume decisively the policy of eradication and substitution of illicit crops, and to do it with the support of that great ally of Colombia: the United States. A country with which, in addition, we have to permanently strengthen our relations.

Notes: It’s interesting that Duque didn’t give specific mention to increasing forced eradication of coca crops, including through herbicide fumigation. He has been on record supporting that. Macías not only supports renewing the fumigation program that was suspended in 2015, he would abandon the voluntary eradication effort launched in 2017 in compliance with chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord.

On the ELN peace talks:

Duque: I want to be clear. During the first 30 days of our government we will make a judicious, prudent and analytical evaluation of the last 17 months of talks that the outgoing government has advanced with the ELN. We are going to meet with the United Nations, with the Catholic Church and the countries that have been supporting this process, so that in the framework of institutional independence they may give us their opinion about it.

But I want to make clear, I want to make absolutely clear, that a credible process must be based on the total cessation of criminal actions, with strict international supervision, and defined time periods. We want to move forward, but in order to move forward we must make very clear that the Colombian people will not be intimidated by violence or be pressured by any form of violence.

Macías: (no mention)

Notes: This points to at least a slight softening of Duque’s line on whether to continue or break off the slow-moving ELN talks. Earlier, he had said he would only continue peace talks with the smaller guerrilla group if its members not only declared a cessation of hostilities, but concentrated its members into specific zones in order to verify that cessation. Here, Duque doesn’t repeat the “concentration into zones” pre-condition.

On reintegration of ex-combatants:

Duque: I believe in the demobilization, disarmament, and reinsertion of the guerrilla base. Many of them were forcibly recruited or separated from their surroundings by the intimidation of arms. I’m convinced and committed to seeking productive opportunities for these organizations’ base, and to look after their protection.

Macías: (no mention)

Notes: There is little doubt that Duque’s government will fund reintegration programs for ex-combatants who choose to demobilize individually. However, most ex-FARC fighters wish to demobilize collectively, staying together in a single, usually rural, location. The Santos government and the FARC didn’t really manage to arrive at a plan for collective reintegration. This has left thousands of ex-fighters unclear about their futures. Duque doesn’t talk about collective reintegration here.

On governance in post-conflict territories:

Duque: We will also strive to provide public goods in all regions of the country, starting with those that have been hit the most painfully by violence.

Macías: Today you receive a country, from a government that took on a commitment of 130 trillion pesos (US$44.5 billion), without the necessary resources existing, to finance the Havana accords during the next 15 years.

Notes: The lack of government presence and services in vast areas of the country is a key reason why coca cultivation is growing and criminal groups are expanding. Duque prioritizes providing “public goods”—something for which the peace accord’s first chapter offers a plan. But Macías complains about that plan’s price tag.

On the military and human rights:

Duque: Today I want to tell the soldiers and police of the fatherland that we are going to promote a serious and rigorous institutional and legal framework so that they can fulfill their constitutional duty in strict adherence to Human Rights, while feeling with all their hearts the affection of the people.

Macías: It is up to you, President Duque, as supreme commander of the security forces, not only to carry out changes in the high command, but to generate a change in the new commanders’ mentality in order to recover Colombians’ security and tranquility.

Notes: As we saw during the recent debate over the post-conflict transitional justice system’s procedural law, many in Duque’s party wish to shield the armed forces from human rights charges. We should view any talk of a new “legal framework” in light of that. Macías’s call for a new high command with a different “mentality” is especially ominous, as the high command of the past few years has been relatively moderate and supportive of the peace process.

On attacks on social leaders:

Duque: Legality means defending the lives of all Colombians and protecting the integrity of political and social leaders, and of our journalists.

Every homicide hurts us, every attack hurts us, every threat hurts us. And that is why we are going to work with the Ombudsman’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office to prevent violence against them and sanction exemplarily those who have acted as intellectual and material authors of the crimes and intimidations that cause mourning, that hurt, that eat away the feeling of love of country.

Macías: Ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, since the end of 2010, abandoned the Democratic Security policy, and today hands over the country immersed in a new war that to date has left more than 300 civic and communal leaders murdered, just in the last 2 years.

Notes: Duque’s words on the urgent crisis of social-leader killings are correct and encouraging. Let’s hope they’re followed up with actions, and with personnel choices better than the now-withdrawn nomination of Claudia Ortiz to head the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit. For his part, however, Macías cites the social-leaders crisis only for political reasons, as another line of attack against the outgoing Santos government.

On Venezuela:

Duque: (no mention)

Macías: Today you receive a country, President Duque, to which about 1 million Venezuelans have arrived, whom we welcome in a fraternal manner with solidarity; citizens displaced by a dictatorship that has subjected the people of that brother country to hunger, unemployment and despicable political persecution. A dictatorship that has been sustained by the permissiveness of several governments like the one that just ended in Colombia.

Notes: It’s not hard to imagine why Duque chose not to attack Venezuela’s authoritarian government in his presidential inauguration speech. But Duque’s position on how to approach Venezuela’s regime differs little from Macías’s.

Tags: Drug Policy, ELN Peace Talks, Post-Conflict Implementation

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of May 13-19

May 26, 2018

Transitional Justice System Suspends Santrich Extradition

The case of FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, arrested on April 9 with the possibility of extradition to the United States for narcotrafficking, grew more complicated this week. The Review Chamber of the new Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP, the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord) ordered his extradition suspended. Other entities within Colombia’s government contended that the Chamber doesn’t have the right to do that.

Santrich, a hardliner who represented the FARC at the negotiating table during the entire Havana process, is currently confined at a Bogotá facility run by the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference. His health is precarious, as he has been on a hunger strike since his arrest. Santrich is charged by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York with conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.

As he allegedly committed the crime after the peace accord went into effect, Santrich’s case could go to Colombia’s regular justice system, where he would face long prison terms or extradition. First, though, the JEP must determine that the crime did indeed take place after the peace accord’s December 1, 2016 ratification.

That is the task of the JEP’s Review Chamber, which must fulfill it within 120 days. This chamber contended, by a unanimous vote, that fulfilling its duty required a temporary suspension of Santrich’s extradition. The Chamber asked for more evidence of the allegations against the FARC leader, and instructed the “regular” justice system’s Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía) to provide, within five days, information about the extradition process.

Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez responded with a strongly worded 16-page letter alleging that the JEP has no authority to freeze an extradition process, adding that the newly formed body’s action “has left democratic institutionally threatened.” And in fact, the director of another body of the JEP, its Investigations and Accusations Unit, tweeted “I separate myself from the extradition suspension decision.”

The Colombian government’s Justice and Interior Ministries responded with a communiqué arguing that the JEP could not suspend Santrich’s extradition because the United States had not formally requested it yet. Colombian law gives countries requesting a citizen’s extradition 60 days to issue a formal request after that citizen has been detained. That would give the U.S. government until June 8 to issue the request. It has not done so, perhaps out of a desire not to appear to be influencing the May 27 presidential election campaign.

The JEP Chamber, however, stated that in its view, “the extradition process has already begun, because a detention for extradition purposes has been requested.”

There is no sense of when the Chamber may issue its determination of when Santrich committed a crime, or whether the Chamber may seek to determine whether there is even enough evidence that a crime took place. “Still, the political effect of the decision is immediate,” wrote Juanita León, director of La Silla Vacía.

Above all when the JEP issues it a few days before elections in which the candidate with the best chances of making it to a second round and reaching the Presidency [Iván Duque of the right-wing Centro Democrático party] proposes to make “adjustments” to the JEP that, in practice, would do away with it.

Debate over whether to extradite Santrich continues. Rodrigo Uprimny, founder of the judicial think-tank DeJusticia, believes Santrich should be tried in Colombia so that he may answer to his victims. An analysis in Semana magazine worries about the effect on ex-guerrillas’ desertion:

In the end, the consequences won’t be those of an ideal transition to peace or a return to the open war of the last decades. The scenario in play is intermediate, and has to do instead with the size of the dissidences that may return to the jungle. In other words, if Santrich’s possible extradition creates uncertainty among guerrillas that increases the number of dissidents, it may be best to allow him to serve his sentence inside the country.

An El Tiempo editorial contends that “rules are rules,” despite Santrich’s victims’ right to learn the truth from him.

It could be proposed that, without leaving aside at any moment the importance of the truth, the precept must come first that whoever doesn’t comply with the agreed rules must pay for it.

This, the editorial clarifies, only applies if the evidence against Santrich “leaves no doubt about his criminal conduct.” If so, “there would be no reason to insist that this [his extradition] poses an insurmountable obstacle to the implementation of what was agreed in Havana.”

Government Will Miss Its Coca Substitution Target

The Colombian government recognized on May 15 that it will not meet its target, set for this month, of 50,000 hectares of coca eradicated by growers voluntarily destroying their crops in exchange for economic assistance. That was the one-year goal the Presidency had set for its implementation of chapter 4 of the Havana peace accord, which establishes a national crop substitution program.

In fact, the program fell significantly short. Eduardo Díaz, the director of the crop substitution program, announced that families participating in the program had eradicated 36,000 hectares, of which 11,700 have actually been verified by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The U.S. government measured 188,000 hectares in Colombia in 2016, and media have reported that the U.S. estimate for 2017 could be as high as 230,000. (UNODC’s 2016 estimate was 146,000, and media reports point to 180,000 in 2017.) The government forcibly eradicated 53,000 hectares in 2017.

Díaz blamed security conditions for the shortfall. He told CNN en Español, “In different zones where there are crops, narcotraffickers’ networks have advanced, have killed communities, have killed leaders, have threatened government officials and UN officials.”

Independent analysts place more blame on the slow performance of the Colombian bureaucracy. The idea of the government’s National Comprehensive Illicit Crop Substitution Program (PNIS, the main focus of the accord’s chapter 4) was to provide small-scale coca-growing households with two years’ worth of payments and help with productive projects in exchange for eradicating their coca. The economic benefits for each household would total about US$12,000 over two years. This week, the Ideas for Peace Foundation released a detailed report and dataset (Excel file) laying out the progress of the PNIS program as of March 31. In sum:

  • 123,225 families had signed collective framework community accords agreeing in principle to substitute crops.
  • 62,181 families (50.4 percent of above) had signed specific accords committing to a timetable of voluntary eradication and receipt of benefits.
  • 32,010 families (51.4 percent of above) had received at least one monthly payment.
  • 7,009 families (11 percent of the 62,181) had received any technical assistance to pursue an alternative productive project.
  • UNODC had found (in 2106) 22,025 hectares of coca in the municipalities (counties) where families had begun receiving payments.
  • UNODC had verified and certified the eradication of 6,381 hectares of coca (28.9 percent of above). (This is far fewer than the 11.700 hectare figure that the government substitution program’s Eduardo Díaz had given CNN.)

The report concludes,

The greatest advances of PNIS are found in the signing up of campesinos and the disbursement of payments, while it is falling most behind in technical assistance and in the supply of goods and services. Under those conditions, three months before the end of President Santos’s government, it will be difficult for the program to meet the goal of 50,000 voluntarily eradicated hectares.

The Ideas for Peace report notes that while homicides across Colombia have increased by a troubling 8 percent over this time last year, they are up by a very alarming 57 percent in the municipalities with crop substitution programs.

The Verdad Abierta website visited Briceño, Antioquia, where the PNIS began as a pilot project in 2015. In the coming weeks, the national government is to announce that the municipality’s residents will have eradicated all of their coca, about 567 hectares.

However, Briceño’s farmers told the site that “the campesinos complied, but the government has not.” While monthly payments have come on time, assistance for productive projects has hardly begun. “They did give us the payments, but in the agreement it said that as the payments arrived, then the productive projects to implement them would also arrive, so that we wouldn’t end up the way we are now: with our arms crossed and worried because the money has run out,” said a Community Action Board president.

“The state has a great responsibility with respect to the families who expressed their will to abandon the coca crops and who took part in the substitution process,” the Ideas for Peace report reads. “In the zones where the PNIS began to be developed, the link between populations and the state has been re-established. However, the lack of compliance with what was agreed not only has implications for institutions’ trust and credibility, it generates a risk of re-planting and a possible increase in hectares of coca.”

ELN to Cease Fire During Presidential Voting

The ELN announced that it will cease military activities for five days, from May 25-29, “to contribute to favorable conditions that might permit Colombian society to express itself in the elections” that will take place on May 27.

This raised hopes for a more permanent bilateral cessation of hostilities between government and guerrillas. However, the ELN’s chief negotiator in Havana, Pablo Beltrán, intimated that the group would be unlikely to agree to a ceasefire as long as social leaders continue to be killed at a rapid pace around the country: “We are fully disposed to do a cessation, but what about all the others? It’s not just a call on the military forces, but on paramilitarism, on all these attacks that different popular sectors are receiving.”

Asked about President Juan Manuel Santos’s hope that the ELN talks will leave behind a framework agreement—which, for the next president, would increase the cost of pulling the plug on the talks—Beltrán said that the ELN wants “to leave the accords at such a point of consolidation that any incoming government would have to respect them.” Any advancement, Beltrán added, would have to include more civil society participation; he did not specify what that might look like.

Timoleón Jiménez to Uribe: Let’s Go To the Truth Commission Together

Maximum FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez alias Timochenko published a lengthy communiqué about the status of the peace process on the eve of Colombia’s presidential election. “The peace accord is shielded,” it reads.

That’s what the Constitutional Court understood when it upheld Legislative Act 02 of 2017. The UN Security Council recognizes it. The community of nations accepts it and applauds it. We’re not going to force absolutely anything, the issue is simply to honor what was agreed when the Colombian state and our former insurgency gave our word. The beautiful dream of peace could be an irreversible reality if you [President Santos] decide to act.

Timochenko’s tone contrasts with that of the FARC’s de facto number-two leader, Iván Márquez, who said that if his close collaborator Jesús Santrich dies of a hunger strike while awaiting a possible extradition, his death “would also be the death of the peace process.”

In his statement, Timochenko asked forgiveness of Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, Sigifredo López, and other civilians whom the FARC held hostage for years. He called on former President Álvaro Uribe to join him in appearing together before the newly established Truth Commission to show the country “what the search for truth and the clarification of the truth look like.” Uribe led an intense military offensive against the FARC during his 2002-2010 presidency, and enjoyed the political support of many backers of right-wing paramilitary groups.

The presidential candidate of Uribe’s party, poll frontrunner Iván Duque, rejected the FARC leader’s invitation. “He can’t come here like a shameless person trying to appear as the equal of a good citizen. Instead, they should give reparations to their victims, tell all the truth, and pay their penalties.”

Military Operations Against FARC Dissidents

A joint Colombian Army-Air Force-Police operation killed 11 members of the FARC’s 7th Front dissident group in Putumayo. Among the dead was a commander named alias “Cachorro,” reportedly a close collaborator of Edgar Salgado, alias “Rodrigo Cadete,” who commanded the FARC’s 27th Front and abruptly abandoned the demobilization process last September. The 7th Front dissidents are a recent presence in Putumayo; they have been most active in Meta and Caquetá.

In Bello, just north of Medellín in Antioquia, an operation carried out by the Army and the Fiscalía captured Henry Arturo Gil Ramírez alias “el Feo” (the Ugly One), a top commander of the 36th Front dissident group.

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Drug Policy, ELN Peace Talks, Extradition, Weekly update

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of May 6-12

May 15, 2018

ELN Talks Restart in Havana

Government and ELN negotiators relaunched peace talks in Havana, Cuba on May 10, continuing a fifth round of negotiations that had begun in Quito, Ecuador on March 15. The process was interrupted on April 18 when Ecuador’s President, Lenin Moreno, suspended the country’s hosting of the negotiations. Moreno’s decision reflected a darkened national mood in Ecuador toward Colombian armed groups, after a FARC dissident group kidnapped and killed two journalists and their driver in March near the Colombia-Ecuador border.

This round of talks is covering three issues: the terms of a new bilateral cessation of hostilities, measures to shield communities in areas of combat between the ELN and other illegal armed groups, and a model for civil society participation in future rounds of talks, as envisioned in the negotiating agenda. “In the immediate term, this cycle will dedicate itself to agreeing on a new bilateral, temporary, and national ceasefire that is better than the last one,” said ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán, referring to a 100-day bilateral ceasefire that was not renewed after it expired on January 9.

Negotiators are under pressure to come up with tangible results. In three months, Colombia will inaugurate a new president after electing a new one on May 27 (and probably after a runoff vote on June 17); most candidates have said they are unwilling to continue the peace talks in their current form. President Juan Manuel Santos and the Colombian Congress’s Peace Commission have both cited the need for a “framework accord” to lock in the talks before the next president takes office. While he realizes that he will not be the one to sign an accord with the ELN, Santos said his goal is to hand off to his successor “something that is on the right track.”

At a May 9 session of the congressional Peace Commission, diplomatic representatives from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, and Cuba expressed support for the ELN dialogues’ continuation. Most called on both sides to make swift progress. The European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, gave a statement of support and called on both sides to reach a ceasefire, “which would significantly improve the humanitarian situation in the areas most affected by the conflict.” At the congressional commission hearing, government negotiator José Noé Ríos declared a goal of May 25—two days before the presidential elections’ first round—for reaching agreement on a ceasefire.

In an apparent move to ease a ceasefire, President Santos signed a decree green-lighting a case-by-case review of people imprisoned on charges having to do with social protest. The idea is to identify individuals who could be amnestied, or have their sentences commuted. This would be a goodwill gesture responding to a longtime ELN demand that the government release people involved in protests.

In opening comments in Havana, ELN leader Beltrán said the government’s poor compliance with commitments in the FARC peace accord, along with an increase in killings of social leaders, have heightened the ELN’s distrust. He added the view, though, that “the only road for Colombia, for a political solution, is that this way of dialogue goes ahead.”

The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, former vice-president Gustavo Bell, voiced hope that this round of talks would bring not just a bilateral ceasefire but an ELN commitment to cease all hostilities, like “kidnappings, extortions, child recruitment, or attacks on infrastructure.” Obstacles to a cessation of hostilities include which illegal activity would be included; how to verify it without cantonment of fighters; how the ELN would confront other illegal armed groups; and how to guarantee that all ELN leaders agree to observe it.

Negotiators are also talking to social organizations from areas hit by conflict between the ELN and other groups, which wouldn’t so clearly feel the impact of an ELN-government ceasefire, to discuss commitments to observe international humanitarian law. Ethnic, victims’, and women’s organizations in Chocó, where fighting has raged between the ELN and the Urabeños organized crime group, have called for respecting ethnic territories, de-mining, stopping recruitment of minors, halting killings of social leaders, ending displacement and confinement, and curbs on illicit crops and illegal mining. In Nariño, where many small armed groups operate, civil-society organziations have been calling for more action on de-mining. In Catatumbo, groups are calling on the ELN to keep the civilian population out of its worsening conflict with the EPL (Popular Liberation Army, a small but regionally strong guerrilla group), which has displaced almost 9,000 people since fighting worsened on March 14.

Jesús Santrich Case

FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich was moved from Bogotá’s El Tunal hospital to the Fundación Caminos de Libertad, a facility run by the Episcopal Conference of Colombia’s Catholic church. Santrich, one of the FARC’s main negotiators in Havana who expected to assume a seat in Colombia’s Congress in July, has been on a hunger strike since his April 9 arrest. He was indicted by a U.S. court for allegedly conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the FARC peace accord was signed, and faces possible extradition.

Santrich’s health is flagging after a month of consuming only water and epilepsy medication. Still, he has turned down entreaties to abandon his hunger strike, including an open letter from longtime informal mediators Sen. Iván Cepeda and former mining minster Álvaro Leyva. The ex-guerrilla, a political hardliner, has said he would rather die than go to a U.S. prison.

Some voices have called for Santrich to be tried in Colombia, where he would face his victims, rather than be extradited. These include former government negotiator and current presidential candidate Humberto de la Calle, Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco, and Colombian jurist Rodrigo Uprimny, co-founder of the DeJusticia think-tank. “To extradite FARC commanders before they are processed for their crimes could cause an irreparable harm to victims, to the extreme that they might evade responsibility for the atrocities they committed,” wrote Vivanco in an El Tiempo column. Both Vivanco and Uprimny, writing in El Espectador, cited the experience of 14 paramilitary leaders whom then-president Álvaro Uribe extradited en masse in May 2008. “The paramilitaries’ extraditions have made it almost impossible to know the truth about their crimes,” wrote Uprimny. “For these same reasons, I think Santrich should not be extradited.”

For their part, the two candidates leading polling for the May 27 presidential elections have both said that they would extradite. Rightist Iván Duque, the candidate of Uribe’s party, has said he would sign the extradition order immediately. Leftist Gustavo Petro, said that the transitional justice system agreed by the peace accord (Special Peace Jurisdiction, or JEP) should first consider all the evidence against Santrich. “If the JEP confirms the acts were committed after the accords’ signing and I am president,” Petro tweeted, “Mr. Santrich will be extradited.” Petro’s position is similar to that of President Santos.

Setback to Land Grants for Demobilized FARC Members

The Colombian government and the FARC have been casting about to find a way to reintegrate guerrilla ex-combatants by giving them land to cultivate. This, surprisingly, was not foreseen in the peace accord. The Santos administration had been close to issuing a decree allowing titling of lands for former fighters’ cooperative agricultural projects. The decree has run into trouble, though, over objections from the country’s principal federation of landholders.

A year ago, while demobilizing FARC fighters were concentrated in 26 village-sized disarmament sites around the country, Colombia’s National University surveyed them to gather information about their backgrounds and needs, as foreseen by the peace accords. It found that 66 percent of the 10,015 former FARC surveyed were from rural areas and another 15 were from rural/urban areas, such as towns within overwhelmingly rural municipalities. Sixty percent said they wanted to carry out collective reintegration through agricultural activities.

After meeting with his “peace cabinet” on April 30, President Santos said that “within the FARC there is a conflict: the leaders want everything to be collective, while the base, many of them, want it to be individual. As a result of this conflict, the FARC haven’t approved the individual reincorporation route, and resources for 5,000 ex-combatants’ productive projects are blocked by that dispute.” FARC leader Pastor Alape, a member of the National Reincorporation Council set up by the peace accord, responded, “Reincorporation is being slowed bye the lack of a public policy… and fundamentally, because there isn’t any land for the productive projects” that ex-guerrillas wish to pursue.

The Santos government’s draft decree sought to address this by making possible the delivery of some lands to ex-combatants. It had identified 11 plots of land in 9 departments, totaling about 492 hectares, that could be granted. The Center for Peace Studies (CESPAZ), which worked with the Presidency in drafting the accord, estimates that the amount of land needed to guarantee guerrillas’ reintegration would be 37,657 hectares, an amount smaller than many Colombian cattle ranches and industrial farms.

Nonetheless, the decree has been put on hold after the Society of Colombian Agricultural Producers (SAC), a national association of mostly large landowners, criticized it. “At no point does the accord mention giving land to the former members of this terrorist group,” said SAC President Jorge Enrique Bedoya, “and the draft decree that the government submitted for citizens’ consideration is giving prevalence to this specific group over landless farmers.”

The above information comes largely from a May 7 report from the investigative website Verdad Abierta. The site later posted this addendum to the report:

After this article’s publication, the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace (OACP) communicated with VerdadAbierta.com to inform that the national government decided to resolve the need to adjudicate lands to ex-combatants through the promulgation of Decree 756 of May 4, 2018. The document contains one article, which opens the door for the National Land Agency (ANT) to adjudicate lands directly to “associations or to cooperative organizations.”
The text does not correspond to the draft decree described in this story, nor does it align with the terms that the government and FARC negotiated in the National Reincorporation Council (CNR) to guarantee economic reincorporation. With regard to that, the OACP source who communicated with this site responded that the executive branch made this unilateral decision in response to the received critiques.

Truth Commission Formally Launches

May 8 was the official first day of operation for the Truth Commission established by the FARC peace accord. As of that date, the eleven commissioners have three years and six months in which to produce a report about what happened in the armed conflict, to promote recognition of victims, and to help generate conditions for “a culture of respect and tolerance.”

President Santos swore in the commissioners, led by Commission President Father Francisco De Roux, before a room full of high court officials and government ministers. De Roux and his colleagues had been working to lay the groundwork for the commission’s functioning, thanks to a UNDP grant, since they were chosen in November.

Over those months, the Commission held 22 workshops with victims and human rights defenders, as well as dozens of meetings with other stakeholders. It will now establish teams to cover 10 regions from 26 different offices. They hope to finish their report well before the deadline in order to spend the rest of their period educating about its content and promoting social reconciliation.

El Espectador asked De Roux, a Jesuit priest with a long record of heading human rights efforts, “What was the most serious thing that happened” in the conflict? He replied,

Human dignity was profoundly damaged by this conflict. Society’s silences, and lack of reaction, against the barbarity that we were living through. We just saw all of Ecuador stirred up by three journalists [killed by a FARC dissident group near the border]. We saw barbarity after barbarity happen, without doing anything, which is evidence of a very deep humanitarian crisis. Not just for the people who died, but for the lack of understanding, as a society, that the death of an indigenous person or an Afro-Colombian is the death of all of us. It is the undermining of our value as human beings and Colombian citizens. That’s where the wound is deep.

JEP Excludes “Para-Politicians”

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord to judge war crimes, rejected the applications of two politicians currently serving sentences for aiding paramilitary groups. Senator Álvaro Ashton and ex-senator David Char, the JEP’s “Chamber for Definition of Legal Situations” determined, did not commit crimes that could be considered “grave conduct related to the conflict.” As a result, they are not entitled to the maximum sentence of five to eight years of “restricted liberty” that the JEP would hand out in exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims.

Ashton and Char are among several dozen political figures who ended up before courts and in prison during the 2000s for aiding and abetting paramilitary groups that killed tens of thousands of Colombians. The scandal was known as “para-politics.” The JEP chamber’s decision, which can be appealed, reads, “The majority of members of Congress investigated and sentenced for conspiracy (the basic charge of ‘para-politics’) associated themselves with paramilitary structures neither to support them nor to win the war, but as a means to pursue their personal political interests.”

The chamber’s magistrates made clear that, in order to get a chance at a lighter penalty within the JEP, each crime’s relationship to the armed conflict must be clearly demonstrated. “It is not enough to say that something happened in the general context of violence,” El Espectador reported.

The JEP at some point will have to consider a petition from Jorge Luis Alfonso López, a para-politician who is the son of Enilse López, a Bolívar-based paramilitary sponsor named “La Gata” who has run the lottery gambling business in much of Colombia’s coast. Her son says “he has been directly and indirectly involved in the armed conflict” and wants to give information about politicians his family has financed, as well as military and police officers who worked with paramilitaries.

Universal Periodic Review in Geneva

It was Colombia’s turn this week for regular consideration of its human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Colombia’s Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, and some human rights defenders were on hand for a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which occurs about every five years.

Representatives of 95 governments offered comments about Colombia’s human rights situation. Nearly all of them said something about the rising number of social leaders and human rights defenders being killed in the country. The last time Colombia was subject to UPR, in 2013, the country’s human rights ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) counted 35 such murders. Between 2016 and now, it has counted 261.

The U.S. representative’s message was helpful, expressing concern about low levels of accountability for these murders, and noting targeting of ethnic and labor leaders. Though recognizing that about half of these cases have seen some advance in investigations or prosecutions, the U.S. representative said that they needed to be brought fully to justice.

The Colombian government responded that many of the killings owe to criminal groups’ violent efforts to take control of territories so that they may dominate illegal businesses like drug trafficking, precious-metals mining, and extortion. Colombian officials told the Council that it was carrying out a protection plan, and that in some way this plan was covering 4,000 social leaders, 60 percent of them in rural areas.

Colombian human rights organizations presented a joint report in Geneva. While they praised the government for the FARC peace accord and for making commitments on human rights, they criticized its lack of follow-through. “The Colombian state ends up adopting the [human rights] norm, but later it doesn’t implement it, or doesn’t put up enough resources to put it into practice,” said Ana María Rodríguez of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. Organizations present noted that the Council’s deliberations paid little attention to the paramilitary phenomenon, the responsibility of some businesses for human rights abuses, and the violations of privacy committed by Colombian intelligence agencies.

Attacks on “Rios Vivos” Movement in Antioquia

Luis Alberto Torres was killed in rural Puerto Valdivia, Antioquia, while mining by a riverside on May 8. Just eight days earlier, in the same municipality, gunmen killed Hugo Albeiro George in a local shop. Both men were members of the “Ríos Vivos” movement, formed to protest HidroItuango, a massive hydroelectric dam project underway in northern Antioquia.

“We hope that, in response to these acts, the Antioquia Police do not focus on dismissing and ignoring the leadership and human rights and environmental defense work that all of us members of Rios Vivio carry out,” read a statement from the organization. “Instead, we expect decisive action.”

Meanwhile, the Hidroituango dam project is in crisis. Since April 28, one of the tunnels used to divert the Cauca river has been blocked, raising the river’s level and forcing families to evacuate.

Response to Killing of FARC Member in Arauca

Unknown assailants killed Juan Vicente Carvajal alias “Misael,” a former FARC leader in the conflictive department of Arauca, about 4 kilometers from the FARC demobilization site in the village of Filipinas, Arauquita. As of early April, 52 FARC members had been killed nationwide since 2017.

Carvajal was among FARC leaders whom the U.S. government wanted in extradition for past narcotrafficking, and he led a FARC column during a bloody 2008-2010 conflict that the FARC and ELN fought in Arauca. This makes the ELN, which remains dominant in much of rural Arauca, a prime suspect in the murder.

Carvajal had left the Filipinas demobilization site, and had used his own resources to start a farm and run a discotheque in Arauquita. The security forces stated that they did not believe he was involved in criminal activity. He was living at his farm when he was murdered.

In a missive to FARC members, the ex-guerrillas’ maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko, warned them about going off on their own, as Carvajal had. While the ex-guerrilla’s homicide was “truly alarming,” Londoño said that it doesn’t mean that all former combatants are “condemned to total extermination.” Leaving the other ex-combatants and living by himself put him “in a high risk situation. …Discipline was always necessary… for the war, and I don’t know why some think that they don’t need it during reincorporation.”

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration, ELN Peace Talks, Transitional Justice, Weekly update