Updates from WOLA tagged “Post-Conflict Implementation”

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

WOLA Podcast: “I Wish I Did More Positive Reporting About Colombia Because I Love the Place”

March 31, 2020

Since 1997, John Otis has been reporting from Colombia, covering the Andes, for many news outlets. You may recognize his voice as National Public Radio’s correspondent in the Andes, or seen his many recent bylines in the Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of a highly recommended book about aspects of the conflict, Law of the Jungle (2010).

Here, John talks about some of the many changes he has seen in both Colombia and Venezuela during his tenure. The conversation also covers Colombia’s peace process, the difficulty of explaining the country’s complexity, and some places and people who’ve left very strong impressions over the years.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

Tags: Audio, Podcast, Politics of Peace, Post-Conflict Implementation, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy

Colombia’s New President Wants to Modify the FARC Peace Accord. His Proposals Aren’t Dealbreakers.

August 30, 2018

President Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos (left), meets with Joaquín Gómez (center), the now-demobilized former head of the FARC’s Southern Bloc. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace photo.

Along with his conservative political party, Colombia’s new president, Iván Duque, fiercely opposed the peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group negotiated by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos. On the campaign trail during the first half of 2018, he pledged to make “adjustments” to the November 2016 accord, which had taken more than four difficult years to negotiate. Since he was inaugurated on August 7, the peace accord’s supporters have been wondering which of Duque’s “adjustments” might prove to be dealbreakers that cause the FARC deal to fall apart.

In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four proposed modifications.

Publicly, President Duque has raised four issues. First, in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Second, that in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits. Third, that those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming, and fourth, that the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office.

While there are reasons for concern, Ceballos’s comment has led most peace accord proponents to breathe a sigh of relief. These “adjustments” either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty. Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website headlined them as “more symbolic than real.” If this is all that the Duque government is contemplating, the FARC accord will survive. Let’s look at all four:

  1. in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking

In just about every peace process in the world, the state party forgives the non-state party for the crime of “rebellion,” or sedition or treason—nobody goes to prison for the crime of rising up against the government. In Colombia, though, it’s a bit more complicated, as the non-state parties often break other criminal laws in order to fund themselves. They traffic drugs and other contraband. They kidnap for ransom. They extort. They degrade the environment.

In the past, members of the FARC, and of the AUC paramilitaries before them, could get their past drug-trafficking and similar crimes amnestied as “connected” political crimes—as long as a judge decides that all the financial proceeds went into the group’s war effort and nobody enriched himself or herself personally.

Here, Ceballos says that the Duque government will try to change that: in the future, any armed group that practices drug trafficking will have to pay a criminal penalty—no amnesty—no matter what.

That doesn’t affect the FARC accord, which Ceballos and Duque don’t propose to revisit. It may, however, complicate any future accord with the ELN guerrillas, with which the Santos government has left behind an unfinished negotiation process. Members of the ELN participate in narcotrafficking, and it’s safe to assume many are not personally enriching themselves. ELN guerrillas may be less willing to turn in their weapons if they face years in prison—or even extradition to the United States—for past drug trafficking.

The government’s lead negotiator in the FARC talks, Humberto de la Calle, raised this point in an August 12 El Espectador column:

The ELN has mixed itself with drug trafficking. Does this close the door for an agreement with that group? If peace with that organization comes to be around the corner, will it be necessary to repeal the offer being made today?

Ceballos mentions undoing a connection between sedition and kidnapping. No such connection exists. Kidnapping non-combatants is a war crime, and cannot be amnestied. Former FARC members who led or participated in kidnappings must answer to the transitional justice system, the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), which will require that they spend up to eight years under “restricted liberty,” issue complete confessions, and make reparations to their victims. A proposal to undo a “connection” between kidnapping and sedition would change nothing, as this describes the status quo.

  1. in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits

This changes nothing. Any former FARC fighter found to have committed a crime after December 2016, when the peace accord was ratified, must answer to it in the regular criminal justice system and would lose the right to lighter penalties in the JEP. This is what may happen to FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, whom U.S. authorities accuse of conspiring to ship cocaine to the United States in 2017 and 2018. Santrich is under arrest while Colombian authorities consider a U.S. extradition request. Here too, Ceballos is describing the status quo.

  1. those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming

Colombia’s highest judicial review body, its Constitutional Court, just ruled on this in mid-August, when it decided on the basic law underlying the JEP, the new transitional justice system. It found that war criminals may hold political 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.

To change this ruling, President Duque and his congressional supporters would have to amend Colombia’s constitution. If they succeeded in doing that and end up disqualifying many FARC members from holding office, it’s possible that some of them—who agreed to demobilize specifically so that they could participate in peaceful politics—would abandon the peace process, remobilize, and add to the growing ranks of armed guerrilla “dissident” groups. It’s far from certain, though, that Duque and his allies would have the votes necessary for such a constitutional amendment.

  1. the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office

This means that the voluntary coca eradication program begun under Chapter 4 of the peace accord would continue for the families who are already participating in it—but the program will not sign up any new families. Any coca grower who has not yet been reached by the Chapter 4 program, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS), will be shut out and, most likely, will face forcible eradication and no assistance.

For smallholding coca-growers unlucky enough to live in a municipality where the PNIS didn’t get started before Santos left office, this may be a violation of the peace accord’s terms. Colombia’s courts may have to decide that.

We also need to be vigilant about what happens to the 124,745 coca-growing families covered by the framework PNIS agreements the Santos government signed, including individual accords with 77,659 of them. The Colombian government has promised them two years of stipends, technical support, and other assistance to help them integrate into the legal rural economy. The Duque government must uphold this commitment. To break a promise to so many would destroy the Colombian government’s credibility in some of the most precarious parts of the country. The effect on coca cultivation and insecurity could be worse than never attempting either eradication or substitution in the first place.

Accord commitments aside, what Ceballos proposes sounds like bad policy. For decades now, Colombia—with U.S. support—has subjected smallholding coca-growers to forced eradication, while leaving no government presence behind in their communities. No basic services (usually, not even security), no land titles, no farm-to-market roads. The result has been quick and repeated recoveries of coca-growing. Nearly all of Colombia’s current coca boom is taking place in municipalities that had coca when “Plan Colombia” began ramping up forced eradication in 2000. Very little coca is showing up in new areas. If by “mandatory eradication” Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.

The upshot here: these four proposals could bring some problems if the Duque government manages to implement them. But they would not shake the FARC peace process to its foundations.

Iván Duque and Miguel Ceballos would do better, though, if they made other “modifications” to the peace accord’s implementation:

  • By making a small amount of land available to demobilized FARC members to work collectively, they could do much to slow the flow of ex-fighters into the ranks of the “dissidents.” Though a large number of ex-FARC fighters want to become farmers, the peace accord said nothing about making land available to them. An effort to do so is afoot, but moving slowly.
  • By reinvigorating and fully funding the national government’s new Territorial Renovation Agency (ART), local governments, and other agencies carrying out Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs) in 170 municipalities, they could take a large leap toward addressing the severe lack of government presence and services that underlies so much illegality—armed-group activity, drug trafficking, illicit mining—in abandoned rural areas. The peace accord’s first chapter on rural development offers a blueprint for the government’s “entry” into historically conflictive territories. It also accounts for 85 percent of the anticipated cost of implementing the entire accord. Chapter 1 is moribund right now; making it work would be a tremendously important “adjustment.”
  • They could improve the peace accord’s promise of allowing Colombians to practice politics without fear of being murdered. This would mean increasing protection for threatened social leaders around the country, and dismantling—through careful but aggressive investigative work—the networks of landowners, drug traffickers, businesses, rogue government actors, and organized criminals behind many of the 343 social-leader murders committed between 2016 and late August. President Duque signed a “pact” promising to do more to protect social leaders at an event on August 23. As the killings mount, it’s past time to move from promises to action.

Tags: Drug Policy, Post-Conflict Implementation, Transitional Justice

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 July 1-7

July 24, 2018

Social Leader Killings Begin Getting Mass Attention

At least four local social movement leaders were killed during the week:

  • Felicinda Santamaría in Quibdó, Chocó
  • Luis Barrios in Palmar de Varela, Atlántico
  • Margarita Estupiñán in Tumaco, Nariño
  • Ana María Cortés in Cáceres, Antioquia

The latter two had worked on the presidential campaign of left-of-center candidate Gustavo Petro.

The fresh wave of murders turned intense media attention on the post-conflict vulnerability of independent civil-society leaders, especially in territories from which the FARC withdrew after the 2016 peace accord. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) counts 311 leaders and human rights defenders killed between January 2016 and June 2018, about one every three days. The think-tank INDEPAZ, working with the Marcha Patriótica and Cumbre Agraria civil-society groups, issued a report counting 123 murders between January 1 and July 5, 2018—that is, two every three days.

According to INDEPAZ, 80.5 percent of this year’s victims have been members of campesino organizations, Community Action Boards (local advisory committees set up by a 1960s law), or ethnic community organizations. The report estimates that 13 percent of murders had something to do with coca crops—either participation in crop substitution or opposition to forced eradication. It finds that 83.2 percent had something to do with disputes over land, territory, or natural resources.

Violence against social leaders and human rights defenders has reached the level of “a humanitarian crisis,” said Carlos Guevara, coordinator of Somos Defensores, an organization that seeks to protect social leaders. Guevara contended that the killings seek to close spaces for citizen participation that opened up after the peace accord. “The violent arms [brazos violentos] want to shut that up, to stop people from participating politically, on the Community Action Boards, demanding land restitution, defending labor rights.”

“We went to the Atlantic coast, the southwest, center-west, Arauca, Meta, Guaviare, and what human rights defenders tell us is that the security forces have a plan tortuga [a ‘turtle plan’ or deliberate work slowdown] that allows things like these to happen in the territories. The Early Warning System works to locate the Gulf Clan [the “Urabeños” or “Gaitanistas” neo-paramilitary group] in a place, but it seems that they [the security forces] are not then doing everything possible to confront them.”

Social leaders fear “a militarization of peace,” Guevara told Semana magazine, which interpreted that to mean “that the next government’s policies once again empower the security forces, placing them above mayors and thus diminishing participation spaces for social organizations.”

“We don’t have a state response,” Guevara said. “There is a massive violence situation, I can’t say that it’s generalized or that it’s systematic, because at the moment we can’t prove it, but it is certainly massive.”

On the evening of July 6, thousands of Colombians gathered in cities and town squares to demand a halt to the killings. The murder that seems to have inspired the most mobilization was that of Ana María Cortés, killed on July 4 by gunmen as she dined in a cafeteria in Cáceres, in Antioquia department’s conflictive Bajo Cauca region. Cortés had coordinated Gustavo Petro’s campaign in Cáceres, and the defeated candidate, now opposition senator, tweeted his outrage. Petro also tweeted that Cortés had been threatened by the police commander of Cáceres. Antioquia police said they opened an investigation.

Tensions were compounded by a tweet from Colombia’s Defense Ministry insinuating, without evidence, that Cortés had ties to the Urabeños. Those who knew her denied that immediately.

Colombia’s prosecutor-general, Néstor Humberto Martínez, claimed (but did not present) “irrefutable and categorical” proof pointing to the “Caparrapos,” a gang that has splintered off from the Gulf Clan, with about 100-150 members, as Cortés’s killers. The Caparrappos and Gulf Clan are violently contesting control of the Bajo Cauca, a strategic zone for coca cultivation and cocaine production and transshipment. Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera alleged that the Caparrapos are killing social leaders in order to draw the authorities’ attention and thus avoid direct confrontation with the much larger Gulf Clan.

Luis Eduardo Llinás, who worked with Cortés on the Petro campaign in Cáceres, told El Tiempo that she had been receiving threats and intimidation since March. She had denounced the threats before the municipal ombudsman and was “very concerned and tense.”

Guevara, of Somos Defensores, was among those criticizing the government’s sluggish reaction to the new wave of killings. “It would seem that the institutions became silent after the [June 17] elections, and they’e watching from the sidelines as these social leaders and human rights defenders are being killed.”

By July 5, President Santos tweeted that he would convene a July 10 meeting of the government’s National Security Guarantees Committee, adding, “The Fiscalia has important results. I repeat my instruction to act with full force against those who attack social leaders. We won’t let our guard down.” Santos called on the security forces to increase their presence in zones where killings have occurred.

Interior Minister Rivera said that those responsible for the killings “are clearly organizations dedicated to narcotrafficking, dedicated to illegal mining and to theft of land,” and recognized that more effective efforts are needed to protect people. He refused to say that the social-leader killings are “systematic,” which according to Colombia’s Supreme Court would mean that there is a carefully orchestrated national plan behind them. “If recognizing a systematic nature could avoid the killing of social leaders, we would have recognized it a long time ago,” Rivera said. Instead, he said the government should focus on how to improve physical protection of threatened leaders.

The official protective response to threats has been plagued by delays. The Constitutional Court ordered the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP) to resolve social leaders’ protection requests within 30 days, and noted that protection “should go beyond that offered by the UNP.”

The UN verification mission in Colombia issued a statement making clear that it “vehemently rejects and condemns the killings of human rights defenders and community and social leaders.” The new director of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Colombia, Alberto Brunori, published a July 7 column in El Espectador, and an interview in El Tiempo, calling for urgent action to protect leaders and identify the killings’ masterminds.

The U.S. embassy made no public comment on the issue.

“Censurable discourse is becoming louder in the country,” reads an El Espectador editorial,

“stating, from social networks, that we need not lament the death of murdered social leaders, associating them with the guerrillas. Are we once again going to commit the historic error of stigmatizing those who work to give voice to the marginalized? It should be enough to look at the story of every victim to find that they are people committed to democracy and struggling, in clearly hostile environments, for their communities’ rights.”

Petro called on his erstwhile opponent, President-Elect Iván Duque, to denounce the killings. “Your silence allows the empowerment of the assassins.”

Tweeting from Washington, where he was on a several-day visit, Duque stated “I categorically reject the violent acts that have presented themselves in recent days in Colombia with social leaders and the violence seen against people who carry out political leadership.” From Spain later in the week, he tweeted, “We have to guarantee security for social leaders. No citizen should be intimidated by violence. We call on the authorities to advance investigations and bring to justice these crimes’ authors.”

Duque Finishes Washington Visit

The President-Elect spent the first several days of the week finishing a lengthy (June 27-July 5) visit to Washington, a city where he lived for many years. Before the July 4 holiday, Duque had a face-to-face meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.

In this and other official meetings (detailed in last week’s update), Duque reportedly heard a great deal of concern about Colombia’s increasing illicit coca crop and about the crisis in Venezuela. It is less evident that he heard many concerns about implementation of the 2016 peace accord.

Duque has been vocally critical of Venezuela’s regime. His messaging in Washington, though, was colored by an Associated Press report, published July 5, revealing that President Donald Trump had repeatedly brought up the possibility of military action in the neighboring country during conversations in August and September 2017. “I’ve never spoken of military interventions, or of encouraging military interventions,” Duque told reporters. “What must be done is to exercise diplomatic pressure against the dictatorship.”

Duque called for Latin American governments to support OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro’s hard line on Venezuela, including his finding, in a May report, that “a reasonable foundation” exists to accuse Maduro and ten other Venezuelan officials of crimes against humanity and to bring them before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

In July 2017, then-Senator Duque led an effort to denounce Venezuela’s regime before the ICC. If he persists in this claim as president, it will be the first time since the Court’s 2002 founding that one state has denounced another before the ICC.

Duque expressed to his reporters a desire that Almagro and the OAS become the main vector for Western Hemisphere diplomatic pressure on Venezuela. He called for Colombia’s exit from UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, a body dating back to the mid-2000s that today is moribund due to sharp ideological divisions across the continent. “UNASUR has really been an organization that has converted into an accomplice of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” Duque said. In April, six UNASUR member states (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru) suspended their participation.

Duque said he invited Vice-President Pence to attend his inauguration on August 7, and that he got no positive or negative response. “We want the United States to have the highest possible representation at our inauguration,” he added.

The President-Elect’s visit was also colored by the White House’s June 25 release of estimates showing yet another annual increase in Colombia’s coca crop in 2017. The topic of Colombian coca and cocaine production came up frequently in his meetings with U.S. officialdom.

In his remarks before reporters, Duque endorsed the outgoing Santos administration’s plan to increase forced eradication by employing low-altitude herbicide-spraying drones. He sought to make clear, though, that this would be one of a series of tools his government would employ. He referred specifically to financing productive projects for coca-growing families—but without referring to implementing Chapter 4 of the 2016 peace accord, which is already serving as a framework for financing such projects (although implementation of these projects is lagging badly behind).

While he did not offer specifics about all of the tools his strategy would use—or how that strategy might differ from what the peace accord foresees—Duque said he told U.S. officials that it would take about two years to begin showing concrete results. He said that the Americans were supportive: “Instead of talking about commitments in terms of numbers of hectares, what I received was a great show of support for our security agenda, and our agenda to confront illicit crops in Colombia.” He added that he would ask the U.S. government to increase its annual aid outlay, both for counternarcotics and for accord implementation.

Duque would not commit to re-establishing a program, suspended in 2015, to spray herbicides with aircraft. Doing so would require reversing a Constitutional Court sentence banning this practice, with the herbicide glyphosate, as too inaccurate and thus posing a potential health risk.

On July 5 Duque left for Spain, where he attended a conference about technological and economic innovation that also featured former U.S. president Barack Obama. Duque and Obama met, according to Duque’s Twitter account, and talked “about our country’s security and economic development challenges.”

Seven People Massacred in Southern Cauca

Unknown assailants dumped the bodies of seven men, roughly 25 to 35 years of age, on the side of a dirt road in the municipality of Argelia, Cauca, in the pre-dawn hours of July 3. They had apparently been killed in adjacent El Tambo municipality. Those responsible for the massacre are unknown, but its scale drew attention to Argelia, a troubled municipality of 12,000 people in south-central Cauca, along the border with Nariño department, that had been strongly under FARC influence during the armed conflict.

Cauca is the number-two department, after Antioquia, for killings of social leaders. A week earlier in Argelia, a group calling itself the “People’s Cleansing Command” circulated a pamphlet threatening to kill anyone who sells or uses drugs. This is the second large-scale killing in Argelia so far this year; masked men killed four people at a liquor store in January.

The commander of the Colombian Army’s 29th Brigade blamed the ELN for the massacre, which occurred in a zone of the guerrilla group’s influence. The ELN quickly issued a statement denying any role.

On July 4, Colombia’s National Police announced that two of the bodies had been identified as those of demobilized FARC members: one who had abandoned the FARC disarmament zone in Policarpa, Nariño, not far from Argelia; and one who had abandoned training to be a FARC bodyguard with the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit.

Argelia sits in a geographically strategic zone for organized crime, along a corridor between Cauca’s mountain highlands and Pacific-coast piedmont. About 3,500 hectares of coca are grown there, making it Cauca’s second most heavily planted municipality. Armed groups active there include the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan or Urabeños neo-paramilitary network.

Transitional Justice System Calls on FARC to Appear in Kidnapping Hearing

The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the body established by the peace accord to judge war crimes committed during the armed conflict, is beginning to work in earnest. With a preliminary hearing on July 13, it is to launch Case 001, covering kidnappings committed by the FARC between 1993 and 2012. The JEP’s Recognition of Truth Chamber has called on 31 former FARC leaders to appear.

The ex-guerrillas—or their legal representatives if they are unable to appear in person—are to be notified about the beginning of the case, and will be given copies of evidence against them, much of it in a report, “Illegal Retention of Persons by the FARC-EP,” that the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) compiled from case files. The information covers between 2,500 and 8,500 kidnappings or extortions that the FARC committed during these 20 years. The Fiscalía report includes 312 sentences for kidnappings that the regular judicial system has already handed out. Of these, 68 involve members of the ex-guerrillas’ Secretariat and General Staff. The JEP is also working off of reports from the Free Country Foundation, an NGO focused on anti-kidnapping, and the governmental but autonomous Center for Historical Memory.

Among the 31 guerrillas called to appear are 6 who are to be legislators in the congressional session that begins on July 20. Also among them will be maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko.

After the hearing, according to the chamber’s president, Julieta Lemaitre, “The accused will be given a prudent amount of time to prepare, and then we will call them to give voluntary confessions to provide a report on what they received. The chamber is also considering a hearing with victims.” In the case of kidnapping-disappearances, the JEP hopes that ex-combatants will help identify where remains are located.

Presumed Dissident Ex-FARC Leader “Rambo” Captured in Caquetá

Luis Eduardo Carvajal, alias “Rambo,” could be the second FARC leader subject to extradition to the United States for crimes allegedly committed after the peace accord went into effect. (The first is former top negotiator Jesús Santrich, currently imprisoned in Bogotá and wanted in New York for allegedly conspiring to ship 10 tons of cocaine.)

Police and Fiscalía personnel captured Carvajal in Puerto Rico municipality, in the southern department of Caquetá, sometime before July 4. He was wanted by U.S. authorities since before the peace accord went into effect, as he headed the powerful Daniel Aldana Mobile Column, which was particularly active in the southwestern department of Nariño. Nariño leads all Colombian departments in coca production and probably cocaine production.

Carvajal spent 35 years in the FARC, 15 of them commanding the Daniel Aldana. He controlled much, or most, illegal activity in the Pacific port of Tumaco and nearby zones along the Colombia-Ecuador border, which is the busiest cocaine transshipment corridor in the country. Authorities accuse his unit of shipping about 90 tons of cocaine per year, and of inviting Mexican narcotraffickers to operate in Tumaco. He and 300 other fighters disarmed and demobilized in Nariño during the first half of 2017. On January 18, 2018, he registered his case with the JEP, the transitional justice system.

It was widely suspected by 2018 that “Rambo” had gone rogue and joined FARC dissident groups active in the region’s cocaine trade. But his profile was very low, far lower than that of Walter Arizara alias “Guacho,” leader of the so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front FARC dissident group active in and around Tumaco. Guacho attracted enormous attention earlier this year when his men kidnapped and killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. But Carvajal’s whereabouts and activities were a mystery.

His arrest reportedly owes to testimony given by Prado Álava, referred to as “the Pablo Escobar of Ecuador,” whom Colombia extradited to the United States in April.

“Rambo’s risk of criminalization was extremely high,” reports Insight Crime. “He allegedly returned quickly to criminal activities well-armed with strategic knowledge about contacts, modus operandi and drug trafficking routes. But this time he seems to have sought more benefits for himself.” The next step in his case is for the JEP to certify that the allegations against him cover a time period after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord. Upon that certification, Carvajal could be subject to extradition to the United States.

Framework Accord Implementation Plan Crosses Another Bureaucratic Hurdle

Eighteen months after the peace accord’s ratification, the Colombian Presidency’s National Planning Department has produced a document, called a CONPES, that is an essential step to commit the government to spending long-term resources on its implementation. Based on a Framework Implementation Plan issued in March, the CONPES divides responsibilities among government agencies for activities whose cost could add up to about 129.5 trillion Colombian pesos (US$44.5 billion) by 2031, 15 years after the peace accord’s ratification.

Another CONPES approved in late June covers the reintegration of former FARC members. It commits the government to 6.3 trillion pesos (US$2.2 billion) in spending on reintegration by 2026. According to El Tiempo, as of June 13 there were 4,082 former FARC members still residing in 24 “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces (ETCRs),” the sites where they turned in their weapons and began their reintegration, plus about 1,000 family members. (This is out of 7,126 who entered these zones and disarmed there.) These individuals presumably seek to demobilize collectively, staying together. Another 6,044 former guerrillas, including militias and those released from prison, have shown an interest in demobilizing individually. The government was scheduled to stop providing food to residents of the ETCRs on June 30, but this has been extended until the end of August.

The CONPES on reintegration commits government agencies to report every six months on compliance with their assigned tasks. “Unlike the earlier reinsertion policy, this takes very much into account not just the strengthening of individual capacities, but also the collective aspect,” said Mauricio Restrepo, an advisor to Colombia’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN), who helped draft the document. Another ARN advisor, Alfredo Gómez, told El Tiempo that the new policy “has a particular emphasis on rural areas, due to ex-guerrillas’ interest in carrying out agricultural tasks, since the majority are of campesino origin.”

The incoming government of Iván Duque can issue new CONPES documents altering these spending commitments. Unless it does so, however, Colombian law requires this and future governments to carry out the activities laid out in the CONPES that were published this week and in late June.

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Attacks on social leaders, Post-Conflict Implementation, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

May 23, 2017

(1) In a decision announced late on May 17, Colombia’s Constitutional Court appears to have dealt a severe blow to implementation of the FARC peace accord. In a 5–3 vote, the magistrates did away with key parts of “fast track,” the special legislative authority the Court approved last December to allow swift passage of laws to enact the November 2016 peace accord’s commitments.

The new changes result from the Court’s consideration of a suit brought by Iván Duque, a senator from the opposition party led by former president Álvaro Uribe, the peace accord’s most vocal opponent. The Court struck down the ability to get a vote on a full bill without amendments or modifications (votar en bloque, similar to how the U.S. Congress approved free-trade agreements in the 1990s and 2000s). It also struck down a requirement that the executive branch approve of changes to implementing laws under “fast-track” (a protection against changes that might violate the accord’s commitments). The decision does not undo the few peace-implementation laws that have already passed, like the amnesty for ex-guerrillas not accused of war crimes.

Without “fast track,” the danger is that Colombia’s Congress might treat what was agreed after four years of negotiations in Havana as a mere suggestion. Legislative wrangling could delay, change unrecognizably, or quietly kill some of the government’s accord commitments.

We still need to see the actual text of the decision to interpret the potential damage. In the meantime, here is a sample of what analysts are saying.

  • The government’s lead negotiator in the FARC talks, Humberto de la Calle, said the Court’s decision “opens the door to a cascade of modifications to what was agreed,” calling it a “swindle.”
  • Juanita León and Tatiana Duque of La Silla Vacía discuss the “hard blow” that the Court’s decision represents for the peace accord’s implementation, which they say is a “triumph” for Uribe’s right-wing opposition party. On the bright side, though, León and Duque say that congressional deliberation and compromise might restore to the accord some of the credibility it lost when voters rejected it by a 50.2 to 49.8 percent margin in an October 2, 2016 plebiscite.
  • “The legalistic complexity of the debate is such that few Colombians have managed to understand the devastating effects that this decision has on the future of peace in Colombia,” wrote Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán.
  • Rodrigo Uprimny, a much-cited legal scholar from the think-tank DeJusticia, believes the decision was “legally incorrect” and worries that it might “make accord implementation slower and harder, as political groups opposed to or skeptical of peace could use the ability to introduce changes, and to vote article by article, to attempt, in bad faith, to block the accord’s implementation.”
  • Semana magazine lays out seven pessimistic effects that the decision will have on the peace process, concluding that “the ball is now in Congress’s court” at a bad time–just 10 months before the next quadrennial legislative elections.

(2) President Juan Manuel Santos visited Washington and met with Donald Trump at the White House. Trump appeared not to have been well-briefed about Colombia. “Trump did not mention Colombia’s hard-fought peace process until a reporter asked about it,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “He then praised Santos’ efforts. ‘There’s nothing tougher than peace,’ Trump said, ‘and we want to make peace all over the world.’”

Santos’s visit came just 13 days after the 2017 foreign aid budget became law, including the $450 million post-conflict aid package (called “Peace Colombia”) that the Obama administration had requested in February 2016. (The link points to $391 million in aid, because it doesn’t include assistance through the Defense Department budget and a few smaller accounts.)

As the Trump administration prepares to issue to Congress its request for foreign assistance in 2018—which is expected today—two senators appear to be occupying the Republican legislative majority’s “turf” on Colombia policy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) explained in a Miami Herald column that he opposes the FARC peace accord, but supports the “Peace Colombia” aid package with conditions. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) supports a more generous approach to lock in the peace accord’s security gains. Sen. Blunt, along with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), co-chaired an Atlantic Council task force that issued a report coinciding with Santos’s visit, which endorsed aid within the “Peace Colombia” framework.

(3) The Colombian Presidency’s post-conflict advisor, Rafael Pardo, says the government will launch 12 pilot projects this year to start work on one of the most ambitious parts of the peace accord’s rural development chapter: a cadaster, or mapping of all landholdings in the country.

Tags: Post-Conflict Implementation, U.S. Policy, Updates

Álvaro Uribe’s Questionable “Message to U.S. Authorities” About Colombia’s Peace Effort

April 18, 2017

On Easter Sunday Colombia’s former president, Álvaro Uribe, wrote a blistering attack on Colombia’s peace accords with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas. He sent it in English as a “message to the authorities and the Congress of the United States of America.” It went to every U.S. congressional office, as well as to Washington’s community of analysts, advocates and donors who work on Colombia.

Inaccurate=pink. Debatable=orange.

Uribe, now Colombia’s most prominent opposition senator, is the most vocal critic of the peace process led by his successor, President Juan Manuel Santos. The ex-president’s missive leaves out the very encouraging fact that 7,000 members of the FARC, a leftist guerrilla group, are currently concentrated in 26 small zones around the country, where they are gradually turning all of their weapons over to a UN mission. One of the organizations most involved in the illicit drug business has agreed to stop using violent tactics for political purposes and to get out of the drug economy. The process currently underway is ending a bloody conflict that raged for 52 years, and holds at least the promise of making vast areas of Colombia better governed, and less favorable to illicit drug production.

Colombia’s peace accord implementation is going slowly, and faces daunting problems. There is a responsible, fact-based critique that a conservative analyst could make. Uribe’s document is not that critique. It suffers from numerous factual inaccuracies and statements that are easily rebutted. Its fixation on the FARC, a waning force, deliberately lacks important facts regarding other parties to the conflict and it does little to explain how the United States can help Colombia address post-conflict challenges.

Here is WOLA’s evaluation of several of the points made by Álvaro Uribe in this document, and evaluations of their accuracy. The vast majority of his claims are either inaccurate, or debatable.

Statement:

“Coca plantations were reduced from 170,000 ha to 42,000 ha, now there are 188,000 ha according to the lowest estimate.”

Inaccurate. Two sources estimate Colombian coca-growing: the U.S. government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (working with the Colombian government). Their highest, lowest, and most current estimates of Colombian coca-cultivation are as follows.

Source Highest before current Lowest Most current
U.S. government 170,000 (2001) 78,000 (2012) 188,000 (2016)
UNODC 163,300 (2000) 48,000 (2012-13) 96,000 (2015)

No estimate shows a drop from 170,000 to 42,000 hectares. Both show the lowest estimate in 2012, two years after Uribe left office. 188,000 hectares is not the “lowest” current estimate, it is the higher of the two. Using the 188,000 hectare (U.S.) figure yields an increase from a baseline of 78,000, not 42,000.

Nobody denies that Colombia’s post-2012 coca boom is a problem, but Uribe’s statement exaggerates its severity still further.

Statement:

“THE CAUSE OF THIS DANGEROUS TREND: The government has stopped spraying illicit crops to please the terrorist FARC.”

Inaccurate. First, the October 2015 suspension of “spraying illicit crops” with herbicides from aircraft is one of seven causes for the boom in coca cultivation, which WOLA explained in a March 13 report. (The other six are a decline in manual eradication, a failure to replace eradication with state presence and services, a drop in gold prices, a stronger dollar, a promise that people who planted coca would get aid under the FARC peace accords, and an increase in organized coca-grower resistance.) Giving all explanatory weight to the suspension of herbicide fumigation is misleading, as even the State Department recognized that the program’s effectiveness was “significantly reduced” by “counter-eradication tactics” like swift replanting and pruning sprayed plants.

Tags: Criticism, Fact-Checking, Post-Conflict Implementation, U.S. Policy

Confronting Colombia’s Coca Boom Requires Patience and a Commitment to the Peace Accords

March 13, 2017

by Adam Isacson

In the vast areas of Colombia’s countryside where evidence of government is scarce, you can see the bright green bushes once again growing up to the roadside. They’re usually knee-high, indicating that they were planted recently. They’re in the same parts of the country as before: farmers don’t seem to be cutting down new forest and growing in new areas. Usually, it is one of several cash crops on a farmer’s land: at least some of the legal crops are more profitable, he or she will tell you, but with prices fixed by armed groups or organized crime, coca offers the steadiest income.Colombia is in the midst of a coca boom, perhaps its largest ever. The numbers show an explosion in plantings of the bush that produces leaves indigenous people in Peru and Bolivia (and a few in Colombia) have used for centuries, and drug traffickers today use to make cocaine. Using methods that it does not discuss, the U.S. government estimated 159,000 hectares of coca planted in Colombia in 2015 (a hectare is about two and a half acres). When it releases its 2016 estimate—reportedly on March 14—the U.S. number could reach or exceed 180,000 hectares for the first time ever. (The United Nations releases its own estimates, in cooperation with Colombia’s National Police, usually in June. Using a methodology that its reports endeavor to explain, the UN found 96,000 hectares in 2015. Though the U.S. and UN estimates diverge widely, they tend to follow similar trendlines—and both are increasing.)

Cocaine production is increasing along with the coca bushes. In 2016, Colombian security forces, mostly the police and navy, seized 379 tons of the drug, shattering earlier records and more than doubling the annual haul between 2010 and 2014. And Colombia has already interdicted 51 more tons in the first two months of 2017.

Though evidence-based research has cast doubt on illicit drug supplies’ ability to drive demand, U.S. authorities say that the coca boom is affecting cocaine consumption in the United States, which—though still at decades-low levels—is increasing for the first time in several years. In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [PDF] found a second consecutive annual increase in past-month U.S. cocaine users. The State Department’s March 2 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) stated [PDF] that “the number of overdose deaths within the United States involving cocaine in 2015 was the highest since 2007.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 56.7 percent more cocaine in 2015 than in 2014, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration [PDF].

The U.S. government, the UN, and analysts cite several reasons for the increase in Colombian coca production. These include:

Tags: Drug Policy, Post-Conflict Implementation

The Activists Key to Consolidating Colombia’s Peace Are Facing Increased Attacks

February 15, 2017

by Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli and Sonia Londoño

With the end of 52 years of conflict between the Colombian government and armed rebels, civil society activists are playing a key role in constructing a lasting peace and democracy in Colombia. Sadly, the human rights defenders, trade unionists, Afro-Colombian, indigenous and other community leaders conducting this vital effort are under threat. Since the signing of the peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the start of its implementation, attacks against civil society activists have increased at an alarming rate. While the FARC accord has significantly reduced overall violence in the country, the demobilization of these fighters has created vacuums throughout the country, which are in turn being occupied by paramilitary successor organizations that are making their presence known through selective killings and death threats.

If implemented accordingly, the peace accord is has potential to further a number of promising social reforms. Among other things it is designed to lead to rural land reform, guarantee political participation for historically-excluded political sectors, facilitate the reincorporation of FARC guerrillas into civilian life, deepen consultation with marginalized ethnic groups, provide alternatives to rural farmers who grow coca, and fulfill the rights of truth, justice and reparations for millions of victims. But these goals necessarily clash with certain interests, and the possibility of achieving them is leading to illegal armed groups’ attacks against activists. Worst affected are members of newer political movements like the Marcha Patriotica, ethnic minority activists and community organizers in rural areas. The Colombian government must prevent further harm from taking place to these activists. Perpetrators of these acts should be prosecuted and brought to justice immediately. If these attacks continue, the peace accord with the FARC and nascent peace talks with the National Liberation Army will be seriously undermined. Ultimately, the success or failure of a lasting peace in the country will depend on the government’s ability to ensure justice for these crimes.

The Statistics Alone are Sobering, But the Story is Deeper

Unfortunately, the news on the ground has been bleak: a number of Colombian organizations report that since September 2016, the security situation faced by civil society activists has been rapidly decreasing. While the numbers differ depending on multiple definitions of human rights defenders, activists and community leaders, what is certain is that all reports point to the problem getting worse. Somos Defensores reports that from January to December of 2016, 80 social leaders were killed. The majority of these murders took place in Cauca Department. INDEPAZ, on the other hand, reports that during that same period, 117 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed. They also add that in Valle del Cauca (5), Cauca (43), and Nariño (9) departments, a combined total of 57 activists were killed (two thirds of the total). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office, meanwhile stated that since the November 24, 2016 signing of the accord, 13 of the 53 killings of civil society figures recorded by that office in all of 2016 took place.

The trend has not gone entirely unnoticed. On November 2, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement of concern regarding the killings of human rights defenders in Colombia in 2016. The Commission found that while the numbers of death threats and intimidation faced by human rights defenders are down from 2015, the number of actual killings is up. It also urges Colombia to include in its investigations the premise that these individuals were murdered due to their work defending human rights. On February 7 the IACHR condemned the killing of another 7 people in 2017. It is particularly concerning that five of the seventeen killed were ethnic minorities, including two women.

The impact of murders, attempted murders, threats and aggression against activists has a disproportionate impact on indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. This disproportionate impact is true numerically speaking–one source states that 30 percent of those civil society activists killed are ethnic minorities—as well as sociologically. Such killings cause disastrous effects on ethnic minorities’ collective, organizational processes and their ability to work together to advocate for their land, ethnic and cultural rights. .

In addition to the threats faced by community leaders, we also see illegal armed groups targeting ethnic leaders’ extended family members. Given this, it is necessary that a differentiated approach is taking when creating prevention and protective measures for these leaders and their communities. Constitutional Court Orders 004, 005 and 092 on Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and Women IDPs contain useful information on how to prevent the displacement of key communities. In many circumstances collective protective measures are required rather than individual ones. With U.S. Embassy support the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) worked to help develop collective measures for Afro-Colombian leaders and displaced communities at risk in urban and rural environments. However, Colombian authorities never followed through with implementing what was required. Access to justice for these communities is often more challenging, so it is the clear responsibility of the government to break down the barriers that exist for ethnic groups’ entry into the judicial system.

When it comes to the exact number of killings and attacks against Afro-descendant and indigenous leaders and communities, there are, generally speaking, no comprehensive statistics available. The reasons for this are many: institutional racism, underreporting by ethnic minorities due to fear of reprisals, corruption of local officials and the complex geographical dynamics found in the rural and urban areas they live in. Given this, it is likely that the problem is worse–and less addressed–than what is actually reported. When looking at the Somos Defensores figure of 80 leaders killed in 2016, it is noteworthy that 22 of those killed or, 27 percent of the total, were ethnic minorities (15 indigenous and 7 Afro-Colombians).

Recent Cases of Concern to U.S. Policymakers

WOLA issues periodic action alerts about threats and attacks against civil society. While all cases are of concern, there some are of particular interest to U.S. policymakers. In January, three members of the Communities Constructing Peace in the Territories (CONPAZ) were killed: Afro-Colombian Emilsen Manyoma Mosquera and her husband Joe Javier Rodallega from Valle del Cauca Department, and Wiwa indigenous leader Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela of Cesar Department. Ms. Bernal Varela was an outspoken leader for the rights of indigenous Wiwa, Kogui and Arhuaco women. She was disappeared and fifteen days later found dead with a bullet in her head. Ms. Mosquera was a tireless advocate for the rights of youth in the Community Council of Bajo Calima. She and her partner were killed in Buenaventura. Meanwhile, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice in Peace that legally represents CONPAZ suffered security incidents. Also in January, Marino Cordoba of the AFRODES and the Ethnic Commission suffered the murder of two of his relatives at the hands of Gaitanista paramilitaries in Chocó. This came just a few months after his son was killed by these same men in October 2016. AFRODES leaders continue to face security challenges throughout the country.

The Indigenous Association of Northern Cauca (ACIN), the Wayuu territorial authorities, and the Afro-Colombian Community Councils of Northern Cauca (ACONC) continued to face assassination attempts, attacks and death threats. The ACIN and ACONC are engaged in defending their ancestral lands from illegal mining, environmental damage and the encroachment of illegal armed groups. After the many publicized deaths of indigenous children due to malnutrition, dehydration and the humanitarian crisis in their region, Wayuu authorities advocated for cleaning up corruption and mismanagement of funds by Colombia’s Child Welfare Agency (ICBF). They have also denounced the environmental damage caused by the Cerrejon coal mine. The latter has resulted in stigmatization of Wayuu communities in the press and death threats. Particularly worrisome is the deteriorating security situation faced by members of the San Jose de Apartadó Peace Community in Antioquia, and Operation Genesis victims in Cacarica, Chocó, who have denounced paramilitary activity in their regions.

Relevant Mechanisms in the Accords and Steps Forward

The peace accord with the FARC signed on November 24 includes mechanisms that guarantee the physical protection for human rights defenders and guarantees for them to do their work. In the political participation (point 2 of the accords) it stipulates that adequate normative and institutional prevention, protection, evaluation and monitoring of will take place to guarantee the security for leaders and organizations of social movements and human rights organizations. The accord states that “security guarantees are a necessary condition for consolidating the construction of peace and coexistence.” It also highlights the importance of civil society activists in the implementation of the plans and programs set forth by the accord.

The third point of the accords, the end of the conflict section, includes an agreement “to guarantee security by fighting criminal and other organizations responsible for homicides and massacres that target defenders, social and political movements, or who threaten persons who participate in the implementation of the accords and construction of peace.” This includes actions against “organizations referred to as successor paramilitary organizations and their support networks.” This point then proceeds to include the agreement that several mechanisms will be developed to address this problem. These include a National Commission to Guarantee the Dismantlement of Criminal Organizations, which would be responsible for attacks against defenders, social and political movements that include paramilitary successor groups. It calls for the creation of a Special Investigation Unit to dismantle these criminal organizations and their networks, the integration of an Elite Corps within the National Police and an integral security system for policy development. Lastly, it sets forth basic guarantees for prosecutors, judges and other public servants involved in this fight.

The press coverage reveals that in his conversation with President Juan Manuel Santos, President Donald Trump indicated that he would personally see to it that Colombia receives the assistance package needed to consolidate peace, which will first require approval from the U.S. Congress. Such an indication of support for Colombia’s peace is a positive first step. We would also encourage policymakers to prioritize operationalizing the commitments found in the accord pertaining to protecting human rights defenders, community leaders and political parties, and dismantling paramilitary successor groups.

Tags: Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Post-Conflict Implementation

5 Ways Supporting Peace in Colombia Benefits U.S. Interests

February 1, 2017

This week, the United States Senate is expected to hold a final confirmation vote for President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. While his nomination is expected to be confirmed, in his written testimony Tillerson made a remark regarding the longstanding U.S.-Colombia partnership that merits some clarification. When asked about Colombia’s historic peace accord, which ends 52 years of conflict between the Colombian government and armed rebels, he suggested he would “review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.”

WOLA is confident that a look at the details will prove that Colombia’s peace agreement deserves full U.S. support. For one thing, the agreement holds immense benefits for the Colombian people, particularly those communities that have been most affected by over five decades of violence. But support for a lasting peace also carries promise for the United States as well, and it is directly in line with U.S. interests.

Last year saw widespread bipartisan support for a $450 million aid proposal for Colombia, which was approved by both houses of Congress. However, the 2017 foreign aid bill has not yet passed. When it does, this $450 million should be sustained or increased. Below are five reasons why doing so is in the U.S. interest.

1. Consolidating Security Gains will Require Sustained Investment

The accords have had a drastic effect on violence in Colombia. The historic ceasefire between the armed the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been accompanied by a major drop in homicides: the country reported 12,262 in 2016, down 25 percent from when the peace talks began.

However, neither the Colombian government nor the United States can remain complacent. Now that the rebels are beginning to demobilize, a state presence—infrastructure, basic services, access to justice—must be established in the roughly one-fifth of Colombia’s territory with heavy FARC presence. By continuing its support, the U.S. government can ensure that the benefits of peace go beyond simply an end to fighting. Post-conflict transitions elsewhere have clearly shown the limits of military aid alone, underscoring the importance of focusing resources on strengthening democratic institutions and expanding state presence.

2. More Integrated, Long-Term Efforts are Needed to Address Drug Trafficking

According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, coca crop cultivation in Colombia has increased by 40 percent. With coca cultivation on the rise, now is not the time to cut U.S. aid. Instead, the United States should be helping Colombia in its efforts to build state presence in in coca-growing areas, and present rural Colombians with sustainable economic alternatives.

Fortunately, the peace accord lays out the blueprints for an innovative program that aims to supplement mandatory eradication with coca reduction through community engagement, a plan that will be aided by the participation of former FARC rebels. The plan will require resources and could benefit from parallel U.S. funding, but it holds far more promise for reducing coca crops in the long term than the failed policies of the past.

3. Peace Can Prevent Proliferation of Illegal Armed Groups

While the FARC—the country’s largest guerrilla group—have signed the accords and are participating in demobilization efforts, other smaller armed groups remain active. The United States has a role to play in ensuring that talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) move forward, and that criminal networks and neo-paramilitary actors across the country do not fill the vacuum left by the FARC. There are already reports that criminal gangs are moving to take control of traditional FARC areas and dissuade rebel elements from demobilizing. In order to ensure that these efforts are not successful, the United States will need to provide generous support for increasing state presence and programs to reintegrate ex-combatants.

4. Supporting Peace in Colombia is a Bipartisan Policy

The Plan Colombia aid package, despite its shortcomings, has been hailed in Washington as a rare successful foreign policy initiative with broad bipartisan support. Indeed, Republicans and Democrats alike backed the initiative across five U.S. presidential terms. In today’s polarized political climate, supporting U.S. funding for Colombia’s post-conflict future represents an opportunity to show the public that lawmakers of both parties remain committed to working together to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

5. U.S. Support for Vulnerable Populations is Key to Deepening Colombian Democracy

U.S. policy towards Colombia has long been rooted in support for the country’s democracy. Over the last two decades, U.S. aid has been increasingly focused on the needs of vulnerable populations in Colombia, namely indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Because these same groups are among the hardest hit by Colombia’s armed conflict, supporting civil society efforts in their communities is essential in order to secure a lasting peace and help Colombia make its democracy more inclusive.

U.S. assistance will continue to be fundamental in Colombia’s post-conflict transition. Today, civil society leaders in rural areas are under serious threat. Despite the nationwide reduction in violence since the accords, community activists and rural organizers are being targeted by criminal organizations in a wave of threats and killings around the country. Continuing to fund civil society organizations and community initiatives in these areas would send a powerful message to those who are opposed to making political participation safe for all in Colombia.

Tags: Post-Conflict Implementation, U.S. Policy

Some of the Many Reasons Why the United States Should Keep Supporting Colombia’s Peace Accord

February 1, 2017

The Trump administration’s likely secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has declared an intention “to review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.” WOLA is confident that once he reviews those details, Mr. Tillerson will conclude that the 2016 agreement, which ends 52 years of fighting between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group, deserves strong support.

There are many practical reasons for such a conclusion. Here are a few.

1. The 2016 government-FARC accord, and accompanying UN-monitored ceasefire, have brought Colombia’s violence to decades-low levels. The gains are not irreversible: they depend on strong accord implementation. In 2016, only 216 members of the Colombian security forces, guerrilla groups, or paramilitary groups died in situations that could be defined as combat—a 46 percent drop from 2015, and a 93 percent drop from a decade earlier. Even before an August 29 bilateral ceasefire shut down FARC-government violence almost completely, CERAC, the Colombian think-tank that most methodically tracks violence statistics, reported that Colombia’s conflict was in its least intense since it began 52 years ago. Overall, Colombia reported 12,262 homicides in 2016, a 25 percent drop from 2012, the year the FARC peace talks started.

Before 2012, intensified security operations had brought important drops in combat and violence. But battlefield progress slowed notably after about mid-2008. This made clear that a military victory over the FARC would take many more bloody years, while a peace accord might bring the conflict to a much more rapid end—as it did last year. After a several-year plateau, violence measures did not drop further until the FARC negotiations reached an advanced phase.

2. Right now, the FARC guerrillas’ membership is gathering to demobilize and disarm. The United States must help Colombia to minimize dissidences and rearmament. As many as 14,000 FARC members and militias have arrived, or are on their way, to the village-sized sites where they will spend six months demobilizing, turning in their weapons to a UN mission, and entering either civilian life or trial for war crimes. Arrivals at the 26 zones should be complete by the end of January. While this process is behind schedule, the delays owe to logistical difficulties, not bad faith.


A UN rendering of one of the village-sized zones where FARC guerrillas are reporting for demobilization and disarmament.

These security gains are remarkable, but they are fragile. FARC dissidences are emerging in several parts of the country—a normal phenomenon at this phase in post-conflict processes, but a worrying development. Organized crime groups and the smaller National Liberation Army guerrillas are poised to fill territorial power vacuums that the FARC leave behind, if Colombia’s state proves unable to fill them first. To keep these challenges under control, Colombia will need generous, determined, and active U.S. support for increasing state presence and reintegrating ex-combatants—not criticism or opposition.

3. This is a historic opportunity to de-mine the world’s second-most mine-affected country. Anti-personnel mines have killed or injured more than 11,000 Colombians since 1990. The overwhelming majority have been planted by guerrillas, and the threat of violence has impeded their removal. With the peace accord in place, Colombia has big plans to accelerate de-mining: with a 10,000-person force and international (including U.S.) support, it has set a goal of being mine-free by 2021. But for this to happen, mine-clearers need to do their work without fear of attack, and they need ex-guerrillas to tell them where the mines are. Both require the conflict to be definitively over, and the peace accord can guarantee that.


Part of a Colombian government map showing sites identified as needing demining in San Miguel, Putumayo. This detail is approximately 6 by 9 miles in size.

4. It opens the way for reparations of millions of conflict victims, offering hope of breaking a generations-old cycle of violence. The Colombian government’s National Unit for Victims, which began work in late 2011, has approved the provision of reparations to over 297,000 people who suffered a lost relative, forced displacement, torture, sexual violence, or another tragedy as a result of the conflict. As impressive as this sounds, over 6.3 million Colombians are in fact registered with the Unit, and determined to be “subject to assistance and reparations.” (The total number of registered victims exceeds 8.3 million, or one-sixth of the entire population.)

The signing of a peace accord offers hope that the reparations process might accelerate for this enormous population. It also holds out hope that FARC members—who carried out a minority of homicides and displacements but a majority of kidnappings, landmine use, and child recruitment—will, in compliance with their accord commitments, participate in reparations and tell victims the truth about what happened to them and their loved ones. The victims’ assistance process must go forward, and the U.S. government should support it.

Tags: Post-Conflict Implementation, U.S. Policy