Updates from WOLA tagged “U.S. Policy”

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

Open letter to the Department of State on Colombian military intelligence abuse

May 26, 2020

May 22, 2020

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador Michael Kozak
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg
U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy to Colombia, Bogota

Dear Ambassador Kozak and Ambassador Goldberg,

We write out of deep concern, which we are confident you share, regarding the revelations that Colombian Army intelligence units compiled detailed dossiers on the personal lives and activities of at least 130 reporters, human rights defenders, politicians, judges, union leaders, and possible military whistleblowers.  As you know, the group contained U.S. citizens, including several reporters and a Colombian senator.

This scandal is disturbing in itself and for what it says about Colombia’s inability to reform its military and intelligence services.  In 1998, the 20th Military Intelligence Brigade was disbanded due to charges that it had been involved in the 1995 murder of Conservative Senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado and his aide and, according to the 1997 State Department human rights report, targeted killings and forced disappearances.  In 2011, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), Colombia’s main intelligence service, was disbanded due to the massive surveillance, as well as threats against, human rights defenders, opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, and reporters.  In 2014, Semana magazine revealed army intelligence was spying on peace accord negotiators in the so-called Operation Andromeda.  In 2019, Semana exposed another surveillance campaign using “Invisible Man” and “Stingray” equipment against Supreme Court justices, opposition politicians, and U.S. and Colombian reporters, including its own journalists.  In March 2020, a Twitter list compiled by the Colombian army identified the accounts of journalists, human rights advocates, and Colombia’s Truth Commission and Special Jurisdiction for Peace as “opposition” accounts.

The surveillance is far worse than a massive invasion of privacy.  The targeting of political opposition, judicial personnel, human rights defenders, and journalists leads to threats, attacks, and killings.  For example, during the 2019 surveillance operation, Semana reporters and their family members received funeral wreaths, prayer cards, and a tombstone.  This surveillance and targeting has a chilling effect on the very people and institutions needed to maintain a vibrant democracy.  It means that no amount of government protection programs can stop the targeted killing of human rights defenders and social leaders.  The persistence of this kind of surveillance suggests that an important segment of Colombia’s military and intelligence services – and of the political class – fail to appreciate the fundamental role of a free press, human rights and other civil society organizations, and peaceful dissent in any vibrant democracy.

We are also deeply concerned to hear that some U.S. intelligence equipment may have been used for these illegal efforts. Semana “confirmed with U.S. embassy sources that the Americans recovered from several military units the tactical monitoring and location equipment that it had lent them.”

As we review this latest manifestation of Colombia’s deeply rooted problem of identifying as enemies and persecuting those who wish to defend human rights, uphold justice, and report the truth, we ask ourselves:   What can ensure that this never happens again?

At a minimum, we recommend that the U.S. government:

  • Support the creation of an independent group of experts under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate and recommend steps to achieve justice and non-repetition.
  • Press for a thorough review of military doctrine and training to ensure that it promotes a proper understanding of the role of the military in a democratic society, including the role of human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians, and an independent judiciary. While the written doctrine was revised during the Santos Administration, clearly improvements to doctrine are not being followed.  The review should seek an accounting for the too-frequent episodes of senior military behavior that contradicts this revised doctrine.  Such a review must have input from Colombian human rights defenders and judicial experts, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
  • Urge the Colombian government to provide all necessary protection measures, agreed upon with the targeted individuals and organizations, to ensure their physical and psychological integrity, as well as that of those around them.
  • Urge the Colombian government to purge all intelligence files, whether of state security forces or other organizations, collected on human rights organizations, finally addressing the long-standing demand by human rights organizations, unfulfilled for nearly a quarter century. 
  • Urge the Colombian government to reveal publicly the full extent of illegal intelligence operations targeting civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists, clarifying who was in charge, to whom they reported, what kind of intelligence was carried out, and with what objectives. 
  • The administration should direct DNI, CIA, NSA and DIA to inform congressional intelligence, armed services and foreign relations and foreign affairs committees of their conclusions on the full extent of illegal Colombian intelligence operations, clarifying who was in charge, to whom they reported, what kind of intelligence was carried out, and with what objectives.  The administration should direct the same agencies to inform these congressional committees whether and when the U.S. government learned of these actions by the Colombian military and intelligence services and whether U.S. intelligence agencies cooperated with their counterparts even after learning of those actions.
  • Investigate whether recipients of U.S. training and/or equipment participated in ordering or implementing these illegal activities and immediately suspend individuals and units involved from receiving U.S. training and equipment, per the Leahy Law.
  • Suspend all U.S. support for Colombia’s military and intelligence services if the Colombian government does not immediately suspend and promptly investigate and prosecute officials who ordered and executed these illegal activities and conduct the thorough review and rewriting of military doctrine and training mentioned above.

If the nation is to realize the vision of so many Colombians to create a truly “post-conflict” society with shared prosperity under the rule of law, then intelligence targeting and surveillance of democratic actors must finally end.  Thank you for your efforts to ensure Colombia turns the page for once and for all on these deadly, illegal, and anti-democratic activities.

Sincerely,

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
Colombia Grassroots Support, New Jersey
Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington DC
Colombian Studies Group, Graduate Center – College University of New York
Colombian Studies Group, The New School
International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
Oxfam America
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
School of the Americas Watch
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights, Military and Human Rights, Press Freedom, U.S. Policy

Video of WOLA’s May 19 event: Colombian Military Espionage—An Attack on Post-Conflict Reformers and the Free Press

May 23, 2020

On May 19 WOLA hosted a 2-hour discussion of new revelations that Colombian Army intelligence had been spying on journalists, judges, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, and other military officers. The nine speakers included several victims of the spying and some U.S.-based analysts.

The discussion’s video feed is below. The first is presented in the languages the speakers used, and the second is dubbed with a full English translation.

In English and Spanish:

Full English translation:

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Military and Human Rights, Press Freedom, U.S. Policy

Podcast with Rep. Jim McGovern: “What if I was in Colombia? Would I have the courage to say what I believe?”

May 20, 2020

(Cross-posted from wola.org)

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress, is a longtime advocate of human rights, worldwide and in Latin America.

McGovern joins WOLA in this episode for a conversation about Colombia, a country to which he has traveled several times, and where he was one of the House of Representatives’ leading advocates for the negotiations that ended with a peace accord in 2016.

We’re talking weeks after new revelations that U.S.-aided Colombian military intelligence units had been spying on human rights defenders, journalists, judges, politicians, and even fellow officers. The Congressman calls for a suspension of U.S. military assistance to Colombia while the U.S. government undertakes a top-to-bottom, “penny by penny” review of the aid program. “If there’s not a consequence, there’s no incentive to change,” he explains.

He calls for the Colombian government and the international community to do far more to protect the country’s beleaguered human rights defenders, to change course on an unsuccessful drug policy, and to fulfill the peace accords’ commitments. Human rights, Rep. McGovern concludes, should be at the center of the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship.

Listen to the podcast above, or download the .mp3 file.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Tags: Attacks on social leaders, Audio, Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Military and Human Rights, Podcast, U.S. Aid, U.S. Congress, U.S. Policy

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

A New Scandal Underscores Colombia’s Stubborn Inability to Reform Military Intelligence

May 7, 2020

(Cross-posted from wola.org)

Semana, a Colombian newsmagazine that often exposes human rights wrongdoing in Colombia’s armed forces, published another scoop on May 1, 2020. Army intelligence units, it found, had been developing detailed dossiers on the personal lives of at least 130 reporters, human rights defenders, politicians, judges, and possible military whistleblowers. The list of targets includes U.S. citizens who work in Colombia as reporters for major media outlets.

Semana has a long record of revealing malfeasance in the security forces. The last five covers are from the past twelve months.

This is the latest of a long series of scandals involving illegal wiretapping, hacking, surveillance, or threats from Colombia’s powerful, U.S.-backed security and intelligence forces. Though Colombia has taken modest steps toward accountability over its military, the Semana revelations show us how fragile and reversible this progress is.

The purpose of intelligence should be to foresee and help prevent threats to law-abiding people and their freedoms. In a country where a social leader is murdered every other day, such threats abound. For scarce intelligence resources to be diverted away from those threats, and channeled instead to illegal and politicized ends, is a betrayal of public trust and an attack on Colombian democracy.

Preventing a further repetition of these intelligence abuses will require Colombia’s government to take bold steps. These include holding those responsible, at the highest levels, swiftly and transparently accountable for their crimes. Because U.S. assistance may be implicated in, or at least adjacent to, the military intelligence units’ actions, how Colombia responds must have giant implications for the integrity of the bilateral relationship and the ostensible purposes of U.S. aid. Any indication that these crimes may once again end up in impunity must trigger a cutoff of U.S. aid to the units involved.

What we know about the latest revelations comes mainly from Semana and other Colombian media. We lay it out in the following narrative.

Prehistory: this keeps happening

Unauthorized wiretapping scandals recur with numbing regularity in Colombia. In 2009, Semana—which tends to reveal most of these misdeeds—uncovered massive surveillance and threats against opposition politicians, judicial personnel, reporters, and human rights defenders. These were carried out by an intelligence body, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), that reported directly to President Álvaro Uribe. The DAS had already run into trouble earlier in Uribe’s government (2002-2010) for collaborating with paramilitary groups on selective killings. As a result of the 2009 scandal, the DAS was abolished in 2011.

In 2013 Colombia passed a landmark intelligence law prohibiting warrantless surveillance or intercepts, and put strong limits on judges issuing warrants against people who were not organized criminals, drug traffickers, or terrorists. The law created a congressional oversight body that has been largely inactive, while a commission to purge intelligence files issued a report that was not acted upon.

By 2014, army intelligence was at it again. Semana revealed the existence of a hacking operation, “Andromeda,” working out of what looked like a restaurant in western Bogotá. Its targets included government negotiators participating at the time in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. Since then, efforts to hold accountable those responsible for Operation Andromeda have shown “no results to date,” according to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

President Juan Manuel Santos’s second term (2014-2018), marked by the conclusion of a peace accord with the FARC, was a quieter period for military human rights scandals. A moderate, and moderately reformist, high command implemented doctrinal changes and supported the peace process, while human rights groups documented fewer extrajudicial executions committed directly by the armed forces.

2019, a bad year for Colombia’s army

Progress reversed sharply in 2019. The high command that new President Iván Duque put into place, including Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez, fell under criticism from human rights groups for their past proximity to “false positive” extrajudicial killings a decade earlier. Colombian media began gathering reports about increased abuses, and abusive behavior, at the hands of military personnel. Semana revealed that in a January meeting Gen. Diego Luis Villegas, the chief of the military’s “Vulcan Task Force” and now head of the army’s “Transformations Command,” said, “The army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over.… If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.”

President Iván Duque and Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez, February 4, 2019 (Image c/o the Colombian presidency). 

In April, troops in Gen. Villegas’s task force killed a former FARC guerrilla in northeast Colombia’s volatile Catatumbo region. Semana reported later in the year that a colonel had told his subordinates that he wanted Dimar Torres dead. (Gen. Villegas apologized publicly for the killing, and the colonel is detained awaiting trial.)

In May 2019, the New York Times ran with a story that Semana had been sitting on: army chief Gen. Martínez and his commanders were reviving “body counts” as a principal measure of commanders’ effectiveness. Rather than measure territorial security or governance, army brass decided to require unit commanders to sign forms committing themselves to a doubling of “afectaciones”—armed-group members killed or captured—in their areas of operations. This raised concerns about creating incentives for “false positives”: killings of innocent civilians in order to pass them off as combatants to pad body counts, as happened thousands of times in the 2000s. 

Whistleblowers within the military were the main sources for the Times story. Rather than upholding those whistleblowers and rethinking “body counts,” the high command launched a campaign to root out officers who talked to the media, including New York Times reporter Nicholas Casey. In what Semana revealed in July and called “Operación Silencio,” counterintelligence officers began interrogating and polygraphing army colleagues suspected of snitching. (We would learn in May 2020 what the army was doing at the time about Nicholas Casey.)

The second half of 2019 had more bumps for the army. Semana revealed corruption scandals, including selling permits to carry weapons and misuse of funds meant for fuel and other needs. These led to the firing of five army generals, including Gen. Martínez’s second in command. In November, the civilian defense minister, Guillermo Botero, was forced to resign amid allegations of a cover-up of an August bombing raid on a rearmed FARC dissident encampment, which killed eight children.

The January 2020 hacking revelations

After a stormy year-long tenure, Gen. Nicacio Martínez, the army commander, abruptly resigned on December 26, 2019. (The General told El Tiempo that he discussed his exit with his family on December 8, notified President Iván Duque the next day, and was out 17 days later.) On January 13, 2020, Semana published a bombshell cover story on what it called “the real reasons that caused the government to retire the army commander.”

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Military and Human Rights, Press Freedom, U.S. Policy

Podcast: “These moments of social resistance are never moments. They have long histories.”

May 5, 2020

Winifred Tate, an anthropologist at Colby College and former WOLA staff member, is one of the country’s top experts on Colombia. She is the author of 2 books about Colombia: Counting the Dead, about the human rights movement in the country, and Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats, about how U.S. policy toward Colombia gets made and how human rights groups have dealt with it. Tate has worked on Colombia from two perspectives: as a scholar, but also as an advocate, which gives her a unique perspective.

Here, she talks about the origins of Colombia’s human rights movement and the pros and cons of “professionalizing” defense of human rights. She discusses the importance of community-based organizing and the work of women activists in a very conflictive part of the country. The conversation delves into continuities in U.S. policy, especially Washington’s preference for military solutions to complex problems.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

Tags: Audio, Civil Society Peace Movement, Drug Policy, Human Rights Defenders, Podcast, U.S. Policy

Colombia Pushes Coca Eradication During COVID-19 Pandemic

April 24, 2020

The following April 23, 2020 statement is cross-posted from wola.org. We are alarmed that Colombia is not only going ahead full-throttle with manual eradication operations in coca-growing zones during a pandemic, but that eradicators’ security-force escorts have killed two civilians in the past four weeks.

Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, April 22, in an Indigenous community in southwest Colombia, public security forces killed one person and injured three others who were peacefully protesting a police operation to manually eradicate coca plants. Members of the police eradication team fired into a group of Awa Indigenous people, who were attempting to talk to them about why Indigenous authorities hadn’t been consulted about the planned eradication, as required by law. The death is the second related to manual coca eradication operations since Colombia went into national quarantine in late March.

Even while imposing a strict national quarantine, the Colombian government has launched more intense and aggressive coca eradication operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. These operations, which often require the deployment of public security forces without appropriate protective equipment, have sparked long-standing tensions in six Colombian departments. In addition to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 due to the deployment of eradication forces, the aggressive eradication campaign has ignored key elements of the historic 2016 peace accord. 

In the operation that led to the death of one Indigenous community member and three wounded in southwest Colombia, the government had failed to consult with the community prior to the operation. Additionally, in many of the other municipalities targeted in the last month, the Colombian government has systematically failed to deliver payments and other productive project support for crop substitution programs as laid out by Chapter 4 of the peace accords. 

The Duque administration’s push to intensify coca eradication has largely responded to an aggressive pressure campaign from the Trump administration. Citing rising rates of coca production and cultivation, the Trump administration has pushed the Duque government to expand its eradication teams from 25 in 2017 to nearly 150 today. This rapid expansion appears to have vastly outpaced any instruction in use-of-force protocols that the security forces accompanying the eradicators were receiving, heightening the risk that when these teams go into rural communities to destroy what is, for many families, their only steady source of income, the resulting confrontations involve excessive or even lethal force. 

Beside increasing coca eradication operations during the nationwide lockdown, Colombia has seen no slowdown in the pace of attacks and threats against social leaders, including those who are advocating for implementation of the peace agreement’s illicit crops chapter. On April 22 alone, three people at a local community council in southwest Nariño department were killed by dissident fighters from the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group; another social leader, who formed part of the leftist Marcha Patriótica political movement, was killed in Cauca department; and two more were killed elsewhere in Cauca. Various Afro-Colombian communities in Cauca and Chocó department have also expressed concern about eradication operations and threats by armed groups in their area. According to Colombian think tank Indepaz, at least 71 social leaders were killed during the first three months of 2020; at least another dozen have been killed since Colombia’s national quarantine began. 

The Colombian government needs to rigorously and promptly investigate the killings of social leaders, securing convictions for those who carried out and those who ordered the crime. Additionally, instead of a drug policy that emphasizes forced eradication of coca, the Colombian government should uphold its commitments in the 2016 peace agreement and promote rural land reform, sustainable development, and the establishment of state presence in coca cultivation areas. Finally, given the number of leaders from farmers’ association the National Agrarian Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario) and the Marcha Patriótica who have faced violent attacks and threats, all armed actors—including FARC dissident groups and government forces—should avoid involving civilians in armed conflict.

Tags: Coca, Drug Policy, Human Rights, Illicit Crop Eradication, U.S. Policy, WOLA Statements

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

Podcast: “Guerrilla Marketing” in Colombia

March 19, 2020

Here’s a new Colombia-related installment in WOLA’s podcast series. A conversation with Alex Fattal, whose 2018 book “Guerrilla Marketing” tells the story of the Colombian military’s employment of advertising campaigns to convince guerrillas to demobilize during the country’s armed conflict. His work explores the overlap between national security, global capitalism, and “branding.”

The podcast is above, or download the mp3 here.

Tags: Audio, Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration, Podcast, U.S. Policy

An outdated interpretation of counter-terror law has painted U.S. Colombia programming into a corner. The way out is simple.

March 11, 2020
The Humanicemos website uses a lot of the same mission language as U.S. government documents. But U.S. officials can’t even buy its members a cup of coffee.

(Español)

Humanicemos is a non-governmental organization dedicated to clearing landmines in Colombia. Its personnel are former combatants from the FARC guerrillas, who demobilized after the signing of a 2016 peace accord and are now embarking on new lives. It gets support from the UN and the European Union, and works with Colombian government agencies.

This sounds like the sort of feel-good group that the U.S. government would want to support. But it does not support it. In fact, for U.S. officials, the members of Humanicemos are untouchable.

In January, Andrés Bermúdez Liévano writes at JusticeInfo, Angela Orrego of Humanicemos reported to a Bogotá hotel to participate in a 2020 planning meeting of groups working on de-mining.

But when Orrego and two of her colleagues from Humanicemos, one of those organizations created to destroy landmines, arrived, another government official barred them from entering.

“I’m very sorry,” she told them. The meeting was partially funded by the U.S. State Department, she explained, and that meant they could not participate.

At issue is a U.S. law prohibiting “providing material support to terrorists” (18 U.S. Code Sec. 2339A). Though it demobilized nearly three years ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, remain on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, and all of its members are still considered to be terrorists. As a result, it is a crime—punishable with fines or up to 15 years in prison—for U.S. citizens to provide any FARC party members with money, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, communications equipment, facilities, or transportation.

As currently interpreted, the prohibition doesn’t apply to former FARC members who demobilized individually and have in some way renounced membership in the FARC political party. Individual demobilized receive some U.S. support through the Colombian government’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency.

The rest, though—the thousands of former FARC members who maintain some identity related with the FARC political party, like Ms. Orrego—are frozen out. It is illegal even to buy them a cup of coffee, much less instruct them in a skill like landmine removal.

This “material support” statute—or rather, the way it’s being interpreted right now—is more than an annoyance. It’s becoming an obstacle to U.S. interests in Colombia. The State Department, the Defense Department, and USAID all place a high priority on supporting “stabilization” in Colombia. That’s the term they and the Colombian government use to describe introducing a functioning government presence, with basic services and security, in vast ungoverned rural areas where coca and armed groups thrive. In these areas, thousands of former FARC members circulate freely today. Many have a strong interest in the goals of stabilization, which overlap closely with the first chapter of the peace accord (“rural reform”).

This means that today, U.S.-supported stabilization efforts are frequently running into engaged former FARC members, with bizarre results. In off-the-record conversations going back to 2017, U.S. officials have told WOLA staff of incidents in which former low-ranking guerrillas have been barred from Colombian government meetings to plan Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs) or to consult with communities about government services, just because the U.S. government was partially or fully covering the meetings’ cost.

In some cases, U.S. officials only found out afterward that low-level former guerrillas had attended U.S.-funded events. When that has happened, because that ex-guerrilla may have had a sandwich or drink provided by the conference organizers, or may have received some knowledge by attending the event, U.S. officials have had to endure numerous subsequent meetings with State Department lawyers, going over every detail to document and understand what happened, what the organizers knew, and whether it was punishable.

The FARC ceased to exist as an armed group in August 2017, after handing in 8,994 weapons and more than 938 arms caches to a UN mission. “Of 13,202 ex-combatants accredited before the accord’s signing,” the Colombian Presidency’s High Counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation reported last month, “12,940 remain committed to their reincorporation.” While some estimates of ex-guerrillas’ desertions from the peace process run as high as 830, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of former FARC members continue to be engaged with the process. That their mere presence can halt or water down U.S. support for important stability and demining efforts is an absurdity. 

“The FARC are still part of the terrorist list,” U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg told a Colombian newspaper in February, “because, as we know, there are some dissident groups still involved in narcotrafficking and violence.” The dissident groups are a big challenge. Their approximately 2,400 members, scattered across about 23 groups, either refused to demobilize, abandoned the process later, or are new recruits. Their numbers are growing.

But the dissident groups aren’t the ex-FARC. In fact, they are one of the main threats to the security of ex-FARC fighters who have renounced violence. To date, about 186 demobilized FARC members have been killed. Of 93 cases for which Colombian government investigators have been able to attribute responsibility, FARC dissidents are the likely killers in 36—that is, 39 percent of cases. It makes no sense, as Ambassador Goldberg did last month, to conflate FARC party members who’ve renounced violence with the FARC dissidents who are attacking them. They don’t belong on the same list.

If this is truly the reason why peace process-respecting former guerrillas remain on the terrorist list, there’s an easy remedy that doesn’t necessarily even require removing a group called “FARC” from the terrorist list. The U.S. government just needs to reinterpret the existing statute in a way that distinguishes between dissident groups and demobilized guerrillas. If the current interpretation has painted U.S. programming into a corner, then that interpretation needs to be updated for the reality of Colombia in 2020.

That would mean screening out from U.S.-funded programs not everyone who is considered a FARC party member or affiliate, but instead only:

  • The few dozen ex-guerrillas who are wanted by U.S. courts for drug trafficking or kidnapping;
  • Those facing serious and specific accusations of war crimes before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the Colombian government’s system of war crimes tribunals;
  • Those on the Treasury Department’s “Specially Designated Nationals” list; and
  • Those credibly alleged to be continuing to engage in illicit activity.

The number of individuals meeting these criteria is a small percentage of the total universe of non-dissident ex-guerrillas. For the rest, there should be no other barrier to participation in U.S.-funded programs. The remaining rank and file, trying to build a peaceful life and contribute to Colombia’s reconciliation, must lose their “untouchable” status.

Three years is enough: it is past time to realign the statute’s interpretation to match up with Colombia’s reality. And Congress should communicate to the State Department, in any way appropriate, that it does not object to this common-sense adjustment.

Tags: Counter-Terrorism, U.S. Aid, U.S. Policy

U.S.-Colombia Anti-Drug Plan Pushes Failed Policy of Aerial Fumigation

March 6, 2020

Here’s the text of a press release posted this morning to wola.org. (Versión en español) And below, a 2-minute video from Adam Isacson, WOLA’s director for defense oversight.

Washington, D.C.—On March 5, the United States and Colombian governments reaffirmed a bilateral agenda aimed at halving the cultivation and production of coca in Colombia by 2023. The announcement, which reflects growing alarm about record-high rates of coca cultivation and cocaine production, pushes an anti-drug strategy that includes the aerial herbicide spraying of coca-growing zones from spray aircraft dispensing the herbicide glyphosate. This policy risks causing serious harm: it may push some of Colombia’s poorest citizens deeper into poverty, generate violence and unrest, harm the environment, and detrimentally impact efforts to implement Colombia’s 2016 peace accords.    

“It’s clear that the United States is pushing for aerial fumigation, and that they’ve found a willing partner in Iván Duque,” said Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “What both countries are ignoring is the lack of evidence supporting aerial fumigation as an effective long-term drug control strategy. The plan also ignores the very real possibility that restarting fumigation will result in grave consequences for communities in vulnerable situations.”

For public health reasons, Colombia suspended a U.S.-backed aerial fumigation program in 2015, after 21 years and 4.4 million acres (1.8 million hectares) sprayed. But from 1994 to 2015, mass campaigns of aerial fumigation in Colombia were the cornerstone of U.S. drug policy in the region. It took at least 13 acres of spraying (some estimates go as high as 32 acres) to reduce coca-growing by one acre—and years of evidence showthose gains were not permanent. In areas absent of government presence, with no farm-to-market roads, land titles, or even basic security, replanting happens quickly after spraying, even if there is an initial reduction in coca acreage. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in 2018 found that coca farmers had adopted easy ways to counter mass campaigns of aerial spraying. 

“Aerial fumigation is a short-term tactic with no long-term results, like losing weight on a crash diet only to gain it again,”said Isacson. “The regions where families plant coca need basic government services: roads, food security, an effective police force. Sending police and contractors to anonymously spray herbicides from overhead is the direct opposite of what those government services should look like.”

The potential costs of aerial fumigation are significant. Past WOLA research in the region has documented how aerial fumigation displaces ethnic communities and destroys food security. Another concern is social discord in coca-growing areas: about 120,000 Colombian households currently make a living from growing coca, earning an average of $130 per month. There is also the question of environmental harm and potential health damage, as a growing number of studies point to a potential link between glyphosate and forms of cancer. A 2015 literature review published by the World Health Organization found that glyphosate, the chemical used in aerial fumigation, was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”  

“The accords already provide for crop substitutions, economic opportunities in rural areas, and social development. The Duque government needs to uphold these commitments, not restart a failed and risky aerial spraying program,” said Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Director for the Andes at WOLA. “Rather than pressure Colombia to fumigate, the United States should instead encourage President Duque to quit dragging his feet on the full implementation of the 2016 peace accords.”

“It’s incredibly frustrating. We have this historic opportunity to provide avenues for economic and social development thanks to the 2016 peace accords, and both President Duque and the United States are ignoring it,” added Sánchez-Garzoli. “Instead, they want to bring back fumigation. Imagine, for some of the people living in these regions, a police plane dropping glyphosate on their communities could be the first evidence of state ‘presence’ they see since the accords were signed in 2016.” 

Adam Isacson explains why we can’t spray our way out of Colombia’s coca cultivation challenges.

Tags: Coca, Drug Policy, Illicit Crop Eradication, U.S. Policy

Latest Table of Aid to Colombia

February 24, 2020
Click to enlarge.

The Trump administration issued its 2021 State Department and foreign aid budget request to Congress on February 10. It calls for a big increase in counter-drug aid to Colombia’s police and military, along with cuts in economic aid and non-drug military aid.

Congress is certain to reverse this, as it has, on a bipartisan basis, with the Trump White House proposals to cut aid for 2018, 2019, and 2020. But in the meantime, here are the numbers from the past few years, starting before the Obama administration’s “Peace Colombia” aid package went into effect in 2017.

Sources for most of these numbers:

Not reflected here is assistance to Colombia to manage flows of Venezuelan refugees.

Tags: U.S. Aid, U.S. Policy

Lecture: “Saving Colombia’s Fragile Peace”

January 3, 2020

WOLA’s Adam Isacson was at Florida State University on October 30, 2019 delivering a Broad International Lecture on Colombia’s conflict and peace accord implementation.

It’s a recent iteration of Adam’s “Colombia 101” talk, covering the conflict, U.S. policy, Plan Colombia, the peace process, and today’s security challenges. It’s 55 minutes plus questions and answers.

The staff at FSU did a great job of integrating dozens of slides into the video, and the sound and lighting are very good. We’re grateful to them for sharing this.

Tags: Armed Groups, Compliance with Commitments, Stabilization, U.S. Policy

Colombian Congress Concerned About U.S. Ambassador Whitaker

April 24, 2019

The below post features a letter from several members of Colombia’s Congress who support full implementation of the peace accord. They emphatically reject views that U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker expressed in some unusual early April meetings with Colombian legislators. An account of these meetings was first reported in the Bogotá daily El Espectador. That report showed Whitaker, a career diplomat now completing his fifth year as ambassador, hinting that

  1. All U.S. aid to Colombia may be cut if Congress rejects President Iván Duque’s objections to the law underlying the transitional justice system. Colombia’s House overwhelmingly rejected those objections on April 8
  2. President Trump may “decertify” Colombia in September for being a poor partner in the drug war.
  3. The extradition of former FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich is a “point of honor” for the U.S. government.

The letter continues:

 

Press Release

Denouncing the Ambassador of the United States in Colombia’s Intrusion

 

We, the undersigned Members of Congress, affirm the following:

  1. We reject the U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker’s open intrusion into Colombia’s domestic politics. We do not consider the intervention into the legislative debate a legitimate exercise of his diplomatic privileges in Colombia, especially in regard to the transitional justice system and the peace process. Thus, any form of political pressure on members of the Legislative or Judicial branches, even in the form of statements or suggestions in a public forum, are inadmissible. The role of diplomacy is to cultivate and maintain good relations between countries, people, and governments and not to get involved in the country’s own political issues and democratic functions.
  2. We express our solidarity with John Jairo Cárdenas, representative of the Chamber of Representatives and member of the U Party on the Chamber’s Peace Commission, in light of the announcement from the U.S. Embassy suspending his visa. We consider this action to be an unwarranted conflict in our normally cordial bilateral relations. We are willing to respond proportionately to express our dissatisfaction with the treatment given to our fellow Representative Cárdenas.
  3. We additionally establish that the position taken by the U.S. ambassador regarding the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and its legality contradicts the statements and positioned that the U.S. government has adopted in its capacity as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. Jonathan Cohen, the previous ambassador from the United States, issued the following statement in the name of his government: “We reaffirm the importance of Colombia’s enforcement of the Statutory Law of the JEP, as it empowers the judicial body to act in an independent and effective manner.
  4. We ask that President Iván Duque Márquez, acting through the offices of Chancellor Carlos Holmes Trujillo, communicates this position from the National Government of Colombia rejecting this act violating our national sovereignty.

Signed:

Angélica Lozano

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Gustavo Petro

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Julián Gallo Cubillos

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Iván Cepeda Castro

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Wilson Arias Castillo

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Luis Alberto Albán Urbano

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Jorge Gómez

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Juanita Goebertus

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Ángela María Robledo

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Jorge Enrique Robledo

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Katherine Miranda Peña

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Omar Restrepo

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Fabián Díaz

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Alberto Castilla

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Antonio Sanguino

Senator of the Republic of Colombia

Jairo Cala Suárez

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Carlos Alberto Carreño

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Benedicto González

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

María José Pizarro

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

León Fredy Muñoz

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Wilmer Leal

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

David Racero

Representative of the Republic of Colombia

Tags: Human Rights Defenders, U.S. Congress, U.S. Policy

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of September 30-October 6

October 13, 2018

Prosecutor’s Office Raids Transitional Justice System Headquarters

On the afternoon of October 4 agents of Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía, which investigates and prosecutes crimes in the regular criminal justice system) showed up at the offices of the new, separate transitional justice system created by the peace accords (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes committed during the armed conflict). The agents, sent by the Fiscalía, demanded to be allowed to carry out a “judicial inspection” of the files in the new justice system’s first and largest case so far, numbered “case 001”: charges of mass kidnapping against 31 FARC leaders.

This action, which appeared to be a blatant interference in the new justice system’s workings, generated expressions of outrage against Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, a frequent critic of the JEP and other aspects of the FARC peace accord. Though Martínez quickly rescinded the order and called back the agents, JEP President Patricia Linares declared, “the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a digital copy of the casefile, due to the hasty manner in which the procedure was carried out.”

Linares “strongly and emphatically reject[ed]” what she called “the Fiscalía’s undue interference with the autonomy and judicial independence” of the JEP, adding that it was “openly violative of the judicial reserve that covers the investigations carried out by JEP judges.”

The UN Verification Mission and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia issued a joint declaration following the incident:

The rights of victims and the legal security of participants in the armed conflict depend on strict respect of all public powers for the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We underline the importance that collaboration between jurisdictions be harmonious and fully respectful of their respective competences.

What Colombian media called a “train crash” between the old and new judicial bodies could have consequences for the peace process. It appeared to be a political move seeking to intimidate the JEP and demonstrate the Fiscalía’s relative power. It may have increased former FARC leaders’ fear of being arrested in a similar future show of political power, which risks causing more of them to abandon the process, either going into hiding or taking up arms again.

Missing FARC Leaders Send a Harshly Worded Letter

Two of the most prominent leaders who have already gone clandestine surfaced in a letter sent to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress. Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa,” once head of a powerful FARC mobile column, have been missing since June or July. Their letter, the first communication from them in months, had some very harsh words for a process they view as failing.

“The peace accord has been betrayed,” reads the letter, which laments having agreed to turn in weapons before reaching more specific agreement on the terms of ex-combatants’ reintegration. The letter outlines what, in the missing leaders’ view, are three “structural flaws” in the November 2016 accord.

First, they cite “judicial insecurity,” believing themselves vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and possible extradition. They allege that this is what happened to Jesús Santrich, a guerrilla negotiator close to Márquez who was arrested in April and faces an extradition request to the United States on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine. The two ex-guerrilla leaders write that these charges are a “judicial setup hatched by the Attorney General, the U.S. Ambassador, and the DEA.” Writing in La Silla Vacía, analyst Héctor Riveros notes that regardless of the truth behind the Santrich case, the “judicial insecurity” argument has served “hundreds of ex-guerrillas” as a pretext for exiting the process and joining armed dissident groups.

The second “flaw” noted in the letter are the changes made to the accord after it was narrowly rejected in an October 2016 plebiscite, which in their words “transfigured the Havana Accord into a horrific Frankenstein.” Third, they cite the Colombian Congress’s failure to pass all the legislation needed to implement the accord, especially reforms to the political system and the failure to create special temporary congressional districts to represent victims’ groups.

The FARC political party held a press conference in the Congress, with its legislators rejecting the arguments in Márquez and Montero’s letter. “They’re totally wrong,” said FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada.

“I could hardly go and say that there are no conditions or guarantees while I’m sitting in the Senate press room leading a press conference. What we’re saying is that the process has difficulties, the implementation has not been consistent on the part of the state, but there are some spaces that have been won, we value them and they are very important to achieve progress in the implementation of the peace accords.”

Lozada called on the missing leaders to “understand” that the ex-guerrilla party has adopted a supportive but critical position on the accord’s implementation, and that they “reconsider their position.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told the Blu Radio network that “the police have intelligence reports” about Márquez and Montero’s current location. While refusing to reveal anything on the radio, Botero acknowledged that both are in Colombia.

US Ambassador Pushes for Santrich Extradition

The Jesús Santrich case remains a big test for Colombia’s new transitional justice system. The former guerrilla negotiator remains in prison awaiting a decision from the JEP about whether he may be extradited to face charges in a New York federal court of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the peace accord was ratified.

“Extradition is a very strong tool for Colombia, for the United States, for the victims and for the peace agreement,” U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker said this week. “Jesus Santrich is accused in a United States Court of having violated U.S. law, that is why we are seeking his extradition and we will continue in that.” The ambassador added, “Any person or institution that can stop the extraditions affects the interests of the United States, affects the interests of Colombia and of all those who long for peace.”

The FARC insists that Santrich, a FARC ideologist who has poor eyesight and little apparent prior involvement in the guerrillas’ narcotrafficking, is innocent. They doubt the evidence made public so far, which appears to show Santrich offering approval to a plan, hatched by a nephew of Iván Márquez, to send coca to Mexican narcotraffickers who are, in fact, DEA agents or informants.

Farc Senator Victoria Sandino said, “It’s been more than six months since they captured Jesus Santrich, with the argument that U.S. justice has the evidence,” but “the Prosecutor-General’s office then goes out and says it does not have it. And now the Embassy persists in the extradition. What we say is show the evidence and present it to the JEP. And Santrich’s legal defense demands freedom, because no evidence has been shown.”

Sandino is referring to this chain of events:

  • When another country requests the extradition of an individual facing trial in the JEP, the peace accord requires the JEP to determine whether the alleged crime took place before or after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord—the official end of the conflict. If the crime happened before that date, then extradition would be blocked.
  • This procedure left unclear whether the JEP was merely to perform the clerical task of certifying the date of the alleged crime, or whether it was also empowered to decide whether there was enough evidence to back up the allegation.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court settled this question in August, when it determined that the JEP does have the ability to evaluate the evidence backing an allegation.
  • On September 18, the JEP asked the Fiscalía to turn over all the evidence in its possession about the Santrich case.
  • On September 27, the Fiscalía sent a letter to the JEP stating that it had turned over everything it its Santrich file. La Silla Vacía commentator Héctor Riveros characterized this as “the ‘bureaucratic file,’ that is, some letters and little else.”
  • On October 1, the Fiscalía announced via Twitter that it had sent 12 more audio files to the JEP. But it also surprisingly announced that it “does not have audio or video evidence. …The elements being requested now are those that form part of a judicial process in the United States.” That the proof against Santrich is not available in Colombia drew much attention in Colombian media.
  • According to Riveros, the Chief Prosecutor then tried to do some damage control: “Prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez, aware of the seriousness of Santrich’s detention, invited the directors of the most influential media in the country to his office to show part of the evidence on the basis of which the former negotiator’s arrest was ordered. They were short videos and some photos that, although they did not reveal anything, hinted that Santrich may have been literally caught ‘with his hands in the cookie jar.’”

“If everything keeps going like this,” Riveros wrote, “that Jurisdiction [JEP] can not say anything other than that there is no proof that Santrich has committed crimes after the accord’s signing.”

New Security Council Report

The UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued its latest quarterly Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on the demobilization and reintegration process. It covers July 21 to September 26. Some of its key findings:

  • As of August 30, approximately 13,000 demobilized FARC members had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and 12,773 of them had been provided with their accreditation, an increase of 150 since July. It’s hard to notify some of these ex-guerrillas of their accreditation because of their “increased dispersal.”
  • On August 10 the FARC gave the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace a list of about 1,000 additional former members, who were not on the “final” list of August 15, 2017, the date the FARC officially disarmed. Most of the new names, the Secretary-General’s report notes, “come from areas affected by continuing security challenges and where the integration of the individuals into the process could be beneficial. As such, I hope that this matter will be treated by the new Government as a priority.”
  • As of late August, 232 accredited ex-guerrillas were still in prison, even though the accord calls for amnesty for their crime of sedition, and then for their future appearance before the JEP for more serious crimes.
  • The UN Mission reiterated concerns about “the departures of several former FARC-EP commanders from the territorial areas for training and reintegration in the south-eastern region. Some of them have cited concerns about their physical and legal security as a motivating factor.” Ominously it adds, “this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups.”
  • The Mission’s chief, UN diplomat Jean Arnault, said that about 4,000 ex-FARC members remain in the “territorial areas,” or demobilization sites, or their immediate vicinity. (Ex-guerrillas have been free to leave these sites since August 15, 2017.) More than 2,000 have moved to “several dozen new regrouping points and thousands are dispersed throughout all of the country, including in the main cities.”
  • “The process of economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind other dimensions of reintegration,” the report states. “[T]he fundamental goal of providing income-generating opportunities to some 14,000 former combatants is far from being realized, as illustrated by the fact that only 17 projects have been approved, of which only 2 are currently funded.” Former FARC members are carrying out dozens of productive projects, informally, on their own. Many could succeed, the UN report contends, “if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector, among others.”
  • Nine former FARC members were killed during the 90-day period, making a total of 71. The Fiscalía’s Special Investigation Unit, set up by the peace accord to investigate these killings, notes that three-quarters of these killings took place in five departments: Nariño (16), Antioquia (15), Cauca (12), Caquetá (8), and Norte de Santander (7). The UN report notes further, “In 34 cases, the Unit reported significant progress in its investigations, with 17 instigators or perpetrators arrested. Of these, 15 cases involved dissident groups, 7 involved private individuals, 6 were attributed to ELN, 4 cases were attributed to the Clan del Golfo criminal group, 1 involved local criminal organization and 1 case remains under investigation. According to the Investigation Unit, the principal motives behind the attacks are related to territorial control (21 cases) and revenge (3 cases).”
  • Even without direct negotiations, the UN report states that “continued direct communication between the Government and ELN is welcome.” The report finds that renewed peace talks are certainly possible: “The Government has made it clear that it expects a cessation of all violence; the ELN, for its part, has stated that it aims to bring about substantive change based on a broad social dialogue. The two goals are not incompatible.”

FIP Report Finds Deteriorating Security Conditions

The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think-tank founded by members of the business community, released an extensive report on October 3 about deteriorating security guarantees for practicing peaceful politics in post-conflict Colombia. “From a feeling of tranquility and expectation for the returns that the implementation of what was agreed with the FARC would bring,” the report reads, post-conflict regions “have passed into distrust and fear for the reactivation of violence.” It zooms in on four conflictive regions: Arauca, Catatumbo, Cauca, and southern Bolívar.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In the 170 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that Colombia has prioritized for post-conflict Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), homicides increased 28 percent in January-July 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.
  • In these municipalities, forced displacement tripled, from 5,248 people to 16,997.
  • In these municipalities, crimes against social leaders also nearly tripled, from 24 to 67.
  • Throughout the country, 93 social leaders were killed between January and August, compared to 50 during the same period in 2017.

In the four regions it looked at, the FIP found common patterns:

  • an unstable confluence of armed actors;
  • a reactivation of social conflicts;
  • vulnerability of social leaders;
  • delays in the implementation of the peace accord;
  • weaknesses in ex-combatants’ reincorporation process; and
  • difficulties in implementing security guarantees at the local level.

The FIP calls for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration of post-conflict zones’ security situation. “Under these conditions, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical moment. We still have time to prevent and contain the manifestations of violence and intimidation in the territories affected by the presence of illegal armed groups and armed confrontation.”

Kidnapping of Mayor’s Son, Age Five, in Catatumbo

Two armed, motorcycle-mounted men kidnapped the five-year-old son of the mayor of El Carmen, a municipality in the violence-torn region of Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. The mayor, Edwin Contreras, is part of a political dynasty in the 2,000-person municipality; his uncle had held the post before him. “Since he became mayor, he has received strong intimidations,” reports El Espectador.

The Catatumbo region, with 11 municipalities and a population of about 300,000, has suffered frequent fighting between the ELN and a local guerrilla group, the EPL, since March. The two groups previously had cordial relations, but the departure of the FARC from part of the zone, and a sharp rise in coca cultivation, undid the local power equilibrium. Violence has since shuttered schools at times and displaced thousands.

While the kidnappers’ identity is unknown, speculation points to the ELN. “In this municipality, even a needle can’t move without the ELN knowing about it,” local residents who asked to remain unnamed told El Espectador. “We’re so exposed that on any given day they can kidnap the mayor’s son,” the municipal ombudsman said. “There is no Army here. There is a police presence, but they can’t do their job. They can’t go out. We’ve reiterated this issue in all official security meetings. We are abandoned to our fate.”

In-Depth Reading

Tags: Extradition, Transitional Justice, U.S. Policy, UN, Weekly update