Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of April 29-May 5

Dire Warning from Former Chief Negotiator De La Calle

Humberto de la Calle, a respected former vice president and the Liberal Party’s low-polling candidate for May 27 elections, led the Colombian government’s team for all four years of peace talks with the FARC in Havana. On the campaign trail, he has been largely silent on the government’s subsequent implementation of what the accords promised. This silence ended April 29, when he published a brief statement to his website entitled “They’re throwing away peace.” An excerpt:

They’re throwing away peace. That’s it, in plain Spanish, without hypocrisy. They’re throwing away peace.
First, [former president Álvaro] Uribe and [Ivan] Duque [the presidential candidate of Uribe’s Democratic Center party] have been building a fabric of fallacies and hatreds that have brought much of the population into a nostalgia for the war.
The Constitutional Court opened the door for Congress to betray and slow down the accord. Cambio Radical [the party of right-of-center candidate German Vargas Lleras] joined with the Democratic Center in this task, with the support of Dr. Vargas’s vacillations. The FARC have also failed to take the step of showing enough empathy for Colombians.
And implementation has proved to be too much for the government.
This is a call on the nation. As we’re going, we’re heading into war with our eyes closed.

President Juan Manuel Santos emphatically rejected De la Calle’s assertion that his government has dropped the ball on accord implementation. Talking to reporters after a meeting with his “post-conflict cabinet,” Santos contended that their “exhaustive” review of what the government has done brought a “positive evaluation.” Critics of the process, he added, “can’t come and tell us now that the peace accords’ implementation is failing.”

Even though the armed forces have estimated that dissident guerrilla groups’ membership now totals 1,200, Santos insisted that the majority are the result of “forced recruitment.” The real proportion of guerrillas who have dropped out of the process and rearmed, he said, is “7 percent.”

Nearly a year and five months after the accords’ ratification, Santos said that the government has complied with 70 percent of the 80 indicators it had laid out for itself for the first two years of the post-accord period. He noted that by the end of May, the illicit crop substitution program carried out to fulfill the accords’ fourth chapter would bring about the voluntary eradication of 30,000 hectares of coca. The original goal for this program’s first year, Santos did not mention, was 50,000 hectares.

Aftermath of Jesús Santrich Arrest

FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich was moved from Bogotá’s La Picota prison to its El Tunal hospital for “preventive care,” as he has been on a hunger strike since his April 9 arrest. Santrich was indicted April 4 by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York on charges of conspiring with Mexican traffickers to transship ten tons of cocaine. Colombian judicial authorities are awaiting an extradition request from the U.S. government.

The Wall Street Journal reported late on April 28 that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has evidence pointing to a more senior FARC commander. Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, who served as the guerrillas’ chief negotiator in Havana and is often regarded as the FARC’s number-two leader, apparently appears in a cellphone video speaking “to an associate of a known Mexican trafficker.” The video was recorded after the peace accord went into effect, a source told the Journal.

[T]he video in which he speaks was intended as a message to reassure Mexican gang contacts following the seizure in Miami of an alleged drug payment. The Drug Enforcement Administration seized $5 million in Miami that the officials said was an alleged payment for a shipment of cocaine. The date of that seizure remains unclear.

After Santrich’s arrest, Márquez—a close Santrich ally within the FARC—abandoned Bogotá for an ex-guerrilla concentration site in his home department of Caquetá, in southern Colombia. From there, Márquez charged that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal General), Nestor Humberto Martínez, was behind the Journal report. (Martínez has been critical of aspects of the peace accord.) Martínez, however, announced that his office “is not working on any investigation against Mr. Iván Márquez with regard to narcotrafficking or actions that took place after peace was signed.”

While Colombian prosecutors may not be working a case, the U.S. Spanish-language outlet Univisión confirmed what the Wall Street Journal reported: that the DEA appears to have incriminating evidence.

The U.S. anti-narcotics agency (DEA) is investigating a high member of the Venezuelan government and one of the maximum leaders of the demobilized FARC Colombian guerrilla group, Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, for drug trafficking, U.S. government sources confirmed to Univision Noticias. The identity of the Venezuelan official remains confidential so as not to affect the investigation’s advance.
U.S. authorities are investigating a video of the 62-year-old ex-guerrilla leader in which he presumably speaks with someone presenting himself as a collaborator of the Mexican capo Rafael Caro Quintero, in a meeting that happened after the peace accord went into effect.

From Caquetá, Iván Márquez said that he would not take his seat in the Colombian Senate on July 20, when the new legislative session begins, if Santrich is not freed. (The peace accord gives the FARC five automatic seats in Colombia’s Senate and House during the 2018-22 and 2022-26 congressional periods.) FARC leader Carlos Antonio Lozada said that the ex-guerrillas are asking Márquez to reconsider. Because Márquez served briefly as a congressman during a failed 1980s peace process, Lozada said, “He has parliamentary experience and this would be extremely helpful to us.”

When the FARC met in late August and early September to launch its political party and choose its leadership, the delegates in attendance gave Iván Márquez the most votes. Though Márquez has not explicitly threatened to do so, should he abandon the process, because of this internal popularity he would be likely to take many ex-guerrillas with him. La Silla Vacía spoke with several former mid-level leaders who are seriously considering a return to clandestinity.

The same La Silla article analyzed how the Santrich case is exacerbating divisions within the ex-guerrillas. While Márquez has taken a hard line and insisted that his friend’s arrest is a “setup,” maximum leader Timoleón Jiménez and other moderates have stated that those who violate the law in the post-accord period must face consequences as agreed. These divisions existed during the peace talks, the article continues.

From Havana, while the negotiations were occurring, two sources told us separately that his [Santrich’s] sharp tongue and intransigence not only bothered the government’s negotiating team. Within the FARC team they also began to feel that he wasn’t allowing the discussions to advance, to the point at which they once said that it would be better if he returned to Colombia.
“Iván defended him and said that if Santrich went, he would go too,” one of the sources told us.
Later, during the convention from which the party emerged in September of last year, “Santrich and his people, most of them academics who had helped us from clandestinity, questioned Timo’s [Timoleón Jiménez’s] command. They said that it was the moment to renew and have civilian commanders, with more time and youth ahead of them, instead of military commanders. Some were quite rude to him,” a source who is part of the FARC party and attended those meetings told us.

In his missive warning about “throwing away peace,” former government negotiator De la Calle urged Colombia’s justice system to try Santrich in Colombia, rather than swiftly extraditing him to the United States. “His victims have the right to know the truth; don’t cast them adrift, as occurred with the extradited paramilitaries’ victims.” El Tiempo reported that De la Calle’s proposal was not catching on in Bogotá political circles.

Meanwhile, El Espectador reminds that the U.S. government continues to offer a US$5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Timoleón Jiménez or Iván Márquez, who are both wanted on charges of narcotrafficking that took place before the peace accord.

Alleged Irregularities in Management of Peace Funds

Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) continues to investigate allegations of malfeasance in the awarding of contracts to implement programs to fulfill the peace accords. The Fiscalía is now looking at 12 people who may have served as intermediaries, receiving kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to businesses or individuals. Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez says that evidence includes 80,000 telephone records.

A key witness in this investigation is Marlon Marín, a nephew of FARC leader Iván Márquez, who also happens to be a key witness in the case against Jesús Santrich. Marín went to the United States on April 17, where he has agreed to give evidence against Santrich. The Fiscalía has also reached an agreement with U.S. authorities to allow them to question Marín about misuse of peace funds. Marín gave Colombian prosecutors hours of testimony about this before leaving the country. In a recording, Marín can be heard asking a would-be contractor for a 5 percent kickback, instead of the 12 percent “that traditional politicians ask for,” and said that his ties to the new FARC party’s leadership would be useful in securing contracts.

Colombia’s Treasury Ministry has hired the accounting firm Ernst and Young to review contracts granted by the Colombia in Peace Fund, the mechanism channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in funds from many international donors and from Colombia’s national budget.

Two Afro-Colombian Leaders Remain Detained

Prosecutors released several of 33 social leaders from southwest Colombia who had been arrested the previous week to face charges of collaborating with the ELN. However, two women leaders from an Afro-Colombian community along the border with Ecuador, in the Alto Mira region of Tumaco, Nariño, remain in custody.

In a Cali court, Sara Quiñones of the Alto Mira Community Council and her mother, Tulia Marys Valencia, were among a group of 11 local leaders being charged. Two of this group were freed, and one confined to house arrest. The other eight, including the two women, remain in custody. Prosecutor Roberto Gordillo demanded this because they are “a danger to society,” asking that they be charged with sedition and aggravated conspiracy to traffic drugs.

According to Verdad Abierta, “Several sources consulted, who for security reasons asked not to use their names, contended that Gordillo, the number 11 Specialized Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, made serious discriminatory, racist, and condemnatory references.” The prosecutor reportedly referred to Colombia’s Pacific coast as “a nest of criminals” inhabited by an “extremely violent” population. He went on, “attacking human rights defenders by saying that we mask ourselves in subversive activities and narcotrafficking,” a source told Verdad Abierta.

Presiding judge Moisés Malaver was apparently convinced by the prosecutor’s arguments, as he sent Quiñones and Valencia to await trial in the Jamundí women’s prison outside Cali. “Although the decision was appealed,” Verad Abierta reported, “its resolution could take two months.”

Tumaco Violence Degrades Further with “Casas de Pique”

Nearly 20,000 people marched in the Pacific port city of Tumaco, in Nariño near the Ecuador border, on April 27 to demand an end to violence between an assortment of dissident guerrilla bands, the ELN, and organized crime groups. La Silla Vacía noted that the march was organized mainly by the mayor’s office, the Catholic church, and the local Chamber of Commerce, with little participation of civil-society groups.

Tumaco’s police had been celebrating a streak of 25 days without a homicide in the city’s urban core (population about 100,000), even though it sits along the busiest cocaine trafficking route in Colombia. Local Police Chief Col. José Palomino credited a security crackdown including 24-hour military patrols of neighborhoods.

However, La Silla reported, “other sources don’t dismiss the possibility that homicides have been replaced with disappearances that, according to three sources, have shot upward.”

Many of the disappeared, it seems, are being tortured and dismembered alive in so-called “chop houses” (casas de pique) in the midst of Tumaco neighborhoods. This is a return to a practice that horrified many circa 2014, when reports emerged of gangs and paramilitaries using casas de pique in the larger Pacific port of Buenaventura.

The grisly news comes from the government Internal-Affairs Office (Procuraduría), whose Land Restitution unit issued an as-yet unpublished report documenting the existence of at least seven such houses in Tumaco. At least one may be operated by the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific,” a FARC dissident group headed by alias “David,” and at least one more by the “Oliver Sinisterra Front” dissidents headed by Walter Artizala alias “Guacho.” After disappearing and chopping up their victims, the groups take the bodies onto boats and dump them in the open sea.

“It’s a strategy to discipline people,” Internal Affairs chief (Procurador) Fernando Carrillo said. A Tumaco-based investigator told La Silla Vacía that most victims are “snitches” who gave information about the criminal groups, or people who didn’t make extortion payments.

Meanwhile in rural Tumaco, or perhaps just over the border in Ecuador, the dissident group headed by “Guacho” continues to hold two Ecuadorian citizens hostage. The group also continues to hold the remains of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver, whom it kidnapped and killed in March. Ecuador’s government received an apparent message from Guacho early in the week asking that security forces pull out to create a “humanitarian corridor” to allow the group to free its captives and hand over the bodies.

Nothing has since happened, though. By the end of the week, Ecuador’s presidency secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, told a local television outlet, “We don’t have contact with the criminals,” and said that the situation of the two kidnapped people is in Colombian hands because they are not on Ecuadorian soil.

Violence in Catatumbo

Transportation and commerce resumed in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia on April 30 after the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small but locally strong guerrilla group, lifted an “armed stoppage” that prohibited vehicles from transiting and businesses from opening for at least two weeks. The situation in the region remains tense, though, as the EPL and ELN, which have been in open combat since mid-March, continue to fight.

Norte de Santander human rights ombudsman Nélson Arévalo told El Colombiano that the historically conflictive coca-growing region had returned to “a semi-tranquility …because the conflict between those two illegal groups continues and may generate more displacement. For example, in the last several hours new combats have been reported.” Arévalo said that many of the thousands of people displaced by lack of food during the armed stoppage might now return to their homes, but that those who displaced for humanitarian reasons might remain in their places of refuge.

In a report for The Guardian, reporter Mathew Charles visited the region, and noted that much of the fighting seeks to occupy parts of Catatumbo abandoned by the FARC’s 33rd Front, which demobilized in early 2017.

Down the road, in the town of El Tarra, a group of locals gathered in the midday heat to call for peace. “The guerrillas should be fighting for the people, not against us. With Farc, we knew where we stood. They had their laws and they’d sort out any problems we had. Since they’ve gone, it’s just got worse,” said one woman.
Hovering above the protest is a Colombian army helicopter. “This is as close as the government gets,” said Álvaro, 22, pointing upwards.

Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, visiting the Catatumbo municipality of Tibú, said that security forces there continue to carry out a campaign called “Sparta,” begun since January. Villegas said that security forces in that time have captured 168 members of the ELN and other groups.

The two presidential candidates who are furthest to the right on the political spectrum, frontrunner Iván Duque and Germán Vargas Lleras, have both paid recent visits to Catatumbo, a region where voters overwhelmingly supported the peace accord in a October 2016 referendum.

Vargas advised the region’s armed groups “to take full advantage of the three months they have left, because on August 7 [inauguration day] we’re going to fight them like they’ve never imagined.” Duque promised that “I will hold my first security council meeting in Tibú.” Both spoke as well about infrastructure investments. Neither mentioned forced eradication of coca, including aerial herbicide spraying, an option that both strongly favor. Past eradication campaigns have drawn fierce protests from organized farmers in Catatumbo.

In-Depth Reading

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