Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process: Week of July 1-7

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

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