ELN Talks Restart in Havana
Government and ELN negotiators relaunched peace talks in Havana, Cuba on May 10, continuing a fifth round of negotiations that had begun in Quito, Ecuador on March 15. The process was interrupted on April 18 when Ecuador’s President, Lenin Moreno, suspended the country’s hosting of the negotiations. Moreno’s decision reflected a darkened national mood in Ecuador toward Colombian armed groups, after a FARC dissident group kidnapped and killed two journalists and their driver in March near the Colombia-Ecuador border.
This round of talks is covering three issues: the terms of a new bilateral cessation of hostilities, measures to shield communities in areas of combat between the ELN and other illegal armed groups, and a model for civil society participation in future rounds of talks, as envisioned in the negotiating agenda. “In the immediate term, this cycle will dedicate itself to agreeing on a new bilateral, temporary, and national ceasefire that is better than the last one,” said ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán, referring to a 100-day bilateral ceasefire that was not renewed after it expired on January 9.
Negotiators are under pressure to come up with tangible results. In three months, Colombia will inaugurate a new president after electing a new one on May 27 (and probably after a runoff vote on June 17); most candidates have said they are unwilling to continue the peace talks in their current form. President Juan Manuel Santos and the Colombian Congress’s Peace Commission have both cited the need for a “framework accord” to lock in the talks before the next president takes office. While he realizes that he will not be the one to sign an accord with the ELN, Santos said his goal is to hand off to his successor “something that is on the right track.”
At a May 9 session of the congressional Peace Commission, diplomatic representatives from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, and Cuba expressed support for the ELN dialogues’ continuation. Most called on both sides to make swift progress. The European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, gave a statement of support and called on both sides to reach a ceasefire, “which would significantly improve the humanitarian situation in the areas most affected by the conflict.” At the congressional commission hearing, government negotiator José Noé Ríos declared a goal of May 25—two days before the presidential elections’ first round—for reaching agreement on a ceasefire.
In an apparent move to ease a ceasefire, President Santos signed a decree green-lighting a case-by-case review of people imprisoned on charges having to do with social protest. The idea is to identify individuals who could be amnestied, or have their sentences commuted. This would be a goodwill gesture responding to a longtime ELN demand that the government release people involved in protests.
In opening comments in Havana, ELN leader Beltrán said the government’s poor compliance with commitments in the FARC peace accord, along with an increase in killings of social leaders, have heightened the ELN’s distrust. He added the view, though, that “the only road for Colombia, for a political solution, is that this way of dialogue goes ahead.”
The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, former vice-president Gustavo Bell, voiced hope that this round of talks would bring not just a bilateral ceasefire but an ELN commitment to cease all hostilities, like “kidnappings, extortions, child recruitment, or attacks on infrastructure.” Obstacles to a cessation of hostilities include which illegal activity would be included; how to verify it without cantonment of fighters; how the ELN would confront other illegal armed groups; and how to guarantee that all ELN leaders agree to observe it.
Negotiators are also talking to social organizations from areas hit by conflict between the ELN and other groups, which wouldn’t so clearly feel the impact of an ELN-government ceasefire, to discuss commitments to observe international humanitarian law. Ethnic, victims’, and women’s organizations in Chocó, where fighting has raged between the ELN and the Urabeños organized crime group, have called for respecting ethnic territories, de-mining, stopping recruitment of minors, halting killings of social leaders, ending displacement and confinement, and curbs on illicit crops and illegal mining. In Nariño, where many small armed groups operate, civil-society organziations have been calling for more action on de-mining. In Catatumbo, groups are calling on the ELN to keep the civilian population out of its worsening conflict with the EPL (Popular Liberation Army, a small but regionally strong guerrilla group), which has displaced almost 9,000 people since fighting worsened on March 14.
Jesús Santrich Case
FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich was moved from Bogotá’s El Tunal hospital to the Fundación Caminos de Libertad, a facility run by the Episcopal Conference of Colombia’s Catholic church. Santrich, one of the FARC’s main negotiators in Havana who expected to assume a seat in Colombia’s Congress in July, has been on a hunger strike since his April 9 arrest. He was indicted by a U.S. court for allegedly conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the FARC peace accord was signed, and faces possible extradition.
Santrich’s health is flagging after a month of consuming only water and epilepsy medication. Still, he has turned down entreaties to abandon his hunger strike, including an open letter from longtime informal mediators Sen. Iván Cepeda and former mining minster Álvaro Leyva. The ex-guerrilla, a political hardliner, has said he would rather die than go to a U.S. prison.
Some voices have called for Santrich to be tried in Colombia, where he would face his victims, rather than be extradited. These include former government negotiator and current presidential candidate Humberto de la Calle, Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco, and Colombian jurist Rodrigo Uprimny, co-founder of the DeJusticia think-tank. “To extradite FARC commanders before they are processed for their crimes could cause an irreparable harm to victims, to the extreme that they might evade responsibility for the atrocities they committed,” wrote Vivanco in an El Tiempo column. Both Vivanco and Uprimny, writing in El Espectador, cited the experience of 14 paramilitary leaders whom then-president Álvaro Uribe extradited en masse in May 2008. “The paramilitaries’ extraditions have made it almost impossible to know the truth about their crimes,” wrote Uprimny. “For these same reasons, I think Santrich should not be extradited.”
For their part, the two candidates leading polling for the May 27 presidential elections have both said that they would extradite. Rightist Iván Duque, the candidate of Uribe’s party, has said he would sign the extradition order immediately. Leftist Gustavo Petro, said that the transitional justice system agreed by the peace accord (Special Peace Jurisdiction, or JEP) should first consider all the evidence against Santrich. “If the JEP confirms the acts were committed after the accords’ signing and I am president,” Petro tweeted, “Mr. Santrich will be extradited.” Petro’s position is similar to that of President Santos.
Setback to Land Grants for Demobilized FARC Members
The Colombian government and the FARC have been casting about to find a way to reintegrate guerrilla ex-combatants by giving them land to cultivate. This, surprisingly, was not foreseen in the peace accord. The Santos administration had been close to issuing a decree allowing titling of lands for former fighters’ cooperative agricultural projects. The decree has run into trouble, though, over objections from the country’s principal federation of landholders.
A year ago, while demobilizing FARC fighters were concentrated in 26 village-sized disarmament sites around the country, Colombia’s National University surveyed them to gather information about their backgrounds and needs, as foreseen by the peace accords. It found that 66 percent of the 10,015 former FARC surveyed were from rural areas and another 15 were from rural/urban areas, such as towns within overwhelmingly rural municipalities. Sixty percent said they wanted to carry out collective reintegration through agricultural activities.
After meeting with his “peace cabinet” on April 30, President Santos said that “within the FARC there is a conflict: the leaders want everything to be collective, while the base, many of them, want it to be individual. As a result of this conflict, the FARC haven’t approved the individual reincorporation route, and resources for 5,000 ex-combatants’ productive projects are blocked by that dispute.” FARC leader Pastor Alape, a member of the National Reincorporation Council set up by the peace accord, responded, “Reincorporation is being slowed bye the lack of a public policy… and fundamentally, because there isn’t any land for the productive projects” that ex-guerrillas wish to pursue.
The Santos government’s draft decree sought to address this by making possible the delivery of some lands to ex-combatants. It had identified 11 plots of land in 9 departments, totaling about 492 hectares, that could be granted. The Center for Peace Studies (CESPAZ), which worked with the Presidency in drafting the accord, estimates that the amount of land needed to guarantee guerrillas’ reintegration would be 37,657 hectares, an amount smaller than many Colombian cattle ranches and industrial farms.
Nonetheless, the decree has been put on hold after the Society of Colombian Agricultural Producers (SAC), a national association of mostly large landowners, criticized it. “At no point does the accord mention giving land to the former members of this terrorist group,” said SAC President Jorge Enrique Bedoya, “and the draft decree that the government submitted for citizens’ consideration is giving prevalence to this specific group over landless farmers.”
The above information comes largely from a May 7 report from the investigative website Verdad Abierta. The site later posted this addendum to the report:
After this article’s publication, the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace (OACP) communicated with VerdadAbierta.com to inform that the national government decided to resolve the need to adjudicate lands to ex-combatants through the promulgation of Decree 756 of May 4, 2018. The document contains one article, which opens the door for the National Land Agency (ANT) to adjudicate lands directly to “associations or to cooperative organizations.”
The text does not correspond to the draft decree described in this story, nor does it align with the terms that the government and FARC negotiated in the National Reincorporation Council (CNR) to guarantee economic reincorporation. With regard to that, the OACP source who communicated with this site responded that the executive branch made this unilateral decision in response to the received critiques.
Truth Commission Formally Launches
May 8 was the official first day of operation for the Truth Commission established by the FARC peace accord. As of that date, the eleven commissioners have three years and six months in which to produce a report about what happened in the armed conflict, to promote recognition of victims, and to help generate conditions for “a culture of respect and tolerance.”
President Santos swore in the commissioners, led by Commission President Father Francisco De Roux, before a room full of high court officials and government ministers. De Roux and his colleagues had been working to lay the groundwork for the commission’s functioning, thanks to a UNDP grant, since they were chosen in November.
Over those months, the Commission held 22 workshops with victims and human rights defenders, as well as dozens of meetings with other stakeholders. It will now establish teams to cover 10 regions from 26 different offices. They hope to finish their report well before the deadline in order to spend the rest of their period educating about its content and promoting social reconciliation.
El Espectador asked De Roux, a Jesuit priest with a long record of heading human rights efforts, “What was the most serious thing that happened” in the conflict? He replied,
Human dignity was profoundly damaged by this conflict. Society’s silences, and lack of reaction, against the barbarity that we were living through. We just saw all of Ecuador stirred up by three journalists [killed by a FARC dissident group near the border]. We saw barbarity after barbarity happen, without doing anything, which is evidence of a very deep humanitarian crisis. Not just for the people who died, but for the lack of understanding, as a society, that the death of an indigenous person or an Afro-Colombian is the death of all of us. It is the undermining of our value as human beings and Colombian citizens. That’s where the wound is deep.
JEP Excludes “Para-Politicians”
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord to judge war crimes, rejected the applications of two politicians currently serving sentences for aiding paramilitary groups. Senator Álvaro Ashton and ex-senator David Char, the JEP’s “Chamber for Definition of Legal Situations” determined, did not commit crimes that could be considered “grave conduct related to the conflict.” As a result, they are not entitled to the maximum sentence of five to eight years of “restricted liberty” that the JEP would hand out in exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims.
Ashton and Char are among several dozen political figures who ended up before courts and in prison during the 2000s for aiding and abetting paramilitary groups that killed tens of thousands of Colombians. The scandal was known as “para-politics.” The JEP chamber’s decision, which can be appealed, reads, “The majority of members of Congress investigated and sentenced for conspiracy (the basic charge of ‘para-politics’) associated themselves with paramilitary structures neither to support them nor to win the war, but as a means to pursue their personal political interests.”
The chamber’s magistrates made clear that, in order to get a chance at a lighter penalty within the JEP, each crime’s relationship to the armed conflict must be clearly demonstrated. “It is not enough to say that something happened in the general context of violence,” El Espectador reported.
The JEP at some point will have to consider a petition from Jorge Luis Alfonso López, a para-politician who is the son of Enilse López, a Bolívar-based paramilitary sponsor named “La Gata” who has run the lottery gambling business in much of Colombia’s coast. Her son says “he has been directly and indirectly involved in the armed conflict” and wants to give information about politicians his family has financed, as well as military and police officers who worked with paramilitaries.
Universal Periodic Review in Geneva
It was Colombia’s turn this week for regular consideration of its human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Colombia’s Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, and some human rights defenders were on hand for a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which occurs about every five years.
Representatives of 95 governments offered comments about Colombia’s human rights situation. Nearly all of them said something about the rising number of social leaders and human rights defenders being killed in the country. The last time Colombia was subject to UPR, in 2013, the country’s human rights ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) counted 35 such murders. Between 2016 and now, it has counted 261.
The U.S. representative’s message was helpful, expressing concern about low levels of accountability for these murders, and noting targeting of ethnic and labor leaders. Though recognizing that about half of these cases have seen some advance in investigations or prosecutions, the U.S. representative said that they needed to be brought fully to justice.
The Colombian government responded that many of the killings owe to criminal groups’ violent efforts to take control of territories so that they may dominate illegal businesses like drug trafficking, precious-metals mining, and extortion. Colombian officials told the Council that it was carrying out a protection plan, and that in some way this plan was covering 4,000 social leaders, 60 percent of them in rural areas.
Colombian human rights organizations presented a joint report in Geneva. While they praised the government for the FARC peace accord and for making commitments on human rights, they criticized its lack of follow-through. “The Colombian state ends up adopting the [human rights] norm, but later it doesn’t implement it, or doesn’t put up enough resources to put it into practice,” said Ana María Rodríguez of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. Organizations present noted that the Council’s deliberations paid little attention to the paramilitary phenomenon, the responsibility of some businesses for human rights abuses, and the violations of privacy committed by Colombian intelligence agencies.
Attacks on “Rios Vivos” Movement in Antioquia
Luis Alberto Torres was killed in rural Puerto Valdivia, Antioquia, while mining by a riverside on May 8. Just eight days earlier, in the same municipality, gunmen killed Hugo Albeiro George in a local shop. Both men were members of the “Ríos Vivos” movement, formed to protest HidroItuango, a massive hydroelectric dam project underway in northern Antioquia.
“We hope that, in response to these acts, the Antioquia Police do not focus on dismissing and ignoring the leadership and human rights and environmental defense work that all of us members of Rios Vivio carry out,” read a statement from the organization. “Instead, we expect decisive action.”
Meanwhile, the Hidroituango dam project is in crisis. Since April 28, one of the tunnels used to divert the Cauca river has been blocked, raising the river’s level and forcing families to evacuate.
Response to Killing of FARC Member in Arauca
Unknown assailants killed Juan Vicente Carvajal alias “Misael,” a former FARC leader in the conflictive department of Arauca, about 4 kilometers from the FARC demobilization site in the village of Filipinas, Arauquita. As of early April, 52 FARC members had been killed nationwide since 2017.
Carvajal was among FARC leaders whom the U.S. government wanted in extradition for past narcotrafficking, and he led a FARC column during a bloody 2008-2010 conflict that the FARC and ELN fought in Arauca. This makes the ELN, which remains dominant in much of rural Arauca, a prime suspect in the murder.
Carvajal had left the Filipinas demobilization site, and had used his own resources to start a farm and run a discotheque in Arauquita. The security forces stated that they did not believe he was involved in criminal activity. He was living at his farm when he was murdered.
In a missive to FARC members, the ex-guerrillas’ maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko, warned them about going off on their own, as Carvajal had. While the ex-guerrilla’s homicide was “truly alarming,” Londoño said that it doesn’t mean that all former combatants are “condemned to total extermination.” Leaving the other ex-combatants and living by himself put him “in a high risk situation. …Discipline was always necessary… for the war, and I don’t know why some think that they don’t need it during reincorporation.”
- “Bombas, Balaceras, Minas y Torturas: Tumaco Esta Ahogado por la Violencia” (Semana (Colombia), May 11, 2018).
- Simon West, “Will Colombia’s Presidential Elections Derail the Country’s Historic Peace Process?” (NBC News, May 10, 2018).
- Nelson Ardila Arias, “Tras 20 Anos de Exilio, Familia Regreso a Finca Arrebatada por ‘Paras’” (El Tiempo (Colombia), May 9, 2018).
- “¿Que Propuestas Tienen los Candidatos Alrededor de Cada Punto del Acuerdo de Paz?” (El Espectador (Colombia), May 7, 2018).
- “Casas de Pique: Asi Funciona el Regimen de Terror en Tumaco” (Semana (Colombia), May 7, 2018).