An interview with drug policy expert Juan Carlos Garzón of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz.
February 13, 2020
An interview with drug policy expert Juan Carlos Garzón of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz.
February 13, 2020
Colombia is nearing re-initiation of a suspended, U.S.-backed program of spraying herbicides from aircraft over coca-growing zones. This report evaluates this strategy according to six criteria.
February 11, 2020
This chart illustrates the number of hectares of coca that the U.S. government estimates was grown in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru since 1987. The official sources used are listed as shortened URLs at the bottom of the graphic.
The image tells its own story about the wisdom of relying so heavily, for so long, on forced crop eradication.
February 4, 2020
A regularly updated collection of official security, defense, and counter-drug statistics. (Link at mindefensa.gov.co)
February 1, 2020
The DEA’s annual report on drug trafficking patterns affecting the United States. Includes discussion of the cocaine trade and Colombian armed groups and organized crime. (Link at dea.gov)
January 30, 2020
Vanda Felbab-Brown analyzes Colombia’s options for reducing the size of its coca crop, and concludes, “The most effective policy to sustainably reduce illicit crops would deliver robust assistance before demanding eradication.”
January 8, 2020
The Colombian government’s draft decree laying out the functioning of a re-initiated aerial herbicide spraying program in coca-growing areas, and how the government would satisfy the Constitutional Court’s restrictions on that program.
December 30, 2019
In his August 7 inaugural speech, President Iván Duque said that he would take 30 days to decide whether to continue peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. That period has expired, and Duque did not end the talks—but he has suspended them pending the ELN’s renunciation of kidnapping and release of all captives.
ELN fighters freed nine captives over two releases in September. On the 7th, guerrillas in Arauca released three soldiers whom they had taken on August 8. On September 11 in Chocó, they released three policemen, a soldier, and two civilians taken on August 3 from a boat on an Atrato River tributary. The Duque government did not negotiate these releases’ protocols; the ELN performed them unilaterally in coordination with the Catholic Church, the government’s independent Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría), and the International Committee of the Red Cross. “This did not imply any negotiation with the national government,” insisted the Duque government’s peace commissioner, Miguel Ceballos.
While Ceballos and President Duque recognized this gesture, they said there is more to do: they count 10 more individuals who remain in ELN custody. “There were 20 on the list,” Ceballos said, “later there was one liberation in Arauca, and later three more. If we take away the three in Chocó, 10 remain.” Of the ten, one has been a hostage since April 2002; two were taken in 2011, and one in 2012. The ELN has offered no responses about these captives, if they are even still alive.
“The door is not necessarily closed” to peace talks with the ELN, Ceballos told El Tiempo. But Duque’s demands for changed ELN behavior, including a cessation of kidnapping and all other hostilities, may be more than what some ELN commanders might agree to. “I want to be clear,” President Duque said this week. “If we want to build a peace with this organized armed group, they must start with the clearest show of goodwill, which is the suspension of all criminal activities.”
Still, Ceballos told El Espectador the ELN may be flexible. “I think the ELN is understanding things, because if not, this process of liberation of kidnapped people would not have begun. I believe that in these 30 days a space of understanding has been achieved beyond the need for the formal structure of a [negotiating] table. These have been 30 days in which no armed actions have been presented. There’s a dynamic here.”
The Peace Commissioner added that, should talks re-start, the Duque government may seek to alter the negotiating agenda agreed with the Santos government, which has been criticized for imprecise language that has made it difficult to implement. “President Duque said it in a very clear way in Amagá (Antioquia), last Saturday,” he said. “Any future scenario would need a credible agenda and specific timeframes; that necessarily implies the consideration of adjustments.”
Gen. Mario Montoya, who headed Colombia’s army from 2006 to 2008, appeared before the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord. The retired general denied any guilt for human rights crimes. Montoya is the highest-ranking officer to appear before the JEP so far, though another retired general, Henry Torres Escalante, has already appeared in relation to a case of extrajudicial executions.
Montoya resigned in November 2008, amid revelations that members of the Army had killed thousands of civilians, then presented them falsely as combat kills in a criminal effort to boost body counts and earn rewards for battlefield performance. Montoya allegedly pressured subordinates to rack up body counts and produce “rivers of blood” in counter-guerrilla operations, thus creating an environment that rewarded extrajudicial executions, making him emblematic of what Colombians call the “false positives” scandal.
Montoya decided in July to submit to the JEP rather than the regular criminal justice system, where some cases against him had been stalled since 2016. The highly decorated, U.S.-trained general denies any wrongdoing, lawbreaking, or knowledge of his subordinates’ criminal behavior. Though most defendants enter the JEP to confess crimes in return for reduced non-prison sentences, Montoya intends to challenge any charges against him. Should the JEP find him guilty anyway, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in regular prison.
During his initial hearing in the JEP’s Definition of Legal Situations Chamber, Montoya and his lawyers heard a listing of accusations and investigations against him that had been filed in the regular justice system. Cases included a few dozen “false positives” victims, as well as the “Operation Orion” military offensive in Medellín’s western slums, in October 2002 when Montoya headed the local army brigade, which killed several civilians and benefited from open support of paramilitary groups. Relatives of “false positives” victims attended the hearing.
Montoya’s defense lawyer argued that the general cannot be held responsible for the “false positive” crimes committed when he headed the Army, since the murders took place in units several levels below his command. In the end, Montoya’s hearing had a disappointing outcome: as defense lawyers challenged the standing of some of the victims involved, Magistrate Pedro Díaz suspended the session and put it off for a later date.
News coverage took stock of a “National Council of the Commons,” a meeting of the new FARC political party’s leadership, in Bogotá the week earlier. The “Council” sought to bring together 111 delegates whom the ex-guerrilla membership had elected a year ago, to make decisions about the party’s future.
Most of the missing 17, points out La Silla Vacía, come from the former guerrilla group’s Eastern and Southern blocs, where were its strongest militarily at the time the peace accord was signed.
Most members of the Colombian Congress’s Peace Committee visited Caquetá September 10 to seek information about the missing leaders. Sen. Iván Cepeda, a close supporter of the FARC peace process, said that people “very close” to Márquez and “El Paisa” told them that the two men remain committed to the peace process, and in fact are still in Caquetá. Both, however, fear being extradited capriciously, Cepeda said, adding that both had heard spurious rumors about pending arrest warrants. The Colombian government, Cepeda said, needs to find a way to keep “extradition from becoming a sort of detonator for the end of the peace process.”
Some of the missing leaders sent messages insisting that they remain in the peace process. A letter from “Romaña” appeared in which he reiterated his will to honor his demobilization commitments. Fabián Ramírez also sent a letter affirming his continued participation, though he expressed deep mistrust as a result of Santrich’s arrest. Ramírez said that, along with 100 other ex-guerrillas, he was seeking to set up a new, safer demobilization space with the goal of preventing their defection to dissident groups.
The disappearances are a sign of deepening internal divisions within the FARC. These were laid bare in a strongly worded letter from former Southern Bloc leader Joaquín Gómez and high-ranking ex-commander Bertulfo Álvarez. It accuses maximum leader Timoleón Jiménez and other Bogotá-based FARC bosses—most of whom have turned out to be political moderates—of “spiteful and vengeful lack of leadership.” The letter accused Jiménez of “dedicating himself to defending the bourgeois order with surprising and unexpected zeal.” The letter’s authors, who run the demobilization site in La Guajira, cited health reasons for their absence from the Bogotá meeting.
FARC Senator Victoria Sandino blamed security concerns for many of the no-shows, and denied that the FARC is dividing.
“No, there is a debate. Many people make criticisms within the party, but none will make criticisms like ‘oh no, let’s go back to guns, let’s create another party.’ No. There are internal political debates, but those debates aren’t about separating. There are some comrades who are critical of [accord] implementation, but I guarantee that in these debates none, absolutely nobody, has expressed the idea that the way out of here is to return to arms. No one.”
In the end, the FARC “Council of the Commons” agreed to set up an executive committee to prepare for October 2019 local elections, with regional representatives including Joaquín Gómez. They decided that going clandestine for security concerns was acceptable behavior, but established procedures to kick out renegade members.
On September 11 the White House issued an annual memo to the State Department identifying major illicit drug producing and transit countries, and highlighting which of these are “decertified”—subject to aid cuts and other penalties—for failing to cooperate with U.S. counter-drug strategies. As in past years, Venezuela and Bolivia were decertified.
Last years’s memo included controversial language stating that President Trump “seriously considered” adding Colombia to the decertified blacklist because of sharply increased coca and cocaine production. This year’s document did not repeat that threat, but called out Colombia, Mexico, and Afghanistan for “falling behind in the fight to eradicate illicit crops and reduce drug production and trafficking.” The U.S. government estimated that Colombia’s coca crop increased 11 percent in 2017, to a record 209,000 hectares.
The certification memo’s release coincided with a visit to Bogota from the deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, James Carroll, and the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz. According to El Tiempo, in a meeting that lasted over an hour, the two officials told President Duque that, under normal circumstances, the White House would have decertified Colombia:
“During the meeting the White House’s envoys told Duque that the amount of coca planted in Colombia, more than 200,000 hectares, was enough for the country to be decertified.
“However, they clarified that they understand that this is an ‘inherited’ problem [for the recently inaugurated president], which comes from previous years. In that sense, they expressed the Washington government’s confidence in the policies that Colombia is going to implement to eradicate crops and counteract the cartels who carry the drug to their nation.”
Duque told the U.S. officials he plans to respond with a mix of strategies, referring to “a principle of integrality” (comprehensiveness), rather than putting all focus on forced coca eradication. That mix, however, may include a return to eradication through aircraft-based spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, reviving a U.S.-backed program that Colombia carried out on a massive scale between 1994 and 2015. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended aircraft-based spraying in 2015 after some studies pointed to a possible link between glyphosate and cancer; officials also argued that spraying had proved to be ineffective.
Duque, however, may bring it back. “Fumigation can happen if some protocols are complied with,” he said. “In the comprehensive policy that we want in the fight against illicit crops, these protocols should be reflected in such a way that any action is upheld by the Court’s guidelines.”
The president refers here to 2015 and 2017 decisions by Colombia’s Constitution Court, its highest judicial review authority, which placed significant restrictions on coca eradication via aerial glyphosate spraying. Any future fumigation must avoid nature reserves, indigenous reservations, and campesino reserve zones—sites that host a significant portion of current cultivation. Spraying can only proceed after an “objective and conclusive” scientific study showing a lack of health and environmental damage. Colombia’s National Drug Council (CNE), a decision-making body incorporating several ministries and agencies, must agree on a set of regulations to govern future spraying, in a process that includes ethnic communities’ participation, and these regulations must be passed as a law. An ethnic representative must be added to the CNE. Colombia must undergo prior consultation with ethnic communities in areas where it plans to spray, although the Court allows spraying in the absence of consent if the CNE issues a finding.
Duque’s government includes some aggressively enthusiastic backers of renewed glyphosate fumigation. “I don’t see any alternative to using herbicides,” Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said in August. “You have to use it because the world is not going to accept us swimming in coca. …Glyphosate is used in Colombia since time immemorial.” Added Francisco Santos, the new ambassador to the United States: “Fumigation is essential. The Constitutional Court must understand that it must return, because we are facing a social, economic and national security emergency. It has to come back, understanding the restrictions.”
The Defense Ministry announced that a military-police operation killed Víctor David Segura Palacios, alias “David,” the chief of one of the two main FARC dissident groups operating in Nariño, Colombia’s largest coca and cocaine-producing department. Soldiers arrived at 2:00AM on September 8 at a house where “David” was staying; he and his sister, who allegedly handled his group’s finances, were killed in an ensuing shootout.
A former member of the FARC’s Nariño-based Daniel Aldana mobile column, David refused to demobilize, along with his brother Yeison Segura, alias “Don Y.” The dissident group they formed, the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific” (GUP), recruited former FARC militias along Nariño’s coast and took over cocaine trafficking routes. After “Don Y” was killed in a November 2016 firefight with former FARC comrades, “David” assumed command.
Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told reporters that the GUP had grown to control 4 percent of Colombia’s cocaine exports. The Nariño governor’s office said that the group has control or influence in at least 10 of the department’s 64 municipalities (counties).
For the past year, David had been the main rival of Walter Artízala alias “Guacho,” leader of the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS), a Nariño-based FARC dissident structure that gained region-wide notoriety after it kidnapped and killed three Ecuadorian journalists in early 2018. David blamed Guacho for his brother’s death, and the two groups had been battling for control of cocaine routes, and of urban neighborhoods in Tumaco, all year.
“According to various reports,” notes InsightCrime, the rival GUP and FOS are both “associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations, who will have an interest in maintaining the steady passage of cocaine out of the country.” La Silla Vacía reports that, “According to the Police, during recent months David already had contacts with the [Mexican] Jalisco New Generation cartel (while Guacho, according to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, is one of the links of the Sinaloa cartel), and had an Interpol Blue Notice.”
David’s death is the largest battlefield result against guerrilla dissidents or organized crime so far in President Iván Duque’s 6-week-old government, but it is unlikely to reduce violence in Nariño. Citing sources in Colombia’s Navy and the Tumaco ombudsman’s office, La Silla counts 12 other major armed or criminal groups active in “post-conflict” Nariño besides the GUP, “like Guacho’s dissident group, the Gulf Clan [paramilitary successor group], the ELN which has tried to enter the south of Nariño, and other groups of lesser national impact like La Oficina [paramilitary successor], La Gente del Orden [ex-FARC militias], Los de Sábalo, and, more recently, the so-called ‘Stiven González’ front.”
September 21, 2018
Along with his conservative political party, Colombia’s new president, Iván Duque, fiercely opposed the peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group negotiated by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos. On the campaign trail during the first half of 2018, he pledged to make “adjustments” to the November 2016 accord, which had taken more than four difficult years to negotiate. Since he was inaugurated on August 7, the peace accord’s supporters have been wondering which of Duque’s “adjustments” might prove to be dealbreakers that cause the FARC deal to fall apart.
In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four proposed modifications.
Publicly, President Duque has raised four issues. First, in the future there must be no connection between rebellion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Second, that in the face of continued crimes [committed after the accord’s signing] such as arms trafficking, money laundering and drug trafficking, the people who continue committing them will lose their benefits. Third, that those who have committed crimes against humanity can not assume political office, and this not only refers to the Congress because local elections are coming, and fourth, that the eradication of crops will be mandatory from now on, respecting the pacts of voluntary eradication signed until the day the new government took office.
While there are reasons for concern, Ceballos’s comment has led most peace accord proponents to breathe a sigh of relief. These “adjustments” either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty. Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website headlined them as “more symbolic than real.” If this is all that the Duque government is contemplating, the FARC accord will survive. Let’s look at all four:
In just about every peace process in the world, the state party forgives the non-state party for the crime of “rebellion,” or sedition or treason—nobody goes to prison for the crime of rising up against the government. In Colombia, though, it’s a bit more complicated, as the non-state parties often break other criminal laws in order to fund themselves. They traffic drugs and other contraband. They kidnap for ransom. They extort. They degrade the environment.
In the past, members of the FARC, and of the AUC paramilitaries before them, could get their past drug-trafficking and similar crimes amnestied as “connected” political crimes—as long as a judge decides that all the financial proceeds went into the group’s war effort and nobody enriched himself or herself personally.
Here, Ceballos says that the Duque government will try to change that: in the future, any armed group that practices drug trafficking will have to pay a criminal penalty—no amnesty—no matter what.
That doesn’t affect the FARC accord, which Ceballos and Duque don’t propose to revisit. It may, however, complicate any future accord with the ELN guerrillas, with which the Santos government has left behind an unfinished negotiation process. Members of the ELN participate in narcotrafficking, and it’s safe to assume many are not personally enriching themselves. ELN guerrillas may be less willing to turn in their weapons if they face years in prison—or even extradition to the United States—for past drug trafficking.
The government’s lead negotiator in the FARC talks, Humberto de la Calle, raised this point in an August 12 El Espectador column:
The ELN has mixed itself with drug trafficking. Does this close the door for an agreement with that group? If peace with that organization comes to be around the corner, will it be necessary to repeal the offer being made today?
Ceballos mentions undoing a connection between sedition and kidnapping. No such connection exists. Kidnapping non-combatants is a war crime, and cannot be amnestied. Former FARC members who led or participated in kidnappings must answer to the transitional justice system, the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), which will require that they spend up to eight years under “restricted liberty,” issue complete confessions, and make reparations to their victims. A proposal to undo a “connection” between kidnapping and sedition would change nothing, as this describes the status quo.
This changes nothing. Any former FARC fighter found to have committed a crime after December 2016, when the peace accord was ratified, must answer to it in the regular criminal justice system and would lose the right to lighter penalties in the JEP. This is what may happen to FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, whom U.S. authorities accuse of conspiring to ship cocaine to the United States in 2017 and 2018. Santrich is under arrest while Colombian authorities consider a U.S. extradition request. Here too, Ceballos is describing the status quo.
Colombia’s highest judicial review body, its Constitutional Court, just ruled on this in mid-August, when it decided on the basic law underlying the JEP, the new transitional justice system. It found that war criminals may hold political office as long as they have submitted to the JEP, are recognizing and confessing the full truth of their crimes, and are making reparations to victims. Those who do this serve sentences of “restricted liberty,” but not prison, lasting up to eight years. It is not yet clear whether these sentences—which are up to the judge in each case—might interfere with an individual’s ability to hold office.
To change this ruling, President Duque and his congressional supporters would have to amend Colombia’s constitution. If they succeeded in doing that and end up disqualifying many FARC members from holding office, it’s possible that some of them—who agreed to demobilize specifically so that they could participate in peaceful politics—would abandon the peace process, remobilize, and add to the growing ranks of armed guerrilla “dissident” groups. It’s far from certain, though, that Duque and his allies would have the votes necessary for such a constitutional amendment.
This means that the voluntary coca eradication program begun under Chapter 4 of the peace accord would continue for the families who are already participating in it—but the program will not sign up any new families. Any coca grower who has not yet been reached by the Chapter 4 program, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS), will be shut out and, most likely, will face forcible eradication and no assistance.
For smallholding coca-growers unlucky enough to live in a municipality where the PNIS didn’t get started before Santos left office, this may be a violation of the peace accord’s terms. Colombia’s courts may have to decide that.
We also need to be vigilant about what happens to the 124,745 coca-growing families covered by the framework PNIS agreements the Santos government signed, including individual accords with 77,659 of them. The Colombian government has promised them two years of stipends, technical support, and other assistance to help them integrate into the legal rural economy. The Duque government must uphold this commitment. To break a promise to so many would destroy the Colombian government’s credibility in some of the most precarious parts of the country. The effect on coca cultivation and insecurity could be worse than never attempting either eradication or substitution in the first place.
Accord commitments aside, what Ceballos proposes sounds like bad policy. For decades now, Colombia—with U.S. support—has subjected smallholding coca-growers to forced eradication, while leaving no government presence behind in their communities. No basic services (usually, not even security), no land titles, no farm-to-market roads. The result has been quick and repeated recoveries of coca-growing. Nearly all of Colombia’s current coca boom is taking place in municipalities that had coca when “Plan Colombia” began ramping up forced eradication in 2000. Very little coca is showing up in new areas. If by “mandatory eradication” Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.
The upshot here: these four proposals could bring some problems if the Duque government manages to implement them. But they would not shake the FARC peace process to its foundations.
Iván Duque and Miguel Ceballos would do better, though, if they made other “modifications” to the peace accord’s implementation:
August 30, 2018
(Week of August 19-25)
The ELN’s release of four soldiers, three police, and two civilians in its custody, believed imminent, still hasn’t happened yet. Guerrilla fronts in Chocó and Arauca captured the nine on August 3rd and 8th, and President Iván Duque (who was inaugurated August 7th) has demanded their unconditional release before deciding whether to continue peace talks begun by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos.
A week ago, Colombia’s Defense Ministry stated that it had agreed with the ELN on a protocol for freeing the captives, with the participation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In Havana, chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán told The New York Times that “the nine captives would be released ‘within the next week.’ But two days later, a recording from the ELN’s Western War Front, its hard-line bloc, which has released pictures of some of the hostages, said no agreement had been reached.”
The situation remains unclear. The Defense Ministry has refused to recognize the liberation as part of the peace negotiation, which the Duque government still hasn’t committed to continuing. The ELN has meanwhile reportedly sent members of its negotiating team to Colombia to work out handover details, but it is not known whether they have yet been in touch with the government.
“Uriel,” the commander of the ELN’s Western War Front, “complained about military pressure in the zone,” according to El Tiempo, which in his judgment is reducing the kidnap victims’ [security] guarantees.”
Interviewed by The New York Times, negotiator Beltrán insisted that the ELN wants to continue dialogue with the new Duque government, and promised reasonable terms. “‘We’re not asking for socialism, he said, adding that his rebels are mainly looking for basic protections for peasants and a way that the rebels can lay down arms.” Beltrán noted that guerrillas he has spoken with, after viewing the sluggish implementation of the FARC peace accord, are concerned that the government won’t honor an agreement. “We have an example that has us scared,” he told the Times, referring to the FARC process.
On August 23 President Duque, accompanied by the internal-affairs chief (Procurador), human rights ombudsman (Defensor), the U.S. ambassador, the ministers of Defense and Interior, and other officials, presided over an event to lay out a policy for protecting threatened social leaders and human rights defenders. The “Second Table for the Protection of Life” took place in Apartadó, in the troubled Urabá region of northwest Colombia, a zone of drug transshipment, much stolen landholding, and frequent attacks on social leaders. About 90 social organizations were in attendance.
Those present signed a “pact for life and protection of social leaders and human rights defenders,” which El Nuevo Siglo described as “an immediate roadmap to ‘rebuild trust in justice and to judge the material and intellectual authors of this criminal phenomenon.’”
The phenomenon remains intense. Ombudsman Carlos Negret announced that the August 22 murder of Luis Henry Verá Gamboa, a 51-year-old Community Action Board leader in Cesar department, was the 343rd killing of a social leader in Colombia since January 2016: one every 2.8 days. At least 123 killings—two every three days—took place during the first six months of 2018, The Guardian reported.
Deputy Chief Prosecutor (Vicefiscal) María Paulina Riveros, who attended the Apartadó event, said that her office has arrested 150 people and identified 200 suspects tied to the killings of social leaders; she did not say how many are suspected trigger-pullers versus those believed to have planned or ordered killings. In Urabá and northern Antioquia department, she added, businesses and landowners who resist restitution of stolen landholdings are heavily involved in killings of land claimants.
Procurador Fernando Carrillo said that his office will pressure mayors and governors to take more actions against killings of human rights defenders, adding that 30 officials are currently under investigation for failing to prevent the murders.
“If we want to guarantee the life and integrity of our social leaders, we have to dismantle the structures of organized crime that are attacking them,” Duque said. He added, “What we want is to seek an integral response of preventive actions and investigative speed to guarantee freedom of expression to all the people who are exercising the defense of human rights.”
Some social leaders, while glad to see a high-profile commitment, voiced concern about follow-through. “It’s not enough to draw up a lot of norms and mechanisms, if they don’t end up being effective instruments in their application, if they’re handed down from above but get lost on their way to the regions,” said Marino Córdoba of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians.
The Duque government’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, toured some of the sites (“Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation”) where many demobilized FARC members are still living. Accompanied by UN Verification Mission chief Jean Arnault at the site in Pondores, La Guajira, Ceballos met with former FARC Secretariat member Joaquín Gómez of the former Southern Bloc. Ceballos’s message was that the new government intends to respect the Santos government’s commitments for the reintegration of demobilized guerrillas.
Two of the most prominent demobilized FARC leaders, however, are still unaccounted for. Former Secretariat member Iván Márquez, a hardliner who was the FARC’s chief negotiator in Havana, has not been heard from in about a month. The same is true of Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias El Paisa, the former head of the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column. Both Márquez and Velásquez had been staying at a demobilization site in Caquetá; Márquez moved there in April, after renouncing his assigned Senate seat in the wake of the arrest, on narcotrafficking charges, of his close associate and fellow FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich.
FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada told Colombian media that he doesn’t know where Márquez and Velásquez are and hasn’t heard from them. He said he hoped to see Márquez at a late August meeting of FARC political party leaders. Ariel Ávila, an analyst at the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, told El Colombiano, “there are many rumors about what they could be doing, that they’re in Venezuela, that they’re in hiding, that they’ve joined the dissident groups.”
Catatumbo, a poorly governed region of smallholding farmers in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border, has already been suffering a wave of violence between the ELN and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small guerrilla group that is almost exclusively active there. Now, reports La Silla Vacía, the largest FARC dissident group has arrived in Catatumbo, especially in areas that had previously been the dominion of the FARC’s disbanded 33rd Front.
Basing itself mainly on military intelligence sources, La Silla claims that dissidents from the FARC’s 7th Front, active in south-central Colombia, are branching out. 7th Front leader “Gentil Duarte” has sent one of his most notorious deputies, “John 40”—a FARC leader with a long history in the cocaine trade—to Catatumbo to build up recruitment and recover control of trafficking routes.
According to Army Intelligence information, his appearance in the area occurred between four and five months ago, when it was already known in the region that several ex-FARC members had decided to return to arms, and those who were not organizing on their own in small groups were dividing themselves between the ranks of the ELN and the EPL. What is clear is that John 40 came to organize them to prevent the new reorganizations from being dispersed or ending up simply strengthening the other two guerrilla groups, at a time when the coca market in Catatumbo is skyrocketing.
Wilfredo Cañizares of the Fundación Progresar think-tank in nearby Cúcuta told La Silla that Catatumbo may now have as many as 30,000 hectares of coca, at least 6,000 more than were measured in 2016.
Duarte and John 40 both abandoned the FARC in 2016, objecting to the peace accord the guerrillas were signing with the government. They are now part of the largest dissident group in the country, beginning to coordinate well beyond their center of operations in Meta and Guaviare departments. While La Silla’s military intelligence source said that the group has only about 33 men in the Catatumbo region, “seven sources we talked to in Catatumbo, among them local authorities and social leaders, said that the number could be between four and seven times larger.”
The 7th Front has avoided drawing attention to itself in Catatumbo, even as ELN-EPL fighting has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region. However, some of La Silla’s sources say the dissidents may have been behind a massacre three weeks ago in the central Catatumbo municipality of El Tarra.
Two sources in El Tarra told us that with the passing of days, the hypothesis that has grown strongest is that it was a dispute between dissidences. “Everything points to the dissidence of John 40 being the one that ordered the massacre, because the dissidents who died did not want to align with him and the model he came to put together,” one of those sources told La Silla.
Citing a human rights defender, an Army source, a social leader, and two local authorities, the report adds that the presence in Catatumbo of middlemen from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel is adding fuel to the fire. Three sources told La Silla Vacía that, while Sinaloa’s representatives aren’t behaving like an armed group in the region, they have a great deal of money, and as a result are under the protection of both guerrillas and corrupt members of the Army and Police.
Speaking at a Cali event organized by El Espectador’s Colombia 2020 program, Jozef Merkx, the Colombia country representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, drew attention with a grim piece of data: “in August 2018 Colombia has surpassed the number of internally displaced people that was measured in all of 2017.” That makes more than 20,000 Colombians forced from their homes by violence so far this year.
Merkx added that displacement is most severe along the Pacific Coast, in Catatumbo, and in Antioquia’s Bajo Cauca region. Mass displacements have also occurred in Meta, Arauca, and Córdoba departments. All of these zones have seen intense fighting this year between still-existing guerrillas like the ELN and EPL, armed organized crime groups like the Urabeños, or FARC dissidents.
The UNHCR official noted that 60 percent of the displaced have settled in 29 cities, where they often continue face severe security challenges. The same neighborhoods are also seeing a large flow of Venezuelans, a migration emergency that is much larger in number and has been getting much more attention. A UN Secretary-General spokesman said in mid-August that 2.3 million Venezuelans—7 percent of the neighboring country’s population—had abandoned the country as of June. Of those, 1.3 million were “suffering from malnourishment.”
An August 19 Wall Street Journal report gave some new information about Colombia’s plan to start eradicating the country’s still-increasing coca crop by spraying herbicides from low-flying drones. The herbicide would continue to be glyphosate, which Colombia stopped spraying from higher-flying aircraft in 2015, after a World Health Organization study pointed to some probability that the commonly used herbicide is carcinogenic.
Colombian police, along with a company called Fumi Drone, have been testing the new method using 10 drones in Nariño, the department with Colombia’s highest concentration of coca. Fully loaded with herbicide, each drone weighs 50 pounds and must be recharged after about a dozen minutes. “The small, remotely guided aircraft destroyed hundreds of acres of coca in a first round of tests,” police and Fumi Drone told the Journal.
The United States backed an aircraft-based glyphosate spraying program for more than 20 years. It proved capable of achieving short-term reductions in coca cultivation, in specific areas—but in an on-the-ground context of absent government and no basic services, growers tended to replant quickly. Because spraying from dozens or hundreds of feet in the air is very imprecise, farmers also alleged health and environmental damage—which U.S. officials denied—and the destruction of legal food crops.
Since 2015, Colombia’s forcible coca eradication has mainly involved individual eradicators either pulling the plants out of the ground or directly applying glyphosate. This is dangerous work, and hundreds of eradicators or security-force accompaniers have been killed or wounded since the mid-2000s by ambushes, snipers, landmines, and booby traps.
Critics warn that, while drones are safer for eradicators and less likely to spray people and legal crops, they do not solve the fundamental problem: coca-growing areas are abandoned by the government, and those who live there have shaky property rights, no farm-to-market roads, and few economic options. Spraying from the air and leaving no presence on the ground, then, virtually guarantees that coca cultivation will recur. “It’s a short-term solution,” Richard Lapper of the U.K.-based Chatham House think tank told the BBC. “Ultimately, there’s a lot of international demand for cocaine.”
U.S. government officials told the Wall Street Journal that they’re not completely sold on the drone idea. “[T]hey are open to using drones but need to learn more about their capabilities once Colombia’s police complete tests, which could run until January.” As he has in the past, Ambassador Kevin Whitaker made clear that the door remains open to using spray aircraft.
Seven or eight of the crop dusters that had worked the coca fields here remain in Colombia. [There were 14.] In a few months, U.S. officials say, they could become operational again. “I told embassy personnel and the Colombians the same thing: We need to be ready for a restart,” said the U.S. ambassador, Mr. Whitaker.
Meanwhile, participants in the voluntary crop substitution program begun under Chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord remain uncertain about whether Iván Duque’s government will continue the effort, known as the National Integral Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Plan (PNIS). Defense Minister Guillermo Botero raised concerns when he announced: “Voluntary eradication is over, and it will become obligatory… the fumigations will surely have to take place… we’re going to dedicate ourselves tenaciously to the eradication of illicit crops.”
Ten social and coca-grower organizations that have served as intermediaries for the PNIS program responded with a letter to President Duque asking him to keep the program in place. As laid out in the accord, the Santos Presidency’s crop substitution program has already promised two years of financial and technical assistance to 124,745 coca-growing households, signing individual accords with 77,659 of them. About 47,910 have eradicated about 22,000 hectares of coca in exchange for promised support, which has been arriving slowly.
In other bad drug-trade news, a decorated U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, Daniel Gould, was arrested after DEA agents found 90 pounds of cocaine inside two backpacks aboard a military transport plane in Colombia. The plane was bound for Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed the allegations, which were revealed by NBC News, but did not elaborate, citing “the integrity of the investigation and the rights of the individual.”
August 29, 2018
Inauguration day in Colombia, August 7, will be remembered for two speeches that left observers scratching their heads about what direction the new government of President Iván Duque will take the country.
The two contrasting speeches showed the incoming government’s “good cop bad cop” or “Jekyll and Hyde” nature. A 42-year-old moderate president with a thin political resume is ruling with the support of a party, and a congressional bloc, that is well to his right and often seems more beholden to ex-president, now Senator, Uribe.
Here, translated into English, is what Duque and Macías had to say about several topics important for Colombia’s peace process and U.S. policy.
Duque: Out of respect for Colombia and for the citizen mandate that we have received, we will deploy corrective measures to assure the victims truth, proportional justice, that they may also receive effective reparation, and that there may be no repetition anywhere in the territory.
We will also correct structural failures that have become evident in the implementation [of the accords].
Macías: On the Havana Accords, we have to turn the page on the previous government dividing us between friends and enemies of peace. We Colombians are all friends of peace. During the plebiscite of October 2016, convened by the Government, the citizens mostly voted no to the Havana Agreements, but the government of ex-president Santos refused to modify them and, on the contrary, ignored the popular mandate.
This new Congress of the Republic has the responsibility to modify and adjust them to restore the rule of law and return to Colombians the trust lost in their institutions. We must recover legality. We always believed that, in order to sign this agreement, it was not necessary to tear the Constitution or the institutions to shreds, because in Colombia there has not been a civil war or an armed conflict, but a terrorist threat against the state. For this reason, it is urgent to move ahead with the necessary modifications, without falling into the fanaticism of destroying the accords.
Notes: Both Duque and Macías are outspoken critics of the FARC peace accord. Here, though, only Macías uses the inauguration as an opportunity to voice these criticisms. Both call for corrections or modifications to the accord without offering specifics, much less explaining how to “correct” it without destroying it. They are probably referring mainly to tightening the conditions of punishment for ex-FARC members found guilty of war crimes, and preventing FARC members from holding political office while facing war crimes trials.
Duque: We’re going to be effective in the eradication and substitution of illicit crops, together with communities, as well as in the launching of productive projects. We’re going to break narcotrafficking structures’ logistical supply chains.
Macías: Today you receive a country with the dishonorable record of being the number-one coca producer in the world, with more than 210,000 hectares planted and a production of 921 metric tons of cocaine. Regarding the worrying increase of illicit crops in Colombia, we celebrate your announcements, President Duque, to combat them decisively without contemplations. The mere act of doing away with voluntary eradication, which is not complied with, and if necessary returning to fumigation, is a hopeful advance.… We must assume decisively the policy of eradication and substitution of illicit crops, and to do it with the support of that great ally of Colombia: the United States. A country with which, in addition, we have to permanently strengthen our relations.
Notes: It’s interesting that Duque didn’t give specific mention to increasing forced eradication of coca crops, including through herbicide fumigation. He has been on record supporting that. Macías not only supports renewing the fumigation program that was suspended in 2015, he would abandon the voluntary eradication effort launched in 2017 in compliance with chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord.
Duque: I want to be clear. During the first 30 days of our government we will make a judicious, prudent and analytical evaluation of the last 17 months of talks that the outgoing government has advanced with the ELN. We are going to meet with the United Nations, with the Catholic Church and the countries that have been supporting this process, so that in the framework of institutional independence they may give us their opinion about it.
But I want to make clear, I want to make absolutely clear, that a credible process must be based on the total cessation of criminal actions, with strict international supervision, and defined time periods. We want to move forward, but in order to move forward we must make very clear that the Colombian people will not be intimidated by violence or be pressured by any form of violence.
Macías: (no mention)
Notes: This points to at least a slight softening of Duque’s line on whether to continue or break off the slow-moving ELN talks. Earlier, he had said he would only continue peace talks with the smaller guerrilla group if its members not only declared a cessation of hostilities, but concentrated its members into specific zones in order to verify that cessation. Here, Duque doesn’t repeat the “concentration into zones” pre-condition.
Duque: I believe in the demobilization, disarmament, and reinsertion of the guerrilla base. Many of them were forcibly recruited or separated from their surroundings by the intimidation of arms. I’m convinced and committed to seeking productive opportunities for these organizations’ base, and to look after their protection.
Macías: (no mention)
Notes: There is little doubt that Duque’s government will fund reintegration programs for ex-combatants who choose to demobilize individually. However, most ex-FARC fighters wish to demobilize collectively, staying together in a single, usually rural, location. The Santos government and the FARC didn’t really manage to arrive at a plan for collective reintegration. This has left thousands of ex-fighters unclear about their futures. Duque doesn’t talk about collective reintegration here.
Duque: We will also strive to provide public goods in all regions of the country, starting with those that have been hit the most painfully by violence.
Macías: Today you receive a country, from a government that took on a commitment of 130 trillion pesos (US$44.5 billion), without the necessary resources existing, to finance the Havana accords during the next 15 years.
Notes: The lack of government presence and services in vast areas of the country is a key reason why coca cultivation is growing and criminal groups are expanding. Duque prioritizes providing “public goods”—something for which the peace accord’s first chapter offers a plan. But Macías complains about that plan’s price tag.
Duque: Today I want to tell the soldiers and police of the fatherland that we are going to promote a serious and rigorous institutional and legal framework so that they can fulfill their constitutional duty in strict adherence to Human Rights, while feeling with all their hearts the affection of the people.
Macías: It is up to you, President Duque, as supreme commander of the security forces, not only to carry out changes in the high command, but to generate a change in the new commanders’ mentality in order to recover Colombians’ security and tranquility.
Notes: As we saw during the recent debate over the post-conflict transitional justice system’s procedural law, many in Duque’s party wish to shield the armed forces from human rights charges. We should view any talk of a new “legal framework” in light of that. Macías’s call for a new high command with a different “mentality” is especially ominous, as the high command of the past few years has been relatively moderate and supportive of the peace process.
Duque: Legality means defending the lives of all Colombians and protecting the integrity of political and social leaders, and of our journalists.
Every homicide hurts us, every attack hurts us, every threat hurts us. And that is why we are going to work with the Ombudsman’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office to prevent violence against them and sanction exemplarily those who have acted as intellectual and material authors of the crimes and intimidations that cause mourning, that hurt, that eat away the feeling of love of country.
Macías: Ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, since the end of 2010, abandoned the Democratic Security policy, and today hands over the country immersed in a new war that to date has left more than 300 civic and communal leaders murdered, just in the last 2 years.
Notes: Duque’s words on the urgent crisis of social-leader killings are correct and encouraging. Let’s hope they’re followed up with actions, and with personnel choices better than the now-withdrawn nomination of Claudia Ortiz to head the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit. For his part, however, Macías cites the social-leaders crisis only for political reasons, as another line of attack against the outgoing Santos government.
Duque: (no mention)
Macías: Today you receive a country, President Duque, to which about 1 million Venezuelans have arrived, whom we welcome in a fraternal manner with solidarity; citizens displaced by a dictatorship that has subjected the people of that brother country to hunger, unemployment and despicable political persecution. A dictatorship that has been sustained by the permissiveness of several governments like the one that just ended in Colombia.
Notes: It’s not hard to imagine why Duque chose not to attack Venezuela’s authoritarian government in his presidential inauguration speech. But Duque’s position on how to approach Venezuela’s regime differs little from Macías’s.
August 10, 2018
The case of FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, arrested on April 9 with the possibility of extradition to the United States for narcotrafficking, grew more complicated this week. The Review Chamber of the new Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP, the transitional justice system set up by the peace accord) ordered his extradition suspended. Other entities within Colombia’s government contended that the Chamber doesn’t have the right to do that.
Santrich, a hardliner who represented the FARC at the negotiating table during the entire Havana process, is currently confined at a Bogotá facility run by the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference. His health is precarious, as he has been on a hunger strike since his arrest. Santrich is charged by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York with conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.
As he allegedly committed the crime after the peace accord went into effect, Santrich’s case could go to Colombia’s regular justice system, where he would face long prison terms or extradition. First, though, the JEP must determine that the crime did indeed take place after the peace accord’s December 1, 2016 ratification.
That is the task of the JEP’s Review Chamber, which must fulfill it within 120 days. This chamber contended, by a unanimous vote, that fulfilling its duty required a temporary suspension of Santrich’s extradition. The Chamber asked for more evidence of the allegations against the FARC leader, and instructed the “regular” justice system’s Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía) to provide, within five days, information about the extradition process.
Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez responded with a strongly worded 16-page letter alleging that the JEP has no authority to freeze an extradition process, adding that the newly formed body’s action “has left democratic institutionally threatened.” And in fact, the director of another body of the JEP, its Investigations and Accusations Unit, tweeted “I separate myself from the extradition suspension decision.”
The Colombian government’s Justice and Interior Ministries responded with a communiqué arguing that the JEP could not suspend Santrich’s extradition because the United States had not formally requested it yet. Colombian law gives countries requesting a citizen’s extradition 60 days to issue a formal request after that citizen has been detained. That would give the U.S. government until June 8 to issue the request. It has not done so, perhaps out of a desire not to appear to be influencing the May 27 presidential election campaign.
The JEP Chamber, however, stated that in its view, “the extradition process has already begun, because a detention for extradition purposes has been requested.”
There is no sense of when the Chamber may issue its determination of when Santrich committed a crime, or whether the Chamber may seek to determine whether there is even enough evidence that a crime took place. “Still, the political effect of the decision is immediate,” wrote Juanita León, director of La Silla Vacía.
Above all when the JEP issues it a few days before elections in which the candidate with the best chances of making it to a second round and reaching the Presidency [Iván Duque of the right-wing Centro Democrático party] proposes to make “adjustments” to the JEP that, in practice, would do away with it.
Debate over whether to extradite Santrich continues. Rodrigo Uprimny, founder of the judicial think-tank DeJusticia, believes Santrich should be tried in Colombia so that he may answer to his victims. An analysis in Semana magazine worries about the effect on ex-guerrillas’ desertion:
In the end, the consequences won’t be those of an ideal transition to peace or a return to the open war of the last decades. The scenario in play is intermediate, and has to do instead with the size of the dissidences that may return to the jungle. In other words, if Santrich’s possible extradition creates uncertainty among guerrillas that increases the number of dissidents, it may be best to allow him to serve his sentence inside the country.
An El Tiempo editorial contends that “rules are rules,” despite Santrich’s victims’ right to learn the truth from him.
It could be proposed that, without leaving aside at any moment the importance of the truth, the precept must come first that whoever doesn’t comply with the agreed rules must pay for it.
This, the editorial clarifies, only applies if the evidence against Santrich “leaves no doubt about his criminal conduct.” If so, “there would be no reason to insist that this [his extradition] poses an insurmountable obstacle to the implementation of what was agreed in Havana.”
The Colombian government recognized on May 15 that it will not meet its target, set for this month, of 50,000 hectares of coca eradicated by growers voluntarily destroying their crops in exchange for economic assistance. That was the one-year goal the Presidency had set for its implementation of chapter 4 of the Havana peace accord, which establishes a national crop substitution program.
In fact, the program fell significantly short. Eduardo Díaz, the director of the crop substitution program, announced that families participating in the program had eradicated 36,000 hectares, of which 11,700 have actually been verified by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The U.S. government measured 188,000 hectares in Colombia in 2016, and media have reported that the U.S. estimate for 2017 could be as high as 230,000. (UNODC’s 2016 estimate was 146,000, and media reports point to 180,000 in 2017.) The government forcibly eradicated 53,000 hectares in 2017.
Díaz blamed security conditions for the shortfall. He told CNN en Español, “In different zones where there are crops, narcotraffickers’ networks have advanced, have killed communities, have killed leaders, have threatened government officials and UN officials.”
Independent analysts place more blame on the slow performance of the Colombian bureaucracy. The idea of the government’s National Comprehensive Illicit Crop Substitution Program (PNIS, the main focus of the accord’s chapter 4) was to provide small-scale coca-growing households with two years’ worth of payments and help with productive projects in exchange for eradicating their coca. The economic benefits for each household would total about US$12,000 over two years. This week, the Ideas for Peace Foundation released a detailed report and dataset (Excel file) laying out the progress of the PNIS program as of March 31. In sum:
The report concludes,
The greatest advances of PNIS are found in the signing up of campesinos and the disbursement of payments, while it is falling most behind in technical assistance and in the supply of goods and services. Under those conditions, three months before the end of President Santos’s government, it will be difficult for the program to meet the goal of 50,000 voluntarily eradicated hectares.
The Ideas for Peace report notes that while homicides across Colombia have increased by a troubling 8 percent over this time last year, they are up by a very alarming 57 percent in the municipalities with crop substitution programs.
The Verdad Abierta website visited Briceño, Antioquia, where the PNIS began as a pilot project in 2015. In the coming weeks, the national government is to announce that the municipality’s residents will have eradicated all of their coca, about 567 hectares.
However, Briceño’s farmers told the site that “the campesinos complied, but the government has not.” While monthly payments have come on time, assistance for productive projects has hardly begun. “They did give us the payments, but in the agreement it said that as the payments arrived, then the productive projects to implement them would also arrive, so that we wouldn’t end up the way we are now: with our arms crossed and worried because the money has run out,” said a Community Action Board president.
“The state has a great responsibility with respect to the families who expressed their will to abandon the coca crops and who took part in the substitution process,” the Ideas for Peace report reads. “In the zones where the PNIS began to be developed, the link between populations and the state has been re-established. However, the lack of compliance with what was agreed not only has implications for institutions’ trust and credibility, it generates a risk of re-planting and a possible increase in hectares of coca.”
The ELN announced that it will cease military activities for five days, from May 25-29, “to contribute to favorable conditions that might permit Colombian society to express itself in the elections” that will take place on May 27.
This raised hopes for a more permanent bilateral cessation of hostilities between government and guerrillas. However, the ELN’s chief negotiator in Havana, Pablo Beltrán, intimated that the group would be unlikely to agree to a ceasefire as long as social leaders continue to be killed at a rapid pace around the country: “We are fully disposed to do a cessation, but what about all the others? It’s not just a call on the military forces, but on paramilitarism, on all these attacks that different popular sectors are receiving.”
Asked about President Juan Manuel Santos’s hope that the ELN talks will leave behind a framework agreement—which, for the next president, would increase the cost of pulling the plug on the talks—Beltrán said that the ELN wants “to leave the accords at such a point of consolidation that any incoming government would have to respect them.” Any advancement, Beltrán added, would have to include more civil society participation; he did not specify what that might look like.
Maximum FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez alias Timochenko published a lengthy communiqué about the status of the peace process on the eve of Colombia’s presidential election. “The peace accord is shielded,” it reads.
That’s what the Constitutional Court understood when it upheld Legislative Act 02 of 2017. The UN Security Council recognizes it. The community of nations accepts it and applauds it. We’re not going to force absolutely anything, the issue is simply to honor what was agreed when the Colombian state and our former insurgency gave our word. The beautiful dream of peace could be an irreversible reality if you [President Santos] decide to act.
Timochenko’s tone contrasts with that of the FARC’s de facto number-two leader, Iván Márquez, who said that if his close collaborator Jesús Santrich dies of a hunger strike while awaiting a possible extradition, his death “would also be the death of the peace process.”
In his statement, Timochenko asked forgiveness of Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, Sigifredo López, and other civilians whom the FARC held hostage for years. He called on former President Álvaro Uribe to join him in appearing together before the newly established Truth Commission to show the country “what the search for truth and the clarification of the truth look like.” Uribe led an intense military offensive against the FARC during his 2002-2010 presidency, and enjoyed the political support of many backers of right-wing paramilitary groups.
The presidential candidate of Uribe’s party, poll frontrunner Iván Duque, rejected the FARC leader’s invitation. “He can’t come here like a shameless person trying to appear as the equal of a good citizen. Instead, they should give reparations to their victims, tell all the truth, and pay their penalties.”
A joint Colombian Army-Air Force-Police operation killed 11 members of the FARC’s 7th Front dissident group in Putumayo. Among the dead was a commander named alias “Cachorro,” reportedly a close collaborator of Edgar Salgado, alias “Rodrigo Cadete,” who commanded the FARC’s 27th Front and abruptly abandoned the demobilization process last September. The 7th Front dissidents are a recent presence in Putumayo; they have been most active in Meta and Caquetá.
In Bello, just north of Medellín in Antioquia, an operation carried out by the Army and the Fiscalía captured Henry Arturo Gil Ramírez alias “el Feo” (the Ugly One), a top commander of the 36th Front dissident group.
May 26, 2018
The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, announced April 18 that his country will no longer host the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN. Government representatives and guerrilla leaders had held five rounds of talks in Quito since February 2017. Moreno’s announcement came days after the murder of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver, whom a group of re-armed FARC guerrillas had abducted in late March on Ecuador’s side of the border with Colombia.
“I have asked the foreign minister of Ecuador to put the brakes on the conversations and put the brakes on our role as a guarantor of the peace process while the ELN does not commit to ending terrorist actions,” Moreno told Colombian cable news network NTN24.
“President Santos understands the reasons why President Moreno has decided to move away from his role as guarantor and host of these negotiations,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín responded, adding that Colombia will seek a new foreign country in which to hold the talks, which have made only very modest progress on their agenda. The candidate leading polls for Colombia’s May 27 presidential election, rightist Iván Duque, endorsed Ecuador’s move: “President Moreno was completely right to suspend the dialogues with the ELN. What President Santos did not do, the Ecuadorian government did well.”
The talks’ remaining five guarantor countries are Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela. Analysts asked by Colombian media coincided in the view that Cuba or perhaps Chile is the best choice for a new venue: Brazil is about to have elections, Chile just inaugurated a new conservative government, Norway is too far away, and Venezuela is roiled by political and economic instability. Another option would be to continue the original vision of “itinerant” negotiations that move from country to country, which poses logistical challenges.
Moreno’s decision came after the journalists’ kidnapping-murder, another kidnapping of two Ecuadorians who remain in custody, and several attacks on Ecuador’s security forces in the border region, mainly in the Pacific province of Esmeraldas. All of these actions were perpetrated by the so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front, a grouping of ex-FARC members headed by Walter Arizara, an Ecuadorian-born former FARC member who goes by the alias “Guacho.” Though the ELN has nothing to do with Guacho’s group’s actions, the attacks on Ecuadorian soil have soured public opinion in the country toward Colombian armed groups in general.
The Colombian journalism website Verdad Abierta adds that Ecuador’s government was also probably miffed at the “lack of diplomatic tact” with which Colombia’s government handled the reporters’ kidnapping and murder.
For more than two years, annoyance has been incubating within the Ecuadorian Defense Ministry over their Colombian counterparts’ lack of commitment to the design of a joint border security strategy that would include contingency plans. Since that time, it was known that some FARC units wouldn’t accept the accords signed with the Colombian government.
… A researcher who has studied the armed conflict dynamic in that border region for several years, and who asked not to use his/her name, affirmed… “The Ecuadorian government has always felt undervalued by the Colombian government. The situation intensified with President Juan Manuel Santos’s response to the situation with the murdered journalists. This had several elements, for example that he did not go to Ecuador to meet with Moreno at a moment of intense pain for Ecuadorians. This was seen as an affront.”
That atmosphere became even tenser after President Santos’s clumsy statements saying that “Guacho” was Ecuadorian and that the reporters were killed in Ecuador. Those statements were interpreted by many Ecuadorian people, including by international bodies as saying “that’s Ecuador’s problem.”
On April 19 someone—the Colombian military said the ELN—bombed a power pylon in Nariño, Colombia, shutting off electricity throughout the border region, including the troubled port city of Tumaco. The peace talks, meanwhile, continue to seek a new venue at which to resume their fifth round.
Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, the FARC ideologist and negotiator arrested April 9 on charges of conspiring to traffic cocaine, was transferred to southern Bogotá’s La Picota prison, where he will remain as Colombian judicial authorities determine whether he should be separated from the peace accords’ transitional justice process and extradited to the United States. Colombia’s Supreme Court denied a habeas corpus motion seeking his release; his lawyers contended, unsuccessfully, that the transitional justice system (Special Jurisdiction for Peace or JEP) should have executed the arrest order instead of the regular criminal justice system.
From his confinement, Santrich gave an interview to Colombia’s W Radio news station. He confirmed that he had spoken to Mexican traffickers —who were either undercover DEA agents, or had one or more DEA agents embedded in their group—but thought that they were potential investors in post-conflict agricultural projects. Santrich had been put into contact with the Mexicans by Marlon Marín, a lawyer who is the nephew of chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, a close associate of Santrich’s on the FARC party’s hardline wing.
Santrich said his relationship with Marín “is a working relationship about ideas for productive projects, specifically about farms growing native crops, to implement in zones where the accord on integral rural reform will be carried out.” He said that he did not know the name of Rafael Caro Quintero, the top Mexican drug trafficker whom his intermediaries claimed to be representing. “It’s very hard for me to keep in mind who could be a narco or not. Many people came to my house with the idea of contributing to moving the peace process forward, and all of the people who came were registered with the National Police.” Asked about the ink drawing he gave the Mexicans, dedicated to Caro Quintero, he said that he thought Caro was a potential investor, and that he had given similar drawings to Vice-President Óscar Naranjo and presidential post-conflict chief Rafael Pardo.
“You will never hear words like ‘cocaine, payment, five-kilogram packages’ come out of my mouth,” Santrich said. “This is like an Indiana Jones movie, everyone adding special effects and the setup is right around the corner.” He added, “It’s more likely that cocaine passed through the nose of the chief prosecutor of the nation than through my hands.” Recordings of Santrich’s conversations with the Mexicans, currently in U.S. authorities’ possession, may give a clearer idea of to what extent Santrich knowingly discussed a plan to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States, or how he reacted when Marlon Marín—who had urged Santrich to meet the Mexicans—discussed the plan in his presence.
Yezid Arteta, a former FARC member turned columnist for Semana magazine’s website, called Marín “the typical lizard that one finds in all political parties and institutions, who seems to be one of the planners of the trap laid for Santrich.” On April 16, Marlon Marín boarded a flight to New York, where he has agreed to testify against Jesús Santrich as a cooperating witness. Asked about his relationship with his nephew, FARC leader Iván Márquez only said he was a “gentleman” whose “conduct will have to be investigated.”
On April 19 Márquez, who is slated to take a seat in Colombia’s Senate on July 20, notified Colombia’s Police and National Protection Unit that he was leaving Bogotá, moving “temporarily to the territorial space [FARC demobilization site] in Miravalle,” in the southern department of Caquetá, “due to the situation and until there is greater clarity and certainty about what comes next.” Santrich, on a hunger strike in La Picota, said he would rather starve to death than be extradited.
A week after Colombian media reported on letters from European ambassadors and from Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) voicing concerns about the management of special peace accord implementation funds, President Santos announced a “crash plan” to improve monitoring of resources and administrative steps to restructure management of resources from international donors.
The concerns center around the “Colombia in Peace Fund,” which concentrates a few hundred million dollars in resources for peace accord implementation projects, most of them from foreign donors. Though the fund is subject to close oversight and reporting, in order to speed delivery of aid it is largely exempt from often cumbersome procedures in regular Colombian law designed to prevent corruption in contracting.
The government found that 97 percent of the fund’s resources so far have gone to 40 contracts. “That’s why the denunciations and suspicions that persist about supposed poor management are so concerning,” reads an editorial in El Espectador. “In synthesis, it seems that the corrupt political bureaucracy that is so rooted in our country has also tried to stick its hand in the investments that should be consolidating the accord’s implementation.”
The concerns led to the dismissal of Carlos Fidel Simancas, a contractor of the International Organization for Migration who worked in the Presidency’s Post-Conflict Secretariat. “In that Secretariat,” El Tiempo reported, Simancas
was the manager of former Green Party congressional candidate Sonia Elvira Veloza Mogollón, who last Friday was called for questioning at the Fiscalía as part of the “group of people who played specific roles” in the presumed irregularities in the management of productive projects for demobilized FARC.
Another eight people—a list that does not include Simancas—were also called to the Fiscalía, and their offices and homes were searched on suspicion of being part of the network of Marlon Marín Marín, who according to the investigative body was a sort of articulator of a network that sought to enrich itself with peace contracts.
Marlon Marín first sought to obtain a cut of the contracts for basic healthcare at the demobilized combatants’ concentration sites.
This is the same Marlon Marín involved in the arrest of Jesús Santrich, the FARC leader’s nephew whom columnist Yezid Arteta referred to above as a “lizard.” Before discovering his efforts to strike a cocaine deal with Mexicans, Colombian authorities were already monitoring Marín because they suspected he was mishandling these health contracts.
Vice President Óscar Naranjo said that the government will seek “to accelerate the accords’ implementation, especially with relation to productive projects.” Treasury Vice-Minister Paula Acosta said that the government has contracted the accounting firm Ernst and Young to audit the contracts awarded so far.
Naranjo promised a detailed review of post-conflict productive projects. He said there are 214 such projects so far, in different states of development. Among them, 35, involving 1,533 ex-FARC members, are in the “formulation phase” and will cost about COP$22.764 billion (US$8.081 million).
“This is no reason, certainly, to slow implementation” of the peace accord, concluded El Espectador’s editorial. “The accord has already faltered too much for the government to keep delaying compliance with its promises. The money is there precisely to be spent as soon as possible and to put in motion everything that was promised. Can’t we do this with transparency?”
The UN Security Council convened on April 19 to hear the Secretary General’s latest report on the peace process and the work of the UN Verification Mission. The ambassadors in attendance gave supportive statements and celebrated the progress away from conflict that Colombia has made. Some, most notably Russia, voiced concerns about the pace of implementation.
“While it is obviously too early to take stock of a peace process that has set ambitious and long-term goals,” UN Mission Head Jean Arnault told the Council that there is reason for optimism.
[W]e have already observed that it has achieved a notable reduction of violence in the context of the congressional elections. Similarly, it has created a series of institutions dedicated to overcoming patterns of social, economic and political violence in the conflict areas. …Throughout the implementation phase of the Peace Agreement, circumstances have occasionally tested the commitment of the two parties to stay the course. They have stayed the course.
Nonetheless Arnault, and the Secretary-General’s report, warned of problems. “[T]he resurgence of violence in several of the areas most affected by the conflict and the persistent pattern of killings of community and social leaders are the main subjects of concern at present,” the report emphasized.
The report highlights the slowness with which Colombia is reintegrating former FARC combatants.
Socioeconomic reintegration is lagging behind. The transition from early reinsertion to sustainable reintegration has not yet been completed, and this uncertainty continues to undermine the confidence of former members of FARC-EP in their reintegration and in the peace process itself.
Lack of progress in this respect is in good part responsible for the movement of former FARC-EP members outside the territorial areas, hence the growing importance of access to land, the design, funding and implementation of viable productive projects linked to local development and the creation of cooperatives to implement them.
Remarkably, Colombia still does not have a plan in place for reintegrating ex-combatants, violating a cardinal precept of how a peace accord should be implemented.
I reiterate the need for the National Reintegration Council to adopt, as provided for in the Peace Agreement, its national reintegration plan linking reintegration to development.
The Secretary-General’s report also voices concern for the security of former FARC members located outside the former concentration zones, and of threatened social leaders throughout the country.
I am concerned that, by all accounts, the killing of community leaders and human rights defenders has continued unabated in the past three months, despite several measures to address the alarming number of killings registered in 2017. This trend and the proliferation of illegal armed actors associated with it should be brought under control as a matter of urgency, as has been acknowledged by the President and top officials of his Government.
Of particular concern are the attacks against persons working to implement government programmes related to coca substitution and land restitution. Members of local community boards, the governance mechanism established in rural districts, are among the main targets of violence.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, read a statement that was significantly more supportive of the peace effort than has been customary for the Trump administration. It calls for greater government presence in territories, reintegration of former combatants, and action on land tenure. The expected exhortation to “accelerate its counter-narcotics effort” doesn’t appear until the 11th of 15 paragraphs.
The agreement that ended five decades of war in Colombia has created the conditions for the just and lasting peace that Colombians deserve. It was a historic achievement. But peace in Colombia remains an unfinished project. All of us have a role in ensuring that it succeeds.
…We cannot allow formerly FARC-controlled areas to fall into the hands of criminals and illegal armed groups. That would undo much of the progress of the peace accord. We encourage the government to continue efforts to eliminate Colombia’s ungoverned spaces. The United States also urges the government to continue the full implementation of the comprehensive peace plan. This includes efforts to reintegrate former combatants into civilian life.
The peace accord provides an important opportunity to address historical land issues that have driven conflict and violence in Colombia. We welcome President Santos’ landmark decree meant to formalize land ownership for more than 2.5 million farmers. Improving access to land is essential in transforming rural livelihoods. Criminal groups and narco-traffickers have dominated rural areas of Colombia for decades. With secure land titles, the Colombian people can provide for their families without feeling beholden to these groups.
A story by BuzzFeed reporter Aram Roston, later picked up by the New York Times, reveals that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating veteran agent José Irizarry, who had been stationed in the agency’s field office in Cartagena, Colombia. The nature of the now-resigned agent’s misconduct is not clear, but three anonymous sources told Roston “the scope of the case is believed to be unprecedented in the agency’s history.” One source said that Irizarry is also being investigated by the Justice Department’s Inspector-General and the FBI.
El Tiempo reported that the U.S. government’s estimate of the amount of coca planted in Colombia in 2017 reached a new record of between 220,000 and 230,000 hectares, up from 188,000 in 2016. The White House has not yet published its 2017 figure. Nor have Colombian authorities published their estimate, but the same article cites a Colombian estimate of 170,000-180,000 hectares, up from 146,000 in 2016. This apparent increase occurred even though Colombian government, police, and military eradicators uprooted, cut down, or directly applied herbicides to 53,000 hectares of coca bushes last year, and worked with farmers for the voluntary eradication of about 20,000 more.
As a result, the same El Tiempo article revealed, the Colombian National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DIRAN) is pursuing the possibility of employing drones to spray herbicides on the coca fields. Each would fly a meter or less over the bushes, spraying the herbicide glyphosate.
In 2015, Colombia suspended the U.S.-funded practice of spraying glyphosate from aircraft after the UN World Health Organization published a literature review70134-8/fulltext) finding that the chemical “is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is still commonly used in Colombian (and U.S.) agriculture, and eradicators still kill coca with the more precise method of applying it from backpack-mounted dispensers, which presumably minimizes spray drift to populated areas and destruction of legal food crops. The drone proposal would enable similar close-proximity spraying without the risks that sharpshooters, ambushes, landmines, and booby traps have posed to human eradicators working in the fields.
On April 13, the DIRAN began testing drones from five companies. It is prepared in 2018 to spend COP$21 billion (US$7.5 million) on drones that meet a series of standards:
The DIRAN expects that each drone would be able to spray between 10 and 15 hectares per day, whereas a human eradicator can only destroy 3 to 5 hectares of coca per day. In an absence of government presence in coca-growing zones, though, it remains unclear what would prevent farmers with limited economic options from replanting the crop.
In addition to the Colombia-Ecuador border region, where the FARC dissident group commanded by alias “Guacho” has drawn much attention, two other regions saw intensified violence during the week between groups that remain active, and are growing, in post-accord Colombia.
The Bajo Cauca region in northeastern Antioquia, a coca production and cocaine transshipment zone a few hours’ drive from Medellín, is the scene of frequent combat between two organized crime groups. The Urabeños (also known as Gulf Clan, or Usuga Clan, or Gaitanistas), the largest organized armed group in the country, is battling a regional group called the “Caparrapos” (also known as the Virgilio Peralta Arenas Front). Both groups can trace their lineage back to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary network that terrorized much of Colombia, and enjoyed some support on the political right, in the 1990s and 2000s.
So far this year, fighting between the two groups has displaced at least 2,175 people in the Antioquia municipalities of Cáceres, Caucasia, Tarazá, and Ituango. Violence has also been intense across the departmental border in southern Córdoba. Fighting on April 13-15 killed five people and displaced 210. In the sports complex in Tarazá’s town center, 120 of the displaced are currently taking refuge.
Sergio Mesa Cárdenas of the Medellín NGO Corpades told El Colombiano that the warring groups are getting support from the Mexican cartels that buy their illicit product.
The “Caparrapos” gang, led by alias “Ratón,” has alliances with Mexico’s Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Medellín’s “Los Triana” gang. Regarding the “Gulf Clan,” led by alias “Gonzalito,” the investigator says they have the support of the “Pachelly” gang from [the Medellín suburb of] Bello and the “Zetas” cartel.
The situation is arguably worse in Catatumbo, a poorly governed coca-growing region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border. This zone had a longtime presence of the FARC, the ELN, and the EPL. The latter group, the People’s Liberation Army, is descended from the dissident remnant of a larger group that demobilized in 1991. (The Colombian government often calls them “Los Pelusos.”) The EPL remained active in Catatumbo, profiting from the production and transshipment of drugs into Venezuela; today it has about 200 members and appears to be growing.
With the FARC’s exit from the scene—the 33rd Front concentrated in a demobilization zone in Tibú municipality over a year ago—the EPL and ELN began to compete for control of its previous territories of influence. A longstanding non-aggression arrangement broke down in mid-March, and combat has intensified ever since. “According to voices in the region who spoke to reporter Salud Hernández-Mora,” El Tiempo noted, “it is all because the ELN believes that the ‘Pelusos’ violated accords to share the business that the FARC left behind.”
After a month of tensions and sporadic combat, the situation worsened April 15 with the EPL’s declaration of an “armed stoppage”: a several-day prohibition on all road travel, and often a requirement that local businesses shut their doors. Residents of several Catatumbo municipalities received pamphlets informing them of the stoppage, and many of the region’s population centers became “ghost towns.” Schools closed all week, “affecting about 45,000 children and 2,000 teachers,” according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Norte de Santander Governor William Villamizar declared a state of humanitarian emergency in Catatumbo, and asked the national government to authorize a dialogue between ELN and EPL leaders at the ELN negotiating table. The commander of the Colombian Army’s “Vulcan” Task Force, stationed in the region, said that “a special deployment has been done.”
Civil society groups in Catatumbo, along with the Catholic church and local governments, have joined in calls on the armed groups to leave the civilian population out of the fighting. Business owners tried to open their establishments for half-day periods, but, according to El Colombiano, were met by armed people “who obligated them to close with the threat: ‘we’re the ones who have the weapons here.’”
The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs says that 2,500 people have been displaced by Catatumbo’s violence since the situation deteriorated in mid-March. A government source told El Colombiano that the actual number is probably higher, as many displaced are fearful of registering and may be staying with relatives and friends. If the situation continues for another week, the source said, food could start running out in some communities.
April 23, 2018
(Week of April 8-14)
On the evening of April 9, police arrested demobilized FARC leader Seuxis Pausivas Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” at his home near the Bogotá airport. The arrest complies with an Interpol Red Notice, issued days after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York convinced a grand jury to indict Santrich for conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. The guerrilla leader is now being held in the concrete-walled Bogotá headquarters (often called the “bunker”) of Colombia’s prosecutor-general’s office (Fiscalía).
An ideologist more than a fighter—he nearly always wears sunglasses due to poor eyesight—the 50-year-old Santrich was a fixture during all four years of peace talks in Havana, often delivering the FARC’s declarations to reporters after negotiating sessions. “Santrich was, by far, the most radical, intelligent and intransigent of the plenipotentiary negotiators,” Juanita León of La Silla Vacía wrote after his arrest. “In addition to a close friendship with [chief FARC negotiator] Iván Márquez, Santrich has much leadership among the guerrilla base, because he defended several points that were important to them.” In mid-2017, Santrich went on a lengthy hunger strike to pressure the government to speed its promised releases of amnestied guerrilla prisoners.
The U.S. prosectors’ indictment of Santrich, dated April 4, accuses the guerrilla leader of agreeing to export ten tons of cocaine to the United States in exchange for US$15 million. It states that the events in question took place starting in June 2017. The Havana peace accord protects FARC members from extradition to the United States for crimes committed before the accord’s December 2016 ratification. The accusations against Santrich, however, fall outside of that timeframe, making his extradition to the United States a distinct near-term possibility.
As a result, León contends, his arrest “is the greatest challenge to the peace process since Congress accepted the re-negotiated accord” after voters rejected the first version in an October 2016 plebiscite.
Over the course of the week, Colombian prosecutors made public some of the evidence against Santrich. “Very few cases have so much probatory accreditation [evidence] as this one,” Chief Prosecutor (Fiscal General) Néstor Humberto Martínez said. The story is as follows:
Mid-2017: members of the Fiscalía’s Technical Investigations Corps (CTI) investigating possible irregularities in healthcare contracts for demobilized guerrillas begin to focus on an associate of Santrich’s, Marlon Marín, a 39-year-old lawyer who is Iván Márquez’s nephew.
Telephone intercepts detect periodic references to a group calling itself “The Family.” It apparently includes Marín; Fabio Simón Younes, director of a Florida-based company listed as “inactive”; and Armando Gómez, a businessman and the father of a Colombian beauty queen. The intercepts include conversations with Mexicans about a possible drug trafficking operation. A Fiscalía investigator shares with Chief Prosecutor Martínez his suspicion that the Mexicans may be DEA agents. Martínez checks with U.S. embassy contacts, who confirm that they are. (Or they may be genuine Mexican traffickers with a DEA mole in their midst—it’s not clear.)
August 14, 2017: In a phone conversation Gómez, the businessman, mentions “five televisions that the buyers are interested in testing out,” an apparent reference to five kilograms of cocaine whose quality the Mexicans insist on evaluating before moving ahead with any deal. He says that the sample is for “Marco,” one of the Mexicans, who are apparently Sinaloa cartel representatives.
October 2017: The phone calls intensify. Before sealing the deal, the Mexicans tell Marín that they wish to meet with someone of higher rank within his organization. That is when Santrich’s name comes up in the conversations. Marín begins trying to convince Santrich to meet with the would-be Mexican purchasers.
October 18, 2017: Marín is recorded trying to convince Santrich’s assistant to get Santrich to meet with the Mexicans. Marín says he just needs “the blind man” to “simply say to them, everything’s cool, everything’s good, it’s all up to me, we’re good to go.” Sometime after that, Santrich agrees to meet with the Mexicans on the condition that Marín be present.
Late October 2017: Fulfilling the Mexicans’ precondition for holding a high-level meeting, Gómez meets with the Mexicans at a Bogotá hotel and hands them the five kilograms of cocaine (the “televisions”). The Mexicans later agree that the cocaine is of good quality.
Early November 2017: Santrich hosts the Mexicans at a pre-dawn meeting at his house. The Mexicans say they are in the employ of Rafael Caro Quintero, a top figure in the Sinaloa cartel who was released from prison on a technicality in August 2013, early in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. Caro had been given a 40-year term for the 1985 torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena; he remains an archenemy of the U.S. agency. His release after 28 years angered the U.S. government, distancing U.S.-Mexican relations. Upon gaining his freedom, Caro instantly disappeared.
One of the Mexican group takes an incriminatory photo with a camera apparently hidden in his clothing. The photo shows Santrich seated at the head of a table alongside Marín.
In the meeting, Marín tells the Mexicans that “The Family” has control of several cocaine laboratories. They agree to send seven tons in March, and the remaining three later.
The Mexicans ask that the purchase take place on U.S. soil (though it apparently ends up happening in Barranquilla). They give Santrich what they call a “token” to prove the identity of the FARC’s contact when the transaction takes place: a photocopy of a U.S. dollar bill that will be in the cocaine buyer’s possession. Sometime later, the DEA seizes the token in Florida during an apparent operation against “The Family.” U.S. prosecutors now have it in their custody, as evidence.
Santrich gives the Mexican visitors an ink drawing (he is a prolific artist). He inscribes it, “For don Rafa Caro, with esteem and hope for peace. Santrich.” It, too, is now in U.S. prosecutors’ possession.
Sometime afterward, Younes, the “Family” member, begins making connections in Miami for aircraft.
February 2018: “The Family” tells the Mexicans that they are having difficulty obtaining the cocaine because of recent “bombings.” Colombian investigators note that during this time period, Colombia’s army bombed some guerrilla dissident group encampments in southern Colombia. The Fiscalía believes that the cocaine suppliers are in Cauca and Nariño departments in southwestern Colombia, a zone with a significant presence of un-demobilized or recidivist FARC members.
Probably March 2018: Santrich gets a call from someone named “Fabio,” who warns him that there is a plan afoot to arrest and extradite him. Fabio says that “a man in the Police” told him. “We got sold out,” Prosecutor-General Martínez reportedly says. Sometime afterward, U.S. prosecutors decide to go ahead and indict Santrich based on existing evidence. This happens on April 4, and Santrich is arrested on April 9.
The arrest set off alarms within the FARC, for whom non-extradition for crimes committed before the accord was a non-negotiable point during the Havana talks. In at least some of the “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces” (ETCR), the sites where much of the ex-guerrillas remain congregated and protected by the security forces, “they were glued to the television and the situation was very tense,” La Silla Vacía reported. “‘There’s a lot of anxiety, they’re basically afraid that now they can grab anybody,’ a source in one of the spaces told us. One of the FARC’s leaders in the south told us: ‘if this is breakfast, what will dinner be like.’” Protests continued at the remote sites all week.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s former chief negotiator and the uncle of co-conspirator Marín, told reporters that the arrest of his friend (and fellow hardliner) Santrich was “the worst moment in the peace process.” He called the case a setup arranged by the Fiscalía and the United States that will sow distrust throughout the guerrilla ranks, hinting that many might be tempted to re-arm. “With Jesús Santrich’s arrest, the process is threatening to be a real failure,” reads a FARC statement. “The coincidence with Saturday’s visit of Donald Trump draws my attention,” said FARC legal advisor, Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago. (Trump was to stop in Colombia after the April 13-14 Summit of the Americas in Peru. Later in the week, he canceled his entire trip.)
FARC leaders demanded to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos, and a delegation led by the party’s maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko, did so on April 11. All agreed that Santrich’s due process rights would be fully respected. They also agreed to establish (yet another) commission to speed implementation of the government’s peace accord commitments, many of which are lagging badly.
“I won’t extradite anyone for crimes committed before the accord’s signing and in relation to the conflict,” Santos said in a carefully worded statement. “Having said that, if after receiving due process and with irrefutable proof there are grounds for extradition for crimes committed after the accord’s signing, I will not hesitate to authorize it, based on the Supreme Court’s finding.”
In an April 11 statement, Timochenko said that the FARC remains committed to the peace accord. “Colombia’s peace isn’t conditioned on the problems, or the people, who form part of the organization,” he said, appealing for unity among the ex-combatants. That same day, though, an angry Iván Márquez told reporters, “One mustn’t lie like in this case, just to obstruct the progress of peace. Santrich told me: ‘the second one will be you [Márquez].’”
While this timetable of publicly available evidence points to Santrich’s guilt, it also shows him to be a reluctant conspirator, pulled into a meeting at the repeated insistence of Marín, who seems to handle all of the details. The right thing for Santrich to do, of course, would have been to report Marín, his friend’s nephew, to the police—not a natural instinct for a lifelong insurgent. Instead, he fell into the sort of trap that other guerrilla leaders are doubtless aware could easily ensnare them.
What happens next will be a big test of the peace process. It could bolster support in public opinion, taking away critics’ argument that the peace accord grants the FARC too much impunity. However, it also feeds into the narrative, common among right-wing critics, that the FARC are still up to their old ways. On the other side, any perception that Santrich’s due process is being denied, and that he is being extradited in haste, may send dozens or hundreds of ex-guerrillas back into the jungle for fear of sharing his fate.
The next steps will also test the new judicial institutions being set up to implement the accords. Santrich’s case must begin in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), whose Review Chamber will have to take the step of finding that the evidence points to crimes committed after the accord’s signing. The JEP would then have to turn the case over to Colombia’s regular criminal justice system, where Santrich could be subject to longer prison sentences for war crimes, or to extradition.
The JEP, which is to try cases of war crimes and other aspects of ex-guerrillas’ legal status like narcotrafficking charges, has barely begun to function. The Constitutional Court hasn’t yet finished reviewing its enabling law, passed at the end of November, and the law to govern its day-to-day functioning hasn’t yet been introduced in Congress.
Since the JEP is supposed to get the first “bite at the apple” in cases like these, there is some debate in Bogotá about whether it was correct for the Fiscalía—Colombia’s regular justice system—to have been the agency to arrest him. Opponents say that the Fiscalía may have violated procedure and given Santrich’s lawyers a technicality that they might try to use to get the case dropped. Proponents, though, say there was too great a risk that Santrich would flee once he heard about the indictment in New York.
It;s not clear when the JEP will make its determination about whether Santrich committed an extraditable offense after the accords’ signing, a momentous decision essentially kicking a top guerrilla negotiator out of the peace process. Meanwhile, though, the United States must issue a formal extradition request within 60 days, which must then go to Supreme Court review and finally to the President for signature.
In the meantime, Santrich is in a cell in the Fiscalía’s “bunker,” where he has been on another hunger strike, refusing food since his arrest.
He was to occupy one of the five House of Representatives seats that the peace accord granted the FARC for the 2018-2022 legislative session that starts in July. Colombian law states that when a member of Congress runs afoul of justice, his or her seat must remain empty for the remainder of the legislative session. It is not yet clear whether Santrich’s absence, then, reduces the FARC’s House delegation to four seats. The current president of the chamber, Rodrigo Lara, said there should be no “empty seat,” that the FARC could replace Santrich because he hadn’t been sworn in yet. (Lara, incidentally, is no peace proponent: during the last legislative session he helped to delay or water down much legislation to implement the accords.)
An attack with explosives killed eight Colombian police and wounded two more on the morning of April 11 in the rural zone of San José de Urabá, Antioquia, in northwestern Colombia. The zone is a stronghold of the Urabeños, Colombia’s largest organized crime/paramilitary organization (also known as the Gulf Clan, the Usuga Clan, and the Gaitanistas). Authorities blame local Urabeños leader alias “Chiquito Malo” (“Bad Little Boy”) for the attack.
The explosive destroyed a vehicle carrying police who were accompanying a visit from the government’s Land Restitution Unit. Urabá is one of the most challenging territories in Colombia for land restitution: there, paramilitaries and local landowners massively displaced communities of small farmers in the 1990s and early 2000s, and are resisting efforts to return landholdings to their rightful owners.
An apparent communiqué from a FARC dissident organization stated that the group has killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. The “Oliver Sinisterra Front,” active in Nariño, near the Ecuador border, had kidnapped the three men on March 26. Its statement reads that the governments of Ecuador and Colombia “didn’t want to save the lives fo the three retained people and chose the military route, making landings in several points where the retained people were located, which produced their death.”
Upon hearing that Javier Ortega and Paul Rivas Bravo of Quito’s daily El Comercio were likely dead, along with their driver Efraín Segarra, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno left the Summit of the Americas meetings in Lima, Peru. At week’s end, he gave the dissident group, led by former FARC member Wálter Arizara alias “Guacho,” 12 hours to produce proof that the hostages were still alive.
Earlier, President Moreno had lamented that Colombia’s persistent conflict was reaching into Ecuador. He blamed his predecessor, Rafael Correa (in whose government he was vice president, but who is now his political enemy) for allowing problems to fester at the border. “Of course, we lived in peace, but we lived in a peace in which drugs were allowed to transit through our territory.” Ecuador’s border regions have long been an important transshipment point for cocaine, and Colombian armed groups have freely crossed for decades. Security analysts often refer to an informal arrangement in the border zone, in which Ecuadorian forces would not confront Colombian armed groups as long as they abstained from inciting violence or harming Ecuadorian citizens. If such an agreement exists, Guacho’s group has violated it several times this year with attacks on Ecuadorian security forces.
Fighting between the ELN and a smaller, local guerrilla group, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL, which the government often calls “Los Pelusos”) continues to generate a humanitarian crisis in Catatumbo, a barely governed agricultural region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border, that includes one of the country’s largest concentrations of coca. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented the displacement of about 1,350 people in the region in the month since a longtime arrangement between the ELN and the EPL broke down.
Both groups have been active in Catatumbo for decades. The EPL, with perhaps 200-300 members, can trace its lineage back to a remnant that refused to demobilize when a Maoist insurgency with the same name negotiated a peace agreement in the late 1980s. The EPL lost its longtime leader (alias “Megateo”) to a military attack in late 2015, and a year later the FARC—also present in Catatumbo—pulled out and demobilized in compliance with the peace accord. This opened up lucrative spaces for cocaine smuggling and other organized crime activity.
These changes upended the cordial ELN-EPL relationship, and fighting broke out between the two groups in mid-March. As both have deep roots in Catatumbo communities, the region’s population is caught in the crossfire; schools have suspended classes and many businesses are shuttered.
April 16, 2018
by Adam Isacson
Cocaine production is increasing along with the coca bushes. In 2016, Colombian security forces, mostly the police and navy, seized 379 tons of the drug, shattering earlier records and more than doubling the annual haul between 2010 and 2014. And Colombia has already interdicted 51 more tons in the first two months of 2017.
Though evidence-based research has cast doubt on illicit drug supplies’ ability to drive demand, U.S. authorities say that the coca boom is affecting cocaine consumption in the United States, which—though still at decades-low levels—is increasing for the first time in several years. In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [PDF] found a second consecutive annual increase in past-month U.S. cocaine users. The State Department’s March 2 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) stated [PDF] that “the number of overdose deaths within the United States involving cocaine in 2015 was the highest since 2007.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 56.7 percent more cocaine in 2015 than in 2014, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration [PDF].
The U.S. government, the UN, and analysts cite several reasons for the increase in Colombian coca production. These include:
March 13, 2017
In a display of political discipline and maturity unlike anything we’ve seen in Washington lately, Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group have produced a new peace accord [PDF]. It took them only 41 days to get from the original version’s narrow (50.2 to 49.7 percent) rejection in an October 2 plebiscite, to this new document announced on November 12 and published on November 14.
These 41 days included extensive consultations between government negotiators and representatives of sectors that supported the “No” vote in the October 2 plebiscite, among them former president Álvaro Uribe. The government and “No” supporters came up with a document outlining more than 500 proposed changes to the original 297-page peace accord. Government negotiators then took this package of proposals to FARC leaders in Havana, where they spent about two weeks negotiating around the clock.
The changes to the accord are numerous: see this side-by-side comparison of the old and new accords that somebody helpfully posted to draftable.com. They reveal that the FARC leadership gave ground on several key points. The main ones are the following.
Penalties for those found guilty of committing war crimes are specified more clearly. The original accord stated that guerrillas and others convicted of war crimes, who fully confess their deeds and make reparations to victims, may serve five to eight years in conditions of “effective restriction of liberty.” While the accord stated that this term “will not be understood as jail or prison,” it left the definition up to the judge in each case.
The new accord tightens this. (Page 164-5) The zones of “restriction of liberty” now cannot be larger than the size of a rural hamlet, or vereda. (More specifically, the size of the 20 veredas chosen to serve as sites for the FARC membership’s 6-month disarmament process.)
Some “No” campaigners wanted ex-guerrillas to serve their sentences in actual prisons, a demand that was never likely to be met by an armed group that had not surrendered on the battlefield, and was not close to doing so. In their counter-proposal [PDF], the political party of ex-president Uribe held out the possibility of “alternative conditions of reclusion, like agricultural colonies.” (Colombia’s La Silla Vacía journalism website recently profiled a facility in Acacías, Meta, that appears to be what the Uribistas had in mind.) The village-sized “restricted liberty” standard is not quite as austere as that, but it is much more restrictive than what the original accord might have allowed.
The Special Peace Jurisdiction, the justice system set up to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, will see its scope reduced somewhat. It will now have 10 years to operate, with the possibility of adding 5 more (page 145). It will have no foreign judges among its 38 magistrates and 13 auxiliaries, as the original accord contemplated, though 10 foreign legal experts will be able to serve as observers (pages 167-9). Proponents of the “no” vote had urged that this “special jurisdiction” be fully subordinate to Colombia’s existing legal system, and not separate from it. They did not quite get that, but the tribunal judges’ rulings can now be appealed to Colombia’s Constitutional Court (pages 160-1).
The new accord tightens up the concept of command responsibility for war crimes (pages 151-2). The earlier text had controversially stated that “in no case can command responsibility base itself exclusively on rank, position in hierarchy, or area of jurisdiction.” This meant that a commander might invoke this language to avoid prosecution for atrocities committed by subordinates. The new language holds responsible for war crimes all commanders who “should have known,” given his or her position, what those under his or her command were doing. (Edit as of November 17: Colleagues at Human Rights Watch have conveyed concern that this interpretation may not be accurate; we’re looking into it.)
The new accord specifically excludes from transitional justice any who committed war crimes for “personal enrichment” (page 149) This should mean that military personnel involved in “false positive” killings will not be entitled to shorter “restricted liberty” sentences. Any who killed innocent people in order to boost body counts, thus benefiting from bonuses and other material rewards, should have to stay in Colombia’s regular justice system, where penalties run as high as 40 years in prison. (That is the hoped-for outcome, at least.)
The entire accord will not become a de facto part of Colombia’s constitution (pages 277-8). The original accord contemplated its gaining constitutional status via an international-law maneuver: making it a “Special Accord of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, deposited before the Swiss Federal Council in Berne.” (This was originally proposed by Álvaro Leyva, a politician from the moderate wing of Colombia’s Conservative Party who has long had FARC leaders’ ear.) Proponents of the “No” vote objected strenuously to what they viewed as a 297-page back-door constitutional amendment. The revised accord only gives constitutional status to the parts of the accord that have to do with human rights and international humanitarian law.
The FARC had wanted the accord to be viewed as equal to Colombia’s constitution, as a guarantee that the government would comply with its commitments (to fail to deliver would be ruled unconstitutional). They did not get that: they must rely on the government’s good faith, and on new language in the accord committing to a temporary constitutional amendment stating, “State institutions and authorities have the obligation to comply in good faith with all that is established in the Final Accord.”
The FARC and its members must provide an inventory of all their assets at the beginning of the process (page 186). These will be used to pay for reparations to conflict victims. We may soon find out whether the FARC is truly broke, as its leaders claim.
Drug-trafficking charges against ex-FARC members will be decided case by case to determine whether the proceeds truly went to the guerrilla war effort (page 190). If it paid entirely for guns, food, and similar needs, participation in the drug trade may be amnestied (as “connected” to the amnesty-able political crime of sedition). If there is evidence of personal enrichment, however, that individual’s drug-related charges will be subject to criminal prosecution. The original accord had not specified the “case by case” manner in which participation in drug trafficking would be reviewed.
All demobilizing guerrillas must now provide “exhaustive and detailed” information about the group’s relationship to the drug trade (page 101). Such confessions could be dangerous to provide if they incriminate non-guerrillas involved in the drug trade, some of whom may be dangerous criminals who deal harshly with “snitches.”
The new accord reduces campaign finance assistance to the ex-FARC political party (page 69). This party was to receive 10 percent of public campaign funding between 2018 and 2026. It will now receive the average amount given to parties and political movements.
The new accord extends from 10 to 15 years, the timetable for investments in rural development programs, due to Colombia’s tight current financial situation (page 23). It now specifies that “nothing in the accord should affect the constitutional right to private property.” It specifies that the cadaster—a nationwide mapping of landholdings foreseen in the accords—will have no effect on property valuations used to collect taxes, which was a major concern of the country’s landholders.
Without changing its fundamental meaning, the new accord tightens up language on gender equity in order to avoid further misinterpretation by social conservatives. The new text (page 192) reads,
“No content in the Final Accord will be understood or interpreted as the negation, restriction, or diminution of people’s rights, independent of their sex, age, religious beliefs, opinions, ethnic identity, belonging to the LGBTI population, or any other reason; nor of the right to free development of one’s personality and of the right to freedom of conscience.”
One area that did not change: the post-FARC political party gets to keep its 10 automatic congressional seats (5 in the 166-person House of Representatives, 5 in the 102-person Senate) between 2018 and 2026 (pages 70-1). Those found guilty of war crimes will still be able to occupy these seats. The accord also creates 16 special congressional districts for zones hit hardest by the conflict, which will exist between 2018 and 2026 (page 54). In one change to the accord, the ex-FARC may not run candidates for those seats: they are meant to be occupied by representatives of victims and social movements.
The accords’ Ethnic Chapter was not edited in any significant way (pages 205-8).
The new text incorporates many of the concerns raised by ex-president Uribe and other members of the “No” coalition. However, it neither incorporates them all nor gives them everything they wanted on what was added. This makes sense: the “No” side won 50.2 percent of the vote, not 100.
We don’t know yet whether Uribe and other politicians will redouble their opposition to the new accord: so far, Uribe has complained about not having an opportunity to weigh in on the new version. If they do oppose the new text, their side risks being viewed as unreasonably stubborn or as exploiting remaining disagreements in order to push the accord’s approval period close to the 2018 presidential and congressional campaigns. The Santos government can also argue that time is of essence: it is necessary to get the un-demobilized FARC out of their current legal limbo as soon as possible, while its members are still on board with the process.
Another area that remains unclear is how the new accord is to be approved. A second plebiscite vote hasn’t been ruled out, but it is unlikely because its preparation would take too much time. (And also because of the uncertainty resulting from 2016’s surprising worldwide election outcomes.) A more likely path is President Juan Manuel Santos submitting the accords to Colombia’s Congress for approval as a package of laws.
President Santos’s coalition has a strong majority in the Congress, so approval is likely. Still, the question remains whether it can go via a “fast track” mechanism—minimal debate, few amendments, and accords made law within weeks—or through the legislature’s standard procedures, which would probably yield significantly amended laws by mid-2017. The longer timeframe may not be workable, as many guerrillas might decline to wait in their encampments until June or July of next year to find out how the Congress resolves their situation. Too many might desert or otherwise “wander off,” and be lost to the demobilization process. We will soon find out how Colombia resolves this “fast track” issue.
November 15, 2016
Paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” won a vastly reduced sentence for his past drug trafficking, though he awaits a decision on extradition to the United States.
President Juan Manuel Santos caused a stir this week when he told an interviewer from Colombia’s RCN Radio network that the country would have to alter its laws to benefit FARC members who have trafficked drugs.
“For us to be able to apply justice in a more effective way will require broadening that concept of ‘political crimes,’ above all ‘connected crimes.’ Today it is too restrictive, and if we at least want to commute or pardon sentences, or in some way to legalize, thousands of FARC combatants, we’re going to have to be a little more flexible in the application of that concept.”
Colombia’s prosecutor-general [fiscal general], Eduardo Montealegre, agreed.
“It’s absolutely possible that narcotrafficking might be considered a crime connected with political crime, since ‘connectedness’ means something has a relation to something else, and it’s beyond discussion that in the Colombian armed conflict, narcotrafficking has been used in the guerrillas’ armed struggle.”
Their point is that negotiations with the FARC guerrillas will not succeed if, upon demobilizing, FARC leaders will face jail or even extradition to the United States because of their past involvement in the drug trade. Guerrillas simply won’t demobilize. It would seem apparent, then, that Colombia will have to offer ex-guerrillas reduced or waived penalties for past drug trafficking.
But many in Colombia are not prepared to accept that. Internal-Affairs Chief [Procurador] Alejandro Ordóñez alleged that calling narcotrafficking a “connected political crime” would “disguise criminals as politicians” and “shield FARC leaders from their status as capos” in the drug trade. Former President Álvaro Uribe, the talks’ most prominent critic, tweeted, “How could it be that they are going to classify as a political crime with altruistic motives an activity like narcotrafficking, which for many years in Colombia has only systematically financed horrors and atrocities?”
(Uribe is guilty of some hypocrisy here. In 2005, his administration introduced a legislative provision that would have classified paramilitary groups’ activities, including narcotrafficking, as “sedition”—a political crime.)
This week’s debate raised a question that remains unsettled in Colombia, where for decades illegal armed groups with political goals have supported themselves by participating in the drug trade. When it comes time for these groups’ members to demobilize, how should the legal system deal with their drug trafficking crimes? Can they be considered “connected” to the political crime of rebellion, or must they be considered separately as criminal offenses?
Colombia has already wrestled with these questions since the middle of the last decade, when thousands of paramilitary leaders demobilized via the so-called “Justice and Peace” process. The case of paramilitary leader “Julián Bolívar” is illustrative, if not emblematic, of the need for greater clarity.
Rodrigo Pérez Alzate, alias “Julian Bolívar,” was the terror of Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region at the beginning of the 2000s. He oversaw the paramilitaries’ bloody takeover of the oil-refining city of Barrancabermeja.
Pérez demobilized in 2005 as part of the “Justice and Peace” arrangement, which would give him a reduced prison sentence in exchange for a full confession of his crimes and reparations to victims. In 2006, Pérez was transferred to prison and his case slowly went to trial. In September 2013, the Justice and Peace Tribunal sentenced him to eight years imprisonment—most of which Pérez had already served—for a long list of human rights crimes.
December 6, 2014