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Colombia News Brief for December 2, 2017 – January 29, 2018

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Welcome to LAWG’s Colombia News Brief, a compilation of the last week’s top articles and reports on issues of peace, justice, human rights, and more in Colombia.

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Pablo Beltran, representative of the delegation of the ELN, addresses the media in Quito, Ecuador. Source: REUTERS/Daniel Tapia.


Colombia Army Puts Pressure on ELN Amid Post-Ceasefire Violence
Angelika Albaladejo, InSight Crime, January 16, 2018

“The recent actions against the ELN following the end of the ceasefire could be a sign that the Colombian government will attempt to use military pressure to extract concessions from the group as fragile peace negotiations continue.”

Colombia’s ELN rebels must halt attacks, restart talks: U.N.
Reuters, January 14, 2018

“Colombia’s ELN rebel group must cease attacks and re-start peace talks with the government to end more than a half-century of war, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday, amid renewed violence after the end of a ceasefire between the two sides.”

Urban ELN front claims responsibility for north Colombia terrorist attack
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, January 28, 2018

“The National Urban War Front of guerrilla group ELN has taken the responsibility for a bomb attack on a police station in Barranquilla, northern Colombia, that killed five people on Saturday. The group published a statement on its website in which it claimed that members “attacked police forces in the San Jose station in the south of Barranquilla.” The bomb attack killed at least five policemen and left more than 40 officers injured.”

Seven People Massacred in Area Controlled by Colombia’s ELN Rebels
EFE, January 22, 2018
“Investigators have not determined who staged the attack, but they are looking at whether the ELN or Clan del Golfo were involved, Sierra said…The Clan del Golfo, which is involved in drug trafficking, traces its roots to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) militia federation, which demobilized more than 10 years ago…Authorities are trying to identify the victims and find out whether any of them had criminal records, the police chief said.”

Colombia Withdraws Negotiator in Setback for Peace Talks
Christine Armario, Associated Press, January 11, 2018

“ELN guerillas were accused of violating the accord in two separate incidents that left a total of 14 people dead, including an indigenous leader. The rebels also accused the government of failing to live up to their end of the accord during the 101-day cease-fire. The pause in negotiations represents a substantial setback for the ELN rebels and may be a reflection of disagreement among hardliners within the organization regarding the merits of the cease-fire, said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.”

Las dos caras del cese del ELN
Ana León, La Silla Vacía, 10 de enero de 2018

“Mientras que en Arauca se respiró tranquilidad por primera vez en 50 años, en el Pacífico hubo violaciones confirmadas. En ambos territorios, el ELN volvió a cometer atentados.”

Peace Accord Implementation

90-Day Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia
United Nations Secretary-General, January 5, 2018

“The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has delivered his first 90-day implementation report to the Security Council on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, covering the period 26 September 26 to 26 December 2017. In the report, the Secretary-General takes stock of the implementation of sections 3.2 and 3.4 of the Final Peace Agreement related to the reintegration of the FARC-EP and the provision of security guarantees to the FARC-EP and to communities in the areas most affected by the conflict.”

2017: La Paz en Deuda
Observatorio de Seguimiento a la Implementación del Acuerdo, 5 de enero de 2018

“Si no se avanza en la reforma rural integral, en el asunto de las tierras y en mejorar las condiciones de vida del campesinado que cultiva coca, va a ser muy difícil aclimatar la paz porque están llegando otros actores armados primero que el Estado y porque no les están cumpliendo el acuerdo a los que dejaron las armas”.

Colombia’s FARC says two ex-fighters killed after campaigning
Reuters, January 17, 2018

“The men are just two of 30 ex-fighters who have been killed by people hoping to destabilize the peace process, the group said. Six former fighters were killed in restive Narino province in October…The United Nations verification mission in the country, which received thousands of weapons from the FARC when they demobilized, said in a statement on Wednesday that the free exercise of political rights must be guaranteed during campaigning…Former rebels have repeatedly raised concerns that they may be assassinated by right-wing paramilitary gangs or drug traffickers, in a replay of about 5,000 targeted killings during the 1980s, when the group first attempted to found the Patriotic Union political party.”

Colombia ‘exhausted protection measures’ for former FARC guerrillas: interior minister
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, January 24, 2018

“Before the latest murder, the United Nations had already confirmed 36 murdered FARC members and 13 family members of former guerrillas since the beginning of a peace process in December 2016…The former guerrillas are at the beginning of the first political campaign after a peace deal in 2016, but have become the target of armed actors…The United Nations, which is observing the peace process, urged last week “to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the free exercise of rights during the electoral process.”

GameChangers 2017: Is Colombia’s FARC Really Gone?
Jeremy McDermott, InSight Crime, January 16, 2018

“When one looks at the dissident expansion from Guaviare, it is clear that it has been determined with drug trafficking in mind…By even the most conservative estimates if 6,900 guerrillero rasos demobilized, then there should have been more than 20,000 militia members. But just under 3,000 militia declared themselves. The rest remain where they have always been; hidden among the civilian population in FARC areas of influence…The FARC handed in 8,994 weapons. When one considers that 10,000 AK-47s were parachuted into the jungle in just one arms shipment in 1999, it is likely that FARC elements still have access to thousands of assault rifles and pistols…We believe that well within 20 years from today the drug trade will be dominated by a mafia run by former members of the FARC.”

Human Rights & the Environment

Colombia: Events of 2017
Human Rights Watch, January 18, 2018

“In June 2017, the United Nations mission in Colombia verified that the FARC had handed over its weapons and demobilized. However, civilians continue to suffer serious abuses by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and paramilitary successor groups that emerged after a demobilization process a decade ago. Violence associated with the conflict has forcibly displaced more than 7.7 million Colombians since 1985, generating the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, and other community activists face death threats and violence, mostly from guerrillas and successor groups. Perpetrators of these abuses are rarely held accountable.”

U.S. Lawmakers Ask Colombian Government to Increase Protection of Human Rights Defenders
WOLA, January 10, 2018

“The letter specifically requests that the Colombian government reevaluate the measures employed for protecting threatened individuals from marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. In place of these ineffective protective measures, the letter calls for a new strategy protecting the lives, interests, and safety of these groups.”

PBI Expresses its Concern Regarding the Increase of Risks for Human Rights Defenders
Peace Brigades International Colombia, December 14, 2017

“PBI notes with great concern that, despite the reiterated alerts and recommendations throughout 2017 from multiple organisations , international organisms and States as well as from the high national and international Courts , advances by the Colombian State in terms of offering true prevention and protection guarantees have been insufficient and lack territorial, differential and gender focuses, as well as the fact that their implementation is unknown in the territories.”

More than 100 human rights activists killed in Colombia in 2017, UN says
Reuters, December 20, 2017

“Activists have been particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by rebel fighters under a peace agreement signed last year, leaving a power vacuum, the UN’s human rights office in Colombia said in a statement…More than half of the 105 rights activists and community leaders killed this year were gunned down by hitmen, the UN said…By comparison, in 2016, 127 rights defenders and community leaders were killed, up from 59 in 2015 and 45 in 2014, according to UN figures.”

Colombia’s community leader assassinations up 45% in 2017
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, January 7, 2018

“At least 170 community representatives were assassinated in Colombia’s countryside in 2017, casting dark shadows over a peace process with former FARC guerrillas…The new wave of violence targeting civilians has been particularly severe in former FARC territory in the west of the country…According to the UN, 34 of the FARC’s 12,500 members and 13 family members of former guerrillas were also assassinated…The much smaller ELN guerrilla group, and dissident factions of multiple demobilized armed groups continue to be active in the country.”

Despite FARC disarmament last year, violence continues in Colombia’s abandoned zones
Euronews, January 4, 2018

“The re emergence of violence in the zones abandoned by FARC are estimated to have sparked 55.000 forced displacements in 2017. 10.000 where in Chocó alone, where 80% of the population are poor…Whilst the level of violence has generally gone down, following the Colombian Peace Pact, killings are more targeted. Social activists as well as a number of indigenous people have been the victims these murders. The UN say at least 80 leaders were killed last year, with a disproportionately high amount in areas where the FARC had been the most active.”

Jason Beaubien, “De-Mining in Colombia: The Slow Process of Clearing Away Land Mines
National Public Radio, January 2, 2018

“Exactly how many mines were laid across Colombia during the decades-long war is unknown, but the Colombian government estimates the country is the second-most mined nation in the world after Afghanistan. Government soldiers have been working on clearing explosives for over a decade. Now as Colombia moves forward with the peace process, several nonprofits including Handicap International are joining in the effort.”

Undecided land claims in Colombia put slave descendants at risk, study says
Anastasia Moloney, Reuters, January 17, 2018 

“Hundreds of land claims by Afro-Colombians sitting unresolved, some for over a decade, put those communities in danger of being driven off their land by business interests, according to new research…Without formal titles of ownership, Afro-Colombian communities are at acute risk of displacement and have little say over use of their land, researchers said…The government has made big strides in awarding titles under a land restitution program started in 2011, and hundreds of thousands of hectares stolen or abandoned during Colombia’s half-century civil war have been handed back to rightful owners. But much of the land has gone to individual farmers and landowners, not to collective claims by Afro-Colombians, Herrera said.”

Sin Farc y con disidencias, la deforestación se disparó en el Caguán
Juanita Vélez, La Silla Vacía, 10 de enero de 2018

“San Vicente del Caguán, uno de los municipios del Caquetá que fue durante años la retaguardia histórica de las Farc, cada día pierde más árboles. Es el sitio del país donde más se deforestó en 2016 y donde se ha seguido talando sin tregua porque, por un lado, ya no está la guerrilla con sus reglas ambientales que le hacían más costosa la explotación de recursos naturales a los campesinos; y por otro, la disidencia de Gentil Duarte, que se ha venido fortaleciendo, está permitiéndole a la gente talar para meter vacas como una forma de ganarse su confianza”.

‘It’s a perverse system’: how Colombia’s farmers are reforesting their logged land
Lisa Palmer, The Guardian, December 29, 2017

“Deforestation soared by 44 percent in 2016 with a rush of land-grabbing to plant coca and clear land for cattle ranches. Advocates are making efforts to provide incentives for reforestation and community environmental protection.”

2018 Elections

Así despega la campaña presidencial
Juanita León, La Silla Vacía, 23 de enero de 2018

“El que logre conquistar el centro gana la Presidencia y por eso, desde ya, todos están tratando de empujar a los demás hacia la izquierda o la derecha…El candidato que logre representar mejor en la mente de los colombianos el cambio muy seguramente  llegará a la Casa de Nariño…La izquierda llega más dividida que siempre, con cinco candidatos…Al haber logrado la coalición, Uribe está más cerca de la segunda vuelta…Dos días antes de las elecciones legislativas vence el período para inscribir las candidaturas presidenciales pero hasta el 16 de marzo, una semana después de las legislativas, podrá modificarse la inscripción de los candidatos”.

Colombia contará con un bloque de seguridad cibernética durante las elecciones
El Universal, 22 de enero de 2018

“Resaltó Santos que los  ataques contra la democracia no solo están dirigidos contra el sistema electoral. “También tienen que ver con la difusión de información falsa, de mentiras que buscan atemorizar o generar desconfianza, y así manipular a los electores”, agregó….Por su parte, el registrador Nacional, Juan Carlos Galindo, dijo que el Gobierno se está protegiendo para poder responder ante cualquier ataque cibernético de orden nacional o internacional. Esto ante  el rumor de que Rusía estaría monitoreando  interfiriendo en las elecciones colombianas”.

Colombia’s FARC to run 74 candidates in March legislative elections
Reuters, January 26, 2018

“The FARC will present a 10-point platform at a campaign launch event this weekend, Gallo added, with policies focused on fighting poverty and unemployment and improving health and education…Many Colombians remain angry at the FARC, infamous for kidnappings, bombings and displacements, and believe they should be in prison, not running for congressional seats…Former rebels have repeatedly raised concerns they may be assassinated by right-wing paramilitary gangs or drug traffickers, in a replay of about 5,000 targeted killings during the 1980s, when the group first attempted to found the Patriotic Union political party.”

Approval rating of Colombia’s Santos sinks to lowest point since election
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, January 17, 2018

“With less than three months to the congressional elections, Colombia’s voters were largely pessimistic about the future of the country…The president’s abysmal approval rating is mainly due to citizens’ disappointment in the economy, which slumped after a global collapse of oil prices in 2014, the year Santos was reelected…Other policies Colombians widely disapproved of are an ongoing peace process with the FARC, until last year the country’s largest guerrilla group, and the fight against corruption.”


Gamechangers 2017: Colombia’s Cocaine Explosion Stokes Political and Social Crises
Mimi Yagoub, InSight Crime, January 3, 2018

“…There is little evidence that destroying coca fields will lead to a long-lasting reduction in cocaine levels. Many if not most farmers recultivate crops after they have been destroyed, and if no alternative income is available, they have little choice…”The root causes of continued coca cultivation — including poverty, state abandonment and criminal dynamics — are likely more powerful in determining levels of coca cultivation,” we wrote in June.”

Colombia Sends Mixed Messages on 2018 Coca Eradication Goal
Parker Asmann, InSight Crime, December 18, 2017

“The government of Colombia has issued seemingly contradictory statements regarding the amount of coca it aims to forcibly eradicate next year, while evidence from the eradication campaign this year has raised questions about the feasibility of this strategy…The apparent contradiction between the statements by Santos and Villegas reflects the Colombian government’s struggle to balance forcible eradication with voluntary crop substitution programs.”

U.S., Colombia Vow to Battle Record Surge in Coca Production
Associated Press, USA Today, December 8, 2017

“U.S. and Colombian officials vowed Thursday to redouble efforts against drug trafficking as the South American nation contends with a record surge in coca production that has tested the relationship between the two nations.”

*The Colombia News Brief is a selection of relevant news articles, all of which do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Latin America Working Group.