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Colombia News Brief for February 26 – March 3, 2021

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

SPOTLIGHT

Letter to President Biden: NGOs Call for Protection of Colombian Peace Accords and Human Rights Defenders
Latin America Working Group, et al., March 1, 2021

“In a letter to President Joe Biden, 22 U.S. and international civil society organizations including the Latin America Working Group urged the administration to make the Colombian government’s full implementation of the 2016 peace accords the central tenet of U.S. policy to Colombia. ‘We urge you to restore peace and protection of human rights as the principal goals of U.S. policy in Colombia,’ the letter states. ‘This would start with whole-of-government messaging focused on the following priorities: urging the Colombian government to fully implement the accords; encouraging a humanitarian accord with the ELN, as well as encouraging negotiations on a peace agreement should circumstances permit; through the U.S. role in the UN Security Council, promoting consolidation of peace in Colombia; and continuing to provide substantial U.S. assistance for implementation.’”

Find the letter in both English and Spanish here.

GOVERNMENT-FARC PEACE PROCESS

Colombia’s failing peace process is killing social leaders. The U.S. must help revive it.
Hanna Wallis, The Washington Post, March 2, 2021

“During the funeral of two human rights defenders in late 2019, Cristina Bautista, an Indigenous leader of the Nasa people in Colombia, exhorted the mourning crowd to have courage: ‘If we remain silent, they kill us. If we speak up, also. So we speak.’ Two months later, Bautista was herself murdered in a brutal massacre. Her words have become a rallying cry for social leaders throughout Colombia, who continue to organize in their communities despite knowing that, at any moment, someone might assassinate them.”

FARC guerrillas killed in Colombia military attack
France 24, March 3, 2021

“A military bombing killed 10 guerrillas and injured three at a base of dissidents of the former FARC rebel group in southeast Colombia, official sources said Tuesday. Defence Minister Diego Molano said on Twitter the military action ‘neutralised’ 13 FARC dissidents under the command of a man who goes by the alias ‘Gentil Duarte.’ These dissidents have distanced themselves from Colombia’s 2016 peace pact, which ended a half-century civil war and saw the FARC disarm the following year. Molano did not say when the assault happened. A source told AFP 10 died and three were wounded.”

Colombia’s government ordered to curb mass killing of former FARC fighters
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, March 3, 2021

“Colombia’s war crimes tribunal ordered the government to take urgent measures to curb the mass killing of demobilized FARC guerrillas. In a press release, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) said Tuesday that ‘the efforts of the National Government and other State entities are not enough to prevent new assassinations.’ According to the JEP, more than 250 former FARC fighters have been assassinated since the now-defunct guerrilla group signed a peace deal with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016. The court said that it had ordered the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, President Ivan Duque’s peace commissioner, the prosecution and other state entities to take urgent measures.”

JEP: Gobierno no está haciendo lo suficiente para proteger a los excombatientes
El Espectador, 2 de marzo de 2021

“La Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz emitió nuevas órdenes al consejero para la Estabilización, al alto comisionado para la Paz y a la Fiscalía para frenar los asesinatos de excombatientes de las Farc. Según esa jurisdicción, el esclarecimiento de los homicidios es del 11% y no se ha avanzado en el desmantelamiento de las organizaciones criminales.”

“Está en peligro el histórico acuerdo de paz de Colombia”: organizaciones de EE.UU. a Biden
El Espectador, 1 de marzo de 2021

“En una misiva enviada al recién posesionado presidente de Estados Unidos, organizaciones civiles de ese país le piden que vuelva a ubicar la paz como prioridad en la relación con Colombia. Piden excluir a las Farc sin armas de la lista de organizaciones terroristas. ‘Por causa de su precaria implementación, está en peligro el histórico acuerdo de paz de 2016, uno de los principales legados de la Administración Obama-Biden’. Con esas palabras inicia la carta que 22 organizaciones civiles de los Estados Unidos le enviaron este primero de marzo al presidente Joseph Biden como un llamado urgente a que vuelva a ubicar la paz como la prioridad de ese país en la relación con Colombia. En el documento, las organizaciones hicieron un duro diagnóstico de la implementación del Acuerdo de paz en el país”.

Power Rivalries Put Pressure on Colombia’s Peace Treaty
Mariano Aguirre, Chatham House, February 28, 2021

“The creation of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP in Spanish) as part of the 2016 Peace Treaty between the Colombian State and the guerrilla group FARC has seen its work much criticized over claims from certain powerful factions that it has a hidden agenda to free former FARC leaders and imprison senior military commanders. Investigations carried out by the JEP have been a major success of the peace agreement and the process that followed. But most of the right-wing section of governing party Centro Democrático have been working to cut its funding and complicate the implementation of the peace deal. Founded on the principle of transitional justice, the JEP works by recognizing accountability for past crimes from the conflict and establishing alternative sentences. This does mean some powerful people – politicians, businesspeople, and landowners – may feel threatened because its investigations may reveal their past connections to both official and nonofficial repression unleashed upon trade unionists, peasants, politicians, and civilians in the name of defeating the FARC.”

COVID-19

Llegaron a Colombia otras 100.000 vacunas de Pfizer, forman parte del acuerdo bilateral del Gobierno con la farmacéutica
Infobae, 3 de marzo de 2021

“Este miércoles, Colombia recibió su quinto envío de vacunas con 100.000 dosis de la farmacéutica Pfizer que llegan mediante los acuerdos directos entre la compañía y el Gobierno. Con este lote, el país acumula 317.620 dosis fabricadas por ese mismo laboratorio. En total, contando las 192.000 dosis de Sinovac, 509.620 biológicos han aterrizado en territorio colombiano. De acuerdo con lo publicado por el presidente de la República, Iván Duque, en su cuenta oficial de Twitter, se trata del vuelo DHL B727 de una aeronave de la empresa LAS Cargo que llegó al Aeropuerto El Dorado a las 5:34 de la mañana. De acuerdo con El Tiempo, los biológicos estarían en camino a la Zona Franca de la capital del país”.

Colombia registra 4.339 casos nuevos de covid-19, este martes 2 de marzo
Infobae, 2 de marzo de 2021

“El Ministerio de Salud y Protección Social reportó, este martes 2 de marzo, 4.339 casos nuevos de covid-19 en Colombia. En las últimas 24 horas se procesaron 37.735 pruebas de las cuales 21.160 son PCR y 16.575 de antígenos. El informe también señala que, 106 colombianos fallecieron a causa de la enfermedad. De esta manera, el país llega a un total de 59.972 muertes desde que el virus llegó al territorio nacional. Al conglomerar todas las cifras, Colombia llegó a 2.259.599 contagiados, de los cuales 36.490 son casos activos y 2.156.057 corresponden a casos positivos que ya lograron superar el coronavirus”.

Colombia receives the first vaccines arriving in the Americas through COVAX
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), March 1, 2021

“Colombia today became the first country in the Americas to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility, marking an historic step toward the goal of ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the region and worldwide. The delivery is part of the ‘First Wave’ initiative, a global pilot program in which some countries receive early delivery of a limited number of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of their total allotted quota. More doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines are expected to arrive in coming weeks in the 36 countries participating in the mechanism in the region.”

COL5VID: The Youth for COVID-19 Relief in Colombia
Isabella León Graticola, BORGEN Magazine, February 28, 2021

“COL5VID is an organization founded by Colombian students and young professionals who saw the necessity to do something positive for vulnerable communities in the middle of the chaos and widespread food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Colombia, around four million people don’t have access to basic supplies. COL5VIC’s main mission is to promote food security in affected families, distribute elements of primary necessity and create a nationwide movement among the Colombian youth to contribute to the economic reactivation of the country. The organization started with a team of 15 friends. However, with the help of social media, it rapidly grew into an international network of youth working toward COVID-19 relief in Colombia.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

UN Applauds Colombia’s Peace Tribunal’s Acceptance of over 4,000 Additional Human Rights Cases
Loren Moss, Finance Colombia, March 2, 2021

“On Thursday, February 18, Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace, set up to prosecute crimes committed during the armed conflict, announced that it was investigating the killing of 6,402 ‘disappeared’ people, far higher than the initial figure of some 2,000 that they had originally received to investigate. The announcement caused consternation among many supporters of former President Alvaro Uribe, during whose terms as president, most of these alleged extrajudicial killings would have occurred. What has already been established is that military forces during that time killed civilian noncombatants and labeled them as FARC or ELN militants to receive prizes and bounties. ‘We welcome the progress in the investigation in Colombia of the so-called ‘false positives’ cases where people were falsely presented as having been ‘killed in combat’,’ said UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Liz Throssell in a statement.”

Colombia ‘harassing victim and witness’ of former president’s alleged criminal practices
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, March 2, 2021

“Victims and witnesses of the alleged fraud and bribery practices of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe claim they are being harassed by the prosecution. According to Senator Ivan Cepeda, the victim of Uribe’s alleged witness tampering to file fraudulent criminal charges against the opposition politician, ‘they have tried to open three criminal investigations against me’ in the past few weeks. In an interview with Noticias Uno, Cepeda said that the prosecution claimed to have found evidence that the lawmaker had unauthorized contact with ELN guerrillas in the office of President Ivan Duque’s peace commissioner.”

Over half of global environmental defender murders in 2020 in Colombia: report
Maria Fernanda Lizcano, Mongabay, March 2, 2021

“Impunity still reigns when it comes to the murders of human rights defenders around the world, according to the Front Line Defenders organization, in its global analysis of 2020. The analysis examined 331 homicides of leaders who fight for the defense of the land, the environment, Indigenous peoples, women and the LGBTIQ community. Of these, 177 cases occurred in Colombia. During the COVID-19 pandemic, defenders have been exposed not only to the day-to-day risks they face from their work and the virus, but also to pressure from governments to control information. Many of those killed, the report states, supported communities in their fight against COVID-19, worked on food security issues, access to medical care and were critical of governments. For Front Line Defenders , the health crisis increased risks, especially for women defenders, leaders of the LGBTIQ community and vulnerable populations such as refugees, migrants and sex workers.”

Hallan 906 cuerpos de desaparecidos y posibles ‘falsos positivos’ en cementerio de Medellín
Jairo Tarazona, RCN Radio, 1 de marzo de 2021

“El Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado (Movice) entregó un reporte que busca contribuir en la búsqueda de víctimas de desaparición forzada y ejecuciones extrajudiciales (falsos positivos), emprendida por la Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas (UBPD). Así mismo, la protección de cuerpos no identificados en cementerios afectados por medidas sanitarias excepcionales por el Covid-19 en Antioquia, en el cual ‘se presume la existencia de al menos 906 cuerpos inhumados de personas no identificadas y que pueden corresponder a víctimas desaparición forzada y/o ejecuciones extrajudiciales’”.

Insecurity Rising in Ethnic Communities Throughout Colombia
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), February 28, 2021

“We remain deeply concerned about the security situation in Buenaventura and its impact on the local Afro-Colombian population. On February 16, we issued jointly with U.S. academics recommendations on steps the U.S. government can take to address the structural inequalities that are leading to today’s violence by advancing implementation of the Buenaventura Civic Strike Accord. We encourage U.S. lawmakers and others to support civil society’s recommendations for how to improve conditions in Buenaventura. This month, we sadly lost a shining light in the Colombia Indigenous movement. Luis Fernando Arias, the Mayor Counselor of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) will be greatly missed by many. The New York Times obituary can be found here. We are very grateful to Representative James McGovern’s leadership on human rights and peace issues in Colombia.”

The midwives braving armed gangs in Colombia
Kiran Stallone and Steven Grattan, BBC, February 28, 2021

“Ms Hurtado lives in a relatively safe area of the mainly Afro-Colombian port city on Colombia’s impoverished and conflict-ridden western coast, but her work as a midwife often takes her to dangerous and troubled neighbourhoods. Buenaventura has a long history of violent conflict, which led to it being dubbed Colombia’s ‘capital of horror’. Colombian port city terrorised by criminal gangs Since 1988, armed gangs have battled for territorial control of drug routes out of the port and carried out gruesome dismemberments in ‘casas de pique’ (Spanish for chop houses). In 2014, the Colombian military intervened in Buenaventura to regain control from the gangs. The intervention provided short-term stability, but Buenaventura is now suffering a new wave of violence, and midwives like Ms Hurtado put themselves at risk by confronting armed fighters to help women living in violent areas deliver babies.”

Colombia launches ‘elite force’ to target rebels, drug gangs
Al Jazeera, February 26, 2021

“Colombia on Friday launched a new military unit to target coca crops and cocaine production, illicit mining, and the illegal armed groups who use such activities for financial gain. Colombia’s decision to launch the unit, known as CONAT in its Spanish initials, came while the country was preparing to restart aerial spraying of coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate – possibly starting at the end of March – depending on the government receiving approval from the Constitutional Court. ‘The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and – of course – any transnational form of terrorism,’ President Ivan Duque said at a military base in Tolemaida.”

DRUG POLICY

Deeply Rooted: Coca Eradication and Violence in Colombia – Latin America Report N°87 | 26 February
International Crisis Group, February 26, 2021

“Coca stands at the heart of a fierce debate over Colombia’s worsening rural insecurity. The plant’s leaves are the sole raw material from which cocaine, an illegal drug that generates outlandish profits and finances armed and criminal groups, can be manufactured. Colombian President Iván Duque argues that the whole narcotic supply chain – from coca cultivation to global cocaine trafficking – is the scourge behind rising massacres, forced displacement and assassinations of community leaders in Colombia. With cultivation hitting new highs in recent years, Bogotá has vastly expanded campaigns that involve sending in the army and police to pull up or otherwise eradicate coca crops. It also threatens to restart aerial fumigation. Yet an approach based on forceful eradication of coca, which the U.S. has stoutly backed, tends to worsen rural violence, while failing to reduce drug supply. A new strategy is needed that persuades coca farmers to abandon a plant that offers a stable income and an attractive alternative to other legal crops.”

VENEZUELAN CRISIS

‘A Huge Opportunity’: Venezuelan Migrants Welcome Colombia’s New Open-Door Policy
John Otis, NPR, February 26, 2021

“Since fleeing Venezuela three years ago to escape a socialist dictatorship and the country’s worst-ever economic collapse, Isaias Bello has lived in legal limbo. As an undocumented migrant in neighboring Colombia, he feared being deported while employers frequently took advantage. He recalls working 10-hour shifts at a construction site for a daily wage of about $8, far less than minimum wage of about $12 a day. In other cases, migrants worked in exchange for food. That’s why Bello was delighted when Colombian President Iván Duque unveiled a program this month that will allow undocumented Venezuelan migrants to legally live and work in Colombia for up to 10 years. ‘Colombia is providing us with a huge opportunity,’ says Bello, 26, who now makes a living picking gooseberries on a farm just outside Bogotá. ‘I feel very, very happy.’”​

* 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.