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Colombia News Brief for May 1 – May 15, 2020

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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.

Source: Cristal Montanez/Flickr

Spotlight

International civil society organisations warn of the severe risks posed by government intelligence systems on peace and democracy in Colombia
May 6, 2020
LAWG joined other civil society organizations in putting out a statement condemning the most recent illegal surveillance scandal perpetrated by sectors of the Colombian military. In it, we urge the Colombian government to act with transparency and thoroughly investigate these illegal and potentially deadly practices. You can find the statements in English and Spanish.

Illegal Surveillance by Colombia’s Military is Unacceptable
Washington Office on Latin America, May 4, 2020
“Colombia should be devoting its intelligence resources to investigating organized crime networks and establishing a state presence in territories still essentially controlled by armed groups. Intelligence should also be used when appropriate to support investigations by the Attorney General’s Office into the killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. Instead, what the Semana reports reveal is that military intelligence is targeting reformers and the free press. The perversity of this can’t be understated.”

Organizations Urge Governments to Protect Activists and Communities Threatened by Armed Groups During COVID-19 Pandemic
EarthRights International, May 4, 2020
“In response to the increased vulnerability of human rights defenders brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a broad assortment of civil society organizations today urged the governments of Honduras and Colombia to adopt all measures necessary to guarantee the human rights of defenders, social leaders, and ethnic communities in those countries.”

COVID-19

Latin America’s indigenous shield elderly ‘cultural guardians’ from coronavirus
Cassandra Garrison, Marina Lammertyn, and Anthony Boadle, Reuters, May 11, 2020
“A cellphone video from April on local media showed a young man who a community leader said had violated quarantine writhing in agony after receiving three lashes from a cow hide whip. Pasto leader Pablo Taimal confirmed the video’s veracity. ‘Indigenous guards have been ordered to do what is necessary to safeguard the health and integrity of our communities,’ said Taimal. He said they feared people crossing from Ecuador, where the coronavirus has overwhelmed the health system.”

The red flags of Colombia
Ana Vanessa Herrero, The Washington Post, May 10, 2020
“They’ve been relying on the generosity of others. Even with the red flag hanging outside her house, Moreno said, she has not received any help from the local government. ‘We eat only two times a day. For tomorrow, my mother is going to send me some eggs,’ she said. ‘After that, I have no idea what I am going to do.’”

Made invisible by pandemic, mass killing of Colombia’s social leaders continues
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 10, 2020
“In a press statement, the UN’s observers of Colombia’s peace process condemned the assassination of FARC member Wilder Daniel Marin in Bello, just outside Medellin on Thursday, stressing 24 demobilized guerrillas have been assassinated so far this year. The lockdown ordered by President Ivan Duque also did not stop the assassinations of human rights defenders and the community leaders, and the violence imposed on rural communities.”

“En el Cauca estamos viviendo dos pandemias”: Gobernador
Marcela Osorio Granados, El Espectador, 10 de mayo de 2020
“Los muertos se cuentan casi a diario en los municipios, hay comunidades confinadas y la crisis humanitaria, en un departamento que por décadas ha sido epicentro del conflicto armado, viene empeorando desde hace por lo menos un mes. Desde las comunidades los líderes sociales han denunciado amenazas, ataques, asesinatos y masacres por parte de grupos ilegales que ahora, con el aislamiento obligatorio, han comenzado a ejercer controles sociales en las poblaciones, determinando incluso horarios y reglas para abastecerse o salir a la calle”.

Costlier Food Hits Latin America’s Poor and Adds to Unrest Risk
Matthew Malinowski and Matthew Bristow, Bloomberg, May 8, 2020
“A jump in food prices across Latin America is bringing added misery to the poorest families hit by the coronavirus pandemic and increasing the chance of social unrest. Food and beverage costs outpaced headline inflation in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Colombia last month, even as other products and services saw slower price increases or even became cheaper.”

Coronavirus outbreak in Colombia prison sparks fear among officials, families
César Hernández, Reuters, May 7, 2020
“The prison currently has nearly double the 899 inmates it is meant to hold, creating an environment in which the virus can easily spread. Prison populations in Colombia average overcrowding of 50%, according to prison agency INPEC.”

In Colombia, Pandemic Heightens Risks for Women Social Leaders
Julia Zulver, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 7, 2020
“Recent events in Colombia demonstrate the specific risks of this crisis for female activists and social leaders. The demands on their care labor have skyrocketed, yet they also face heightened risks of violent attacks. The limited protections they are normally offered by state institutions and international organizations have effectively disappeared.”

Transgender People Face Discrimination, Violence Amid Latin American Quarantines
Reuters, The New York Times, May 4, 2020
“However, rights group Red Comunitaria Trans said it had received 18 discrimination complaints since the measure began. One of those complaints was from a transgender woman in southern Bogota stabbed by a man who said she was out on the wrong day, a case also reported in local media. The woman is recovering from her injuries.”

La historia de los colombianos deportados de EE.UU. que resultaron con COVID-19
El Espectador, 30 de abril de 2020
“El pasado 30 de marzo, un grupo de 64 colombianos arribó al aeropuerto El Dorado. En su momento se dijo que Estados Unidos había hecho controles y ninguno presentaba síntomas del nuevo coronavirus. Aun así, 23 de ellos resultaron contagiados”.

GOVERNMENT-FARC PEACE PROCESS

Así va el Acuerdo de Paz: tras la verdad y la reparación de las víctimas del conflicto
Colombia en Transición, El Espectador, 11 de mayo de 2020
“El quinto punto del Acuerdo Final tiene como eje el Sistema de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y No Repetición, conformado por la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP), la Comisión de la Verdad y la Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas (UBPD). En tres años, estas entidades han trabajado para garantizar el derecho de quienes fueron afectados en la guerra. Este es su balance”.

GOVERNMENT-ELN PEACE PROCESS

US further complicates prospects for peace in Colombia
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 14, 2020
“The United States government further complicated the future of peace in Colombia on Wednesday, adding Cuba to its list of non-cooperative countries in counter-terrorism efforts for not extraditing ELN peace negotiators…Colombia’s Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos immediately said that the United States’ refusal to recognize the international agreements that don’t allow Cuba to extradite the ELN peace negotiators are a major support for Colombia to do the same.”

HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Las carpetas secretas
Semana, 1 de mayo de 2020
“SEMANA revela las pruebas de cómo el Ejército ejecutó un programa de seguimiento informático en el que la mayoría de sus blancos fueron periodistas, varios de ellos estadounidenses. Políticos, generales, oenegés y sindicalistas hacen parte de la lista de más de 130 víctimas”.

Colombian Intelligence Unit Used U.S. Equipment to Spy on Politicians, Journalists
Kejal Vyas, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2020
“An army intelligence unit provided with U.S. surveillance equipment to fight Marxist rebels and drug traffickers here used the assets throughout 2019 to spy on political opponents, government officials, journalists and human-rights activists, people familiar with the operations and their targets said.”

Colombia’s opposition filing criminal charges against 9 generals and Duque ally over illegal spying
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 15, 2020
“During a debate, Opposition Senator Ivan Cepeda claimed that former National Army commander Nicacio Martinez frustrated a counterintelligence operation that sought to identify mafia associates within the military. Instead, these resources were used to spy on civilians investigating this.”

Destruction of the Colombian Amazon Continues During Pandemic
María Paula Rubiano, Latin America News Dispatch, May 15, 2020
“In March, monitoring agencies reported nearly 13,000 fires in the Amazon, a significant increase compared to the 4,700 fires reported in March 2019. In early April the environmental agency for the Colombian Amazon, Corpoamazonia, denounced that ‘unscrupulous people are taking advantage of the health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to continue seriously damaging areas of special ecological importance.’”

The Green Erasure of Indigenous Life
Christina Noriega, NACLA, May 6, 2020
“But with wind proven to be a viable renewable energy option, companies are flocking to the region in a bid to transform La Guajira into the country’s wind power provider. Nineteen national and multinational corporations plan to mount 60 projects in the province, almost all on Indigenous Wayuu land. It’s a move that would ensure clean energy for a rapidly growing population, but it is also prompting age-old questions about the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

One in three trans people targeted for ‘conversion therapy’ in Colombia
Anastasia Moloney, Reuters, May 6, 2020
“One in five LGBT+ people have undergone “conversion therapy” to make them straight in Colombia, rising to one in three trans people, researchers said on Wednesday, amid global moves to ban the practice as it can cause severe mental health problems.”

DRUG POLICY

Pulso entre campesinos y autoridades por erradicación de hoja de coca
Gudilfredo Avendaño, El Tiempo, 11 de mayo de 2020
“El pulso se da por cuenta de los trabajos de erradicación manual de cultivos de coca que adelanta la fuerza pública en zona rural de Montelíbano. De acuerdo con Ascsucor, el hecho ocurrió este domingo, cuando al menos 300 campesinos de la vereda La Barra, de ese municipio, retuvieron momentáneamente a tres miembros de la Policía que realizaban las labores de destrucción de las matas de coca”.

VENEZUELAN CRISIS

Colombia says over 52,000 Venezuelans return home, cites lockdown
Julia Symmes Cobb, Reuters, May 12, 2020
“The figures on returning Venezuelans include some 27,000 people in border areas who left Colombia in the first three days after the government closed land borders, he said. An additional 25,000 Venezuelans have since returned home via humanitarian transport.”

The shadow war on the Venezuela-Colombia border
Joshua Collins, The New Humanitarian, May 5, 2020
“The broader conflict involves an array of different armed criminal groups and paramilitaries, as well as government forces from both countries. It threatens residents on the frontier and migrants alike, not to mention Colombia’s increasingly shaky peace accord. As criminal groups battle one another – and state forces – on either side of the border, territory can switch hands so fast that local residents often don’t know who is in charge, and fall victim to gangs that weren’t present only weeks before.”

* 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.