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Colombia News Brief for May 14, 2016

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

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The Peace Process

•   Colombia’s President Santos says peace deal with FARC in ‘very near future’
Michael Holden and William Schomberg, Reuters, May 11, 2016
“Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday his government hoped to conclude a peace deal with FARC rebels ‘in the very near future’. A deadline for a final accord between the government and leftist rebels FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was missed in March but Santos told investors in London a deal to end Latin America’s longest war would be reached soon.”

•   New Breakthrough at Colombia’s Peace Table
Virginia Bouvier, Colombia Calls, May 13, 2016
“In what government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called a ‘highly important act,’ yesterday afternoon, the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP moved one step closer to a final peace agreement. In a joint declaration, they announced from Havana that they had reached a new agreement on the endorsement mechanism for the final accord. The agreement, if implemented, will ensure the legal protection of the final peace agreement in Havana and will incorporate it as a Special Humanitarian Agreement under the terms of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions into the body of international law. Yesterday’s agreement also anticipates the incorporation of the final peace accord into an annex to the UN Security Council Resolution 2261, which in January, committed to the creation of a tripartite peace mission in Colombia to verify the ceasefire and setting aside of arms following the signing of the agreement. The measures agreed to yesterday also include a popular referendum, the nature of which has yet to be determined in Havana.”

•   ‘People are tired of 70 years of killings and violence’: Colombia’s peace process
Clár Ní Chonghaile, The Guardian, May 9, 2016
“Father Alberto Franco has spent much of his life speaking out for the most vulnerable people in Colombia – men and women who have been kicked off their land and attacked by armed groups serving powerful elites. He has been threatened and persecuted, so perhaps it is natural that he is ‘moderately pessimistic’ about hopes for an end to the world’s longest civil war… Even as hopes for a lasting peace rise a notch with every passing week, the number of attacks on human rights defenders by paramilitaries – right-wing groups involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining, and often with links to the elites – has increased dramatically, Franco says… Nonetheless, he says the people want peace even if their hope is coloured by fear.”

•   Colombia to hold referendum on peace talks by September
Agence France-Presse, May 11, 2016
“Colombia plans to hold a referendum by late September on the peace deal it hopes to reach with Marxist FARC rebels to end Latin America’s longest running civil war, the interior minister said Wednesday. ‘We will have, surely by September at the latest, a referendum scheduled on whether Colombians approve or disapprove of the content of the peace deal,’ said Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said at an event in Bogota. In addition to the signing of an eventual deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), still to be set, the government needs the Constitutional Court to give the referendum a green light.”

•   En septiembre sería el plebiscito para refrendar la paz
El Espectador, 11 de mayo de 2016
“Así como el expresidente Álvaro Uribe Vélez hizo un llamado a la desobediencia civil frente a la negociación con las Farc, el gobierno hace su campaña para lograr la refrendación popular de los acuerdos de La Habana. Así lo hizo el ministro de Interior, Juan Fernando Cristo, quien en un encuentro con los alcaldes del Partido Liberal manifestó que espera que en septiembre los ciudadanos puedan votar el plebiscito. Cristo retomó la propuesta de Uribe y la acomodó a los intereses del Gobierno al pedir que los alcaldes encabecen una resistencia civil contra la guerra. ‘Quisiera pedirles a todos ustedes que nos juguemos a fondo para consolidar el fin del conflicto, que hagamos una resistencia civil organizada a la guerra y no la resistencia que algunos pretenden hacerle a la paz, que los liberales sean el estandarte de una Nación sin conflicto’, afirmó el ministro”.

•   Exclusivo: Plebiscito y Acuerdo Especial Humanitario será la fórmula para cerrar el conflicto
Alfredo Molano Jimeno, El Espectador, 12 de mayo de 2016
“Una fórmula mixta para blindar jurídicamente lo que se acuerde en la mesa de negociaciones entre gobierno y Farc en La Habana, fue pactada por los equipos negociadores de las partes en Cuba. El Espectador conoció que se trata de un acuerdo para que lo pactado se eleve a Acuerdo Especial Humanitario. Tal y como lo estipula el DIH, con está fórmula queda solventado el problema de las garantías jurídicas para que lo pactado en La Habana sea incorporado al bloque de constitucionalidad colombiano”.

•   Acuerdo especial y plebiscito
Laura Gil, El Tiempo, 10 de mayo de 2016
“No serán los hechos jurídicos, sino las expresiones políticas las que blindarán el acuerdo de paz. La innovación jurídica de hoy siempre podrá ser superada por la creatividad de las mentes legales de mañana. La completa seguridad jurídica para el acuerdo de La Habana no pasará de una quimera. Un gobierno hostil a la paz negociada siempre podrá encontrar una manera de dar marcha atrás en el plano legal. Podría no resultarle tan fácil en el político”.

•   Colombia’s opposition calls for civil resistance to FARC peace deal
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 10, 2016
“To the dismay of Colombia’s government, the country’s conservative opposition called on civil resistance to a pending peace deal with leftist FARC guerrillas.
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos has been holding formal peace talks with the FARC since late 2012, but has found consistent resistance from his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who now called on his supporters to peaceful dissent if and when a final deal is reached.”

•   Uribe convoca a resistencia civil contra acuerdo de paz
El Espectador, 9 de mayo de 2016
“A una movilización masiva de resistencia civil instó el expresidente Álvaro Uribe a los colombianos que estén en desacuerdo con el pacto de paz que el Gobierno y las Farc firmen en La Habana para la terminación del conflicto armado interno. En entrevista con el director de Noticias Caracol, Juan Roberto Vargas, el senador insistió en que el acuerdo con esa guerrilla que, según él está muy cerca de suscribirse, es ‘un acuerdo de impunidad total’ porque ‘nivela a las Fuerzas Armadas con el terrorismo’ y ‘no hay cárcel para (autores) de delitos atroces’”.

•   Gobierno y Farc entierran la Constituyente
Juanita León, La Silla Vacía, 13 de mayo de 2016
“El acuerdo anunciado ayer busca darle a esa guerrilla una garantía jurídica de que el gobierno no le hará conejo con lo que se ha acordado en La Habana puesto que dispone que el Acuerdo Final formará parte de la Constitución… De esta forma, el Gobierno calma uno de los grandes temores que –con razón dado el incumplimiento de puntos de acuerdos pasados con guerrillas y movimientos sociales- tienen las Farc: que al final no les cumplan, y así se despeja más el camino para llegar al acuerdo de cese bilateral del fuego y a la firma final. Uno de los argumentos centrales de las Farc para convocar una Constituyente es que solo ‘constitucionalizando’ lo acordado ellas podrían tener la tranquilidad de que no quedaría en letra muerta como muchos acuerdos firmados por el gobierno, por ejemplo, los que ha hecho para levantar paros campesinos”.

•   El Fin del Conflicto y las Víctimas del Desarrollo
Miller Armín Dussán Calderón, 8 de mayo de 2016
“En el ‘posconflicto’ el extractivismo minero energético al servicio de las corporaciones transnacionales se incrementará como lo advierten funcionarios del Estado siguiendo las recomendaciones del Grupo Diálogo sobre Minería en Colombia (GDIAM) creado por Social Science Research Council y la Fundación Ford que acordaron, aprovechar esta riqueza para ‘promover el desarrollo y construir la paz’. Por su parte el Gobierno de Estados Unidos comprometió 450 millones de dólares a nombre del Plan ‘Paz Colombia’ para garantizar la seguridad de las inversiones empresariales en las zonas despejadas por los insurgentes. En consecuencia, se intensificarán los conflictos socioambientales producto del despojo de comunidades y el ecocidio. Al fenómeno del desplazamiento forzado en Colombia que reporta un saldo entre los 6 y los 8 millones de víctimas de la violencia política y el conflicto armado y una cifra similar de hectáreas de tierra despojada se suman las nuevas ‘victimas del desarrollo’ obligadas a abandonar sus territorios como consecuencia de la implementación de proyectos minero energéticos y agronegocios impuestos por el Estado, fenómeno también denominado “desplazamiento por desarrollo” o acumulación por despojo”.

The Peace Process with the ELN

•   Colombia to investigate ELN rebel leaders for nearly 16,000 war crimes
Julia Symmes Cobb, Luis Jaime Acosta and Sandra Maler, Reuters, May 11, 2016
“Colombia’s attorney general’s office is investigating five top leaders from the country’s ELN guerrilla group for nearly 16,000 war crimes and crimes against humanity, the office said on Wednesday. The allegations come amid heightened tensions between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the government. The two sides announced in March they would begin formal peace talks to end more than 50 years of war, but continued kidnappings and attacks on oil infrastructure by the rebels have so far stymied the process. ELN top leader Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, better known by his nom de guerre, Gabino, and four other high-level rebels are the focus of the investigations, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.”

•   Colombia Alleges ELN Leaders Committed War Crimes
Mimi Yagoub, InSight Crime, May 12, 2016
“Colombia prosecutors have charged the ELN rebel leadership with 15,896 crimes in a legal move that will add to the pressure on the guerrilla group to follow through on their promise to submit to a peace process. The Colombian Attorney General’s Office said on May 11 that it had issued a “macro-imputation” against five members of the Central Command (Comando Central – COCE) of the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación – ELN)… The umbrella accusation covers the 1986-2016 period and alleges COCE responsibility for 4,894 kidnappings, 930 cases of illegal recruitment, 5,391 homicides, 2,989 displacements, 1,605 other human rights violations and 80 cases of gender-based violence.”

•   Santos vuelve a exigirle al Eln que demuestre que quiere la paz
El Espectador, 9 de mayo de 2016
“El presidente Juan Manuel Santos volvió a exigirle este lunes al Eln que dé demostraciones de paz. ‘Que deje de secuestrar, que deje de delinquir’, dijo el Mandatario. ‘Estaremos listos a hacer la paz, pero también tenemos que cumplir con el deber constitucional, señores generales, de perseguir a todos los grupos que estén delinquiendo en el territorio nacional’, añadió Santos”.

U.S. & International Support for Peace

•   Colombia Fears U.S. May Reject Peace Plan To Protect Pharma Profits
Zach Carter, Huffington Post, May 11, 2016
“The Colombian Embassy is concerned that lowering the price of a major cancer drug may jeopardize American funding for peace talks in the South American nation, according to a leaked embassy memo… in an April 27 memo, Colombian diplomat Andrés Flórez said he was worried the U.S. would withhold peace funding if the Colombian government lowered prices on the drug Gleevec, also sold as Glivec… Both the American government and Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that makes Gleevec, want to maintain high prices for the drug, according to the memo. The standoff over drug affordability could ‘escalate to the point that it could impair the approval of the financing of the new initiative ‘Paz Colombia,’’ the memo reads.”

•   EE.UU. amenaza con torpedear ayuda económica para posconflicto
Noticias Uno, 9 de mayo de 2016
“El Ministerio de Salud recibió de la embajada de Estados Unidos una carta en la que se le advierte que si persiste en su decisión de liberar la patente de una droga suiza contra la leucemia, el país podría perder la financiación que el presidente Obama prometió para financiar el posconflicto. ‘Vemos con preocupación que este caso pueda crear un inconveniente en la aprobación de recursos de la iniciativa llamada Paz Colombia’, dice la misiva”.

•   Are Swiss Novartis’ private interests threatening US peace funds for Colombia?
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 13, 2016
“Colombia’s embassy in the United States is concerned that efforts to lower the price of a life-saving cancer drug threatens Washington DC’s promised funds for peace in Colombia, according to a leaked memo published by the Huffington Post. The warning came in April, days after Colombia’s health minister said he may issue a decree that would allow a generic company to make a lower-cost version of the Gleevec leukemia treatment and save the South American country $12 million annually… Given the apparent threat that Colombia’s efforts to make the cancer drug cheaper could affect Washington’s promised funds to the pending peace process, ‘we believe the National Government should evaluate the aforementioned actions and respond to the mentioned concerns at its best convenience. At the same time — and if necessary — we consider adopting corrective measures to avoid lawsuits against the country,’ Florez wrote the foreign minister.”

•   Help remove landmines from the path of peace in Colombia
John Kerry and Borge Brende, Miami Herald, May 11, 2016
“Landmines are singularly dangerous because they can lay dormant for years, only to kill and maim innocent people without warning. In Colombia last year, 285 people, including 40 children, were killed by landmines, a toll surpassed only by Afghanistan. At current mine clearance rates, decades will pass before the country is mine free. The United States and Norway believe that time line is not acceptable. That’s why we are leading a global effort to increase resources and technical expertise to help Colombia win the battle against these indiscriminate tools of war in the next five years. More than 20 countries and the European Union have joined our initiative, and we are welcoming others to come on board.”

•   Cancilleres de Noruega y Estados Unidos reiteran apoyo a desminado para la paz
Oficina del Alto Comisionado Para la Paz, 11 de mayo de 2016
“El Secretario de Estado John Kerry y el Canciller noruego Borge Brende se comprometen a ayudar a Colombia a desminar para construir la paz. ‘En momentos en que el Gobierno y las Farc se acercan a un Acuerdo final, debemos apoyar la fase de implementación (…) Por eso, estamos liderando un esfuerzo global para aumentar los recursos y la pericia técnica para ayudar a Colombia ganar la batalla contra las minas antipersonal’”.

Human Rights

•   Digging up Bodies: Colombia Is Searching for Thousands of Unnamed Dead
Joe Parkin Daniels, Vice News, May 9, 2016
“[The 15 families that received bodies or body parts belonging to previously missing loved ones in ceremonies across Colombia on April 15] represent a tiny fraction of the estimated 45,000 who have disappeared during Colombia’s half century of conflict between government forces and left-wing guerrillas. Right-wing paramilitaries, often acting alongside the state, have also contributed to the bloodshed. All sides are responsible for atrocities. But there are signs that the number finally finding their loved ones could soon increase dramatically as peace talks advance between the government and the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC… Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Washington-based Latin America Working Group think tank, stresses that for the exhumation process to help cement peace in Colombia it must be done with particular attention to both the technical and the human aspects of the process.”

•   Armed clashes drive growing displacement in western Colombia
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, May 13, 2016
“Armed clashes between illegal groups fighting for territory in western Colombia are driving a growing number of mostly Afro-Caribbean and indigenous peoples from their homes in Chocó department, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has warned. In the past two months alone, more than 6,000 people have fled the fighting, as well as ongoing hostilities in the context of the country’s civil war. The clashes, around the Baudo, Atrato and San Juan rivers, have also severely restricted the movements of a further 7,000 people… The magnitude of the situation has overwhelmed the local authorities’ ability to respond to basic needs, including food, healthcare, shelter and psychological support. UNHCR is working in close coordination with the Colombian authorities and other humanitarian agencies to provide emergency assistance and logistical support to the displaced communities.”

•   Criminal Violence Has Displaced Millions in Latin America: Report
Mike LaSusa, InSight Crime, May 12, 2016
“The ‘Global Report on Internal Displacement,’ published this month by Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), estimates that Colombia alone saw more than 224,000 citizens newly displaced last year as a result of conflict and violence. According to the report, the long running, crime-fueled armed conflict in Colombia has displaced more than 6.3 million people since 1996. However, the authors also note that many Colombians who previously fled their homes have now resettled, and may no longer technically qualify as displaced people. The true number of Colombians affected by conflict-related displacement, the report says, ‘is difficult if not impossible to gauge.’”

•   6000 displaced and 7000 trapped amid fighting in western Colombia
Stephen Gill, Colombia Reports, May 13, 2016
“More than 6,000 Colombians were forced to leave their homes and more than 7,000 are trapped amid fighting in the west of the country according to the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR). The armed  fighting between guerrillas and neo-paramilitary groups in the province of Choco has created a humanitarian crisis displacing many inhabitants and bringing normal life to a standstill for others… As the government are currently in the final stages of talks with leftist guerrillas the FARC and prepare to enter formal negotiations with their Marxist counterparts the ELN, the UNHCR urged them to make provision to solve the humanitarian crisis in the peace process.”

Colombia’s Security Forces

•   De- or Re-Militarization in Post Peace-Accord Colombia?
John Lindsay-Poland and Arlene B. Tickner, NACLA, May 11, 2016
“An agreement between the guerrillas and the Colombian state does not mean the end of militarization in Colombia. This reality is already manifesting itself; consider the fact that even as the amount of violent combat has dropped precipitously in the last four years, the number of non-violent Colombian activists who have been targeted, primarily by paramilitary groups, has increased markedly… The army itself has undergone continuous growth in the last 15 years: today, the military and police together have almost 500,000 members, the second largest security force in Latin America after Brazil, with more than 100 counter-guerrilla battalions, each of which has about 500 professional soldiers. Will the 50,000 professional counter-guerrilla soldiers also be demobilized into the civilian population as part of the peace process?”

•   Colombia fires more than 1,400 police in corruption crackdown
Luis Jaime Acosta, Julia Symmes Cobb, Helen Murphy and Jeffrey Benkoe, Reuters, May 10, 2016
“Colombia’s national police force has fired more than 1,400 officers over the past 80 days in a crackdown on corruption, the country’s top law enforcement official said on Wednesday. The 180,000-strong police force has let go of nearly 18 officers per day since General Jorge Hernando Nieto took over leadership of the organization in February, he told journalists. The dismissals are part of a ‘zero tolerance for corruption,’ Nieto said, as the force seeks to improve its public image after recent scandals, including one connecting high-level officials to a prostitution ring.”

•   Colombia Police Purges Force in Anti-Corruption Push
Mimi Yagoub, InSight Crime, May 13, 2016
“As Colombia prepares for the potential demobilization of its main guerrilla groups after decades of war, transforming the National Police into an effective and reliable force will be an essential part of the country’s transition into post-conflict. However, it is unlikely that the current cleansing process alone will achieve this goal.”

•   La directiva 15 del Ministerio de Defensa
Gustavo Gallón, El Espectador, 11 de mayo de 2016
“‘Bombardearán a las bacrim’, han dicho los medios de comunicación al divulgar la directiva 15, expedida por el Ministerio de Defensa el pasado 22 de abril. Si bien esa directiva contiene una rectificación necesaria, conviene aclarar algunas confusiones que la rodean. Es una rectificación necesaria porque una directiva anterior (la 14 de 2011) restringía la acción militar sobre esos grupos y asignaba exclusivamente a la Policía la competencia para combatirlos. De manera absurda se argumentaba que el derecho internacional humanitario (DIH) autorizaba las acciones militares solamente sobre grupos que ejercieran un control territorial y que tuvieran una ideología política… Por ello, hace bien la directiva 15 al señalar que estos grupos pueden y deben ser enfrentados militarmente cuando estén organizados para ejercer un nivel de violencia armada que supere la de los disturbios y tensiones internas”.

The Paramilitary Threat & Organized Crime

•   Colombia to send jets against criminal gangs
BBC, May 6, 2016
“The Colombian government says it will launch air raids against gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining. Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said the full force of the state, including the military, would be used to fight them… Air raids against left-wing Farc – country’s largest rebel group – are currently suspended, as peace talks continue in an effort to end five decades of conflict. ‘This will allow the application of the entire force of the state, without exception, against organised armed groups, against powerful mafias,’ Mr Villegas said. The new strategy specifically targets three groups – the Clan Usuga, Los Pelusos and Los Puntilleros.”

•   Apoyo militar no será suficiente contra las bacrim
Olga Patricia Rendón M., El Colombiano, 12 de mayo de 2016
“La ayuda obtenida por Colombia hasta ahora desde EE.UU. para combatir las bacrim se ha centrado, según el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, en labores de inteligencia para desarticular esas estructuras ilegales. Pero esa ayuda aumentará en otros frentes, pues el Gobierno estadounidense ofreció mejorarla. Así lo expresó el mandatario colombiano después de su reunión con el secretario de Estado de ese país, John Kerry, ocurrida ayer en Londres, Inglaterra”.

•   Panama to close Colombia border to halt Cuba migrants
BBC, May 10, 2016
“Key crossings on Panama’s border with Colombia are to be closed to control the flow of Cuban migrants heading to the United States. President Juan Carlos Varela said the decision was necessary as Costa Rica and Nicaragua had recently closed their borders to Cubans heading north.”

•   Panama’s Colombia Border Closure Could Fuel Human Trafficking
Mike LaSusa, InSight Crime, May 10, 2016
“The decision by Panamanian authorities to close the border with Colombia could mean an increase in business for human traffickers operating in the region. A recent report by the Miami Herald detailed how the increasing number of Cuban migrants fueled a rise in violence on the Colombian side of the border as gangs fought for control of lucrative people smuggling networks… The border shutdown could also impact cooperation between Panamanian and Colombian authorities on combating organized crime in the border area, known as the Darién Gap — an infamously difficult-to-traverse jungle region where various paramilitary and criminal groups maintain a presence. A large back-up of migrants on the Colombian side could stretch resources thin and overwhelm local authorities.”

Afro-Colombian & Indigenous Rights

•   Ser Negro Es HermosoCampaign Seeks to Teach Afro-Colombians That Black Is Beautiful
Kiratiana Freelon, The Root, May 14, 2016
“When foreigners think of the country of Colombia, usually visions of drug-cartel bosses and Latin beauty queens with olive skin come to mind. Few foreigners know just how multicultural, and black, the country is. Colombia has the second-largest population of people of African descent in the Americas after Brazil—at least 5 million, according to the country’s census, but likely a far higher number. Today Cartagena is a majority-black city with a population of more than 800,000 people. But this isn’t reflected in the census. The city is at least 75 percent Afro-Colombian, but only 35 percent of that group self-identifies as Afro-Colombian, Salcedo says. It is commonly believed that at least 25 percent of Colombia’s 48 million people are of African descent, but the census reflects only about 10 percent, or 5 million… Salcedo is doing everything in his power to make sure Afro-Colombians claim their blackness and embrace the philosophy of Ser negro es hermoso— ‘Black is beautiful’ in Spanish. Last year he spearheaded the launch of a unique visual and social media campaign—#SerNegroEsHermoso—that included 15 artistic portraits of Afro-Colombians, men and women, posted throughout Cartagena.”

•   The Legacy of Berito Cobaria: On Cultural Genocide, Language Revitalization and the International Campaign Against Occidental Petroleum [The Guardians of Mother Earth Part 3]
Jake Ling, Intercontinental Cry, May 10, 2016
“Education has been a key strategy to the U’wa leadership to ensure the tribe’s survival into the 21st century. Berito learned the importance of educating U’wa children about Natural Law, which predates and takes precedent over the laws of men, as the result of a childhood trauma: as a young boy, he was kidnapped by Catholic missionaries and forced to live in a convent until, after several years, his mother rescued him. The missionaries named him Roberto Cobaria, after the Cobaria river that ran past the mission. This arbitrary name followed him for most of his life as it was the name officially recognized by the Colombian government.”

*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.