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Colombia News Brief for May 16 – May 23, 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: Celine Massa / Flickr

Spotlight

Beyond Rotten Apples: The Colombian Military Intelligence Needs to Be Reformed
Daniel Coronell, The New York Times, May 22, 2020
“The governments of Colombia and the United States, which has used at least $10 billion in taxpayer money since 2000 to finance cooperative security and defense programs, must guarantee that military intelligence is effectively subordinated to civilian oversight and that it complies with the laws.Intelligence law needs teeth for the government to effectively direct the actions of intelligence agencies and their budgets. Until now the role of civilians has been decorative, and the minimal oversight is exercised only within the military hierarchy.”

Letter to Ambassadors Kozak and Goldberg: Civil Society Organizations Condemn Colombian Military Espionage Scandal
May 22, 2020

Civil society organizations sent a joint letter to Ambassadors Michael Kozak and Philip S. Goldberg to condemn the most recent Colombian military illegal espionage scandal. In it, they call for a thorough investigation of the military’s practices and government protection for targeted individuals, press for a robust review of military doctrine, and urge the U.S. government to suspend all support for Colombia’s military and intelligence services if the Colombian government does not comply with these demands. You can find the full letter here.

Colombia: outrage as warlord’s son picked to lead victim support project
Joe Parkin Daniels, The Guardian, May 21, 2020
“The son of a notorious death squad leader has been appointed to run the Colombian government’s programmes for victims of the country’s long civil war, prompting fury among survivors. Jorge Rodrigo Tovar was this week put in charge of a scheme for compensating victims of the conflict – many of whom were terrorised by his father, Rodrigo Tovar, better known in Colombia as “Jorge 40”. During the late 90s and early 2000s, the elder Tovar led the Northern Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (or AUC) – which was responsible for a string of massacres and the murder of hundreds of civilians along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.”

La CIDH y su Relatoría Especial para la Libertad de Expresión exhortan al Estado de Colombia a establecer una investigación diligente, oportuna e independiente respecto a las denuncias sobre espionaje ilegal
Comisión Interamericano de Derechos Humanos, 21 de mayo de 2020
“En este sentido, la CIDH y su Relatoría Especial reiteran de manera enfática al Estado colombiano adelantar todas las investigaciones con la debida diligencia, con la finalidad de establecer la verdad de lo ocurrido, así como identificar y sancionar a todas las personas responsables”.

Dos generales y 11 oficiales del Ejército, a juicio disciplinario por escándalo de “carpetas secretas”
El Espectador, 20 de mayo de 2020
“La Procuraduría llamó a juicio disciplinario a 13 militares por el escándalo de seguimientos informáticos a periodistas, políticos y defensores de derechos humanos que reveló la revista Semana, caso que se ha conocido como “carpetas secretas”. Se trata de dos generales en retiro, cinco coroneles, tres mayores, un teniente y dos suboficiales adscritos a diferentes dependencias de inteligencia militar que el Ministerio Público viene investigando por “presunta recolección de información de carácter íntimo de ciudadanos nacionales y extranjeros”. Además, ordenó medidas cautelares”.

The State of Human Rights in Colombia: Military Espionage, COVID-19, and Ongoing Abuses
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, May 19, 2020
“Since our last urgent action Colombia’s weekly magazine Semana revealed that between February and December 2019, Colombian army intelligence units carried out illicit surveillance of more than 130 individuals, including human rights defenders, national and international journalists, politicians, labor leaders, and other members of the military. We at WOLA find this to be completely unacceptable.”

COVID-19

Colombia arrest two mayors, seeks arrest of 8 more over coronavirus corruption
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 22, 2020
“According to Comptroller General Felipe Cordoba, his team found that corrupt government officials inflated costs of emergency aid with a total value of $110,000 (COP420 billion) as they presumably tried to embezzle that money from the $808.6 billion in emergency funds sent to governors and mayors.The Comptroller General’s Office found that the national Army and the Navy tried similar embezzlement rackets in the joint investigation that revealed how rife corruption is in Colombia.”

Cerca de 320.000 familias indígenas se encuentran en riesgo de contagio de COVID-19: Onic
El Espectador, 22 de mayo de 2020
“La Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (Onic) a través del boletín 026 sobre la situación de riesgo de los pueblos indígenas frente a la pandemia, aseguró que 321.169 familias indígenas se encuentran en alto riesgo de contagio del nuevo coronavirus. Hasta el momento, la Onic confirmó 314 casos de COVID-19, y nueve personas fallecidas en comunidades indígenas”.

Coronavirus begins spiralling out of control in Colombia’s major cities
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 17, 2020
“Colombia’s third largest city, Cali, and port city Cartagena rang the alarm as the country’s healthcare system appears to slowly be falling apart because of the coronavirus pandemic. An explosive increase in confirmed infections in Colombia’s third largest economy, as well as in one of its major ports, follow the trend previously registered in remote cities like Leticia in the southeast and Tumaco in the southwest.”

GOVERNMENT-FARC PEACE PROCESS

Abducted, brainwashed and plied with alcohol: Farc’s child soldiers
Matthew Charles, The Telegraph, May 21, 2020
“There’s no rumble of battle in this dense, pristine rainforest, but in the past three years, officials estimate that dozens of indigenous children and teenagers have been lured into dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Farc. Some go by choice, brainwashed into thinking they’re heading for a better life, others are plied with alcohol or simply abducted.”

Colombia’s FARC Rebels Agreed to Peace — But They’re Still Being Killed
Alejandro Bernal, Juanita Ceballos, Ramón Campos Iriarte, Vice News, May 20, 2020
“As part of the deal, the government promised to guarantee the safety of the roughly 13,000 rebels who put down their weapons after the deal was ratified. But for many of them, the peace never materialized: 196 former FARC members have been killed since 2016.”

La sorpresiva propuesta de Carlos Holmes Trujillo frente al acuerdo de paz
Semana, 20 de mayo de 2020
“En un debate virtual este martes en la noche en el Senado, que tenía como finalidad evaluar el cumplimiento del acuerdo de paz con las Farc, el ministro de Defensa, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, propuso la búsqueda de un nuevo acuerdo para ajustar la implementación de lo firmado en La Habana”.

Many of Colombia’s Ex-Rebel Fighters Rearm and Turn to Illegal Drug Trade
John Otis, NPR, May 19, 2020
“Besides dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, Colombian authorities are trying to keep a fragile peace process on track. Under the peace treaty some 13,000 FARC guerrillas have turned in their weapons, ending a half-century of fighting that killed 220,000 people. But almost immediately, some former rebels began drifting back into the mountains and jungles. They have formed more than two dozen armed groups totaling about 2,300 members, though not all are ex-FARC guerrillas, according to news reports citing Colombia’s military.”

Uribismo dice que las Farc no les cumplieron a sus víctimas ni al país
El Tiempo, 18 de mayo de 2020
“Ante la plenaria del Senado, las congresistas Paloma Valencia y María del Rosario Guerra ventilaron este lunes cifras oficiales para demostrar lo que ellas llaman un incumplimiento explícito de las Farc a los acuerdos de paz y en especial a su esencia: la reparación de sus víctimas”.

GOVERNMENT-ELN PEACE PROCESS

La Paz en Colombia: cada vez más distante
Colombia Informa, 20 de mayo de 2020
“Desde el quiebre de las negociaciones a principios del 2019, el Gobierno de Iván Duque ha venido insistiendo para que su par cubano extradite a los miembros del ELN y someter a estos a la “justicia” colombiana. Cuba, junto con los demás países garantes y acompañantes del Proceso de Paz, ha rechazado la solicitud. Declara que existe un protocolo firmado por las partes para garantizar el retorno a Colombia de dicha delegación, en caso de una ruptura de la mesa”.

Colombia Running Out of Incentives to Convince Armed Fighters to Surrender
Juan Diego Posada, InSight Crime, May 19, 2020
“The Duque administration has not shown much willingness to converse with armed groups. Besides its ongoing operations in Cauca, the Colombian Army has gone after ELN targets in Bolívar and Chocó. It has also been placing renewed pressure on Cuba to extradite ELN leaders stranded there since the peace talks broke down.”

US Pressure to Extradite ELN Leaders Unlikely to Succeed
Lara Loaiza, InSight Crime, May 18, 2020
“The extradition of the ELN leaders would be seen as a win for President Duque, especially since the guerrilla group is a primary target of Colombia’s government and arguably Latin America’s foremost criminal threat. But the United States’ blacklisting of Cuba is unlikely to help Duque achieve this goal. Instead, the designation may become the latest in a series of US indictments and accusations against Latin American governments that seem to make little difference.”

HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

1.300 personas desplazadas por enfrentamientos de grupos armados en Alto Baudó, Chocó
El Espectador, 22 de mayo de 2020
“La Misión de Apoyo al Proceso de Paz en Colombia de la Organización de Estados Americanos (MAPP/OEA) alertó el desplazamiento masivo de 1.300 personas en el resguardo indígena Catrú, en Alto Baudó, Chocó, por enfrentamientos entre grupos armados ilegales. “Exigimos cesar ataques contra comunidades étnicas y exhortamos a las autoridades a proteger a la población del territorio”, manifestó la Misión de Apoyo”.

“Tenemos que hacer propietarias a las mujeres rurales para romper la pobreza en el campo”: vicepresidenta
Semana Rural, 22 de mayo 2020
“Estas estadísticas demuestran la gran inequidad de género que sigue existiendo en el campo y que solo podrá ser superada si se toman políticas de Estado audaces que equilibren la cancha. Para esto, la vicepresidenta aseguró que una de las apuestas del gobierno es que haya más propietarias de fincas en todos los campos de la producción rural. “Tenemos que garantizarle el acceso a la tierra, a la financiación y a la asistencia técnica”, aseguró la funcionaria”.

Quarantine marred by killings of Colombia’s social and environmental leaders
Richard Emblin, The City Paper Bogota, May 21, 2020
“If the national quarantine has slowed the spread of coronavirus it has not deterred Colombia’s illegal armed groups from assassinating civic leaders and human rights defenders. According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), during two months of lockdown, 25 activists have been murdered for protecting indigenous autonomy, endangered habitats from illegal mining and rights of vulnerable Afro-descendent populations.”

No es ni mitad de año y ya van 100 líderes sociales asesinados en 2020
José Puentes, ¡Pacifista!, 19 de mayo de 2020
“De acuerdo al registro del Instituto de estudios para el desarrollo y la paz —Indepaz—, desde el primero de enero de este año hasta la fecha de publicación de esta nota fueron asesinados 103 líderes sociales. Y 27 de esos crímenes ocurrieron durante la cuarentena obligatoria por la emergencia del Covid-19”.

The hidden toll of lockdown on rainforests
Kimberly Brown, BBC, May 18, 2020
“Miguel Pacheco, natural resources and livelihoods coordinator with WWF-Colombia, says quarantine measures have not been the cause of this increase in hotspots, but they could exacerbate the problem. Since Colombia went into lockdown in late March, monitoring flights by the armed forces that normally circle the region have significantly reduced. This could allow armed groups to take advantage of this lack of environmental control and continue to clear the area for cattle, coca plantation or other crops, as long as these quarantine measures persist, he says.”

DRUG POLICY

Colombia’s Coca Eradicators Spared From Coronavirus Lockdown
Juan Diego Cárdenas and Chris Dalby, InSight Crime, May 20, 2020
“While it has imposed a stringent coronavirus lockdown, the Colombian government has come under fire for allowing coca eradication campaigns to continue largely unabated. Colombia’s President Iván Duque ordered a nationwide lockdown, including important curfews since late March. However, it seems squads of troops responsible for eradicating coca have been spared much of these restrictions.”

What Lockdown? World’s Cocaine Traffickers Sniff at Movement Restrictions
Cecilia Anesi, Giulio Rubino, Nathan Jaccard, Antonio Baquero, Lilia Saúl Rodríguez, Aubrey Belford, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, May 20, 2020
“In Colombia, where 70 percent of the world’s cocaine is produced, the picture is more mixed. Anti-narcotics police eradicated over 1,969 hectares of coca plantations in the three weeks after lockdowns came into nationwide effect on March 25, the country’s anti-narcotics police told OCCRP. “‘The perception of the population is that [the government] is taking advantage of the quarantine and people being stuck in their homes to eradicate” coca, said Jorge Elías Ricardo Rada, the head of a union that represents small farmers’ interests in the region of Cordoba. “They take away what little the people have.”’

Colombia’s crumbling drug policy: farmers thwart attempts to resume aerial spraying of coca
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 19, 2020
“In the latest attempt to resume aerial fumigation, the National Environmental Licensing Agency (ANLA) tried to obtain the compulsory approval of farming communities through online consultations in areas on lockdown and without internet. A group of farmers from the southwestern Nariño province successfully sued the ANLA, which was ordered to suspend the consultations while the judge considers their legality.

VENEZUELAN CRISIS

Venezuela Announces Border Curfews as Coronavirus Cases Jump
Vivian Sequera, The New York Times, May 19, 2020
“Millions of Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years due to an economic breakdown and humanitarian crisis, with many settling in nearby Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. But with lockdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus in those countries now hurting their economies, thousands have returned. Migrants returning to Venezuela are required to spend a 14-day quarantine period at shelters at the border, rather than in their home states.”

* 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.