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Colombia News Brief for May 26, 2021

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SPOTLIGHT

La CIDH condena las graves violaciones de derechos humanos en el contexto de las protestas en Colombia, rechaza toda forma de violencia y reitera la importancia de que el Estado honre sus obligaciones internacionales
Organización de los Estados Americanos, 25 de mayo de 2021

“La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) expresa su preocupación por la grave crisis que enfrenta Colombia y condena las graves violaciones de derechos humanos registradas durante las protestas sociales. En ese sentido, urge al Estado a respetar los más altos estándares en cuanto a la libertad de expresión, uso de la fuerza y debida diligencia, así como a permitir que la CIDH realice una visita de observación al país, honrando su tradición con los compromisos internacionales en materia de derechos humanos”.

Congresistas de EE. UU. piden suspender ayuda directa a la Policía de Colombia
El Espectador, 15 de mayo de 2021
En una dura carta enviada al secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos, Antony John Blinken, congresistas de ese país le pidieron a su Gobierno suspender la asistencia directa a la Policía Nacional de Colombia hasta que no se observen mejoras reales en el uso de la fuerza y no se asuma la responsabilidad judicial por los casos de brutalidad que se han evidenciado en medio de las protestas. En ese sentido, también le pidieron al gobierno de Joe Biden hacer declaraciones ‘claras, inequívocas y públicas’ en las que se les pida a las fuerzas de seguridad colombianas, en especial a la Policía Nacional y al Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (Esmad), que pongan fin al ‘uso indebido de la fuerza’. Para los congresistas firmantes de la carta, la brutalidad policial está prolongando las manifestaciones”. 

Reps. McGovern, Pocan, Schakowsky, Grijalva Lead 55 Members of Congress Urging State Department to Clearly and Unambiguously Denounce Police Brutality in Colombia
May 14, 2021
“The lawmakers also call for a suspension of U.S. direct assistance to Colombian National Police; an end to U.S. commercial sales of weapons, equipment, services, or training to ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios) riot police; and a freeze on any grants or sales of riot or crowd control equipment to all Colombian public security forces, police, and special units until concrete and clear human rights benchmarks are established and met. ‘Colombia’s security forces, especially its National Police, are more unleashed than we have seen in decades of strife – hundreds of citizen videos show aggressive, indiscriminate use of lethal and non-lethal weapons against citizens in ways that violate both Colombian law and international human rights standards,’ wrote the lawmakers.”

GOVERNMENT-FARC PEACE PROCESS

Victims from Colombia’s warzones granted extra seats in Congress 
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 22, 2021
“Colombia’s Constitutional Court on Friday granted 16 congressional seats to war-torn regions, a promise made to victims that Congress initially refused to honor. The court overruled a controversial 2017 decision by former Senate President Efrain Cepeda (Conservative Party) who claimed that a decision to grant victims political participation lacked votes. The court ruling claimed that Cepeda violated the “good faith” principle of a 2016 peace agreement between former President Juan Manuel Santos and now-defunct FARC guerrillas.”

Colombia: Vote on Draft Resolution Expanding the Verification Mission’s Mandate*
Security Council Report, May 10, 2021
“The SJP is the judicial component of the transitional justice system established by the 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace between the government of Colombia and the former rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). It has the authority to issue sentences against those who acknowledge responsibility for crimes committed during the conflict, which can include up to eight years of confinement to one municipality to carry out work and activities that count as reparations for victims. Those who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for crimes will be subject to the Colombian penal code and may face imprisonment of up to 20 years. The SJP is expected to begin handing down its sentences in the latter half of 2021.”

Ex-FARC leader Jesus Santrich killed in Venezuela, dissident group says
Julia Symmes Cobb, Reuters, May 19, 2021
“Jesus Santrich, one of the most prominent leaders of a group of Colombia’s former FARC rebels who reject a 2016 peace accord, has been killed in Venezuela in an operation by Colombia’s military, former FARC dissidents said late on Tuesday. Santrich was traveling by a truck in Venezuela when it was attacked by Colombian commandos the dissident group, which calls itself the Segunda Marquetalia, said in a statement. Santrich, who initially backed the 2016 peace deal, was wanted by the United States on drug trafficking charges and had long been thought to be based in Venezuela. ‘The truck carrying the commander (Santrich) was attacked with rifle fire and grenades,’ the statement said, adding that the Colombian commandos left in a helicopter following the attack.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

Graphic by Temblores detailing cases of police brutality during ongoing protests in Colombia
May 25, 2021
The graphic is available in both English and Spanish. 

The Colombian protests reflect a deep legitimacy crisis
Fabio Andrés Díaz Pabón and Mariela Gabriela Palacio, Al Jazeera, May 22, 2021 
“The protests of the past few weeks, while triggered by various socioeconomic grievances and fuelled by the government’s violent response, also evince the continued absence of adequate channels through which citizens can hold their government accountable. It seems that the ruling elites expect from the general population silent acquiescence to whatever policies they choose to pursue. The narrative they use in the face of popular mobilisation focuses on ‘re-establishing order’, which means ensuring submission by employing brutal force.”

Inclusión laboral, una necesidad urgente de las víctimas del conflicto armado 
El Espectador, 22 de mayo de 2021
“Empacar una maleta de afán, dejar la casa y los animales, pedir ayuda con los vecinos para salir en un carro, una chiva o una balsa hacia una ciudad grande y desconocida ha sido la decisión de miles de personas en Colombia para salvarse del conflicto armado. De acuerdo con la Unidad para las Víctimas, al menos nueve millones de personas han tenido que desplazarse forzosamente por las constantes amenazas y enfrentamientos entre grupos armados. Y cuando llegan a las ciudades se encuentran con otros problemas, como la falta de empleo”.

Avanza tercer encuentro entre el Gobierno y el Comité Nacional de Paro
Semana, 20 de mayo de 2021
“Antes de las 8:30 de la mañana, en Compensar de la 68 en Bogotá, empezó un tercer round de acercamientos entre los sindicatos, estudiantes y otros integrantes del Comité Nacional de Paro y el Gobierno nacional. El objetivo, una vez más, es trazar el camino para instalar efectivamente la negociación de las exigencias de quienes han invocado las movilizaciones de las últimas semanas. De parte del Comité Nacional de Paro hay 42 asistentes, entre los que se cuentan los principales voceros de sindicatos como Fecode, la Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) y la Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), además de sociedades estudiantiles como la Unión Nacional de Estudiantes de la Educación Superior (UNEES) y la Asociación de Representantes Estudiantiles de Educación Super (ACREES), entre otros. En el lado del Gobierno está el alto comisionado para la Paz, Miguel Ceballos, el ministro de Vivienda, Jonathan Malagón y la comisionada para los derechos humanos, Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, así como otros funcionarios”.

Colombia mass demonstrations ‘reflect a deep national crisis’
Al Jazeera, May 19, 2021
“The protests began last month after right-wing Colombian President Ivan Duque’s government introduced a tax reform that critics said would disproportionately harm the working and middle classes, already hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Duque withdrew the proposal, but the demonstrations have continued as protesters expanded their list of demands to include the withdrawal of a proposed health reform, an end to widespread violence in the country, and steps to address economic inequality. The protests have been marked by violence, but the exact death toll remains unclear. The attorney general’s office has confirmed 15 deaths connected to the protests, while one human rights group says the tally is at more than 40. Duque has blamed armed groups for most of the violence, but the United Nations and several rights groups have condemned Colombian police for ‘opening fire’ on protesters.”

Duque orders maximum military deployment, rejects talks to end Colombia’s protests
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 18, 2021
“President Ivan Duque called on the maximum deployment of Colombia’s security forces while his peace commissioner rejected strike leaders’ demands to end the violent repression of peaceful protests. In a televised address, Duque ordered the security forces’ maximum deployment claiming that “there is a clear criminal interest” behind roadblocks that have been put up in the southwest of the country. There exists no evidence of any involvement of criminal organizations or guerrilla groups in the protests. The president made the announcement while the organizers of national strikes were in a meeting with Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos who rejected demands to end police brutality.”

Paro Nacional 19M: Puntos de concentración Medellín, Cali, Manizales y otras ciudades
El Espectador, 18 de mayo de 2021
“El Comité Nacional del Paro y el gobierno se reunirán el 20 de mayo para la posible instalación de una mesa de negociación. El comité dice que el gobierno no brinda garantías, mientras que este les pide que rechace los bloqueos y el uso de la violencia en las manifestaciones. Hasta que no se llegue a un acuerdo, el paro continuará. En algunas ciudades ya se conocen los trayectos que se harán durante las marchas, en el marco del Paro Nacional 2021 que inició el pasado 28 de abril y que mañana cumplirá tres semanas de actividades”.

El gobierno de Duque no quiere negociar, se niega a brindar garantías
Comité Nacional de Paro, 17 de mayo de 2021 
“Hoy esperábamos una respuesta a nuestras exigencias de garantías para la protesta, para poder dar inicio a la negociación, y el gobierno dijo no a todo, e incluso sobre varios temas no se refirió. La verdadera respuesta que hemos recibido hoy ha sido la brutal violencia policial desatada desde anoche en Yumbo, con al menos dos asesinatos, 24 heridos y 18 desaparecidos. Y mientras estábamos reunidos el Presidente Duque anuncio del despliegue de la máxima capacidad de la fuerza pública para desbloquear el país. La respuesta a las garantías, es la de tierra arrasada contra el Paro Nacional”.

Colombia peace update: May 15, 2021
Washington Office on Latin America
“The security forces’ response to Colombia’s nationwide protests became less lethal over the past week. Three people involved in protests were killed in the 8 days between May 7 and 14, increasing the overall confirmed toll from 39 to 42, according to a database maintained by the non-governmental organizations Temblores and Indepaz. Heavy, and often outraged, international scrutiny of the police and military response has likely contributed to restraint. So has a reduction in the protests’ overall intensity, as formal negotiations begin. While large turnouts continue in Bogotá, Medellín, and elsewhere, they are not consistently large every single day. Colombia’s southwest, though, remains very active, especially the cities of Cali, Valle del Cauca; Popayán, Cauca; Neiva, Huila; and Pasto, Nariño.”

55 congresistas de EE. UU. piden suspender ayuda a Policía de Colombia
Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo, 15 de mayo de 2021
“Un total de 55 congresistas estadounidenses, todos ellos demócratas, enviaron una carta al secretario de Estado, Anthony Blinken, en la que le piden suspender toda la ayuda a la policía colombiana y bloquear la venta de equipo militar como consecuencia de los desmanes que, dicen, han cometido en el marco de las protestas sociales que sacuden a Colombia desde el pasado 28 de abril. En la carta, los legisladores se muestran ‘preocupados en extremo’ por las denuncias de violaciones de derechos humanos, entre ellas muertes de manifestantes que se le atribuyen a la fuerza pública.”

Colombia’s Police Force, Built for War, Finds a New One
Julie Turkewitz and Sofía Villamil, The New York Times, May 12, 2021
“In Colombia’s decades-long conflict with violent rebel groups, the country’s national police often fought on the front lines, wielding tanks and helicopters as they battled guerrilla fighters and destroyed drug labs. It was a force built for war, and now it has found a new one — on the streets of Colombia’s cities, where the police stand accused of treating civilian protesters as battlefield enemies. Demonstrations that began two weeks ago as anger over pandemic-related tax reforms have intensified and spread, turning into a collective howl of outrage over abuses by the national police force. Officers have beaten, detained and killed protesters in recent days, sometimes opening fire on peaceful demonstrations and shooting tear gas canisters from armored vehicles, according to more than a dozen interviews by The New York Times with witnesses and family members of the dead and injured.”

Colombia’s Duque more optimistic than critics after meeting to calm protests
Luis Acosta, Reuters, May 8, 2021
“Colombian President Ivan Duque met with political opponents on Friday and afterward he expressed more optimism than they did about progress made toward calming more than a week of widespread and sometimes deadly street protests. ‘We had a productive meeting with the coalition of hope, a great opportunity for dialogue, overcoming differences and without political point-scoring,’ Duque said on Twitter, referring to the group of politicians. But opposition attendees said Duque needed to do a lot of work to address demands for action on poverty, unemployment and ending police violence. The group “entered talks with President Ivan Duque as opposition and we left as opposition,’ said Jorge Robledo, a senator for Colombia’s Dignity party. ‘We laid out our points of view and he laid out his.’

Protests have spread across Colombia. Here’s why.
Ana Vanessa Herrero, The Washington Post, May 7, 2021
“Violent protests have convulsed cities across Colombia over the past week, leaving two dozen people dead and hundreds injured. The unrest, sparked by an unpopular tax proposal, has grown into a broader expression of anti-government rage. Demonstrators, many in masks, are taking to the streets daily to protest widening inequality, a slow vaccination rollout and rising poverty caused by the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Videos shared on social media show police using what local activists and international human rights groups say is excessive force against protesters. U.S., United Nations and European officials have called on the government of President Iván Duque to exercise restraint.”

Almost 380 of Colombia’s anti-government protesters ‘disappeared’ in past week
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, May 7, 2021
“The missing persons unit of Colombia’s transitional justice system raised the alarm on Thursday that 379 participants in anti-government protests of the past week have gone missing. The Missing Persons Search Unit that is part of a transitional justice system came to the alarmingly high number after cross-referencing the databases of some 26 organizations. The number presented by the president of the search unit, Luz Marina Monzon, dwarfs the 38 missing persons allegedly registered with Prosecutor General’s Office and the 87 reported by the Ombudsman’s Office.”

Colombia Protests Turn Deadly Amid Covid-19 Hardships
Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2021
“Video broadcasts on Colombian television have shown police officers firing their handguns at demonstrators with live fire and beating them, further inflaming protesters and activists who have long called for wide-scale police reforms. In one video sequence, a policeman appears to shoot Marcelo Agredo, 17, from behind after the teenager kicks him and runs. The government confirmed the boy’s death from his injuries. What sparked the wave of violence was a new tax plan that was meant to pay for an experimental basic income and cash transfers for struggling Colombians, while shoring up public finances battered by the pandemic. At the root, though, is widespread anger over poverty and growing unemployment that has now boiled over. By increasing taxes on the wealthy and closing loopholes used to evade taxes, the proposal would have weighed heavily on Colombia’s rich, said Jorge Restrepo, an economist at the Javeriana University. But the overhaul also introduced taxes on staples and utilities, while expanding the pool of taxpayers, a hard sell during the pandemic.”

‘No food and no fuel’: Colombia torn by protests and violent crackdown
Joe Parkin, The Guardian, May 5, 2021
“Videos analysed by Amnesty International confirmed that police have used lethal weapons, including rifles and semi-automatic guns, against protesters around the country. ‘It is deeply alarming to see the heavy-handed crowd control response across the country,’ said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director of Amnesty International. ‘The people’s discontent over the economic crisis is clear – it is unjust and puts their human rights at risk.’ The drone of helicopters above has been a constant soundtrack in the south-western city of Cali, the center of unrest where at least 11 protesters have been killed in the last week. Locals reported that internet coverage was unusually spotty during Tuesday night’s demonstrations. ‘There’s no food and no fuel, just helicopters all the time,’ one resident of Cali told the Guardian. ‘Militarization is in process, gunshots and gas fill the streets.’”

DRUG POLICY

Opinión | Colombia: el retorno de la aspersión con glifosato evidencia otra vez la indiferencia de Duque hacia los más vulnerables 
Olga Behar, Washington Post, May 18, 2021
“Fue así como se creó el Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito (PNIS). Según me dijo la experta Aura María Puyana, el PNIS solo tiene acreditadas a 99,000 familias, 38% del total de las que están vinculadas con los cultivos ilícitos, que hoy son 260,000. Bajo estas condiciones, el tan anhelado desarrollo económico y social no ha llegado a esos territorios y, ahora, esta situación amenaza a alrededor de medio millón de personas para quienes la fumigación aérea puede significar perder su única forma de subsistencia. Las debilidades del PNIS se explican por la decisión del presidente Iván Duque de bajar el impulso a la implementación del Acuerdo desde que llegó al poder, en 2018”.

Drug lord admits in NY court to trafficking tons of cocaine to the US with help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Andean nation’s largest rebel group
Adry Torres, Daily Mail, May 14, 2021
“A Colombian drug kingpin is facing life in prison after he pleaded guilty to trafficking tons of cocaine to the United States with the support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest guerrilla group. Román Narváez accepted his culpability during a hearing Wednesday at a federal court in Brooklyn, according to the United States District Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York. The 46-year-old, according to court documents, ran a drug trafficking organization based out of the southwestern Colombia department of Cauca and set up laboratories in the region’s jungles where workers produced multi-tons of cocaine.”

VENEZUELAN CRISIS 

Colombia opens land, water borders with neighbors, except Venezuela
Reuters, May 19, 2021
“The country’s sea, land, and river crossings with Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil were opened ‘from zero hour on May 19, 2021,’ the ministry said in a statement. ‘The decision was taken in the interest of advancing measures that will help economic reactivation of our border areas and the strengthening of integration processes with neighboring countries,’ it added… Colombia’sPresident Ivan Duque last month ruled out a prompt reopening of the border with Venezuela, saying his country had to be ‘especially cautious’ due to uncertainty over the COVID-19 situation in the neighboring country.”

Opinion | Violence is filling a vacuum at the Colombia-Venezuela border 
Francisco Toro, Washington Post, May 19, 2021
“Bear in mind that the border with Colombia is long: more than 1,300 miles. It’s also varied, ranging from the desert scrub lands off the Caribbean to Andean mountain sierras, cattle-ranching plains and down into the Amazon rainforest. The exact geometry of relations between different armed outfits shifts every 20 or 30 miles, making it tough to make a blanket statement that will hold for the whole border region. In some areas, Colombian rebels provide the rudiments of government authority to earn the goodwill of the locals; in others they are ruthlessly extractive and violent. Relationships between them are stabilized, for the most part, by everyone’s realization that open violence is bad for business. But with a long, ungoverned border and profitable trafficking routes at stake, understandings are bound to break down now and again.”

‘We gave Venezuelan migrants a licence to dream’
Vanessa Buschschlüter, BBC, May 17, 2021
“When the Colombian government announced in February that it would grant almost a million undocumented Venezuelan migrants legal status, the move was welcomed as ‘a historic gesture’. The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, praised Colombia ‘for its extraordinary generosity’. Three months on from the announcement, Lucas Gómez, Colombia’s presidential adviser on border matters, in an interview with the BBC is urging other countries in the region to follow suit and for the international community to step up financially to make the integration of the Venezuelan migrants a success. The number of Venezuelans who have left their country in the past five years to escape their homeland’s political and economic crisis currently stands at more than 5.6 million.