Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country."
In a public ceremony in Bogotá, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos asked forgiveness for the state's role in the systematic killings of leftist activists in the 1980s. The ceremony at the presidential palace Sept. 15 was attended by surviving members of the Patriotic Union, some wearing shirts in the yellow colors of the recently reorganized party, with the slogan "They can cut the flowers, but they can't stop the birth of spring." Some 3,000 members of the short-lived political party were slain by right-wing paramilitary forces in what has been termed a "political genocide." Said Santos in his remarks at the ceremony: "This tragedy should have never occurred. The persecution of members of the Patriotic Union was a tragedy that led to its disappearance as an organization and caused untold damage to thousands of families and our democracy." (AP, Sept. 16)
Leaders of a peasant community in San Martín municipality of Colombia's Cesar department say they have been threatened with legal action by oil giant ConocoPhillips for blocking roads to prevent development of a fracking site. Carlos Andrés Santiago of activist group Corporation in Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems (CORDATEC) said Sept. 14 that he had received threats of legal action and also of violence against his person by anonymous parties claiming to speak on behalf of ConocoPhillips. CORDATEC activists and members of Cuatro Bocas corregimiento (rural district) have been maintaining their road blockade since Sept. 7 to bar work crews from reaching the PicoPlata1 oil well. Cuatro Bocas resident say the well was permitted on their lands by the National Hydrocarbon Agency (ANH) without their consultation. Several such blockades of fracking sites are also underway in Caquetá department, despite repeated attacks by the ESMAD elite anti-riot force. (Semana, Contagio Radio, Sept. 14; Prensa Rural, Sept. 11; Contagio Radio, Sept. 5)
Multinational beverage producer Coca-Cola is one of more than 50 companies that will be charged with financing the now-disbanded Colombian paramilitary network AUC, a designated terrorist organization. Several of the country's courts are to contribute evidence of the involvement of these companies in financing the AUC to a transitional justice tribunal. The AUC, or Colombia Sefl-Defense Froces, killed many dozens of labor rights defenders during its existence between 1997 and 2006. Among the 57 companies are other major multinationals like Chiquita and Drummond. Colombia's state-run oil company Ecopetrol, the country’s largest soft-drink producer Postobón and the country's largest cement company, Cementos Argos are also among the suspected terrorism supporters.
An official bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas took effect Aug. 29, five days after a formal peace deal was signed in Havana. But the Organization of American States (OAS) delegation to the peace talks issued a statement protesting that on the very day the ceasefire too force, four indigenous campesinos and three social leaders were killed in Colombia—by presumed paramilitaries. The slaying of three members of the Awá people in Nariño department was reported by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). The slaying of the three campesino leaders in Almaguer, Cauca department, was reported by the Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif (CIMA). (AFP, ONIC, Aug. 30; Colombia Informa, Aug. 29; El Tiempo, Aug 25)
A court in the Argentine province of Córdoba on Aug. 25 handed life sentences to 28 former military officers over "crimes against humanity" committed under the dictatorship. The defendants included ex-general Luciano Benjamín Menéndez AKA "The Hyena"—already been serving 11 life sentences for human rights abuses. He was found guilty this time of 52 homicides, 260 kidnappings, 656 instances of torture, and 82 "disappearances." He earned his nickname from laughing as he tortured his victims in the secret prison of La Perla, where 2,000 political prisoners were held during the dictatorship. All of the defendants had been charged with torturing and killing dissidents under the military regime that ruled from 1976 to 1983. In total they were found guilty of torturing, murdering or stealing the newborn babies of more than 700 victims. Menéndez denied the accusations against him, insisting there was no torture of any kind at La Perla and an adjacent clandestine detention center, La Ribera. Some 600 survivors testified against Menéndez and his co-defendants. Prosecutors called the Perla and Ribera facilities "extermination" centers. The case first opened in 2012. Another ten defendants were given shorter terms. (DW, Aug. 26; UNO, Argentina, Aug. 25)
An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)
Village leaders report that a total of 18 indigenous campesinos in the north of Colombia's Cauca department have been killed this year, in a presumed paramilitary campaign of intimidation. In one case last month, a pregnant woman was among three slain when they were stopped on the road between the towns of Caloto and Santander de Quilichao. She was headed with her family on motorbikes to a local hospital when they were ambushed by gunmen and left dead on the road. Paramilitaries have left pamphlets in local villages warning them to drop their campaigns for restitution of usurped lands. (RCN, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, July 22; Extra, Cauca, July 15))