The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
A federal judge in Florida ruled Nov. 29 that victims of right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia may sue banana giant Chiquita Brands under US jurisdiction. Judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita's argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States, clearing the way for the ground-breaking suit to advance toward trial. The company no longer has assets in Colombia, so any damages awarded by that country's courts would be unenforceable. "Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay," said attorney Marco Simons of Earth Rights International (ERI).
The United Nations warned Dec. 7 that Colombia's peace process faces "major challenges," urging the government and FARC rebels to "act swiftly" to demobilize and disarm the guerillas within the set time frame. In a press release, the UN Mission in Colombia called for immediate "administrative, technical and logistical preparations for the implementation" of the demobilization process. This comes as FARC leaders have broached suspending the process in response to the delay in judicial review of the legal framework for demobilization. The Constitutional Court is set to rule Dec. 12 on the validity of the "fast-track" legislative process for the package of laws and amendments to the peace deal that was approved lby Colombia's congress ate last month. These include an Amnesty Law that would grant immunity to FARC fighters who are only accused of "rebellion," and not more serious crimes.
With Colombia's Congress voting to approve the revised peace accord with the FARC rebels, the country is on a countdown to the full demobilization of the guerilla army. Both houses voted unanimously—75-0 in the Senate Nov. 30, and 130-0 in the Chamber of Deputies the following day. house ratified the pact a day after it was endorsed by the Senate, despite objections from the opposition. The agreement was approved in the lower house by 130-0, a day after the Senate ratified it 75-0. Lawmakers from Alvaro Uribe's hard-right opposition bloc walked out of both houses in protest before the votes were taken. President Juan Manuel Santos said that Dec. 1 is "D-Day," with the pact to be instituted immediately.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Oct. 9 that he will donate the money from his Nobel Peace prize to assist the victims of the 52-year civil war in his country. He was awarded the prize for reaching a peace agreement with the FARC rebels, despite the accord being rejected by Colombian voters in a plebiscite last week. Some 260,000 have been killed and more than six million internally displaced in Colombia. (BBC News, Oct. 9) Medellin, which voted "No" to the peace accord only five days earlier, saw a massive march to demand peace on Oct. 7, the day the peace prize was announced. Several such marches were held around the country, but the one in Medellín was especially significant; the city is one of the main electoral bastions of former president Alvaro Uribe, who led the "No" campaign. Marchers chanted "Antioquia is not Uribe." (Colombia Reports, Oct. 8)
In Colombia's historic plebiscite Oct. 2, voters narrowly rejected the peace pact with the FARC rebels—a major surprise, as all polls had predicted a landslide victory for the "Yes" option. With 99.08% of the votes counted, the "No" option has received 50.24% of the votes against 49.75% for "Yes." The referendum obtained the necessary votes for it to be valid, despite heavy rainfall across much of the country. The result is a setback for President Juan Manuel Santos, and a victory for ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign for a "No" vote. Addressing the nation, President Santos accepted the result but said he would continue working to achieve peace. He stressed that the ceasefire remained in place, and said his negotiators have been ordered to travel to Cuba to consult FARC leaders on the next move. (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, BBC News, Oct. 2)
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."
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)