Campesinos and environmentalists held a national mobilization March 11 demanding that Colombia establish a Truth Commission for environmental crimes as part of the peace process. The Day in Defense of Territories, Water and Life was organized by the Movimiento Ríos Vivos (Living Rivers Movement), in cooperation with the National Center for Historical Memory, the primary group that pushed for creation of the new Truth Commission on crimes related to the armed conflict. Mobilizations were held in the departments of Santander, Antioquia, Cauca, Córdoba and Huila as well as in Bogotá. Isabel Cristina Zuleta of Movimiento Ríos Vivos said, "The majority of the rivers have served as a dumping ground for the bodies of the assassinated." She called for justice in the degradation of rivers by mining, hydro-electic projects and extractive activity. (Contagio Radio, March 11)
For 48 hours Feb. 21-2, hundreds of peasant coca-growers shut down the main highway between the southern Colombian cities of Tumaco and Pasto. The feared anti-riot force, the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), was finally called in to clear the roadway, using tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up the estimated 1,200 cocaleros. But the highway was repeatedly re-taken by the protesters. The action was called by the newly-formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) to oppose the government's renewed "forced eradication" of coca crops in Tumaco municipality. COCCAM called the resumption of forced eradication in the area a betrayal of government commitments under the recent peace accords with the FARC guerilla movement. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 23)
Colombia's Constitutional Court announced a decision Feb. 16 upholding the power of municipalities and "territorial entities" to block mining on their lands. The decision cited Law 685, which modified the Mining Code in 2001, bringing it into conformity with constitutional provisions on regional autonomy. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 16) The ruling clears the way for Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, to hold its planned consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality, seen as model for similar votes around the country.
The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)
In his Christmas message to the Colombian people, President Juan Manuel Santos said that the country was experiencing "at last a true night of peace." But deadly violence against social leaders, especially in the countryside, continues in spite of the peace accords with the FARC guerillas. According to a count by El Espectador newspaper, at least 115 social leaders were assassinated nationwide in 2016, with 40,000 seeking protection form the authorities in response to threats—double the figure for 2015. (El Espectador, Dec. 27) The most recent slaying came Christmas Day, when Anuar José Álvarez Armero, a campesino leader and local organizer for the Marcha Patriotica movement, was gunned down in a roadisde ambush in Argelia municipality, Cauca. (Contagio Radio, Dec. 25)
A hacienda owner in Colombia's Cauca region is demanding payment for damages to his property after indigenous protesters clashed there with security forces Aug. 29. Álvaro Saa, owner of Hacienda García Arriba in Corinto municipality, says 25 million pesos (approx. $8,500) in damages to his sugar cane crop and farm equipment were sustained in the invasion of his property. Leaders of the "Liberate Mother Earth" campaign, who seek to recover traditional indigenous lands in Cauca, say the occupation of the hacienda began peaecfully and only turned violent when protesters were attacked by the ESMAD elite National Police anti-riot force. They pledged to maintain the land recovery campaign, and charged that Colombia's National Police are serving as "a private force in favor of the multinationals." (El Tiempo, Bogotá, El País, Cali, Aug. 31; ACIN, Aug. 29 )
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)
FARC rebels on Aug. 22 announced formation of a Monitoring and Verification Team to oversee demobilization of their fighters under Colombia's peace process. With an office in Bogotá, it is to be administrated by a tri-partite commission formed by the FARC, the Colombian government and the United Nations. (TeleSur, Aug. 22) But former president Alvaro Uribe, now leader of the right-wing opposition, continues to harshly criticize the peace process. In an Aug. 18 address at Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, he noted the chaos in neighboring Venezuela and warned that the FARC would bring "castro-chavismso" to Colombia if allowed to participate in the political process. (PanAm Post, Aug. 23)