The Colombian Senate on March 13 approved a transitional justice structure that will attempt to bring reparations to the more than 8 million victims of the decades-long conflict between the Colombia government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The new system will include a Transitional Justice Tribunal, a Truth Commission and a Missing Persons section, all aimed at punishing war crimes and gaining reparations for victims. The vote was 60-2 in the Senate, with all 40 members of the Democratic Center party boycotting the vote. The bill must now be approved by Colombia's Constitutional Court before it can take effect.
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)
Even as the FARC guerillas begin the disarmament process under Colombia's peace plan, the ongoing wave of deadly violence against social leaders remains unrelenting. On March 5, a brother and sister who were both local leaders in the Independent Agrarian Workers Syndicate of Meta (SINTRAGRIM), José Antonio and Luz Ángela Anzola Tejedor, were slain in attacks two hours apart by unknown gunmen in their village of Mesetas, Meta department. (Contagio Radio, March 6) Both were also followers of the Colombian Communist Party, which issued a statement calling the double murder part of a "counterinsurgency" plan being carried out against social movements in Meta by right-wing paramilitaries with the complicity of authorities. The statement said the terror campaign is aimed at destroying organizations seeking a just social order after implementation of the peace plan. (Prensa Rural, March 8)
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)
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)
The historic peace process in Colombia is finally resulting in demobilization of the country's FARC guerilla fighters, who are now gathering at designated points in the countryside to turn over their arms. The effort has won President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize. But FARC leaders admit that five regional commanders—said to be those most co-opted by the narco trade—are refusing to lay down arms, and have been officially expelled by the guerilla army's high command. According to a FARC communique extensively quoted in Bogotá daily El Tiempo Dec. 13, one of the renegade guerilla leaders is "Gentil Duarte," who before his expulsion was a member of the FARC high command. Also named is "Jhon 40," the notorious commander of a jungle zone along the Venezuelan border, a key transfer point for cocaine and other contraband. He is also believed to profit off of illegal mining operations in the zone.
Colombia's Congress on Dec. 28 approved the Amnesty Law as part of the peace process between the government and the FARC rebel army, protecting guerilla fighters from prosecution over most crimes related to the conflict. The bill passed the lower house with 117 votes in favor and three against, while the Senate approved it with a unanimous 69 votes. Lawmakers aligned with far-right former president, Sen. Alvaro Uribe refused to participate in the vote. Human rights absues and "grave" war crimes recognized by the Rome Statute are excluded from the amnesty. The measure creates a special "transitional justice" system for combatants accused of such offenses. (Jurist, Dec. 29; TeleSur, EFE, Dec. 28)
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Dec. 13 approved the government's plan for "fast track" authority to expedite congressional approval of terms for a peace deal with the FARC rebels. The 8-1 ruling is a victory for President Juan Manuel Santos, who argued that the deal could collapse if delayed by debates during the traditional legislative process. The "fast track" process eliminates certain legislative sessions and limits changes lawmakers can make to the package. (Jurist, Dec. 14) On the eve of the ruling, Santos said that the rejection of the original peace pact in a national plebiscite was a "blessing in disguise," as it gave both sides the impetus to return to the table and negotiate a "better accord." (El Tiempo, Dec. 12)