Nariño

Rural unrest in Colombia, despite peace process

Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. In the first week of 2017, peasants, local transport operators and small merchants blocked roads in the northern Urabá region to protest the imposition of new highway tolls. Although the strike called by the Urabá Citizen Initiative was avowedly nonviolent, some protesters apparently set the new toll-booths on fire. Two were killed when the riot police intervened. The municipalities of Chigorodó, Turbo, Carepa and Apartadó were affetced by the civil strike, called to oppose the decision by the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) to install three new toll-booths in the region. (TeleSur, Jan. 6; El Colombiano, Jan. 3)

Colombia: demobilized guerillas targeted for terror

The United Nations on Jan. 17 condemned the assassination of two demobilized FARC members at an election campaign rally the previous day in the central plaza of Peque, a town in Colombia's Antioquia department. The UN Verification Mission noted that this was the first deadly attack related to the 2018 electoral process, in which the FARC is participating as a newly formed political party. The two FARC members were campaigning for one of the new party's candidates for the Chamber of Representatives ahead of the March elections. FARC presidential candidate and former military commander Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" said that members of the organization "have been the target of constant persecution by armed actors that seek to destabilize the implementation of the peace accords."

Colombia: popular pressure to save ELN talks

Colombia's government is under pressure from both the United Nations and impacted communities in the conflict zones to rebuild a ceasefire with the ELN guerillas and return to the dialogue table. A 100-day ceasefire that began in October ran out Jan. 10, and ELN fighters within hours attacked the Caño Limón oil pipeline in Casanare department, forcing a suspension of pumping operations. The guerillas also attacked a military base in Arauca department. President Juan Manuel Santos immediately responded by recalling his peace negotiator Gustavo Bell, who had been in Quito to begin the fifth round of talks with the ELN delegation. Santos said Bell was recalled to Bogotá "to evaluate the future of the process." ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán reacted in an official statement, pledging: "We maintain our determination, previously expressed, to agree on a new bilateral ceasefire." (El Colombiano, Jan. 11; Al Jazeera, El Tiempo, Reuters, BBC News, Jan. 10; El Teimpo, Dec. 1)

Colombia: security forces 'massacre' cocaleros

Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident Oct. 5. Local cocaleros say a mixed force of army and National Police troops fired "indiscriminately" into a crowd of peaceful protesters, in what they are calling a "massacre." Police and military officials claim they fired in response to an attack by remnant FARC guerillas under a renegade commander who goes by the alias "Guacho."

Colombia: still no peace for social leaders

Colmbia's highest judicial body, the Fiscalía General, has opened investigations into the slaying six demobilized FARC fighters and nine family members of demobilized guerillas in apparent reprisal attacks since the peace accord took effect late last year. The attacks took place in the departments of Caquetá, Antioquia, Putumayo, Tolima, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. (El Espectador, July 27) But the wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia has also persisted, in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22. (El Colombiano, July 19)

Colombia: Pacific coast strike ends in victory

After an all-night negotiating session with protest leaders in Colombia's Pacific port of Buenaventura June 5, government representatives pledged to invest $517 million in local infrastructure in return for a lifting of the civic strike that has rocked the region for weeks. Despite a curfew, confrontations had continued in the port city between residents and the feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD. On the night of May 31, clashes with ESMAD troops again filled the streets with tear-gas. Protesters continued to call on President Juan Manuel Santos to follow through on his promises of new schools, housing, hospitals and potable water for the long-neglected Pacific coast region. The strike primarilly impacted the adjacent departments of Valle del Cauca, where Buenaventura is located, and Chocó to the north. (TeleSur, Colombia Reports, June 6; El Espectador, May 31)

Will coca sabotage Colombian peace process?

Conservative enemies of Colombia's peace process are dealt some handsome propaganda assistance by the fact that as the long civil war with the FARC guerillas has wound down, coca leaf production in the country has been soaring. Fears were enflamed by a March 12 Wall Street Journal report quoting US State Department officials to the effect that Colombia now has an unprecedented 180,000 hectares under coca cultivation, with the supposed potential to produce an annual 700 tons cocaine. The figures, soon to be officially released by the State Department, are double those for 2013. (El Tiempo, March 13; Semana, March 4)

Colombia: peasant strike against coca eradication

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)

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