Chocó

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)

Colombia: protests rock Pacific coast

Following days of protests and strikes, Colombia's largest port city of Buenaventura exploded into violence May 19 as police opened fire on demonstrators, leaving one dead and many wounded. Marches have since continued in the city in defiance of a curfew, and scores have been detained. The protests are part of a regional campaign over harsh conditions on Colombia's Pacific coast. Buenaventura is one of South America's most important ports, yet half the city's 400,000 residents have no access to potable water. The protests began in Chocó department, up the coast from Buenaventura, under the slogan "Down with Colombia's corrupt oligarchy!" Strike leaders charge that millions of dollars in infrastructure investment for the region have disappeared. (Colombia Reports, May 21; Colombia Reports, RCN Noticias, May 20; El Espectador, El Tiempo, May 10)

Colombia: terror continues against social leaders

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)

Colombia: FARC disarmament process begins

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)

Colombia: FARC peace agreement takes effect

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. 

Colombia: talks with ELN stalled over hostage

For a second time in the space of a month, planned peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN guerillas in Quito broke down on the very eve of convening Nov. 22. An initial round of talks was suspended in late October, with Bogotá claiming the ELN did not meet the condition to release ex-congressman Odín Sánchez, being held by the guerillas in his native Chocó region. The Quito talks were set to open a second time when the ELN released a statement accusing the army of putting Sánchez's life at risk by increasing operations in Chocó. Government negotiators did travel to Quito for the talks, to be brokered by Monseñor Darío de Jesús Monsalve, the archbishop of Cali. With the dialogue stalled, fighting continues on the ground. On Nov. 13, presumed ELN fighters blew up a section of the Trans-Andean Pipeline in Nariño region, spilling oil into the Río Guiza. (AFP, Nov. 26; El Tiempo, Nov. 25; El Espectador, Nov. 21; Contagio Radio, Nov. 17; Colombia Reports, Nov. 14; Colombia Reports, Nov. 3)

Colombia: voters reject FARC peace accord

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: FARC peace deal signed in Cartagena

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." 

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