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)
Colombian authorities are blaming ELN guerillas in a wave of armed attacks on security forces in Arauca department—including the Dec. 18 ambush of an army patrol that left two soliders dead at Saravena. The ELN is also suspected in a spate of other recent attacks around the country—including a Dec. 29 blast at a power station at Torca, north of Bogotá, that left one National Police officer dead. (El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Radio Caracol, Dec. 29; El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 19) The attacks come days after Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas warned that the window for initiating peace talks with the ELN "will not be open forever." (El Espectador, Dec. 23) In a year-end communique, the ELN blamed the government for the "difficult and anti-peace climate," especially in its refusal to accept a bilateral ceasefire. But it said the ELN remains committed to opening peace talks, and will meet again with a government delegation Jan. 10 in Quito. (El Tiempo, Dec. 26)
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.
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)
At a meeting hailed as historic in Caracas, Venezuela, representatives of Colombia's government and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) announced Oct. 10 that they will open peace negotiations. The talks are to convene Oct. 27 in Quito, Ecuador. This talks are being called the "public phase" of dialogue, as discussions had been taking place for aboutr two years through back channels. The Quito talks will be led by government delegate Mauricio Rodríguez and the ELN commander known as "Pablo Beltran." The day of the announcement, as an "act of good will," the ELN released an abducted hostage to the International Committee of the Red Cross—the third prisoner release in the two weeks. Two other high-profile hostages are expected to be released shortly. There are former congress member Odín Sánchez Montes de Oca, who in April switched places with his kidnapped brother, former Chocó Gov. Patrocinio Sánchez; and Octavio Figueroa, a businessman kidnapped in La Guajira in March. (BBC News, InSight Crime, City Paper, Bogotá, Oct. 11; Colombia Reports, Oct. 10)
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)
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."