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)
Business and transportation across much of Colombia's eastern plains and mountains were paralyzed this week in an "armed strike" called by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas. Roads were blocked and commerce ordered suspended by the guerillas starting Sept. 12 in the departments of Arauca, Vichada, Norte de Santander and Casanare. Most affected was Arauca, where vehicles were burned at guerilla roadblocks and authorities suspended school classes. The paro armado was officially lifted after four days, but the ELN has threaetened to resume the strike and expand it to other departments. A recent increase in ELN violence is seen as a guerrila strategy to increase the group's leverage in peace negotiations with the administrations with President Juan Manuel Santos. The talks were announced in 2014, just before Santos' re-election, but have yet failed to enter the formal stage. (Caracol Radio, Sept. 14; Semana, Colombia Reports, Sept. 12)
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)
Amid controversial proposals for a "demobilization zone" where FARC fighters could gather before laying down arms under a pending peace accord, leaders of Colombia's indigenous peoples have volunteered to have their autonomous authorities oversee the process. Legislative deputy Germán Bernardo Carlosama López, representing the indigenous district of Gran Mallama, Nariño department, last week sent a letter to Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo posing indigenous authorities as a neutral force that could secure the demobilization zones. He stated: "The FARC have made clear that it is not prudent that members of the Public Force be resposible for guaranteeing the security of these possible zones; therefore, the experience and wisdom that characterizes the Indigenous Guard, with its example of dignified defense of human rights and model of peaceful resistance, could open and pave the way for this momentous process." A contingent of indigenous leaders has traveled to Havana, Cuba, to discuss the idea with negotiators. (El Espectador, Feb. 25)
Colombia is seeking the extradition of an alleged former FARC medic who was arrested in Spain on Dec. 11 and is accused of having carried out hundreds of forced abortions on female guerilla fighters. The man, Héctor Albeidis Arboleda, has been working as a nurse in Madrid for the past three years, and is a graduate of Cuba's Inter-American University of Health. He is wanted by Colombia authorities for carrying out forced abortions on FARC fighters in Chocó and Antioquia regions. Colombia's Fiscal General Eduardo Montealegre, in announcing the extradition request, said, "We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the FARC...based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war." A Fiscalía spokesperson told news-magazine Semana, "Several women died in these abortion practices, others were injured. Others referred to this as torture."
The U'wa Nation claimed a victory Oct. 15 as it received an admissibility report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) allowing its case against Colombia to move forward, recognizing that the indigenous group can seek the Commission's help in defending its traditional territory. Although the U'wa have successfully defeated multiple oil and gas projects in the nearly two decades since they first filed their complaint with the Commission, the report recognizes that winning these battles does not end the overall complaint with the Colombian government, which does not fully recognize the U'wa people's rights to their territory. In a statement released after the decision, the U'wa organization Asou'wa said: "Our U'wa Nation has been heard by the natural law, our ancestors and gods that guide and govern our thinking to safeguard, protect and care for our mother earth; while there are U'wa people, we will continue resisting in defense of our ancient rights."
On Dec. 15 the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation by family members of three union leaders that the 18th Brigade of the Colombian National Army killed in 2004. In the suit, Saldana v. Occidental Petroleum Corp, the family members argued that under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute the US company shared responsibility for the killings by the Colombian military, which originally claimed that the three unionists were guerrilla fighters. Occidental's Colombian subsidiary and the Colombian state-owned oil company Ecopetrol together gave $6.3 million in assistance to the brigade; the companies said the aid was intended to help the brigade protect a pipeline near the border with Venezuela that rebel groups were attacking.
Campesino communities in Colombia's oil-rich department of Arauca, on the eastern plains, on Feb. 12 launched a paro, or civil strike, to protest broken promises by the national government and transnational companies operating in the region. A dialogue brokered by the Interior Ministry broke down the day before, and community leaders announced the campaign of civil resistance. Hundreds of campesinos began blocking roads leading to the Caño Limón and Caricare oilfields, both run by a consortium led by Occidental Petroleum of California. The first day of the campaign saw violence as over 1,000 troops of the National Police force's Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD) attacked the blockade at San Isidro, on the road to Caricare. Several protesters were beaten, four detained, and food supplies for the bloackde confiscated. The local Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation has issued an urgent alert calling for the release of those detained, and for demilitarization of the region. Army troops have set up checkpoints on roads leading to zone, and are barring journalists and rights observers. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 13 via UDW)