Colombia is mourning after the tragic landslide that took place in Mocoa, capital of Putumayo department, during the night of March 31, when 17 neighborhoods were flooded with mud and rocks, and five were completely buried. The disaster resulted as the Mocoa, Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers burst their banks amid torrential rains. At least 238 people are reported dead, with rescue teams still digging through rubble. With no electricity in the stricken city, hospitals running short on blood and medicines to attend to the hundreds of injured survivors. President Juan Manuel Santos has activated the National Risk Management System, and authorized the "declaration of calamity" issued by Putumayo department.
Despite advances for the peace process with the FARC rebels, the wave of assassinations of social leaders across Colombia by presumed paramilitary hitmen remains unabated. On Dec. 12, a team of two hitmen mounted on a motorcycle gunned down Guillermo Veldaño, president Communal Action Junta in the vereda (hamlet) of Buenos Aires, Puerto Asís municipality, Putumayo department. Veldaño was a local leader of the leftist Marcha Patriótica movement, which has been especially targeted for terror. (El Espectador, Dec. 12) That same day, campesino leader Eder Magones was slain when the moto-taxi he was riding in was ambushed by sicarios in Tiquisio, Bolívar department. (El Espectador, Dec. 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)
Colombia's government and FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. The date was set when President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader "Timochenko" met in Havana in September. But significant steps toward peace have been taken over the past six months. In what Timochenko called an "historic, unprecedented" meeting until recently "unthinkable," he shook hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during President Obama's trip to Cuba this week. "We received from him in person the support for the peace process in Colombia," said Timochenko. (Colombia Reports, March 23; Colombia Reports, March 22) The FARC quickly followed up with a statement calling on the State Department to remove the guerilla army from its list of "foreign terrorist organizations." (AFP, March 23)
The city council of Ibagué, capital of Colombia's Tolima department, voted Feb. 29 to a approve a popular "consulta" on a proposed mineral project for the municipality—two months after Mayor Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo proposed the ground-breaking move. AngloGold Ashanti hopes to develop an open-pit gold mine at La Colosa in neighboring Cajamaraca municipality, which could impact the Río Coello that flows into Ibagué and provides much of its water supply. Another downstream municipality that depends on the river, Piedras, declared against the project following a similar popular consultation in 2013. But the upcoming Ibagué vote marks the first time a departmental capital will hold such a process on a development project. Jaramillo cites Law 136 of 1994, which gives municipalities the right to determine the development of subsoil resources within their territories. (El Espectador, El Espectador, El Tiempo, Feb. 29; El Tiempo, Feb. 25)
On Sept. 30, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos and their respective cabinet ministers held a rare joint meeting in Peru's Amazon river port of Iquitos. There, they signed a binational accord to launch a joint effort to "cleanse Putumayo"—a reference to the jungle river basin that has for many years been under the virtual control of criminal enterprises. The Río Putumayo, a tributary of the Amazon, forms the border between the two countries in the lawless region. The Colombian side is a key stronghold of the FARC guerillas, which is believed to do business with the criminal gangs that operate freely on the Peruvian side. Santos said "we have common enemies, such as the narco-traffic, illegal mining and cutting of forests." (El Tiempo, Sept. 30) He did not mention that efforts at cooperation to get the Putumayo under control have been hampered by an ongoing border dispute in the area.
Colombian campesinos on Sept. 10 ended their national strike after more than two weeks, and lifted the road blockades they were still maintaining, chiefly in Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo and elsewhere in the south of the country. The organization coordinating the strike in this region, the National Agricultural and Popular Table of Dialogue and Accord (MIA), agreed to recognize a pact already won in talks between the government and campesino organizations in Boyacá, Cundinamarca and elsewhere in the central region of the country. United Nations observers who had been brought in for the dialogue process confirmed that all protest roadblocks had been dismantled. (EFE, Sept. 11; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Sept. 7)
Colombia's campesinos, miners, truckers and other sectors launched a nationwide strike Aug. 19, with clashes reported as strikers launched roadblocks and President Juan Manuel Santos deployed elite National Police units. Central arteries were blocked in Boyacá, Nariño and Putumayo departments. In the town of Segovia, Antioquia, hundreds of protesters reportedly threw firebombs and tried to burn the police station, leaving six officers injured. Authorities say the strike has affected 12 of Colombia's 32 departments, but press accounts have put the number as high as 28.