Valle del Cauca
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)
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.
More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)
Colombia's army accused the FARC on Dec. 19 of killing five soldiers only hours before confirming a unilateral and indefinite rebel ceasefire to start the next day. The combat took place in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, where a local army patrol was ambushed by members of the FARC’s 6th Front and its Teofilo Forero elite unit. One more soldier is missing in action and may have been taken prisoner by the guerrillas. The same FARC unit had earlier that day blown up the Panamerican highway at Caldono, leaving a lane-wide crater. Additionally, presumed FARC guerillas left Valle del Cauca's Pacific port city of Buenaventura without electricity after blowing up a key transmission tower on Dec. 18.
At least 18 bodies were found in three mass graves near the pueblo of Tacueyó in Colombia's Cauca department over the weekend. The remains were unearthed by forensic experts from the Technical Investigations Unit (CTI) of the Fiscalía, Colombia's prosecutor general, and are believed to be victims of a guerilla massacre. The first of the graves was discovered by local campesinos while working the land, who informed the authorities. The CTI work was repeatedly interrupted by attacks from gunmen from the nearby mountains. The Tacueyó Massacre took place between 1985 and 1986, when the village was terrorized by the Ricardo Franco Front, a renegade FARC unit that broke from the guerilla army to join the rival M-19 rebels, but was repudiated by both groups.
Armed conflict and forced displacement persist as threats for Colombia's indigenous peoples, according to a new report by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). Threats, attacks, killings, forced recruitment, sexual violence and torture remain common in indigenous territories, the group said. One of the most disturbing figures in the report is that between May and June this year 2,819 members of the Dobida Embera community in the western department of Chocó were displaced due to clashes between the ELN guerillas and Urabeños paramilitary force. The UN had previously said that at least 300 locals were forced to flee due to the violence. The report charges: "Despite the orders given by the Constitutional Court of Colombia regarding the protection of at least 64 indigenous people they continue to be at high risk for physical and cultural extermination. This is due to the armed conflict and forced displacement. The nature of the violations reaffirms the ineffective protective measures of the national and international bodies involved."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on April 4 told onlookers in the Pacific port of Buenaventura that 136 members of dangerous criminal gangs had been captured by security forces over the last month and a half, contributing to a recent drop in violence. Santos also told the crowd that the city had not seen a homicide for the last 19 days. Additionally, he said that 32 of the last 48 days had passed without a murder in Buenaventura. Santos also boasted of $100 million worth of investment in social programs for the city. This government has "decided to change the situation in Buenaventura and we are doing it with actions, not words," he said. But he added that the response to recent horrific violence in the city is not necessarily to "look for those responsible" but to find "solutions" to social problems.
Years of violence have driven more than 5 million Colombians from their homes, generating the second largest population of internally displaced people in the world. Nowhere in Colombia is the problem of forced displacement worse today than in Buenaventura, a largely Afro-Colombian port on the country's Pacific coast. For each of the past three years, Buenaventura has led all Colombian municipalities in the numbers of newly displaced persons, according to government figures. In 2013, more than 13,000 Buenaventura residents fled their homes. Left-wing guerrillas operate in Buenaventura's rural areas and have historically been a major cause of displacement in the area. Currently, however, the violence and displacement in Buenaventura is concentrated in its urban center, where guerrillas have virtually no presence, and 90 percent of the municipality's population lives. Human Rights Watch visited Buenaventura’s urban center in November 2013 to investigate what was causing massive displacement there, and found a city where entire neighborhoods were dominated by powerful paramilitary "successor groups"—known as the Urabeños and the Empresa—who restrict residents' movements, recruit their children, extort their businesses, and routinely engage in horrific acts of violence against anyone who defies their will.