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'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."
Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, the campesina grandmother in Peru's Cajamarca region who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for defense of her lands from the Yanacocha mining company, survived an attack that took place on her property the morning of Sept. 18. "She has fainted!" are the last words heard in a video recorded by Yanacocha security personnel. The video indicates between 15 and 20 helmeted security guards entered Acuña's property, and began uprooting a 200-square-meter field planted with potatoes and yucca. When Acuña and her husband, Jaime Chaupe, began shouting and throwing rocks, they were set upon by security guards, sustaining blows to the body and head. Yanacocha claims the family is illegally occupying the field, and issued a statement saying the company was "peacefully exercizing its rights" in the incident.
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)
In a public ceremony in Bogotá, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos asked forgiveness for the state's role in the systematic killings of leftist activists in the 1980s. The ceremony at the presidential palace Sept. 15 was attended by surviving members of the Patriotic Union, some wearing shirts in the yellow colors of the recently reorganized party, with the slogan "They can cut the flowers, but they can't stop the birth of spring." Some 3,000 members of the short-lived political party were slain by right-wing paramilitary forces in what has been termed a "political genocide." Said Santos in his remarks at the ceremony: "This tragedy should have never occurred. The persecution of members of the Patriotic Union was a tragedy that led to its disappearance as an organization and caused untold damage to thousands of families and our democracy." (AP, Sept. 16)
Leaders of a peasant community in San Martín municipality of Colombia's Cesar department say they have been threatened with legal action by oil giant ConocoPhillips for blocking roads to prevent development of a fracking site. Carlos Andrés Santiago of activist group Corporation in Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems (CORDATEC) said Sept. 14 that he had received threats of legal action and also of violence against his person by anonymous parties claiming to speak on behalf of ConocoPhillips. CORDATEC activists and members of Cuatro Bocas corregimiento (rural district) have been maintaining their road blockade since Sept. 7 to bar work crews from reaching the PicoPlata1 oil well. Cuatro Bocas resident say the well was permitted on their lands by the National Hydrocarbon Agency (ANH) without their consultation. Several such blockades of fracking sites are also underway in Caquetá department, despite repeated attacks by the ESMAD elite anti-riot force. (Semana, Contagio Radio, Sept. 14; Prensa Rural, Sept. 11; Contagio Radio, Sept. 5)
A hacienda owner in Colombia's Cauca region is demanding payment for damages to his property after indigenous protesters clashed there with security forces Aug. 29. Álvaro Saa, owner of Hacienda García Arriba in Corinto municipality, says 25 million pesos (approx. $8,500) in damages to his sugar cane crop and farm equipment were sustained in the invasion of his property. Leaders of the "Liberate Mother Earth" campaign, who seek to recover traditional indigenous lands in Cauca, say the occupation of the hacienda began peaecfully and only turned violent when protesters were attacked by the ESMAD elite National Police anti-riot force. They pledged to maintain the land recovery campaign, and charged that Colombia's National Police are serving as "a private force in favor of the multinationals." (El Tiempo, Bogotá, El País, Cali, Aug. 31; ACIN, Aug. 29 )
Multinational beverage producer Coca-Cola is one of more than 50 companies that will be charged with financing the now-disbanded Colombian paramilitary network AUC, a designated terrorist organization. Several of the country's courts are to contribute evidence of the involvement of these companies in financing the AUC to a transitional justice tribunal. The AUC, or Colombia Sefl-Defense Froces, killed many dozens of labor rights defenders during its existence between 1997 and 2006. Among the 57 companies are other major multinationals like Chiquita and Drummond. Colombia's state-run oil company Ecopetrol, the country’s largest soft-drink producer Postobón and the country's largest cement company, Cementos Argos are also among the suspected terrorism supporters.