The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this week released its latest figures on coca cultivation in the Andean nations—to the pride of Peru but chagrin of Colombia. Most dramatic was the bad news from Bogotá. The new Colombia Coca Survey (PDF), jointly produced by UNODC and the country's government, shows a nearly 40% increase in coca crop area—from 69,000 hectares in 2014 to 96,000 in 2015. This is twice the 48,000 figure for 2013. Coca leaf reached its highest price in Colombia in 10 years, shooting up 39.5% to $1.02 per kilogram (3,000 pesos). Bo Mathiasen, the UNODC representative in Colombia, told reporters the country is now cultivating more coca than Peru and Bolivia combined. (InfoBae, July 9; UNODC, July 8)
The suspended president of Peru's Cajamarca region and former presidential candidate Gregorio Santos was released from Piedras Gordas (Ancón I) prison outside Lima July 27, following a decision by the country's Supreme Court to annul an extension of his "preventative detention." Walking through the gates of the prison, he greeted hundreds of supporters gathered there, telling them that "preventative detention" is being used for "political vengeance" in Peru. Santos was detained in 2014, ostensibly while judicial authorities investigated corruption accusations. But no formal charges were ever brought, and Santos maintains he was imprisoned to sabotage his political career and as retribution for opposing the US-backed Conga mega-mining project. Santos said that thousands are unjustly held in "preventative detention" across the country, often for political reasons.
A threat to the Colombian peace talks emerged this month, as some FARC units unilaterally attacked government forces and declared their non-compliance with the ceasefire—in repudiation of the guerilla army's high command. On July 8, a unit of the FARC's 55th Front attacked troops of the army' 2nd Mobile Brigade in the vereda (hamlet) of Candilejas, Uribe municipality, Meta department. An uncertain number of casualties on the guerillas' side was reported. The government's chief peace negotiator, Humberto De la Calle, said the attack was "an error on the part of the FARC," and that the guerillas' chief negotiator Iván Márquez had taken responsibility for it. (El Colombiano, July 12; El Tiempo, El Espectador, July 11)
Amid moves toward peace in Colombia, the goad of the war—the country's lucrative cocaine trade—clearly remains robust. In an international operation announced June 30, Colombian police joined with US and Italian authorities to confiscate a whopping 11 tons of cocaine in refrigerated containers ostensibly shipping tropical fruits to Europe. The stuff was mostly seized in Colombia, but was bound for the US and Europe. Of the 33 arrested in the operation, 22 were popped in Colombia and the rest in Italy. (El Tiempo, June 30)
Under the plan now being formalized for demobilization of Colombia's FARC guerillas, special zones are to be established for fighters to "concentrate" and then be integrated into civilian life. There are respectively being called Encampments and Veredal Zones of Transition and Normalization—a reference to veredas, as unincorporated hamlets are known in Colombia. There are to be eight Encampments: at Fonseca, Guajira department; Vigía del Fuerte, Antioquia; Riosucio, Chocó; Tierra Alta, Córdoba; Corinto, Cauca; San Vicente, Caquetá; Losada and Macarena, Meta; and Puerto Colombia, Guainia. There are to be 23 Veredal Zones in 12 departments: Cesar, Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caquetá, Arauca, Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare. The Defense Ministry says it will guarantee the security of nearby localities. But the plan is still meeting with some opposition from regional leaders. the governor of Tolima, Óscar Barreto Quiroga, states that he will oppose the location of any concentration zones in his department. (Colombiano, Kronista.co, June 25; El Colombiano, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Pais, El Heraldo, June 24)
At least nine were injured, including four police, and some 30 detained when security forces clashed with unionists of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) blocking a highway through Cochabamba department June 30. The action was part of a 72-hour strike called to oppose the government closing of the state textile firm Enatex. National Police troops used tear-gas to break up the roadblock, and protesters responded with rocks and clubs. The COB has repeatedly called general strikes in recent weeks to demand the government annul the decree liquidating the firm and dismissing 850 workers. The COB supported President Evo Morales when he too office in 2006, but now accuses him a "neoliberal" economic policy. Morales has declared the strike "illegal," saying that only 180 of the dismissed workers are refusing to accept severance pay, and "for this number, they cannot paralyze the country." (InfoBae, Bolivia Prensa, June 30)
Colombia's Constitutional Court on June 11 overturned a government decree from 2012 that would allow mining in nine areas of the country, together making up 20% of the national territory—a collective area approximately the size of Minnesota. The designated "Strategic Mining Areas" were decalred by the National Mining Agency in decrees 180241 and 0045 of February and June 2012, respectively, affecting lands in some 20 departments, from the Pacific coast to the interior Amazon. The challenge was brought by the NGO Tierra Digna on behalf of several indigenous and campesino groups within these areas, who said to the decrees violated their right to prior consultation. The ruling virtually ends the government's declared ambition to make mining the “motor” of the Colombian economy. (El Tiempo, June 13; Colombia Reports, June 12; El Espectador, June 11)
The Colombian government announced June 22 that it has agreed to a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC guerillas—hailed as an historic step toward a deal to end the long civil war. Negotiators on both sides issued a communique in the Cuban capital, Havana, seat of the peace dialogue that was launched in September 2012. FARC commander Carlos Lozada tweeted: "On Thursday, June 23, we will announce the last day of the war." President Juan Manuel Santos will fly to Havana for the ceremony, which will be overseen by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Addressing skepticism on the right, Santos asserted that "FARC will turn over the last pistol." But leftist lawmaker Iván Cepeda, who served as a facilitator in the talks with the FARC, hailed the ceasefire agreement as "historic for Colombia." The FARC has for months maintained a unilateral ceasefire, that the government has until now failed to answer. (