An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)
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)
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)
Colombia's Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas announced this week that his forces will resume use of glyphosate to eradicate coca crops—less than a year after suspending the spray program on cancer concerns. This time, he said, the chemical will be applied manually by ground crews rather than being sprayed from the air. He asserted it will be used in a "manner that does not contaminate," as in "normal agriculture." He failed to say what prompted the resumption of chemical eradication, but emphasized that Colombia's swelling coca production would have an impact on the global cocaine supply.
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)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos met at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two of course congratulated each other on the success of the program, which has delivered some $10 billion to Colombia in mostly military aid since 2001. They also discussed a proposed new aid program that Santos is calling the "second phase" of Plan Colombia and Obama proposed actually be called "Peace Colombia." Obama broached a package of $450 million annually to support the peace process in Colombia—an incease over leat year's $300 million. This would go towards implementing the reforms to be instated following a peace deal with the FARC guerillas—with a conitnued focus on drug enforcement. Obama said the US "will keep working to protect our people as well as the Colombian people from the ravages of illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers." (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Espectador, Feb. 3)
Just as hopes had risen for a peace dialogue with Colombia's second guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) carried out an attack with improvised mortars (tatucos) on the barracks of the army's 18th Brigade in the city of Arauca on the Eastern Plains. There were no casualties in the Feb. 8 attack, but the compound was left without electricity. President Manuel Santos convened an emergency meeting of his National Security Council, and pledged to respond harshly. Since then, the ELN has carried out numerous atacks in the region—including a blast on the Caño-Limón pipeline that caused a leak of crude oil.
Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)