Colombia’s voters on June 17 elected conservative Iván Duque as the country’s president, handing a decisive defeat to leftist candidate Gustavo Petro in a run-off vote. Duque is political protege of ex-president Alvaro Urbe, a bitter opponent of the peace process with the former FARC guerillas, and campaigned on a pledge to revise the peace deal. A popular referendum on overturning the legislation that was passed to implement the peace deal has been broached. (Colombia Reports, Bogotá CIty Paper, Global Observatory, June 17)
Uribe sleaze revealed —again
This victory for the uribista bloc ironically comes as the movement’s leader Alvaro Uribe is being investigated for murder by Colombia’s Supreme Court—less than 10 years after he was given the Medal of Freedom by US President George W. Bush. Supreme Court president Jose Luis Barcelo s leading the investigation into claims and evidence indicating that Uribe helped form the Bloque Metro paramilitary group while he was governor of the Antioquia department in the 1990s. Court documents indicate he is suspected ot criminal conspiracy and homicide. (Colombia Reports, May 12)
Newly declassified US diplomatic cables also amplify accusations of Uribe’s links to the Medellin Cartel. In one cable, the US embassy informs the State Department of multiple Colombian senators claiming that Uribe’s political campaigns in the 1990s were financed by the cartel. (Colombia Reports, May 26)
Santrich case raises tension with FARC
The peace process was already facing obstacles before the election. One was the fate of Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte AKA “Jesús Santrich,” newly-elected congressman of the FARC’s newly-formed political party, who was arrested on April 9 after being indicted on drug-trafficking charges in the United States. US officials maintain that Santrich’s involvement in the drug trade extended beyond the signing of a November 2016 peace deal, which would make him ineligible for the agreement’s provisions that protect former guerillas from extradition. (InSight Crime, May 25)
The FARC (now renamed the Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Commons) has condemned the Colombian Prosecutor General’s office for failing to protect Santrich under terms of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) by assigning him a “guardianship judge” to hear his innocence plea and protect him from extradition. (TeleSur, June 8) Following his arrest, Santrich went 40 days without food, but lifted his hunger strike May 19. (El Espectador, May 19)
The JEP is part of the “transitional justice” system established for the peace process.
Low-level war continues
Meanwhile, fighting continues with FARC “dissident” or renegade factions that remain in arms. Early this month, six guerillas said to be led by the renegade commander “Guacho” were killed in a clash with the Colombian army’s Combined Taskforce Hércules at corregimiento Guayacana, Tumaco municipality, Nariño department. (El Tiempo, June 4)
Outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos is frantically trying to reach a ceasefire with the ELN guerillas before the transfer of power to Duque on Aug. 7. The last round of talks with the ELN in Quito broke down and were suspended on April 18. A new round of talks opened in Havana on May 5. (Colombia Informa, May 5)
Even with the war winding down, Colombia has the world’s highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs), according to the United Nations. In its annual report, the refugee agency UNHCR said Colombia had 7.7 million IDPs. Syria, the second country on the list, has an internally displaced population of 6.2 million. (Colombia Reports, June 19)
Colombia’s congress: FARC in, Uribe out
On July 20, Colombia's Independence Day, President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed newly-installed FARC Congress members, saying "Welcome to this temple of democracy."
Under the terms of the 2016 peace deal, the FARC was awarded five seats each in the 108-member Senate and the 172-member lower house through 2026.
Zeuxis Pausias Hernandez AKA Jesus Santrich was unable to take his seat in the House of Representatives because he is under arrest on charges of drug trafficking. Protesting his detention, another prominent FARC leader, Ivan Marquez, withdrew from his seat, accusing the government of breaching the peace deal. Former FARC rebel, Israel Zuniga, also known as Benkos Bioho, took his seat instead. (Al Jazeera, Bogota Post)
Four days later, ex-president Alvaro Uribe announced that he was resigning from his Senate seat after the Supreme Court disclosed that it was widening a criminal investigation of him to include accusations of bribery. (NYT)