The US State Department announced Nov. 30 that Colombia’s disbanded FARC guerilla army has been removed from the list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” The FARC was one of the first groups to be designated under the list, one year after it was established under a 1996 amendment to the Immigration & Nationality Act instated by that year’s Antiterrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act. The official statement on the de-listing of the FARC acknowledged that it “no longer exists as a unified organization.” In fact, the de-listing came on the fifth anniversary of the peace agreement under which the FARC agreed to demobilize.
However, the statement also made clear that two remnant factions of the FARC that refused to accept the peace deal and remain in arms (known in Colombia as “dissident” guerillas) are being added to the list. Secretary Antony Blinken said on Twitter: “Today’s revocation of FARC’s terrorist designations is a credit to the 2016 Peace Accord with the Colombian government. Our new designations of two new terrorist groups will continue to isolate those who engage in terrorism at the expense of the Colombian people.”
The two newly listed factions are La Segunda Marquetalia and the FARC-EP. This second formation takes the formal acronym of the original Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Army of the People, and is said to be led by Miguel Santanilla Botache, AKA “Gentil Duarte.” (El Espectador, Reuters)
The de-listing of the today non-existent FARC was nonetheless met with some opposition. In a heated exchange with Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols on the floor of Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio asserted (plausibly) that Colombia’s hardline President Iván Duque did not agree with the move. (El Tiempo)
‘Dissidents’ in disarray
Since then, the FARC “dissident” factions that were added to the FTO list have apparently met with some reversals. Colombian media reported Dec. 5 that Hernan Dario Velasquez AKA “El Paisa,” a Segunda Marquetalia commander who had been named in the State Department announcement, was killed in an ambush in Venezuela’s western Apure state. (El Tiempo)
The Colombian military denied responsibility for the ambush. It is surmised that it was carried out by bounty-hunters or mercenaries hoping to cash in a reward quietly offered by the Venezuelan government. The “dissident” factions have been granted refuge in Venezuelan territory, but have recently fallen out with the Caracas regime.
Paramilitaries don’t make the FTO list
A commentary on the FARC de-listing in Colombia Reports protests that the right-wing paramilitary groups now active across the country are still not listed by the State Department. It especially notes that the Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) was not added to the list despite the fact that it is behind much of the violence—and is in fact recognized by the US government as the paramilitary wing of the “Clan del Golfo,” believed to be Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organization. Colombia’s illegal armed groups carried out more than 200 “acts of terror” between January and October, according to the Defense Ministry.
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the overall umbrella group for the right-wing paramilitaries, was listed as an FTO in 2001, and removed from the list in 2014, a decade after it agreed to demobilize. But numerous paramilitary factions refused to lay down arms, and continue to wage a campaign of terror throughout Colombia.
Campesino leaders targeted for death
These resurgent paramilitary forces are overwhelmingly behind the ongoing campaign of assassinations of social leaders in Colombia, which only continues to escalate.
Leaders of campesino communities are particularly targeted. Dec. 5 saw the saying of Armando José Castro Morales, president of the Communal Action Committee in Nariño municipality, Caldas department, gunned down by masked men near his home in the vereda (hamlet) of Cristales. He had been active in promoting crop-substitution programs and working against coca cultivation in the community. (Contagio Radio, Dec. 6)
John Alexander Sierra, an activist with the local group Emprendimientos Juveniles (Youth Ventures), was slain by unknown gunmen at corregimiento (rural district) La Marina, Tuluá municipality, Valle del Cauca department, on Nov. 25. (Contagio Radio, Nov. 30)
On Nov. 8, Luis Alberto Ramos Bertel, president of the Communal Action Committee at Montelíbano municipality, Córdoba department, was found shot and beaten to death. He had been a leader of the local Campesino Association of the Sur de Córdoba (ASCSUCOR). (El Espectador, Nov. 8)
On Oct. 7, Jorge Antonio Loaiza, a leader of the Perla Amazónica Campesino Reserve Zone, was slain in an attack near his home in Nuevo Progreso, Puerto Caicedo municipality, Putumayo department. (Contagio Radio, Oct. 7) Campesino Reserve Zones are peasant autonomous zones that the rural movement has been declaring, where lands are reserved for small-holders.
Indigenous, Afro-Colombian leaders targeted
Indigenous leaders are also especially singled out. The Organization of Indigenous Awá Reserves of the Pacific (ORIPAP) reported Dec. 1 that a local youth, John Jairo García, was found dead hours after having been abducted by armed men from his home on the resguardo(reserve) of Gran Rosario, Nariño department. (El Espectador, Dec. 2) Two local youth were also slain in September at the nearby Awá resguardo of Gran Sábalo. (Contagio Radio, Sept. 21) The Awá are considered a “threatened” indigenous group that have been repeatedly targeted for assassination.
Efrén Antonio Bailarín Carupa, former governor of Embera resguardo Chidima Toló, Chocó department, was shot dead while fishing in a local stream on Sept. 16. (El Espectador, Sept. 17) Two days later, Dilio Bailarín, a member of the Indigenous Guard at the nearby Resguardo Alto Guayabal was gunned down on a local road. Both men had received threats from the AGC. (Contagio Radio, Sept. 20)
Afro-Colombian communities are similarly targeted. On Nov. 4, Edinson Valenzuela Cuama, coordinator for sports and culture at the Afro-descendant comunity of Río Raposo, Buenaventura municipality, Valle del Cauca, was slain when unknown gunmen fired into his home. (Contagio Radio, Nov. 5)
Labor organizers targeted
Labor organizers are also of course targeted. On Nov. 7, Robinson Jiménez, a local leader of the Sindical Worker Union (USO) who was organizing oil workers in Bucaramanga, Santander department, died in hospital a month after he was shot in the nearby town of Puerto Wilches. (El Tiempo, Nov. 8)
Jesús Albeiro Gutiérrez, a local leader of the national strike that shut down much of Colombia earlier this year, was found dead Aug. 25 days after he was abducted in Popayán, capital of Cauca department. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 31) On Aug. 23, a student photojournalist in Popayán, who had covered the national strike for the alternative publication Contra Portada, was shot down on the city streets by gunmen who fired from a motorcycle. In 2018, he had lost an eye to a tear-gas canister fired by the ESMAD National Police riot squad while covering student protests in Popayán. (Colombia Informa, Aug. 23).
According to INDEPAZ, an independent group that monitors the peace process, 162 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia so far this year.
Earlier in the year, INDEPAZ released a figure of 1,200 social leaders and rights defenders killed snce the peace accords were instated five years ago. (El Tiempo, July 9)
Demobilized FARC fighters targeted
Former FARC guerillas who have complied with the peace accords and laid down arms are also being targeted for assassination. Nov. 11 saw the slaying of Mario Alejandro Eslava, a demobilized FARC fighter in the Territorial Space for Training & Reintegration (ETCR) of Mariana Pérez in Mesetas municipality, Meta department. According to human rights monitors, he was the 44th demobilized FARC fighter slain this year. (Cuarto de Hora, Nov. 11)
On Oct. 14, María Steffania Muñoz Villa was slain along with her young niece in an attack by unknown armed men at vereda Mazamorreros, Buenos Aires municipality, Cauca. According to rights monitors, she was the 10th woman ex-guerilla slain since instatement of the peace accords. (El Espectador, Oct. 14)
Nor are these attacks all in remote rural areas. On Oct. 12, demobilized guerilla Jhon Jairo Moreno Naranjo was gunned down at a meeting of Cauca campesinos leaders being held in the historic center of Popayán. (Contagio Radio, Oct. 13)
And left-wing politicians
Highly visible figures in Colombia’s left-opposition political parties are also apparently marked for death. Pamphlets signed by the “Capital Bloc” of the Águilas Negras paramilitary group were left at locations around Bogotá this month, threatening the lives of left-wing presidential hopefuls Francia Márquez and Gustavo Petro. (El Espectador, Dec. 4)
Gustavo Petro, currently a senator with Colombia Humana party, is far ahead in the polls, scoring at 42%, far ahead of the two closest runner-ups: the centrist Sergio Fajardo with 19%, and Oscar Ivan Zuluaga of President Duque’s far-right (and ironically named) Democratic Center party, with 13%, according to pollster Invamer. (Colombia Reports)
Photo via Contagio Radio