Colombia: peace talks advance amid violence

Pablo Catatumbo,” commander of the FARC guerillas’ feared Western Bloc, was picked up by a Red Cross helicopter in Colombia’s southwestern town of Palmira April 6 to join fellow guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba meeting with the government to negotiate peace, according to local media. Neither the government nor the FARC have either confirmed or denied Catatumbo’s trip. With the arrival of Catatumbo, the FARC delegation in Havana now includes three of the guerillas’ seven-man secretariat. To allow the safe arrival of Catatumbo and five other rebel leaders in Palmira, the army temporarily suspended military operations in the department of Valle de Cauca, military intelligence sources told Caracol Radio. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, April 7; Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, April 6)

But fighting was reported elsewhere in the country. The Colombian army said April 6 it had killed four FARC fighters and apprehended two others in a clash at Carmen del Darien municipality bordering Panama in the northwest of the country (Choc贸 department, Urab谩 region). One of the killed fighters is said to be “Chacal,” allegedly the second in command of the “Wilson C贸rdoba” unit of the FARC’s 57th Front. One of the detained guerrillas was a 10-year old girl, authorities said. “The criminal activity of the 57th Front focuses on the trafficking of war material and the sale of coca paste, using the Panamanian border for the transnational trafficking,” the army said in a press release. (Colombia Reports, April 6)

Controversy surrounds some accounts of fighting, however. President Juan Manuel Santos on April 5 directly accused ex-President Alvaro Uribe of spreading false information in an attempt to affect politics, saying he had fabricated a story about an alleged attack on the governor of northern La Guajira department. “Uribe said on the radio that yes, there was an attack against the governor of La Guajira… It is incredible that they continue to insist on these kinds of manipulations of information to cause political effects,” Santos said.

Governor Juan Francisco G贸mez’s press secretary, Katrin Bola帽o, told Colombia Reports that there was no attempt on the life of the governor. “Security Forces found two cylinder bombs abandoned in the street,” she said. “The bombs were more than eighty meters from the house of the governor… There is one police station and two schools closer to where the bombs were found. The governor thinks this is an irresponsible act on behalf of the ex-president and it’s an attack on the institutional credibility of the army and the police.” 

Santos called Uribe “irresponsible” for spreading false information about guerilla attacks, while also saying rumors about “non-existent agreements” with the guerillas were intended to sabotage the peace process. “It is being said that we have already handed over the rural reserves to be managed by the FARC, which is pure fiction… They are inventing all sorts of stories to try to poison the talks,” Santos said. (Colombia Reports, April 5)

Some 3,000 peasants participated in the third meeting of the National Association of Campesino Reserve Zones, which took place in San Vicente del Cagu谩n, Caquet谩 department, March 22鈥攁n impetus to the FARC’s proposal to expand these zones from 830,000 hectares to 9.5 millions hectares. FARC’s proposal and the mass meeting demonstrated a convergence between the negotiations in Havana and popular mobilization on the ground in Colombia.

But deadly repression against campesino leaders also continues. Alonso Lozano, a participant in the San Vicente del Cagu谩n meeting and a leader of last year’s Patriotic March, was abducted two days after the campesino summit; his body was found March 27 in the R铆o Guaviare, in the department of the same name. Another peasant leader, Gustavo Adolfo Pizo Garc铆a, was killed March 27 in Cauca department. As president of the Association of Peasant Workers of Totor贸, Pizo Garc铆a was active in creation and expansion of Peasant Reserved Zones in rural Totor贸 municipality.

The UN Human Rights Commission counts 37 activists鈥攎ostly campesino leaders鈥攌illed in Colombia between January and September 2012. Between 2006 and 2011, a total of 71 peasant leaders were killed, according to the UN office. (Cuadernos Colombianos blog, NACLA; Prensa Rural, March 27)