Colombia: whither FARC’s future?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met in Cartagena Feb. 2 with women victims of violence at a forum overseen by two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi—an event linked to the ongoing peace process in the country. (El Tiempo, Feb. 2) Williams, who won the prize in 1997 for her work against land-mines,  took the opportunity to weigh in on the future of FARC guerilas, a contentious issue as peace talks with rebel leaders resume in Havana. "It is complete craziness [locura completa] to think that they are all going to go to prison," Williams said, adding wryly: "They can put all the combatants—FARC, paramilitaries, militaries and narco-traffickers—in prison, but who's going to be left to walk the streets in Colombia?" (AFP, Feb. 1)

The FARC also made this clear in a Jan. 22 communiqué in Havana, stating that "the peace process is a political reality and not a juridical process." (EFE, Jan. 22) But despite a unilateral FARC ceasefire, government operations against the guerillas continue. Just two days after the FARC statement, authorities that a FARC operative was killed in a clash with army and National Police troops at Remedios, Antioquia. The operative was said to handle finances for the FARC columns in the Medio Magdalena region. Although he was only identified by the alias "Zapata," he was said to be the the target of an Interpol warrant. (El Tiempo, Jan. 24)

Santos sparked controversy on the right with his suggestion that ex-FARC fighters could be incorporated into a new Rural Guard force that would oversee implementation of the eventual peace accords in Colombia's countryside. After making the comment to a reporter in Paris on Jan. 27, he quickly backtracked after a storm of protest at home. (El Colombiano, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, Jan. 27)

Impunity continues
This same dilemma followed the "demobilization" of the AUC right-wing paramilitary network, which began in 2006. On Jan. 23, the Justice and Peace  Tribunal of Barranquilla ordered the release of Úber Enrique Bánquez Martínez AKA "Juancho Dique"—former commander of the AUC's Héroes de los Montes de María Bloc, finding he had complied with all conditions of the demobilization process. He had been convicted in overseeing massacres, but was found to qualify for an "alternative sentence" for his cooperation with authorities. The ruling came over the objection of prosecutors. (El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 23)

Colombia's prosecutor general, the Fiscalía, has launched an initiative to prioritize pending investigations of more than 3,000 crimes committed against human rights defenders since 2006. Prosecutors will investigate cases of murder, kidnapping, displacement, threats, personal injury and harassment. There are already 2,574 cases currently underway, amounting to nearly 3,900 victims. The Fiscalía also opened a special inquiry into criminal acts that targeted members of the Patriotic Union (UP) political party, which was destroyed in a wave of terror a generation ago. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22; Diario del Huila, Jan. 19)

But Human Rights Watch fiercely criticized Colombia's government for promoting legislation "that would undercut accountability for unlawful killings of civilians by the military, including so-called false positive killings." So-called "false positives" killings are extrajudicial executions of innocent civilians who were presented as guerillas killed in combat. Prosecutors have so far established that 4,000 civilians were thusly murdered. The new HRW annual report charges: "The proposed legislation creates a serious risk that such cases will be transferred from the civilian to the military justice system, which lacks independence and has a very poor record investigating human rights violations."

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón responded harshly in a blunt statement directed at HRW, saying that he will not allow "slander against our people," apparently meaning the Colombian armed forces. "It is not OK to defame and lie to seek to undermine a transparent management committed to the rule of law," said Pinzón. He also denied HRW's claims that there have been some new cases of "false positives" since investigations into the practice were opened. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 31)

Conspiracy against peace process?
Santos has meanwhile ordered an investigation into the apparent spying on his negotiating team at the Havana talks, suggesting that "dark forces" are trying to sabotage the peace process. The order comes after Bogotá news-weekly Semana reported that military intelligence operatives intercepted cell-phone communications of the government's representatives at talks, in a secret operation code-named "Andrómeda." (Reuters, Feb. 4; El Espectador, Jan. 24)

In a related case, judicial authorities are investigating David Zuluaga, son of former presidential candidate Óscar Zuluaga in an alleged money-for-secrets scam. Investigators have called on David Zuluaga to give evidence over the alleged payment of some $96,000 for the interception of communications with the objective of defaming Santos during the 2014 election campaign. The younger Zuluaga is alleged to have transferred the funds to Luis Carlos Sepúlveda, brother of Andrés Sepúlveda, who was in charge of the social-media strategy of his father's campaign. (El Tiempo, Jan. 30; PanAm Post, Jan. 27)

Panama on Jan. 31 expelled Maria del Pilar Hurtado, fugitive ex-chief of Colombia's now-disbanded DAS intelligence agency, to face charges at home of illegally intercepting phone calls by opposition Colombian lawmakers. Hurtado was handed over to Colombian authorities at Panama City airport and flown to Colombia in custody. Hours earlier, Interpol had released an international arrest order for the former spy chief. The so-called "chuzadas" scandal (from Colombian slang for eavesdropping) under the former administration of Alvaro Uribe presaged the new scandal now breaking. (El Tiempo, El Tiempo, Reuters, Jan. 31)

Ex-president Uribe is now a senator and political boss of Zuluaga's Democratic Center party, which bitterly opposes the peace process. The Fiscalía has now offered Hurtado a possible deal if she helps prosecutors with evidence against other Uribe administration officials. Especially named are Edmundo del Castillo, Uribe's legal secretary during his second term; César Mauricio Velásquez, Uribe's former communications director; and Jorge Mario Eastman, the former vice minister under Juan Manuel Santos who was defense minister before resigning to run for the presidency in 2010. Also named is Sen. José Obdulio Gaviria. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 3)

Uribe linked to paramilitary massacre
A massacre from Uribe's tenure as governor of Antioquia department may also be coming back to haunt him. The Transitional Justice Tribunal of Medellín has opened an investigation into claims that a helicopter from the departmental government was present at a 1997 massacre of campesinos. The claims came in the case of ex-AUC commander Ramiro Vanoy AKA "Cuco Vanoy"—who commanded paramilitaries that killed 15 campesinos at El Aro, Ituango municipality, in 1997. The Medellín tribunal is investigating the case despite the fact that Vanoy was extradited to the US in 2008, where he is serving time on a narco-trafficking charge. (El Colombiano, El Tiempo, Feb. 3)