New post-conflict ‘Plan Colombia’ foreseen

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet 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 are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)

The UN Security Council on Jan. 25 unanimously approved Resolution 2261 authorizing creation of a mission in Colombia to "monitor and verify" the disarmament process following an expected peace deal with the FARC. (Jurist, Jan. 26; UN Security Council, Jan 25)

Throughout rural areas of the country, campesino and indigenous communities are organizing meetings to arrive at their own "National Agenda for Peace," emphasizing the changes that need to happen on the ground to address the roots of the conflict. (Prensa Rural, Jan. 27; Voz, Jan. 25)

Ongoing paramilitary intimidation
Despite the prospect of peace with the guerillas, all too little has changed in Colombia's rural communities. On Jan. 27, local Afro-Colombian leader Johan Alexis Vargas was slain by unknown gunmen while returning home from a community meeting at the vereda (hamlet) of San Luis Robles, Tumaco municipality, in the southern department of Nariño. Vargas had received death threats for his activism with the Nariño Patriotic March organization, and his work to bring attention to ongoing rights violations in the area by paramilitary groups and security forces. (El TiempoEl Tiempo, Jan. 27)

In the northern Urabá region of Chocó department, Afro-Colombian villagers in Cacarica, a self-declared "peace commuity" that refuses entry to all armed actors, issued a statement Jan. 24 protesting an invasion of its "humanitarian zone" by some 100 gunmen of the Gaitanistas paramilitary network. (Prensa Rural, Jan. 24)

On Jan. 25, another Urabá village that has declared as a "peace commuity," San José de Apartadó, Antioquia department, reported that a group of men in plainclothes who appeared to be inebriated but accompanied by soldiers attempted to detain a community member. They claimed to have an arrest order, but did not produce it, or even identify themselves. The community moblized to defend the man, and sucessfully dissuaded the assailants. The statement said the incident points to continued collaboration between the security forces and paramilitaries, adding that irregular detentions often end up being "para-state assasinations or false positives"—a reference to the army's practice of killing civilians and then claiming them as guerilla combat deaths. (Prensa Rural, Jan. 26)

Agrarian counter-reform
On Jan. 29, President Santos officially instated his new agrarian law, known as the ZIDRES Law, which would create Zones of Economic and Social Rural Development Interests—over the strong opposition of the leftist parties, campesino groups and the FARC. The law is to deliver aid and credit to large land-holdings, covering more than 7 million hectares (approximately the size of Ireland), chiefly in the conflicted areas of Urabá, La Guajira, and the Eastern Plains. The FARC asserts that the law violates the agrarian pact signed with the government as part of the peace process. FARC chief negotiator Iván Márquez wrote on his Twitter account: "The ZIDRES are zones of 'concentration' of lands… a stab in the back [puñalada] to the Integral Rural Reform agreed to in Havana." The left-opposition Polo Democrático, which sought to defeat the law in Congress, now pledges to challenge it before the Constitutional Court. (El Tiempo, Jan. 29)

Activist attorney Juan Felipe García warned that the ZIDRES Law could be a "new Chicoralazo"—a reference to the social disaster that followed the 1972 Pact of Chicoral, named for the town in Tolima department where it was signed. In this accord with Colombia's major land-owneers, Presdient Misael Pastrana pledged to promote the agro-export sector and reject campesino demands for land redistribution. It was a key defeat for the National Association of Campesino Land Users (ANUC), which had been pressing for an agrarian reform law, and marked both an escalation in the civil war and the beginning of a narco-economy in Colombia's rural areas. Deprived of adequate lands or sustainable markets for local food crops, campesinos both began joining the guerillas and growing illicit crops—first cannabis, and later coca leaf. Advocates of the peace process had been demanding an overturn of the Pacto del Chicoral before Santos introduced the ZIDRES Law. (El Espectador, Feb. 1; Colombia Informa, Jan. 29; Palabras al Márgen, Sept. 16, 2013)

  1. Colombia: peace community leader disappeared

    Prensa Rural reports that Carlos Albeiro Montoya, a leader of the San José de Apartadó peace community, was detained without charge by the army's Voltígeros Battallion in the village center on Feb. 12. Villagers were told he was being taken to Mdellín, but judicial authorities say they have no record of his whereabouts.