The Andes
jorge 40

Colombia: paramilitary boss returns to face justice

Rodrigo Tovar AKA “Jorge 40,” one of Colombia’s most wanted paramilitary leaders, was flown back to his home country after 12 years in US prisons for drug trafficking. Once an official in his hometown of Valledupar, Tovar became commander of the feared “Bloque Norte” of Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary network. Revelations upon his demobilization in 2006 triggered the so-called “parapolitics” scandal, with his testimony implicating top government figures in the officially illegal armed networks. But Tovar stopped cooperatingwith Colombian justice after his brother was assassinated in 2009, a year after his extraditionto the US. He now faces multiple charges of war crimes and human rights violations in Colombia, most notoriously the 2000 massacre of 60 civilians at the village of El Saldado. (Photo via Colombia Reports)

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Belalc√°zar

Monumental controversy hits Colombia

Local indigenous people toppled the statue of conquistador Sebasti√°n de Belalc√°zar in Popay√°n, capital of Colombia’s southwestern Cauca department. The statue came down 84 years after local authorities had erected it atop Morro de Tulc√°n, a hill that had been a sacred site for the Misak indigenous people. The Movement of Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest¬†issued a statement saying the move to overturn the monument was taken following a decision by traditional elders of the Misak community. Many Colombians have celebrated the toppling of the statue, calling it “historic.” Left-opposition senator Gustavo Petro said, “The monuments to the conquistadors and slaveholders are an insult to the people of Colombia, its indigenous and its Black ethnicity.” Supporters of right-wing President Iv√°n Duque, however, are appalled. Misak leaders report¬†an increase in threats and harassment from National Police troops since the statue was brought down. (Photo via Colombia Reports)

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bogota riots

Colombia: anti-police protests rock Bogot√°

Colombia’s capital Bogot√° has seen nightly protests since the¬†slaying of a law student at the hands of police. Video footage showed Javier Ordo√Īez, an attorney and father of two, being repeatedly shocked with a stun-gun before being taken to a police station, after he was stopped for public drinking in violation of COVID-19 containment measures. He died in a hospital later that night. Protests erupted after his death, with hundreds gathering outside the station where he had been held, and police responded with tear-gas and flash-bang grenades. At least seven have been killed and 80 arrested since then, as protests have spread throughout the city. The Defense Ministry says 53 police stations and posts have been attacked, with 17 incinerated. The military as well as elite National Police anti-riot force ESMAD have been mobilized to put down the protests. (Photo via¬†Colombia Reports)

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paramilitaries

Colombia: Duque denies ongoing massacres

Amid the relentless and escalating wave of massacres and assassinations in Colombia, President Iv√°n Duque is adopting openly euphemistic terminology in an attempt to downplay the crisis. This week he acknowledged that massacres at various points around the country over the past days had left more than 30 dead‚ÄĒbut refused to call them “massacres.” Visiting Pasto, capital of Nari√Īo department which has been the scene of several recent attacks, he said: “Many people have said, ‘the massacres are returning, the massacres are returning’; first we have to use the precise name‚ÄĒcollective homicides.” (Photo via Contagio Radio)

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samaniego

Students massacred in Colombian village

Eight young people at a social gathering were killed in Colombia’s southern Nari√Īo department when unknown gunmen barged in and opened fire. The victims, between the ages of 17 and 25, were university students who had returned to the village of Samaniego due to the pandemic. They were enjoying a small party at a family farm on the edge of the village when the attack took place.¬†One woman and one minor were among the dead. Nari√Īo Gov. Jhon Rojas did not name any group as responsible for the attack, but noted presence in the area of ELN guerillas, “dissident” FARC factions that have remained in arms despite the peace accord, and right-wing paramilitaries. Rojas called on national authorities to “return tranquility to the region” by fulfilling terms of the 2016 peace accords, which President Ivan Duque has opposed. (Photo: Colombia Reports)

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Abelardo Liz

Colombia: indigenous journalist slain by army

An indigenous journalist was among two killed when army troops were called in to evict a land occupation in Colombia’s southern Cauca region. The lands of three haciendas had been under occupation for months by Nasa indigenous campesinos at El Guan√°bano, Corinto municipality, as part of a land reclamation campaign dubbed “Liberaci√≥n de la Madre Tierra.” The National Police riot squad¬†was first mobilized to clear them, burning their huts and destroying crops. When the occupiers fought back, the army was sent in, and troops opened fire. Abelardo Liz, who was covering the confrontation for Naci√≥n Nasa community radio station, was shot in the abdomen, and died while being rushed to the hospital in Corinto. (Photo via RSF)

The Andes
Totumito

Colombia: massacre sparks mass displacement

A massacre that left eight campesinos dead in northeast Colombia’s Catatumbo region spurred the forced displacement of some 450 people, local authorities report. The massacre at Totumito vereda (hamlet) in Tib√ļ, a rural municipality on the border with Venezuela, took place amid a territorial dispute between the ELN guerrillas and Los Rastrojos, a¬†paramilitary network that largely controls the nearby border city of C√ļcuta. According to the Catatumbo Campesino Association (ASCAMCAT), the Rastrojos carried out the attack after the ELN planted a banner with their logo in the vereda. More than¬†100 families have fled to the municipal centers of Tib√ļ or C√ļcuta, fearing another attack. Control of drug-trafficking routes over the Venezuelan border is said to be at issue in the conflict. (Photo via¬†Colombia Reports)

The Andes
huila

Colombia: campesinos massacred in Huila

A band of armed men in trucks and on motorcycles invaded two veredas (hamlets) in the rural zone of Algeciras municipality, in Colombia’s central-south department of Huila, terrorizing local residents. The armed men entered homes, menacing the families at gunpoint, before identifying one family they had apparently marked for death. Four family members were killed, and two more wounded, including an eight-year-old boy. The gunmen fled before they could be identified. However, both “dissident” elements of the FARC guerillas who remain¬†in arms in defiance of the peace deal and right-wing paramilitary groups are active in the area. Ex-FARC combatants are being especially targetted by the paramilitaries. (Photo via El Tiempo)

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Colombia military

Colombia: court orders suspension of US military ops

In an unprecedented move, a Colombian judge gave President Ivan Duque 48 hours to suspend the participation of US troops in counternarcotics operations. The legal challenge was brought after 53 soldiers from the Pentagon’s Southern Command arrived as part of a “Security Force Assistance Brigade.” When opposition lawmakers protested that they had not been consulted, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told Congress he didn‚Äôt need their permission. Left-opposition Sen. Ivan Cepeda responded by taking the matter to the Cundinamarca Administrative Tribunal. The judge ruled that if Trujillo wants the US troops to continue their operations he must either receive permission from Congress or successfully appeal the ruling within 72 hours. (Photo via Colombia Reports)

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ELN

US move against Cuba imperils Colombia peace

The United States government further complicated the future of peace in Colombia by¬†adding Cuba to its list of countries that do not cooperate with counter-terrorist efforts. The State Department cited Havana’s failure to extradite leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s last active guerilla group. Colombia requested extradition of the ELN leaders after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Bogot√° police academy last year. Havana responded that the ELN leaders had been brought to Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government, and that it was obliged to honor terms¬†protecting them¬†from arrest. Colombia’s government broke off the talks after the Bogot√° blast; civil society groups in Colombia have since been urging both sides to return to the table. (Photo: Colombia Reports)

The Andes

Colombia: ELN ends COVID-19 ceasefire

Despite calls for an extension, Colombia’s ELN guerillas announced an end to their unilateral ceasefire, saying that continued government offensives demonstrate that President Ivan Duque is not interested in peace or combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was met with disappointment by civil society groups and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who in March had called for a “global ceasefire” in response to the pandemic. But the ELN said in its statement that “the Duque government had not responded in a reciprocal manner or listened to the proposals we made to advance the search for peace. On the contrary, we saw a government interested in taking advantage of the unilateral cessation, maintaining joint operations with the paramilitaries, to gain greater territorial control and continue¬†with its plan to assassinate social leaders.” (Photo: Colombia Reports)

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Modelo prison riot

COVID-19 sparks prison massacre in Colombia

Inmates’ fears that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside Colombia’s notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic prisons exploded into violence, with uprisings reported at facilities across the country. The Justice Ministry acknowledged “revolts at different penitentiary centers in the country,” including the prisons in Ibague, Jamundi and Combita, two prisons in Medell√≠n and another two in the capital Bogot√°. Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said 23 had been killed in suppressing a “massive and criminal escape attempt” at Bogot√°’s La Modelo prison, one of the country’s largest and most overpopulated. Local residents reported hearing gunfire and explosions at the facility. (Photo:¬†Colombia Reports)