Gilberto Valencia, a young Afro-Colombian cultural worker, became 2019's first casualty of political violence in Colombia, when a gunman opened fire on a New Years party he was attending in his village in Cauca region. As the death toll from around the country mounted over the following weeks, the UN Mission to Colombia warned President Iván Duque that he must address "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." Colombia's official rights watchdog, the Defensoría del Pueblo, acknowledges that there was an assassination on average every two days in the country last year—a total of 172, and a rise of more than 35% over 2017. (Photo via Caracol Radio)
Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—thought to number 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. Exemplifying the depth of the crisis, days before the inauguration armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, near the Venezuelan border. Among the slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
In a joint anti-drug operation code-named Armagedon, Peruvian military and National Police troops carried out a series of raids in the remote Putumayo river valley along the Colombian border this week, arresting some 40, destroying four cocaine laboratories, and seizing large quantities of cocaine sulfate and harvested cannabis. The majority of those detained were Colombian nationals, and authorities said they suspect the presence of "dissident" FARC units, who are trying to establish the zone as a staging ground to keep alive their insurgency. More than 350 troops have been deployed in the operation, with five helicopters and three planes as well as boats. The operation is being coordinated with Colombian security forces, who are carrying out similar missions on their side of the Río Putumayo. (Photo via El Comercio)
In a decision being hailed as "historic," Colombia's Supreme Court of Jutsice ruled in favor of a group of 25 young people and children who brought suit against the state to demand it take measures to assure their right to inherit a healthy environment. They asserted that their future food security and access to water is threatened by continued deforestation in the Amazon and other ecological degradation. In its ruling, the court also noted Colombia's responsibilities on a global level to halt deforestation, as carbon dioxide releases from forest loss contribute to the greenhouse effect. The youth in the case were represented by lawyers from Colombia's Environmental Justice Network. (Photo: Contagio Radio)
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. But violence in the countryside across Colombia remains at an alarming level, as social leaders are targeted for assassination by paramilitary factions. The ELN guerilla organization—which, unlike the FARC, remains in arms—released a statement noting that January had seen an assassination every day across the country, and charged that rightist paramilitary networks are carrying out a "systematic genocide."
Peru's creation of Yaguas National Park—covering nearly 870,000 hectares of rainforest along the remote border with Colombia—is being hailed as a critical advance for protection of global biodiversity. The territory in the Putumayo river basin is roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park, but with more than 10 times the diversity of flora and fauna. Despite new areas brought under protection, forest is still being rapidly lost in Peru. A recent analysis of satellite images by th Andean Amazon Monitoring Project (MAAP) found 143,425 hectares of forest were lost across the Peruvian Amazon during 2017. (Image: Inhabit.com)
The United Nations condemned the assassination of two demobilized FARC members at an election campaign rally in the central plaza of Peque, a town in Colombia's Antioquia department. The UN Verification Mission noted that this was the first deadly attack within the framework of the 2018 electoral process, in which the FARC is participating as a newly formed political party. According to a December report by the UN mission, 36 demobilized FARC fighters and 13 of their family members have been killed in reprisal attacks since the peace deal with the government took effect in late 2016. The FARC’s presidential candidate and former military commander Rodrigo Londoño said members of the organization "have been the target of constant persecution by armed actors that seek to destabilize the implementation of the peace accords." (Photo: Colombia Reports)
In unsettling news for the country's peace process with the FARC guerillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50% increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures, released by UNODC's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52% jump.
Colombia is mourning after the tragic landslide in Mocoa, capital of Putumayo region—the latest disaster to hit the Andes as a result of this year's "abnormal" El Niño.
Despite advances for the peace process with the FARC rebels, the wave of assassinations of social leaders across Colombia by presumed paramilitary hitmen is unabated.
Five campesino leaders were assassinated by presumed paramilitary hitmen on the same day that the Colombian government's official ceasefire with the FARC took effect.
Rights groups see an urgent threat that criminal gangs and paramilitary groups will fill the power vacuum in remote areas of Colombia as the FARC is demobilized.