Despite a peace process that has faltered under President Ivan Duque, the internal war in Colombia continues nearly across the country—now involving multiple armed actors: remnant guerilla groups, resurgent paramilitary forces, regional cartels, and the official security forces. Thousands have been displaced in recent months, as campesino and indigenous communities are either caught in the crossfire or explicitly targeted. (Photo: INDEPAZ via Contagio Radio)
A coalition of Colombian human rights groups and survivors’ organizations released a statement decrying as “shocking” the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to close its preliminary examination of possible war crimes carried out in the country. The statement, jointly issued by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CAJAR), said that closure of the examination “could mean that hundreds or thousands of victims of crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC will be deprived of knowing the truth and obtaining justice concerning the crimes committed. In Colombia…there is still a systematic absence of investigation of those responsible at the highest levels for crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC.” (Photo: Prensa Rural)
A new assassination of a campesino leader is reported from the self-declared “peace community” of San José de Apartadó, in Colombia’s conflicted northern Urabá region. Uber Velásquez was slain by unknown assailants at the hamlet of La Balsa, one of those adhering to the “peace community” which for more than 20 years has refused all cooperation with armed actors in Colombia’s conflict—and whose leaders have been repeatedly targeted for death. Days later, Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) formally declared that the February 2005 massacre at San José de Apartadó—in which eight residents were slain, including three children—was a “crime against humanity.” (Photo via Twitter)
The US State Department announced that Colombia’s disbanded FARC guerilla army has been removed from the list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” The statement acknowledged that the FARC “no longer exists as a unified organization.” In fact, the de-listing came on the fifth anniversary of the peace agreement under which the FARC agreed to demobilize. However, the right-wing paramilitary groups now active across the country are still not listed by the State Department. These paramilitary forces are overwhelmingly behind the ongoing campaign of assassinations of social leaders across Colombia. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Colombia’s most wanted fugitive, the notorious paramilitary commander Dairo Antonio Úsuga AKA “Otoniel,” was arrested by security forces following a years-long manhunt, the government announced. The chief of the outlawed Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) was apprehended in a joint operation by the army and National Police in Necocli, a municipality of Urabá region on the Caribbean coast. The raid on Necocli involved hundreds of troops and some 20 helicopters. The US government considers the AGC Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organization, and offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel in 2017, eight years after he was indicted by a federal court in New York. It is unclear if the Colombian government intends to extradite. (Photo: Colombia Reports)
Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." However, it is clear that the narco economy is but part of a greater nexus of forces that fuel the relentless terror—all related to protecting rural land empires and intimidating the peasantry. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
The dark days of state collaboration with Colombia’s murderous paramilitary groups were recalled with the arrest in New York of Javier Valle Anaya, former sub-director of Bogotá’s Administrative Security Department (DAS), a now-disbanded intelligence agency that was found to be feeding information to the paras. Valle Anaya was detained on an immigration violation, but may face extradition to Colombia, where he is wanted in connection with the 2004 assassination of a human rights activist in Barranquilla. Ironically, the arrest comes just as a new scandal has emerged concerning an illegal network of chuzadas—Colombian slang for eavesdroppers. Retired National Police general Humberto Guatibonza was arrested in Bogotá, charged with running a chuzada ring that spied on labor activists—particularly members of the airline workers union, ACDAC. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement calling on the government of Colombia to "take urgent measures" to protect social leaders and human rights defenders in response to the wave of assassinations over recent months. The statement asserted that 22 rights defenders had been killed in Colombia in the first two months of the year, and over 100 more threatened with death. The assassinations come in an atmosphere of violence across much of the country's rural areas, with some 2,500 displaced in recent months. Despite government denials, community leaders insist resurgent paramilitary networks are behind the attacks. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
The US Congress approved a $390 million aid package for Colombia, despite efforts by President Trump to have it slashed. The package includes large sums slated for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. But despite moves toward peace, paramilitary terror against peasant and indigenous communities continues across the country. Bogotá's central Plaza Bolívar has seen an ongoing protest vigil against the wave of assassinations, demanding that measures against the paramilitary networks be included as part of the peace process. The International Court of Justice has meanwhile opened an investigation into several Colombian military officers and generals over thousands of extrajudicial executions. (Photo: ELN Voces)
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."
Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. Recent weeks have seen a wave of peasant strikes across several regions of the country to demand a voice in the peace process for campesino and indigenous communities, and attention to their demands on land restitution and rural development. The National Minga for Life, Territory and Peace was repeatedly attacked by the security forces. (Photo: El Orejiverde)
The wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia persists in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22.