The US Congress this week finalized a 2018 budget that maintains aid to Colombia at its 2017 level, $391 million—despite efforts by President Donald Trump to slash the amount. The package includes large sums for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. Continuance of this level of aid is "a huge support to peace accord implementation," according to Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The budget passed both House and Senate this week. Despite a previous veto threat, Trump signed the budget bill March 23, just in time to avoid yet another government shutdown. There have already been two brief shutdowns during the protracted fight over the budget. This budget authorizes spending through September. The Republican-controlled Congress firmly rejected not only Trump’s proposal to slash aid to Colombia, but his overall foreign policy goal of dramatically reducing aid throughout Latin America and the world, and significantly cutting the international diplomacy budget of the State Department.
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)
Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. In the first week of 2017, peasants, local transport operators and small merchants blocked roads in the northern Urabá region to protest the imposition of new highway tolls. Although the strike called by the Urabá Citizen Initiative was avowedly nonviolent, some protesters apparently set the new toll-booths on fire. Two were killed when the riot police intervened. The municipalities of Chigorodó, Turbo, Carepa and Apartadó were affetced by the civil strike, called to oppose the decision by the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) to install three new toll-booths in the region. (TeleSur, Jan. 6; El Colombiano, Jan. 3)
Colmbia's highest judicial body, the Fiscalía General, has opened investigations into the slaying six demobilized FARC fighters and nine family members of demobilized guerillas in apparent reprisal attacks since the peace accord took effect late last year. The attacks took place in the departments of Caquetá, Antioquia, Putumayo, Tolima, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. (El Espectador, July 27) But the wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia has also persisted, 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. (El Colombiano, July 19)
A powerful explosion ripped through an upscale shopping mall in Bogotá's Zona Rosa June 17, leaving at least three dead—all women—and almost a dozen injured. One of the dead was a 23-year-old French woman, who was working in Colombia as a volunteer teacher. Officials said the presumed bomb had been placed in the women's bathroom on the second floor of the Andino shopping center. Both of Colombia's guerilla groups denied responsibility for the attack. "Solidarity with today's victims in Bogotá. This act could have been done only by those who want to close the path of peace and reconciliation," FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" wrote on his Twitter. account. The ELN guerilla army condemned the attack on its own Twitter page, calling on the government to "identify those responsible."
The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
A federal judge in Florida ruled Nov. 29 that victims of right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia may sue banana giant Chiquita Brands under US jurisdiction. Judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita's argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States, clearing the way for the ground-breaking suit to advance toward trial. The company no longer has assets in Colombia, so any damages awarded by that country's courts would be unenforceable. "Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay," said attorney Marco Simons of Earth Rights International (ERI).
The United Nations warned Dec. 7 that Colombia's peace process faces "major challenges," urging the government and FARC rebels to "act swiftly" to demobilize and disarm the guerillas within the set time frame. In a press release, the UN Mission in Colombia called for immediate "administrative, technical and logistical preparations for the implementation" of the demobilization process. This comes as FARC leaders have broached suspending the process in response to the delay in judicial review of the legal framework for demobilization. The Constitutional Court is set to rule Dec. 12 on the validity of the "fast-track" legislative process for the package of laws and amendments to the peace deal that was approved lby Colombia's congress ate last month. These include an Amnesty Law that would grant immunity to FARC fighters who are only accused of "rebellion," and not more serious crimes.