Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office on Aug. 7, 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—now thought to number some 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. (BBC News, TeleSur, Aug. 8) Exemplifying the depth of the crisis facing Duque, on July 30, a group of 10 armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, in Norte de Santander department near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Among the eight slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (InSIght Crime, Aug. 2) Demobilized guerillas have been repeatedly targeted for attack since the FARC laid down arms. Before leaving office, outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos promised to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. (El Espectador, Aug. 1)
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 raids took place in the locality of Güeppí, near Laguna Pacora, Putumayo province, Loreto region. 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. (BBC News, July 18; El Comercio, July 16)
Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos along the Río Naya (Cauca department) since an April 17 attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. The families, numbering some 50 people, have taken refuge in nearby communities, fearing a new attack. (Prensa Rural, May 7)
Colombia’s voters on June 17 elected conservative Iván Duque as the country's president, handing a decisive defeat to leftist candidate Gustavo Petro in a run-off vote. Duque is political protege of ex-president Alvaro Urbe, a bitter opponent of the peace process with the former FARC guerillas, and campaigned on a pledge to revise the peace deal. A popular referendum on overturning the legislation that was passed to implement the peace deal has been broached. (Colombia Reports, Bogotá CIty Paper, Global Observatory, June 17)
In an April 6 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 (Red por la Justicia Ambiental). (El Tiempo, April 8; Contagio Radio, April 6)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 27 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. Just three days after the IACHR statement, on Good Friday, community leader and local rights advocate Belisario Benavides Ordóñez was slain by unknown gunmen on motorcycles as she was leaving her home accompanied by her two young children in the town of Rosas, Cauca department. Benavides was a leader of the Rosas Victims' Table, made up of local residents displaced by political violence over the past generation and now demanding restitution for lost lands and property. In a second case that same day, a community leader in Cauca's village of Corinto, Héctor Janer Latín, was slain in a road ambush while riding his motorcycle to an outlying hamlet. These attacks spurred renewed calls from the National Confederation of Communal Action (CNAC) for a response from the government and IACHR. (El Tiempo, April 2; El Colombiano, March 27)
Colombia's two guerilla groups that remain in arms pledged this week to open a dialogue with each other to bring their internecine conflict to an end. Fighting broke out weeks ago between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and its smaller rival, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) in the northeastern Catatumbo region. William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander department, has declared a state of emergency over the violence, which he said has displaced some 1,000 families. The fighting is said to have begun as the two groups vied to take control of coca-growing lands vacated by the demobilized FARC guerillas. (Colombia Reports, April 24; BBC News, April 17; El Colombiano, April 9; El Tiempo, April 4)
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.