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)
The United Nations on Jan. 17 condemned the assassination of two demobilized FARC members at an election campaign rally the previous day 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 related to the 2018 electoral process, in which the FARC is participating as a newly formed political party. The two FARC members were campaigning for one of the new party's candidates for the Chamber of Representatives ahead of the March elections. FARC presidential candidate and former military commander Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" said that members of the organization "have been the target of constant persecution by armed actors that seek to destabilize the implementation of the peace accords."
Colombia's government is under pressure from both the United Nations and impacted communities in the conflict zones to rebuild a ceasefire with the ELN guerillas and return to the dialogue table. A 100-day ceasefire that began in October ran out Jan. 10, and ELN fighters within hours attacked the Caño Limón oil pipeline in Casanare department, forcing a suspension of pumping operations. The guerillas also attacked a military base in Arauca department. President Juan Manuel Santos immediately responded by recalling his peace negotiator Gustavo Bell, who had been in Quito to begin the fifth round of talks with the ELN delegation. Santos said Bell was recalled to Bogotá "to evaluate the future of the process." ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán reacted in an official statement, pledging: "We maintain our determination, previously expressed, to agree on a new bilateral ceasefire." (El Colombiano, Jan. 11; Al Jazeera, El Tiempo, Reuters, BBC News, Jan. 10; El Teimpo, Dec. 1)
Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident Oct. 5. Local cocaleros say a mixed force of army and National Police troops fired "indiscriminately" into a crowd of peaceful protesters, in what they are calling a "massacre." Police and military officials claim they fired in response to an attack by remnant FARC guerillas under a renegade commander who goes by the alias "Guacho."
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)
After an all-night negotiating session with protest leaders in Colombia's Pacific port of Buenaventura June 5, government representatives pledged to invest $517 million in local infrastructure in return for a lifting of the civic strike that has rocked the region for weeks. Despite a curfew, confrontations had continued in the port city between residents and the feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD. On the night of May 31, clashes with ESMAD troops again filled the streets with tear-gas. Protesters continued to call on President Juan Manuel Santos to follow through on his promises of new schools, housing, hospitals and potable water for the long-neglected Pacific coast region. The strike primarilly impacted the adjacent departments of Valle del Cauca, where Buenaventura is located, and Chocó to the north. (TeleSur, Colombia Reports, June 6; El Espectador, May 31)