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)
Colombia's ELN guerillas carried out a string of attacks in a new offensive aimed at shutting down the South American country, mostly targeting transportation infrastructure. According to authorities, roads were bombed in Norte de Santander and Cesar departments, and a bus and a truck were incinerated in Antioquia. Vehicles were also set on fire in Arauca, and two trucks torched in Cauca, although authorities could not immediately confirm that these attack was carried out by the ELN. The four-day "armed strike" was called Feb. 10, weeks after a ceasefire broke down and days after the government suspended peace talks with the ELN. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; EuroNews, Feb. 10)
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)
Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), having just concluded a ceasefire with the government, has passed on a letter from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) to President Juan Manuel Santos, proposing a similar peace dialogue. The letter states that the EPL, Colombia's third guerilla group after the ELN and now-disarmed FARC, "recongizes that peace...is the living aspiration of the majority of Colombians" and seeks to explore "possible paths to the termination of the war and conquest of a true peace with social justice." Among conditions for peace, the letter lists an internationally monitored ceasefire, an end to government bombardment of guerilla zones, demilitarization of the countryside, and dismantling of the National Police anti-riot squad ESMAD. The letter also broaches a constitutional convention with "broader participation and representation of the people" to draft a new national charter. (El Colombiano, Oct. 5; El Espectador, Oct. 4)
Guerilla commander Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino" has issued orders to his National Liberation Army (ELN) fighters to honor the bilateral ceasefire that is to take effect on Oct. 1. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hoped the ceasefire would lead to the ELN laying down arms, as happened with the FARC. But these statements came just days after yet another rupture on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline, which government negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo blamed on the ELN. "The ELN's actions in recent days are truly insensitive and unexplainable and, of course, reprehensible because we are facing an ecological crime of enormous magnitudes," Restrepo told Caracol Radio. The rupture, at Teorama, Norte de Santander, spilled oil into La Cristalina and La Tiradera canyons, which drain into the Río Catatumbo. (Reuters, Sept. 29, EFE, RTTNews, Sept. 28; Semana, Sept. 27)
The Colombian government signed a ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN) after a third round of peace talks in Ecuador's capital Quito Sept. 4. The first-ever bilateral ceasefire in the 53-year history of the guerilla organization came two days before Pope Francis is to arrive in Colombia. The ceasefire is to formally take effect Oct. 1, to be renewed in January if peace talks continue to progress. As part of the deal, Colombia's government pledged to suspend military operations against the group, improve conditions for imprisoned ELN members, and protect human rights defenders. (El Espectador, Las 2 Orillas, Jurist)
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."