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 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)
In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, highlighting the agreement reached between his government and the FARC guerillas, and describing it as a model for the rest of the world. "If we were able to put an end to an armed conflict in Colombia that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced persons, there is hope for other ongoing conflicts in the world," Santos stated. (UN News Centre, Sept. 19)
Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)
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)