At a meeting hailed as historic in Caracas, Venezuela, representatives of Colombia's government and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) announced Oct. 10 that they will open peace negotiations. The talks are to convene Oct. 27 in Quito, Ecuador. This talks are being called the "public phase" of dialogue, as discussions had been taking place for aboutr two years through back channels. The Quito talks will be led by government delegate Mauricio Rodríguez and the ELN commander known as "Pablo Beltran." The day of the announcement, as an "act of good will," the ELN released an abducted hostage to the International Committee of the Red Cross—the third prisoner release in the two weeks. Two other high-profile hostages are expected to be released shortly. There are former congress member Odín Sánchez Montes de Oca, who in April switched places with his kidnapped brother, former Chocó Gov. Patrocinio Sánchez; and Octavio Figueroa, a businessman kidnapped in La Guajira in March. (BBC News, InSight Crime, City Paper, Bogotá, Oct. 11; Colombia Reports, Oct. 10)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Oct. 9 that he will donate the money from his Nobel Peace prize to assist the victims of the 52-year civil war in his country. He was awarded the prize for reaching a peace agreement with the FARC rebels, despite the accord being rejected by Colombian voters in a plebiscite last week. Some 260,000 have been killed and more than six million internally displaced in Colombia. (BBC News, Oct. 9) Medellin, which voted "No" to the peace accord only five days earlier, saw a massive march to demand peace on Oct. 7, the day the peace prize was announced. Several such marches were held around the country, but the one in Medellín was especially significant; the city is one of the main electoral bastions of former president Alvaro Uribe, who led the "No" campaign. Marchers chanted "Antioquia is not Uribe." (Colombia Reports, Oct. 8)
In Colombia's historic plebiscite Oct. 2, voters narrowly rejected the peace pact with the FARC rebels—a major surprise, as all polls had predicted a landslide victory for the "Yes" option. With 99.08% of the votes counted, the "No" option has received 50.24% of the votes against 49.75% for "Yes." The referendum obtained the necessary votes for it to be valid, despite heavy rainfall across much of the country. The result is a setback for President Juan Manuel Santos, and a victory for ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign for a "No" vote. Addressing the nation, President Santos accepted the result but said he would continue working to achieve peace. He stressed that the ceasefire remained in place, and said his negotiators have been ordered to travel to Cuba to consult FARC leaders on the next move. (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, BBC News, Oct. 2)
Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country."
An official bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas took effect Aug. 29, five days after a formal peace deal was signed in Havana. But the Organization of American States (OAS) delegation to the peace talks issued a statement protesting that on the very day the ceasefire too force, four indigenous campesinos and three social leaders were killed in Colombia—by presumed paramilitaries. The slaying of three members of the Awá people in Nariño department was reported by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). The slaying of the three campesino leaders in Almaguer, Cauca department, was reported by the Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif (CIMA). (AFP, ONIC, Aug. 30; Colombia Informa, Aug. 29; El Tiempo, Aug 25)
Amid moves toward peace in Colombia, the goad of the war—the country's lucrative cocaine trade—clearly remains robust. In an international operation announced June 30, Colombian police joined with US and Italian authorities to confiscate a whopping 11 tons of cocaine in refrigerated containers ostensibly shipping tropical fruits to Europe. The stuff was mostly seized in Colombia, but was bound for the US and Europe. Of the 33 arrested in the operation, 22 were popped in Colombia and the rest in Italy. (El Tiempo, June 30)
The Colombian government announced June 22 that it has agreed to a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC guerillas—hailed as an historic step toward a deal to end the long civil war. Negotiators on both sides issued a communique in the Cuban capital, Havana, seat of the peace dialogue that was launched in September 2012. FARC commander Carlos Lozada tweeted: "On Thursday, June 23, we will announce the last day of the war." President Juan Manuel Santos will fly to Havana for the ceremony, which will be overseen by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Addressing skepticism on the right, Santos asserted that "FARC will turn over the last pistol." But leftist lawmaker Iván Cepeda, who served as a facilitator in the talks with the FARC, hailed the ceasefire agreement as "historic for Colombia." The FARC has for months maintained a unilateral ceasefire, that the government has until now failed to answer. (El Espectador, Al Jazeera, Radio Australia, June 22; El Espectador, CM&, June 21)
Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.