La Guajira

Colombia sliding deeper into internal war

Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)

Colombia: UN concern over political assassinations

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Mission in Colombia, warned President Iván Duque about the human rights situation in the country when they met at the Casa de Nariño presidential palace in Bogotá last week. Ruiz said he especially expressed convern about "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 15) Duque had days earlier announced a new plan of action to address the ongoing targeted assassinations, pledging: "We are going to strengthen all the instruments that the Public Force has at its disposition so that the leaders of armed groups, which are behind a large part of these homicides, are brought to justice." He spoke at Riohacha, La Guajira department, one of the areas hard hit by the ongoing killings. (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 10)

FARC 'demobilization' —despite para terror

The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)

Peasant strikes mobilize again in Colombia

Colombia's government on Aug. 22 sent a delegation to the Pacific coastal department of Chocó, six days into a massive civil strike (paro) that has paralyzed the marginal region, with roads blocked and businesses shuttered. Aug. 18 saw street clashes in regional capital Quibdó as the feared ESMAD anti-riot force was unleashed on protesters. Demands had been bulding for weeks over potable water, electricity and other basic infrastructure for poor peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. On July 20, social leaders announced their refusal to celebrate Colombia's Indpendence Day, instead holding a 40,000-strong protest march in Quibdó under the slogan: "We change the cry of independence into a cry of protest for our abandonment by the state." (NTN24, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, El Colombiano, Bogotá, Aug. 22; Prensa Rural, Aug. 20; El Espectador, Bogotá, July 20)

Controversy over FARC 'concentration zones'

Under the plan now being formalized for demobilization of Colombia's FARC guerillas, special zones are to be established for fighters to "concentrate" and then be integrated into civilian life. There are respectively being called Encampments and Veredal Zones of Transition and Normalization—a reference to veredas, as unincorporated hamlets are known in Colombia. There are to be eight Encampments: at Fonseca, Guajira department; Vigía del Fuerte, Antioquia; Riosucio, Chocó; Tierra Alta, Córdoba; Corinto, Cauca; San Vicente, Caquetá; Losada and Macarena, Meta; and Puerto Colombia, Guainia. There are to be 23 Veredal Zones in 12 departments: Cesar, Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caquetá, Arauca, Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare. The Defense Ministry says it will guarantee the security of nearby localities. But the plan is still meeting with some opposition from regional leaders. the governor of Tolima, Óscar Barreto Quiroga, states that he will oppose the location of any concentration zones in his department. (Colombiano, Kronista.co, June 25; El Colombiano, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Pais, El Heraldo, June 24)

Drought brings hunger to Colombia's Guajira

Struck hard by a drought related to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon, Colombia's northern region of La Guajira is suffering from a crisis of malnutrition. Tania Galván, a leader of the region's Wayúu indigenous group, told local media that her people's children are dying each week from malnutrition. According to the National Health Institute, 897 children currently suffer severe malnutrition in La Guajira. Indigenous leaders charge the government is ignoring an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take urgent action against extreme poverty in the region, where more than 4,000 indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the past eight years. The December ruling came in a case brought by Javier Rojas Uriana, leader of the Shipia Wayúu Association. Indigenous leaders say drought conditions are compounded by local corruption, economic slowdown, and massive use of water by the Cerrejon coal mine in Albania municipality. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 20; El Espectador, Feb. 16; Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; Al Jazeera, Feb. 3)

New post-conflict 'Plan Colombia' foreseen

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia  aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)

Venezuela: indigenous lawmakers in critical role

Venezuela appears headed for a showdown in the wake of this month's electoral reversal for President Nicolás Maduro. "We're facing a large-scale crisis that is going to generate a power struggle between two poles: the patriots and the anti-patriots," Maduro said in a speech to the military Dec. 12. "A conflict which is going to create big tensions... It's a counter-revolutionary crisis." The new legislature begins on Jan. 5, and the opposition has said its priority is an amnesty law for imprisoned activists—which Maduro insists he will refuse to sign. Opposition leader Leopoldo López is among those whose release is also being demanded by Amnesty International. (Reuters, Dec. 12; Informador.mx, Dec. 9)

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