Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice on June 28 nullified an 18-year prison term imposed on one of the country's most renowned indigenous leaders for the detention and flogging of an army soldier who had entered his people's territory in 2008. The ruling ends authorities' 10-year effort to have leader Feliciano Valencia punished for the incident in which indigenous guards of his Nasa people detained, caged and whipped a soldier, according to constitutionally protected indigenous law. The heavily indigenous southern department of Cauca has seen several such incidents in recent years. The decision is seen as a major victory for indigenous autonomy in Colombia.
Colombian leaders declared an official completion of the FARC disarmament process in a June 27 ceremony at Mesetas, in Meta department. UN monitors symbolically padlocked the last containers of weapons turned over by the guerillas, as FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" announced "Farewell to arms, farewall to war!" President Juan Manuel Santos presented Timochenko with a gold-plated shovel made from an old machine gun as a symbol of peace, and a cloud of yellow butterlies was released (a reference to Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude). But the UN special representative for Colombia acknowledged that the "re-integration" of the 10,000 former FARC fighters into society will be difficult. Days after the ceremony at Mesetas, Jean Arnault told the UN Security Council that FARC members have "a deep sense of uncertainty" about their economic future and physical security following their disarmament. (AP, June 30; FT, EFE, June 27)
A new ruling by Colombia's top court may open the way for a resumption of glyphosate spraying to wipe out coca crops, which was suspended in 2015 due to health concerns—in defiance of much pressure from Washington. In the May 25 decision, a two-judge panel of the Constitutional Court did order that the suspension of the fumigation program be continued. But it also ordered the government to conduct a "prior consultation" with campesino communities to establish acceptable terms for spraying.
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."
Announcement of an aggressive new coca-eradication campaign in Peru was met with a deadly attack on security forces in the targeted production zone. Authorities said "narco-terrorists" attacked a National Police patrol in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), leaving two troops dead. The VRAEM, a pocket of jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is said to produce 75% of Peru's coca leaf, but the government has until now resisted US pressure to launch an eradication program there, for fear of enflaming the tense situation in the valley. A surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency remains active in the VRAEM, offering cocaleros protection from security forces in exchange for their loyalty.
The latest in a series of popular consultas (consultations, or referenda) on local extractive projects took place June 4 in the municipality of Cumaral, Meta department, with residents voting overwhelmingly (7,475-183) to reject oil exploitation within their territory. The Chinese-owned company that hopes to drill in Cumaral, Mansarovar Energy, immediately challenged the legitimacy of the consulta before Colombia's Council of State, the supreme tribunal with jurisdiction over administrative issues. In a surprise ruling just two days after the vote, the Council of State found that the results must be binding. The ruling is still subject to review by Colombia's Constitutional Court. (El Espectador, June 6; Semana, June 5)
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)
After a near-breakdown in Colombia's peace process last month, Colombia's government is scrambling to revive the disarmament and demobilization of the FARC guerillas—under pressure from a citizen mobilization. The popular networks Marcha Patriótica and Congreso de los Pueblos joined on June 1 for a youth demonstration in support of the peace process, with some 600 holding vigil in downtown Bogotá. (El Espectador June 1; Contagio Radio, May 31) A new deadline of June 20 has now been set for FARC fighters to turn over all their weapons. UN monitors and the FARC say that 30% of the arms have now been handed over to the UN team overseeing the disarmament. (BBC News, June 8; El Espectador, May 30)