Following up on his pledge to address the matter within 30 days of taking office, Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque spoke this week about his conditions for resuming his predecessor's peace dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's last significant guerilla group that remains in arms. Duque listed three conditions: the concentration of guerilla fighters in pre-determined areas (akin to the "concentration zones" used in the FARC demobilization), the liberation of all captives held by the guerillas, and a firm time-table for the dialogue process. The president spoke just days after the ELN freed three soldiers who had been taken captive the same week Duque was inaugurated last month in Arauca department. But some 20 other captives remain in the guerillas' hands, including six soldiers who were also seized a month ago in Chocó department.
Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office on Aug. 7, pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—now thought to number some 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. (BBC News, TeleSur, Aug. 8) Exemplifying the depth of the crisis facing Duque, on July 30, a group of 10 armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, in Norte de Santander department near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Among the eight slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (InSIght Crime, Aug. 2) Demobilized guerillas have been repeatedly targeted for attack since the FARC laid down arms. Before leaving office, outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos promised to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. (El Espectador, Aug. 1)
Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country. The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016, according to official figures from the country's rights obudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo. In the capital Bogota, protesters converted the central Plaza Bolivar into a sea of candlelight. The same happened at the Parque de los Deseos in Medellin and at the Plaza de Caycedo in Cali. Vigils were also held in at least 25 cities around the world, from Sydney to New York. (Colombia Reports, July 7) Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. (El Espectador, July 19)
The day after thousands of Peruvians filled the streets of downtown Lima in a March Against Corruption, Duberli Rodriguez stepped down from his posts as head of the country's justice department, Poder Judicial, and president of the Supreme Court. Orlando Velasquez, president of the National Council of the Magistrature, also resigned. The justice minister, Salvador Heresi, had already been sacked by President Martín Vizcarra days earlier, amid a widening scandal concerning the perverting of the court system. The outrage was sparked when national media outlets, following leaks to investigative website IDL Reporters, aired a series of telephone recordings involving an extensive network of judges, businessmen and local authorities describing illegal deals. Heresi himself was in one of the recordings, in which he arranged a meeting with a Supreme Court judge, Cesar Hinostroza Pariachi, seemingly to sell favors., In another recording, Hinostroza is heard talking with an unidentified man about the suspect in the rape of an 11-year-old girl, openly offering to reduce the sentence or drop the charge entirely. Walter Ríos, former top judge for the city of Callao, has already been placed under "preventative detention." The Executive Council of Poder Judicial has declared a 90-day internal "state of emergency" in the department while the corruption is under investigation. Rodriguez said he was resigning "due to the institutional crisis." (France24, BBC News, Peru21, TeleSur, Peru Reports, La República, La República, Correo)
Social leader Milton Sánchez Cubas in Peru's northern Cajamarca region was acquitted July 16 of all criminal charges brought by the local subsidiary of US-based Newmont Mining. Prosecutors accused Sánchez of being "author" of the crime of "disturbance" in a protest concerning a land conflict between the company and a campesino family at the community of Tragadero Grande. Sánchez was represented by EarthRights International, which said in a statement, "[T]his case shows how the government uses legal tools to penalize freedom of expression, the right to information, freedom of assembly, and the right to protest." (ERI, July 16) Campesina Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, whose family lands were at issue in the dispute, was cleared of "land usurpation" by Peru's Supreme Court last May. (La República)
Colombia has taken significant steps back in a hardline pro-Washington direction since the election of the right-wing Iván Duque as the country's new president last month. Shortly after Duque's victory, the government announced that it will resume aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops—this time using drones rather than planes, to supposedly target the planted areas with greater precision. The move comes in response to a new report from the White House finding that Colombian coca cultivation has reached a new record. Data for 2017 indicates coca cultivation rose 11% to 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres), a level not seen in more than two decades of record-keeping. Estimated cocaine production increased 19 percent to 921 metric tons. "President Trump's message to Colombia is clear: The record growth in cocaine production must be reversed," said Jim Carroll, acting director for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. (El Colombiano, June 26; AP, June 25)
Two opponents of a controversial hydro-electric project on Colombia's Río Cauca were slain by unknown assailants while they were working their fields in the riverside community pf El Pescadero, Puerto Valdivia municipality, Antioquia department, on May 8. Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and his brother Duvián Andrés Correa Sánchez were members of the Association of Artisanal Miners and Fishermen of Puerto Valdivia. Six days earlier, unidentified assailants killed Hugo Albeiro George Pérez, another community leader in Puerto Valdivia. All three were part of the Antioquia Ríos Vivos Movement that has publicly opposed construction of the Hidroituango project due to the environmental damage it has caused in the area, and had sought compensation for local families whose lands have been adversely impacted by the project. (Amnesty International, May 11; ¡Pacifista!, May 3)
Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos along the Río Naya (Cauca department) since an April 17 attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. The families, numbering some 50 people, have taken refuge in nearby communities, fearing a new attack. (Prensa Rural, May 7)