Colombia's government and FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. The date was set when President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader "Timochenko" met in Havana in September. But significant steps toward peace have been taken over the past six months. In what Timochenko called an "historic, unprecedented" meeting until recently "unthinkable," he shook hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during President Obama's trip to Cuba this week. "We received from him in person the support for the peace process in Colombia," said Timochenko. (Colombia Reports, March 23; Colombia Reports, March 22) The FARC quickly followed up with a statement calling on the State Department to remove the guerilla army from its list of "foreign terrorist organizations." (AFP, March 23)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos met 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 of course congratulated each other on the success of the program, which has delivered some $10 billion to Colombia in mostly military aid since 2001. They also discussed a proposed new aid program that Santos is calling the "second phase" of Plan Colombia and Obama proposed actually be called "Peace Colombia." Obama broached a package of $450 million annually to support the peace process in Colombia—an incease over leat year's $300 million. This would go towards implementing the reforms to be instated following a peace deal with the FARC guerillas—with a conitnued focus on drug enforcement. Obama said the US "will keep working to protect our people as well as the Colombian people from the ravages of illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers." (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Espectador, Feb. 3)
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)
A "peace summit" was held in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena last week, as last year at this time, bringing together international experts and civil society representatives to discuss the ongoing process to end the country's multi-generational civil war. The conference came as the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution in support of Colombia's peace process, empowering a "special political mission" to the country to oversee implementation of pending accords with the FARC guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 20; El Espectador, Jan. 7) According to Colombia's Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), political violence registered over the past six months is at its lowest level since the FARC first took up arms in 1964. CERAC cited the FARC's unilateral ceasefire that came into force in July, and the government's suspension of air-strikes. The report found that both the FARC ceasefire and government air-strike halt had been broken, but registered only 16 clashes between guerillas and government troops over the past six months, resulting in the deaths of 17 guerilla fighters and three members of the security forces. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22)
Mexico on Sept. 30 extradited 13 people to the United States—including two accused drug lords and several suspects in two high-profile attacks on US citizens. One was the 2011 deadly ambush of US immigration agents in San Luis Potosí state; the other the previous year's killing of US consulate workers in Ciudad Juárez. The two accused kingpins were Edgar Valdez Villarreal AKA "La Barbie" of the Beltran- Leyva Organization and Jorge Costilla Sánchez AKA "El Coss" of Los Zetas. The US Justice Department hyped the extraditions as signaling a new binational coordination following a June meeting between US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her Mexican counterpart, Arely Gómez. As AP noted, extraditions had fallen dramatically since 2012, the final year of President Felipe Calderón's term, when Mexico sent 115 people to face criminal charges in the US. Under President Enrique Peña Nieto, the number dropped to just 66 last year. (AP, Sept. 30)
Colombia surpassed Peru last year in land under coca cultivation, resuming its number one position for the first time since 2012. The latest annual report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) finds that territory under coca cultivation dropped 14% in Peru, from 49,800 hectares in 2013 to 42,900 in 2014—the smallest area under cultivation since 1998. Colombia meanwhile experienced a 44% jump from 48,000 hectares to 69,000. Peru made gains against coca in the Upper Huallaga Valley, while coca fields expanded in Colombia's Putumayo, Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare regions—all on the frontier lands of plains and rainforest east of the Andes. The findings do not necessarily mean that Colombia is now the world's top cocaine producer, as much of Peru's crop is more mature and higher yielding, having never been subjected to eradication. While Peru eradicates in the Upper Huallaga, it resists US pressure to do so in a second coca cultivation zone, the Apurímac-Ene Valley, for fear of inflaming peasant unrest. (AP, UNODC, July 15; UNODC, July 2)
Peru's authorities can't seem to put out the last flicker of the Sendero Luminoso insurgency. A generation ago, the Maoist guerillas seemed capable of toppling the government but are now largely confined to a remote pocket of jungle known as the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM). But that happens to be a top coca cultivation zone, affording the insurgency access to funds. Now, authorities claim to have uncovered evidence that the neo-Senderistas are in league with one of the re-organized Colombian cocaine cartels, ironically known as the "Cafeteros" (coffee-producers). "For the first time in an objective and concrete manner, the state can corroborate the link between drug trafficking and terrorism in the VRAEM," Ayacucho regional anti-drug prosecutor Mery Zuzunaga told Cuarto Poder TV.