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)
Colombia's two guerilla groups that remain in arms pledged this week to open a dialogue with each other to bring their internecine conflict to an end. Fighting broke out weeks ago between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and its smaller rival, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) in the northeastern Catatumbo region. William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander department, has declared a state of emergency over the violence, which he said has displaced some 1,000 families. The fighting is said to have begun as the two groups vied to take control of coca-growing lands vacated by the demobilized FARC guerillas. (Colombia Reports, April 24; BBC News, April 17; El Colombiano, April 9; El Tiempo, April 4)
After three years of investigation, Bolivia's Public Ministry reached a decision on March 15 not to bring criminal charges against Adolfo Chávez, the former leader of the Confederation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB), and 21 others who were linked to a corruption scandal in a case many saw as politically motivated. Chávez and the others were accused of misappropriating monies made available through the government's Development Fund for Original Indigenous Peoples and Campesino Communities (FONDIOC). But he claimed he was targeted for his opposition to the government's development plans for the Isiboro Secure Inidgenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), in the eastern rainforest.
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)
The United Nations on Jan. 17 condemned the assassination of two demobilized FARC members at an election campaign rally the previous day in the central plaza of Peque, a town in Colombia's Antioquia department. The UN Verification Mission noted that this was the first deadly attack related to the 2018 electoral process, in which the FARC is participating as a newly formed political party. The two FARC members were campaigning for one of the new party's candidates for the Chamber of Representatives ahead of the March elections. FARC presidential candidate and former military commander Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" said that members of the organization "have been the target of constant persecution by armed actors that seek to destabilize the implementation of the peace accords."
Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.
Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident Oct. 5. Local cocaleros say a mixed force of army and National Police troops fired "indiscriminately" into a crowd of peaceful protesters, in what they are calling a "massacre." Police and military officials claim they fired in response to an attack by remnant FARC guerillas under a renegade commander who goes by the alias "Guacho."
In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, highlighting the agreement reached between his government and the FARC guerillas, and describing it as a model for the rest of the world. "If we were able to put an end to an armed conflict in Colombia that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced persons, there is hope for other ongoing conflicts in the world," Santos stated. (UN News Centre, Sept. 19)