Tag Archive | "colombia"

Colombia: Regional Elections Change Political Landscape

Sunday’s regional elections in Colombia saw several changes in the political landscape, including a major shift in the nation’s capital with the left losing power for the first time in 12 years.

Ex-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, a centre-right independent candidate supported by Cambio Radical, some conservative factions, and former mayor Antanas Mockus, won the vote for mayor in the capital city of Bogotá and ended the left’s 12-year hold on the city.

President Santos met with mayor-elect Peñalosa yesterday (photo courtesy of Juan Manuel Santos)

President Santos met with mayor-elect Peñalosa yesterday (photo courtesy of Juan Manuel Santos)

The centrist alliance parties supported by President Juan Manuel Santos, particularly Cambio Radical and Santos’ own Partido de la U, were the overall victors of the day, while opposition parties on both the left and right saw major setbacks. With this in mind, Sunday’s elections can be viewed as a major victory for President Santos and his government.

Cambio Radical won 12 governorships directly and in alliances, including the highly important city of Bogotá, and secured a majority in Congress. Partido Liberal won 13 governorships and will have the second largest number of seats in Congress.

Julián Antonio Bedoya, candidate for Centro Democrático, will become the first openly gay mayor in Colombia with his decisive victory in Toro with over 52% of the vote.

Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo called these elections the most “peaceful and safe” in history, and cited a 47% decrease in violence from the 2011 elections.

However, the election did have its fair share of controversy.

Two non-governmental organisations, Fundación Paz & Reconciliación and Misión de Observación Electoral (MOE), filed a joint investigation alleging that at least 152 candidates involved in the municipal elections had ties with organised criminal groups.

There were also multiple reports of candidates buying votes, both in anticipation to the election and on election day itself. The government stated in a report that they confiscated over CO$1,703bn [US$ 510,000] between Friday and Sunday on election weekend.

Also, a Colombian soldier was killed in Antioquia by an ambush that was attributed to the National Liberation Army (ELN).

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Colombia: Government and FARC Sign Historic Agreement

The Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrilla reached a partial agreement on transitional justice and victims’ reparations on Wednesday afternoon. The document was pitched as proof that the Havana peace talks brokered by Cuba and Norway –and commended by the Pope himself– have been successful. But there are quite a few sceptics.

President Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez announce the agreement together with Cuban president Raúl Castro (photo courtesy of FARC peace delegation)

President Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez announce the agreement together with Cuban president Raúl Castro (photo courtesy of FARC peace delegation)

The foremost achievement was the agreement to establish a Special Jurisdiction for Peace, made up of several courts and a Peace Tribunal, whose duty will be to combat impunity and seek the truth, the document claims. It would dole out a special type of amnesty: reduced sentences in exchange for confessions from both military officials and guerilla members. lt relies heavily on the concept of alternative justice, exemplified by what some have referred to as light-handed sentences: financial reparations for victims and five to eight years in low-security work camps for perpetrators who confess their crimes. On the other hand, those who do not admit wrongdoing, and are found guilty, will serve up to 20 years in prison. Also war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave crimes such as kidnappings, torture, forced displacements, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and sexual violence will not fall under the scope of the amnesty.

Both members of the guerrilla and State agents will be tried by this special tribunal.

The document also lays down the groundwork for transforming the FARC into a full-fledged political party. FARC leader, Timoleon Jimenez, confirmed those intentions. “Now we must work to build consensus,” he said, “and work to transform FARC into a legal political movement.”

President Juan Manuel Santos said that he was aware that this deal would not please all Colombians, and he was right. Critics of the agreement hammered out during these negotiations say the deal will set the stage for the FARC to enjoy impunity. One of its most ardent opponents is Colombia’s former president and current congressman, Alvaro Uribe. Colombia’s Attorney General, Alejandro Ordonez Maldonado, has also expounded against the latest developments in transitional justice set forth at Wednesday’s meeting.

The wounds from half a century of warfare are not quick to heal and the ongoing peace-talks have served to highlight the growing divide within Colombian society. Former Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba Ruiz and Green Party politician Claudia López might see the handshake between President Santos and FARC-leader Jimenez as a sign of hope. Yet Democratic Centre party members such as Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and Alfredo Rangel have voiced their discontent. “To equate the forces of order with terrorists is a blow to the morale of heroes,” quipped Zuluaga via Twitter, in response to the proposed sentencing of both soldiers and rebels during the Peace Tribunal trials. While Senator Rangel offered: “Peace with impunity is neither stable nor sustainable: it’s offensive towards victims, the people reject it, it mocks the justice system and it generates new cycles of violence.”

Other worries voiced refer to the armed group’s links to the drug trade and the social inclusion of former guerilla fighters into a peaceful society.

The final agreement with which the peace talks will conclude, scheduled for next March, will not immediately equate peace. The document will have to be signed by both parties, then approved by the Colombian people in a referendum, and finally ratified by Congress.

The peace talks started in 2012. The FARC has frequently violated unilateral cease-fires in the past, and the government has refused to enter into a bilateral cease-fire. Endorsement of the March 2016 document would give the rebel group 60 days to lay down their arms — permanently.

The Colombian government also expects a 2% jolt in the country’s GDP if they manage to strike a peace deal.

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Colombia: FARC ‘Ready to Lay Down Arms’ as Violence Declines

The FARC peace delegation (photo courtesy of FARC-EP)

The FARC peace delegation (photo courtesy of FARC-EP)

A report has revealed a steep decline in violent activity by the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in the last two months. The news comes days after an announcement from leader Iván Márquez that the guerrilla group are ready to lay down their arms and transition into becoming a “political movement”.

The report, released yesterday by the Centre of Resources for Conflict Analysis (CERAC), shows a decrease in FARC violence to levels not seen since 1975.

The FARC and the national government agreed on a series of de-escalation measures in July, and they have increasingly complied with them, making them the “most effective” since the truce of 1984, according to the report.

The drop in violent incidents by the guerrillas over the last two months corresponds to an 81% reduction when compared to monthly averages during previous unilateral cease-fires.

In the last five weeks, CERAC observed no offensive actions from the guerrillas, nor any military operations involving aerial bombs against FARC camps. However, FARC did violate the cease-fire on at least three occasions in the first four weeks of monitoring, leaving two civilians injured and one dead. “Even so,” the report highlights, “FARC violated the cease-fire in fewer occasions than previous unilateral cease-fires.”

Since the peace process began on 18th October 2012, the only calendar month in which no violent actions by FARC were recorded was January 2015.

The report states that, with the reduction in violence, “an opportunity for consolidating the peace process has presented itself. If FARC renounce violence, and a bilateral cease-fire is achieved quickly, a return to open conflict is very unlikely.”

The latest round of peace talks between rebels and the Colombian government closed in Havana on Thursday, with Márquez stating, “We are ready to discuss the steps for a transition from being an armed insurgent group to becoming an open political movement.”

Points to be discussed when negotiations reopen on Monday 28th September include reparations to families of victims of the conflict, further de-escalation measures, and transitional justice processes for the reintegration of rebels to civil society. FARC said that they were “at the doors of an understanding” and that agreement on the latter point of reintegration could “spark a positive dynamic”, facilitating “the end of the conflict”.

Colombian Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo later affirmed the possibility of the group joining the political process, speaking at the forum on peace in Bogotá. He said, “If FARC renounces violence […], if weapons are left behind, then obviously anyone who wants to express their ideas and defend them with out weapons within Colombian democracy should form a political party.”

Yesterday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated World Peace Day, tweeting “Today, on World Peace Day, let’s remember that [peace] is our greatest aim. Colombians deserve to live without war!”

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Venezuela Deports 791 Colombian Citizens

President Maduro decreed a state of emergency on Friday (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Maduro decreed a state of emergency on Friday (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

The Venezuelan government handed in 791 Colombian citizens to the Colombian General Consulate over the weekend, informed the governor of Táchira José Vielma Mora.

The governor indicated that the Colombian citizens were in Venezuelan territory “illegally” and that the deportation had been carried out between Saturday and Sunday, “as per the law, without any abuses, without any humiliation, without torture; they’re in a place with chairs, drinking water, food; they were taken in a bus to the border between Colombia and Venezuela, without any kind of abuse.”

Vielma Mora was responding to calls from the Colombian government to its Venezuelan counterpart “to respect the integrity and human rights of Colombian citizens subject to arrests, deportations, and other actions.” Colombian authorities said there were at least 42 minors amongst the deportees, and requested that the right of families to remain together be guaranteed.

The deportation was carried out as part of the Venezuelan government’s Operation for Freedom and Protection of the People, a campaign by the national police force that seeks to eradicate gangs of smugglers operating in the border between the two countries. Almost 1,500 people have been deported this year as part of the operation.

The weekend crackdown follows a decree signed by President Nicolás Maduro on Friday declaring a 60-day state of emergency in various municipalities in the state of Táchira, in the border with Colombia. On Thursday morning, the president had already closed the border and increased military presence after an incident in which two Venezuelan soldiers were wounded in a clash with smugglers.

According to BBC Mundo, low prices in subsidised petrol and other goods have increased smuggling activities along the 2,200 Km border over the last decade. President Maduro has blamed Colombian paramilitary groups, whom he says operate in Venezuela causing shortages in order to destabilise his government.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has criticised the measures taken by the Venezuelan government, saying they are ineffective to combat smuggling and affect regular people on both sides of the border. “If we cooperate, the only losers are the criminals; but if the border is closed down and there is no coordination [between the two governments] the only winners are the criminals,” said Santos.


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Colombia: Government Pledges to De-escalate Military Action

President Santos addresses Colombians in a televised speech (photo: Juan Pablo Bello - SIG/Government of Colombia)

President Santos addresses Colombians in a televised speech (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG/Government of Colombia)

Yesterday, the Colombian government vowed to pull forces back from military action against FARC.

For the first time since peace talks began in 2012, Colombian authorities have agreed to reduce military activity against the leftist guerrillas.

The move follows FARC’s call last week for a unilateral ceasefire starting on 20th July, the sixth ceasefire it has called during the course of the on-going peace talks.

FARC has long advocated for a bilateral ceasefire, however, a skeptical Colombian government has refused to a deal, claiming FARC has previously used the attempts to rearm.

The two sides have been engaged in peace talks for two and a half years in an attempt to end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed about 220,000 over 50 years. However, the country has witnessed an increase in violence this year, intensified by FARC attacks that left several police officers and soldiers dead and two principal rivers polluted by oil spills, actions that were seen as strategical to pressure the government to agree to a bilateral ceasefire.

“I can’t ignore, because I feel it as well, the frustration, the discouragement, the indignation produced in Colombians to see the FARC assassinating soldiers and police and blowing up pipelines and electricity towers, affecting the poor and producing irreparable environmental damage,” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in his address to the nation Sunday night.

The government and the guerrillas said they would work together in an attempt to reach a permanent bilateral ceasefire. To accelerate talks and reach a peace agreement this year, the FARC has agreed to change the methodology of the talks and put all remaining issues on the table at once, instead of adhering to one topic at a time.

“We have to accelerate the talks to end the conflict as soon as possible,” Santos said. “In four months from now, depending on whether the FARC complies, I will decide on whether we continue with the process or not.”

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Colombia: Landslide Kills at Least 48, Dozens More Missing

Nearly 50 people have been confirmed dead and dozens more are missing as a landslide swept through a town in the north-west Colombia early on Monday morning.

Heavy rains caused the river in the Liboriana ravine to burst its banks, triggering a landslide in the municipality of Salgar in the mountainous district of Antioquia. The disaster unfolded around 3am, catching most people unawares.

The landslide hit the town of Salgar in the Liboriana ravine (Photo: César Carrión, courtesy of Presidencia de Colombia)

The landslide hit the town of Salgar in the Liboriana ravine (Photo: César Carrión, courtesy of Presidencia de Colombia)

“The landslide was generated by heavy rain at night and dawn when the water pulled along with it everything it found in its path; houses, bridges, whole families,” a municipal government official reported.

According El Colombiano, 30 houses near the riverbank have been affected by the flash flood, and 48 people have been confirmed dead, including a three-year-old child. The death toll is expected to rise as dozens are still missing, while at least 30 people were injured.

The mayor of Salgar, Olga Eugenia Osorio, said that the small town of Santa Margarita has been virtually “erased from the map”.

The regional and departmental authorities have launched the disaster management protocol to deal with the emergency, sending firemen from nearby municipalities. Ambulances, rescue units, and life guards are also coming from the nearby regional capital, Medellin. Badly injured have been taken to Medellin for intensive care, while those with minor injuries are being treated in the municipal hospital.

Air forces and police have lent out three helicopters and various personnel to be used in the rescue operations. Rescue workers are currently searching for bodies trapped in the mud.

Colombian President Juan Carlos Santos has announced that he will be flying to the scene along with the regional governor. “We are dealing with the emergency in Salgar, Antioquia. Risk Management [National Unit for Disaster Risk Management] is at the forefront of the situation. Those affected will receive all our help,” the president assured on Twitter.

In the meanwhile, the national weather institute Ideam has warned that the heavy rain is set to continue in the region.

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Colombia: Town Residents Take Soldiers Hostage

Argelia is located in south-west Colombia

Argelia is located in south-west Colombia

Residents of Argelia, Cauca are holding 36 soldiers after a man was shot dead at an army checkpoint. They have said that the soldiers, who were taken to a sports centre, will not be released until the death is investigated by human rights groups and local officials.

The military has said that Fáiber Antonio Erazo, was driving a motorcycle and was shot when he ignored an order to stop. They added that the 25-year-old was carrying coca paste, a derivative of cocaine.

In an official statement, the army said: “The soldiers followed established protocol for this kind of situation. However, when the motorcyclist did not respond, a soldier reacted. As a result the man riding the motorcycle was wounded, and later died. This man was carrying 25 pounds of coca paste.”

When news broke that Erazo had died, a large group of residents went to the local army base, removed the soldiers’ weapons, and took them to the sports centre. The process was carried out peacefully.

An ombudsman has travelled to the town to mediate the situation. The army has said that an investigation into Erazo’s death is already underway.


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Colombia: Government to Negotiate Bilateral Ceasefire with FARC

President Santos addresses Colombians in a televised speech (photo: Juan Pablo Bello - SIG/Government of Colombia)

President Santos addressed Colombians yesterday (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG/Government of Colombia)

President Juan Manuel Santos said yesterday he has instructed the government’s peace negotiators in Havana to begin discussions with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for a “bilateral and definitive ceasefire.”

In his first address of the year, Santos claimed 2015 “could be the year in which the armed conflict we have suffered for over half a century comes to an end,” thanks to the progress made in the peace talks with the guerrilla. With that aim, the president said he has “given instructions to the [peace] negotiators to begin as soon as possible the discussion on the item of a bilateral and definitive ceasefire and an end to the hostilities.”

He acknowledged that “the unilateral and definitive ceasefire decreed by the FARC has been a step in the right direction. And so far —we have to say this— they have abided by it.”

Santos highlighted that the final two agenda items are being discussed in Havana: Rights of the Victims and End of Conflict. He added that “we have already begun working on how we will carry out the laying down of weapons and the reintegration to civilian life of those who give up the armed struggle.”

The president also referred to recent declarations by the National Liberation Army (ELN) regarding their willingness to engage in dialogue with the Colombian government in order to bring an end to the armed conflict. Santos said he considers these declarations to be “positive” and that he hopes to establish the agenda items soon, in order to begin the dialogue.

The FARC responded to President Santos with a statement saying they are “pleased” with the decision by the government to discuss a bilateral ceasefire and to set up a sub-committee to begin working on the agenda item pertaining to the end of the conflict. However, they also criticised the government’s orders “to intensify offensive actions against the guerrilla during the truce,” which they find to be “contradictory and reckless” and a risk to the continuity of the unilateral ceasefire.

The FARC also declared to be ready to “initiate discussions that will allow us to clarify the phenomenon of paramilitarism, the definition of solutions that will lead us to overcome poverty, inequality, lack of democracy, and the re-establishment of sovereignty,” as well as what they consider the sixth item of the agenda, which is the implementation of the peace deals.

FARC and government representatives are due to meet on the 18th January for a preparatory meeting, previous to the beginning of the next round of talks in Havana, due on the 26th January.


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Colombia: ELN ‘Willing to Consider’ Laying Down Weapons

ELN poster at the National University of Colombia (photo: Wikipedia)

ELN poster at the National University of Colombia (photo: Wikipedia)

The National Liberation Army (ELN) announced in a filmed statement today that they are willing to engage in dialogue with the Colombian government in order to bring an end to the armed conflict.

“Over 50 years ago we took up arms because we understood that the legal avenues were closed off for the people’s struggles; today we still consider this to be true. The government has stated their willingness to put and end to the armed conflict and for that they have called upon the insurgency,” says ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (aka ‘Gabino’) on the video. “We attend this dialogue to examine the real will of the government and of the Colombian state; if after this examination we come to the conclusion that weapons are no longer necessary, we would be willing to consider if we should stop using them.”

The ELN video was released on the 50th anniversary of the seize of Simacota, one of the founding milestones of the guerilla group, and it coincided with the Fifth Congress of the ELN, which brought the organisation’s leadership together.

Gabino’s statement is a response to President Juan Manuel Santos, who earlier this week called for the ELN to join the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire as a demonstration of their willingness to engage in peace negotiations.

After a meeting with peace negotiators and international advisers in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Santos said: “We have given great consideration to the unilateral and indefinite ceasefire, on this point we must recognise that the FARC have kept their word. We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative and to come to an agreement as soon as possible, on all the agenda items we have been discussing for some time.”

The position made public by Gabino was ratified by ELN Commander Antonio García, who highlighted that a peace process must entail deep transformations in the country, and not just an end to the armed conflict.

“The [ELN] Congress defined the need to keep working for a democratic Colombia, in that respect we can identify with the search for a political solution to the conflict (…) the challenge of [achieving] peace is not just a dialogue between the guerrilla and the government, but an effort we must all carry out,” said García.

The ELN was formed in Colombia in 1964, and has since been part of the country’s ongoing armed conflict. They define themselves as Marxist-Leninist and were heavily influenced in their beginnings by the Liberation Theology, as they counted a number of Catholic priests among their ranks, including Camilo Torres, who died in combat in 1966.

The guerrilla group operates mainly in the country’s northeast, and has an estimated 3,000 members.


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Colombia: FARC Declares Unilateral Ceasefire

FARC flag

FARC flag

In an historic first, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have declared an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire which will come into effect on 20th December.

Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for FARC, read the statement yesterday in Havana, Cuba, in which the group said they hoped the ceasefire “would turn into an armistice”.

“We want to overcome the useless bloodshed,” he said, but added that the ceasefire would be terminated if they found that their guerrilla structures had been targeted by security forces. He went on to ask the public to act as overseer to the ceasefire. FARC also asked for oversight from Unsaur, Celac, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Frente Amplio por la Paz.

Colombia’s government responded to the news cautiously, saying that the decision goes in the right direction but that the organisation could not repeat past experiences of ceasefires that had only been partially followed. “All armed activity and threats to the civilian population must cease,” said the government in a statement.

The announcement came as the current round of peace talks between Juan Manuel Santos’ administration and the FARC draws to a close in Havana.

The peace talks, which began in November 2012, aim to put an end to over half a century of armed conflict that has killed over 220,000 people and displaced over two million.

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