Tag Archive | "colombia"

Colombia: Santos Says Deadline for Final Peace Deal May Not be Met

President Santos (photo: Juan Pablo Bello - SIG/Government of Colombia)

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

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has said that the finalised peace deal between the government and the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may not be signed as planned on 23rd March. 

“I will not sign a bad deal just to meet the deadline,” Santos said at a public event yesterday. He opened the possibility of setting a new date if the agreement was not reached, underscoring “I fulfil and sign what is a good deal for the Colombians.”

On 23rd September last year President Santos and FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, also known as Timochenko, agreed to finalise the peace agreement within a six month deadline. Since then several officials, including a UN official, have expressed their doubts about reaching an agreement by the date.

Former president Álvaro Uribe, one of the harshest critics of Santos and the peace process, earlier recommended not clinging to a date. “If it is necessary to postpone the date it does not matter. The important thing is that the path is rectified,” Uribe said in Washington in late February. He said that the problem is that the deal involves impunity. “We all want peace, I know the pain of people, but you cannot open the possibility of impunity,” he said.

Back in December, in an interview with Noticias Uno, FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich blamed the government for the delay, saying: “We must be clear in saying that on 23rd March there will be no peace.” 

The former agriculture minister, who helped draft a rural reform deal with the guerrillas has also expressed serious concerns about the state’s lack of preparation for the implementation of the deals, particularly the rural reform.

The peace talks, that aim to end over 50 years of internal conflict, officially began on 19th November 2012 in Havana

The current peace talks are following an agenda made up of six points on which negotiators have reached partial agreements. The six points include land reform, guerrilla participation in politics, transitional justice, efforts to find missing persons and remove land mines, as well as illegal drug trafficking.

Before implementation, the final peace deal must be ratified by the public in a formal vote, which will then validate all the previously arranged accords.

The FARC, along with other guerrilla groups, arose as a response to violent government repression of popular progressive movements in the 1950s and 60s. The conflict has drawn in right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers, and several leftist rebel groups, and has left more than 6.7m victims and taken at least 260,000 lives, according to official statistics.

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Colombia: Spate of Killings Highlights Threat Facing Activists

William Catillo Chima, the latest human rights activist to be killed in Colombia

William Castillo Chima, the latest human rights activist to be killed in Colombia

Community leader and human rights campaigner William Castillo Chima, 43, was shot and killed on Monday, becoming the latest in a series of recent activist victims in Colombia and Latin America.

He was killed by a group of armed gunmen shortly after attending a meeting with officials in the town of El Bagre, Anitioquia.

Chima collaborated with local campesino organisations, such as Guamocó’s Association of Agroecological and Mining Brotherhoods (Aheramigua), and Colombia’s National Coordination of Agrarian Organisations (Conap). These organisations provide a voice to indigenous groups regarding their rights to lands.

A statement by Conap blamed paramilitary groups for the murder, saying Chima had been “unjustly persecuted by the Colombian government and threatened by paramilitary groups because of his work as a defender and promoter of human rights in the region”.

A member of Aheramigua in El Bagre, María Dania Arrieta Pérez, reported he had received death threats in the days before his murder.

Chima’s killing is the latest in a string of recent attacks on indigenous and community leaders. On 1st March, William Alexander Oime, the indigenous governor of Río Blanco, was shot dead in the town of Popayán in a crime the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia called “part of a strategy to exterminate indigenous leaders and peoples”.

Two days earlier another campesino activist, Maricela Tombé, was killed in the rural town of El Tambo. Groups in the region had been reporting the distribution of pamphlets, signed by paramilitary groups, calling for “social cleansing”.

Chima’s death also comes just days after renowned Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was killed, prompting the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to condemn the murders as a “worrying sign of violence and racism”.

According to a study released by Global Witness in April 2015, Colombia had the second highest number of murdered environmentalists in the world in 2014. The UN also reported that 729 human rights activists were killed in Colombia between 1994 and September 2015, with signs that the rate of murders was on the increase.

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Colombia Introduces Year-Long Ban on Carrying Firearms

A nationwide ban on bearing firearms came into force this week in Colombia, as part of the government’s efforts to reduce violent crime.

In January, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree prohibiting the carrying of guns until the end of 2016. This is an extension of an earlier decree which was signed just before Christmas and in force for a month.

Photo courtesy of  Public domain images

Photo courtesy of Public domain images

“On 23rd December we took a decision to ban the carrying of firearms,” said Santos on 19th January. “The results in terms of lives saved are positive and for that reason I’ve made the decision to extend this country-wide firearms ban from 31st January to 31st December.”

According to figures from the Defense Ministry, there was a 13% fall in the number of violent murders between 23rd December and 20th January, compared to the same period a year earlier.

Santos, who said that Colombia’s murder rate was at its lowest for 40 years, said the measure “should contribute to a further decrease in crime”.

The mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, spoke of how the measure will help to reduce murder rates in the city, by talking of the “quantity of lives which have been saved by this decision”.

Bogota previously banned guns in public places for three months in 2012, later extending the ban through until February 2013.

The capital city has also been operating an initiative called ‘Por Amor a Bogotá me desarmo’, in which 25,000 illegal firearms have been voluntarily handed in. The programme also provides social conscious to school in what it calls “Cultural democracy” in terms of music, art, theatre with the hope of imparting a wilder social conscientiousness regarding the perils of firearm usage.

The decree makes concessions for public and private security firms and also for some citizens, who are able demonstrate it to be a necessity to carry firearms.

However, the president of the Colombian Federation of Farmers (FCG), José Félix Lafaurie, took to Twitter to speak of his fears for “people who work in red zones (with much violence),” who he said are the ones being made to be punished while the “bandits” can act as they please.

Last year Colombia was deemed the forth most violent country in Latin America and the Caribbean by the Global peace index. The city of Cali was ranked as the 10th most violent in the world in a recent index.

Gun Control

The gun possession law was limited through the constitution of 1991, whereby citizens are permitted the right to bear arms with a governmental permit. Civilians from 18 years of age may carry small pistols and shotguns. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons are prohibited, except for exceptional circumstances. Appeals for this are made to the Arms Committee for the ministry of Defence.

The Defense Ministry said that there were around 900,000 legal firearms registered in the country, with 500,000 licensed to be carried by the owner. However, a report by the Centro de Estudios para Análisis de Conflictos (CEAC) estimated that there could be as many as 2.5 million illegal guns in the country.

In August 2014, Representative Carlos Eduardo Guevara submitted a bill to Congress to impose further restrictions on gun control by placing the responsibility of gun control under the Ministry of the Interior.

The proposal suggests that gun permit renewals take place every two years instead of three. In a similar manner it would require gun owners to submit a training certificate, to prove competency with firearm usage. Those with criminal records and those deemed to be be a risk would be denied permits.

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Study: 41 of World’s 50 Most Violent Cities in Latin America

Latin American cities are among the most violent in the world (Map courtesy of Wikimedia)

Latin American cities are among the most violent in the world (Map courtesy of Wikimedia)

In a report released yesterday by the Mexico Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (CCSPJP), the non-government organisation identified Caracas, Venezuela as the most dangerous city in the world.

The report, published annually since 2011, bases the ranking on the number of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2015, Caracas rose to first place with 119.87 homicides per 100,000 people.

Caracas is followed by San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 111.03 homicides; San Salvador, El Salvador, with 108.54 homicides; Acapulco, Mexico, with 104.73 homicides; and Maturin, Venezuela, with 86.45 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Of the 50 cities listed, 41 are located within Latin America, including 21 Brazilian cities. There are also eight Venezuelan, five Mexican, three Colombian, two Honduran, one Guatemalan, and one El Salvadoran city. Kingston, Jamaica is included from the Caribbean, and the remaining eight cities are split equally between South Africa and the United States.

The figures do not include deaths in combat zones.

Experts place drug trafficking, political instability, and corruption among the top reasons for the high numbers in the Latin American region.

The report has caused some controversy and rejections from officials abroad. Fabio Galindo, Secretary of the State of Public Security for the State of Mato Grosso, one of Brasil’s western states whose capital was ranked at number 22 on the list, critiqued the results, stating that the Mexican organisation was working “without methodology and with illegitimate numbers.”

Accompanying the list, the CCSPJP also publishes a document outlining its methodology, in which the organisation states that the biggest obstacle in providing accurate data is the lack of transparency of governments whose cities are included.

Noticeably absent from the list was Rio de Janeiro, set to host to 2016 Summer Olympic Games in the coming months.

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Colombia: Government and FARC Reach New Agreement on Victims

The Colombian government has reached a deal with FARC rebels on reparations to victims of the conflict, one of the most sensitive issues to be discussed during the three-year-long peace process.

Representatives from Norway and Cuba, who have been brokering negotiations in Havana, announced the deal earlier today at a press conference attended by a group of victims from the conflict.

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 first agreement together with Cuban president Raúl Castro in September (photo courtesy of FARC peace delegation)

“We have taken a fundamental step forward for the construction of a stable and lasting peace and for the end of a war which has torn this country for more than half a century,” they said.

The conflict between FARC and the government has been on-going since 1964. More than 220,000 people have been killed by the fighting and more than 6 million Colombians are thought to have been displaced.

The issue of victim reparations has been on the negotiating table since August 2014. Divided into four central themes of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees that the conflict will not be repeated, it is the justice section that has been a sticking point for both sides.

At the centre of the agreement announced today is the establishment of a special judicial system (JEP) for the punishment of war crimes, partially announced in September. The JEP will work independently and will consist of a series of different courts. One, Amnesty and Pardons, will cover lesser offenses related to the rebellion. Congress will have to determine whether or not this can include drug trafficking crimes.

Serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity will be dealt with by the Peace Tribunal. Shorter sentences of as little as eight years in prison will be offered to those who recognise their responsibility promptly.

Details on how the JEP will deal with crimes committed by state agents will be released in the next few days, Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes told BBC Mundo. He said the processes would be “similar” to those applied to rebels.

Other measures announced include the creation of a Truth Commission – to uncover the causes and effects of the conflict –, the creation of a commission for the recovery of disappeared persons, the establishment of mechanisms to prevent a repeat of the conflict, and the provision of reparations to victims.

Reparations will take the form of admissions of responsibility from FARC members, the rebuilding of infrastructure, and material compensation.

The issue of Victim Reparations joins Land and Rural Development, Political Participation of the Guerillas and drug trafficking among the points successfully negotiated. Only two issues remain: the terms of disarmament and the mechanism through which the final agreement will be ratified.

A final agreement will be signed on the 23rd March 2016. However, President Juan Manuel Santos has said that the public will have to approve the deal by popular vote.



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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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