Cauca

Colombia: threats mount against victim reps

Victim representatives at peace talks with the FARC rebels held a press conference in Bogotá Feb. 20 to demand action from the Colombian government over mounting death threats against them. At least 14 of the 60 representatives have received death threats because of their participation—and the son of one representative was killed. Nilson Liz, a regional leader of the National Association of Campesino Land Users (ANUC) from Cauca department, said that following his trip to Cuba for the talks, unknown assailants murdered his son Dayan on Jan. 1. ANUC, which is seeking return of lands stolen by armed groups, has had 90 leaders assassinated since its founding in 1970. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 21; Semana, Feb. 20)

Colombia: rights situation grim despite peace talks

Colombia's humanitarian situation remains severe in spite of ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the United Nations said in a report released Feb. 12. Raising concern over illegal armed groups not incuded in the dialogue, it found that the grim situation is likely to persist even if a peace deal is struck in the talks. The report, entitled "The Humanitarian Dimension in the Aftermath of a Peace Agreement: proposals for the international community in Colombia," was commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and supported by the Norwegian Centre for Peace-building (NOREF). At least 347,286 people were displaced in Colombia between November 2012, when the talks began, and September 2014, the report found. Nearly half of these displacements (48%) resulted from FARC or ELN actions, with 19% blamed on neo-paramilitary groups. The report also found that 62 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2014.

Colombia: protests against illegal mining in Cauca

Hundreds of indigenous and Afro-Colombian protesters from La Toma, Suárez municipality, in Colombia's southwest Cauca region, marched over the weekend against illegal gold mining taking place in their territories. The communities, angry about environmental damage caused by the activity, said they had received threats from the Rastrojos paramilitary group for their opposition to the mining. The three-day cross-country march along the Pan-American Highway culminated Feb. 16 at Buenos Aires, in northern Cauca.

Colombia: peasants detain soldiers... again

In another case of Colombian villagers staging a local uprising in response to militarization of their communities, on the night of Jan. 18 residents of La Emboscada hamlet at Argelia municipality, Cauca, detained 36 army troops for several hours. The rebellion was sparked by the death of a local resident who was shot when he tried to run an army checkpoint on his motorbike. Troops of the 56th Infantry Battalion were immediately surrounded by angry villagers, disarmed, and marched off to the Argelia cabacera (municipal building). Village authorities finally released the soliders after the government agreed to send a team to mediate. Colombia's official human rights ombudman, the Defensoría del Pueblo, is backing up villagers' demands that civilian rather than military authorities conduct the investigation into the killing. The army claims the slain man was carrying 25 pounds of coca paste. (ColPrensaColPrensa, Semana, Bogotá, El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Jan. 19)

Are the FARC narco-traffickers?

Amid peace talks in Havana, Colombia's FARC guerillas issued an angry communique Dec. 14, insisting "We are a rebel group, not narco-traffickers." This was in response to President Juan Manuel Santos' suggestion that FARC drug-trafficking could be considered a "political crime," potentially sparing guerilla leaders prosecution. This of course won Santos howls of outrage from the right; now he gets it from the other side. The FARC statement accused the government of trying to "confuse the minds of Colombians" with a "distortion," and decried the existence of a "capitalist narco-trafficking business" in the country. (El Espectador, El Tiempo, Dec. 14)

Colombia: will government answer FARC ceasefire?

Negotiations between the Cololmbian government and FARC rebels will resume Jan. 26 in Havana, as the guerillas maintain an indefinite unilateral ceasefire. Three weeks into the ceasefire on Jan. 9, Bogotá's Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC) reported that violence had dropped to its lowest level in 30 years. It found no ceasefire violations attributable to the FARC. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 13; EFE, Jan. 9) A FARC communiqué that day acknowledged military actions of a "defensive character" in response to army operations against the guerillas' 15th Front and Teófilo Forero Column in Huila, and 26th Front in Caquetá. The Caquetá clashes left six army troops dead, the statement said. (El Colombiano, Jan. 10) On Dec. 31, the FARC reported "offensive" actions by the army against the 6th Front in Cauca and 34th Front in Antioquia. (El Colombiano, Dec. 31) Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said counter-guerilla operations would not be abated: "We are going to use all available means and capacities to enforce the law...and protect Colombians." FARC negotiator Iván Márquez on his Twitter account charged that Pinzón is "disparaging a peace gesture." (El Colombiano, Jan. 9; El Tiempo, Jan. 8) President Juan Manuel Santos asserted: "Instructions to the armed forces have not changed. A bilateral ceasefire will be discussed at the adequate moment." (El Tiempo, Jan. 6)

Colombia: FARC declare ceasefire —amid fighting

Colombia’s army accused the FARC on Dec. 19 of killing five soldiers only hours before confirming a unilateral and indefinite rebel ceasefire to start the next day. The combat took place in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, where a local army patrol was ambushed by members of the FARC’s 6th Front and its Teofilo Forero elite unit. One more soldier is missing in action and may have been taken prisoner by the guerrillas. The same FARC unit had earlier that day blown up the Panamerican highway at Caldono, leaving a lane-wide crater. Additionally, presumed FARC guerillas left Valle del Cauca's Pacific port city of Buenaventura without electricity after blowing up a key transmission tower on Dec. 18.

FARC fighters face indigenous justice

A Nasa indigenous court in Toribio, in Colombia's Cauca department, on Nov. 8 convicted seven FARC guerillas in the murder of two village leaders and related violence three days earlier. The two victims were members of the Indigenous Guard who had been removing FARC propaganda posters from walls in San Francisco corregimiento (hamlet) when they were killed. Five guerillas were sentenced to between 40 and 60 years in prison. The 60-year term was for the guerilla convicted in the slayings. Four receiving 40-year terms were found to have "fired indiscriminately" on villagers who confronted the guerillas in the incident, armed only with sticks. The men are to serve their time at the prison in Popayan, Cauca's capital. Two others—both minors—are to receive 20 lashes, and be held a rehabilitation center until they are 18. The verdict and sentences were decided after several hours of debate by an assembly of some 3,000 community members. Indigenous authorities in Colombia have jurisdiction in their own territories unless this contravenes national law. Gabriel Pavi, leader of the Northern Cauca Indigenous Councils Association (ACIN), said the guerillas were captured "in uniform and with rifles," and that "all are indigenous."