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Colombia: News & Updates
Colombia has the world's second largest population of internally displaced persons (five million) due to the half-century internal armed conflict—the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere (since 1964). Control for territory and popular support among the three main groups (left-wing rebel forces FARC & ELN, right-wing paramilitaries, Colombian police/military) has left 220,000 killed, 75% of them non-combatants. Since 2000, the US has exacerbated the violence by sending more than $9 billion in mostly military assistance. Colombia, which has both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, holds strategic interest for the US for global trade and military posturing.
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November 17, 2021
Thank you to the more than 120 people who attended the IRTF annual Commemoration of the Martyrs online on Sunday, November 7. You helped to create a beautiful and moving tribute to human rights defenders throughout southern Mexico, Central America, and Colombia. Here you will find links to (1) Commemoration program book 2021, (2) Zoom recording of the event, (3) Facebook livestream recording, (4) playlist from the social hour, (5) an additional play list, (6) how you can add your name to urgent human rights letters, (7) donations for the Honduras support fund, (8) IRTF Legacy Circle planned giving fund, and (9) highlights from the speakers' presentations. Thank you!
November 30, 2021
There is little respite to the human rights crisis impacting communities across Colombia. November was another very violent month. According to national human rights groups, by the end of November at least 43 former FARC guerrillas and 159 social activists had been killed since the start of 2021. Here is Justice for Colombia’s monthly update on cases of human rights abuses in the country.
November 30, 2021
The 2016 peace accord, negotiated in Cuba with support from the U.S. under former President Barack Obama, resulted in President Santos’ winning the Nobel Peace Prize. After the deal was signed, FARC members began to demobilize, and 13,000 laid down their weapons. On the fifth anniversary of that peace deal, the Biden Administration will remove the FARC from the terrorist list. But it is adding two new groups that have splintered off from the FARC: La Segunda Marquetalia and the FARC-EP. (The United States also designated the leaders of those organizations - Luciano Marin Arango, Hernan Dario Velasquez Saldarriaga, Henry Castellanos Garzon, Nestor Gregorio Vera Fernandez, Miguel Santanilla Botache, and Euclides Espana Caicedo - as specially designated global terrorists.) Juan S. Gonzalez, the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, said removing the FARC from the terrorism list would allow the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to work in areas where demobilized FARC soldiers are. It would also allow former rebels to travel to the U.S.
November 26, 2021
Human rights defender Adriana Lizarazo, the coordinator of the Santander chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), is receiving death threats from paramilitaries. The text messages sent to Adriana Lizarazo on November 13 indicated that the sender was with the Gaitanistas/Gulf Clan paramilitary organization and that they had private information about her. The sender insisted on meeting with her. CSPP was also singled out as a military target. The sender included photos of firearms and someone dressed in military gear with a military rope and a bracelet with the initials AGC. The threats to Adriana Lizarazo, her family, and members of CSPP-Santander are of great concern. INDEPAZ (Institute for the Study of Development and Peace) reports that from January 1 through November 15 of this year, there have been 152 documented acts of aggression against social leaders in Colombia.
November 25, 2021
We wrote to officials in Colombia about the attack on oil pipeline protesters that resulted in the shooting death of 31-year-old farmer Michelsen Vargas Velasco by ESMAD anti-riot police on November 13. Residents of La Hermosura (Bolívar municipality, Santander Dept) had been protesting against an ECOPETROL oil pipeline for the past 50 days because of water contamination and destruction to their roads. On November 13, they blocked access to a road in Puerto de los Cerros. ESMAD arrived and attacked the community, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. They shot Michelsen Vargas Velasco in the head at close range.
November 24, 2021
A Colombian paramilitary commander best known as “Macaco,” was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of people between the late 1980s and 2005. In 2008, the U.S. requested the extradition of Macaco and several dozen paramilitary leaders. The US had in fact enabled the interdependence of the Colombian state and the paramilitaries with billions of dollars in security assistance. (Macaco himself had benefited from U.S. support even more directly, as a palm oil company he owned had received funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.) Macaco was convicted on drug trafficking charges, sentenced, released after 11 years and deported back to Colombia in 2019. While he continues to face murder and conspiracy charges in Colombia, he has not yet been found criminally responsible for any of the hundreds of murders he oversaw. But things started to change in the fall of 2021 when a Florida US federal judge ruled against Macaco in a civil case filed on behalf of the family of one of his victims. Eduardo Estrada was a popular community leader and founder of an independent radio station whom paramilitary leaders ordered executed in the town of San Pablo in 2001. The court awarded $12 million in damages to Estrada’s family. Although it is unlikely that they will collect the money, the ruling is significant nonetheless. It marked the first time a court in any country held Macaco responsible for one of the hundreds of murders carried out under his command. It was also the first judgment for murder and torture against a Colombian paramilitary leader in a case of its kind in the United States. Perhaps most significantly, the ruling recognized a “symbiotic relationship” between the paramilitaries and the Colombian state. While such a relationship is hardly a secret in Colombia, it was the first time a U.S. court recognized it. “A U.S. court has found that these violent, murderous, paramilitary regimes were basically the same as the Colombian government,” Daniel McLaughlin, another attorney who litigated the case, told The Intercept. “Which is the Colombian government that the U.S. was supporting at the time.” The case could set a precedent for more civil litigation against paramilitaries and other nonstate actors to be filed in the United States. Roxanna Altholz is a human rights attorney who fought for years to have the testimonies of the families of victims included in U.S. criminal proceedings against paramilitary leaders. “What happened in Colombia is certainly the responsibility of Colombian leaders and society,” said Altholz. “But also of the United States. Anywhere you look, you’ll see the United States.”
November 15, 2021
An analysis of how two major U.S. newspapers presented the civil unrest in Latin America this year demonstrates how corporate media favors political allies and blames enemies. Although people in both countries protested for many of the same reasons—inequality, poverty, and unemployment exacerbated by COVID; rising cost of living; police violence; and systemic racism—the Colombian protests lasted far longer and were met with a harsher crackdown than in Cuba. According to respected human rights and civil society groups, the death toll ranged from 21 to 44 deaths in Colombia in a population of 51 million and one to five deaths in Cuba in a population of 11 million. In addition to disproportionately killing more people, Colombian police also injured protesters more severely than their Cuban counterparts, such as deliberately shooting at dozens of protesters’ eyes.
November 13, 2021
Join us to hear from Danilo Rueda, Executive Secretary of the Colombian Ecumenical organization Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz. He will talk about the roots of this year’s national strike and protests, brutally repressed by Colombian National Police and Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), and what we can do to support the peacemakers’ vision for Colombia. Organized by Chicago Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN).
November 11, 2021
In the five years following its historic 2016 peace accord, Colombia has seen a surge of forest razing and land clearance amid continuing unrest in the countryside. The rate of tree loss, which greatly lowers the country’s chances of meeting its zero-deforestation goal by 2030, is tied to conflict and violence. These ties are complex. Deforestation began to rise soon after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which had operated mostly from rural areas, declared a ceasefire in December 2014. It then gathered steam after the 2016 accord was signed. The rebels’ departure from their strongholds provided an opportunity for other insurgencies and organised crime to assert control. With state authority in the countryside still feeble, those groups pushed back the forest to expand enterprises like coca growing, cattle ranching, illegal gold mining and logging, sometimes working with legal businesses. To arrest the damage, Bogotá should fix its approach to prosecuting environmental crime, implement peace accord commitments relating to the environment and urgently bolster its natural resource management systems. (Bram Ebus, Crisis Group consultant for the Andes, investigates how deforestation in Colombia is often linked to conflict.)
November 5, 2021
As Colombia’s President Iván Duque, while attending COP 26 in Glasgow, received praise and a warm welcome from world leaders such as Boris Johnson, Prince Charles, Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, there was no attention paid to the horrific human rights crisis which has engulfed Colombia throughout Duque’s governance.