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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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Indigenous environmental activists globally, especially in countries like Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines, face alarming rates of violence and assassination. A report by Global Witness revealed that 1,733 environmental and land-defense activists were killed between 2012 and 2021, with one murder occurring approximately every two days. These defenders, often from Indigenous communities, resist exploitation by industries like mining and logging. The violence, fueled by factors like corporate interests and governmental negligence, poses a severe threat to these activists. The situation underscores the urgent need to protect Indigenous communities, whose harmonious coexistence with nature is essential for the planet's future amidst the onslaught of capitalist-driven environmental destruction.

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Despite the federal government’s bragging that its new asylum-restriction policies at the border are working (backed by stats of fewer “encounters” of undocumented persons), measures to further block people from crossing and soliciting asylum are on the rise. Biden is requesting more money for ICE and CBP, which means more surveillance, militarization, and detention. In the Rio Grande, Texas Governor Abbott is stringing a series of floating buoys wrapped in concertina wire and anchored to the riverbed below with webbing to prevent people from swimming underneath.  Aside from being unusually cruel and dangerous to migrants and wildlife, the measure is most certainly in violation of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which was established in 1889. And Texas State Troopers told The New York Times that “there were explicit orders [from supervisors] to deny water to migrants and to tell them to go back to Mexico.” This is consistent with a story published in The Guardian in which troopers reported treating a four-year-old girl who passed out from heat exhaustion in 100-degree temperatures, only to watch the Texas National Guard push the girl and her group back into the river to Mexico.  

We’re doing what we can to stay on top of migration news at the border, in Ohio, and in the Cleveland immigration court.

In this month's newsletter, please read about: 1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, 2) ICE Air: update on removal flight trends, 3) The Human Costs of the Asylum Ban, 4) At the Border: recent incidents, 5) Darién Gap: Tourism Booms while Migrants Suffer, and 6) Texas Deploys Floating Buoys in the Rio Grande.

TAKE ACTION on any of these items: A) Tell Biden to cut ICE and instead fund real human needs, B) Tell senators to oppose the Supplemental Border Funding Bill, C) Tell your congressperson to vote no on the DHS Security Appropriations Bill, D) Tell Congress to reject new bills that deny access to asylum at the southern border, E) Sign up for the Biden deportation tracker, F) Urge Congress to pass the Afghan  Adjustment Act. 

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On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia and Guatemala, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

Volunteers with the Rapid Response Network (RRN)—together with IRTF staff—write letters in response to six urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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In July, Rep. Mario Díaz-Belart (R-FL), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State & Foreign Operantions, announced that he was deferring all aid to Colombia, including humanitarian and economic development assistance. This announcement has caused quite an outcry from peace, human rights, and faith-based organizations, including the Presyberian Church, in the US.  

On July 26, several U.S. civil society organizations expressed their strong support for U.S. assistance to support peace in Colombia and encourage the Biden Administration to strengthen its support and diplomacy for peace, including for the peace negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army), the second largest rebel group. Peace Accords were signed with the largest rebel group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), in November 2016.

Lisa Haugaard, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group (LAWG):  “The Biden Administration also has an ally in Colombia to check off many of the goals it has set for itself in its foreign policy: addressing climate change, protecting the environment, fighting racial discrimination, supporting labor rights, aiding Venezuelan migrants and refugees, building a sustainable and humane counternarcotics policy, and supporting LGBTQ and women’s rights.  It’s frankly self-defeating and senseless for members of the House to block assistance and collaboration with Colombia.”

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, director for the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA): “[Colombia] is applying lessons learned from past failed peace and demobilization of illegal armed groups processes to attempt to dismantle illegal armed groups, minimize humanitarian crises, prevent displacement and protect civilians. Colombia continues to be the country with the most progressive and rights-based approach to addressing the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis despite having its own internal displacement.”

Catherine Gordon, representative for international issues in the Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA: “[The Presbyterian Church of Colombia] has called on us for support in supporting human rights and with the displaced and most impoverished communities. Its assembly has made declarations about the damages from war and militarization and the grave consequences of not supporting the pathways to peace and human rights.  At this critical moment, the United States must not abandon the crucial initiatives of justice and reconciliation begun by the Petro administration.  We must continue to contribute to a future of peace with justice and equality for Colombia.” 


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Colombia is in a process of trying to become a peaceful  democratic nation. To reach this goal of a new Colombia, President Gustavo Petro has established a "Total Policy" aiming at dismantling militant, armed groups by holding peace talks. In the center of this project stands the search for a peace agreement with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's largest active rebel group. In ongoing peace talks, the Colombian government and the ELN have agreed to a monitored ceasefire starting on August 3, potentially ending the almost 60-year long conflict.  

On July 4 the ELN took a first step to peaceful negotiations when they ordered an end to all attacks on the Colombian army and security forces, four weeks ahead of the official ceasefire in August. The bilateral cessation of attacks, agreed on in peace talks, is an effort to stop further bloodshed in the coming weeks but will not be independently monitored. 

In a statement given on July 4, ELN's 59th anniversary, its leadership repeated the group's commitment to the peace talks, stating that "we [ELN] are committed to peace talks and transformations, with the process for civic participation" and called for civilian support. According to local news reports, the ELN kept up its attacks until as long as four hours before the attack halt, assaulting security forces and reinforcing its defensive positions. 

The agreed ceasefire on August 3 and recent progress in peace efforts can be traced back to 2018 when then president Juan Manuel Santos started short lasting peace negotiations, which were stopped after only a year by the succeeding president Ivan Duque. After the election of President Gustavo Petro in 2022 and the declaration of the "Total Peace" policy, the peace negotiations were again picked up and seem to bare some fruit. Petro's policy not only includes the ELN but provides a breeding ground for civilian participation and includes talks with other militant groups. 

We are more than glad to hear about this development and are looking hopeful to a future that might bring an end to this devastating war.      

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In the Cleveland immigration court in May 2023, nationals of Venezuela ranked #1 of all new deportation cases filed by the Department of Homeland Security against Latin Americans.  Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2022, the number of Venezuelans has been right up there with Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans.  So what is driving so many Venezuelans to Ohio?

In this month’s Migrant Justice Newsletter, please read about: 1-Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH, 2-ICE Air: Update on Removal Flight Trends, 3-Cruelty at the Border Is Not Success, 4-At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border, 5-Halfway to the US: A Report on Migration from Honduras, 6-Venezuelans: How US Sanctions Are Driving Migration North to the US, 7-Asylum in Limbo – a book review. Then see our TAKE ACTION items: A) Follow the Biden Deportations Tracker, B) Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!, C) Urge Your Congressperson to Support the American Families United Act (now called Dignity Act), and D) Restoring Asylum and Dignity for Immigrants – webinar July 12, 7-8pm EDT.

Even though Title 42 ended on May 11, removal flights to El Salvador and Honduras increased in May. And in Cleveland’s immigration court (EOIR), new deportation cases filed in May were up 1200 over the previous month, due mainly to the government filing cases against 1278 migrants from Mauritania and another 888 against migrants from Uzbekistan. The top nationalities (from Latin America/Caribbean) with new deportation proceedings filed in Cleveland in May: Venezuela (450), Mexico (278), Colombia (209), Guatemala (195), Haiti (160), Honduras (159), Peru (135), Nicaragua (77), El Salvador (47).

Read IRTF’s June 2023 Migrant Justice Newsletter at: