Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." However, it is clear that the narco economy is but part of a greater nexus of forces that fuel the relentless terror—all related to protecting rural land empires and intimidating the peasantry. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—thought to number 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. Exemplifying the depth of the crisis, days before the inauguration armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, near the Venezuelan border. Among the slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Colombia has taken significant steps back in a hardline pro-Washington direction since the election of the right-wing Iván Duque as the country's new president last month. Shortly after Duque's victory, the government announced that it will resume aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops—this time using drones rather than planes, to supposedly target the planted areas with greater exactitude. The move comes in response to a new report from the White House finding that Colombian coca cultivation has reached a new record. Incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos also announced in the lead-up to the election that Colombia will formally join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a "global partner"—making it the only Latin American nation with NATO affiliation. (Photo: Contago Radio)
Colombia's two guerilla groups that remain in arms pledged to open a dialogue with each other to bring their internecine conflict to an end. Fighting broke out weeks ago between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and its smaller rival, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL). William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander department, has declared a state of emergency over the violence, which he said has displaced some 1,000 families. The fighting is said to have begun as the two groups vied to take control of coca-growing lands vacated by the demobilized FARC guerillas. (Photo: Colombia Reports)
After three years of investigation, Bolivia's Public Ministry reached a decision not to bring criminal charges against Adolfo Chávez, former leader of the Confederation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB), and 21 others linked to a corruption scandal in a case many saw as politically motivated. Chávez and the others were accused of illegally misappropriating monies made available through the government's Development Fund for Indigenous Peoples. But he claimed he was targeted for his opposition to the government's development plans for the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), in the eastern rainforest. In October, Chávez testified before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission that coca-growers in the TIPNIS loyal to the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) were attacking the reserve's indigenous inhabitants. (Photo: ANF)
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. But violence in the countryside across Colombia remains at an alarming level, as social leaders are targeted for assassination by paramilitary factions. The ELN guerilla organization—which, unlike the FARC, remains in arms—released a statement noting that January had seen an assassination every day across the country, and charged that rightist paramilitary networks are carrying out a "systematic genocide."
The United Nations condemned the assassination of two demobilized FARC members at an election campaign rally in the central plaza of Peque, a town in Colombia's Antioquia department. The UN Verification Mission noted that this was the first deadly attack within the framework of the 2018 electoral process, in which the FARC is participating as a newly formed political party. According to a December report by the UN mission, 36 demobilized FARC fighters and 13 of their family members have been killed in reprisal attacks since the peace deal with the government took effect in late 2016. The FARC’s presidential candidate and former military commander Rodrigo Londoño said members of the organization "have been the target of constant persecution by armed actors that seek to destabilize the implementation of the peace accords." (Photo: Colombia Reports)
The "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I, is said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a peasant cocalero in the Yungas region on the Andean slopes north of La Paz. The descendants of slaves brought in by the Spanish to work haciendas and silver mines, the Afro-Bolivians today have constitutionally protected autonomy. They have joined with their indigenous Aymara neighbors to demand greater rights for the coca-producing high jungle zone. Julio, of Kikongo royal blood, was crowned in a ceremony recognized by the Bolivian state in 2007. Last month marked 10 years of his official reign. (Photo: Casa Real Afroboliviana)
Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident at a village in the southern region of Nariño. The National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) refutes the authorities' claim that renegade FARC rebels attacked the eradication patrol with improvised explosive devices.
In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, portraying the agreement between his government and the FARC guerilla as a model for the rest of the world. But the peace process continues to face numerous challenges in its implementation—not least of which from US pressure to maintain aggressive counter-narcotics operations.
Colombia's government—under Washington pressure—is pushing ahead with plans to forcibly eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca leaf this year, despite mounting resistance from peasant growers. Violent confrontations between cocaleros and eradication forces are reported across the country. Even "voluntary eradication" is meeting protest, as campesino communities are flooded with National Police troops, in violation of their pacts with the government.
Before an audience of thousands in Bogotá's Plaza Bolívar, the FARC announced its transformation into a new political party with the same acronym: the Popular Alternative Revolutionary Force. But the US State Department is actually blaming Colombia's peace process for the surge in coca production in the country, saying the FARC encouraged peasants to plant more so as to reap promised government subsidies for conversion to legal agriculture.