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Govt’s ceasefire announcement with five armed and criminal groups faced legal and political headwinds, while violence continued at high levels.
ELN peace talks faced first challenge with govt’s ceasefire announcement. Though President Petro 31 Dec announced six-month bilateral ceasefire with five armed and criminal groups, including National Liberation Army (ELN), ELN 1 Jan denied agreeing to any deal; group commander Antonio Garcia 3 Jan said govt’s announcement amounted to “crisis” in negotiations. ELN and govt 17-21 Jan held emergency meeting in Venezuelan capital Caracas to address misunderstanding, 21 Jan said they had resolved crisis but had not agreed on any ceasefire. In interim, parties 17 Jan announced they would undertake mission in municipalities in Chocó department to observe humanitarian conditions in communities beleaguered by conflict between ELN and criminal group Gulf Clan.
Authorities faced legal hurdles to implement ceasefires with four other groups. Despite complications with ELN, govt 4 Jan insisted it had agreed to ceasefires with remaining four groups – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group calling itself FARC-EP, FARC dissident group Segunda Marquetalia and two post-paramilitary groups – and issued presidential decrees ordering cessation of operations against them; govt’s decree indicated that it considers FARC-EP insurgency with political goals, making group eligible for negotiations. However, attorney general’s office 13 Jan said it could not lift arrest warrants for other three groups, nor could ceasefire take place as these organisations are criminal outfits and lack political objectives. Legal crisis has meant military is effectively upholding ceasefire only with FARC-EP. Attorney General Francisco Barbosa 30 Jan said he met with Petro, who confirmed “there will be no political negotiations with drug trafficking organisations”; Barbosa confirmed that “Prosecutor’s Office accompanies the efforts in terms of peace with the ELN ... and even with the dissidences that did not sign the peace agreement”.
Violence continued apace. Amid lack of clarity around ceasefire arrangements, fighting between FARC-EP and ELN 10-12 Jan erupted in Arauca department, killing at least 11; FARC-EP accused military of working with ELN and said govt had therefore broken ceasefire, which Defence Minister Iván Velasquez 13 Jan denied. Meanwhile, military 11 Jan confirmed FARC dissident factions had kidnapped military sergeant in southern Cauca department; FARC dissidents 15 Jan kidnapped three soldiers in Nariño department, released them three days later.
Govt and ELN concluded first round of peace talks; authorities along with several armed and criminal groups declared ceasefires amid high levels of violence.
Govt and ELN agreed to de-escalate conflict in 2023 as first round of dialogue ended. Peace talks between govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) 12 Dec concluded in Venezuelan capital Caracas, with second round announced for 2023 in Mexico. Sides agreed to resume 2016 peace agenda, ratified permanent observer roles of UN Mission and Catholic Church, and added Chile and Mexico as guarantor states. Delegations same day announced agreement to de-escalate conflict and improve humanitarian conditions in Medio San Juan region (Chocó department) and Bajo Calima village (Valle de Cauca department), both along Pacific coast, starting in 2023. Sides 3 Dec also agreed to facilitate safe return of hundreds of displaced members of indigenous Embera community to their homes in Alto de Andágueda region (Chocó).
End-of-year ceasefires announced amid high levels of violence. ELN’s Western Front Omar Gómez 13 Dec announced “armed strike” in Chocó and Valle de Cauca starting 15 Dec to combat “paramilitary” activity, likely referring to rival criminal group Gulf Clan. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents and ELN also clashed during first half of month, notably in Caldono municipality (Cauca department). In positive move, ELN 19 Dec announced unilateral ceasefire 24 Dec-2 Jan, 20 Dec ended strike; by 24 Dec, FARC dissident groups, including Segunda Marquetalia, and other armed and criminal groups had joined ceasefire. Govt 31 Dec also announced six-month bilateral ceasefire with ELN, Segunda Marquetalia, Estado Mayor Conjunto and two right-wing post paramilitary groups; groups had yet to comment on announcement by end of month. Meanwhile, ombudsman’s office 7 Dec said 2022 saw highest number of social leaders killed since 2016 peace accord.
In other important developments. President Petro and Ecuadorian President Lasso 14 Dec announced fresh efforts to combat border armed group activity. Petro 12 Dec signed decree freeing from prison some “front line” (Primera Linea) protesters from 2021 national strike as “gestores de paz”, designation for civilians who can help mediate with illegal armed groups.
Authorities made progress with “Total Peace” plan as talks with ELN got under way; President Petro pledged greater cooperation with Venezuela during first official visit to Caracas.
Govt made strides in initiating “Total Peace” plan. President Petro 4 Nov signed legislation giving govt legal authority to: negotiate with armed groups and “criminal structures of high impact” (outfits with sustained capacity to carry out violence threatening civilians); suspend arrest warrants for individuals participating in dialogue; and gradually eliminate mandatory military service in favour of social service. Meanwhile, peace talks with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas 21 Nov began in Venezuelan capital Caracas, group’s first negotiations with govt since 2019. ELN same day issued statement saying negotiating team “has the backing of the entire organisation” amid concerns around its decentralised structure, which has impeded past negotiations.
Localised armed and criminal violence rose, notably in Arauca and Valle de Cauca. In initial outreach to armed and criminal actors, govt requested demonstrations of good-will through reduction in violence against civilians; however, attacks and other types of violent control increased during month. Notably, brief calm in Arauca department shattered after Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident faction known as 28th Front 8 Nov released audio promising to kill 300 civilians, likely including social leaders, allegedly linked to rival group ELN. In port city of Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca department, clashes resumed early Nov between Los Shotas and Los Espartanos criminal groups, breaking 2 Oct truce and causing forced displacements and confinements. Meanwhile, Petro 5 Nov signed Colombia’s ratification of Escazú Agreement, intended to protect environmental activists, who have been heavily targeted during country’s armed conflict. Govt 28 Nov announced offensive against armed groups operating in border areas and called for collaboration from neighbours.
Petro visited Venezuela amid ongoing efforts to normalise relations. Petro met Venezuelan President Maduro 1 Nov for first official presidential visit to Caracas, during which they signed joint communiqué pledging cooperation in areas such as trade, border security, consular services and transport links; Colombian Senate 2 Nov unanimously approved bill to better regulate international transport of cargo and passengers between two countries, thereby improving commercial ties and reducing border insecurity.
Govt announced formal negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN) would start in Nov, while criminal outfits publicly expressed interest in peace talks; govt struck deal to advance rural reform.
Govt made progress toward initiating dialogue with armed and criminal actors. Amid President Petro’s ongoing efforts for dialogue with armed and criminal organisations as part of his “Total Peace” plan, govt 4 Oct announced it will begin formal negotiations with leftist guerrilla movement ELN in early Nov, with Venezuela serving as guarantor state. At least 22 armed and criminal groups have now publicly expressed interest in peace talks with govt. Most recently, former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) chief negotiator and leader of dissident Segunda Marquetalia faction Ivan Márquez 18 Oct released video saying his group was open to dialogue; Comandos de la Frontera, Márquez-allied dissident front along border with Ecuador, day prior also announced interest.
Govt struck deal securing land intended for conflict victims and farmers. Petro administration 8 Oct reached deal with country’s largest cattle association FEDEGAN to purchase 3mn hectares of land. Agreement is intended to help fulfil pledges made in 2016 peace accord between govt and FARC to redistribute land to victims of armed conflict, displaced persons and landless farmers, although details remain unclear.
Govt continued to seek stronger relations with Venezuela, but issues remain. Following re-opening of Colombia-Venezuela border late Sept, roughly 80 lawmakers from both countries’ legislatures 21 Oct met at shared border at Villa del Rosario, Norte de Santander department, to participate in “Binational Parliamentary Meeting” to consolidate bilateral relations. However, in visit to border region 17 Oct, Petro criticised continued transit of goods through informal roads despite opening of formal crossings; also asked Venezuelan President Maduro to return to Inter-American System of Human Rights, which Venezuela left in 2013, in order “to deepen democracy” and eliminate “political persecution”.
Violence ran high as armed and criminal groups sought to expand territorial control ahead of “Total Peace” talks with authorities; border with Venezuela reopened after three-year closure.Govt worked toward dialogue with armed groups. Govt pursued “Total Peace” plan aimed at reviving negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN) and demobilising other armed groups. Notably, after high-level govt delegation visited Cuba in Aug to meet ELN negotiating team, Venezuela 13 Sept agreed to act as guarantor in possible forthcoming talks. ELN 5 Sept however raised questions about govt’s peace plan, saying it was wrong to consider talks with criminal organisations since they exercise violence for “profit and capital accumulation” rather than political objectives. Meanwhile, govt 28 Sept said at least ten armed groups, including Gulf Clan and two Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident groups, agreed to unilateral ceasefires.Criminal and armed groups stepped up violent attacks over territorial control. Dramatic violence occurred across country, including in cities where delinquent and criminal organisations who have shown interest in peace talks operate. Notably, violence accelerated in Barranquilla city on Atlantic coast (north), key drug trafficking route where at least two criminal groups battle for territory, leaving six dead 12 Sept. Groups also launched attacks on security forces; notably, FARC dissidents 2 Sept killed seven police officers in Huila department (south). Land invasions increased during month in ten departments, with cases of poor farmers taking over private land; Ombudsman’s Office 22 Sept said most invasions were in response to expectations among communities that govt will redistribute land, though at least 13 cases have seen armed groups vying for territorial control. Partly in response to violence, govt 3 Sept established “unified command centres” in 65 municipalities to increase coordination between local authorities and security forces to maintain order and protect “social leaders, human rights defenders and peace signers”.Shared border with Venezuela reopened after three-year closure. After govt restored diplomatic relations with Caracas late Aug, Colombia-Venezuela border 26 Sept reopened, paving way for better regional coordination to address proliferation of criminal groups.
New govt took steps to revive talks with ELN and other armed and criminal groups; Colombia and Venezuela restored diplomatic relations. President Petro 7 Aug took office, becoming first left-leaning president in country’s recent history. During inauguration speech, Petro promised to complete implementation of 2016 peace agreement with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); also called on armed and criminal groups to lay down their weapons, referring to govt’s “Total Peace” plan aimed at reviving negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN) and demobilising other armed groups. Following this appeal, Petro 11 Aug sent high-level delegation to Cuba, where ELN negotiating team has remained in exile since talks broke down in 2019. Govt’s negotiating commission 12 Aug said it would “recognise the legitimacy of the rebel negotiators” and reinstate protocols signed in 2016, including protections for negotiators and roles for guarantor states Norway and Cuba; commission added that ELN said it will take “necessary steps to restart talks”. Petro 19 Aug suspended arrest and extradition warrants of ELN negotiators; defence ministry 25 Aug announced govt will suspend aerial bombing of armed groups; Petro 27 Aug proposed multilateral ceasefire to armed groups throughout country; interior minister 30 Aug submitted bill to Congress laying out peace initiative to pave way for negotiations with armed groups. In ELN’s stronghold Arauca department (north east), group 12 Aug announced release of nine individuals held captive; 18 Aug released six military personnel. Criminal organisation Gulf Clan 7 Aug announced unilateral ceasefire, expressed “goodwill to take part in exploratory talks”. Govt 12 Aug announced new military and police leadership, sending around 50 generals into retirement; reaction from military, broadly sceptical of president, was muted. Meanwhile, in Cauca department (south west), unknown assailants 28 Aug killed three members of indigenous community in Caldono municipality; suspected FARC dissidents 31 Aug kidnapped at least five minors, killed another near Argelia town. After incoming administration and Venezuela late-July agreed to reestablish relations, Petro 28 Aug sent new ambassador, Armando Benedetti, to Caracas, reversing outgoing President Duque’s confrontational policy toward Venezuela; Venezuelan President Maduro same day sent former FM Félix Plasencia as Venezuela's representative in Bogotá.
President-elect Petro strengthened governing coalition and agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with Venezuela, while Gulf Clan and other criminal organisations signalled willingness for talks. President-elect Petro throughout month worked to build broad coalition of political parties and figures ahead of his inauguration on 7 August. Notably, Petro 13, 19 July won support of Liberal party and Partido de la U, respectively, reaching historic majority in both chambers of congress. Meanwhile, incoming govt 28 July agreed with Venezuela to reestablish diplomatic relations. In joint declaration, Alvaro Leyva, designated FM under Petro, and Venezuelan FM Carlos Faria said both govts will appoint ambassadors to their respective capitals and work to strengthen security along their shared border. Incoming govt and criminal groups hinted at willingness for future negotiations. Petro 5 July told W Radio media outlet that his govt would work to achieve ceasefire with National Liberation Army (ELN) in order to resume peace talks and encourage dialogue with other armed groups. Gulf Clan and some smaller criminal organisations 21 July published open letter stating their willingness to negotiate ceasefire. In apparent bid by ELN to consolidate territorial control ahead of possible talks with govt, clashes between ELN and rival armed organisations increased in group’s major strongholds. Notably, clashes 9-14 July broke out between ELN and remnants of dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Fronts 10 and 28 in Tame municipality, Arauca department (north east); security forces 21 July clashed with ELN in Teorama municipality, Norte de Santander department (north east), leaving one soldier dead. Violence persisted elsewhere. Notably, unknown assailants 31 July shot dead five in La Union municipality, Valle del Cauca department; unknown gunmen same day killed four Indigenous people in Barbacoas municipality, Chocó department (along Pacific coast). Meanwhile, local media 2 July reported that former FARC chief negotiator and leader of Segunda Marquetalia dissident faction, Iván Márquez, had been wounded or killed in Venezuela; statements from Segunda Marquetalia 10 July indicated that Márquez had survived attack and remained in Venezuela. Defence Minister Diego Molano 15 July said security forces killed Iván Mordisco, leader of FARC’s former 1st Front, which never joined peace process.
Despite tense electoral atmosphere, all parties recognised presidential victory of Gustavo Petro, paving way for peaceful transfer of power 7 August; Truth Commission published long awaited report on decades-long conflict. In second round of presidential elections held 19 June, left-leaning candidate and former guerrilla Gustavo Petro won with 50.4 per cent of vote, defeating populist and businessman Rodolfo Hernández; victory marks first time leftist candidate has won presidential elections in recent history. Hernández and former president Iván Duque immediately recognised result, paving way for peaceful transfer of power on 7 August. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken and UN Sec Gen António Guterres 20 June welcomed “strength” of Colombian democracy. National Liberation Army same day signalled willingness to advance talks with incoming govt. Petro 22 June announced he had spoken with Venezuelan govt “to open the borders and restore the full exercise of human rights at the border”. Amid fears of violence and concern about possible Petro victory, military 19 June deployed 320,000 troops to polling stations and other key infrastructure on election day, 20,000 more than in previous elections; Ombudsman’s office same day said elections proceeded “normally” notwithstanding “isolated incidents against security forces” in Caquetá (south) and Norte de Santander (north east) departments. Petro 14 June issued open letter to security forces in bid to win support among rank-and-file, notably suggesting improvements to social benefits and promotion opportunities; largest associations of retired military officers rejected proposals. Head of army Gen Eduardo Zapateiro 28 June announced resignation. Authorities 10 June confirmed death of Ricardo Abel Ayala Orrego, alias Cabuyo, head of 36th Front of dissidences of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Antioquia department (north west), bringing number of dissident leaders killed in 2022 to five. Meanwhile, unknown assailants 27 June killed environmental leader and member of leftist coalition Pacto Histórico Juan David Ochoa in Granada municipality, Antioquia department (north west). Truth Commission 28 June published long-awaited report on conflict between authorities and FARC, said at least 450,664 people killed and 121,768 people disappeared between 1985-2018; recommended revised approach to drug policy, end to aerial fumigations that eradicate coca plants, and reforms to military.
Amid tense atmosphere, first round of presidential vote held; electoral violence could rise ahead of second round scheduled for 19 June. Colombians 29 May headed to polls amid tense electoral atmosphere. Leftist candidate Gustavo Petro won 40.32% of vote, falling short of 50% required to prevent second round; conservative candidate Rodolfo Hernández, who received 28.15%, will face Petro in run-off on 19 June. Attorney General’s Office same day processed 105 reports of possible electoral crimes and other disturbances. During election day, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents detonated three explosive devices in Caquetá (south) and Guaviare (south east) departments; same day killed polling jury in rural area of Vista Hermosa municipality, Meta department (centre). Also on election day, clashes erupted between FARC dissidents and National Liberation Army (ELN) in Normandía village, Arauca department (north). Earlier in month, criminal organisation Gulf Clan 5 May declared four-day armed strike in response to extradition 4 May of leader Dario Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, to U.S. Group ordered residents in areas under its influence to stay inside and “cease all social, economic, educational and cultural activities”. Strike affected at least 178 municipalities across 11 departments of northern Colombia; major city centres such as Sincelejo and Montería effectively shut down, illustrating group’s widespread and largely uncontested presence. Govt responded slowly, sending additional troops to affected regions three days after strike began. Ministry of defence reported five security forces killed 4-8 May, civil society said three civilians were killed. Chocó department (along Pacific coast), was among worst affected areas during and after strike; UN 17 May reported at least 14,600 people under forced confinement in southern Chocó in early May. Meanwhile, transitional justice mechanisms suffered setbacks. Military’s appointee to Truth Commission 2 May resigned, alleging that forthcoming final report will be biased; credible sources indicated he may have been pressured by sections of security forces to resign. Otoniel’s extradition marked significant loss for process, as it cut short his testimony before Special Jurisdiction for Peace Court (established under 2016 peace deal between govt and FARC to handle cases deriving from conflict).
Armed groups launched attacks on security forces, social leaders remained at risk, and supporters of left-wing presidential hopeful Gustavo Petro faced intimidation. Armed group violence targeting security forces continued. Notably, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 8 April allegedly ambushed military vehicle in Ituango municipality, Antioquia department (north west), killing three soldiers; 13 April allegedly killed four soldiers during attack in Meta department (centre). National Liberation Army (ELN), along with FARC dissidents, 30 April allegedly launched attack on army in Norte de Santander department (north east), which left two civilians and two military injured. Members of criminal organisation Clan del Golfo 19 April reportedly bombed military vehicle in Frontino town, Antioquia, killing six soldiers. Army 29 April killed six suspected FARC dissidents in Puerto Rondon town, Arauca department (north). UN Human Rights Office 13 April urged govt to launch investigation into military operation in Putumayo department (south), which reportedly killed four civilians 28 March. According to civil society group Indepaz, six massacres (murder of three or more persons) took place across country 2-24 April, killing 22 in total; Indepaz 24 April said at least ten social leaders and six ex-FARC combatants killed during April. Earlier in month, International Red Cross 1 April designated six non-international armed conflicts in Colombia: three among armed groups and three between armed groups and state. Following reported irregularities during March legislative elections, National Registrar 12 April said more than one million votes not tallied in initial count, raising concerns about forthcoming presidential vote scheduled in May-June in case of disputed election. Election-related incidents targeted left-wing candidates. Namely, VP candidate Francia Marquez, front-runner of left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, 4 April declared far-right group Aguilas Negras threatened her three times during month; unknown group 15 April also attacked Bogotá office of Colombia Humana, one of parties supporting Petro. Meanwhile, International Court of Justice 21 April ruled Colombian activities in Nicaraguan marine zone violated Nicaraguan sovereignty and ordered Colombia to stop interfering in Nicaragua’s waters.
Presidential primary and legislative elections saw strong results for party of left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro; rural violence, notably targeting activists, persisted. Legislative and presidential primary elections 13 March took place without major security incidents; National Liberation Army (ELN) largely upheld 10-15 March ceasefire it had announced 4 March. Polls elevated former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, presidential hopeful for left-leaning Historical Pact coalition with 4.5 mn votes in primary elections, as strong contender for May presidential polls; during primary, Federico Gutiérrez gained 2.1 mn votes, making him chosen candidate for right-wing Team for Colombia coalition, while 723,000 voters chose Sergio Fajardo as candidate for Center Hope coalition. In Senate, final tally, which was confirmed in late March, allocated Historical Pact 20 seats and Liberal and Conservative Parties 15 seats each. EU electoral mission 15 March reported evidence of vote-buying and candidate intimidation in run-up to polls, particularly in case of 16 newly created congressional seats for victims, where a number of traditional parties were accused by civil society observers of providing illegal financing to capture seats. Organization of American States 20 March called on electoral authorities to investigate alleged fraud. According to civil society group Indepaz, nine massacres (murder of three or more persons) took place across country 1-28 March, killing 36 in total; Indepaz 29 March said at least 15 social leaders killed during March, including indigenous leader José Miller Correa, who was found dead outside of Popayán town, Cauca department. Meanwhile, several other violent incidents reported during month. Notably, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 26 March attacked police station in capital Bogotá using explosives, killing two children and injuring 39 persons. Army 28 March killed 11 members of FARC dissident faction Segunda Marquetalia during clash in Puerto Leguizamo municipality (Putumayo province); according to rights groups, four civilians were among those killed, including Quechua Governor Pablo Panduro.
Attacks against security forces continued across country, notably along Pacific coast and Venezuelan border; some senior and retired military officials faced accusations of links with armed groups. Police and soldiers faced attacks throughout month, notably in Norte de Santander and Cauca departments, wounding dozens. In Meta department (south), motorcycle bomb 9 Feb exploded in front of Infantry Battalion N.21 “Batalla Pantano de Vargas” in Granada municipality, killing two; security forces killed 15 Clan del Golfo members during raid in Ituango municipality. In Pacific Coast, UN 2 Feb reported 18,000 forcibly confined in Nariño’s El Charco municipality; said another 20,000 later displaced and confined in Nariño’s Triángulo Telembí, fluvial area contested between competing factions of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents and local criminal groups. Armed men 15 Feb attacked convoy of Mayra Goana, candidate for Congress’ designated seats for victims, in Catatumbo region (east). Army 24 Feb launched military operation in Arauca department (north) killing at least 23 FARC dissidents. Violence along Venezuela-Colombia border ran high; Venezuelan security forces targeted Colombian criminal groups and FARC dissidents, 14 Feb and 20 Feb said Colombian criminal groups had planted explosives prompting them to deactivate landmines along border. Some senior military officials accused of links with armed groups. Notably, magazine Cambio 11 Feb reported General Jorge Hernando Herrera allied with criminal group Los Pocillos in combating FARC dissident front Carlos Patiño; Blu Radio 15 Feb revealed attorney general’s case against retired General Leonardo Alfonso Barrero who allegedly worked with La Cordillera, local franchise of Clan del Golfo post-paramilitary group in Northern Nariño (south). National Strike Committee and United Workers’ Union 9 Feb called for 3 March peaceful protests against govt; National Liberation Army 23-26 Feb conducted 72-hour “armed” strike against President Duque’s govt, which saw series of incidents notably in eastern Santander province where road explosion between Socorro and San Gil municipalities left eight people injured. According to civil society group Indepaz, six massacres (murder of three or more persons) took place across country 2-11 Feb, killing 18 in total; Indepaz 23 Feb said at least 12 social leaders killed during Feb.
Violence rose across country, with numerous attacks on security forces and increased insecurity at border with Venezuela. Leftist guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissident group of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) accused of launching attacks 27 Jan on security forces in Cesar, Norte de Santander, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Antioquia departments, leaving one military dead and dozens injured; armed men same day burnt two UN vehicles in Guaviare department (south east). In east, confrontations between ELN and dissident FARC’s 10th Front early Jan erupted in violation of previous non-aggression agreement. Violence rose over control of illegal economies, causing up to 50 deaths; Attorney General’s office 5 Jan reported recovering 27 corpses presumably linked to 10th Front in Fortul, Saravena and Arauquita municipalities in Arauca department and in Cubará municipality, Boyacá department. Clashes 10-14 Jan in Venezuela’s Apure region and Colombia’s Vichada department led President Duque 4 Jan to deploy two military brigades to Arauca, prompting mutual accusations from ELN and 10th Front of collaboration with military; Venezuela 16 Jan announced deployment of military at border with Colombia. Violence however persisted; car bomb attributed to 10th Front 19 Jan killed one and wounded five in Saravena city (Arauca). UN 18 Jan reported over 1,500 displaced by violence during month; UN Envoy to Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu 21 Jan asked UN Security Council to strengthen state presence at border with Venezuela. Meanwhile, violent attacks persisted elsewhere. Along Pacific coast in Valle del Cauca, ELN 7 Jan injured 13 members of police’s anti-riot unit in Cali city; FARC dissidents 24 Jan killed leader of National Indigenous Guard in Buenos Aires municipality; clashes between criminal organisation Clan del Golfo and ELN 28 Jan prompted mass displacement in Bajo Calima village. According to civil society group Indepaz 13 massacres (murder of three or more persons) took place across country 3-28 Jan, killing 39 in total; Indepaz 31 Jan said at least 14 social leaders killed during Jan. In lead-up to presidential elections set for May 2022, former Congresswoman and guerrilla hostage Ingrid Betancourt 18 Jan announced candidacy; presidential campaigns 29 Jan officially started.
FARC dissident faction suffered new setback in neighbouring Venezuela, and violence continued notably along Pacific coast. Two senior commanders of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident faction Segunda Marquetalia, Henry Castellanos (alias Romaña) and Hernán Darío Velásquez (alias El Paisa), killed 5 Dec in Venezuela’s Apure state; local media including Colombian news outlet Caracol in following days said rival FARC dissident 10th Front suspected of carrying out attacks, though details remain unclear; killings strike symbolic blow to Segunda Marquetalia, which last May lost senior commander Jesús Santrich. In Norte de Santander department near Venezuelan border, bomb blasts 14 Dec killed two police officers at airport in Cúcuta city; one suspected suicide bomber also killed. Defence Minister Diego Molano immediately condemned “terrorist” act, said it bore hallmark of FARC dissident groups and National Liberation Army (ELN), though neither claimed responsibility. Also in Norte de Santander, suspected members of 33rd FARC Dissident Front early Dec clashed with other armed groups and 5 Dec reportedly threw grenade at voting station for election of municipal youth council in Tibú municipality, injuring three soldiers and two civilians. Meanwhile, fighting continued along Pacific coast. In Cauca department, FARC dissident faction Carlos Patiño Front 6 Dec announced armed strike in parts of Argelia municipality in attempt to cement territorial control, amid competition with Segunda Marquetalia and ELN for control of drug trafficking routes; 14 Dec lifted strike, but demanded change in military command in area. Indigenous communities from across Cauca 10 Dec marched to Cali, main city of Pacific coast, to protest rising levels of violence and lack of state response. Army 29 Dec said it had found corpses of seven men in rural area of Putumayo department (south), blamed FARC dissidents. Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz 2 Dec announced possible resumption of aerial fumigation of coca crops in Feb 2022; move follows National Environmental Licensing Agency’s approval of govt’s environmental impact plan for spraying, one of several pending conditions set in 2017 by Constitutional Court to restart aerial fumigation. Country’s Registrar 22 Dec released official list of candidates for presidential and congressional elections scheduled to begin 13 March.
Violence continued along Pacific Coast, fuelling mass displacement and forced confinement. Fighting between rival local armed groups 6-7 Nov forced 173 families to flee port city of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca department; UN 11 Nov reported others remained confined within their neighbourhoods. In Nariño department, fighting between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident factions 11 Nov displaced at least 110 people from Los Limones neighbourhood in Olaya Herrera municipality, while clashes between FARC dissidents and National Liberation Army (ELN) that week reportedly displaced 85 families from Indigenous reserves in Ricaurte municipality. Also in Nariño, thousands of coca growers late Oct-early Nov demonstrated for several days in a row to protest coca crop eradication programmes around Iscuandé municipality. Meanwhile, clashes between Gulf Clan, one of country’s main criminal organisations, and state forces reported in Antioquia and Chocó departments: suspected Gulf Clan members 7 Nov ambushed military unit near Ituango municipality, Antioquia, killing four soldiers, and 10 Nov reportedly killed two police officers in Bahia Solano municipality, Chocó. Armed clashes between state forces and FARC dissidents, notably Second Marquetalia and Carlos Patiño Front, also reported late Oct-early Nov around Argelia municipality in Cauca department. Special Jurisdiction for Peace (established under 2016 peace deal between govt and FARC to handle cases deriving from conflict) 5 Nov added indictment of “enslavement” in charges against former FARC commanders in case investigating practice of kidnapping; FARC leadership, which has accepted all other charges in case, including crimes against humanity, 7 Nov rejected enslavement charge. On fifth anniversary of peace agreement, U.S. State Dept 23 Nov announced intent to revoke designation of FARC as terrorist group, while UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 23-24 Nov visited Colombia, warned that “guaranteeing social leaders’ and ex-combatants’ security is vital to consolidate peace”. President Duque 25 Nov said Bogotá had received formal request from U.S. to extradite Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias Otoniel, leader of country’s largest criminal organisation who was detained in Oct.
Authorities apprehended most wanted crime lord while rural violence persisted, particularly in key trafficking routes including Pacific coast, Bajo Cauca and Venezuelan border. Authorities 23 Oct arrested leader of country’s largest criminal organisation, alias Otoniel, in joint army, air force and police operation in Antioquia department; President Duque hailed capture as “biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century”. Fierce fighting involving armed groups and military sparked mass displacements along Pacific coast, including of over 230 people from indigenous reserve in Nariño department mid-Oct, and of over 400 in Cauca department around 20 Oct as military engaged in heavy fighting against Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents and National Liberation Army. UN also reported inter-urban displacement accelerated in Oct in Buenaventura port city, Valle del Cauca department, due to armed group competition for territorial control. Social leaders in Antioquia and Córdoba departments throughout month reported increasing threats from Gulf Clan, one of country’s main criminal organisations, and other armed groups. Attacks on social leaders continued at high level. Notably, unidentified assailants 1 and 7 Oct killed three activists in Putumayo department; 6 Oct attacked teenage son of spokesperson of national coca growers’ union in Córdoba department. String of attacks on security forces late Sept-early Oct left several dead across country, including two police in Santander de Quilichao municipality, Cauca department, 9 Oct. Violence against former FARC members persisted with at least two killed in Cauca department week of 9-15 Oct. Govt 6 Oct said it deployed 14,000-strong military unit to Norte de Santander department near border with Venezuela; move came one day after Caracas reopened land border with Colombia after two-year closure. Constitutional Court 1 Oct extended mandate of Truth Commission, created by 2016 peace accord, for another nine months; Commission had been set to finish its work in Nov, but has yet to deliver its final report. International Criminal Court 28 Oct said it had shelved preliminary probe into crimes committed during Colombia’s nearly six-decade civil war, saying it would leave investigations to domestic institutions.
Confrontations between armed actors and attacks against security forces and civilians ran high along border with Venezuela. In Norte de Santander department (north east), bomb attacks 8 Sept left two soldiers dead at Tibú’s airport, and next day killed woman and wounded several soldiers in department’s capital Cúcuta; confrontations between armed groups sparked mass displacement from Cúcuta’s Banco de Arena neighbourhood starting 11 Sept. Also in Norte de Santander, Gaitanista Drug Cartel (AGC) 11 Sept threatened social and union leaders who have organised local protests as part of national strike movement since April, including demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) combatants. In nearby Arauca department, bomb attack by guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) 11 Sept left five soldiers dead. Conflicting reports emerged about abduction and alleged killing of colonel by FARC dissidents. Military 3 Sept claimed colonel abducted in April was killed by 10th Front of FARC dissidents in Venezuela; 28th Front of FARC dissidents 5 Sept released video of victim, accused military of making false claim to cover state’s failure to rescue him. Meanwhile in Chocó department (west), heavy fighting between ELN and AGC 13 Sept confined 250 to 300 families to their homes in Medio San Juan town. In Nariño department (south west), suspected FARC dissidents 26 Sept killed at least five in Tumaco area. Military next day said troops had killed at least ten FARC dissidents in Morichal Nuevo municipality, Guainia department (south east). NGO Peace and Reconciliation Foundation 8 Sept recorded six deaths in 29 violent incidents associated with campaigning for 2022 presidential and legislative elections 13 March-23 Aug, warned violence may increase as voting draws closer. Advocacy group Global Witness 13 Sept recorded 65 land and environmental defenders killed in Colombia in 2020, highest number worldwide. Meanwhile, lawmakers 7 Sept passed $4bn tax reform law, in final step of long-running efforts by President Duque’s govt to get fiscal reform through Congress; bill’s previous version had sparked deadly protests in April-June. On first anniversary of killing of civilian by police, hundreds 9 Sept took to streets in capital Bogotá to denounce police brutality.
Amid implementation of 2016 peace deal’s justice provisions, court ruled case of former army chief charged in false positives scandal should remain with transitional justice tribunal. Attorney general 25 Aug accused former army commander Gen Mario Montoya of overseeing killings of 104 civilians in 2007-2008 as part of “false positives” scandal, during which soldiers murdered civilians and registered them as guerrilla fighters killed in combat; Bogota’s Superior Tribunal 30 Aug however refused to allow trial in ordinary courts, said Montoya is under jurisdiction of special transitional justice tribunal (JEP) created by 2016 peace accord between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). President Duque 3 Aug ratified law creating 16 reserved seats in Congress for victims of decades-long civil conflict, as mandated in 2016 peace deal; seats will be up for election in forthcoming 2022 ballot. In first address to Truth and Reconciliation Commission, non-binding transitional justice body, former President Uribe 16 Aug said he did not recognise legitimacy of commission or any institution deriving from 2016 agreement; also denied responsibility in “false positives” scandal, arguing that while he had demanded strong results, soldiers had “tricked” him with body counts. Two former enemies during civil conflict, former top commander of right-wing paramilitary group Salvatore Mancuso, and former FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, 4 Aug appeared together before truth commission, apologised to victims for war atrocities. Govt 5 Aug said police had foiled attack by FARC dissident group Segunda Marquetalia in capital Bogotá, detaining two people and seizing explosives; police 4, 16 Aug said authorities had re-activated Interpol Red Notices for four Segunda Marquetalia members, including group’s leader Ivan Marquez, also requested latter’s extradition from Venezuela. Authorities 15 Aug killed Anderson Perlaza Caicedo (alias Borojó), alleged leader of FARC dissident group Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico in Tumaco town, Nariño department in south. Govt 19 Aug for first time extradited alleged members of National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group to U.S., with two of them due to appear before U.S. federal court on drug trafficking charges. Thousands of U.S.-bound migrants still stranded at month’s end in Necoclí town (Antioquia province).
Inter-American rights body accused authorities of excessive force in handling of anti-govt protests, while transitional justice mechanism brought charges against military personnel for first time. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 7 July condemned authorities’ “excessive and disproportionate use of force…including lethal force” to suppress anti-govt protests that kicked off in late April, said security forces arbitrarily detained civilians and engaged in ethnic discrimination, and recommended transfer of National Police from defence to interior ministry. President Duque same day rejected accusations. Thousands 20 July marched in several cities including capital Bogotá, Medellín and Cali in bid to revive street protests, demanding police reform and greater economic assistance amid COVID-19 pandemic; ombudsman’s office next day said clashes between protesters and police had left 24 civilians and 26 security personnel injured, while police reported 70 people arrested. Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP, established under peace deal between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to handle cases deriving from conflict) 6 July accused ten military personnel and one civilian of involvement in killings of at least 120 civilians in Catatumbo region, Norte de Santander department (east), between Jan 2007 and Aug 2008; move marks first time JEP has indicted soldiers in connection with so-called “false positives” scandal, in which soldiers murdered civilians and classified them as rebels killed in combat. Civil society monitor Indepaz reported alarming rate of violence against social leaders, with at least 18 killed 1-25 July. Guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents early July reportedly clashed in Bolívar department (north), leaving seven killed. Govt forces 5-6 July killed at least five FARC dissidents in airstrike in Caquetá department (south). Ombudsman’s office 29 July requested govt protection for 1,300 minors among 4,100 displaced people fleeing clashes between armed groups in Ituango municipality, Antioquia department (north west) since 22 July. Authorities 22 July said they had arrested ten individuals for alleged involvement in June attacks on military base and Duque’s helicopter, said orders came from FARC dissidents operating from Venezuela; suspects include one former military officer and one National Protection Unit official.
Bomb attack at military base injured dozens and helicopter carrying President Duque struck by bullets; National Strike Committee suspended weekly protests. Car bomb 15 June exploded inside military base in Cúcuta city, Norte de Santander department (north east near Venezuelan border), wounding 36 soldiers; Defence Minister Diego Molano Aponte same day blamed National Liberation Army (ELN) or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident factions for attack; ELN next day denied involvement. Unidentified assailants 25 June shot at helicopter transporting Duque and other govt officials to Cúcuta; no casualties reported. Suspected armed groups 27 June killed nine including four police officers in spate of attacks across country. Meanwhile, thousands 2 June marched in capital Bogotá and other cities, renewing calls for reform in security, health and education sectors. Majority of rural protesters and some urban demonstrators early June complied with National Strike Committee’s decision to start lifting or loosening blockades in good-will gesture amid stalled talks with govt; blockades however remained in Valle de Cauca department and its capital Cali, in west along Pacific coast. National Strike Committee 6 June pulled out of negotiations with govt, accusing it of delaying talks, while President Duque same day announced plan to reform police, largely made up of institutional changes already under way; Committee 15 June suspended weekly demonstrations, announced it would turn focus on convening local public assemblies and building political consensus, and convened next protest for 20 July. Govt 18 June amended decree on right to peaceful protest to exclude roadblocks, said use of force to remove them legitimate. During Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visit 8-10 June to assess human rights situation in context of protests, local NGOs Temblores and Indepaz reported 69 people killed during protests, including 41 by police; govt confirmed total of 19 deaths, with only four resulting from police brutality. Colombia 21 June reached 100,000 COVID-19 deaths amid peak in cases and warnings of risk of medical supply shortages.
Anti-govt protests escalated further as protesters, armed civilians and security forces clashed, leaving dozens killed; Cali city faces high risk of spiralling violence in coming weeks. Following late April protests against govt’s tax reform, President Duque 2 May withdrew reform proposal and adopted other concessions in following days; tens of thousands however continued to rally across country, with protests taking increasingly deadly turn as protesters faced security build-up and armed civilians. Notably, civilians opposed to strikes 9 May opened fire on protesters including indigenous groups in Cali city, Valle del Cauca department (west), wounding at least eight. Videos of police firing into crowds, chasing civilians and using teargas indiscriminately circulated on social media, and Human Rights Ombudsman 11 May reported 42 killed and 168 missing since protests started. Duque 17 May authorised security forces’ “maximum deployment” to lift blockades across country. Clashes between protesters, police and armed civilians 28 May left several people dead in Cali; Duque same day announced deployment of 7,000 troops to Cali and rest of Valle del Cauca. Negotiations between govt and strike leaders, which started mid-May, remained stalled by month’s end. Meanwhile, High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos 9 May revealed govt had been conducting indirect talks with National Liberation Army (ELN) to explore group’s “disposition” toward govt’s pre-conditions for talks, including releasing hostages and ceasing kidnappings, child recruitment and use of mines; Ceballos 26 May resigned, citing former President Uribe’s contacts with ELN outside govt’s purview. Govt 16 May named jailed ELN leader Tulio Gilberto Astudillo Victoria, alias Juan Carlos Cuellar, as “manager of peace”, hereby allowing him to play mediating role; ELN commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista next day released statement supporting anti-govt protests and urging soldiers to disobey orders. UN Security Council 11 May renewed mandate of Verification Mission for Colombia until 31 Oct; mission’s mandate now due to include monitoring compliance with sentences of Special Jurisdiction for Peace, established under govt-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) peace deal to handle cases deriving from conflict. Clashes between Venezuela’s military and FARC dissidents continued near Colombian border (see Venezuela).
Security situation continued to deteriorate along Pacific coast and Venezuelan border, and govt took further steps toward restarting contentious coca crop fumigation. In Cauca department (south west along Pacific coast), clashes involving guerrilla groups National Liberation Army and self-described Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents, and military, continued in Argelia municipality, reportedly killing 14 guerillas and one military officer 17 April; Ombudsman’s Office next day reported 250 civilians displaced and several injured by anti-personnel mines. Also in Cauca, unidentified gunmen 20 April shot dead indigenous leader Sandra Liliana Peña in Caldono town, and 22 April opened fire on members of indigenous community who were destroying coca crops in Caldono municipality, leaving 31 injured. NGO Indepaz 20 April reported 52 social leaders and human rights activists killed across country since 1 Jan; later said seven demobilised FARC combatants were killed in several regions 14-21 April. Clashes between FARC dissidents and Venezuelan army continued in Venezuela’s Apure state near Colombian border (see Venezuela), fuelling tensions between both countries. Notably, Colombia 13 April decried Venezuelan President Maduro’s leadership as “illegitimate”. As part of efforts to meet conditions set by 2017 Constitutional Court ruling to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops, govt 12 April issued decree outlining regulations to govern spraying with glyphosate pesticide. Earlier in month, govt 6 April signed decree relocating citizens’ constitutional injunctions on national security issues – including those related to eradication and fumigation – from regional court system into administrative body Council of State; move comes after several petitions in regional courts held back fumigation. President Duque 20 April said govt expects to restart spraying as soon as June in coca-dense Norte de Santander department (north east). Civil society activists 20 April sent petition backed by 20,000 signatures to Constitutional Court, requesting it prevent govt from resuming fumigation, citing inefficiency in reducing cultivation and health and environment risks. Thousands 28-30 April protested govt’s tax reform proposal in several cities, notably in Cali city in Valle del Cauca department; protests turned violent reportedly leaving several killed and hundreds of civilians and police injured.
Ombudsman reported record displacement figures since early 2021, while controversy emerged over govt’s handling of children forcibly recruited into armed groups. Ombudsman’s office 8 March reported more than 11,000 people forcibly displaced in 2021, compared to 15,000 in all of 2020; displacement highest along Pacific coast, where rival armed groups have been clashing over territorial control and opposing military; 90% of those displaced reportedly from Indigenous or Afro-Colombian communities. UN humanitarian office 9 March said unclear number of people, up to 3,000, displaced by brutal dispute between rival criminal groups in port city of Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca department (west along Pacific coast) since early Jan; UN Human Rights Office in Colombia 19 March recorded over 41 homicides and 13 cases of disappearance in city since early Jan, urged authorities to dismantle criminal networks operating there. Military airstrike on camp of alleged Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident faction 2 March killed several combatants in Calamar municipality, Guaviare department (centre south). After local journalist 9 March claimed 14 minors killed, Defence Minister Diego Molano next day said child recruits are “war machines” no longer deserving state protection; in response, director of child protection agency Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar same day said child soldiers are victims. Forensics next day confirmed death in govt airstrike of 16-year-old and two other youths aged 18 and 19. Meanwhile, car bomb allegedly placed by FARC dissidents outside town hall of Corinto, Cauca department (south west), 26 March wounded 43 people. Colombian NGO Dejusticia 7 March released Dec 2020 letter from seven UN Special Rapporteurs to President Duque expressing strong opposition to resumption of aerial fumigation of coca, citing “enormous risks for the environment and human rights” and violation of 2016 peace agreement. Govt subsequently dismissed letter and maintained intention to restart fumigation in April. Clashes between Venezuela’s military and Colombian FARC dissidents 21 March erupted in Venezuelan border state of Apure; Colombian govt 28 March said 4,700 had sought refuge in Colombia since fighting started; refugees reportedly accused Venezuelan soldiers of abuses, including killing civilians.
Territorial contests between armed groups continued to accelerate in Norte de Santander department bordering Venezuela, Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia department and along Pacific Coast.In Norte de Santander, military and National Liberation Army (ELN) early Feb exchanged fire in Hacarí municipality, leaving one ELN combatant dead and forcing at least 50 people to flee. Paramilitary groups’ escalating threats on local population triggered mass displacement of farming communities around Ituango hydroelectric dam, Antioquia; over 500 people mid-Feb fled toward urban centres, while UN 16 Feb estimated 2,000 people forcefully confined due to fighting. Demonstrations 5 Feb erupted in Buenaventura city, Valle del Cauca department (south west along Pacific coast), against mounting insecurity as a result of feud between local criminal organisation’s rival factions. Two drug trafficking groups 20-21 Feb clashed in Nariño department (also south west), leaving at least 11 dead. Under rising political pressure surrounding social leader killings, govt 5 Feb said Attorney General’s Office and govt ombudsman would work to create unified register of social leader violence civil society watchdogs same day released letter which said move is intended to minimise gravity of risk toward social leaders. Meanwhile, President Duque 1 Feb appointed Diego Molano new defence minister to replace Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died from COVID-19 in Jan; in following days, Molano took hardline stance on security, especially counter-narcotics, emphasising need to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops as soon as April. Cuban ambassador to Colombia 8 Feb alerted Colombian authorities to risk of ELN attack in capital Bogotá in coming days; ELN 10 Feb denied claim. Following Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP, established under peace deal between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to handle cases deriving from conflict) accusations in Jan, former FARC commander and current head of FARC political party Rodrigo Londoño 18 Feb acknowledged responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying he and seven co-accused were committed to recounting truth for victims. JEP same day said Colombian military committed 6,400 extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008, significantly more than previously counted.
Armed groups continued to vie for control of territory in rural areas. Clashes between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident factions and Gaitanista Drug Cartel (AGC) over territorial control further intensified in several regions. FARC dissident factions 18th and 52nd Fronts 2 Jan circulated pamphlet in Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia and Córdoba departments (north west), vowing to purge AGC and any other resistance from Nudo de Paramillo mountains. Govt ombudsman 8 Jan warned about accelerating combat between FARC dissidents and AGC-affiliated groups in Cauca, Putumayo and Caquetá departments (south west). Meanwhile, violence involving military, National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissident factions continued in Cauca. Notably, suspected ELN combatants 15 Dec killed municipal councillor for Argelia municipality in El Plateado area; councilman was prominent defender of peasants’ land rights and strong advocate for coca crops substitution. Twelve more councillors from Argelia were evacuated to capital Bogotá 26 Jan after facing threats to their lives. On two-year anniversary of ELN bomb attack on police training academy in Bogotá, President Duque 17 Jan reiterated request for Cuba to extradite ELN leadership to face trial as suspected masterminds of attack, which left 22 dead, and other crimes. Special Jurisdiction for Peace (established under govt-FARC peace deal to handle cases deriving from conflict) 28 Jan charged eight former FARC high-ranking members with war crimes for kidnapping more than 21,000 people during decades-long conflict, including current head of FARC political party Rodrigo Londoño. Duque 4 Jan announced goal to manually eradicate 130,000 hectares of coca in 2021 – a similar number to what was achieved in 2020. Meanwhile, legal challenges continued to delay resumption of aerial fumigation, halted in 2015 over health concerns. Pasto regional court (Nariño department, south west) 14 Jan ruled that govt must undertake prior consultation with indigenous and ethnic communities in order to resume spraying. In letter to new U.S. administration, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities 21 Jan asked for protection against armed group violence.
Territorial contests between armed groups continued to afflict populations in rural areas. Suspected Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents 5 Dec killed at least four members of indigenous community in Santander de Quilichao municipality, Cauca department (south west). National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas 3-15 Dec imposed armed strike in Iscaundé and Guapi municipalities in south-western Nariño and Cauca departments respectively, prohibiting car and boat transport and reportedly confining over 4,000 people to their homes. Suspected ELN combatants 27 Dec killed family of five, including former FARC combatant, in Montecristo municipality, Bolívar department (north). Meanwhile, violence persisted in Antioquia department (north west) as drug trafficking group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) battled splinter groups; notably, spate of AGC attacks 11-13 Dec killed at least seven civilians in Caucasia and El Bagre municipalities. Govt 4 Dec reiterated 31 Dec deadline for armed group turned political party FARC to turn over economic proceeds from decades-long conflict; FARC 15 Dec reiterated official position that all assets have been declared or provided to govt. Govt pursued efforts to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops, paused in 2015, despite vocal opposition from civil society organisations, which argue fumigation poses health, social and environmental risks, and effects on reducing cocaine supply still unclear. Environmental Licensing Authority 19 Dec held public audience; meeting was one of final steps required by Constitutional Court to restart spraying.
Armed groups’ attempts to consolidate territorial control took heavy toll on civilians, notably along Pacific coast and border with Venezuela. In Norte de Santander (north east) and Antioquia (north west) departments, spate of attacks 3 Nov killed seven people, including two prominent human rights activists; unidentified armed assailants night of 21-22 Nov killed ten coffee pickers in Betania municipality, Antioquia. In Cauca department (south west), fighting between National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Frente Carlos Patiño early Nov confined around 300 people in López de Micay municipality; unidentified armed group night of 21-22 Nov killed at least five civilians in Argelia municipality. In Chocó department (west), fighting between army and ELN early to mid-Nov displaced over 250 families and confined 1,400 people in Docordó municipality. Army 16 Nov claimed to have killed Emiliano Alcides Osorio Macea, leader of Caparros, splinter group of Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups), in Tarazá municipality, Antioquia. Meanwhile, several hundred former FARC combatants and their supporters 1 Nov took to streets in capital Bogotá, after converging from various regions, to call for govt protection from targeted killings. In letter to former President Santos, former FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño 2 Nov said FARC was responsible for several assassination attempts on former VP Germán Vargas Lleras. Thousands 19 Nov gathered in countries’ main cities, including Bogotá and second-largest city Medellín, to protest against govt’s social and economic policies and demand improved health care and education.
Social unrest remained widespread and armed groups continued to consolidate territorial control. Thousands of indigenous people mostly from Cauca department (Pacific coast in south west) 19-20 Oct protested in capital Bogotá, demanding protection from armed groups, dismantling of paramilitaries, rural reform and reopening of peace negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas; 21 Oct joined National Strike Committee-led demonstration in Bogotá against President Duque’s social and economic policies; national strike day protests across country were significant but smaller than in Sept. Meanwhile, armed groups continued to expand territorial control and harass populations. In apparent show of force, drug trafficking group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) 2 Oct tagged walls in 60 municipalities in ten departments; in pamphlet dated “Oct 2020”, AGC in Sucre department (north) declared all indigenous and social leaders “military targets”. ELN 9 Oct and again later in month reiterated willingness to negotiate bilateral ceasefire with govt and called on authorities to fully implement 2016 govt-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) peace accord; govt maintained ELN had not met minimum conditions for talks including release of all hostages and cessation of criminal activity. Govt 25 Oct said recent military operation had killed Jaime Arias, alias Uriel, commander of ELN’s Western War Front, in Chocó department (west). Three senior FARC senators 3 Oct said FARC was responsible for 1995 assassination of senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado and five other public figures; members of ruling Democratic Centre party thereafter called for senators to resign; Hurtado’s relatives, who believe others are responsible for killings, rejected FARC’s statement as unfounded. UN Sec-Gen Special Representative in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu 14 Oct raised concerns over rising rural violence and killings of former FARC combatants, after UN Mission in Colombia late Sept reported 19 ex-FARC combatants killed 27 June-25 Sept, bringing total of ex-FARC combatants killed since peace accord to 224.
Police brutality sparked deadly unrest, while violence in rural areas continued to take high toll on civilians. After video emerged of excessive use of force by police against taxi driver during his arrest night of 8-9 Sept, large protests 9 Sept erupted in capital Bogotá and other cities; protesters set at least 22 police stations on fire across country and police fired live ammunition, leaving at least 13 dead in and around Bogotá 9-10 Sept. High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos 14 Sept alleged National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) groups coordinated violence, while attorney general 18 Sept said govt had captured four members of FARC dissident cell in Bogotá. Following calls by National Strike Committee, which coordinated late 2019 protest movement, thousands 21 Sept took to streets in several cities to protest dire economic situation and poor living conditions. Supreme Court 22 Sept ruled in favour of citizen petition requiring govt to guarantee right of peaceful protest; govt next day said it would ask Constitutional Court to re-evaluate decision. Large-scale killings (with three or more victims) of civilians continued, leaving at least 12 dead in Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia and Córdoba departments (north west) where Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and AGC splinter group Caparros fight for control of mining rights and drug trafficking routes, and ELN and FARC dissident factions also operate. Several massacres also recorded in Sept in Cauca and Nariño departments along Pacific coast, leaving at least 17 dead. In Alto Baudó municipality, Chocó (west), fighting between AGC and ELN 25 Aug-17 Sept displaced some 450 people and confined over 4,000 members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to homes. In testimony to Special Jurisdiction for Peace (established by govt-FARC peace deal), FARC party chief Rodrigo Londoño 9 Sept said forced recruitment was not FARC policy during civil war, sparking criticism from other political parties; FARC 15 Sept issued statement describing kidnappings as “grave error”.
Amid concerns over armed groups exploiting COVID-19 pandemic to recruit youths and extend control over territories, attacks against civilians increased, leaving dozens dead. Series of attacks targeted civilians throughout month, leaving high toll on youth, primarily in country’s south west but also in north east along Colombia-Venezuela border. Gunmen 9 Aug killed two schoolchildren in Cauca department; authorities accused Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups). Unidentified gunmen 11 Aug killed five youths in Cali city, Valle del Cauca department, and 15 Aug killed eight others in Samaniego town, Nariño department; National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas 17 Aug denied responsibility for latter attack and blamed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Los Contadores. Armed groups 21-22 Aug killed at least 17 youths in three attacks in Arauca, Nariño and Cauca departments in one of deadliest 24 hours since 2016 peace deal between govt and FARC. Further attacks killed three in Capitan Largo, Norte de Santander department 25 Aug and three others in Antioquia department 28 Aug. Armed groups also pursued efforts to increase control over populations and territories. ELN 3-17 Aug implemented strict restrictions on movement in south of Bolívar department (north), ostensibly to control spread of COVID-19. Fighting between armed groups and restrictions imposed by them also confined over 17,000 people in their communities 21 July-17 Aug including 2,000 people from indigenous Embera community in Murindó municipality and 14,300 people in El Bagre municipality, both Antioquia department, as well as 1,270 people in Bojayá municipality, Chocó department (west). Number of COVID-19 cases 27 Aug reached 581,995, making Colombia seventh worst coronavirus-affected country globally. Controversy emerged after Supreme Court 4 Aug placed former President Uribe, head of ruling Democratic Centre party, under house arrest over suspected witness tampering in relation to allegations that Uribe helped found paramilitary group in 1990s; President Duque next day argued court had violated presumption of innocence. Duque 20 Aug said he had received information from foreign intelligence services that Venezuela was looking to acquire Iranian missiles and reiterated accusation that Caracas supports armed groups on Colombia-Venezuela border.
Armed groups continued to take advantage of COVID-19 pandemic to expand territorial control, while National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas reiterated willingness to negotiate ceasefire with govt. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, armed group violence remained high. Notably, criminal group Rastrojos 18 June reportedly killed eight farmers and coca growers in Tibú municipality, Norte de Santander department (north east), forcing more than 400 people to flee. Attorney general’s office first week of July said 37 social leaders were killed in first six months of 2020 with a further 49 cases under verification; civil society group Indepaz counted 166 such assassinations in same period. NGO Global Witness 29 July said 64 environmental activists were killed in 2019, highest total globally and increase from 25 in 2018. ELN 7 July urged govt to negotiate bilateral 90-day humanitarian ceasefire amid coronavirus; next day, President Duque excluded possibility of bilateral talks until several preconditions are met. ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán 9 July said group would not consider unilateral truce, claiming govt used guerrillas’ April ceasefire to reposition forces and launch offensive in May. Govt 8 July launched individual demobilisation program allowing armed group combatants to disarm in exchange for reduced judicial sentences and economic reintegration packages; El Espectador newspaper 10 July reported Dairo Antonio Úsuga David alias Otoniel, leader of Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (one of country’s main drug trafficking groups), was exploring options to lay down arms through program. Govt 15 July relocated dozens of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) combatants from collective demobilisation zone in Ituango, Antioquia department (north west) following threats from dissident factions. Govt continued to insist on 31 July deadline for FARC political party to hand over economic proceeds from conflict, though party reiterated it had already returned profits in cash and commodities. Amid dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, govt 29 July extended nationwide quarantine until 30 Aug, with different sets of local restrictions depending on number of cases.
National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla reiterated willingness to resume negotiations as it released prisoners, a govt precondition to resume talks, while armed groups exploited COVID-19 pandemic to increase control over territories. Following mediation by International Red Cross, govt ombudsman and Catholic church, ELN 12 June released two people held in Arauca department (east) since early May, 15 June released six others, including former police officers, in Norte de Santander department (north east), and 18 June handed over army captain captured 7 June in Arauca. ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán 16 June reiterated group’s willingness to negotiate with govt; however, govt insisted group is still holding up to ten hostages. Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) 12 June also released minor in Bajo Cauca area of Antioquia department (north west). Amid COVID-19 pandemic, several municipalities in Antioquia reported throughout month that criminal groups including AGC and AGC splinter group Caparros imposed checkpoints to limit movement. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident groups also reportedly issued movement restrictions notably in Putumayo (south), Cauca (south west), and Amazonas (south) departments. ELN prohibited return of urban residents to rural areas in south of Bolívar department (north). Amid national COVID-19 lockdown, govt ombudsman early June warned that armed groups were recruiting children out of school; concerns also grew over rise in femicides and forced disappearances of women, as bodies of two women were found 16 June in Segovia and Fredonia municipalities, Antioquia. Amid high rates of COVID-19 transmission notably in Amazonas department along Brazilian border and in Barranquilla and Cartagena cities on Atlantic coast, govt extended nationwide lockdown until 15 July; in capital Bogotá and second-largest city Medellín, protesters sporadically blocked major roads to protest movement restrictions, delays in distribution of food aid, and corruption in management of aid. Killings of social leaders continued; authorities 24 June recovered body of activist Edier Adán Lopera, allegedly killed 15 June by Caparros in Tarazá municipality, Antioquia.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, armed groups’ violence continued unabated in south west, while military conducted operations against National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. Violence remained high in Cauca department (south west) as three Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia dissident fronts attempted to take advantage of COVID-19 mobility restrictions to expand and consolidate territory, leaving five social leaders killed 1-15 May. Military conducted several operations against ELN guerrillas throughout country. Notably, army 13 May killed at least five ELN members during operations in south of Bolívar department (north), including Alejandro Montoya alias “Gallero”, commander of Darío Ramírez Castro War Front and member of national leadership. After President Duque late April signed decree authorising creation of demobilisation scheme for individual members of armed groups, military reported 37 ELN members sought to demobilise 29 April-2 May in Cauca; ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán 18 May rejected decree as non-starter. Beltrán 29 May said ELN would back UN’s call for three-month global ceasefire to address COVID-19 pandemic. Small-scale demonstrations against hunger continued almost daily in several major cities, while World Food Programme 19 May said 1mn people need urgent food support throughout country. Govt 11 May relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for several core economic sectors and 22 May extended mandatory isolation until 31 May. Amid high rates of COVID-19 transmission notably in Amazonas department along Brazilian border, govt and Brazil 15 May agreed to establish joint committee of ministers of health, defence and foreign affairs, while govt mid-month deployed at least 1,000 additional troops to border. UN refugee agency 19 May said COVID-19-related school closure increased risk of child recruitment by armed groups in Colombia.
Amid continued armed groups’ violence, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas announced it will not extend one-month COVID-19 ceasefire. After ELN 1 April began unilateral ceasefire as “humanitarian gesture” amid COVID-19, govt’s High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos immediately called ceasefire insufficient, said ELN should “extend [its] terms indefinitely” and release hostages as pre-conditions to any ELN-govt talks; in statement, ELN 27 April said it will not extend ceasefire into May, citing govt’s failure to reciprocate with good-will gesture. Despite ceasefire, ELN throughout month clashed with other armed groups in Chocó (west) and Cauca (south west) provinces. Notably, violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and ELN led to displacement in Chocó, including early-April clashes causing 37 indigenous families to flee Guayabal town. Clashes between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Columna Mobil Carlos Patiño, ELN and army in Argelia and Tambo municipalities, Cauca, killed at least eight 14 April. Govt 10 April announced capture of FARC dissident group member reportedly responsible for several murders of social leaders in Putumayo province (south). Amid govt’s efforts to eradicate coca cultivation across country, allegedly including restarting of aerial spraying to destroy crops, coca cultivators and armed forces 22 April reportedly clashed in Putumayo and Norte de Santander (north east) provinces. Isolated protests erupted over govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis. In capital Bogotá and second-largest city Medellín, protesters from mid-April demonstrated almost daily against movement restriction, delays in distribution of food aid, and alleged corruption in management of aid; attempts at looting food were reported in Medellín 14-15 April.
Amid spread of COVID-19, govt closed border with Venezuela while National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas announced unilateral ceasefire. In response to coronavirus, govt 14 March increased military presence along official border crossings with Venezuela to prevent all entries, despite risk of pushing more refugees from Venezuela toward illegal crossings manned by armed groups. ELN 29 March announced unilateral ceasefire until 30 April as “humanitarian gesture”, urged govt to suspend military operations and reconsider dialogue with its negotiating team in Havana, Cuba. Prisoners in a Bogotá jail 21 March rioted over alleged lack of measures to prevent spread of virus; clashes with security forces left 23 inmates dead. Hundreds of day labourers 23 March protested across country against govt decision to impose three-week nationwide quarantine beginning 24 March. Supreme Court 5 March said it had opened investigation into allegations of vote-buying by President Duque’s Democratic Centre party during 2018 presidential elections. ELN conflict with other groups continued. In Chocó province (west), govt early March reported 61,000 people under severe threat in municipalities of Riosucio and Carmen del Darién amid ongoing violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), one of country’s main drug trafficking groups, and ELN. In Norte de Santander province (north east), over 20,000 residents of municipalities of Hacarí, La Playa de Belén and Ábrego remained trapped in March as clashes between ELN and armed group linked to drug trade Ejército Popular de Liberación continued. U.S. increased pressure on govt to redouble efforts against coca cultivation, with President Trump urging Duque to use aerial spraying to destroy crops during meeting in Washington 2 March. In yearly report on Colombia released 4 March, UN human rights office raised concerns about escalating levels of violence, including 36 mass killings and 108 killings of human rights defenders and community leaders in 2019; govt disputed report’s findings.
Violence flared in west and east as armed groups held “armed strike”, while clashes elsewhere continued to lead to mass displacement. National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) groups 14-17 Feb held “armed strike” to protest against govt in all territories under their control, particularly in Cauca (south west), Norte de Santander (north east) and Arauca (east) provinces, designating as “military target” any shop opening or vehicle moving without permission. Military recorded 119 planned attacks in total during strike – of which it thwarted 94 – particularly in Cauca: seven people killed 17 Feb in Rosas when their van exploded – security forces disputed initial reports of car bomb; four members of indigenous community assassinated 14-18 Feb, three in Buenos Aires and one in Miranda, prompting indigenous authorities to activate early warning systems in six autonomous territories in Cauca; armed forces 17 Feb said they defused twelve explosive devices likely left by FARC dissident “Nuevo Sexto” front in Cauca alone during strike. Military 16 Feb clashed with ELN faction in Convención, Norte de Santander, one army captain killed. President Duque 14 Feb said ELN acts such as armed strike shut door to possible govt-ELN negotiations on demobilisation, disarmament and reinsertion. In Chocó (west) and Nariño (south west) provinces, violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and ELN continued to lead to displacement; notably, 1,600 were displaced from rural areas to towns in Roberto Payán, Nariño early Feb. After govt late Jan announced two new special permits for Venezuelans to stay in Colombia, UN refugee agency 4 Feb welcomed move, said 100,000 Venezuelans may qualify. National protests against pension reform, lack of education funding, political corruption, perceived failure to advance 2016 peace accord with FARC, and to prevent killing of rights activists restarted 21 Feb with demonstrations in major cities.
Allegations of extrajudicial surveillance by military intelligence shook govt, while clashes between armed groups continued notably in west, displacing civilians along Pacific Coast. After President Duque late Dec replaced head of military Nicacio Martínez, citing personal reasons, local media 13 Jan reported govt dismissed Martínez after discovering that he oversaw illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition members and journalists, allegedly using technology intended for combating armed groups; Martínez denied accusations but attorney general opened investigation same day. Duque 9 Jan reported security improvements in 2019, notably 48% drop in kidnappings; but UN Human Rights spokesperson 14 Jan said “staggering number” of human rights defenders killed in 2019 raised concerns for peace process between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Killings of social and community leaders spiked with 27 social leaders and five demobilised former FARC combatants reportedly killed throughout month. In Chocó (west), violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking group) and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group continued, leading to more displacement; govt 9 Jan reported 80 community members displaced in Nuquí municipality following 5 Jan murder of indigenous leader. Community groups continued to call on govt to re-open talks with ELN to reduce violence. ELN early Jan offered several olive branches, symbol of peace, to govt; however govt maintained conditions that ELN release all hostages and unilaterally halt attacks and 16 Jan requested Cuba extradite ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias “Gabino”. Govt 12 Jan said it had thwarted plot to kill FARC political leader Rodrigo Londoño, alias “Timochenko”, reportedly orchestrated by FARC dissident leaders. National protests against pension reform, lack of education funding, political corruption, perceived failure to advance 2016 peace accord with FARC, and to prevent killing of rights activists restarted 21 Jan with massive demonstrations in major cities.