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Govt’s landmark ceasefire with National Liberation Army (ELN) took effect, marking important step forward in President Petro’s “total peace” efforts; govt announced negotiations with FARC dissidents will begin in Sept.
Bilateral ceasefire with ELN commenced. 180-day ceasefire between ELN and state security forces — longest bilateral ceasefire ever concluded with guerrilla group – 3 Aug got under way, marked by ceremony in capital Bogotá. Parties same day inaugurated public participation mechanism with 81 national delegates who are meant to organise several dozen regional consultations; purpose of consultations unclear. Govt and ELN negotiators 14 Aug began fourth round of talks in Venezuelan capital Caracas. Despite progress, Attorney General Francisco Barbosa 8 Aug alleged guerrillas planned to assassinate him, which ELN next day denied. UN Security Council 2 Aug expanded UN mission mandate to include monitoring of ELN ceasefire and expressed willingness to consider covering potential future agreement with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents.
String of attacks by FARC dissident faction threatened progress toward talks. Petro administration 12 Aug announced it would begin formal peace negotiations with dissident FARC faction known as FARC-EP Estado Mayor Central (FARC-EMC) on 17 Sept, likely in Caquetá department (south). Group launched series of attacks in Cauca department (west). Notably, FARC-EMC 12 Aug killed three police officers in Morales town; several car bombs 13 Aug killed police officer in Buenos Aires town; local Indigenous communities reported at least five assassinations 12-13 Aug; and attack 24 Aug on police station in Santander de Quilichao town wounded four. Attacks follow 1 Aug video circulated by group naming ceasefire with military as first priority in talks and saying it would not consider wider cessation of hostilities; Petro 14 Aug stated that govt would seek cessation of hostilities against civilian population before agreeing to ceasefire.
In other important developments. Official campaigning for Oct local elections began amid concerns poll may escalate political tensions in conflict-affected regions as armed and criminal groups seek to assert influence. Petro’s son, charged with money laundering, 3 Aug reportedly said some of these dubious funds financed president’s 2022 election campaign.
Govt’s “total peace” policy advanced as ceasefire with ELN gradually took hold and is due to take full effect in August, lasting 180 days in longest bilateral ceasefire ever concluded with guerrilla group.
Bilateral ceasefire with National Liberation Army (ELN) advanced. Govt and ELN 6 July ordered their forces to end offensive activities as sides gradually implemented June ceasefire agreement, set to take full effect 3 Aug and then last for 180 days; if successful, agreement will be longest bilateral ceasefire ever concluded with guerrilla group. Parties 14-15 July released two documents detailing protocols and monitoring mechanisms for full ceasefire, though civil society and grassroots groups criticised lack of explicit civilian protections. In lead up to cessation of offensive activities, ELN conducted several operations that raised concerns about its interpretation of agreement: group 3 July kidnapped soldier and her two children in Arauca department (north west), releasing them four days later; ELN’s Western Front 4-13 July held armed strike in Chocó department (Pacific coast), limiting citizens’ movements and prohibiting shops from opening.
Petro administration agreed to open talks with FARC dissident faction. Govt 8 July agreed to formal peace negotiations with dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as FARC-EP Estado Mayor Central. First stage of dialogue will aim to re-establish confidence after several months of communication breakdown, followed by official talks with 12 govt negotiators and six insurgents; attorney general 28 July lifted arrest warrants of militants who will form negotiating team. Govt did not renew ceasefires with several groups that ended 30 June, including Segunda Marquetalia dissident group and Sierra Nevada Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, President Petro 23 July named former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, currently incarcerated in U.S., as a “gestor de paz”, a role that would allow him to serve as intermediary between govt and armed and criminal groups, notably Gulf Clan.
Oct local election cycle began. Individuals running for mayor, councillor or departmental legislator in Oct polls had to register candidacy by end of July. Official campaign begins in Aug amid concerns elections may escalate political tensions in conflict-affected regions as armed and criminal groups seek to assert influence, either by threatening or implicitly supporting candidates.
Govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) signed ceasefire agreement, FARC dissident violence persisted, and political scandal rocked Petro’s administration.
Govt and ELN struck ceasefire agreement. Govt and ELN negotiators 9 June announced ceasefire agreement, which will take hold gradually over two-month period and then last for 180 days, with 3 Aug intended start date. Sides will discuss accord with respective forces until 6 July, and then conduct further bilateral talks to clarify ceasefire conditions until Aug implementation. Protocols announced so far include commitments to uphold humanitarian law, end offensive and intelligence operations on both sides, and ban attempts to demobilise ELN. Agreement marked important advance in President Petro’s “total peace” efforts and, if successful, will be longest bilateral ceasefire ever concluded with guerrilla group. Deal remains fragile, however, with disputes emerging around prohibitions on kidnapping and extortion.
Armed group violence continued to plague communities. Joint military and indigenous guard team 9 June found four children lost for 40 days in jungle following plane crash; reports suggested children were fleeing forced recruitment by dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as FARC-EP Estado Mayor, though group 14 June denied allegation. Estado Mayor stepped up intimidation of political leaders ahead of Oct local elections, 18 June releasing pamphlet threatening mayor of Tulúa, Valle de Cauca department (west); issue raised concern about freedom of campaign for local election, which formally began 29 June. Meanwhile, clashes between ELN and Gulf Clan starting early June displaced well over 100 families and confined 800 more in Chocó department (north west).
Petro removed two key allies embroiled in political scandal. President Petro 2 June removed two of his closest allies, Ambassador to Venezuela Armando Benedetti and Chief of Staff Laura Sarabia, from govt after right-wing magazine Semana published reports accusing both of ordering illegal polygraph of domestic worker and wiretapping; in days following, leaked audio messages appeared to show Benedetti discussing irregular financing during presidential campaign. Crisis galvanised opposition to govt and will likely weaken its support in congress, which 5 June halted debates of proposed social reforms to allow investigation into allegations. Benedetti was reinstated as ambassador 23 June until 19 July.
Govt attempts at dialogue with armed groups faced more obstacles as violence continued; governing coalition in Congress began to collapse.
Govt-ELN talks continued, peace efforts with FARC dissidents faced headwinds. Third round of talks between govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) began 2 May in Cuba’s capital Havana amid hope for ceasefire. ELN 15 May paused talks after President Petro 12 May questioned group’s political agenda, given its reliance on illicit economies; talks resumed 17 May, parties 25 May extended negotiations until 8 June. In other “total peace” efforts, dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as FARC-EP Estado Mayor 16 May raised concerns about govt’s compliance with bilateral ceasefire, alleging military violations in Nariño department (Pacific coast) and along Venezuelan border. Petro 21 May partially suspended ceasefire with group in four southern and central departments following murder of four minors from Indigenous community in Putamayo department (south). In retaliation, FARC-EP Estado Mayor 27 May vowed to prevent candidates from campaigning in Oct local elections in territory it controls.
Confinement and other violence intended to establish social control continued. Communities in Nariño and Choco departments along Pacific Coast continued to experience confinement and displacement amid clashes among various armed groups. Indigenous community in Silvia, Cauca department, early May reported FARC dissidents forcibly closed schools and attempted to recruit children. In Sucre and Bolivar departments along Atlantic coast, teachers early May reported receiving threatening pamphlet from criminal group Gulf Clan, demanding portion of their salaries.
Petro hinted at approach toward drug policy reform. Petro 13 May elaborated on still-developing drug policy reform amid fall in price of coca, suggesting govt will expand crop substitution programs that began after 2016 peace agreement, seek agreements with coca-growing communities not included in programs and promote alternative uses for coca leaf plant.
Ruling coalition fractured. Govt mid-May lost congressional majority after U Party declared itself independent, fracturing Petro’s fragile governing coalition; local elections in Oct could limit scope for his political reform and “total peace” plans.
Petro administration’s total peace policy saw progress and setbacks as govt and FARC dissident group geared up for negotiations in May and deadly attack on security forces complicated talks with ELN.
ELN-govt talks faced setbacks, outreach to FARC dissident group progressed. Efforts to advance peace with National Liberation Army (ELN) faced challenges following late March attack that killed nine soldiers. ELN 3 April issued pamphlet justifying attack and promising more strikes until sides agreed to ceasefire, 10 April left explosives and threatening pamphlets in five major cities, including capital Bogotá and Medellín (Antioquia department). New round of talks will begin 2 May in Cuba’s capital Havana. Govt outreach to dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as FARC-EP saw progress, with ceasefire monitoring mechanism 24 April activating and talks due to start mid-May. Dissidents mid-April released pamphlet alleging govt had violated ceasefire, however, raising doubts about agreement’s durability.
Gulf Clan claimed it held discussions with authorities, criminal groups clashed in Buenaventura. After govt suspended ceasefire with criminal group Gulf Clan in March, group 13 April released communiqué claiming it held discussions with govt in presence of foreign diplomats but that it rejects draft law, presented in Feb, intended to make judicial concessions in return for collective criminal demobilisation. Meanwhile, fragile truce in port city of Buenaventura (Valle de Cauca department) – considered early success of govt’s “total peace” policy – showed signs of strain early April. Two negotiators for Los Shotas criminal group, in talks with rival Los Espartanos, disappeared; clashes resumed early April, triggering displacement. Though peace commissioner’s office 11 April said it was working to calm tensions, incident raised concerns about sustainability of ceasefires between illegal armed groups.
Govt hosted international conference on Venezuela. President Petro 25 April hosted international conference in capital Bogotá on Venezuela, aimed at reigniting talks between Venezuelan govt and opposition (see Venezuela).
Following dialogue with govt, National Liberation Army (ELN) killed nine soldiers in setback to talks, and Petro suspended ceasefire with Gulf Clan amid accusations it took advantage of miners’ protests to carry out attacks.
Weeks after concluding second round of talks with govt, ELN killed nine soldiers. Govt and ELN 10 March concluded second round of peace talks with announcement of new, six-point agenda. Points agreed upon include building participatory civic process, end to armed conflict, reparations for victims and structural reforms to reduce poverty. Document also outlined roles of guarantor states as well as observers, UN and Catholic Church. Next round of dialogue scheduled for mid-April in Cuba. However, govt 29 March reported that ELN had killed nine soldiers in Norte de Santander province; President Petro same day condemned violence while chief govt negotiator said priority at talks must now be to broker ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. Meanwhile, Petro 13 March announced govt’s readiness to begin negotiations with dissident faction of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) known as FARC-EP; statement followed attorney general’s decision earlier that day to lift arrest warrants for 18 of 19 FARC-EP commanders, an action Petro had requested to facilitate talks.
Govt suspended ceasefire with Gulf Clan. Criminal group Gulf Clan 6 March announced it had hired lawyer to represent group in talks with govt. Yet mining strikes in north-western Antioquia and Córdoba departments complicated govt’s formal outreach plans. Small-scale miners 2 March went on strike and blocked roads in several municipalities. Situation quickly escalated amid accusations Gulf Clan had compelled rural residents to join protests, and then used those mobilisations as smokescreen for attacks. Gulf Clan 11 March issued pamphlet stating they “neither supported nor incentivised” strike, though another pamphlet dated 13 March demanded all local businesses and miners support strikes. Petro same day accused group of violating ceasefire, saying talks were therefore impossible, 19 March suspended ceasefire with Gulf Clan.
In other important developments. Petro 28 March announced govt will host international conference in capital Bogotá to support dialogue between “Venezuelan opposition, civil society […] and the Venezuelan government”.
Petro administration’s “total peace” policy moved forward as fresh talks with ELN took place, but high levels of violence continued.
Authorities advanced peace efforts with two armed groups. Govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) 13 Feb began second round of peace talks in Mexico City, focusing on ceasefire and humanitarian access to conflict-afflicted areas. Justice Minister Néstor Osuna 22 Feb joined negotiations to address ELN concerns about conditions of imprisoned members. Delegations 25 Feb said they are working on agenda to advance process. Talks between govt and FARC-EP, dissident faction of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), also progressed. Sides 8 Feb signed ceasefire protocols, which crucially provide for multiparty monitoring system including govt, military, FARC-EP, Catholic Church, Organization of American State’s mission in Colombia and local activists, though mechanism is not yet active. Top peace official Danilo Rueda 21 Feb said govt expects “dialogue phase” with FARC-EP to begin in “coming weeks”. Yet in apparent breach of ceasefire, front belonging to FARC-EP same day killed one soldier in Cauca department.
Govt proposed new legislation to facilitate talks with criminal groups. Following legal crisis in Jan over ceasefires and talks with criminal outfits, govt 15 Feb presented draft law to Congress intended to address dispute over legality of ceasefire and proposal to lift arrest warrants for criminal group negotiators. Law sets out possible conditions for large-scale criminal demobilisation, such as reduced prison terms and option for individuals to retain up to 6% of ill-gotten gains.
Civilians bore brunt of continued armed and criminal group violence. Confrontations among armed and criminal groups continued unabated along Pacific coast throughout Feb, hurting civilians. Notably, UN 3 Feb said over 2,100 people in Chocó department were forcibly confined amid armed group incursion in Alto Baudó municipality; 17 Feb reported multiple mass displacements 8-13 Feb along coast of Nariño department, where two rival FARC dissident fronts are battling for control. In Guaviare department, roughly 2,000 people continued to face movement restrictions amid recent arrival of FARC dissident faction Segunda Marquetalia in area under FARC-EP control.
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.
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