Originally published in Foreign Policy
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.
Colombia’s 2016 peace deal was a landmark achievement, convincing the FARC guerrillas to disarm and enter civilian life. Yet much remains to be done to show insurgents that they can redress their grievances through ordinary politics. The country’s leaders should recommit to finishing the job.
Colombia’s vast forest is fast receding, partly because guerrillas and criminals are clearing land for farming, ranching and other pursuits. These unregulated activities are causing both dire environmental harm and deadly conflict. Bogotá should take urgent steps to halt the damage.
In Colombia’s history of protest, the 2021 mobilisations against inequality and police brutality stand out for their breadth and intensity. Unrest has quieted for now but could soon return. The government should urgently reform the security sector while working to narrow the country’s socio-economic chasms.
Coca gives Colombian small farmers a stable livelihood but also endangers their lives, as criminals battle over the drug trade and authorities try to shut it down. Bogotá and Washington should abandon their heavy-handed elimination efforts and help growers find alternatives to the hardy plant.
Murders of Colombian grassroots activists are increasing at an alarming rate. The killers seek to sabotage the country’s 2016 peace agreement and the rural economic reform it promised. Bogotá should step up prosecution of these crimes while pushing to improve social conditions in the countryside.
Geography, economics and migration patterns dictate that Colombia and Venezuela, which severed diplomatic ties in 2019, will confront the coronavirus pandemic together. The two countries should temporarily mend their relations, and the Venezuelan factions should pause their duel, to allow for a coordinated humanitarian response.
Today, the commitment of ex-combatants [of FARC] to remaining in civilian life is visible across Colombia and deserves the full support of the international community.
There is no armed or military solution to this crisis [in Colombia]. But agendas on all sides are increasingly tempted to look for one.
There is no way you could credibly claim that any armed or criminal group is motivating or coercing protesters to the street [in Colombia].
There’s a lot of work to be done to fix social cohesion [in Colombia] because violence is at times the default answer, which is a legacy of so many years of conflict.
The history in Colombia is when you start a wave of violence it accelerates and it’s very hard to stop.
The string of assassinations of indigenous leaders in Cauca illustrates some of the fundamental tensions at the center of the debate about protection for human rights defenders in Colombia.
Originally published in Newsweek
In this testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson analyses the protests that have swept the streets of Colombia, fuelled by economic inequality, and urges the U.S. government to support Colombia in its pursuit of a peaceful resolution.
Originally published in House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group experts Renata Segura and Beth Dickinson about protests across Colombia, the inequality and police violence that are motivating people to take to the streets, and prospects for reform.
Colombia’s cities, towns and countryside are aflame with popular protests. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson traces the unrest’s origins to inequality, police impunity and the government’s seeming aloofness from the street.