In November 2016 the government and FARC rebels signed an agreement ending five decades of guerrilla war. To consolidate this achievement, the state must redress the inequalities that sustained that conflict as well as make peace with Colombia’s last major insurgency, the ELN. Crisis Group has worked on Colombia’s conflicts since 2002, publishing over 40 reports and briefings and meeting hundreds of times with all parties in support of inclusive peace efforts. We monitor the FARC deal’s progress and carry out field research on issues ranging from ELN talks to drug trafficking to Colombia’s relations with its troubled neighbour, Venezuela.
On 27 October, Colombia will hold its first local elections since a 2016 peace agreement between the government and FARC rebels. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson explains what is at stake politically and why so much violence has accompanied the campaign.
Political violence continued in lead-up to local elections, while attacks on community leaders by armed groups remained at high level. In 27 Oct local elections, ruling Democratic Centre party failed to make gains, with significant victories by left-leaning Green Party and local coalitions; former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) combatant won mayoral seat in Turbaco, Bolívar. Govt deployed 60,000 soldiers to guard polls amid concerns over possible violence, particularly longstanding conflict regions in Pacific, Bajo Cauca and near Venezuelan border; election day passed without violence, though reports of vote-buying in some areas prior to vote. Ahead of poll, violence included shooting of vehicle transporting mayoral candidate for Toledo, Norte de Santander (north east) 19 Oct; at least 22 mayoral candidates killed in year leading up to vote. Intimidation and violence against social leaders and activists continued, including by armed groups apparently seeking to use their land for illicit economic activity; three indigenous leaders assassinated in La Guajira (north), Nariño (south west) and Quindío (west) mid-Oct; FARC dissidents 29 Oct killed four members of Nasa indigenous guard and indigenous governor in Tacueyo reserve, Cauca (south west). UN 5 Oct reported threats by National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and clashes between ELN and Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (country’s main drug trafficking group) displaced 47 families in Alto Baudó, Chocó (west). Congress 18 Oct approved funding of transitional justice mechanism Special Jurisdiction for Peace through 2020 despite controversy over the court. Head of UN mission 10 Oct told UN Security Council (UNSC) that demobilisation of FARC forces continued to demonstrate results; however UN reported 52 assassinations of former FARC combatants in 2019. UNSC 15 Oct reiterated “full and unanimous support” for implementation of 2016 peace deal but highlighted concerns over violence against political candidates, activists and demobilised FARC members. Govt 21 Oct issued decree requiring FARC to hand over economic proceeds from conflict by 31 Dec; although transfer agreed in 2016 accord, FARC called deadline “new attack on peace”.
Three years after the FARC peace deal, Colombia’s Pacific region has seen surges of both dissident guerrilla activity and drug-related crime. To better aid this historically neglected area, the state should expand its presence, speed up development projects and improve educational opportunities for all.
Talks in Havana with the ELN, Colombia’s last insurgency, are advancing at a slow pace. Backed by international actors, the current government and guerrilla negotiators should aim for rapid progress in negotiations to minimise the chance of a sceptical incoming president abandoning the peace process.
Colombia’s president-elect campaigned on a pledge to “modify” the 2016 peace with the FARC guerrillas, despite its goal of reducing the rural inequality underlying that insurgency. The new government should steer clear of hardline policies that alienate the countryside and hinder the ex-guerrilla's path to civilian life.
Colombia’s 2016 peace accord has brought over 10,000 FARC fighters to the cusp of civilian life, but in their wake rival armed groups are battling for control of vacated territory and lucrative coca crops. In order to roll back booming drug production and expanding non-state groups, the Colombian government should provide local farmers with alternative livelihoods while developing grassroots security and local governance.
Revised and ratified after its shock rejection in October 2016’s referendum, Colombia’s peace agreement still lacks sustainable political support. Reversing public distrust will need swift and effective implementation of the accord – including full apologies for past crimes and the visible handover of weapons by insurgents.
To convert August’s historic peace deal into a durable end to 52 years of conflict, the government and FARC rebels must redouble efforts to achieve a full cessation of hostilities, a successful plebiscite, and UN-monitored ceasefire and weapons handover process.
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.
As long as each side [in Venezuela] pursues a winner-take-all approach, they are less willing to make concessions and a deal will remain elusive.
A former FARC negotiator and member of its Central High Command, alias Jesús Santrich, abandoned his security detail on Saturday night and has since gone missing. Who is he, why is there talk of scandal and what does this mean for Colombia’s peace process? A thread
It’s essential that the state will take responsibility for [FARC fighters] basic needs so that they can become an integrated part of Colombian society. [The healthcare issue] raises the fundamental question that goes through the whole implementation of the peace process, which is: how much has the Colombian state oversold itself?
El Eln [colombiano] estuvo en consultas internas hasta el martes pasado y si en esas reuniones acordaron hacer un desescalamiento podríamos estarlo viendo en este momento.
Increased prices can be charged to [Venezuelan] migrants because of their sheer desire to cross [the border to reach Colombia].
Two years ago, Crisis Group found that major threats to Colombia’s peace process with former guerrillas all intersect in the Pacific coastal district of Tumaco. Our Colombia analyst Kyle Johnson made it his mission to find out more.
Colombia’s fragile peace is threatened by rural violence and the humanitarian burden of hosting Venezuelan refugees. In this excerpt from its Watch List 2019 – Second Update, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to sustain strong support for the implementation of the 2016 peace accords.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The second update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Colombia, Ethiopia, Iran and Libya.
After Bogotá’s deadliest bombing since 2003, the government is likely to crack down hard on Colombia’s last guerrilla group, the ELN. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Colombia Kyle Johnson says any new military campaign should distinguish between ELN factions and is unlikely to inflict a lasting defeat on the rebels.
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.