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.
As Venezuela’s economy plumbs the depths of collapse, a new cohort of refugees is trekking across parched landscapes to Colombia. It consists of the most vulnerable, including poor expectant mothers, unaccompanied children and the sick, people with no defence against the predations of armed bands.
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.
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.