FARC Seeks Helping Hand from the Pope in Peace Process

August 4, 2015

by AQ Online

It seems we can add the FARC leadership to the growing list of unlikely admirers—including Cuban President Raúl Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales—of the Roman Catholic pontiff. Speaking from Havana, Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the FARC in the Colombia peace talks, called the possibility of meeting with Pope Francis “something extraordinary.” 


“Imagine the impact of having the support of Pope Francis in this collective effort we Colombians are undertaking to achieve reconciliation after decades of confrontation,” he said, adding that so far no meeting was scheduled, and that his statements simply reflected an “aspiration” on the part of the FARC negotiators. 


Márquez’s statement comes as the peace process inches back from one of its most difficult phases. On July 20, the FARC reestablished an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire, injecting a degree of hope into a process that seemed headed for failure amid an escalation of violence that followed the collapse of an earlier ceasefire. In the days after the new agreement was set, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a deal to deescalate the conflict. And yesterday FARC negotiators met with UN delegates in Cuba to discuss steps towards the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire.


However, it is unclear whether public confidence in the negotiations has recovered after plummeting over the course of the spring and early summer.  A July poll showed supporters of a military solution to the conflict evenly matched with supporters of peace talks for the first time since the talks began in 2012, and found that only 33 percent of Colombians thought the negotiations would result in a conflict-ending agreement.  In this context, the FARC’s bid to engage with Francis, who is viewed favorably by 83 percent of Colombians, may signal a genuine effort to win back public support for the negotiations.


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Tags: Colombia, Pope Francis, peace negotiations

Searching for the 'Disappeared' in Medellín's Most Notorious Slum

July 28, 2015

by AQ Online

On Monday, a team of Colombian officials began an excavation of what some believe may be the "world’s largest urban mass grave" in La Escombrera, a landfill in Medellín's Comuna 13 slum. As many as 300 people are thought to have been buried there between 1999 and 2004, a period when the surrounding neighborhood was plagued by violence among paramilitary groups, leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers. Many in the city hope the excavation will uncover the remains of missing loved ones, a small portion of the thousands of men, women and children who have “disappeared” during Colombia's five-decade long internal conflict.

Forced disappearances are not unknown to Latin America, and have served as a means of creating fear and stifling opposition in civilian populations at various times in the region's history, perhaps most notably in Argentina during that country's "Dirty War." But nowhere has the tactic been more prevalent than in Colombia. Since the beginning of Colombia's internal conflict, more than 60,000 people have disappeared, a number that continues to grow. Few disappearance cases are thoroughly investigated, and fewer still are successfully prosecuted, making closure for victims' families hard to come by.

"The truth is buried there. We haven't had any help from the state until now,” said Luz Elena Galeano, a wife of a disappeared in Medellín, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We've been fighting to get justice and find out the truth."

The Colombian government has taken steps to combat forced disappearances through legislation, including Law 589 and the Justice and Peace Law, but progress has been slow. Observers hope the move to excavate La Escombrera will mark a shift in the government's approach to investigating disappearance cases.

“The Colombian government’s recent efforts to search for the disappeared, and to conduct exhumations and return remains to victims’ families, are commendable," said Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the non-profit Latin America Working Group Education Fund. “But far more must be done to achieve justice in these cases, as well to expand the search for the disappeared, and most important, to end the practice of disappearing.”

Tags: Colombia, armed conflict, Disappearances

Colombia Strikes Physical Exam Requirement for Gender Change

June 9, 2015

by AQ Online

Ten transgender Colombians will today be the first people to take advantage of new rules  that simplify the process by which individuals can legally change their gender. The decree, which was signed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior and went into effect last Friday, eliminates the need for psychiatric or physical examinations to prove an individual’s gender identity.

Under the new rules, individuals need only submit a copy of their civil registry form, a copy of the identification card and a sworn declaration expressing their wish to change their gender identity in the civil registry to a notary public. The notary public has five business days to complete the procedure. Any subsequent change to one’s legal gender identity can only be made after ten years, and an individual can only change his or her gender identity twice.

According to a statement released by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, the rules will have “positive consequences for [Colombia’s] trans population, which, until now, has been subjected to tedious judicial procedures.”

The ministers of justice and the interior, Yesid Reyes and Juan Fernando Cristo, along with representatives from various transgender rights organizations, will attend proceedings today at a notary public in Bogotá to publicly present the decree

“Judges used to order bodily inspections to determine if people had physically changed their sex, or demanded a psychiatric exam to know if the applicant had gender dysphoria,” Reyes said. “Both exams were profoundly invasive of privacy rights and were rooted in unacceptable prejudice. The construction of sexual and gender identity is an issue that doesn’t depend on biology.”

Tags: Colombia, LGBT Rights, Transgender

FARC and Colombian Government Agree to Truth Commission

June 5, 2015

by AQ Online

On Thursday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC—Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the Colombian government announced an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to investigate human rights violations committed during Colombia’s 50-year internal conflict.

The 11 anticipated commissioners, to be elected by a seven-member committee, will carry out investigations for a period of three years. However, according to the statement, the commission does not have the authority to impose penalties and any information unearthed by the commission will be inadmissible in a court of law. Cuban and Norwegian representatives from the Havana peace talks said that the commission would begin to function after the parties sign a final agreement and the FARC lay down their arms.

While this marks a milestone for the two-and-a-half-year peace talks in Havana, the agreement may receive pushback from victims and relatives seeking legal remedy and redress.

Moreover, violence continues to threaten the peace negotiations. During a televised speech in March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared a suspension of aerial bombing after the FARC announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in December. However, he reinitiated air strikes after guerrillas killed 10 soldiers in a ground attack on April 15. The FARC ended the ceasefire in May due to what they said was Santos’ “inconsistency.” On May 21, three bombing raids resulted in the death of 27 rebels.

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Tags: Colombia, FARC, Colombia Peace Talks

La guerra es contra el glifosato

May 14, 2015

by Jenny Manrique

Más de 20 mil firmas alcanzó en pocos días la petición hecha en la plataforma para acabar con la fumigación con glifosato de cultivos ilícitos en Colombia. La abogada ambientalista Astrid Puentes Riaño de la Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), autora de la iniciativa, espera recaudar 25 mil apoyos antes de este 14 de mayo, que es cuando el Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes se reúne en Colombia para decidir sobre la petición del presidente Juan Manuel Santos, de acabar con el uso del herbicida en la guerra contra las drogas.

Aunque no es un camino expédito, (el período de transición para encontrarle reemplazo al herbicida se vence el 1 de octubre), después de 16 años de ensayo y error usando la aspersión aérea, el viraje del debate es excepcional:  ahora la guerra es contra el glifosato.

La reciente evaluación de la Agencia Internacional para la Investigación sobre el Cáncer, que aumentó la calificación de riesgo del agrotóxico para la salud humana, vino a respaldar lo que por años han dicho organizaciones de derechos humanos en departamentos como Putumayo y Nariño, conceptos de la Corte Constitucional en Colombia y un sinnúmero de estudios científicos: el glifosato hace más mal que bien.

Los cultivadores re-siembran con facilidad las zonas asperjadas sin mencionar que muchas veces son sus cultivos para consumo los que terminan afectados. Según un paper de la Universidad de los Andes, para eliminar una hectárea de coca con glifosato, hay que fumigar 30, lo que cuesta 72.000 dólares, muchísimo más del valor en el mercado de los kilogramos de droga que esa hectárea podría producir. Ya Colombia tuvo que pagar a Ecuador una indemnización de US$15 millones, cuando el gobierno de Rafael Correa denunció al de Álvaro Uribe ante la Corte Internacional de la Haya por fumigar en zona fronteriza afectando la salud de los pobladores.

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Tags: Colombia, glifosato, salud, Narcotráfico

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Responds to Sentencing of Top Aides

May 6, 2015

by AQ Online

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe responded yesterday to the Colombian Supreme Court’s April 30 sentencing of two high-ranking members of his administration who organized a spy ring targeting Uribe’s political opponents and critics. María del Pilar Hurtado, former head of the now-defunct Colombian intelligence agency Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), received a 14-year prison term, while Uribe’s former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, received an eight-year sentence.

Hurtado and Moreno are two of many former Uribe top aides who have been either convicted or under investigation for conspiracy and corruption since 2010. The two were convicted in February of illegally spying on journalists, human rights activist, and opposition leaders during Uribe’s 2002 to 2010 term as president.

Hurtado fled to Panama in 2010, seeking asylum, but turned herself in to Colombian authorities in January in the hope that she would receive more leniency.

Uribe, now a senator for the conservative Centro Democrático party, urged Hurtado to negotiate with the Supreme Court for a shorter sentence. “[Hurtado] should negotiate without involving innocent colleagues from the government or third parties,” Uribe said. “She should negotiate her liberty and that of Bernardo Moreno, saying everything that she should about me and if I committed a crime, I should be tried.”

Uribe has denied any knowledge of the spying ring and referred to the investigation and convictions as a “shameful massacre.”

Tags: Colombia, corruption, Alvaro Uribe

Teachers’ Union, Government Fail to Reach Deal in Colombia

May 5, 2015

by AQ Online

Over 330,000 teachers will continue to strike in Colombia after a 20-hour round of talks between the government and the Federación Colombiana de Educadores (Colombian Teachers’ Federation—FECODE) failed to produce an agreement. The results of the meeting were announced yesterday by the Defensoría del Pueblo(National Ombudsman’s Office), which is mediating the negotiations.

The strike, which began on April 22 and centers around teachers’ demand for higher salaries, better health services and the repeal of teacher evaluation, is affecting an estimated 9 million-plus students, who have not attended class since the strike began. After nationwide protests late last month, Colombian Minister of Education Gina Parody seemed to discount the possibility of resuming negotiations until the strike ended. Protesters marching on the Ministry of Education were greeted by a banner strung across the ministry’s façade that read: “Let the children return to class.” “My urgent plea is to not affect the children,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said at the time. “The children should not have to pay for the consequences (platos rotos) of these protests.”

The government has been in negotiation with FECODE since February to reach a compromise, but the union rejected an earlier deal that included a 10 percent raise in teacher salaries because it was tied to a reform package that would have had to have been approved by the Colombian Congress. After the latest round of talks, the government’s negotiators, including Minister Parody, Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas, and Labor Minister Luis Eduardo Garzón, accepted a package proposed by the Ombudsman that incudes a 12 percent salary increase.

FECODE, however, has indicated that it wants Santos to take a more active role in the negotiations. “The government commission has shown a series of limitations when it comes to negotiating,” a FECODE spokesperson said after the talks concluded, noting the union’s hopes “that it will be President Santos who gives clear instructions about the path to follow.” 


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Tags: Colombia, Teacher Protests, Juan Manuel Santos

Colombia: Lo irreversible del proceso de paz

March 13, 2015

by Jenny Manrique

Cada vez que nuevos anuncios emergen de la mesa de conversaciones que el gobierno mantiene con las FARC en Cuba, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos califica el proceso de ‘irreversible’, ‘cerca del fin’ o de ingresar a ‘una etapa definitiva’. Cierto es que tras 33 rondas de conversaciones y pese al hermetismo de las primeras, mucho se ha avanzado en temas duros como el reconocimiento de las víctimas y las responsabilidades en el negocio del narcotráfico que alimenta el conflicto.

Ahora el cese de bombardeos por un mes contra los campamentos de las FARC, decidido unilateralmente por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, ha levantado una polvareda de opiniones por cuanto para unos, como el procurador general, es un cese bilateral disfrazado y viola la constitución, y para el gobierno, es una respuesta al cese al fuego decretado por las FARC desde diciembre pasado.

No menos revelador resulta el hecho, como lo publicó la Revista Semana, de que el Ejército haya reducido sustancialmente sus actividades militares, pero no solo desde el comienzo de las negociaciones sino incluso desde los años en que el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe, enconado contradictor del proceso, dirigía el país con sus políticas de mano dura y seguridad democrática . En suma, es una realidad que el conflicto ha ido desescalando en el terreno militar, y que aunque mantener arriba la moral de las tropas, es una muletilla bastante popular en el cuerpo castrense, por lo cual sin su participación pacífica, no hay negociación que avance.

Es imposible hablar de un cese al fuego bilateral si no se hubieran sentado cinco generales activos y un almirante en la Subcomisión Técnica del Fin del Conflicto, a discutir el tema. Si soldados y guerrilleros no fueran parte del equipo que se conformó para la tarea titánica de desactivar las minas antipersonales regadas por la geografía de 688 municipios del país, no habría forma de aliviar a estas comunidades.

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Tags: Colombia, FARC, Colombia Peace Talks

ELN Considers Ceasefire and Formal Peace Talks

January 8, 2015

by AQ Online

In a video statement released yesterday, Colombia’s Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN) reaffirmed its willingness to join formalized peace talks with the Colombian government and announced that it would consider a ceasefire.

In the video, ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez said, “The government […] has called the insurgents to the table. We will attend this dialogue to examine the will of the government and the Colombian State. If we conclude that arms are no longer necessary, we will consider quitting using them.”

For two years, the Colombian government has been conducting formal peace talks with the country’s largest rebel movement, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia—FARC). On December 20, 2014, the FARC declared a unilateral, indefinite ceasefire, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently said that he had instructed government peace negotiators to “accelerate” the talks with the FARC.

Last June, Santos revealed that his government and the ELN had begun separate preliminary peace talks in January 2014. Until now, little was known about the progress of those talks. The two sides recently concluded a “spiritual retreat” in the Colombian city of Cartagena, after which the President Santos urged the ELN to consider a ceasefire.

“We have given much thought to a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire, in this regard with must recognize that the FARC have delivered. We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative and to reach an agreement as soon as possible regarding the issues we have been discussing for some time,” Santos said.

Read more about the Colombian peace negotiations here.

Tags: Colombia, ELN, Colombia Peace Talks

FARC Declares Unilateral Ceasefire

December 18, 2014

by AQ Online

In a statement published on one of its official websites Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) declared an indefinite, unilateral cease fire and end to hostilities in Colombia, on the condition that the rebels are not attacked by government forces. The announcement was made as part of the peace talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration in Havana, and it marks the first time the guerrilla group has declared an indefinite halt to the fighting.

However, Santos has so far refused to reciprocate the gesture, saying that a bilateral ceasefire could potentially allow the FARC to regroup and attack, as they did during the failed peace negotiations that took place from 1999-2002. The president’s wariness also stems from an incident this September that nearly foiled accords again, when the FARC took General Ruben Dario Alzate and two of his traveling companions hostage in September, along with two others in a separate incident. All the hostages were released in November in order to continue the peace negotiations.

Currently, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators have reached agreements on three points of the original five-point peace agenda, but have stalled on the fourth point of restitution for victims. The Colombian government and FARC leaders have been engaging in peace talks in Havana since 2012. That same year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dismissed a temporary Christmas truce proposed by the FARC by saying, “The sooner we get to a peace agreement, the sooner we will silence the guns.”

Over 200,000 people have been killed since the internal war began between the guerillas and the government began in 1964. The FARC ceasefire will go into effect this Saturday, December 20.

Read more in AQ’s Fall 2014 issue on Cuba and Colombia.

Follow ongoing developments in Cuba here.

*Updated 12/18/2014

Tags: Colombia, FARC, Ceasefire