Feb 27
In just three months, the Presidential Intelligence Service (DAS) recorded 1,900 of the phone conversations of Auxiliary Justice Iván Velásquez, the chief investigator in the “Para-Politics” scandal.

Apologies for the delay in posting about last weekend’s highly disturbing revelations that the intelligence service of the Colombian Presidency, the DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) has once again been systematically wiretapping and following private citizens.

The intelligence agency, which reports directly to President Álvaro Uribe, has been embroiled in several scandals in recent years. In late 2005 its director, Jorge Noguera, was accused of collaborating closely with paramilitaries on efforts ranging from facilitating narcotrafficking to developing lists of human-rights defenders and labor leaders to murder. Late last year, the supposedly “reformed” DAS was found to have been ordering surveillance of opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, a revelation that forced the resignation of DAS Director María de Pilar Hurtado.

The DAS continues to be a highly troubled institution, as the agency – or at least a large rogue element within the agency – is using much of its resources to spy on prominent citizens. Its “targets” include opposition politicians, social-movement leaders, journalists, and – perhaps most troublingly – Supreme Court officials trying to investigate ties between paramilitary narcotraffickers and dozens of President Uribe’s political allies.

The news outlet that broke the story, the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, has not added an English version of its cover story to its website. Here are some translated excerpts.

The DAS is still recording

Between the 19th and 21st of January, most of the “secrets” of many of Colombia’s top peraonalities were destroyed on the 11th floor of the main DAS headquarters. “We received the order to gather everything we had in several offices in the building, and in other buildings, and bring it to the Counter-Intelligence office. For two days external disk drives were gathered, hard drives were changed out of computers, CDs, voice files and confidential documents were collected. I alone, without counting my colleagues, carried two boxes full of those things,” one of the DAS detectives who participated in this unique collection told Semana. “Of all the boxes that were taken to Counter-Intelligence, with documents, recordings and the rest, only one remained, which was taken out of the 11th floor at the end of the afternoon of Wednesday the 21st. I don’t know what was left in that one, or where they took it. I just know that everything else was destroyed,” the source affirms.

The suspicious mission of recovering and destroying information was carried out by a small group of officials. Though they sought to do it in the most discrete manner, it was inevitable that a few DAS members would notice the unusual things going on during those days. But what was it that they were destroying with such urgency? Much of the files that don’t exist today were, among others, recordings, secret documents and intelligence analyses that contained information about a wide variety of personalities whom the DAS was watching.

Supreme Court justices, journalists, opposition politicians, generals in the armed forces, prosecutors, and even some high government officials made up the group that, for the past several months, was being monitored by the security body.

Many thought that it would be hard for the DAS to confront a situation worse than that of October 2005, when it ended up tangled in a scandal stemming from paramilitary infiltration that ended with the resignation, and subsequent jailing, of then-Director Jorge Noguera.

At that moment, deep reforms to the institution were promised so that this would not happen again. But it happened. Despite the subsequent directors’ good intentions, the information gathered by Semana makes clear that there is a powerful sector in this agency that is at the service of paramilitaries, guerrillas, and dark political interests.

“Here we work on targets and objectives who could become a threat to the security of the state and of the President. Among those are the guerrillas, the emerging criminal groups, some narcos. But among these targets is also, and obviously this is one of the functions of the DAS, to monitor some personalities and institutions to keep the Presidency informed. For example, how could it not be a DAS mission to monitor [Senator Gustavo] Petro, who is a former guerrilla and is in the opposition. Or [opposition Senator and peace facilitator] Piedad Córdoba, for her ties to Chávez and the guerrillas,” said to Semana a detective who works in the Subdirectorate of Operations of the DAS, part of this entity’s intelligence directorate. “Any person or entity who represents an eventual danger for the government has to be monitored by the DAS. As a result, more than a year ago, the activities of the [Supreme] Court, and some of its members, came to be considered and treated as a legitimate ‘target.’”

Targeting the justice system

This fact was corroborated to Semana by four other DAS officials, members of the intelligence, counter-intelligence and operational directorates. In addition to these testimonies, Semana obtained some of the analyses developed by DAS members, which make evident their efforts to follow, wiretap and monitor members of the Court. One of the most revealing reports is about Auxiliary Justice Iván Velásquez, the chief investigator for the “para-politics” scandal.

Velásquez has been subjected to a “man-to-man defense” since the “Tasmania” incident in October 2007, when President Álvaro Uribe accused the judge of fabricating testimonies against him, which ended up being a hoax. They don’t leave Velásquez alone for even a minute, as can be gathered from the DAS report.

In the documents Semana has, it is revealed that during three months they intercepted 1,900 of his phone calls, in which he spoke with everyone: Supreme Court justices, Justice and Peace prosecutors to know what the paramilitary witnesses were revealing, with the Prosecutor-General’s Office’s witness-protection program to know who was ready to give evidence, with para-politics witnesses, among hundreds of other calls.

But Velásquez was not the only member of the Supreme Court being watched by the DAS. Investigators, other justices and auxiliary judges of the high court were also the object of “monitoring.” According to several detectives, among these “targets” was Francisco Ricaurte, until recently the President of the Supreme Court; the president of the court’s Criminal Chamber, Sigifredo Espinosa; and justices César Julio Valencia and María del Rosario González. “When the confrontation between the court and the presidency worsened, about a year and a half ago, the order was to know as much as possible about all the justices, using all necessary means, from human sources to technical measures. When the confrontation began to diminish, the monitoring was concentrated only on those deemed high-priority, like Velásquez,” one of the detectives who works in the intelligence directorate, and who participated in following some justices, told Semana.

Continue reading »

Feb 25

Five months into Fiscal Year 2009 (which began October 1), the U.S. Congress has almost completed the 2009 federal budget. The House and Senate have developed an “omnibus” spending bill combining ten sections of the budget, which the House is expected to vote on today.

One of those ten sections funds foreign assistance for the rest of the world. The 2009 State Department and Foreign Operations bill provides Colombia with US$547.05 million in aid for 2009. Of that total, 55.8 percent (US$305.05 million) would go to Colombia’s armed forces and police.

An additional amount of military and police aid goes separately, through accounts in the Defense Department’s budget. In 2007, the Defense budget added an additional US$114.26 million in military and police aid. If that amount is similar in 2009, then total aid to Colombia this year will add up to US$666.31 million. Of that total, 62.9 percent (US$419.31 million) will be military and police aid.

The 2009 aid bill’s Colombia outlay almost exactly resembles the amounts and military-economic splits that Congress provided to Colombia for 2008. The Bush administration, which heavily favored military aid to Colombia, had sought to undo the Democratic Congress’s far less military 2008 aid package for Colombia; in February 2008 it requested a 2009 aid package for Colombia that was 72.9 percent military and police aid (76.9 percent when Defense-budget aid is added). Congress denied this request and maintained 2008 aid levels.

Here are the details, from the House-Senate Conference Committee’s “Joint Explanatory Statement” (PDF).

Military and Police Aid:
(Thousands of dollars)

Aid program 2008 2009 – Bush administration request 2009 – H.R. 1105
Andean Counterdrug Programs 247,098 329,557 242,500
Foreign Military Financing (FMF) 55,050 66,390 53,000
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 0 19,247 5,000
Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related (NADR) 3,715 3,150 3,150
International Military Education and Training (IMET) 1,428 1,400 1,400
Subtotal: Foreign Operations programs 307,291 419,744 305,050
Defense-Budget programs (estimate based on 2007) 114,264 114,264 114,264
Total 421,555 534,008 419,314

Economic and Social Aid:
(Thousands of dollars)

Aid program 2008 2009 – Bush administration request 2009 – H.R. 1105
Economic Support Fund (ESF) 194,412 142,366 200,000
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 39,427 11,340 40,000
USAID Transition Initiatives (2009 est.) 2,000 2,000 2,000
Subtotal: Foreign Operations programs 235,839 155,706 242,000
Defense-Budget programs (2009 est.) 5,000 5,000 5,000
Total 240,839 160,706 247,000

Overall Total:
(Thousands of dollars)


2008 2009 – Bush administration request 2009 – H.R. 1105
Economic Support Fund (ESF) 194,412 142,366 200,000
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 39,427 11,340 40,000
USAID Transition Initiatives (2009 est.) 2,000 2,000 2,000
Foreign Operations programs 543,130 575,450 547,050
Defense-Budget programs (2009 est.) 119,264 119,264 119,264
Total 662,394 694,714 666,314

The House-Senate Conference Committee’s statement [PDF] provides this additional detail about economic aid to Colombia, indicating how it recommends that the 2009 aid money be distributed.

Feb 20

The last year and a half has seen the extradition of fifteen of Colombia’s top paramilitary leaders to the United States. It has also witnessed the arrest, killing or extradition of nearly every major head of the North Valle cartel, which for most of the 2000s was Colombia’s principal drug-trafficking organization.

Yet the amount of cocaine being produced in Colombia has barely changed. Violence in key production areas and trafficking corridors is as severe as ever.

Clearly, FARC and increasingly ELN fronts are involved in this trafficking and violence. But given the intensity of the Colombian military’s offensive against them, there is little reason to believe that the guerrillas’ market share is increasing.

This means that despite recent attacks, Colombia’s drug mafia is alive and well. And as before, it seems to overlap strongly with paramilitarism – or what are now known as “emerging criminal groups.”

According to Colombia’s “New Rainbow” think-tank, which has performed extensive research on Colombia’s new paramilitary generation, there are more than 100 new militias, many of whose members and leaders have past relations with old paramilitary groups. They use about 21 different names, are active in 246 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities (counties), and have a combined membership estimated at about 10,000. They are cultivating ties with regional economic and political leaders. They often work with the guerrillas on the drug business. They also threaten and kill human-rights defenders, labor leaders, indigenous and afro-Colombian leaders, and independent journalists.

Today’s narco-paramilitaries, or “emerging criminal groups,” or new drug mafia – whatever one wishes to call them – have no visible heads, nobody playing the role that Carlos Castaño filled for the AUC paramilitary coalition a decade ago. However, when one asks who is “in charge” and paying these new militias, some names do come up frequently. Here, thanks to research help from CIP Intern Stacy Ulmer, are four of them.

Daniel Rendón, alias “Don Mario”

  • The brother of Freddy Rendón, alias “El Alemán,” the former head of the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc of the AUC active in the northwestern region of Urabá, who is now imprisoned in Colombia.
  • Participated in the “Justice and Peace” process, but escaped and is officially a fugitive.
  • His organization is present in Antioquia (including Medellín) northward into Córdoba and the Urabá region and Chocó, as well as Meta department to the south.
  • After the May 2008 extradition of paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo (”Don Berna”), who dominated organized crime in Medellín, “Don Mario” has violently sought to fill the vacuum. His violent efforts to assert control have contributed to a one-third rise in murders in Medellín from 2007 to 2008.
  • In October, circulated pamphlets across northern Colombia announcing the formation of a new group called the “Colombian Gaitanist Auto-defense Forces.”
  • Guillermo Valencia Cossio, Medellín’s chief prosecutor and the brother of Interior Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio, was arrested in September 2008 on charges of colluding with “Don Mario.”
  • In mid-2008, Colombia’s police said that one-eighth of smuggled weapons they had interdicted were destined for his organization.
  • “Don Mario” has offered a reward of 2 million pesos (almost US$1,000) to anyone who kills a police officer in Antioquia and Córdoba.

Daniel “El Loco” Barrera

  • A narcotrafficker who first got into the business in Guaviare department, 200 miles southeast of Bogotá, in the early 1980s.
  • He did narco business with the FARC throughout the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he served as a link for narcotrafficking cooperation between the FARC and the paramilitaries.
  • His area of influence is principally Colombia’s eastern plains: Meta, Casanare, eastern Cundinamarca, Guaviare, and Vichada. He is heavily involved in the transshipment of cocaine through Venezuela. He has some influence in Putumayo as well.
  • Semana magazine reported in 2007: “Barrera’s main security force is made up of an army of hitmen with very good contacts with the authorities, who are in charge of making sure that nothing happens to him, warning him about operations being planned against him by national and foreign authorities, and in some cases, even carrying out revenge killings. When Barrera has to go to Bogotá or Villavicencia, he does so in official vehicles. Just for these kinds of ’services,’ Barrera sends 300 million pesos per month (roughly US$150,000) to the capital.”
  • In November, President Álvaro Uribe questioned the army’s lack of progress against Barrera in Meta department. “I ask is the army capable of capturing [him] or if it is protecting him.”

Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, “Cuchillo”

  • A member of narco and paramilitary organizations since the 1980s, he was a top lieutenant of Miguel Arroyave, head of the AUC’s Centauros Bloc, which dominated the eastern plains and even had a presence in Bogotá. “Cuchillo” (the name means “knife,” apparently the way he prefers to kill victims) participated in the plot that killed Arroyave in September 2004.
  • His “Heroes of Guaviare” front participated in a demobilization ceremony in April 2006, but he soon abandoned the process and became a fugitive.
  • His area of operations overlaps much of “Loco” Barrera’s. It includes Meta, Guaviare and Vichada.
  • The current governor of Guaviare department, Óscar de Jesús López, is under investigation for including Cuchillo as a business partner in a mining company in 2006.

“Oficina de Envigado”

  • Since the era of Pablo Escobar and the Medellín cartel, this name refers to the organized-crime structure that has controlled most of the narco business in Medellín and its environs. Envigado is a suburb to the south of Medellín.
  • It was controlled by paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo (”Don Berna”) until his May 2008 extradition. Since then, the “Oficina” has been in some disarray, with greatly increased infighting, but it remains powerful.
  • Infighting for control of the “Oficina,” which has also involved the “Don Mario” organization, has increased violence rates in Medellín, leading Colombian National Police Chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo to spend a week there at the end of January.
  • Aliases of current leaders include “Nito,” “Yiyo,” “Beto,” “Douglas,” “Valenciano,” and “Gancho.” Other demobilized members of Don Berna’s former paramilitary organization, particularly two nicknamed “Rogelio” and “Danielito,” are also believed to be part of the leadership.
  • The “Oficina” maintains a militia called the “Paisas.” It operates in Antioquia department and along major drug-trafficking corridors in the Pacific and Atlantic coastal regions.
Feb 18

Liberal Party Senator Juan Fernando Cristo will be in Washington for a series of events and meetings next week. Over the past year, Sen. Cristo has become the legislature’s leading advocate of legislation to provide reparations to the victims of Colombia’s conflict.

In the Senate, Cristo has been the principal sponsor of a Victims’ Law: a bill compelling the state to provide “dignified, effective and integral” reparations to those who suffered “physically, morally or economically” as a result of the conflict, without regard to the identity of the victimizer.

This bill has been making its way through Colombia’s Congress; in the House of Representatives, however, supporters of President Álvaro Uribe – who have a commanding majority – gutted the Victims’ Law’s provisions so completely in November that Sen. Cristo now opposes the House version of the bill he helped to create.

Here is a translation of a column Sen. Cristo published in Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, in January. (Thanks to CIP Intern Stacy Ulmer for translation help.) We look forward to welcoming him back to Washington next week.

Reparations: a Right, or a Handout?
Sen. Juan Fernando Cristo, El Tiempo, January 13, 2009

The scene last December 16, near midnight in the full House of Representatives, when the government literally locked up more than 80 legislators with the single and exclusive goal that they approve an initiative to perpetuate the Head of State in power, caused many Colombians to feel pain for the fatherland. It has been decades since we have seen such demonstrations in Colombia of power used for personal benefit and authoritarianism.

The pain for the fatherland is even worse when we realize that the government considered it to be “crucial” for the country that the House of Representatives approve, in the second debate, an initiative that benefits just one person, though at the same time it openly promoted the postponement of a bill that seeks to benefit more than 3 million compatriots who have suffered the rigors of violence.

It is sad to recognize that the victims’ law, which had its last plenary debate after a long discussion, became an obstacle that had to be removed to fulfill the reelection obsession, so with no decency and even less discussion, they decided to postpone its approval until next March. Without thinking of the millions of Colombians, without remembering the mothers of Soacha who will not be able to get reparations, without attending to the more than 3,000 victims of the FARC, “paras” and ELN who expressed themselves at 10 public hearings throughout the country demanding a worthy treatment. In sum, they could not care any less about these victims’ suffering and their mistreatment and abandonment by the state.

The basic issue that impedes an agreement between the bill’s authors and the government is not the well-publicized attempt to exclude the victims of state actors, much less the vaunted fiscal problem, nor is it the government’s refusal to accept international principles like the victims’ good faith or the law’s interpretation in their favor. No. Here there is a gigantic difference, from a conceptual and human point of view, which makes agreement difficult, and while it is not removed we will keep going.

International organizations with expertise on this matter, like the UN and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the Inspector-General’s Office [Procuraduría], the Ombudsman’s Office [Defensoría del Pueblo], the bill’s authors and the organizations representing the victims, consider reparations to be a fundamental right of victims, independent of who the victimizer is. The government does not recognize that right, it sees the victims as an obstacle to any peace process, perceives them to be a “problem” for the state and its institutions, and considers that they should be “helped” so they don’t “bother us so much.”

The rest are legislative technicalities: whether reparations are given for “duty of guarantee” or “solidarity” reasons; what the definition of “victim;” whether there must be a judicial reparation, or at what moment the state’s responsibility is accepted. These disagreements can be summarized by saying that we have a different vision of the victim. For us, he is a citizen who suffered physically, morally or economically as a consequence of the conflict, and who has every right to receive reparations in a dignified, effective and integral manner. The government considers him to be a poor person who lives in a conflictive zone and the state, according to its possibilities, must attend to him with its assistentialist programs.

Reparation and alms are two sides of the same coin. Only when Colombian society, not just the government, recognizes that there should be an aggressive and effective state policy to provide reparations to these three million compatriots who have rights – not just a handout whenever that’s possible – can we hold the hope of achieving peace and reconciliation in Colombia. The Victims’ Law, in its Senate version, should be the first step and nothing else.

Feb 17

Gerardo Reyes in Saturday’s El Nuevo Herald: “What is your opinion of him [Álvaro Uribe] today?”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia (1994-1997) Myles Frechette: “Very frustrating. He is a much different person than I thought. He is not democratic, he doesn’t have much respect for the judiciary or the Congress, he is an authoritarian and very populist person, in many senses he is very similar to [Hugo] Chávez.”

This interview is fascinating. Frechette relates a 1996 meeting with Álvaro Uribe, then the governor of Antioquia department, in which he confronts Uribe about rumored past ties to narcotrafficking. Frechette says he was “not satisfied” by Uribe’s answers.

Feb 11

Location of the massacre.

We condemn the FARC guerrillas, in the strongest terms, for massacring as many as eighteen members of the Awá indigenous community in a remote zone in the department of Nariño, in southwestern Colombia. If the group’s leadership had sought to generate goodwill with last week’s unilateral hostage releases, reports of the Nariño killings has undone that entire effort.

The atrocity took place on February 4, when “the Farc detained a group of indigenous families and accused them of collaborating with the army,” according to Nariño’s governor, Antonio Navarro, a prominent leftist politician who was a top leader of the M-19 guerrilla insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s. “One of the young men escaped and has said that they had been tied up and beaten and that they were killing them with knives.”

The victims are members of a badly battered indigenous ethnicity that has been struggling for survival. The Awá were the subject of one of the first posts ever to appear on this blog, in November 2004. We wrote then:

After four years of Plan Colombia and two years of Democratic Security – two strategies that have pushed drugs and violence from other zones to their once-peaceful lands – the Awá people are reeling. Many are displacing, leaving for Pasto [Nariño's capital], for Ecuador. A fiercely independent and well-organized group, the Awá, usually through UNIPA [the Awá People’s Indigenous Unity organization], have repeatedly sought to denounce abuses and plead for help before various Colombian government institutions, with almost no response. The government’s  non-miltary presence in rural Ricaurte remains virtually nil.

Here is a translation of the declaration released last night by the UNIPA and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).

UNIPA and ONIC Denounce Massacre Committed by the FARC Against Members of the Tortuga̱a Telembi Indigenous Reserve in Barbacoas РNari̱o.

  • We call on an integral humanitarian Minga [joining of forces] to enter the massacre site.
  • A humanitarian plan consulted with the participation of the Awá authorities.
  • That the state, the government and the FARC Secratariat make clear their positions.

The Awá People’s Indigenous Unity UNIPA and the ONIC make clear that the serious situation of violations of human rights, of IHL and of the Nariño Awá people’s collective rights is not new; evidence of that are the following facts:

The social, cultural and organizational dynamic of the Awá people was altered with the insurgent armed groups’ [guerrillas'] arrival at the end of the 1990s, when in their haste to impose their armed political project they have committed various violations of our political and territorial autonomy and against human rights. This situation became much more serious with the appearance of paramilitary groups and their actions in favor of economic interests.

It is important to highlight that the growing militarization of our territories in the development of the Democratic Security policy has also made the communities’ situation complex, since the illegal armed groups accuse them [the communities] of being the facilitators of the military’s entry into the territories, and because members of the Army commit human rights violations and IHL infractions, violations of ILO Convention 169, and the directives of the Ministry of Defense.

In the last 10 years, as a consequence of the armed conflict, there have been 5 massive displacements, continuous individual displacements into and out of our territory, cross-border migration, 4 massacres, approximately 200 murders, 50 affected by landmines, kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, accusations of helping armed groups, threats, forced recruitment, blockades of food and medicine, utilization of civilian facilities for military purposes, and pressure on civilians to serve as informants.

All of this has been the subject of permanent denunciation at the national and international level, to such an extent that in 2008 the Ombudsman’s Office [Defensoría del Pueblo] issued Defensorial Resolution 53 demonstrating the seriousness of the Awá people’s situation and proposing a series of recommendations for the State to guarantee this people’s protection, but to date effective measures have not been taken.

Starting in 2008, paramilitary groups’ presence was reactivated in the region, the insurgency’s actions radicalized, and the state’s militarization increased, bringing as a consequence an increase in human rights violations and a deepening of the humanitarian crisis in all of the Awá territory.

With regard to the acts that are the subject of this denunciation, we highlight:

Starting on February 1, the presence of the Army (Cabal [cavalry?] Group, “Mártires de Puerres” Battalion of the 29th Brigade, part of the 3rd Division) was registered in the rural villages of Volteadero and Bravo in the Tortugaña Telembí Reserve (Barbacoas municipality). They abusively entered people’s homes and, through various mistreatments, obligated members of the community to give information about the location of the FARC-EP guerrillas, exposing the community to a situation of powerlessness and fear.

On February 4, armed men with FARC insignia rounded up 20 people (men, women and children), who were tied up and led away to a stream called El Hojal, in the El Bravo community,  and they were observed killing some people with knives. Acording to information from the community, these same men returned the next day for the children who remained in the houses, and we don’t know what became of them. Members of the communities inform us that this FARC action was taken in retaliation for soldiers having occupied the indigenous people’s houses, and because they offered collaboration [information about the guerrillas' activities and location].

According to information from the reservation’s communities, on February 5 at 4:00 in the afternoon there was combat between the guerrillas and the Army, during which the latter carried out a bombing between Bravo and the Sabaleta hill, generating great fear in the communities.

On February 6 at 5:00 PM, there was more combat between the Army and the FARC, which began again on the 7th. As a result of all of this, several families have displaced into the interior of the territory and towards Samaniego, Buenavista (Barbacoas), and Planadas Telembí, despite the presence of anti-personnel mines planted by the guerrillas along the different access roads. Meanwhile about 1,300 people are in a situation of confinement, suffering hunger and sickness with a serious impact on the population of children.

Demands.

We demand that all armed groups respect the lives and rights of Colombia’s indigenous people and that they let us live in peace like before, that they don’t involve us in a war that is not ours and which we don’t support.

That the FARC Secretariat, the commanders of the 29th Front and the Mariscal Sucre column pronounce, before the national and international community, about their resonsibility for these crimes, that they respect the territorial and political autonomy of the Awá people, that they stop mining our territories and that they stop involving indigenous communities in a war that does not belong to them.

That the FARC, if it is holding people, release them immediately and unconditionally.

That the Ministry of Interior and Justice take the measures necessary to clarify what happened as soon as possible.

That the national government, the state and all its institutions recognize the  vulnerability of the Awá people as expressed in Defensorial Resolution 53 of June 5, 2008, and that they completely follow each one of its recommendations.

That the Presidency’s Office of Social Action and the Ministry of Interior implement an ethnic safeguard plan for the Awá indigenous nation, respecting the right to prior consultation in accord with finding 004 of the Constitutional Court.

That the National Army, in the development of its operations, observe strict compliance with human rights and IHL norms, as well as the Defense Ministry’s directives with regard to intervention in indigenous territories.

We call on the United Nations, human rights organizations, social organizations, state institutions, international NGOs, oversight bodies and indigenous organizations to accompany us in the development of an INTEGRAL HUMANITARIAN MINGA [joining of forces] to verify what occurred, and to save the lives of our indigenous brothers at risk.

That the Inspector-General of the Nation [Procuraduría] follow up with each institution to ensure that they are fulfilling the responsibilities that correspond to them.

Feb 10

We applaud the three successful humanitarian operations last week that reunited six of the FARC guerrillas’ long-held hostages with their families.

The following actors deserve high praise for the professionalism and discretion they showed last week.

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross carried out flawlessly the difficult, delicate task of organizing hostage pickups at three secret, remote jungle locations during five days, while coordinating between parties who have no direct contact with each other. Christophe Beney, Yves Heller and other professional ICRC staff in Bogotá showed the world how these complex operations are properly performed.
  • Similar praise goes to the government and army of Brazil, whose helicopters made the pickups and whose crews handled the logistics. The Brazilians stayed out of the spotlight, but their involvement – absent from most past Colombian peace efforts – was a welcome confidence-builder.
  • Colombianos por la Paz (Colombians for Peace), an ad hoc group of intellectuals, leftist politicians and activists, seems to have set the process in motion with a September letter to the FARC that began a public exchange of communications with the guerrillas. In the group’s second letter to the FARC, the “Colombians for Peace” asked the guerrilla leadership to release all of its kidnap victims and renounce the practice of kidnapping. The FARC have yet to agree to that, but they did agree to release last week’s six hostages. Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Córdoba, a signer of the “Colombians for Peace” letter who has been a key link of communication with the FARC, worked tirelessly last week to ensure that the hostage releases went ahead.
  • The hostages’ families deserve the highest praise for their perseverance, their efforts to raise the profile of their loved ones’ suffering, and the dignity they maintained throughout the process. More concretely, they may have even helped save last week’s releases with a cell-phone call placed to Colombia’s first lady, Lina Moreno de Uribe, on the night of February 1, after President Uribe put the process at risk by briefly prohibiting Sen. Córdoba’s participation.
  • The U.S. State Department was mainly on the sidelines, but did release a positive statement “welcoming” the first hostage release and praising Brazil.

But there are exceptions. The hostage releases seemed to bring out the worst in some of the others involved.

  • Colombia’s defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, authorized Colombia’s air force to dispatch planes to circle above the site where, on February 1, the FARC were to hand over four hostages. The presence of the high-flying aircraft delayed the handover for hours. Journalist Daniel Samper, a member of the “Colombians for Peace” mission aboard the Brazilian helicopters, said that, faced with the FARC’s refusal to carry out the handover while the aircraft were present, the mission tried to call the Uribe government’s top negotiator, Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo – but Restrepo’s phone went straight to voicemail. It took two hours to get Santos to call off the planes. While Santos insisted the Red Cross agreement allowed the planes to fly at over 20,000 feet during the rescue, the agreement in fact referred to commercial aircraft. A February 3 editorial in Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper characterized Santos’s attitude as “stubborn and defiant.” Added Semana magazine, “It was very bad if the intention was to gain a military advantage by carrying out intelligence in the midst of a humantarian operation. Even worse, if they sought to intimidate with their planes an already paranoid guerrilla group [thereby threatening the hostage release].”
  • Independent journalist Jorge Enrique Botero has accompanied efforts to win hostages’ release for years, and has often played a useful supporting role for Sen. Córdoba and others. During the February 1 airplane-flyover incident, however, Botero – on the ground in the jungle – made the unfortunate choice of contacting the Venezuela-based TeleSur network and denouncing the Colombian military’s actions, even inviting one of the FARC guerrillas carrying out the hostage handover to comment on the air. Normally, an outrage like the handover zone overflights is the sort of “scoop” that a journalist should seek. At the time, though, Botero was a member of a humanitarian mission, not a correspondent. The matter he was denouncing was delicate, best left entirely up to the International Committee of the Red Cross to communicate to the Colombian government. Botero has since apologized.
  • Hollman Morris is another Colombian independent journalist known for traveling to some of the most dangerous and conflictive corners of Colombia to cover the conflict. (We interviewed him in 2007, video here.) He appears to have been the victim of a coincidence – or at least found himself used by the FARC. While recording a documentary about kidnapping, Morris had arranged an interview with FARC leaders in the jungles of Caquetá department in southern Colombia. They turned out to be the same FARC leaders holding the four hostages released on February 1. The humanitarian mission picking up the hostages had specified that no reporters would be present; its members were very surprised, then, to find a well-known journalist already on the ground at the pickup site. Before granting their freedom, the FARC required the four hostages – a soldier and three policemen – to submit to interviews with Morris as a condition of their release. Morris says that, realizing what was happening, he only asked the hostages their names and the amount of time they had been held. The hostages have asked that Morris not make the resulting footage public, and we hope he honors that. Hollman Morris found himself in a difficult situation, and had few options. Nonetheless, as Semana magazine put it, “On one hand, his rush to get the story may have led him to lose sight of the fact that he could have interfered in the hostage release. On the other hand, as a member of Colombians for Peace, he may not have pondered the possibility that he could have become – against his will – an obstacle to the complex task Piedad Córdoba was carrying out.”
  • While Morris did nothing illegal, top Colombian government officials reacted very poorly. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos was quoted as saying that Morris is “close to the FARC.” President Álvaro Uribe added that Morris “shields himself in his status as a journalist to be permissive and complicit with terrorism.” Both public accusations – that Morris supports a guerrilla group that kills and kidnaps hundreds of Colombian citizens each year – are unfounded, irresponsible, and place Morris in grave danger. Both leaders must retract them publicly.
  • President Uribe behaved erratically on the night of February 1st when, sometime around midnight, he abruptly prohibited Piedad Córdoba – and anyone but the ICRC and the Brazilians – from participating in the remaining two hostage pickups. Uribe took this move out of anger about the behavior of Botero and Morris, but because of the importance the FARC placed on Córdoba’s participation, the President risked scuttling the entire operation. By the morning of the 2nd, apparently after strong urging from the Red Cross, the Brazilian government, and the alarmed relatives of to-be-released hostages, Uribe reversed himself, allowing Piedad Córdoba – but nobody else from “Colombians for Peace” – to participate in the hostage pickups.
  • The government’s “high commissioner for peace” or chief negotiator, Luis Carlos Restrepo, was largely left out of last week’s proceedings. He nonetheless managed to behave bizarrely. On February 3, after the humanitarian mission departed the airport in Villavicencio, Meta, to pick up FARC hostage Alan Jara, Restrepo decided to ban the media from the airport so that they could not cover Jara’s return. In the face of complaints from every Colombian news organization, the Colombian Presidency overruled Restrepo’s decision and allowed the press back in. The Peace Commissioner responded by turning in his resignation – for the fourth time in his 6 1/2-year tenure – and disappearing for at least a day. On February 4, El Tiempo reported that Restrepo was not even answering his phone when President Uribe called. By February 5, El Espectador was reporting that Uribe planned to replace Restrepo with Frank Pearl, the official in charge of the government’s demobilization and reintegration programs. By February 6, however, the Colombian Presidency reported that Restrepo had been located, President Uribe had not accepted his resignation, and Restrepo was reinstated as high commissioner for peace.
  • Of course, the party whose behavior deserves the strongest condemnation is the FARC, whose cruelty and utter disregard for international humanitarian standards made last week’s operation necessary in the first place. After holding these men for so many years, their “goodwill gesture” to Colombians for Peace generated very little good will for them. The guerrillas continue to hold twenty-three more soldiers and police – some for over eleven years – to pressure the government for a prisoner-exchange deal. (They poured salt in that wound with a letter last week mocking one of the hostages, Police Gen. Luis Mendieta, who has been held for ten years.) They hold untold hundreds more civilians hostage for ransom. In the past few weeks, they are responsible for bombings that have killed civilians in Bogotá and Cali.

Last week’s releases indicate that those within the FARC’s leadership who have insisted on kidnapping civilian hostages are starting to lose the internal argument. A guerrilla group that has shown very little concern for its image made a move that appeared to indicate that it was conscious of public opinion. That is a positive development, though it offers little reason to believe that a movement toward dialogue – or even a “humanitarian exchange” of prisoners for hostages – is likely in the near term. Nonetheless, we hope that any momentum begun last week builds and continues.

We call on the FARC to take the logical next step: releasing all of its hostages and kidnap victims and renouncing the practice of kidnapping once and for all.

Feb 07

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe did it again today.

At a town-hall meeting in the department of Meta, the president made comments once more tying his critics – in this case, human rights and peace advocates – to Colombia’s brutal, murderous guerrillas.

In fact, Uribe said, those who oppose his security policies are part of the FARC. They are nothing more than a guerrilla unit he calls the “Intellectual Bloc of the FARC.”

There’s no nuance here. This isn’t political debate. At best, this is McCarthyism. At worst, it’s a powerful president publicly, and with no evidence, linking his political adversaries with a terrorist group – which essentially declares open season on them.

The Obama administration must take note of this behavior which, to say the least, does not befit what one would expect of a close U.S. ally, much less a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Here are translated excerpts of Álvaro Uribe’s own words, uttered earlier today.

Let’s not get distracted. While they kidnap and murder and set off car bombs, the guerrillas want to dress themselves in the cloak of peace.

We aren’t going to let them fool us now. The guerrillas, trying to disorient us, produce blood but talk of peace. We’re not going to allow this, compatriots.

We’re not going to allow the FARC’s “intellectual bloc” to disorient us now with a discourse of peace, which in the end strenghthens terrorism. And we have to wage this battle in the whole country.

The FARC’s “intellectual bloc” is very clever. In the past, in Europe, they said: “the FARC are justified, because Colombia is a very unjust country, there is no democracy in Colombia,” knowing that they taught this country and they taught the paramilitaries to murder mayors, to pressure governors, to eliminate democracy, and knowing that they cause more and more poverty, that they and tha paramilitaries were the largest causes of displacement in Colombia, of unemployment, of the absence of investment.

And they shield themselves in something else: at all hours they live talking about human rights, simply to make our soldiers and police more timid.

We punish every violation of human rights, but what we cannot allow is that, with their little story about peace and with their permanent accusations against the armed forces, they now paralyze our Democratic Security policy, as the FARC’s “intellectual bloc” seeks to do.

Now, people say to me: Mr. President, don’t use that combative language, be very careful. Then I ask: we can’t fight this battle? Must we then allow the country to return to the disorientation that leads to the exaltation of terrorism, led by the FARC’s “intellectual bloc?” Let’s not fall into this trap.

What the FARC’s “intellectual bloc” does is say in Europe and in the United States: “careful, Uribe is a paramilitary, don’t approve the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia because Uribe is a paramilitary and a human-rights violator.”

Now, the FARC’s “intellectual bloc” doesn’t dare to defend the FARC directly; the FARC’s “intellectual bloc,” is very clever, very astute, it doesn’t dare to oppose fundamentally the Democratic Security policy; the FARC’s “intellectual bloc” defense the FARC simply by talking about peace.

Feb 04

Here is a translation of Semana magazine’s excerpts from the lengthy press conference that former Meta department Governor Alan Jara gave yesterday afternoon, shortly after being released from 7 1/2 years as a captive of the FARC guerrillas.

Greeting to his comrades in captivity

“I spent seven years and seven months kidnapped. It was for 394 long weeks that I was in Colombia’s jungles. I want to greet those who shared these 2,760 days (or rather, nights) of jungle captivity with me: Luis Mendieta (police colonel), the husband of María Teresa, the father of Jeny and José Luis. Captain Murillo, Murillo the champion, as we called him, the fencing champion. A greeting to Donato, the son of Tiberio, who I think just turned 84 years old. To Pablo Emilio Moncayo, to Carlos José Duarte, to Arbey Delgado, the army sergeant. To José Libardo Forero, to Jorge Romero, from Pasto. To Jorge Trujillo, from Gamarra. To César Lasso, from Cali. To Salcedo, to Lucho Beltrán, to Luis Alfredo Moreno, another young man from Nariño. With these men I had the honor of sharing my time. To Elkin Hernández, Edgar Yesid, Álvaro Moreno, to Herazo Maya. To Captain Guillermo Solórzano, a police officer.”

The day of his kidnapping

“On July 15, 2001, I was invited with the United Nations to go to Lejanías, where they were going to serve the community with a bridge built with resources from the mayor’s office’s budget. When I asked about the security issue, they told me that there would be no problem, but that there were no security forces. It was a municipality bordering the demilitarized zone [from which the government of President Andrés Pastrana had pulled out troops to meet a FARC pre-condition for peace talks]. I had asked President Andrés Pastrana, in writing and orally, to ensure that there was security in the municipalities around the demilitarized zone. But this request was not attended. The guerrillas patrolled there. I came to a roadblock. They asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ I responded, ‘to inaugurate the bridge.’ ‘Go ahead,’ they told me. On the way back, the same roadblock stopped us. They required my presence. I got out of the car and they said they needed to talk to me. I had no other alternative. It was then that they took me away. I went through Mesetas, La Uribe, La Julia, La Macarena and arrived in the Caguán. There, Jorge Briceño (alias ‘El Mono Jojoy’) interviewed me. He made a series of declarations, recriminations, clarifications and the last sentence was ‘You didn’t know that I’d said I was going to grab legislators to be exchanged [for FARC prisoners in Colombian jails]?’ I said to him: ‘I’m not a legislator.’ ‘But you were going to be one,’ he answered.”

President Álvaro Uribe

“I think that the President’s [Álvaro Uribe's] attitude hasn’t at all helped the exchange and the liberation to happen. It would seem that President Uribe benefits from the situation of war that the country is living through, and it seems like the FARC likes to have him in power. In one direction or the other, they aim the same way.

Everything I’ve heard is about the strength and success of the Democratic Security Policy. And if it is so strong, could it be that a humanitarian accord would set it wobbling?  … When one is in the jungle tied to a pole, and you hear that there are “immovables,” for me the immovable is that pole, not the conditions.”

The FARC

“I’m going to tell another story to illustrate the reach that the FARC have today. One day we arrived in an area where, apparently, there was nothing. There, they were cooking with firewood. I said to the comandante: ‘This wood is making a lot of smoke, we can’t keep cooking without a gasoline stove.’ The next day, the stove was there. They started to cook,  but the stove used up a lot of gasoline and the beans they were cooking wouldn’t soften. ‘Why don’t you get a pressure cooker?’ I asked jokingly. And the next day the pressure cooker was there. So, with that demonstration of how they operate, we arrived at a stream at about 11 or 12:00 at night. After walking I don’t know where, it is impossible to say, there was a boat waiting for us. After half an hour, another boat launched, picked us up and we arrived at a site where, with lanterns, from the bank, they signaled that we had to get off at that point.”

Life in the jungle

“After being kidnapped for two days, they gave us a snack. It was Royal water and soda crackers. I put down the cup and put the soda crackers on top. I went out to “take care of business,” and when I came back, the crackers were folded over from the humidity. If that’s what it does to some crackers, imagine what it does to the people there. It kills and rots everything. That’s why the humanitarian exchange is urgent.

… And as Chavo del Ocho says, one thing is one thing and another thing is another thing. One thing is the decision to keep us in the jungle for so much time, and another thing is the treatment we received every day. They give us what is within reach. There is no mistreatment, nor rudeness, nor humiliations. They just give us what there is. Most of the time, a rich diet. Rich in flour. Rice and peas. Beans and rice. In the afternoon they’d vary it with rice and pasta, rice and lentils. One can know what the date is depending on whether it is rice or pasta. When conditions allowed, animals were hunted. Big tigers [jaguars and similar big cats]. Like the saying goes, I even ate monkey. I ate rays, armadillos, deer, fish. Breakfast was a soup of everything: beans, rice and lentils.”

The danger of death

“I spent seven weeks walking, before being free. I counted that every 4,000 paces, they stopped. I spent 17 days counting from one to 4,000. I calculated 150 kilometers, without counting what we did in a boat. Around us, like planets orbiting, were many guerrillas of the vanguard and rearguard, who served as protection. On occasion they came close to us or we retreated. On one occasion when they came close, about 50 meters I think, the group that was in front encountered an Army patrol. We, who were a bit behind, heard the shots. They held me down on the ground, the shots continued. And so I didn’t know which bullets to protect myself from, those of the Army or those of the guerrillas. It was very tense, we stayed on the ground all afternoon until it got dark. Once it was night, we moved a bit backward. We had to walk in silence. I remembered Alan Felipe [his son] when he was 4 years old. One day he said to me, “Papi, I hate you,” and I thought that the world was backward. And that’s how it was that night, like the world backward: the guerrillas protecting me and the Army shooting. … In the past, on four occasions bombs and planes passed very close by. The guerrillas ran to get us out, to protect us.”

Torture

“The chains were used as a security method. They didn’t mean to put chains on us to torture us. When we were penned up, there were no chains. When we went out to walk there were chains. That was a sad, painful circumstance. Even the guerrillas, when they put them on us, their faces grimaced. I prefer to remember them in the morning, when they took them off of us. They put my chain on my left leg, but the rest around their necks. A regrettable fact, for example: two of them, due to the guerrillas’ own error in positioning the chains, had them a bit loose. The punishment was never to allow them to be taken off, and as a result for the past two years, they are chained together at the neck. If you go, I have to go. If one goes to the bathroom, the other also has to do it. From here, I ask the guerrilla comandantes to stop using the chains as a punishment.

Walking in the jungle, it’s so hard with the chains, professor Moncayo! [The father of one of the remaining police hostages, Gustavo Moncayo, raises awareness about his son's plight by wearing a chain of his own.]  With a chain around your neck, you go stuck together, if one falls so does the other. An anecdote: One day we had to cross a wide river. We hung from a rope from one side to another. It was 340 meters. It was a very turbulent river. On the bank was Martín Sombra, directing the operation. To the pair ahead of me, Sombra asked, ‘Do you know how to swim?’ ‘Yes,’ they answered. ‘Oh good, be careful,’ Sombra said. After that, he asked the next one, ‘Do you know how to swim,’ the other answered ‘no.’ ‘Oh good, be careful,’ said Sombra.”

The road to freedom

“I was sick, I had the early stages of malaria, high fever. On December 18, the subcomandante of the group that had us came up to us. He told us that we had two minutes to pack. I was lying on a sheet of plastic, in very bad shape. Every one of my compañeros, Mendieta, Murillo, Delgado, Donato, began to pack up what was theirs. I gathered my things as I could. The comandante called me over. He said to me, ‘You come here, you’re already read.’ He called me urgently to leave the delimited area. He said ‘Walk.’ At that moment, I saw my compañeros for the last time. Colonel Mendieta said ‘Thank you Alan’ and began to applaud. The other compañeros joined him: William, Enrique and Arbey. They all thanked me. I had a 40-degree [104 degrees Fahrenheit] fever, and I didn’t understand anything. They yelled, ‘Thank you Alan, long live Alan!’ The guerrillas tried to shut them up. I didn’t understand what was happening.  I went to where the chief of the encampment was. I didn’t know where I was going. … Regrettably I didn’t bring proofs of life, everything happened in a rush.

… When one turns on the radio in the jungle at midnight, one closes one’s eyes and is transported, it is an astral journey, when one imagines one’s family is there.  I imagine them sitting on a green couch that was mine, or in bed. One sees them thanks to the magic of the radio. To recover the lost time, never! They stole that time from us. The pain of not seeing [my son] grow up, or even to hear him, is nothing compared to his pain in not seeing me.”

Feb 03

On Sunday, the FARC guerrillas released three policemen and one soldier whom they had held as hostages in the jungle for many years. Today, they released Alan Jara, the former governor of Meta department whom they had kidnapped in 2001. The images of Jara descending from a Brazilian helicopter this afternoon and greeting his family are stirring. Sometime this week, the FARC guerrillas are to turn over another politician, Valle del Cauca departmental legislator Sigifredo López, whom they kidnapped in 2002.

Do the hostage releases signal an opening, in which a newly image-conscious FARC may be signaling a willingness to return to the negotiating table? In Colombia’s mainstream media, the consensus answer from analysts is a resounding “no.” There is a slim hope that the hostage release is a fragile step that could build momentum toward greater dialogue. But the guerrillas’ motives are suspect and the belief seems to be that the FARC are only taking these small steps as a response to military pressure and international isolation.

Here are translated excerpts from two such analyses: journalist Mauricio Vargas’s column in yesterday’s El Tiempo, and the cover story in Sunday’s Semana magazine. Thanks to CIP Intern Stacy Ulmer for help with the translation.

Now it turns out that we owe them? – Mauricio Vargas, El Tiempo

The naiveté of some of the terrorists’ useful idiots had led them to declare that these liberations open the doors to a new era of peace. It is a shame to have to rain on their parade, but I doubt that this is the case. The FARC aren’t carrying out these liberations becasue they have resolved to leave kidnapping behind, nor to sit down for serious negotiations with the government about its demobilization and disarmament. If there was any doubt, the corpses of Diana Margarita Mora, a 50-year-old part-time employee of a Spanish multinational, and Carlos Romero, a 30-year-old security guard and resident of a poor slum in the city’s south. They died from the bomb that the men of “Cano” and “Jojoy” caused to explode Tuesday night at the Blockbuster outlet on 82nd Street in Bogotá, because the owners of the business had denied to pay extortion money to the FARC.
This group of criminals agreed to free a small number of captives – hundreds more remain in the jungle – for a combination of political, military and economic reasons. The first have to do with their need to recover an international audience, after the blows they received in 2008. The second, with the security forces’ pressure. And the third, with the fact that, according to numerous deserters’ testimony, it costs the FARC a lot of money to maintain so many captives.

That is why it is unacceptable that some now act as though it is necessary to make gestures of gratitude to the FARC for these liberations. What should they be thanked for? That they have destroyed the lives of thousands of Colombians and their families and that, for motives that have nothing to do with humanitarian reasons, they have resolved to free a few after a decade of shameful captivity?

Why are they releasing them? (Semana magazine)

The next elections are crucial for this group [the FARC]. The Uribe years have left them agonizing, and a third presidential term puts their survival at risk. Many believe that Uribe will seek another four years just to seek the guerrillas’ total annihilation.

The FARC think that the liberations weaken [the Uribe government's] Democratic Security [policy], and that if Alfonso Cano extends a hand, the issue of negotiations will become a fundamental axis of the campaign of 2010. Obviously the guerrillas would prefer to negotiate with a president other than Uribe. They would prefer a softer government that gives them political recognition and allows them some breathing room and time to strengthen themselves, as they have done in past truces or peace processes. A situation that they would certainly take advantage of to recover their military initiative, or to negotiate from a position of greater strength. Exactly the outcome that Uribe summarizes in one word: catastrophe.

This reading, however, is as simplistic as it is ingenuous. In the first place, because in an eventual third Álvaro Uribe administration it is very likely that a peace negotiation would begin. Uribe has commanded the war well and would be happy to seal the peace. While it might not seem like it, Uribe knows that in such difficult territory, with narcotrafficking, it is impossible to liquidate a guerrilla group merely with lead. His goal, ultimately, is to bring them to negotiate to avoid a military defeat. Something that perhaps isn’t very far off, but cannot be achieved during the year and a half remaining to the government. The problem is that an Uribe reelection is absolutely inappropriate for the country. His permanence in power is a time bomb for institutional stability and any democracy’s balance of power.

But no matter who the next president is, he will have to manage the dialectic of the war’s hard line and the soft line of a political solution. And the word “negotiation” will be on the table of the next person to govern Colombia, whether it is Lucho Garzón, Sergio Fajardo, Juan Manuel Santos, Noemí Sanín or Germán Vargas Lleras. Any sensible politician knows that it is better to end an insurgent war at the dialogue table than it is to allow a bloody agony with a high human and material cost for the country that suffers it. With the enormous risk that it becomes a war that never ends, with recurring cycles of offensives and counter-offensives. Something Colombia knows well, and will no longer tolerate.

Nonetheless, a negotiation scenario would still be very complicated. First, because at this point it is not clear whom the FARC represents. It is difficult to recognize that they have any legitimacy to talk about broad issues like agrarian reform, because it has been a long time since that guerrilla group has represented more than their own criminal ambitions. In the second place, the Justice and Peace Law, which was made with the paramilitaries, has placed a standard on negotiations that is difficult to ignore. Victims have become very important social protagonists, and they will not tolerate a high dose of impunity, which is what the FARC aspire to.
Nor will it be easy to lower this standard before international justice, which has followed the paramilitary process in detail, as well as the crimes against humanity that are committed in Colombia, where the FARC have been protagonists.
…

Even so, in the best of cases the liberations could be the first step toward opening negotiation spaces to bring an end to the war. But a danger exists. That the FARC start treading in the swampy areas in which the ELN found itself trapped two decades ago, when it decided to hoist the flag of the badly named “humanization of the war.” In practice that has means making small concessions in the humanitarian sphere, like abandoning political kidnappings, but with the trap of leaving the door open to keep carrying out kidnappings for ransom. These intermediate measures, which at first glance make the war less cruel, tend to serve, on the contrary, to prolong it. And to avoid talking about what is really important: how to end the conflict.

Feb 01

It was just confirmed that the FARC has finally released 3 Colombian policemen and one soldier whom it has held for many years. Two Brazilian helicopters with Red Cross insignia left Florencia, Caquetá after 8 AM, with a commission of Red Cross officials and Colombian peace activists aboard. They returned not long ago to Villavicencio, Meta, with the four freed hostages.

El Tiempo has coverage and video (in Spanish).