FARC 'demobilization' —despite para terror

The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)

Over the next six months, the guerillas are to surrender their arms, and turn over any child soldiers (defined as younger than 18) among their ranks. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Jan. 30) The demobilization has been overseen by the UN Mission in Colombia, although three UN staffers were called home after a video emerged of them dancing with FARC members at a New Year's Eve party at a ZVTN in La Guajira. (El Tiempo, Jan. 5; BBC Mundo, Jan. 4; Colombia Reports, Jan. 3)

Colombian authorities continue to move against FARC assets, this week announcing the seizure of $98 million in properties allegedly derived from drug trafficking, extortion or illegal mining. The joint operation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Armed Forces, National Police and Superintendent of Notaries led to the recovery of some 277,000 hectares of land, which had been in the hands of the FARC and dissident groups. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 24)

ELN talks convene
Peace talks also opened Feb. 7 with Colombia's second guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), which may be following the FARC into demobilization. The final barriers were cleared when two hostages held by the ELN—Odín Sánchez, a former lawmaker, and soldier Fredy Moreno—were released the previous week. After three years of secret exploratory talks, the "public phase" of negotiations with the ELN is now underway at Hacienda Cachampamba, outside Quito. (El Espectador, Feb. 8; NYT, Feb. 7)

In January, an accused member of the ELN's urban militia in Popayán, Cauca, was sentenced to prison for organizing the assassination of several local social leaders and rights observers. The militia commander, known as "Cazuelo," allegedly worked with members of a criminal gang called Los Monos. (El Espectador, Jan. 6)

Para terror continues
Ongoing deadly violence against social leaders—mostly at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries—remains a source of great controversy. Social organizations and the government are sharply at odds over what the total figure was for such slayings in 2016. The group Somos Defensores puts the total at 80, with attempts on the lives of another 50—a respective increase of 22% and 29% over 2015. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights puts the number slain 64. But the Colombian president's office counts 74 attempted assassinations—only 10 of them sucessful. It claims there have been 50 arrests in relation to these cases. (Radio Caracol, Feb. 24; AFP, Feb. 22; El Espectador, Jan. 4)

Paramilitary collaborators in public office are slowly being brought to justice. The former governor of La Guajira, Juan Francisco Gómez Cerchar, was last month setnenced to 55 years in prison for his role in the 2012 assassination of Yandra Brito, the former mayor of Barrancas town. The murder was carried out by a paramilitary group known as Los Marquitos.  (El Espectador, Jan. 16)