Multi-sided warfare across Colombia

Despite a peace process that has faltered under President Ivan Duque, the internal war in Colombia continues nearly across the country—now involving multiple armed actors: remnant guerilla groups, resurgent paramilitary forces, regional cartels, and the official security forces. Thousands have been displaced in recent months, as campesino and indigenous communities are either caught in the crossfire or explicitly targeted.

Arauca: struggle for the borderlands
The year began with an upsurge of violence in Arauca department, on the eastern plains along the Venezuelan border, where various armed factions vie for control of smuggling corridors either side of the line. On Jan. 4, the office of the UN Secretary-General expressed concern for the situation in Arauca, and called for a ceasefire. That month, at least 50 were reported killed, and some 1,500 displaced, in Arauca and the adjacent Venezuelan state of Apure. According to local media accounts, a three-way conflict involves guerilla forces of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and two "dissident" factions of the FARC that have remained in arms despite the peace deal—the 10th Front and the Segunda Marquetalia. (El Espectador, Feb. 7; Contagio Radio, Feb. 2; Contagio Radio, Jan. 4)

On Jan. 17, when President Duque arived in the border town of Arauquita to announce a new "major operation" against the guerillas, ELN fighters were openly patrolling the streets. (El Tiempo, Jan. 17)

On April 10, Duque announced the capture of the supposed commander of the 10 Front, Juan Gabriel Granados AKA "Orlando La Muerte," in an operation in Villavicencio, Meta department, further south on the eastern plains. (InfoBae, April 11) His principal rival in the struggle for Arauca, ELN Eastern War Front commander Gustavo Aníbal Quinchía AKA "Pablito," remains at large. (El Espectador)

And the 10th Front remained active. On April 29, the military announced that an air-strike in Aruaca killed six 10th Front fighters, including the front's new leader, "Jaime Chucula." But community leaders in El Progreso vereda (hamlet), Puerto Rondón municipality, said those slain were actually local campesinos. (Prensa Rural, May 9)

Segunda Marquetalia commander Miguel Santanilla Botache, AKA "Gentil Duarte," was killed in an apparent bomb attack on his camp in Jesús María Semprún municipality, in Venezuela's Zulia state, on May 4. A Segunda Marquetalia statement said he was killed in an operation by the Colombian army, implying a cross-border raid. Gentil Duarte had actually been a negotiator for the FARC at the Havana talks that led to the 2016 peace accord. (El Espectador, May 31; El Colombiano, May 30; El Colombiano, May 27; El Espectador, May 25 

Clan del Golfo stages 'armed strike'
Dairo Antonio Úsuga David AKA "Otoniel," leader of the Clan del Golfo cartel, who was arrested in October in the northern Gulf of Urabá region, was extradited to the US on May 5 to face drug trafficking charges. To facilitate extradition, the Council of State lifted the "precautionary measure" in his case that had been requested by victims' organizations—who wanted him to face justice within Colombia for human rights abuses. The extradition was approved by the Supreme Court of Justice. Otoniel pleaded not guilty at a federal court in Brooklyn, NY. (Contagio Radio, DoJ press release, May 6; BBC Mundo, April 7)

But the Clan del Golfo responded to the extradition by staging an "armed strike"—a tactic usually employed by their guerilla enemies. Violent protests swept Urabá region and beyond, with scores of vehicles torched in 90 municipalities in nine of Colombia's 32 departments. The departments of Antioquia, Chocó and Córdoba were particularly affected. The government mobilized thousands of troops to put down the protests, which were led by the Clan's paramilitary wing, the Gaitanistas. (BBC News, May 9; Contagio Radio, May 5)

But there was speculation that the government wanted Otoniel out of the country to silence him. In April, Otoniel had testified before Colombia's Special Jurisdication for Peace (JEP) that he had met sevral times with then-presidential candidate Luis Pérez, ex-governor of Antioquia and ex-mayor of Medellín, to discuss paramilitary collaboration. (El Colombiano, April 25)

On May 26, authorities announced that fugitive Clan operative Juan Castro AKA "Matamba," who had escaped from La Picota maximum-security prison in Bogotá in March, was killed in an operation in the town of Bolívar, Santander department. Matamba was said to command a new paramilitary formation in the orbit of the Clan del Golfo, called the Cordillera Sur. (BBC News, El Espectador, May 27; El Espectador, May 26)

Mass displacement in Chocó
Chocó department, which stretches from the Gulf of Urabá down the Pacific coast, has been the most impacted by the conflict in recent weeks. June has seen repeated clashes between government troops and Gaitanistas—inlcuding within the "humaniatarian zone" of Nueva Vida, in Cacarica municipality. This is an area declared by the local Afro-Colombian residents as off-limits to armed actors—which neither side is now respecting. (Contagio Radio, June 10)

On May 30, residents of Embera Katío indigenous communities in Carmen de Atrato municipality blocked the Medellín-Quibdó highway to protest the presence of armed actors on their lands. In recent weeks, hundreds of Embera Katío residents had fled the zone amid inter-factional fighting, with many seeking shelter from municipal authorities in Medellín. (TeleSur, June 4; El Espectador, May 31; El Espectador, May 26)

May 13 saw a massacre at the Embera Dobida indigenous resguardo of Peña Alta, Alto Baudó municipality, with three indigenous residents and an Afro-Colombian friend slain. The perpetrators remain unknown, but the area had recently seen fighting between Gaitanistas and the ELN. (Contagio Radio, May 17)

On March 23 the National Police acknowledged carrying out aerial bombardment of Clan del Golfo targets in the Urabá region of Chocó, reporting three deaths. (El Tiempo, March 23)

And on June 8,  the social activist Jesusita Moreno Mosquera, who had been advocating for a ceasefire between the warring factions in Chocó, was assassinated in an attack by unknown gunmen at the home of her son in Cali. (El Tiempo, June 9; El Tiempo, June 8)

Elsewhere around the country
Localized conflict also persists in several other regions of Colombia. More than 6,000 have been displaced this year in southern Nariño department by inter-factional fighting, especially in the Telembí Triangle area near the border with Ecuador. Doctors Without Borders is assisting local municipal authorities in providing shelter for those fleeing violence in outlying veredas. (El Tiempo, May 14)

In northern Magdalena department, over 150 killings are reported this year in a contest between the Clan del Golfo and a rival criminal network, Los Pachenca. Some 700 have been displaced in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria, the rugged mountain range that straddles the department, overlooking the Caribbean coast. (El Tiempo, June 2; El Tiempo, April 22)

In Vegachí municipality, Antioquia department, Alconides Vallejo Álvarez, vice president of Communcal Action Committee at the vereda of La Clarita, was killed in a National Police operation against the Gaitanistas on May 25. (Contagio Radio, May 26)

Controversy surrounds a March 28 military operation in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo department, in the Amazon basin along the Ecuador border. On that day, 11 people were killed by the armed forces in a raid on El Remanso vereda. Duque and the Defense Ministry said that those "neutralized" were members of an unnamed illegal armed group. However, family members of the victims said that those killed were non-combatants. Minors and a pregnant woman were among the dead, raising the possibility that this was a case of "false positives"—civilian deaths reported as combatant deaths. (Contagio Radio, April 12; PBI-Colombia, April 3; WOLA, March 31; Cambio, March 29)

On Feb. 5, three brothers were killed by unknown gunmen at Diamante vereda, also in Puerto Leguízamo. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 7)

And amid all this, campesinos meet with deadly repression as they continue to struggle for justice over historical wrongs. On May 1, a local Nasa indigenous leader, Luis Antonio Tombé, was killed by National Police during a protest for recovery of usurped lands in Cauca department. The Jornada for the Liberation of Mother Earth was taking place in a rural area of Corinto municipality. Two police officers have been suspended pending an investgation. (El Espectador, May 14)