Colombia

Colombia: ex-FARC leaders accused of war crimes

Eight former commanders of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity on Jan. 28 by Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). Rodrigo Londoño, Pablo Catatumbo, Pastor Alape, and Milton de Jesús Toncel (Joaquín Gómez) are among the eight former leaders facing the accusations. They are held responsible for the kidnapping of thousands of people during Colombia's internal armed conflict that spanned decades. Murder and torture are specific war crimes related to the treatment of hostages. The kidnappings funded FARC's war against the state and were used to press for the release of imprisoned rebels. The hostages included soldiers and police officers, as well as politicians and other civilians.

Colombia's ex-FARC rebranded —again

Colombia's former FARC rebels voted to no longer use the acronym of their now-defunct guerilla army as that of their new political party. The change in name was proposed by the FARC's former military commander Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko," ahead of the leftist party's Second Extraordinary Assembly. It was approved by a majority vote among 250 participating delegates at the Jan. 26 assembly, which was held at Medellín's Hotel Chinauta Real and, via video link, at 12 other points around the country. Delegates agreed to change the party's name to Comunes (Commons). The former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia originally re-branded in 2017 as the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons. The full name and associated acronym were dropped to disassociate the party from the former guerilla army, which remains listed as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the US State Department, as well as from "dissident" guerilla factions that have remained in arms. The acronym dates to the founding of the guerilla army in 1964.

UN rights chief sees heightened violence in Colombia

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged state authorities in Colombia on Dec. 15 to respond to heightened violence with concrete action and stronger protection. According to the UN Human Rights Office, 375 killings have been recorded in Colombia thus far in 2020. Of these killings, 255 people were slain in 66 massacres, and 120 human rights defenders have also been killed. What is more, since Colombia's peace agreement was signed in November 2016, a total of 244 demobilized FARC fighters have been slain. The killings continue to be committed "by non-state armed groups, criminal groups and other armed elements," in mostly in remote areas of Colombia, and particularly targeting "peasants, indigenous and Afro-Colombian people."

Ecologist assassinated in Colombian national park

Javier Francisco Parra Cubillos, environmental director of Cormacarena, the government body responsible for managing Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park on the eastern slopes of the Colombian Andes, died in a local hospital Dec. 3 after receiving multiple gunshot wounds from a pair of presumed sicarios (hired assassins) who fired on him from a motorbike. The area of fragile cloud-forest, in a remote part of Meta department, has long been the scene of armed conflict and coca cultivation, and has recently seen a surge in illegal logging. Parra Cubillos won brief national attention in 2017, when he accompanied Colombia's then-president Juan Manuel Santos on a visit to a scenic site within the park, Caño Cristales (Cyrstal Canyon), to raise awareness about the need to preserve the zone. The government has offered a reward of 40 million pesos (about $11,500) for information leading to the apprehension of the assailants.

Colombia: indigenous 'minga' marches on Bogotá

Some 10,000 participated in a cross-country march and motorcade through Colombia's southern Andes, dubbed the "Minga for Life, Territory, Democracy and Peace," culminating in a mass demonstration in Bogotá on Oct. 21. The Bogotá rally was swelled by thousands of students, teachers and labor unionists who walked out of classes and off their jobs. Called by Nasa and Guambiano indigenous leaders in the southern department of Cauca, the Minga (a traditional Andean word for "collective labor") was joined by Afro-Colombian and mestizo campesino communities in its 10-day trek to the capital. Chief among the marchers' grievances is the ongoing wave of assassinations of social leaders by illegal armed groups operating on indigenous lands. They charge that their communities have been betrayed by President Iván Duque's failure to fully implement terms of the peace accords with the demobilized FARC guerillas.

Colombia: paramilitary boss returns to face justice

Rodrigo Tovar AKA "Jorge 40," one of Colombia's most wanted paramilitary leaders, was flown back to his home country Sept. 28 after spending 12 years in US prisons for drug trafficking. Once a local official in his hometown of Valledupar, Tovar became commander of the feared "Bloque Norte" of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary network in the first decade of this century. Revelations upon his demobilization in 2006 triggered the so-called "parapolitics" scandal, with his testimony implicating top government figures in the officially illegal armed networks. But Tovar stopped cooperating with Colombian justice after his brother was assassinated in 2009, a year after his extradition to the US. He now faces multiple charges of war crimes and human rights violations in Colombia, most notoriously the February 2000 massacre of 60 civilians at the village of El Saldado, in the Medio Magdalena region. His one-time mentor in the paramilitary movement, Salvatore Mancuso, is currently fighting deportation to Colombia after also serving a drug trafficking sentence in the US.

Monumental controversy hits Colombia

Local indigenous people on Sept. 16 toppled the statue of the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar in Popayán, capital of Colombia's southwestern Cauca department. The statue came down 84 years after local authorities had erected it atop of Morro de Tulcán, a hill that had been a sacred site for the Misak indigenous people. The Movement of Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest (MAIS) issued a statement saying the move to overturn the monument was taken following a decision by traditional elders of the Misak community. The monument to Belalcázar, who founded Popayán in 1537, had long been viewed as an insult to the native population of Cauca, Colombia's most heavily indigenous region. Maria Violet Medina, a leader from the local Nasa indigenous people, said: "The conquistadors brought disease, both physical and spiritual, to indigenous people. It was a genocide. That history isn't told. The statue of Belalcázar represents pain, revictimization, and causes resentment."

Colombia: anti-police protests rock Bogotá

Colombia's capital Bogotá has seen nightly protests since the Sept. 9 slaying of a law student at the hands of the police. Video footage taken by a friend showed Javier Ordoñez, an attorney and father of two, being repeatedly shocked with a stun-gun before being taken to a police station, after he was stopped for public drinking in violation of COVID-19 containment measures. He died in a hospital later that night. Protests erupted after his death, with hundreds gathering outside the station where he had been held in Villa Luz district, and police responded with tear-gas and flash-bang grenades. At least seven people have been killed and 80 arrested since then, as protests have spread throughout the city, and into neighboring Soacha. The Defense Ministry says that 53 police stations and posts have been attacked, with 17 incinerated. The military as well as elite National Police anti-riot force ESMAD have been mobilized to put down the protests.

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