A massacre that left eight campesinos dead in northeast Colombia's Catatumbo region spurred the forced displacement of some 450 people, local authorities report. The July 18 massacre at Totumito vereda (hamlet) in Tibú, a rural municipality on the border with Venezuela, took place amid a territorial dispute between the ELN guerrillas and Los Rastrojos, a criminal paramilitary network that largely controls the nearby border city of Cúcuta, capital of Norte de Santander department. According to the local Catatumbo Campesino Association (ASCAMCAT), the Rastrojos carried out the attack after the ELN planted a banner with their logo in the vereda. More than 100 families have fled to the municipal centers of Tibú or Cúcuta, fearing another attack. Control of drug-trafficking routes over the Venezuelan border is said to be at issue in the conflict.
A band of armed men in trucks and on motorcycles invaded two veredas (hamlets) in the rural zone of Algeciras municipality, in Colombia's central-south department of Huila, on the night of July 16, terrorizing local residents. The approximately 10 armed men entered various homes in the veredas of La Danta and Quebradón Sur, menacing the families at gunpoint, before finally identifying one family they had apparently marked for death. Four family members were killed, and two more wounded, including an eight-year-old boy. The gunmen fled before they could be identified. However, both "dissident" elements of the FARC guerillas who have remained in arms in defiance of the peace deal and right-wing paramilitary groups are active in the area. Accounts indicate the attack targeted the family of an ex-guerilla of the FARC's demobilized Teófilo Forero Column.
In an unprecedented move, a Colombian judge on July 2 gave President Ivan Duque 48 hours to suspend the participation of US troops in counternarcotics operations. The legal challenge was brought after 53 soldiers from the Pentagon's Southern Command arrived June 1 as part of a "Security Force Assistance Brigade" (SFAB), to back up Colombian troops in conflicted areas. When opposition lawmakers protested that they had not been consulted, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told Congress he didn't need their permission. Left-opposition Sen. Ivan Cepeda responded by taking the matter to the Cundinamarca Administrative Tribunal. The judge ruled that if Trujillo wants the US troops to continue their operations he must either receive permission from Congress or successfully appeal the ruling within 72 hours. (Colombia Reports, July 2)
The United States government further complicated the future of peace in Colombia on May 13, adding Cuba to its list of countries that do not cooperate fully with counter-terrorist efforts. The State Department cited Havana's failure to extradite leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's last active guerilla group. Colombia requested extradition of the ELN leaders after the group claimed responsibility for an attack on a Bogotá police academy in January 2019 that killed 22. Havana responded that the ELN leaders had been brought to Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government, and that it was obliged to honor terms of dialogue, which included protection from arrest. Colombia's government broke off the talks after the Bogotá blast; civil society groups in Colombia have since been urging both sides to return to the table.
Despite calls for an extension, Colombia's ELN guerillas announced an end to their unilateral ceasefire on April 30, saying that continued government offensives demonstrate that President Ivan Duque is not interested in peace or in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was met with disappointment by civil society groups and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who in March had called for a "global ceasefire" in response to the pandemic. The UN chief's spokesperson said the month-long ceasefire "was having a positive effect" and that its extension "would have brought hope and a message of peace to communities affected by the conflict."
Inmates' fears that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside Colombia's notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic prisons exploded into violence on March 21, with uprisings reported at facilities across the country. The Justice Ministry acknowledged "revolts at different penitentiary centers in the country," including the prisons in Ibague, Jamundi and Combita, two prisons in Medellín and another two in the capital Bogotá. Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said 23 had been killed in suppressing a "massive and criminal escape attempt" at Bogotá's La Modelo prison, one of the country's largest and most overpopulated. Local residents reported on social media hearing gunfire and explosions at the facility. (Colombia Reports, El Espectador, CNN, AP)
The protest wave in Colombia was revived with a national mobilization Jan. 21, to be again met with repression from the security forces. Protest organizers explicitly rejected violence, but police and gangs of masked men sabotaged efforts by municipal authorities to maintain the peace in the country's two biggest cities. In both Bogotá and Medellín, the progressive mayors who defeated President Ivan Duque's far-right Democratic Center party in local elections last year had adopted protocols to prevent police attacks on peaceful protesters. Human rights defenders in Bogota said that the feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, ignored protocols put in place by Mayor Claudia Lopez and attacked protesters without first attempting mediation. Some 90 were arrested and several injured in the capital, including at the central Bolivar Square, where ESMAD troops attempted to block marchers from entering. Presumed provocateurs also sparked clashes elsewhere in the city.
The former commander of Colombia's armed forces, retired general Mario Montoya, was summoned late last month to appear before a trial to take place under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) concerning the grisly practice of "false positives"—the killing of non-combatants in the guise of military operations against the guerillas. Montoya has been called to testify in Case 03, officially dubbed "muertes ilegítimamente presentadas como bajas en combate por agentes de Estado" (deaths illegitimately presented as fallen in combat by agents of the State). The testimony is scheduled for Feb. 12.