Colombia

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.

Students massacred in Colombian village

Eight young people at a social gathering were killed in Colombia's southern Nariño department when unknown gunmen barged in and opened fire Aug. 15. The victims, between the ages of 17 and 25, were university students who had returned to the village of Samaniego due to the pandemic. They were enjoying a small party at a family farm on the edge of the village when the attack took place. One woman and one minor were among the dead. Nariño Gov. Jhon Rojas said the massacre was probably related to a struggle for control of narcotrafficking networks in the region. He did not name any group as responsible for the attack, but noted the presence in the area of ELN guerillas, "dissident" FARC factions that have remained in arms despite the peace accord, and the Clan del Golfo drug cartel.

Colombia: indigenous journalist slain by army

An indigenous journalist was among two killed when army troops were called in to evict a land occupation in Colombia's southern Cauca region Aug. 13. The lands of three haciendas had been under occupation for months by Nasa indigenous campesinos at El Guanábano, in Corinto municipality, as part of a land reclamation campaign dubbed "Liberación de la Madre Tierra." The elite National Police riot squad ESMAD was first mobilized to clear them, burning their huts and destroying crops. When the occupiers fought back, the army was sent in as back-up, and troops opened fire. Abelardo Liz, who was covering the confrontation for Nación Nasa community radio station, was shot in the abdomen, and died while being rushed to the hospital in Corinto. (El Tiempo, Las2Orillas, Las2Orillas, Bogotá, La Opinión, Cúcuta, Aug. 13)

Colombia: massacre sparks mass displacement

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.

Colombia: campesinos massacred in Huila

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.

Colombia: court orders suspension of US military ops

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)

US move against Cuba imperils Colombia peace

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.

Colombia: ELN ends COVID-19 ceasefire

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."

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