Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country. The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016, according to official figures from the country's rights obudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo. In the capital Bogota, protesters converted the central Plaza Bolivar into a sea of candlelight. The same happened at the Parque de los Deseos in Medellin and at the Plaza de Caycedo in Cali. Vigils were also held in at least 25 cities around the world, from Sydney to New York. (Colombia Reports, July 7) Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. (El Espectador, July 19)
In a joint anti-drug operation code-named "Armagedon," Peruvian military and National Police troops carried out a series of raids in the remote Putumayo river valley along the Colombian border this week, arresting some 40, destroying four cocaine laboratories, and seizing large quantities of cocaine sulfate and harvested cannabis. The raids took place in the locality of Güeppí, near Laguna Pacora, Putumayo province, Loreto region. The majority of those detained were Colombian nationals, and authorities said they suspect the presence of "dissident" FARC units, who are trying to establish the zone as a staging ground to keep alive their insurgency. More than 350 troops have been deployed in the operation, with five helicopters and three planes as well as boats. The operation is being coordinated with Colombian security forces, who are carrying out similar missions on their side of the Río Putumayo. (BBC News, July 18; El Comercio, July 16)
Colombia has taken significant steps back in a hardline pro-Washington direction since the election of the right-wing Iván Duque as the country's new president last month. Shortly after Duque's victory, the government announced that it will resume aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops—this time using drones rather than planes, to supposedly target the planted areas with greater precision. The move comes in response to a new report from the White House finding that Colombian coca cultivation has reached a new record. Data for 2017 indicates coca cultivation rose 11% to 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres), a level not seen in more than two decades of record-keeping. Estimated cocaine production increased 19 percent to 921 metric tons. "President Trump's message to Colombia is clear: The record growth in cocaine production must be reversed," said Jim Carroll, acting director for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. (El Colombiano, June 26; AP, June 25)
Two opponents of a controversial hydro-electric project on Colombia's Río Cauca were slain by unknown assailants while they were working their fields in the riverside community pf El Pescadero, Puerto Valdivia municipality, Antioquia department, on May 8. Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and his brother Duvián Andrés Correa Sánchez were members of the Association of Artisanal Miners and Fishermen of Puerto Valdivia. Six days earlier, unidentified assailants killed Hugo Albeiro George Pérez, another community leader in Puerto Valdivia. All three were part of the Antioquia Ríos Vivos Movement that has publicly opposed construction of the Hidroituango project due to the environmental damage it has caused in the area, and had sought compensation for local families whose lands have been adversely impacted by the project. (Amnesty International, May 11; ¡Pacifista!, May 3)
Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos along the Río Naya (Cauca department) since an April 17 attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. The families, numbering some 50 people, have taken refuge in nearby communities, fearing a new attack. (Prensa Rural, May 7)
Colombia’s voters on June 17 elected conservative Iván Duque as the country's president, handing a decisive defeat to leftist candidate Gustavo Petro in a run-off vote. Duque is political protege of ex-president Alvaro Urbe, a bitter opponent of the peace process with the former FARC guerillas, and campaigned on a pledge to revise the peace deal. A popular referendum on overturning the legislation that was passed to implement the peace deal has been broached. (Colombia Reports, Bogotá CIty Paper, Global Observatory, June 17)
In an April 6 decision being hailed as "historic," Colombia's Supreme Court of Jutsice ruled in favor of a group of 25 young people and children who brought suit against the state to demand it take measures to assure their right to inherit a healthy environment. They asserted that their future food security and access to water is threatened by continued deforestation in the Amazon and other ecological degradation. In its ruling, the court also noted Colombia's responsibilities on a global level to halt deforestation, as carbon dioxide releases from forest loss contribute to the greenhouse effect. The youth in the case were represented by lawyers from Colombia's Environmental Justice Network (Red por la Justicia Ambiental). (El Tiempo, April 8; Contagio Radio, April 6)
A state of emergency has been declared in Barrancabermeja, the oil hub on Colombia's Río Magdalena, following a rupture on a pipeline delivering crude to the city's refinery from wells in the municipality's rural area. The March 2 spill at the Lizama 158 well, run by parastatal Ecopetrol, contaminated local waterways that flow into the Magdalena, and which local campesino communities depend on. The affected area includes habitat for jaguars (listed as "near threatened" by the International Union for the Conservation of Natuire) and manatees ("vulnerable"). March 26 saw a protest outside the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Bogotá, demanding acountability in the disaster. Óscar Sampayo, Barrancabermeja organizer for the Fracking-Free Colombia Alliance, called it a "catastrophe of unequaled magnitude" in a long history of oil spills in the area, and said the impacts could last 30 years. The Fiscalía General, Colombia's attorney general, has opened an investigation to determine if there is criminal liability in the spill.