US to seek extradition of Colombian cocaleros?

After 50 years of internal war, Colombia finally seems to be approaching a peace accord with leftist guerillas. But the US Senate is considering legislation that could throw a big obstacle on Colombia's path to peace. The Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, sponsored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), aims to target every link in the chain of narco-trafficking—right down the impoverished peasants who grow the coca. The bill has unanimously passed the Senate twice before, but never cleared the House. On Oct. 7, it passed the Senate a third time, and a big push is on to make it law. "Since drug cartels are continually evolving, this legislation ensures that our criminal laws keep pace," said Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

Colombia: M-19 rebels investigated for war crimes

Colombia's Fiscal General Eduardo Montealegre on Nov. 9 announced an investigation into possible war crimes by surviving commanders of the M-19 guerilla group that demobilized in 1991. The M-19, a mainly urban guerilla group founded in the 1970, was responsible for storming and occupying Colombia's Palace of Justice in 1985. The initial siege and the subsequent counter-attack by the military left more than a 100 people dead, including half the Supreme Court justices. When the group disarmed, its members were pardoned by then-president Virgilio Barco and allowed to found the M-19 Democratic Alliance political party. A number of its followers, including Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and former Nariño governor Antonio Navarro, have since become prominent leftist politicians. Now, nearly 25 years after its demobilization, Montealegre wants to investigate the group's armed actions and revise the pardon. "If actions constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the prosecution's office can begin investigations against members of the M-19 leadership," Montealegre said. His announcement came only days after the Inter-American Court for Human Rights ordered President Juan Manuel Santos to publicly apologize on behalf of the Colombian state for the disappearance of 11 civilians and guerillas during the Palace of Justice siege.

Colombia: March 2016 deadline for peace?

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in early November announced a March 23, 2016 deadline for a peace accord with the FARC rebels, and broached a bilerateral ceasefire that he said could take effect next month and should be monitored by the United Nations. The FARC is currently maintaining a unilateral ceasefire while the military has drastically reduced its offensives against the guerillas. But FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" expressed skepticism about the deadline, instead calling in his Twitter account on Santos to concentrate on an actual end to hostilities. The exchange came as the peace talks, being held in Havana, approached their third anniversary. (Colombia Reports, Nov. 16; El Tiempo, Nov. 13; El Tiempo, Nov. 11; El Tiempo, Nov. 8)

Amnesty presses Colombia on indigenous rights

The Colombian government must prioritize the right of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to decide how their land is developed above companies' desire to exploit those territories for profit, said Amnesty International in a new report issued Nov. 5, entitled "Restoring the Land, Securing Peace: Indigenous and Afro-descendant Terrirotial Rights." Control of Colombia's resource-rich land is one of the most critical issues in the peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerillas, according to the report. Said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty: "The ownership and occupation of land has been at the heart of Colombia's brutal war, with around six million forced off their homes since 1985 because of the violence. Any peace deal will be meaningless unless the rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to return to their lands and decide how they are used are prioritized above companies' desire to exploit those lands for their own profit."

Colombia accord to include trials for rights abuses

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader leader "Timochenko" announced in Havana Sept. 24 that they have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal, which will include establishment of a special justice system to try human rights abusers. "We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said. "On March 23, 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas." Timochenko later posted on the rebels Twitter feed: "Let's join efforts to achieve peace." But terms of the proposed justice process are meeting controvery, within Colombia and internationally.

Paramilitarism in Venezuela-Colombian border crisis

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Aug. 21 indefinitely closed a busy border crossing with Colombia and declared a 60-day state of emergency in several nearby towns after three soldiers were shot and wounded in an apparent clash with smugglers. Authorities said two assailants on a motorcycle fired on a patrol in the border town of San Antonio del Táchira, wounding a civilian as well as the two army lieutenants and a captain. Maduro has mobilized some 15,000 troops the area, and says the Simon Bolívar International Bridge, over the Río Táchira that forms the border, will remain closed until the assailants are apprehended. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has protested the border closure, signaling another flare-up between the uneasy South American neighbors.

Colombia: FARC-paramilitary collaboration?

Colombia's FARC guerillas may be working under the table with their supposed bitter enemies in the ultra-right paramilitary groups. E-mails released by authorities on Aug. 5 reportedly reveal that the FARC and Los Urabeños paramilitary have been collaborating to traffic drugs and weapons. In one of the undated e-mails, a FARC fighter known as "Ruben Manteco" wrote to "Pastor Alape"—one of the FARC's top commanders and a representative in Havana for peace talks with the Colombian government. The message refers to a gift offered the FARC by "Otoniel," the notorious Urabeño warlord. According to the e-mail exchange, Otoniel sent $170,000 as a good-will gesture to prove his reliability as a business partner. Alape instructed Manteco to accept the gift, adding that he should pursue negotiations on arms deals once Otoniel's confidence was established. Another e-mail exchange discusses plans for FARC-Urabeño collaboration in drug trafficking. In that exchange, "Roman Ruiz," a FARC commander killed in an army offensive earlier this year, suggests to Alape that the guerillas raise the price on cocaine exports. Other e-mails indicate the FARC has been providing security to the Urabeños during their drug operations while also helping to broker deals.

Colombia: peace negotiator implicated in atrocity

A imprisoned ex-commander of Colombia's far-right AUC paramilitary network on Aug. 12 testified that an army general now taking part in peace negotiations with FARC rebels also took part in the killing of journalist and comedian Jaime Garzón. According to a report in news magazine Semana, the ex-commander of the AUC's notorious Cacique Nutibara Bloc, Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano AKA "Don Berna," testified before Colombian prosecutors that among those conspiring to kill Garzón on August 13, 1998 were Maj. Mauricio Santoyo of the National Police, army Gen. Harold Bedoya and, most controversially, then-army commander Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora. Santoyo, who was later promoted to general and became the personal security chief of then-president Alvaro Uribe, was sentenced to 13 years by a US court after being convicted of protecting drug traffickers. Bedoya, currently a close ally of Uribe in opposing the peace talks, has long been accused of ties to the AUC, which committed tens of thousands of rights violations between 1997 and 2006 when its last unit was demobilized. Don Berna's testimony from his Miami prison cell came one day before the 16th anniversary of Garzón's slaying. (Colombia Reports, Aug. 13; El Colombiano, Aug. 12)

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