Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), having just concluded a ceasefire with the government, has passed on a letter from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) to President Juan Manuel Santos, proposing a similar peace dialogue. The letter states that the EPL, Colombia's third guerilla group after the ELN and now-disarmed FARC, "recongizes that peace...is the living aspiration of the majority of Colombians" and seeks to explore "possible paths to the termination of the war and conquest of a true peace with social justice." Among conditions for peace, the letter lists an internationally monitored ceasefire, an end to government bombardment of guerilla zones, demilitarization of the countryside, and dismantling of the National Police anti-riot squad ESMAD. The letter also broaches a constitutional convention with "broader participation and representation of the people" to draft a new national charter. (El Colombiano, Oct. 5; El Espectador, Oct. 4)
The process of restitution of usurped lands and implementing the agrarian deal with the disarmed FARC rebels is shaping up as a sticking point in Colombia's peace process. The Agriculture Ministry has proposed a reform of Decreed Law 902, issued earlier this year to facilitate redistribution of lands. Currently, DL 902 reserves Colombia's unused lands (tierras baldías) for distribution to landless campesinos under a National Land Fund established for this purpose. Under the proposed reform, large landowners will be able to apply to the National Land Agency to receive these lands under a certain financial forumla. Landowners would have to pay the equivalent of 700 times the monthly minimum wage to acquire one Family Agricultural Unit (UAF). The UAF was established by Law 160 of 1994 as a unit of land sufficient to sustain a family, taking into consideration soil fertility and other variables. But opponents point out that Law 160 explicitly states that tierras baldías are reserved for distribution to campesinos. (Verdad Abierta, Oct. 2; El Espectador, Sept. 21)
Guerilla commander Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino" has issued orders to his National Liberation Army (ELN) fighters to honor the bilateral ceasefire that is to take effect on Oct. 1. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hoped the ceasefire would lead to the ELN laying down arms, as happened with the FARC. But these statements came just days after yet another rupture on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline, which government negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo blamed on the ELN. "The ELN's actions in recent days are truly insensitive and unexplainable and, of course, reprehensible because we are facing an ecological crime of enormous magnitudes," Restrepo told Caracol Radio. The rupture, at Teorama, Norte de Santander, spilled oil into La Cristalina and La Tiradera canyons, which drain into the Río Catatumbo. (Reuters, Sept. 29, EFE, RTTNews, Sept. 28; Semana, Sept. 27)
In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, highlighting the agreement reached between his government and the FARC guerillas, and describing it as a model for the rest of the world. "If we were able to put an end to an armed conflict in Colombia that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced persons, there is hope for other ongoing conflicts in the world," Santos stated. (UN News Centre, Sept. 19)
Colmbia's highest judicial body, the Fiscalía General, has opened investigations into the slaying six demobilized FARC fighters and nine family members of demobilized guerillas in apparent reprisal attacks since the peace accord took effect late last year. The attacks took place in the departments of Caquetá, Antioquia, Putumayo, Tolima, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. (El Espectador, July 27) But the wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia has also persisted, in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22. (El Colombiano, July 19)
Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)
In unsettling news for the country's peace process with the FARC guerillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50% increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures, released by UNODC's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI) and reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo July 14, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52% jump.
The United Nations on July 14 charged that Colombia's government is undermining the country's peace process by failing to release imprisoned FARC members and protect disarmed guerillas. In an unusually harsh statement, the UN Mission in Colombia said the government should “act responsibly and swiftly to put an end to a situation that weakens peace building." More than 3,400 FARC members remain in prison six months after the congressional approval of the Amnesty Law and two weeks after the completion of the guerilla army's disarmament. More than 1,400 imprisoned FARC members have gone on hunger strike, demanding the government release them as promised in the peace deal signed on Nov. 24 last year and ratified by Congress shortly after. Only 837 imprisoned FARC members have been released.