Amid the relentless and escalating wave of massacres and assassinations of social leaders in Colombia, President Iván Duque is adopting openly euphemistic terminology in an attempt to downplay the crisis. On Aug. 22, he acknowledged that massacres at various points around the country over the past days had left more than 30 dead—but refused to call them "massacres." Visiting Pasto, capital of Nariño department which has been the scene of several recent attacks, he said: "Many people have said, 'the massacres are returning, the massacres are returning'; first we have to use the precise name—collective homicides."
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.
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)
Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)
Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office on Aug. 7, pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—now thought to number some 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. (BBC News, TeleSur, Aug. 8) Exemplifying the depth of the crisis facing Duque, on July 30, a group of 10 armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, in Norte de Santander department near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Among the eight slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (InSIght Crime, Aug. 2) Demobilized guerillas have been repeatedly targeted for attack since the FARC laid down arms. Before leaving office, outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos promised to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. (El Espectador, Aug. 1)
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)
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)
The US Congress this week finalized a 2018 budget that maintains aid to Colombia at its 2017 level, $391 million—despite efforts by President Donald Trump to slash the amount. The package includes large sums for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. Continuance of this level of aid is "a huge support to peace accord implementation," according to Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The budget passed both House and Senate this week. Despite a previous veto threat, Trump signed the budget bill March 23, just in time to avoid yet another government shutdown. There have already been two brief shutdowns during the protracted fight over the budget. This budget authorizes spending through September. The Republican-controlled Congress firmly rejected not only Trump’s proposal to slash aid to Colombia, but his overall foreign policy goal of dramatically reducing aid throughout Latin America and the world, and significantly cutting the international diplomacy budget of the State Department.