Some 3,000 Venezuelans have fled across the border into Colombian territory to escape an outbreak of fighting between the military and an unnamed armed faction. The fighting broke out March 21 in the sprawling rural municipality of Paez, in Venezuela's western Apure state, along the Colombian border. Colombian authorities in the border town of Arauquita, Arauca department, have hurriedly erected makeshift shelters for the refugees. Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino López said that in an operation dubbed Bolivarian Shield, troops have arrested 32 people, destroyed six camps, and seized weapons. There have also been reports of two Venezuelan soldiers killed in the fighting.
The US Department of State once again designated Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism on Jan. 11. In 2015, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which currently includes North Korea, Iran and Syria. In a press statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department accused Cuba of "repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists," and stated that by adding Cuba back to the list, the US "will once again hold Cuba's government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of US justice."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged state authorities in Colombia on Dec. 15 to respond to heightened violence with concrete action and stronger protection. According to the UN Human Rights Office, 375 killings have been recorded in Colombia thus far in 2020. Of these killings, 255 people were slain in 66 massacres, and 120 human rights defenders have also been killed. What is more, since Colombia's peace agreement was signed in November 2016, a total of 244 demobilized FARC fighters have been slain. The killings continue to be committed "by non-state armed groups, criminal groups and other armed elements," in mostly in remote areas of Colombia, and particularly targeting "peasants, indigenous and Afro-Colombian people."
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.
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.
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.
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."