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."
Top FARC leaders Iván Marquez and Jesús Santrich appeared in a YouTube video on Aug. 29, alongside some 20 other veteran fighters, all in battle fatigues, to announce they are returning to guerilla insurgency and will launch "a new stage of armed struggle." Reading the manifesto, Marquez, standing beside notorious FARC rebel leaders such as "El Paisa," charged that "the state has betrayed the Havana Accords," the 2016 peace deal under which the FARC has laid down arms. "We announce to the world that the second Marquetalia has begun," he said, referring to the village in Tolima department where the FARC was founded in May 1964. He said they would seek to join forces both with the FARC "dissidents" who have remained in arms despite the peace deal, as well as the rival National Liberation Army (ELN).
The United States government is "committed" to "dismantle" Colombia's remaining significant guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), federal prosecutor Zachary Terwilliger said Aug. 8. The US attorney for the Eastern District of Virgina made the comment after he and six other federal prosecutors met with President Ivan Duque on a visit to Bogotá to discuss cooperation "to fight narco-terrorism," as Terwilliger put it in a tweet. Terwilliger said the Colombian government "counts on the full support of the United States Department of Justice in the common cause to destabilize, decimate and ultimately dismantle the ELN." The guerilla group has been active since 1964 and is currently believed to have 4,000 fighters. The ELN was engaged in peace talks with Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, but the talks were suspended by Duque when he took office a year ago.
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)
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Mission in Colombia, warned President Iván Duque about the human rights situation in the country when they met at the Casa de Nariño presidential palace in Bogotá last week. Ruiz said he especially expressed convern about "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 15) Duque had days earlier announced a new plan of action to address the ongoing targeted assassinations, pledging: "We are going to strengthen all the instruments that the Public Force has at its disposition so that the leaders of armed groups, which are behind a large part of these homicides, are brought to justice." He spoke at Riohacha, La Guajira department, one of the areas hard hit by the ongoing killings. (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 10)
Colombia's President Iván Duque declared the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) indefinitely suspended following a bomb blast at a National Police academy in Bogotá Jan. 17 that left more than 20 dead and some 70 wounded. An explosives-laden vehicle invaded the grounds of the academy before it detonated. The driver, who was killed, was identified by authorities as an ELN explosives expert. Calling the ELN a "criminal machine of kidnapping and assassination," Duque said that arrest orders against the group's top leaders, which had been suspended for the peace talks, would now be carried out. He also called on Cuba, where members of the ELN command are now based, to have them arrested and extradited. The ELN one day later took responsibility for the attack in a communique, calling it an act of "legitimate defense" that was "legal under the laws of war." The statement asserted: "The National Police School of Cadets is a military installation; there officials receive instruction and training later put to use in combat, conducting military operations, actively participating in the counter-insurgency war and bringing methods of war for use against social protest."