For a second time in the space of a month, planned peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN guerillas in Quito broke down on the very eve of convening Nov. 22. An initial round of talks was suspended in late October, with Bogotá claiming the ELN did not meet the condition to release ex-congressman Odín Sánchez, being held by the guerillas in his native Chocó region. The Quito talks were set to open a second time when the ELN released a statement accusing the army of putting Sánchez's life at risk by increasing operations in Chocó. Government negotiators did travel to Quito for the talks, to be brokered by Monseñor Darío de Jesús Monsalve, the archbishop of Cali. With the dialogue stalled, fighting continues on the ground. On Nov. 13, presumed ELN fighters blew up a section of the Trans-Andean Pipeline in Nariño region, spilling oil into the Río Guiza. (AFP, Nov. 26; El Tiempo, Nov. 25; El Espectador, Nov. 21; Contagio Radio, Nov. 17; Colombia Reports, Nov. 14; Colombia Reports, Nov. 3)
At a meeting hailed as historic in Caracas, Venezuela, representatives of Colombia's government and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) announced Oct. 10 that they will open peace negotiations. The talks are to convene Oct. 27 in Quito, Ecuador. This talks are being called the "public phase" of dialogue, as discussions had been taking place for aboutr two years through back channels. The Quito talks will be led by government delegate Mauricio Rodríguez and the ELN commander known as "Pablo Beltran." The day of the announcement, as an "act of good will," the ELN released an abducted hostage to the International Committee of the Red Cross—the third prisoner release in the two weeks. Two other high-profile hostages are expected to be released shortly. There are former congress member Odín Sánchez Montes de Oca, who in April switched places with his kidnapped brother, former Chocó Gov. Patrocinio Sánchez; and Octavio Figueroa, a businessman kidnapped in La Guajira in March. (BBC News, InSight Crime, City Paper, Bogotá, Oct. 11; Colombia Reports, Oct. 10)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Oct. 9 that he will donate the money from his Nobel Peace prize to assist the victims of the 52-year civil war in his country. He was awarded the prize for reaching a peace agreement with the FARC rebels, despite the accord being rejected by Colombian voters in a plebiscite last week. Some 260,000 have been killed and more than six million internally displaced in Colombia. (BBC News, Oct. 9) Medellin, which voted "No" to the peace accord only five days earlier, saw a massive march to demand peace on Oct. 7, the day the peace prize was announced. Several such marches were held around the country, but the one in Medellín was especially significant; the city is one of the main electoral bastions of former president Alvaro Uribe, who led the "No" campaign. Marchers chanted "Antioquia is not Uribe." (Colombia Reports, Oct. 8)
Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country."
Business and transportation across much of Colombia's eastern plains and mountains were paralyzed this week in an "armed strike" called by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas. Roads were blocked and commerce ordered suspended by the guerillas starting Sept. 12 in the departments of Arauca, Vichada, Norte de Santander and Casanare. Most affected was Arauca, where vehicles were burned at guerilla roadblocks and authorities suspended school classes. The paro armado was officially lifted after four days, but the ELN has threaetened to resume the strike and expand it to other departments. A recent increase in ELN violence is seen as a guerrila strategy to increase the group's leverage in peace negotiations with the administrations with President Juan Manuel Santos. The talks were announced in 2014, just before Santos' re-election, but have yet failed to enter the formal stage. (Caracol Radio, Sept. 14; Semana, Colombia Reports, Sept. 12)
Under the plan now being formalized for demobilization of Colombia's FARC guerillas, special zones are to be established for fighters to "concentrate" and then be integrated into civilian life. There are respectively being called Encampments and Veredal Zones of Transition and Normalization—a reference to veredas, as unincorporated hamlets are known in Colombia. There are to be eight Encampments: at Fonseca, Guajira department; Vigía del Fuerte, Antioquia; Riosucio, Chocó; Tierra Alta, Córdoba; Corinto, Cauca; San Vicente, Caquetá; Losada and Macarena, Meta; and Puerto Colombia, Guainia. There are to be 23 Veredal Zones in 12 departments: Cesar, Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caquetá, Arauca, Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare. The Defense Ministry says it will guarantee the security of nearby localities. But the plan is still meeting with some opposition from regional leaders. the governor of Tolima, Óscar Barreto Quiroga, states that he will oppose the location of any concentration zones in his department. (Colombiano, Kronista.co, June 25; El Colombiano, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Tiempo, El Pais, El Heraldo, June 24)
Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.
More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)