Police killed at least eight people in Colombia's southwestern city of Cali, amid national protests against President Iván Duque's proposed reform of the tax code, local human rights defenders said April 30. The city's independent Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network (REDDHFIC) put the number dead at 14. Clashes between police and protesters also took place in Bogotá, Medellin and other cities on May 1. In response to the protest wave, Duque said he would revise his proposed "Sustainable Solidarity Law," and that the new taxes on sales of food and gasoline would be dropped. (Reuters, BBC Mundo, Colombia Reports, May 1; InfoBae, April 30; BBC Mundo, April 29)
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.
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."
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)
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.
In a Dec. 21 ruling that was formally announced last week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) found the Colombian state responsible for several extrajudicial executions carried out under the practice of "false positives"—random civilians claimed as guerillas killed in action. The six cases examined took place in the departments of Arauca, Santander and Casanare between 1992 and 1997. Although individual soldiers had been sentenced by the Colombian courts in some of these cases, the Costa Rica-based IACHR ordered the Colombian government to carry out further investigations and prosecutions, provide reparations to the families of the victims, and commit to a "public act of acknowledgement" of responsibility. The Colectivo José Alvear Restrepo, which brought the case, hailed the ruling as a "very important precedent" to bring accountability in thousands of cases of "false positives." (Proclama del Cauca, Jan. 19; El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Jan. 17; Contagio Radio, Jan. 16)
Following up on his pledge to address the matter within 30 days of taking office, Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque spoke this week about his conditions for resuming his predecessor's peace dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's last significant guerilla group that remains in arms. Duque listed three conditions: the concentration of guerilla fighters in pre-determined areas (akin to the "concentration zones" used in the FARC demobilization), the liberation of all captives held by the guerillas, and a firm time-table for the dialogue process. The president spoke just days after the ELN freed three soldiers who had been taken captive the same week Duque was inaugurated last month in Arauca department. But some 20 other captives remain in the guerillas' hands, including six soldiers who were also seized a month ago in Chocó department.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 27 issued a statement calling on the government of Colombia to "take urgent measures" to protect social leaders and human rights defenders in response to the wave of assassinations over recent months. The statement asserted that 22 rights defenders had been killed in Colombia in the first two months of the year, and over 100 more threatened with death. The assassinations come in an atmosphere of violence across much of the country's rural areas, with some 2,500 displaced in recent months. Just three days after the IACHR statement, on Good Friday, community leader and local rights advocate Belisario Benavides Ordóñez was slain by unknown gunmen on motorcycles as she was leaving her home accompanied by her two young children in the town of Rosas, Cauca department. Benavides was a leader of the Rosas Victims' Table, made up of local residents displaced by political violence over the past generation and now demanding restitution for lost lands and property. In a second case that same day, a community leader in Cauca's village of Corinto, Héctor Janer Latín, was slain in a road ambush while riding his motorcycle to an outlying hamlet. These attacks spurred renewed calls from the National Confederation of Communal Action (CNAC) for a response from the government and IACHR. (El Tiempo, April 2; El Colombiano, March 27)