In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, highlighting the agreement reached between his government and the FARC guerillas, and describing it as a model for the rest of the world. "If we were able to put an end to an armed conflict in Colombia that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced persons, there is hope for other ongoing conflicts in the world," Santos stated. (UN News Centre, Sept. 19)
Colombia's government—under pressure from Washington—is pushing ahead with plans to forcibly eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca leaf this year, despite mounting resistance from the peasant growers. In several incidents over the past weeks, forced eradication sparked violent confrontations between cocaleros and security forces. Even so-called "voluntary eradication" is now meeting with protest, as campesinos say their communities are being flooded with National Police troops, in violation of their pacts with the government.
Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)
In unsettling news for the country's peace process with the FARC guerillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50% increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures, released by UNODC's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI) and reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo July 14, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52% jump.
A new ruling by Colombia's top court may open the way for a resumption of glyphosate spraying to wipe out coca crops, which was suspended in 2015 due to health concerns—in defiance of much pressure from Washington. In the May 25 decision, a two-judge panel of the Constitutional Court did order that the suspension of the fumigation program be continued. But it also ordered the government to conduct a "prior consultation" with campesino communities to establish acceptable terms for spraying.
Announcement of an aggressive new coca-eradication campaign in Peru was met with a deadly attack on security forces in the targeted production zone. Authorities said "narco-terrorists" attacked a National Police patrol in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), leaving two troops dead. The VRAEM, a pocket of jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is said to produce 75% of Peru's coca leaf, but the government has until now resisted US pressure to launch an eradication program there, for fear of enflaming the tense situation in the valley. A surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency remains active in the VRAEM, offering cocaleros protection from security forces in exchange for their loyalty.
After a near-breakdown in Colombia's peace process last month, Colombia's government is scrambling to revive the disarmament and demobilization of the FARC guerillas—under pressure from a citizen mobilization. The popular networks Marcha Patriótica and Congreso de los Pueblos joined on June 1 for a youth demonstration in support of the peace process, with some 600 holding vigil in downtown Bogotá. (El Espectador June 1; Contagio Radio, May 31) A new deadline of June 20 has now been set for FARC fighters to turn over all their weapons. UN monitors and the FARC say that 30% of the arms have now been handed over to the UN team overseeing the disarmament. (BBC News, June 8; El Espectador, May 30)
Conservative enemies of Colombia's peace process are dealt some handsome propaganda assistance by the fact that as the long civil war with the FARC guerillas has wound down, coca leaf production in the country has been soaring. Fears were enflamed by a March 12 Wall Street Journal report quoting US State Department officials to the effect that Colombia now has an unprecedented 180,000 hectares under coca cultivation, with the supposed potential to produce an annual 700 tons cocaine. The figures, soon to be officially released by the State Department, are double those for 2013. (El Tiempo, March 13; Semana, March 4)