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Colombia Insurgency - President Santos - 2010-2018

In 2010 voters elected Juan Manuel Santos president in elections that observers considered free and fair. He previously served as Minister of National Defense for Uribe’s second presidential term, as Minister of Finance under President Andres Pastrana, and as Minister of Trade under President Cesar Gaviria.

The center-right Santos pounded FARC militarily before revealing at the end of 2012 that the two sides would seek to end a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people. President Santos clearly defined his government’s position on the possibility of peace negotiations--the FARC must release hostages, stop violence and lawlessness, and renounce the use of force to achieve political ends. Santos re-emphasized, in December 2011, that the unilateral release of hostages was a non-negotiable first step.

In February 2012, the FARC announced it would return hostages and cease its policy of kidnapping hostages for ransom, but it remains to be seen whether it follows through. Since 2002, more than 54,000 paramilitaries and guerrillas have demobilized, while kidnappings have fallen 91%, homicides 45%, terrorist attacks 91%, and attacks against oil pipelines 71%. Colombian law enforcement interdicted over 125 metric tons (MT) of cocaine and cocaine base in 2011. As a result of nationwide efforts to improve security, travel on Colombia’s roads has doubled since 2000, and tourism has doubled since 2004.

The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The CNP shares law enforcement duties with the Prosecutor General’s Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI). In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.

Illegal armed groups--including the terrorist organizations Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as organized crime groups that contained some former paramilitary members--committed numerous abuses, including the following: political killings; killings of members of the public security forces and local officials; widespread use of land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs); kidnappings and forced disappearances; subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers; attacks against human rights activists; violence against women, including rape and forced abortions; and killings, harassment, and intimidation of teachers and trade unionists.

Forced disappearances, many of them politically motivated, continued to occur. Through September 2013 the National Search Commission had documented more than 85,000 disappearances since the decades-long internal conflict began, including 21,098 that were registered as forced disappearances, with 17,631 found alive and 3,467 found dead. According to the commission, between January 1 and September 12, 8,347 individuals were registered as disappeared, including 1,213 registered as alleged forced disappearances. Not all disappearances registered during the year occurred in 2013, since some were registered years after the actual disappearance.

The country’s decades-long internal armed conflict involving government forces and two terrorist guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN) continued. The government continued formal peace negotiations with the FARC throughout the year 2013, and in August 2013 it announced plans to open formal peace negotiations with the ELN. Multiple abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking.

Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize. As of the end of August 2013, according to the Ministry of Defense, 917 members of guerrilla groups had demobilized, compared with approximately 840 during the same period in 2012, an 8 percent increase in demobilizations. The Organization of American States (OAS) verified all stages of demobilization and reintegration into society of former combatants from the guerrilla and former paramilitary groups.

The government also passed the Legal Framework for Peace, a constitutional reform to serve as a framework for transitional justice should peace talks be successful. The framework allows the judiciary to prioritize cases involving those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in a systematic manner and to provide suspended sentences or alternative sentences in exchange for demobilizing, acknowledging responsibility, clarifying the truth about crimes committed, providing reparations to victims, and releasing hostages and child soldiers.

It also allowed for waiving criminal prosecutions for all other cases and permits former combatants not convicted of crimes against humanity to serve as elected officials. Some NGOs criticized the legislation, claiming that provisions for reduced or suspended sentences and stipulations that only those most responsible for the worst crimes must be prosecuted amounted to impunity.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was reelected June 15, 2014, in an apparent endorsement of his peace talks with leftist rebels. With most of the votes counted, election officials say Santos beat right-wing challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga by about five percentage points. Zuluaga won the first multi-candidate round three weeks earlier. Zuluaga criticized what he said was the slow pace of the peace talks with FARC rebels and wanted to impose tougher conditions on them.

Violence, including political violence, had diminished significantly in recent years. Colombian government figures showed that the number of terrorist acts decreased by seven percent from 2012 to 2013 to 830 incidents. Homicides nationally continued a downward trend, with 15,234 in 2013, compared with 16,440 in 2012. The number of kidnappings in 2013 was 299, a two percent decrease from 305 in 2012, and a 91 percent decrease since 1999 when there were 3,204 kidnappings.

Security in Colombia improved significantly in the past 15 years. However, there continued to be an active domestic insurgency that threatens commercial activity and investment, especially in rural zones where government control is weaker. The government estimates the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgent group has around 8,000 armed members, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) has around 1,500. Both groups attack oil pipelines, mines, roads, and electricity towers to disrupt economic activity and put pressure on the government. Both groups also extort businesses in their area of operation, sometimes kidnapping personnel and destroying the property of operations that refuse to pay.

The extractive sector was especially hard hit by insurgent attacks. According to press reports, there were 259 attacks on oil pipelines in 2013, a 72 percent increase compared to 2012. These attacks sometimes temporarily forced oil companies to stop production while pipelines were repaired or to transport oil by more expensive alternate methods. In October 2013, the FARC twice used explosive devices to derail a train moving coal from Cerrejon, Colombia’s largest coal mine, to a port in the northern department of La Guajira, and another attack the following month killed one soldier and wounded two others. In 2013, the FARC and ELN also kidnapped, detained, or threatened employees of some oil and gas companies with operations in proximity to Venezuela and Ecuador.

Since November 2012, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had conducted peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba. By mid-2014 they had agreed in principle on two of the five negotiating topics – agriculture and rural development and political participation – and discussion on a third topic, drugs, is ongoing. The last two agenda items, victims and end of conflict, have yet to be addressed. Even so, an active domestic insurgency is still ongoing, posing a threat to commercial activity and investment, especially in rural zones where government control is weaker.

Ending the conflict had eluded a dozen successive governments since the FARC formed in 1964 out of a peasant movement seeking land reform. Two previous attempts at peace talks broke down acrimoniously. The Havana talks were not the first effort to end the war. Previous negotiations collapsed in 2002 when the rebels kidnapped a senator, who was held hostage for six years.

Security in Colombia improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations like Cartagena and Bogotá, but violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and large cities.” The potential for violence by terrorist and other criminal groups continues to exist in all regions of the country.

By 2015 ELN numbers were estimated at around 3,000 and FARC had about 8,000. The ranks of both groups had been roughly halved by a decade-long US-backed military offensive.

The Colombian government and the leftist FARC rebels signed a cease-fire and disarmament deal 23 June 2016, bringing Colombia a major step closer to ending more than 50 years of guerrilla warfare and terrorism Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono Echeverri signed the agreement in Havana, which had hosted four years of frequently difficult peace talks. Cuban President Raul Castro and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende -- whose countries mediated the talks -- watched the events with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US envoy Bernard Aronson and several other Latin American presidents.

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Page last modified: 25-08-2016 12:34:41 ZULU