Colombia: FARC peace agreement plebiscite (October 2, 2016)
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« on: September 04, 2016, 07:04:08 PM »
« edited: September 04, 2016, 07:11:44 PM by Hash »

A plebiscite to ratify the final peace agreement with the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Éjercito del Pueblo) will be held on October 2 in Colombia. The result of the plebiscite is binding on the President, meaning that a 'No' victory would prevent the implementation of the peace agreement as signed. A 'yes' (Sí) victory, in contrast, would begin the implementation of the peace agreement. The final peace agreement, entitled Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera (Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace) was announced in Havana (Cuba) on August 24, but will be officially signed in Cartagena on September 26.

I had already written 15 pages, but obviously it was entirely eaten up, and now I'm angry and in no mood to start again. Instead of rewriting 15 pages about the history of the armed conflict, people who are interested can ask questions about those topics and I'll answer them.

Plebiscite: Legal background

In December 2015, Congress adopted a statutory law regulating a plebiscite for the ratification of the final agreement, commonly called "plebiscite for peace" (plebiscito por la paz). The statutory law was declared constitutional by the Constitutional Court on July 19. The question to be answered is: ¿Apoya usted el acuerdo final para terminar el conflicto y construir una paz estable y duradera? (Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?), which has caused some minor controversy mostly because people like to complain about things.

Here are a few legal points about the plebiscite:

  • The President, with the countersignature of all ministers, submitted the final peace agreement to a plebiscite. He informed Congress of his intention to do so and the date on which the vote will take place, which needed to be within one to four months (but no less than one month) of his informing Congress. Unsurprisingly, he went for the earliest possible date. Congress had one month to pronounce itself on the president's decision, but its approval was expedited to August 29.
  • Approval of the plebiscite requires a simple majority for the over No, and support equivalent to 13% of the registered electorate (at least 4,536,993 votes, according to August 24 registered voters statistics). This is not the normal legal requirement for approval of a plebiscite - a normal plebiscite has a very high quorum (50% of the registered electorate), as per Ley 1757 de 2015. This is an 'approbatory threshold' (umbral aprobatorio) rather than a turnout quorum/threshold (umbral de participación). The modification of the quorum was rather controversial, but the Constitutional Court ruled that the 50% turnout quorum is established by law rather than by the Constitution and that the modified threshold fulfilled "a constitutionally important purpose", namely the promotion of effective citizen participation (participation being guiding principle of the Constitution). Stated otherwise, the low threshold ensures that citizens actually participate by voting, removing any Italy-like incentives to sink the vote by abstaining. Going even further, the Court made a pretty explicit nudge-nudge-wink-wink that the 50% turnout quorum for the plebiscite is extremely ridiculous.
  • There will be no ballot option for voto en blanco (blank vote, i.e. NOTA), unlike in elections.
  • It is a plebiscite, not a referendum. Under Colombian law (article 104 of the Constitution, Law 134 of 1994, Law 1757 of 2015), a plebiscite is called by the President to consult voters on a political decision of the government ('decisions of national importance' according to the Constitution). A plebiscite may not be organized on matters related to states of exception, presidential term duration, budgetary laws, fiscal policy or international treaties, and, above all, in no case may it be used as a mechanism to amend the Constitution. As the Constitutional Court said in its decision, the popular mandate expressed by the plebiscite is political, not legislative. Of course, implementation of the final agreement will require constitutional amendments and other legislative changes, but this is different from the political decision which is ratification of the final agreement (in other words, approval of the final agreement itself does not imply constitutional amendments per se, since they will come through a separative legislative procedure).
    In contrast, a referendum in Colombia may be organized at any territorial level by the government, political parties or a group of citizens (through signatures) to approve or repeal an existing law or to approve a new law, constitutional amendment, ordinance, resolution or agreement (in all cases, however, Congress must adopt a law convening the referendum). Approval of a referendum requires a simple majority and has a turnout quorum of 25%. In addition, in a referendum dealing with several separate issues or topics (i.e. Uribe's 2003 referendum), constitutional jurisprudence requires separate questions and yes/no options for each article submitted to referendum. Naturally, organizing a referendum on a 297 page document would have been a logistical nightmare. To make matters more confusing, there is also something called a 'popular consultation', which is like a plebiscite except that it may be held at any territorial level and may also be through popular initiative (of 'popular origin'), and has a turnout quorum of just a third of registered voters. Why this is is beyond me, but it matters little since, because of how anal the legal requirements for these things are, they only remain on the books.
  • The result is binding, but only on the President. A SÍ defeat would legally prevent him from implementing the final agreement.
  • Public servants are allowed to campaign and debate freely (except for those in the judicial branch, independent 'control organisms', electoral organization and the police/military), but the use of state resources or public funds is banned.
  • Guarantees for an equal and impartial campaign for both sides. The actual regulations set by the National Electoral Council (CNE) are, however, more favourable for the SÍ based on the expectation that there will be more registered campaign committees for the SÍ than the NO, and regulations for radio/TV/press spots and billboards are based on committees. There will be free radio and TV spots for both campaigns.

Ley Estatutaria 1806 de 2016 (plebiscite law)
Constitutional Court decision C-379/16 (summary)
CNE Resolución 1733 de 2016 (campaign regulations)

Next: I'll give a summary of what led to the peace process, a run through of the main events in the 2012-2016 peace process, details on the contents of the final agreement and a look at the parties and people in both campaigns.
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2016, 07:04:35 PM »
« Edited: September 08, 2016, 09:53:27 PM by Hash »

Historical Background (1948-1986)



The Colombian armed conflict has the unfortunate distinction of being the oldest ongoing armed conflict in the Americas. The most commonly accepted ‘start date’ for the conflict is 1964, the year of the Colombian army’s operation against the so-called república independiente (independent republic) of Marquetalia in the Tolima, the foundational event for the FARC.

However, it is not very difficult to trace a direct line back to La Violencia, the period of primarily bipartisan violence between the two traditional parties (Liberal and Conservative) which had begun with the assassination of Liberal tribune Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948 in Bogotá and in which communist autodefensas campesinas (peasant self-defences) had been an active if secondary actor in some regions. In 1953, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla seized power in a bloodless coup (styled a golpe de opinion at the time) and decreed a general amnesty, accepted by most liberal guerrillas but rejected by the communist autodefensas campesinas which were strongest in the Sumapaz region of Tolima and Cundinamarca. In due time, Rojas Pinilla explicitly excluded the communist peasant rebels from his national reconciliation and the ‘activities of international communism’ were banned by constitutional amendment in 1954. In 1955, the government launched a military offensive against the communist autodefensas in Villarrica (Tolima), forcing them to retreat towards the remote mountainous regions of southern Tolima and Huila, where they would eventually form their ‘independent republics’, half communist rebel encampment and half remote peasant community. During the 1950s, there was significant overlap between the communist and liberal rebel groups in the Tolima, the most famous case being that of Pedro Antonio Marín, a liberal trader from the Quindío/Valle del Cauca who would later become, under the nom de guerre Manuel Marulanda (alias Tirofijo), the commander-in-chief of the FARC (until his death in 2008).

In 1957, for reasons unrelated to the above, Rojas Pinilla was himself forced from office and replaced, in 1958, with the National Front, the constitutionally entrenched and institutionalized power sharing agreement – at all levels of government – between the two traditional parties. In due time, the National Front led to the decadence of the Colombian political system, but in 1958, Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958-1962), the inaugural head of state of the National Front, issued a general amnesty for another try at national reconciliation. The communist autodefensas campesinas, without surrendering their weapons, acceded to Lleras Camargo’s amnesty and Pedro Antonio Marín got a job as a roads inspector. In January 1960, however, communist rebel leader ‘Charro Negro’ was assassinated by disgruntled ‘clean liberals’ (the name given to non-communist liberal guerrillas) and the communists gradually returned to their clandestine outposts. The emerging political realities of the Cold War and political pressure from both inside and outside the country pushed the government to crack down on the communist repúblicas independientes which, while not really bothering anyone outside isolated skirmishes, defiantly escaped the State’s authority. In May 1964, the military attacked Marquetalia in southern Tolima, but the most important leaders managed to escape and founded what would become the FARC in 1966.

Between 1964 and 1982, the FARC were the armed wing of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC), a party divided between revolution vaguely defined and irrelevance as a left-wing sidekick of the Liberal Party, and as such the PCC was always a bit ashamed of their ragtag peasant rebel force. During this period, the FARC were a second thought in the obscurity of the jungle, with the occasional haphazard attack or ambush. At times, the FARC were overshadowed by other guerrilla groups which developed around the same time period. The Éjercito de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army, ELN), which remains in activity, was founded in 1964, a weird mix of Che Guevara fanboys, radical students, scattered peasants in select regions and radical priests (Camilo Torres, an activist priest turned ephemeral guerrilla fighter until his death in 1966 is the martyred icon of the ELN; Spanish priest Manuel Pérez led the ELN from the 80s till his death in 1998). The Éjercito Popular de Liberación (Popular Liberation Army, EPL), created at roughly the same time, came from a Maoist split in the PCC. It was strongest in the vicinity of the Sinú and San Jorge rivers in Córdoba and Urabá (Antioquia). Both the ELN or EPL remained small movements with limited followings, weakened by miscalculations and poor strategies. In 1973, the ELN was nearly annihilated by the army and was only later revived by harassing oil companies and sabotaging their pipelines. Finally, the Movimiento 19 de abril (M-19) was founded in 1970 by primarily urban radicals following the narrow electoral defeat of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla amidst accusations of fraud – how Rojas Pinilla, a fundamentally conservative second-rate dictator and poor man’s Perón became some kind of socialist folk hero is one of the wonders of Colombian politics. The M-19 had a knack for spectacular urban actions, like stealing Simón Bolívar’s sword or a hostage taking at the Dominican Republic’s embassy.

In the 1970s, popular frustration with the National Front’s legacy – a political system which stifled political debate and left a litany of watered down, castrated or shelved reforms – was rather expressed through new urban and rural social movements and protests, which culminated in the 1977 ‘civic strike’. Thereafter, these social movements lost their vitality and visibility, sometimes coopted by the guerrillas, who have always been keen to coopt social movements without ever really bothering to get to the root causes of their grievances. Throughout this period, the State’s primary tool against opposition, violent or nonviolent, was repression. Successive presidents made liberal use of emergency powers under article 121 of the then-constitution (that of 1886), which allowed them to rule by decree and suspend civil rights and liberties. Repression reached its apex under Liberal President Julio César Turbay (1978-1982), who adopted a ‘security statute’ which not only increased sentences for guerrilla-related crimes but also effectively criminalized rebellious propaganda or disobeying authorities as ‘subversive’ acts punishable by one-year imprisonment. During this time, governments were willfully blind to the growth of paramilitary groups and drug cartels, and more often than not provided them with support.

Two contradictory events occurred in 1982. At the FARC’s Seventh Conference, the group asserted its autonomy vis-à-vis the PCC, redefined its role from that of a peasant strategic reserve to an offensive guerrilla group with a ‘strategic plan’ whose ultimate objective was seizing power and adopted its famous combinación de todas las formas de lucha (combination of all forms of struggle) strategy. The conference reinforced the leadership tandem of Manuel Marulanda and Jacobo Arenas, the PCC cadre turned FARC ideologue and premier Marxist thinker. That same month, Conservative candidate Belisario Betancur was elected president and made peace processes with all guerrilla groups one of his main priorities. In November 1982, a general amnesty law was passed, building on Turbay’s conditional amnesty (1980). In March 1984, the government and the FARC reached a ceasefire agreement (La Uribe agreement) which, it was hoped, would allow for further negotiations on issues such as political participation and agrarian reform and allowed for the creation of the Unión Patriotica (Patriotic Union, UP) as a left-wing political platform for the FARC and other (non-guerrilla) leftist groups. Similar ceasefire agreements were reached with the M-19, EPL, parts of the ELN and several minor groups in August 1984. The peace process gradually came undone. Firstly, the ceasefires were intended to create the conditions for formal peace negotiations, but instead all sides got bogged down in mutual accusations of ceasefire violations which impeded further progress. Secondly, Betancur lacked the support of the military leadership, steeped in a Cold War mindset, and his government’s peace policies were at times openly defied by the military. In the regions, furthermore, the military had a mutually beneficial relationship with the local political/economic elites (who provided logistical, financial and political support) and an antagonistic history with local peasant communities, always the target of suspicion. This would provide a base for the growth of paramilitary groups, which in some cases were nothing more than military units going rogue. Finally, the FARC adopted a ‘double logic’ – one political, one military – simultaneously, which meant that the FARC saw the peace process as an opportunity for military consolidation. Indeed, between 1981 and 1986, the FARC went from 10 to 31 fronts – it was a similar story for the ELN and EPL.

The truce with the M-19 was broken as early as January 1985, and the M-19 began an offensive against the State which ended with the spectacularly horrific seizure of the Palace of Justice in November 1985 – a detachment of M-19 guerrillas took control of the Palace of Justice, seat of Colombia’s highest courts, right in the centre of Bogotá and across the main square from the Congress. Using excessive force despite appeals to the contrary from the kidnapped judges, the army ‘regained’ control of the palace – or, more accurately, the burning remains thereof. The guerrilla operation and the military counteroffensive left nearly 100 people dead, including the majority of the courts’ judges, and a dozen people (mostly cafeteria employees) disappeared (presumed dead) after having been taken out of the palace alive by the military and never seen again. The Palace of Justice remains one of the most infamous episodes of the Colombian armed conflict, in part because of unresolved issues on all sides – was the M-19 operation bankrolled by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel as the court debated the US-Colombia extradition treaty? What happened to those who were taken out alive and never seen again (some bodies have since been found, basically confirming suspicions that they were later extrajudicially assassinated by the military)?
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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2016, 07:06:01 PM »
« Edited: September 12, 2016, 09:30:41 PM by Hash »

Historical Background 2

Betancur’s peace process was widely seen as a failure by the time he left office in 1986, and his successor, Liberal President Virgilio Barco (1986-1990), preferred a technocratic approach to peace consisting of reconstruction, political reforms and infrastructure investments. It was a noble strategy, although one which had been tried before – and had invariably failed, because of disagreements, the absence of political willingness and insufficient funds.

For the longest time, the government struggled to adopt a coherent policy towards paramilitary groups. The line between paramilitaries, local political and economic elites (landowners, ranchers), nouveau rich drug lords and the military was often unclear. Most paramilitary groups began as the response of regional elites – landowners, ranchers, businessmen – and, in some cases, multinationals (like Texaco) to the guerrillas and the State’s weakness in dealing with them. Drug traffickers, who acquired large tracts of land in many of the same regions where the paras operated, came to strategically ally with them to defend their interests, laboratories and export routes. That being said, the cartels lacked political motivations, and showered economic benefits on all actors in the conflict. A common ‘anti-subversive’ agenda and decades of collaboration had built a close relationship between the army (and other sectors of the State) and the paras. The early paramilitary groups were armed and trained by the army, an activity which was perfectly legal under a 1965 decree/1968 law. Paramilitary groups emerged with the most strength in resource-rich crossroads regions coveted by all sides – like the Magdalena Medio (Puerto Boyacá was the first hotbed of paramilitarism, the self-declared ‘anti-subversive capital of Colombia’ – i.e., the social cleansing capital of Colombia) or Urabá (with the Castaño brothers, psychopathic murderers).

The first victims of paramilitary savagery on a grand scale were the members of the UP. The leftist political party had won over 325,000 votes or 4% of the vote in the 1986 presidential election – a record for a non-traditional force at the time, and was particularly strong in regions such as the Magdalena Medio, Urabá, Caquetá, Meta and northeast Antioquia. The UP had a potential for further growth and, as such, it directly threatened the established political and/or economic interests of those regions’ elites. The paras, often acting in connivance with drug traffickers or the army/security services (the fabulously corrupt DAS), began a campaign of extermination against the UP – which lasted until the party was basically wiped out in the mid-1990s. Two presidential candidates – Jaime Pardo Leal (1986 candidate) and Bernardo Jaramillo (1990 candidate, killed before the election) – eight congressmen, a dozen mayors, over 80 local officeholders and 2,000-3,000 UP members were assassinated when it was all over. When they bothered with a justification, the killers cited the FARC’s combinación de todas las formas de lucha strategy – as such it has had much more use a right-wing boogeyman than an actual guerrilla master plot – even after the UP had distanced itself from the FARC’s strategy. The FARC enjoy citing the genocide of the UP as proof of State violence in the Colombian conflict – and they’re not wrong – but the sad reality is that, at the time, the FARC quickly lost interest in the UP, withdrew their people from it and left it to fend for itself.

The paramilitaries pioneered the use of barbaric methods (mutilation, decapitation, chainsaw or machete massacre, sexual violence) and strategies (massacres of civilian populations, in retaliation to guerrilla activity in the surroundings or suspected left-wing inclinations) of violence. Massacres like that in Segovia (Antioquia) in November 1988 (46 dead) or La Rochela (Santander) in January 1989 (12 dead) pushed the Barco government to adopt four anti-paramilitary decrees which outlawed paramilitary groups and suspended the armed forces’ authority to distribute weapons to civilian groups. In any case, it was too little too late.

Events succeeded themselves at a dizzying pace between 1989 and 1991. Pablo Escobar’s war against the government took a gorier dimension in 1989 with the assassination of Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán (a charismatic moralizing figure who had made the cartels and their pernicious influence on Colombian politics his crusade) in August 1989, victim of a wide conspiracy involving the Medellín cartel, certain Liberal politicians and corrupted sectors of the security services (DAS); the bombing of Avianca flight 203 in November 1989, which killed 107 but missed its intended target (Liberal presidential candidate César Gaviria) and the bombing of the DAS headquarters in Bogotá in December 1989.

Galán’s assassination shocked Colombia, and sparked a student movement (primarily from Bogotá’s private universities) demanding constitutional reform. Through complex legal and political manoeuvrings, Barco and president-elect Gaviria issued decrees to call for a constituent assembly, even if the 1886 constitution made it pretty clear that it could only be amended by Congress and made no provisions for any constituent assembly (never mind that the constitution was changed by plebiscite in 1957 to allow for the National Front). The reformist factions of the Liberal Party had successfully made the push for constitutional reform, but now intended to retain control of the process by imposing a limited agenda on the future constituent assembly.

The Supreme Court, in October 1990, gave the green light to the constituent assembly – largely arguing on the constitutional value of peace and popular sovereignty overriding the amending formula – although it struck down the limited agenda, clearing the way for the assembly to junk the old constitution entirely.

The prospect of constitutional change was one of the factors behind the successful peace agreements between the government and several guerrilla groups signed in 1990 and 1991. The first agreement was signed with the M-19 in March 1990, leading to its demobilization and transformation into a political party, the Democratic Alliance M-19 (AD M-19) which enjoyed ephemeral electoral success. In the 1990 presidential election, the AD M-19’s candidate, Antonio Navarro Wolff (who replaced M-19 commander Carlos Pizarro, assassinated by the Castaños before the election because Carlos Castaño claimed that Pizarro was Escobar’s candidate), won over 750,000 votes or 12.5%. The AD M-19 became one of the three strongest parties, alongside the Liberals and ahead of the divided Conservatives, in the constituent assembly elected in December 1990. The majority of the EPL demobilized in February 1991, hoping to follow in the M-19’s footstep with their own political movement (Esperanza, Paz y Libertad), but they were hunted down by the FARC in Urabá and a good bunch eventually ended up in the service of Fidel and Carlos Castaño’s paramilitary group. The indigenous guerrilla movement Movimiento Armado Quintín Lame (MAQL) and a minor leftist guerrilla (PRT) also demobilized in 1991. The EPL, MAQL and PRT received non-voting delegates in the constituent assembly. The formula behind the successful peace agreements of 1990-1991 was a complete demobilization (= surrender of weapons) in return for a blanket amnesty for all acts committed as part of the conflict; this meant, among other things, that the M-19’s leaders have never faced trial for the Palace of Justice.
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« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2016, 07:07:56 PM »
« Edited: September 12, 2016, 09:31:20 PM by Hash »

Historical Background 3

The Constitution of 1991, adopted in July 1991, is a remarkably progressive document with laudable objectives – but, in the harsh reality, the struggle to achieve the full realization of these objectives is a constant one. Beyond the institutional changes (two-round presidential elections, national constituency for the Senate, the Constitutional Court, an accusatory legal system, decentralization, semi-direct democracy on paper, limitations on states of exception with robust legislative and judicial oversight), the Constitution redefined the nature of the State and Colombian democracy. Colombia is defined as an Estado social de derecho, a concept which is difficult to translate (a half-decent translation: social state under the rule of law), perhaps because it is drawn from German and Spanish legal concepts, but which basically implies a State under the rule of law with social rights and obligations. According to constitutional jurisprudence, this concept does not stand in isolation but rather guides interpretation of the entire document. The difficulty now is defining what an Estado social de derecho means in practice. The 1991 Constitution recognizes the country’s ethno-cultural diversity (breaking with the old unitary and exclusionary definitions), guarantees a long list of fundamental ‘first generation’ rights but also social and economic rights and even some ‘third generation’ rights and includes legal mechanisms to ensure protection of one’s fundamental rights (one of them, the acción de tutela – basically an injunction but for fundamental rights, is very popular because it’s so easy to use).

The FARC and ELN were excluded from the constituent assembly, although in good part because neither of them demonstrated any great willingness to participate in one despite their rhetoric (for example, in November 1990, the FARC and ELN attacked a military base). The FARC’s exclusion from the constituent process came to be symbolized by the military’s attack on the FARC’s headquarter at Casa Verde (Meta) in December 1990, on the same day as the elections to the constituent assembly. The FARC became increasingly locked in a militaristic strategy, in which any political objectives were clearly subordinated to the military aims of the guerrilla’s strategic plan (whose goal was the seizure of power by surrounding and taking Bogotá). At its Eighth Conference in 1993, the FARC reiterated its strategic plan, resolved to encircle the major cities and broke all remaining ties to the PCC. Underlying this obstinately militarist shift was the death of Jacobo Arenas in August 1990, and the resulting consolidation of leadership in the single person of Manuel Marulanda. Arenas had a coherent political strategy, and his death – at a crucial point in Colombian history – left the FARC politically ‘orphaned’, which would have major repercussions later in the decade. César Gaviria’s government held exploratory peace talks with the FARC and ELN in Caracas and Tlaxcala in 1991 and 1992, but they went nowhere and broke down as the guerrilla remained stuck their military stubbornness. Following the failures of Caracas and Tlaxcala, Gaviria responded by ruling out the possibility of future peace negotiations, beginning a guerrilla offensive which would escalate throughout the 1990s.

In spite of the hopes that the 1991 Constitution would bring peace, it only marked the beginning of the most devastating decade in the conflict. It began with Pablo Escobar’s final war to the death against the State following his escape from his palatial prison in July 1992 (no need to go into further detail, watch Narcos), but Escobar’s death in December 1993 did not reduce the toll of violence on the country (except perhaps, briefly, in Medellín). In fact, the war to the death against Escobar was one of the factors which helped rekindle the paramilitaries, particularly Fidel and Carlos Castaño, who had featured prominently in the hunt for Escobar (as part of Los Pepes, with the Cali cartel and disgruntled Medellín cartel men). Escobar’s death and the fall of the Medellín cartel cleared the way for the Cali cartel (briefly) and, later, the paramilitaries and guerrillas to take control of the drug trafficking business (although the FARC, in the 1990s, were more present at the lowest level of the chain – coca cultivation).

The other significant reason was the government’s creation by decree in 1994 of ‘Convivir’ groups, private security and vigilance services which could receive military-grade weaponry. Supporters of the idea argued that Convivir provided valuable support – logistical, intelligence, security - to communities and authorities. They were widely criticized by human rights organizations as providing a veneer of legality for paramilitary and other criminal organizations. The Constitutional Court, in 1997, ruled that while Convivir per se were constitutional, they could not be permitted to receive military-grade weapons or carry out intelligence work, and so they effectively disbanded. Yet, the 400 or so Convivir had been a training ground for future paramilitary expansion. The paramilitary group with the most ascendance in the 1990s was Fidel Castaño’s Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (Peasant Self-Defence Forces of Córdoba and Urabá, ACCU). Fidel Castaño was killed in 1994, and leadership of the movement passed to his youngest brother Carlos, a psychopathic Energizer bunny.

One of the root causes of the expansion of the conflict throughout the 1990s was the heightened stakes and the increased competition for resources. The Colombian armed conflict is often said to be a conflict for land and resources, which is why agrarian reform is intrinsically tied to the conflict (I’ll come back to that). In the 1980s and 1990s, oil, mining and coca replaced coffee as the main drivers of Colombia’s economy and exports – and so, the oil producing, mining and coca-growing regions became the new hotspots of war, if they weren’t already, as all actors fought for the control of emerging lucrative resources. The liberal economic policies pursued by César Gaviria’s government (1991-1994) had a profound (fairly negative) impact on the countryside, hurting traditional agricultural economies, accelerating cattle-raising (which implied a greater concentration of land ownership) and expanding coca cultivation in impoverished peripheral region (consolidating Colombia as the world’s leading coca – and cocaine – producer, now ahead of Peru and Bolivia).

If you look at statistics of the conflict, 1996 is a clear turning point – it is the year in which the conflict escalated at bewildering speed, with violence becoming ever more widespread and ruthless. The FARC dealt severe blows to the military – through attacks on military bases, civilian settlements and ambushes – during Ernesto Samper’s presidency (1994-1998), taking advantage of the military’s weakness and the government’s legitimacy crisis in the wake of the Proceso 8.000 (the illegal financing of Samper’s 1994 presidential campaign by the Cali cartel). In August 1996, the FARC attacked and captured the military base at Las Delicias (Putumayo), killing 27 soldiers and taking 60 prisoners. Just days later, 24 soldiers were killed by the FARC in an ambush in Guaviare. The number of kidnappings, which served a dual political and financial purpose for the guerrilla, increased exponentially from 1995 – from 509 (1995) to 3,278 (1998).

The military lacked a coherent strategy, was poorly equipped and was undermined by low morale. Moreover, the political and military leaderships clashed constantly with one another – the government was divided between hawks and doves, and General Harold Bedoya (commander of the armed forces in 1996-1997) openly disagreed with the government and was forced to resign in 1997. The strained diplomatic and military relationships with the United States because of Proceso 8.000 (Samper’s visa revoked and Colombia decertified in the war on drugs) weakened the military’s counter-insurgency efforts, while Samper’s efforts to prove himself to the US by attacking the Cali cartel concentrated police and military resources on the drug war. In June 1997, despite the military’s opposition, Samper ordered the demilitarization of over 14,000 square kilometres in Cartagena del Chairá (Caquetá) to facilitate the release of the soldiers taken hostage by the FARC at Las Delicias. The zona de despeje or zona de distensión set a precedent which would soon be repeated, for more ambitious purposes on a much larger scale.

Nevertheless, the armed forces never lost the military advantage against the FARC (if measured by comparing the armed forces’ operations with FARC actions), except in 1991 and 1998-1999. Furthermore, the bulk of the FARC’s military successes against the State occurred in southern and southeastern Colombia, the traditional strongholds of the FARC in which the guerrilla further cemented its control under the Samper administration. However, the FARC lost control of Urabá (Antioquia), a strategic region as a drug transiting route and agroindustrial area (bananas), with the hallowed ‘pacification of Urabá’ (i.e. cleansing) by the military – in close cooperation with the Castaño paras – in 1997. The ‘pacification’ of Urabá was built on massacres and displacements, but left the FARC weakened in northern Colombia and consolidated the paramilitaries’ hold on large swathes of the Caribbean coastal region. The military commander of the ‘pacification’, General Rito Alejo del Río, was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in 2012. At the time, he was strongly supported by one Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the hardline Liberal governor of Antioquia (1995-1997).

The perception of military weakness in fighting the guerrillas was a boon for the paras, who expanded their manpower and territorial footprint nationally during the same time period. In 1997, Carlos Castaño, at the head of the country’s foremost paramilitary group – the ACCU – spearheaded the federation of the major paramilitary groups under a single umbrella, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, AUC). The AUC ambitiously described itself as an “anti-subversive political and military movement”, the practical consequences of which would become clear only years later. The AUC and the guerrillas fought for control of strategic regions or ‘corridors’, which were vital both for these groups’ military objectives but also for their economic/financial objectives and needs (i.e. control of coca producing regions and drug trafficking routes). In every case, civilian populations were the main victims.
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« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2016, 07:08:10 PM »
« Edited: September 12, 2016, 09:34:02 PM by Hash »

Historical Background 4

As noted above, the paramilitaries were particularly barbaric in their methods and strategies. With the paramilitary expansion of the mid-1990s, massacres (defined as the assassination of three or more unarmed civilians at the same time and location) became the defining feature of this period of the conflict. Between 1994 and 1998, over 2,200 people were killed in massacres – 1,525 of them by the paramilitaries and 302 by the FARC (between 1989 and 1993, about 1,700 died in massacres). The number of massacres increased from a low of 32 in 1994 to a new high of 111 in 1997 and 1998 alike. One of the most notorious massacres of this period is the Mapiripán massacre (Meta) – part of the AUC’s territorial expansion into regions previously known as FARC heartlands – in July 1997, which killed 46. Once again, the military and local authorities are accused of complicity with the paras by covertly facilitating the airlifting of paras from Urabá (Antioquia) and sitting on their hands while the killings took place.

Beyond those savagely killed, thousands were forcibly displaced from their homes. Here again, numbers of internally/forcibly displaced individuals went through the roof beginning in 1995 – from 27,100 in 1994 to 179,500 in 1997. As a result, Colombia is one of the countries with the highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) – a cumulative total of over 6,880,000 (Syria recently replaced Colombia as the leading country for IDPs). Another mark of the paramilitaries were targeted killings (selective assassinations) – the paras targeted left-wingers, trade unionists, human rights activists or vulnerable populations (LGBT, drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless etc.) as part of ‘social cleansing’. There were 4,274 targeted killings between 1994 and 1998, and the paras were responsible for at least 1,500 of them (and the FARC for at least 380).

The Caguán fiasco and total war (1998-2002)

The calamitous state of affairs created a strong demand for peace (through a negotiated settlement with the guerrilla) in the 1998 elections. All candidates tried to outdo one another with peace plans. Andrés Pastrana, the Conservative candidate (with support from Liberal dissidents), was the one who gained the public’s attention by meeting with FARC commander Manuel Marulanda between the two rounds of voting. His meeting with Marulanda is widely interpreted, for right or wrong, as the event which won him his narrow runoff victory (it’s Marulanda wot won it). Pastrana’s victory was greeted by widespread optimism and fueled hopes that peace was possible.

The FARC, however, were determined to enter any peace negotiations with the upper hand, and so they launched a new offensive, their biggest yet, in August 1998. The guerrilla overran the military and counternarcotics base at Miraflores (Guaviare), killing 16 soldiers and capturing 129; they also successfully attacked a military base in La Uribe (Meta) and an anti-guerrilla battalion in Riosucio (Chocó). In November 1998, the FARC captured Mitú, the remote and thinly defended departmental capital of Vaupés in the Amazon jungle – the only departmental capital ever to be captured by the FARC – but the military was able to retake Mitú within 72 hours and the counteroffensive ended up being the guerrilla’s first major setbacks after a series of triumphs.

In October 1998, President Pastrana ordered the demilitarization of five municipalities in the Meta and Caquetá departments, centred around San Vicente del Caguán, to hold formal peace negotiations with the FARC. The talks got off to an inauspicious start when Manuel Marulanda failed to show up at the formal installation of dialogues in the Caguán in January 1999, leaving an empty chair and embarrassing Pastrana. The FARC soon displayed their unwillingness to advance rapidly on peace negotiations, harassing and intimidating civilian and judicial authorities in the DMZ and arbitrarily freezing the negotiations as soon as they had begun. The guerrilla was primarily interested in obtaining further renewals of the DMZ and blackmailing the government into agreeing to prisoner exchanges on their terms. The FARC used the DMZ as a ‘safe zone’ to hold hostages or negotiate their release, prepare various offensives, train men and tending to their coca cultivation and drug trafficking channels. The FARC reached agreements with the government only when the deadline for extension of the DMZ neared, to show some sort of false ‘good will’ which kept the illusion of peace alive for an ever shrinking minority. In May 1999, after the talks had been blocked since January, the government and the FARC announced a 12-point agenda for the talks, each item further broken down into sub-points for a total of about 50 points to be discussed. Further agreements on issues such as prisoner exchange and international support for the peace process were announced in 1999, 2000 and 2001 but they were completely irrelevant.

The tragic irony of the Caguán fiasco is that the conflict escalated to its highest point during the ‘peace process’. The FARC, blinded in the dogmatism of its militarist ‘strategic plan’, continued its military offensives which were intended to increase pressure on the government besides being part of the guerrilla’s wider master plan to advance on the eastern cordillera and encircle Bogotá. In the summer of 1999, the FARC’s offensive struck, notably, Gutiérrez (Cundinamarca) – just 80km from Bogotá, Puerto Rico/Puerto Lleras (Meta) and Nariño (Antioquia) and they inflicted major loses on the military. However, at the same time, the FARC incurred major loses on their end, and went on to suffer a major setback in September 1999 during a failed attack in Hato Corozal (Casanare). In 2000, a FARC attack on Dabeiba (Antioquia) ended with both sides bogged down in a nasty and bloody battle while the military checked the guerrilla’s advances in the Santanders.

The Pastrana administration significantly strengthened the armed forces, increasing their manpower and bolstering their mobility, intelligence and readiness capabilities. A rapid deployment force (FUDRA) was created in 1999, and would play a significant role in the military’s attacks against the guerrilla. The air force and navy, which had been exceedingly weak in the past, were strengthened and the armed forces successfully asserted its aerial superiority over the guerrilla. The solidification of the armed forces began turning the tide against the FARC. While the guerrilla retained a strong ability to attack civilian settlements and deal embarrassing blows to the military, it was unable to consolidate its gains over the long term and several of its large-scale offensives were halted. Because of the blows it received and its inability to operate with large groups of fighters, the FARC modified their strategy beginning in 2001 to focus on ambushes on isolated police or military bases, urban terrorism and kidnappings of political figures (used as bargaining chips to intensify political pressure on the government to agree to prisoner exchanges). There were over 3,200 kidnappings a year between 1999 and 2002, peaking at 3,547 in 2001 (and 3,545 in 2002).

Pastrana’s consolidation of the armed forces was made possible through heavy military aid from the United States. In 1999, the Colombian and US governments announced Plan Colombia, a joint anti-drug strategy which aimed to improve security and reduce drug production and trafficking by 50% within six years. Plan Colombia emphasized the connection between illegal armed groups and drug trafficking, ignoring the social, economic and political aspects behind the growth in illegal crop cultivation. The counter-narcotics strategy of the plan centred on illicit crop eradication, primarily through aerial spraying with glyphosate. In 2000, the Clinton administration committed $1.3 billion in foreign aid (77% of it military and security aid) and up to 500 military advisors to train local personnel. US advisors, training, equipment, and intelligence assistance also helped professionalize the Colombian military and police. With 9/11 and the new international context of the ‘war on terror’, the counter-narcotics strategy of Plan Colombia became even more explicitly connected to counter-insurgency/anti-guerrilla operations.

Carlos Castaño’s AUC, adamantly opposed to Pastrana’s peace process, intensified and expanded its operations against the guerrilla to put pressure on the government and to sabotage the talks. The Castaño-led AUC not only enjoyed the support of regional political and economic leaders, but also had genuine popular support as an ‘anti-subversive’ force which was ‘saving the country from the guerrillas’ while Pastrana was ‘surrendering the country’ to them. Carlos Castaño was a psychopath driven by deeply-ingrained feelings of hatred and vengeance (his father had been kidnapped and killed by the FARC in the 1980s), but he was brutally honest about his war and not afraid to show his face – an usual style for a Colombian warlord, which contrasted with the FARC leadership.
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« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2016, 07:08:47 PM »
« Edited: September 12, 2016, 09:35:34 PM by Hash »

Historical Background 5

The AUC spread terror throughout northern Colombia (Urabá, Córdoba, the Caribbean coast) to cement its hold over the region and cleanse others of guerrilla presence (the Montes de María in Bolívar, the site of numerous massacres in the early 2000s, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Magdalena). In the Magdalena Medio and the Catatumbo (Norte de Santander), paramilitary blocs continued and escalated a dirty anti-guerrilla war which had begun in the 1980s (originally with the support of the army and navy). The oil town and old leftist bastion of Barrancabermeja (Santander) was ‘cleared’ of guerrilla presence and placed under quasi-direct paramilitary control between 1998 and 2002, after 15 massacres (which killed about 100) and nearly 200 targeted killings. Similar massacres occurred in the Catatumbo, an oil and drug producing border region with a heavy guerrilla presence (FARC, ELN, EPL). There were 27 massacres between 1998 and 2002 in the municipality of Tibú (Norte de Santander), most tragically the La Gabarra massacre (August 1999, 32 dead) and the Tibú massacre (April 2000, 25 dead). The AUC penetrated the FARC’s bulwarks in southern Colombia (Meta, Caquetá, Putumayo etc.), in good part to wrestle control of lucrative coca crops and drug trafficking routes from the FARC. Between 1999 and 2002, 4,760 people died in massacres, 3,404 of them victim of the paras and 532 victims of the FARC. All four years are the years in which the most massacres have been committed – 182 in 1999, 232 in 2000, 224 in 2001 and 149 in 2002. Some of the most gut-wrenching massacres in this period include El Playón de Orozco (Magdalena, January 1999, 30 dead); El Tigre (Putumayo, January 1999, 28 dead); El Salado (Bolívar, February 2000, 60 dead – the worst single para massacre); Macayepo (Bolívar, October 2000, 17 dead); Sitionuevo (Magdalena, November 2001, 37 dead) and Chengue (Sucre, January 2001, 30 dead). In addition, there were 5,835 targeted assassinations during this period, and the paras were responsible for at least 2,200 of them (and the FARC, 690).

As a result of the paras and guerrilla’s actions, more than 1.8 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes between 1998 and 2002. The number of IDPs increased from 160,533 in 1998 to an all-time high of 596,950 in 2002.

The ELN demanded the opening of a peace process with the government and their own DMZ, but their violent actions (Avianca hijacking in April 1999, mass kidnapping in a Cali church in May 1999, mass kidnapping on the Cali-Buenaventura road in September 2000 etc.) seemed to contradict their political posturing. At the same time, the AUC worked to prevent the opening of a peace process with the ELN, both by military actions against the ELN in their strongholds and by engineering a civic movement against a zona de despeje for the ELN in southern Bolívar.

By 2000, the Caguán peace process was clearly agonizing, despite Pastrana’s best efforts to prod the FARC towards conciliatory stances – like the negotiating teams’ big European tour in early 2000 – and build domestic and international political support for the peace process. Pastrana doggedly persisted with the peace process in spite of its unpopularity and the rifts it caused within the political and military establishment (as early as May 1999, the defence minister and 14 generals resigned in an unprecedented move). Likely hoping for some kind of breakthrough or naively buying into the FARC’s sudden willingness to sit down whenever the deadline for extension of the DMZ was coming up, the Pastrana administration repeatedly renewed the DMZ in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Pastrana’s approval ratings were uniformly terrible from the spring of 1999 until he left office, averaging about 22% (as per Gallup). Making matters worse for Pastrana, the Colombian economy went through a severe recession in 1999 which left unemployment hovering around 20% between 1999 and 2001, destroying the old adage “the economy is doing well but the country isn’t” (which plays a non-negligible role in explaining the persistence of the armed conflict for so long). Meanwhile, on the other hand, the FARC arrogantly decreed a series of ‘laws’ in May 2000, including the infamous ley 002 which ‘imposed’ a 10% ‘tax’ on individuals and businesses with assets over $1 million – a ‘law’ used by the FARC as flimsy justification for extortion and kidnapping. In 2001, the FARC perfected their strategy of political kidnappings and captured at least six high-ranking politicians in the summer and fall of 2001. As a political gesture, the FARC had released most of the policemen and soldiers in their power in June 2001, hoping to force a prisoner exchange on the government.

By early 2002, the government’s patience with the FARC was running out. In January, emergency mediation by the UN had kept the negotiations from collapsing, with yet another mirage (this time an ‘agreement on a timeline for a ceasefire’). On February 20, 2002, the FARC hijacked an Aires flight and kidnapped a Liberal senator. It was the last straw for the government, and Pastrana announced the end of the peace process and a military operation to retake the DMZ from midnight. The government affirmed that it had reconquered the DMZ within 24 hours, and Pastrana visited San Vicente del Caguán on February 21. But the extent to which that was true was called into question on February 22, when minor presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by the FARC on her way to San Vicente del Caguán.
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« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2016, 07:09:10 PM »
« Edited: September 12, 2016, 09:37:13 PM by Hash »

Historical Background 6

*for those who don't want to read the older historical stuff above, I feel that the current peace process cannot be correctly understood without having the knowledge of what follows from this post*

Why did the Caguán peace process fail? In the first place, both parties went in with a ‘double logic’ – one political, one military, simultaneously. The FARC used the DMZ for military purposes (and financial purposes, i.e. drug trafficking) and saw the peace process as an element in their broader master strategic plan (seizure of power). The guerrilla used the DMZ to build up its forces – by 2002, the FARC was at its largest, with about 20,000-27,000 guerrillas and some 15,000 urban militias – and lay the bases of the advance on the eastern cordillera and encirclement of Bogotá. The government’s political logic was the peace process, but it simultaneously strengthened the armed forces, improved the military’s counter-insurgency performance and implemented a militaristic counter-narcotics strategy with the United States. The ‘double logic’ built mutual mistrust between the two parties. The government grew increasingly frustrated with the FARC’s abuses and violence, while the FARC saw Plan Colombia as an open declaration of war (in 2000, the FARC responded to it by decreeing a paro armado, basically a formal way of saying ‘we’re gonna shoot some people up’, in Putumayo, one of the main coca producing departments). The FARC also claimed that the government was not doing enough against the paramilitaries, which was true to a certain extent, although the FARC mostly used that as an excuse to freeze negotiations.

An additional issue not to be neglected is that, after 1990, the FARC had been left politically orphaned and as such their political thinking, insofar as it existed, was crude and subordinated to military dogmatism. In the Caguán, the FARC, blinded by their laser focus on their ‘strategic plan’, failed to take advantage of the favourable position they had in 1998.

In addition, the peace process was further weakened by its structure. It began with a DMZ but without any fixed agenda, and the agenda which was set in May 1999 was an absurdly long and unwieldy thing which would have been nearly impossible to close even with serious negotiations. Afterwards, the government and the FARC got bogged down in stale discussions about prisoner exchange. The peace process had strong international backing – from the UN, the EU, the Vatican, all neighbouring countries etc. – but it lacked the crucial support of the United States, which dissociated itself from the Caguán talks after the FARC killed three American indigenous rights activists in February 1999. The ‘accompanying countries’ to the peace process assembled in 2001 was composed of 26 countries, the EU and the UN – far too big to be effective.

Public opposition to the peace process translated into increased support for a hardline, hawkish response to the guerrilla. The original frontrunners for the 2002 presidential election – Liberal candidate Horacio Serpa and independent candidate Noemí Sanín (third in 1998) – both publicly supported the peace process, even if both tried to appear as being firm. In late 2001 and early 2002, as the peace process was in ever direr straits, a little-known candidate saw his poll numbers build up gradually but quite dramatically: Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a former Liberal senator from 1986 to 1994 and governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997, running as a Liberal dissident opposed to the peace process. As governor, he was remembered as an effective anti-guerrilla hardliner with an enviable record in other fields too, although his enthusiasm for the Convivir and ambiguity on paramilitarism remain contentious points to this day (to say nothing of Uribe’s circle of family and friends…). With low name recognition, Uribe barely registered in the polls as late as September 2001, and when his support did begin rising it took everybody a long time to take him seriously (he was seen either as a ‘third force’ who would do well enough to set himself up for 2006 – in the last few elections, losing once before winning the second time had become rather common; or he was dismissed as a fad who would collapse like so many fads had collapsed in past Colombian elections; or he was seen as too explicitly right-wing for a country which had elected, basically, bland moderates for decades). However, two events would propel Uribe into first and consolidate an unassailable lead – Pastrana’s eleventh (and final) renewal of the Caguán DMZ in January 2002, and Pastrana’s decision to break off the peace process in February 2002 (which was Uribe’s perfect “told you so” moment). Despite his rivals’ best attempts to bring him down, he rode his support to a landslide first round victory with 53% of the vote in May 2002. Uribe made political history with his victory – he was the first president to be elected from outside the traditional parties in recent memory and he was the first candidate in a long time to win with an explicitly right-wing and hawkish platform (similar candidates had, in the past, been demolished). Uribe won with a composite coalition which included about half of Liberals, most Conservatives and independents, a solid chunk of the so-called voto de opinión (a Colombian term for primarily middle-class urban voters who are not influenced by any political machine or traditional party, and thus vote more based on opinion), rural votes driven by old and new political machines, the paisa favourite son vote (paisa are the inhabitants of Uribe’s native Antioquia and departments colonized by antioqueños and culturally tied to Antioquia – i.e. Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío, the north of the Valle del Cauca and northern Tolima) and, as it has since been shown, the paramilitaries’ active and open campaign in his favour. He entered the presidency with one of the clearest popular mandates and a large, if disunited and wobbly, majority in Congress.
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« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2016, 02:28:10 AM »

dis gona b gud Smiley
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« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2016, 10:43:54 AM »

I'm gonna make my cynic here and ask bluntly what the political class expects financially of this peace agreement ? It seems to me that peace is always the most difficult option, and it can only be achieved when both parties expect to financially benefit from it.
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« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2016, 10:11:59 PM »

For those who haven't noticed, I've placed the first parts of my absurdly long effortpost on the history of the conflict in the posts above. Here's the next instalment, for now.

Historical Background 7

Álvaro Uribe 1: The legal, political and military (re-)definition of the anti-guerrilla conflict

Álvaro Uribe took office at perhaps the worst time in Colombia’s recent history. By some statistics, 2002 (or 2003) was the bloodiest and most violent year in the entire armed conflict – 1,067 targeted killings, 21 terrorist attacks, 149 massacres, over 3,300 kidnappings and a homicide rate of 69.62 per 100,000 inhabitants (the highest since 1996). After the end of the peace process, the FARC had escalated the war further. In April 2002, the FARC kidnapped 12 Valle del Cauca departmental assembly members (called deputies in Colombia) in the heart of downtown Cali (Valle). In May 2002, in the midst of fighting between the FARC and AUC in Bojayá (Chocó), the FARC launched a cylinder bomb which landed on a church were locals had taken refuge, killing 79 innocents. The Bojayá massacre remains one of the most notorious atrocities in the conflict, perhaps because of how it encapsulates the sheer inhumanity and barbarism of war. In August 2002, the FARC welcomed Uribe on his inauguration by launching rockets at the presidential palace in downtown Bogotá, although they ended up killing about 20 in a run-down hellish neighbourhood of downtown Bogotá.

Álvaro Uribe denied the existence of an internal armed conflict, redefining the conflict as a war against terrorism and drug trafficking, explicitly tying Colombia’s age-old conflict against guerrillas with the United States’ war on terror and denying the guerrillas any political legitimacy by considering them narcoterrorists.

Uribe formalized his views in the seguridad democrática (democratic security) policy, unveiled in June 2003. The main points of democratic security were improving the security forces’ coordination; asserting the State’s control and presence throughout the national territory (recovering, holding and consolidating territory lost or abandoned by the government to illegal groups); strengthening the military protecting individuals and infrastructure; the elimination of drug trafficking; protection from terrorism, kidnappings and extortion and the promotion of civilian ‘cooperation’.

The new government launched the biggest all-encompassing military, political and judicial offensive against the guerrilla. Within days of taking office, Uribe declared a state of internal disturbance and created a 1.2% surtax to finance democratic security. The state of internal disturbance, renewed for the two additional 90 day periods as permitted by the Constitution (in November 2002 and February 2003), was Uribe’s first attempt to adopt exceptional anti-terrorism measures by decree. A September 2002 decree permitted arrest without judicial authorization; authorized the military to intercept communications and proceed to search and seizures; and created ‘rehabilitation and consolidation zones’ in violent regions with additional restrictions on freedom of movement. The Constitutional Court greatly limited the application of these measures, and in 2003 it invalidated the third extension of the state of internal disturbance. In 2003, after some difficulties, Congress adopted the government’s ‘anti-terrorist statute’, basically a Colombian PATRIOT Act which would have allowed for the interception of private communications and searches and seizures without warrant when necessary to ‘prevent terrorist actions’ and permitted the military to partake in judicial investigations under certain circumstances. The government and its supporters, mimicking George W. Bush’s good vs. evil rhetoric, claimed that the statute would strengthen its capacity to defeat terrorism. The congressional opposition, human rights organizations, NGOs and the UNHRC argued that it imposed dangerous limits on fundamental rights and that it could lead to military abuses. In 2004, the Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional for procedural defects.

As part of the democratic security policy, the government further strengthened the armed forces. Military spending increased from $7 billion (2002) to $11 billion (2010), although in GDP terms it remained roughly equal (3.4% in 2002, 3.9% in 2009; overall sectoral spending increased from 4.6% of GDP in 2002 to 5.2% in 2009). The number of military and police personnel increased from about 313,400 in 2002 to 436,350 in 2010, but perhaps most importantly the number of professional soldiers (as opposed to regular soldiers and conscripts) increased from 22,000 in 2002 to 85,900 in 2010. Colombia usually has the second-highest military expenditures in the Americas (as a percentage of GDP) behind the United States and the second-largest military in Latin America after Brazil (but ahead of Mexico). The Uribe administration built on what had begun under Pastrana, bolstering the mobility, intelligence, readiness and coordination capabilities. Efforts were made to improve compliance with international human rights standards, but major challenges remained.
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« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2016, 11:06:49 PM »
« Edited: September 18, 2016, 11:08:39 PM by Hash »

Álvaro Uribe 1: The fight against the guerrilla and the AUC demobilization process (2003-2006)

The government’s offensive against the guerrilla began in Medellín in October 2002, with Operation Orion against the FARC and ELN urban militias in the poor mountainside comuna 13. It was presented as the first success of Uribe’s democratic security, but it has been criticized for excessive use of force, human rights abuses and collaboration with paras – resulting in nearly 100 disappearances and thousands of IDPs. In June 2003, Operation Libertad Uno, the first phase of the broader Plan Patriota, broke the FARC’s presence around Bogotá in Cundinamarca and ‘neutralized’ (KIA, captured, demobilized) about 600 guerrillas. The operation was a major military success, and perhaps the most significant defeat for the FARC during Uribe’s first term as it finally broke the FARC’s decades-old ‘strategic plan’ to surround Bogotá. In 2004, however, the military’s massive Operation JM in Meta and Caquetá didn’t live up to the government’s expectations as it failed to kill any FARC Secretariat members.

The FARC demonstrated their ability to re-accommodate and reactive themselves militarily in remote (but strategic) hinterland regions, both old (the Caguán, Catatumbo, Bajo Cauca, Atrato river area, Putumayo) and new (the Pacific coast in Nariño, Cauca and the Valle; Amazonian jungle areas in the Guaviare, Guainía, Vaupés and Vichada). Notably, the government pushed the FARC back to the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan borders, a fact made all the more important by Uribe’s determination to hunt down the FARC’s leadership over international borders and the political persuasion of the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments. The FARC (and ELN) continued to adapt their strategy to the circumstances, pursuing actions requiring less effort (ambushes on remote military and police bases or units, sabotage of infrastructure – particularly destroying electrical pylons or bombing oil pipelines). In a bid to prove to the State (and voters) that war was costly and victory impossible, the FARC increasingly turned to urban terrorism, with a car bomb at Bogotá’s elite El Nogal club killing 36 in February 2003 and a bombing in Huila (Neiva) that same month. In 2005, the FARC, to show their military resilience and continued vitality, launched a large-scale national offensive which struck fairly substantial blows to the security forces (which lost over 700 men in 2005) but failed in its political objective – erode Uribe’s popularity. In fact, the FARC’s bellicosity only hardened the government’s resolve and boosted the president’s massive popularity.

In contrast with his mano firme towards the guerrillas, Uribe extended offers for demobilization and reduced legal sanctions for the paramilitaries. In November 2002, after a secret ‘approach phase’ with the government, AUC commanders Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso announced an indefinite, unilateral truce. In July 2003, the government and the AUC reached an agreement (the Acuerdo de Santa Fe de Ralito) in which the paras agreed to demobilize (and disarm) all their men by end of year 2005, in a process to be facilitated by the government through the creation of ‘concentration zones’ with temporary legal guarantees and social reinsertion mechanisms. The AUC’s truce was a farce, given that 2,177 people were murdered by paras in targeted killings and 459 killed in paramilitary massacres between 2003 and 2006, the supposed demobilization period. That being said, the AUC’s eventual imperfect demobilization did lead to a sharp drop in the number of massacres (84 in 2003, 18 in 2006) and targeted assassinations (1,497 in 2003, 400 in 2006), which does go a long way towards explaining the drop in the national homicide rate.

The paramilitary demobilization process was declared ‘finished’ in April 2006 with the demobilization of 30,944 men belonging to paramilitary groups and 17,564 weapons surrendered (according to government statistics). The fact that, at the outset, only 15,000 men were expected to be demobilized substantiated suspicions that large numbers of criminals and drug traffickers got in on the process to accede to the lenient judicial benefits.

Why did the paramilitaries agree to demobilize? Ironically, their expansion proved to be, in the long run, their ultimate downfall. The AUC was not a cohesive group under a unified command (unlike, say, the FARC), but rather a confederal structure of various paramilitary groups (called blocs), each with their own warlords, united only by common rent-seeking economic interests (drug trafficking) and perhaps some vague political ambitions. In the process of paramilitary expansion, the AUC sold franchises to drug traffickers and other criminals. Now, the line between drug trafficker and para is very, very thin – but these were basically criminals without any political motivations seeking legitimacy and a political cause in the paramilitary project. Among those drug traffickers who became paramilitaries were ‘Don Berna’ (yes, the fat guy from Narcos), one of the leading organized crime bosses in Medellín who had worked with the Medellín cartel until Escobar killed his boss (Fernando Galeano) and he went to work with Los Pepes; ‘Macaco’, a former member of the Norte del Valle cartel who integrated the paramilitaries after paying $5 million to the Castaño brothers (Carlos and Vicente) and became one of the three main leaders of the Bloque Central Bolívar, the largest AUC bloc; and Miguel Arroyave, a childhood friend of the Castaño brothers who bought a AUC franchise in the Llanos Orientales (Meta and Casanare), the Bloque Centauros. Carlos Castaño, whose war was mostly founded on a mix of ideology and personal hatreds, became increasingly worried by the growing power of drug traffickers within the AUC, especially after the United States classified the AUC as a terrorist organization in September 2001. Castaño left the command of the AUC in 2001, and was gradually marginalized from the organization until he was killed in 2004, likely by his brother Vicente (who was actively involved in drug trafficking) or on Don Berna’s orders. Castaño was replaced by Salvatore Mancuso, the commander of large AUC blocs in the Caribbean region and the Catatumbo, and also one of the main architects of the AUC’s political project. That being said, the above doesn’t mean that the new drug lords in the AUC were the ones opposed to negotiating with the government – quite to the contrary, in fact (which isn’t surprising, as the narcoparas saw in demobilization a way to get off easy through a political process with the Colombian state, and escape extradition to the US).

The rising power and influence of the narcos over the paras deeply fragmented the AUC, sometimes devolving into violent confrontations for local control. In 2003, Don Berna’s Bloque Cacique Nutibara annihilated the Bloque Metro (led by a retired army officer, who was more ‘ideological’ than narco, and opposed to demobilization because of fears it would end up being used by the narcos) and assumed full control of the Medellín crime world, helped out along the way by Operation Orion. In 2004, Miguel Arroyave’s Bloque Centauros fought Martín Llanos’ Autodefensas Campesinas del Casanare for control of drug routes and coca cultivations in the Meta, Casanare and Guaviare, leaving thousands of victims. Arroyave was assassinated by his own men during the demobilization process in 2004, Martín Llanos never demobilized.
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« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2016, 11:08:14 PM »

Given that existing laws and decrees allowed the government to grant amnesty for political and connected offences to members of illegal armed groups who had entered an individual or collective demobilization process, the dilemma was to find a legal solution for those who had committed war crimes or crimes against humanity and where thus ineligible for amnesty under Colombia’s treaty obligations (i.e., paramilitary commanders). In 2003, the government proposed its alternatividad penal bill, which would have suspended jail sentences (at the president’s request) for a trial period of five years, in exchange for very limited requirements (basic restrictions on freedom of movement, temporary disqualification from public office) and commitments (very vaguely defined actions for victims’ reparations). If after five years these obligations had been fulfilled, the accused would have been freed. The government’s bill was widely seen for what it was – impunity for war criminals, disguised under the flowery language of ‘restorative justice’. The uproar it caused forced the government to change course, and come back in 2005 with what would become the ‘justice and peace law’ (Law 975 of 2005) in July 2005. The ‘justice and peace law’ went through extensive debates in Congress, and created visible rifts within Uribe’s congressional majority.

Under the law, those ineligible for amnesty under a 2002 law render a deposition (versión libre), freely confessing to all crimes committed, after which the prosecutors have a short period to investigate and verify the facts admitted to and formulate an indictment. In the event that the accused accepts the charges, a judge imposes an ‘alternative sentence’ of 5-8 years’ imprisonment (which, legally, substitutes the main sentence under regular law), which is conditioned to reparations to victims, a promise of ‘non-repetition’ by the accused and other behavioural requirements. Although the new law recognized victims’ rights in the abstract and provided for a certain degree of punishment for those responsible of heinous crimes, it remained highly controversial and was criticized by national and international victims and human rights organizations (IACHR, Human Rights Watch etc.) who claimed that it did not do enough to guarantee victims’ rights or set lax requirements to access the generous alternative sentence. A New York Times editorial opined that the law would have been better titled as “impunity for mass murderers, terrorists and major cocaine traffickers law.” Indeed, the law as adopted by Congress in 2005 had several loopholes or technicalities which weakened victims’ rights. It made no provision for a loss of benefits in the case of false or incomplete depositions; moreover, if prosecutors learned of a crime after the sentence or pardon, the accused could still benefit from the alternative sentence (under certain, basic, conditions) and cumulative sentences. Finally, in terms of reparation, the law only required that the demobilized return illegally obtained goods and assets which were still in their possession.

In May 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled that while the law’s objectives and principles were valid, certain aspects of it did not sufficiently satisfy victims’ rights and were unconstitutional. The Court conditioned access (and maintenance) of legal benefits to a full and truthful confession of all crimes (and benefits would be lost if unconfessed crimes were discovered), required surrender of all goods and assets regardless of origin or continued ownership and invalidated a provision subtracting time spent in the ‘concentration zones’ from the already short alternative sentence. The Court’s decision toughened the law and strengthened the investigators. However, it was very poorly taken by the paras in their demobilization process and the government worked hard to find ways to water down the impact of the Court’s ruling – beginning a series of clashes between the executive and judiciary which became a major aspect of Uribe’s second term. At the end of the day, it is also worth keeping in mind that Law 975/2005 only covered some 3,200 demobilized paras, out of over 30,000 (or just 10%), and all the others were pardoned. In principle, this is reasonable since it would have been unfeasible for Colombia’s judicial system to handle tens of thousands of cases, most of them from rank-and-file men. The criticism made, instead, is that the government missed out on an important opportunity to make sense of the phenomenon of paramilitarism by issuing a mass pardon. Later analyses found that victims were often unable to participate in the process, for a variety of reasons (including continued fear or threats of reprisals), and underlined the fact that the Uribe government lacked interest in victims’ rights.

The government’s war on terror was supported by massive amounts of military aid from the United States, which saw in Uribe’s Colombia its strongest and most reliable ally in an increasingly hostile continent. US aid under Plan Colombia averaged about $740 million between 2003 and 2007, over 80% of it military/security assistance. When Uribe took office, just over 100,000 hectares were cultivated with coca (according to UNODC estimates, which are lower than the White House’s ONDCP numbers). With US support, aerial aspersion with glyphosate increased significantly between 2002 and 2006, with over 170,000 hectares sprayed in 2006. At the end of Plan Colombia’s initial timeframe (2006), its results were mixed at best. A 2008 Government Accountability Office report found that “drug reduction goals were not fully met, but security has improved” – “opium poppy cultivation and heroin production declined about 50 percent, while coca cultivation and cocaine production levels increased by about 15 and 4 percent, respectively.” (ed: these are US government numbers, UNODC numbers show that coca cultivation fell rapidly between 2000 and 2003 but remained relatively stable between 2004 and 2008). Aerial spraying is both very expensive and ineffective - for each hectare sprayed with glyphosate, coca crops are reduced by about 0.02 to 0.065 hectares, so 32 hectares of coca need to be sprayed to eradicate just one hectare (an effectiveness rate of just 4.2%). It costs about $2,400 to spray just one hectare and the marginal cost of removing one kg of cocaine from the market through spraying is roughly $240,000. Aerial spraying has a negative impact on the environment (deforestation, water pollution, harm to ecosystems), health (skin problems, respiratory illnesses, miscarriages), often causes internal displacement and coca farmers have found ways to escape or counter eradication effects.

Although the FARC were far from debilitated despite now being at a clear military disadvantage, Uribe’s democratic security could publicize some clear results by 2005/2006: the homicide rate was down to 36.8 in 2006 from 68.9 in 2002, a reduction in kidnappings from 3,306 in 2002 to 1,356 in 2006, a significant drop in military clashes with civilian fatalities from 85 (and 415 dead) in 2002 to 13 (and 43 dead) in 2006, the quasi-disappearance of guerrilla attacks on civilian settlements (from 48 to 3 between 2002 and 2006), securing the country’s main axes of communication (with a drop in carjackings from 1,575 in 2003 to 674 in 2006) and, in general terms, asserting and consolidating the State’s control over the most economically developed and integrated regions of the country. The recovery of the country’s main roads is sometimes seen as being Uribe’s most important result in the eyes of the public opinion, and it was skillfully used by the government (notably with a domestic tourism campaign, Vive Colombia, viaja por ella – “live Colombia, travel through it”). These results combined with Uribe’s contagious optimism and charisma made him tremendously popular (with 75-80% approvals) and gave him the political capital to push through a constitutional amendment allowing for one consecutive re-election. The amendment was adopted by Congress in 2004 and validated by the Constitutional Court in 2005, paving the way for Uribe’s landslide first round re-election May 2006 with 62% of the vote.
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« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2016, 10:24:04 PM »

Álvaro Uribe 2: The weakening of the FARC (2006-2008)

Re-elected, Uribe made ‘consolidation of democratic security’ the catchphrase of his second term, and this time it yielded significant (high profile) victories for the government. 2006 and 2007 were some of the worst years on record for illegal groups, with the defence ministry reporting over 9,000 men ‘neutralized’ (killed, captured, demobilized) in 2006 (and nearly 8,500 in 2007). At the same time, military loses continued to decline (594 in 2006, 457 in 2007, 373 in 2008).

For a time, the FARC maintained political initiative with the ‘humanitarian exchange’, as it had the interest of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in France, obsessed with Ingrid Betancourt’s fate, and counted on Hugo Chávez’s approval. Sarkozy convinced Uribe to unilaterally release Rodrigo Granda, the FARC’s ‘foreign minister’ who had been illegally captured in Caracas in 2004, as a gesture, but nothing came of it. In August 2007, Uribe reluctantly accepted Chávez’s mediation in a humanitarian exchange, but Uribe clearly disliked the idea of Chávez sticking his nose into his business and used the first excuse to terminate Chávez’s mediation in November 2007. Henceforth, hostage release came through military operations or unilateral releases by the FARC with foreign facilitation. The FARC, however, saw what was left of their credibility and legitimacy founder when it was announced, in June 2007, that 11 of the 12 Valle del Cauca deputies had been killed in captivity (the FARC claimed crossfire, in reality they killed them in confusion believing that they were under attack).

In March 2008, a military raid (Operation Fénix) on a FARC encampment located across the border in Ecuador killed 23, most notably Raúl Reyes, a member of the FARC Secretariat considered to be the organization’s main foreign spokesperson. Raúl Reyes was the first prominent, high-ranking figure of the FARC leadership to be killed in a military operation. Colombia’s blatant violation of Ecuadorian territorial sovereignty (and the death of five foreigners, one Ecuadorian and four Mexicans) set off a major diplomatic crisis with Ecuador and Venezuela, who both cut off ties with Colombia and entered into a rapidly escalating war of words and mutual exchange of accusations. Bogotá’s claims that the military had only entered Ecuadorian territory in 'hot pursuit' of guerrillas and their attempts to shift the blame around by accusing Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa of tolerating FARC presence in his country did little to alleviate the crisis. A week later, the crisis was resolved at the Rio Group summit with a public reconciliation and official apologies to Ecuador. In Colombia, international unease about the legality of the operation barely registered, and Uribe’s approval ratings shot up to nearly 85%. Files found on Raúl Reyes’ computers, documenting ties between the FARC and arms traffickers, drug trafficking, the Chávez regime and certain Colombian politicians would create a political firestorm in Colombia.

Manuel Marulanda, the FARC’s líder máximo, died of natural causes in March 2008, which seemed to close an era in the conflict. Marulanda was replaced by Alfonso Cano, who came from a somewhat younger generation and a late entrant to the guerrilla (in the 1980s, having previously been in political activism for the PCC in his youth). Alfonso Cano had participated in the Caracas and Tlaxcala peace processes in the early 1990s, but was largely absent from the Caguán peace talks. Later appraisals of Cano’s leadership identified him as one of the factors which pushed the FARC into accepting peace negotiations in 2012.

In July 2008, a remarkably well orchestrated military operation (Operation Jaque) freed 15 hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt (and three American contractors and 11 security forces personnel). Post-Jaque, Uribe’s popularity reached its high-water mark: 86% approval, only 11% disapproval.
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« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2016, 10:26:54 PM »

Álvaro Uribe 2: Parapolítica

Álvaro Uribe’s second term has come to be characterized by widespread corruption, implicating senior members of his inner circle, cabinet and pro-Uribe congressmen. The most famous and consequential scandal was parapolítica (parapolitics), or the paramilitary infiltration of the Colombian political system. Although there had been strong suspicions as to the wide extent of paramilitary influence in politics beforehand, stemming from Salvatore Mancuso’s infamous comment that 35% of the congressmen elected in 2002 were ‘friends’ of his organization, the parapolítica scandal erupted beginning in 2005, when opposition parties began calling attention to the presence of politicians with alleged ties to the paras on the lists of various uribista parties for the 2006 congressional elections.

The prelude to the main parapolítica scandal was the paramilitary infiltration of the intelligence agency, the DAS. In 2005, DAS director Jorge Noguera Cortes was accused by the DAS’ IT boss (himself accused of erasing drug traffickers' details from the DAS database) of having put the DAS at the service of ‘Jorge 40’, commander of the AUC’s northern bloc, notably by providing the AUC with the necessary information and logistics to assassinate trade unionists. Later investigations showed just how deep paramilitary infiltration was in the DAS. In August 2005, Noguera resigned and was exfiltrated to the consulate in Milan (Italy), but the storm continued, and in May 2006, he was forced to resign his diplomatic sinecure and return to Colombia. In November 2006, he was called in for questioning by the Fiscalía (attorney general's office) while the Procuraduría (inspector general's office) opened a disciplinary investigation. He was arrested in February 2007, but a number of procedural flaws in the investigation led to charges being overturned and major delays in the trial. In September 2011, Noguera was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in jail for conspiracy to commit aggravated crime (concierto para delinquir in Colombian law), homicide and illegal use of classified information. Noguera was a close ally of Uribe, serving as Uribe's regional campaign manager in the Magdalena department in the 2002 elections and being appointed to the DAS in return for his political support.

The parapolítica scandal erupted in the public arena with the revelation of files on Jorge 40’s computer, which disclosed the paras’ alliance with local politicians (congressmen, mayors, governors, aspirants to office etc.) in the Caribbean region, and would serve as the legal foundations for many of the judicial investigations against elected politicians. Adding to that, the Constitutional Court’s May 2006 decision on Law 975/2005 and the demobilized paramilitary commanders’ great disenchantment with their former political allies meant that many began exposing the full details of their close ties with several politicians.

In November 2006, senator Miguel de la Espriella mentioned the existence of a secret pact signed in 2001 by top AUC commanders (Mancuso, Don Berna, Jorge 40) and some 50 politicians, the Pacto de Ralito. The pact, whose contents were publicized in January 2007, talked of ‘refoundation of the homeland’ but reads like most political declarations (i.e. devoid of substance) – the difference here being that it was signed with commanders of an illegal armed group. Interpretations on the objectives of the pact abound. El Espectador suggested it was part of a paramilitary master plot, nicknamed Plan Burma, to consolidate a narco-financed alliance and seize power regionally and later nationally, which appears somewhat improbable. The politicians who signed the pact claim that they were pressured into doing so, and arrived at the meeting without any foreknowledge (believing it was a meeting with ‘influential business leaders of the region’, which is how Colombian politicians always describe their inconvenient meetings with drug dealers after the fact). The paramilitaries claim that the politicians signed of their own free will, and that the intent of the document was to formalize an alliance with regional politicians to express the AUC’s viewpoints in a demobilization process. The first arrest warrants against the political signatories were issued in May 2007. Among them, former Sucre governor Salvador Arana (who had been appointed ambassador to Chile by President Uribe in 2003), was sentenced to 40 years in jail in 2009 for his role in the assassination of a mayor.

Paramilitary – or illegal groups – influence over Colombian politics was nothing new, not in a country where Pablo Escobar had been elected as an alternate to the House of Representatives (1982) or where politicians had conspired in the most appalling political assassination (Galán in 1989). The paramilitaries had had close ties with politicians in the region in which they operated since the very beginning – in fact, local Liberal bosses’ craving to maintain their political power is identified as one of the factors which allowed the growth of paramilitarism in the Magdalena Medio in the 1970s. Fretful politicians supported the extermination of the UP in the 1980s and 1990s, seeing how the UP in certain regions posed a threat to their political power (as just one example, the Segovia massacre, which killed 46 in 1988, was plotted with a local Liberal cacique who had been displaced by the UP). Throughout these periods, politicians were also a secondary source of financing for the paras. However, with the expansion of paramilitarism in the late 1990s and the creation of the AUC as a ‘political-military project’, parapolitics took on a more sophisticated form – no longer were the paramilitaries mere enforcers of caciques’ power, they now had their own interests in mind (most notably, negotiating their future demobilization on favourable terms) and saw the capture of regional and State power as the means to that end. Unsurprisingly, however, the AUC commanders were divided as to what their ‘political project’ meant – between those who felt that politicians were deceitful and greedy bastards, those who wanted the AUC to promote their own candidates (an idea which had been experimented with in 1989 by ‘Ernesto Báez’, a future AUC commander, with the creation of a far-right party, Movimiento de Reconstrucción Nacional, Morena, mimicking El Salvador’s ARENA), and those who felt that the AUC should instead ally with the traditional political class. Parapolitics in its modern form was concocted during the phase of paramilitary expansion (1999-2003), and reached its maximal political expression in the 2002 congressional elections and the 2000 and 2003 local elections, although it had a large impact on the 2006 congressional elections as well.

In large part, under Salvatore Mancuso and Jorge 40’s guidance, the strategy of alliances with the traditional political class won out. The cooptation of local political elites occurred primarily in departments where the paras had imposed their socioeconomic power – Antioquia, the Caribbean (Córdoba, Sucre, Bolívar, Magdalena, Cesar, La Guajira and – to a lesser extent – Atlántico), Santander, Norte de Santander, Arauca, Casanare, Meta and the Valle del Cauca – but the tentacles of paramilitarism and, hence, parapolitics, really reached most parts of the country. Parapolitics were, at the outset, a mutually beneficial relationship. The traditional political elites continue to be examples of ‘subnational authoritarianisms’, seeking to retain political/economic power and unsettled by prospects of major political, social and economic reforms. Despite the democratization intended by the 1991 Constitution, these traditional political elites preserved regions fiefdoms. The paramilitaries wanted to ensure the safety of their drug export routes and economic interests – so they infiltrated local and regional government, sometimes directly with their own people – and were looking for a negotiated exit, on favourable terms, through a peace process with the government – so they needed people to have their ‘voice’ heard in Congress.

It is a bit difficult to tally how many politicians were involved in parapolitics, because there are different metrics and they were found at all echelons of government. According to one analysis, 26 senators holding 1.74 million votes were elected from areas under paramilitary influence in 2002, and 33 senators holding 1.84 million votes were elected in these same areas in 2006. Other statistics show that 43 senators elected in 2006 were detained or investigated, the quasi-entirety of them from the governing coalition. Between 2007 and 2013, 60 members of congress were convicted and over 100 congressmen/ex-congressmen were, at one point or another, investigated. In the 2014 congressional elections, 26 seats in Congress were won by politicians being investigated for parapolitics – and that’s not even counting the many ‘heirs’ of parapolíticos elected in 2014.

The politicians involved in parapolitics mostly did so out of greedy political opportunism – they wanted to win their elections, so they allied with the dominant force in their region, who organized electioneering and ‘delivered’ (i.e. coerced) votes on election day. Others – a minority – were ‘true believers’ in the ‘paramilitary project’ vaguely defined. The most emblematic of these ‘true believers’, who also encapsulates the real electoral weight of the paras, was Eleonora Pineda, who went from a municipal councillor in Tierralta (Córdoba) with 800 votes to the record-breaking representative from Córdoba elected with 82,000 votes in 2002 (the second most votes of any representative elected that year, from a department which cast 383,000 valid votes, compared to 1.5 million in Bogotá!). Another case is Carlos Clavijo, a political neophyte elected to the Senate with 57,000 votes in the Magdalena Medio; in Antioquia, a ‘true believer’, Rocío Arias, was elected to the House with 23,000 votes in ‘alliance’ with Clavijo. However, among the long list of parapoliticians, you find a whole slew of regional political bosses, both established and emergent – Juan Manuel López (Liberal, Córdoba), Álvaro García Romero (Sucre, convicted to 40 years as the mastermind of the Macayepo massacre), Luis Alberto Gil (Santander), Álvaro Araújo Castro (the brother of then-foreign minister María Consuelo Araújo, who was compelled to resign days after her brother’s arrest), Luis Eduardo Vives (Magdalena), Mario Uribe (Álvaro Uribe’s cousin), Dieb Maloof, Mauricio Pimiento (Cesar) and so forth.
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« Reply #14 on: September 20, 2016, 10:27:15 PM »

CONT'D:


The parapolitics trials were highly contentious affairs, characterized by Álvaro Uribe's attempts to interfere in the judicial process and his public spats with the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) over the trials. In May 2007, Uribe floated the idea of releasing those parapoliticians who confessed their crimes – an idea thoroughly rejected by the courts and public opinion. Another controversy arose when several politicians indicated to the government, through their lawyers, that they wished to be tried for sedition rather than concierto para delinquir – as a political crime, sedition carries less severe sentences and those found guilty are eligible for pardons.

In October 2007, Uribe claimed that he was the target of a conspiracy, saying that he had (from one paramilitary leader, ‘Tasmania’) a letter claiming that Iván Velásquez – an assistant magistrate in charge of parapolitics investigation in the CSJ – had offered legal benefits to ‘Tasmania’ if he implicated the president and others in an attack against a rival AUC commander. Velásquez denied the allegations and the Court closed ranks around him, leading to a major confrontation with the presidency. It later turned out that the supposed conspiracy against the president was instead a conspiracy against Velásquez (who was digging up too many scandals for the presidency’s tastes) concocted by the palace, a crooked lawyer and the DAS with the support of a drug trafficker (‘Tuso’) who wanted to make friends with the government to prevent his extradition to the US. They offered ‘Tuso’ inclusion in the justice and peace law and transfer to a comfier jail for ‘Tasmania’ in exchange for writing up the letter incriminating Velásquez in a fake plot against the president and his cousin Mario Uribe Escobar. In June 2008, ‘Tasmania’ retracted his accusations against Velásquez, claiming that he had acted under pressure from his crooked lawyer (who was also Tuso's lawyer, and a neighbour of the president's brother Santiago). In 2012, the lawyer was sentenced to 70 months in jail for aggravated slander.

The feud between the palace and the court continued. In January 2008, Uribe filed a defamation lawsuit against the president of the CSJ after he had refused to retract statements made in a newspaper interview in which he had claimed that Uribe had called him to inquire about the case against his cousin, Mario Uribe. In April 2008, it was leaked that the government had been studying the possibility of creating a new court to judge the president, congressmen and judges. In August 2008, the Semana magazine revealed that Don Berna’s lawyer and his right-hand man had secretly met with top bureaucrats from the palace and the DAS and handed over (fake) recordings incriminating CSJ judges with witness tampering. In May 2008, the government’s surprise decision to order the extradition of several paramilitary leaders including Salvatore Mancuso, 'Tuso' and Don Berna to the United States, was seen by some as an attempt to hinder Colombian trials for parapolitics. The May 2008 extraditions were widely criticized in Colombia as a denial of justice for the victims of paramilitarism, given that US courts wanted them on drug trafficking charges.

The parapolitics scandal had major repercussions at home and abroad. Congress’ legitimacy collapsed, and the replacement of congressmen who resigned or were sent to jail became a major issue since a good number of their replacements were themselves investigated for parapolitics. The government agreed to a constitutional reform, pushed by the opposition, according to which any member of an elected body found guilty of membership, promotion or funding of illegal armed groups, drug trafficking and crimes against humanity is not replaced once a final sentence is issued and the seat remains vacant for the remainder of the term. Likewise, any member of an elected body who resigns after the opening of a formal investigation for the aforementioned crimes is not replaced and the seat remains vacant. Nevertheless, the government watered down the amendment, enforcing it only once a final sentence is issued and it was not retroactive. Abroad, the scandal led to major delays in American ratification of the US-Colombia FTA (TLC) – approved by the Colombian Congress in November 2007, but held up by Democrats in the US Congress until it was finally passed in October 2011.
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« Reply #15 on: September 20, 2016, 10:28:20 PM »

Álvaro Uribe 2: Other scandals and the false positives

The administration was embroiled in several other scandals during its second term, including:

Yidispolítica: In 2008, former congresswoman Yidis Medina revealed that she had been bribed by the government to cast a decisive vote on the presidential re-election amendment in a congressional commission in 2004. She implicated two cabinet ministers and even Uribe himself, and was later sentenced for 47 months in jail for accepting bribes. The CSJ’s June 2008 decision on Medina’s case went further, considering the 2005 amendment a product of a crime – and “a crime cannot produce any constitutional or legal legitimacy.” Uribe was furious, and suggested that the judges were far-left/far-right terrorist sympathizers. The Constitutional Court later ruled that the affair was res judicata.
Agro Ingreso Seguro: A government subsidy scheme intended to help small farmers and favour rural development, it ended up giving millions of dollars to wealthy landowners, drug traffickers and political contributors. Agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias, one of Uribe’s closest allies (nicknamed Uribito), was disqualified from public office in 2011 and sentenced to 17 years 4 months in prison by the CSJ in July 2014. He was arrested by American authorities in Florida in 2016 and is awaiting extradition hearings.
DAS illegal wiretaps: The DAS, under director María del Pilar Hurtado, restarted a large illegal wiretapping operation in 2006 targeting troublesome politicians, judges and journalists under the doctrine that any ‘eventual threat’ to the government was a ‘legitimate target’. The information obtained was relayed to Bernardo Moreno, the president’s chief of staff. Journalistic investigations also found that other groups – paramilitaries, drug traffickers and even the guerrillas – found in the DAS an invaluable source of information which was sold to the highest bidder. Hurtado resigned in 2008, was disqualified from public office for 18 years in 2010 and charged on five counts. She fled to Panama, where she was granted asylum, likely because of Uribe’s friendship then-Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli. Her luck ran out in 2014, when Panama’s new president, Juan Carlos Varela, signalled that he would cancel Hurtado’s asylum request. She turned herself in to Colombian authorities in January 2015, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison in April 2015. Moreno received 8 years under house arrest. 
General Mauricio Santoyo: Santoyo, a long-time friend of Álvaro Uribe was the president’s chief of security between 2003 and 2009, and was promoted to general in 2007. In 2005, Santoyo had been disqualified from public office by the Procuraduría for five years for an illegal wiretapping scandal, and removed from active service in the national police, but the Council of State overturned the decision in 2006 and Santoyo was reintegrated. In 2012, the US District Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia filed charges against Santoyo, who chose to turn himself in to American authorities and was extradited to the US. In August 2012, Santoyo pled guilty and was sentenced to 13 years in prison in December 2012. Between 2000 and 2008, General Santoyo accepted bribes from the AUC and the Oficina de Envigado (one of the main criminal organizations in Medellín) in exchange for information about ongoing law enforcement operations, conducting illegal wiretaps and providing intelligence information.

The Raúl Reyes computers included information suggesting links between the FARC and a dozen or so Colombian politicians. The most controversial case was that of Liberal senator Piedad Córdoba, one of the most high-profile figures of the Colombian left – known for her activism in favour of peace, women, Afro-Colombian communities and LGBT rights, her work on humanitarian exchanges with Chávez; but also her very strong opposition to Uribe (she called him a mafioso, paramilitary and murderer and called on Latin American countries to break off diplomatic ties with Colombia in a 2007 speech in Mexico City). Her name, under a pseudonym, appeared several times in files contained on Raúl Reyes' computers, where she provided advice to the FARC. In September 2010, on the basis of this evidence, the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, removed her from office (as senator) and banned her from holding public office for 18 years. The decision set off a major controversy in the country – Córdoba and many on the left claimed (with considerable credibility) that she was the victim of political persecution because of her unorthodox left-wing views. The decision was overturned by the Council of State in 2016, because of major legal concerns about the chain of custody of the files on Raúl Reyes’ computer. Interpol had confirmed in March 2008 that the information had not been manipulated, but that handling of files before it was handed over to Interpol did not conform to international standards.

The military’s attempts to improve their reputation on human rights as well as the government's democratic security policy took a major hit with the ‘false positives’ scandal – the extrajudicial execution of civilians by the military, then reported as guerrillas killed in action – which exploded in late 2008. In September 2008, the bodies of 19 young men who had disappeared in Soacha (Cundinamarca) and Bogotá were found in the Norte de Santander department, presented by the military as guerrillas killed in combat. The army (or civilian recruiters paid off by the army) lured several young men from poor areas with promises of work and sent them to other regions, before dressing them in camouflage uniforms and assassinating them (the crime scene was later tampered with to simulate a battle death). In November 2008, General Mario Montoya resigned as commander of the army while Juan Manuel Santos, the defence minister, dismissed nearly 30 officers from their posts.

The Soacha disappearances were far from an isolated incident – false positives were a common practice, and according to declassified CIA documents, the US had been aware of the use of this tactic by the military (and the military’s cooperation with paramilitaries) as early as 1994. A 2012 report by the International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) attributed 3,345 extrajudicial executions between 2002 and 2008 to security forces. A previous report by the UN (2010) also estimated the number of victims of false positives during this time period at over 3,000, and found similar false positives cases throughout Colombia.

False positives were the result of a ‘body count mentality’ (a pressure for positive results) which had existed for decades, but which was reinforced by democratic security, by perfecting a system of incentives and rewards for military personnel to report the highest number of enemy casualties. The unprecedented investment into the democratic security policy demanded fast, tangible and measurable results – to be measured in enemy deaths, resulting in extrajudicial assassination of civilians to be counted as guerrillas. Military officers, in some cases, chastised those unit leaders who did not have adequate results in deaths per month. The system of incentives (some offered to civilians providing information leading to the capture or death of guerrillas) and rewards lacked any kind of oversight or transparency. The UN report said that although false positives were not the result of a government policy, they were not an isolated incident (as Uribe, Santos and the military brass liked to claim). A 2015 HRW report presented evidence implicating senior officers, including past and present commanding generals of the army, in false positives.

The FIDH's report considered the false positives as a crime against humanity, meeting all criteria to be considered as such. As of 2015, prosecutors are investigating more than 3,700 cases of 'false positives', but the FIDH's report in 2012 found that high-ranking officers remained unpunished and denounced several problems in the investigations, obstacles to justice and widespread impunity. Although the Fiscalía and the courts have since made slow progress in prosecuting some higher-ranking officers, HRW’s recent report highlighted several obstacles to accountability – namely threats and attacks against witnesses, bogus delay tactics used by defence lawyers and the military’s failure to cooperate with investigations. Additionally, HRW found that scores of false positives cases remain in the military justice system.
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« Reply #16 on: September 20, 2016, 10:29:20 PM »

Álvaro Uribe 2: Paramilitary rearmament, or the Bacrim

A significant number of paras did not demobilize or later returned to criminal activities, forming what the government calls ‘emerging criminal gangs’ or Bacrim. The Bacrim are criminal organizations (with some neo-paramilitary aspects) primarily engaged in drug trafficking (as such they are basically the new generation of drug cartels) but also targeted killings, illegal mining, extortion, contraband, human trafficking and other illegal activities. Although there is a clear line from the old paramilitaries to the new Bacrim, they are different from their AUC predecessors: the Bacrim are a criminal organization (at the top of the structure of organized crime in Colombia) acting in the shadows with faceless commanders. The Bacrim may collaborate with the guerrilla in the drug trade and act as assassins for hire. Finally, in contrast to the drug cartels of the early 1990s, the Bacrims are not hierarchically organized and far more fluid in terms of leadership – they operate like franchises, made up of different groups, with the top leaders of the criminal organization often lacking direct control over other parts of the organization (which makes them much harder to fully dismantle). Their emergence, beginning in 2006, reflected the government’s failure to dismantle the AUC’s socioeconomic bases and to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the paramilitary phenomenon.

The Bacrim went through substantial evolutions between their ‘creation’ in 2006-2007 and the present day. Most large gangs were created by dissident paras; for example, Vicente Castaño founded the Águilas Negras, but Castaño disappeared (presumed dead) and the gang dwindled after its other leader was captured in 2009. Beginning around 2011-2012, organized crime consolidated around two main groups – Los Urabeños (also known as the Clan del Golfo, sometimes as the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia), the largest and most dangerous drug trafficking organization in Colombia, and Los Rastrojos, an indirect successor group of the Norte del Valle cartel. Los Urabeños were formed by former narco elements of the Bloque Centauros of the AUC (although most of its leaders are originally from Urabá), and it is currently led by Dairo Antonio Úsuga ‘Otoniel’, the most wanted man in Colombia. The dynamics of these criminal organizations are constantly evolving, as a result of internal events and police/military operations against their leadership. In 2015, one study found that Bacrim were present in 338 municipalities, or about a third of all municipalities. In 2016, however, a study from the same source estimated their territorial presence at 149 municipalities. Geographically, the Bacrim are active in many of the same regions where the AUC were strong – Antioquia, Córdoba, Chocó, Cauca, Sucre, La Guajira, Meta, the Santanders and the Valle, with a more limited presence in other departments and Bogotá.

Álvaro Uribe 2: The successes and limits of democratic security

Democratic security hit a wall in 2009, as the FARC re-accommodated themselves militarily, continued to adapt their strategies to new circumstances and took advantage of the military’s low morale in the wake of the false positives scandal. After the political and military defeats suffered in 2007 and 2008, the FARC (and the ELN) increased their actions – according to official statistics, the number of actions initiated by illegal armed groups increased from 400 in 2008 to 707 in 2009, and that number increased even further in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Military combat loses also increased beginning in 2009, after having dropped steadily since 2005, with 468 military personnel killed in action in 2009 compared to 373 in 2008. Even so, the armed forces retained their military advantage over the guerrillas, and, again, the guerrilla focused on actions requiring lesser efforts.

Between 2002 and 2010, Uribe’s democratic security policy had successfully reduced the military capacity of the FARC and ELN, removed them from the most socioeconomically integrated regions of the country and pushed them back to remote hinterland or border regions. In 2010, the government affirmed that the FARC’s ranks had been decimated, leaving them with less than 10,000 men when they had been estimated to have 20,000 guerrillas in 2002 without even counting their militias. The weakening of the FARC/ELN and the demobilization – even if partial and, by some accounts, unsuccessful – of the paramilitaries greatly improved the security outlook. The homicide rate fell from 68.9 per 100,000 inhabitants to 32.3 in 2010, and while that decline was not evenly distributed, it was particularly pronounced in some urban centres, most notably Medellín (whose homicide rate fell from 168.5 to 60.1 in 2010, despite an uptick in Bacrim-generated violence since 2008). The number of kidnappings fell by 62% from 3,306 in 2002 to 1,252 in 2010. While there were over 7,000 targeted killings during Uribe’s two terms in office, the number of targeted killings in 2010 (361) was the lowest since the 1980s. However, during Uribe’s presidency, nearly 3 million people were displaced, although the annual number of IDPs did decline substantially by 2010.

The idea, however, that Uribe militarily defeated the FARC or was close to doing so is a myth. What is also a myth is the idea that Uribe adamantly refused to negotiate with the FARC – he did, but only in public. Between 2006 and 2010, Uribe’s government secretly made repeated attempts to reach out to the FARC’s leadership and sent out countless feelers. In 2006, according to a former Swiss mediator, Uribe had ordered three small secret unilateral ceasefires to facilitate exploratory talks between both parties. Around the same time, the FARC had been repeatedly insisting on the demilitarization of two municipalities in the Valle del Cauca to arrange a humanitarian exchange, and while the administration refused several time, at one point in 2006 Uribe expressed his willingness to consider the demilitarization (despeje) of those two municipalities – nothing came of it, but it is significant given Uribe’s steadfast opposition to demilitarization in abstract terms. In 2007 and 2008, responding to pressure from Nicolas Sarkozy, Uribe considered sending guerrilla fighters who turned themselves in and released hostages to France, without any trial. After Operation Jaque, the government reached out to the FARC to offer them a ‘dignified exit’. Near the end of Uribe’s term, the high commissioner for peace, Frank Pearl, opened channels of communication with the FARC to build confidence and prepare roadmaps which could serve the next administration, but according to US diplomatic cables, Uribe was skeptical of what could be achieved and the rapprochements were later abruptly ended by the return of the human remains of a police colonel held hostage by the FARC for 12 years.
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« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2016, 10:30:24 PM »

Álvaro Uribe 2: The succession and Juan Manuel Santos

Uribe and his supporters tried to organize a popularly-initiated referendum to allow Uribe to seek a third term in office in 2010, but the entire referendum was ineptly managed from the get-go and was given the coup de grâce by the Constitutional Court in February 2010, which invalidated the referendum law passed by Congress. The uncertainty over Uribe’s potential candidacy made the run-up to the 2010 elections even sillier than usual, and complicated matters for the long lineup of pretenders. The impatience of several erstwhile uribistas like senator Germán Vargas Lleras, who had been one of Uribe’s earliest supporters in 2002, had seriously annoyed Uribe. As his plan B, Uribe preferred Andrés Felipe Arias, his young dauphin (whom Uribe had called an improved version of himself), but he lost the Conservative Party’s nomination. Left without alternatives, Uribe endorsed Juan Manuel Santos, his defence minister between 2006 and 2009.

Juan Manuel Santos is the consummate political tactician, who had been angling for the presidency for years prior to 2010 but could not reach it on his own merits. Juan Manuel Santos comes from one of the most powerful and influential families of twentieth century Colombia, which has been a leading player in both politics and journalism for the good part of the last 80 years. Santos’ great-uncle was Eduardo Santos Montejo, most famous for having been president between 1938 and 1942 (for the Liberal Party), although he held a greater influence as owner of El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, between 1913 and his death in 1974 – a time during which the newspaper wielded significant political influence. Santos’ first cousin, Francisco ‘Pacho’ Santos Calderón, was Uribe’s Vice President.

Santos served in cabinet under Presidents César Gaviria (as minister of foreign trade, 1991-1994 and presidential designate – the forerunner of the vice presidency, 1993-1994) and Andrés Pastrana (minister of finance, 2000-2002), but his presidential ambitions (for the Liberal Party) in 1994 and 1998 went nowhere because of the fairly precise impression that Santos is not a ‘man of the people’ – in stark contrast to the charismatic folksy paisa Uribe, Santos is uncharismatic, a poor communicator and uncomfortable (if not downright awkward) in public settings, his natural habitat being country clubs and high-level diplomatic or economic summits. Despite those handicaps, Santos had a remarkable ability to ingratiate himself with presidents, even if he had previously been a scathing critic from his columns in El Tiempo (until 2000, he was critical of Pastrana). Santos had not supported Uribe in 2002, and from his later newspaper columns he alternated between praising and cautiously criticizing the popular new president, so as to keep his own political options open. Upon seeing that Uribe would probably seek and win re-election in 2006, Santos understood that Uribe would define Colombian politics for the years to come and that his own political career would be best served by taking full advantage of that fact. Having failed to take control of his ancestral party (Liberal), Santos and other uribista Liberals bolted from the old party to create a new uribista party in 2005, which became the Partido de la U (officially - Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, but nobody has ever used that name) - with no points for guessing what the U might have been referring to. Therefore, after having been a (cautious) critic of Uribe, Santos transformed himself into a loyal and dogmatic uribista. The Partido de la U became the single largest party in Congress in 2006, and Santos made the most of that fact, getting himself appointed Minister of Defence for the second term. Santos had explicitly sought out the defence ministry to attach his name to Uribe’s most popular policy – democratic security. Under Santos’ watch (2006-2009), the military struck some of the most devastating blows against the guerrilla, and Santos milked those victories for all their worth. He confronted the false positives scandal, but escaped relatively unscathed and recognized for having ended the practice. In 2010, Santos avoided making public noises about his presidential candidacy until the referendum disaster was taken care of, and adroitly announced his candidacy only once the referendum was buried.

To the voters, unaware of these political machinations, Santos was perceived as the continuity candidate for Uribe. Santos was threatened in the first round by the ‘green wave’ of support for atypical and eccentric Green candidate Antanas Mockus, but the ‘green wave’ did not translate into actual votes in the first round and Santos trounced Mockus by a huge margin in the second round. Santos was elected president in 2010, albeit with Uribe's votes.

With hindsight, Santos’ later nasty divorce from Uribe is not a surprise. Besides their personality differences, Uribe and Santos also represent two very different ideological viewpoints. Uribe is fairly dogmatic (in public at least) and rigid in his views, holding broadly conservative views, particularly with regards to public order. Santos lacks any strong ideological convictions, besides the familial Colombian liberalism - that is, technocratic, elitist and pragmatic (often meaning ‘supporting whoever is in power and the status-quo’). He has shifted his own political views several times over his career – from enthusiastic neoliberal and free-market capitalist (early 1990s, The End of History) to self-described admirer of Tony Blair’s Third Way to uncharacteristically uribista and since back to a pragmatic and moderate head of State. What is perhaps more surprising is the speed at which Santos moved to move out of Uribe’s shadow. He promised a ‘national unity’ cabinet and reconciliation with the judiciary (implying that Uribe was a bully who had polarized the country), he began mending ties with Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa after an acrimonious diplomatic dispute with Venezuela during the 2010 election’ and made several cabinet appointments which were poorly received by Uribe (especially that of Germán Vargas Lleras, as interior and justice minister). In his inaugural address, Santos made vague noises about ‘peace’ – saying that the door of dialogue was not under lock and key.
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« Reply #18 on: September 22, 2016, 11:34:46 PM »

The 2010-2016 peace process

Laying the groundwork (2010-2011)

Once in power, Juan Manuel Santos pursued a carefully planned, multi-dimensional strategy to make peace negotiations possible. Santos’ strategy had military, diplomatic and political aspects which were all intended to mutually reinforce one another and lead towards the same end result – a peace process with the FARC, different from all previous ones.
Santos continued the targeted military strikes against the FARC’s leadership, aiming – as had been done under Uribe – to decapitate the FARC Secretariat. In September 2010, the armed forces (Operation Sodoma) killed ‘Mono Jojoy’, the commander of the FARC’s powerful eastern bloc (operating in the Meta and the Llanos) and one of the guerrilla’s most sanguinary military leaders. Santos said that Mono Jojoy’s death was equivalent to killing Osama bin Laden, and the operation was widely applauded across the political scene in Colombia. These operations had a military objective, but also had a double political purpose for Santos – to prove to voters that he was not ‘weak’ and a worthy successor to Uribe’s democratic security, and to assert the State’s military superiority and advantage to the FARC.

Colombia had become increasingly diplomatically isolated under Uribe’s second term, and relations with Venezuela were distressingly poor when Santos took office. It was no secret that the FARC and ELN had bases across the border in Venezuela (and that somebody in Caracas was aware of that), and that there was a certain degree of complicity and sympathy between the guerrillas and Hugo Chávez’s government – Chávez, in fact, had met with some FARC leaders, like Raúl Reyes. At one point, Chávez claimed that the guerrillas were ‘armies’, political belligerents rather than terrorists, a claim anathema to Bogotá. Nevertheless, Chávez declared that the armed struggle was out of place, instead urging the FARC to follow his own example, and seek power through peaceful non-violent means. By most accounts, Chávez played a significant role in convincing the FARC that their armed struggle would lead nowhere and to seek a negotiated exit from the conflict.

In August 2010, Colombian-Venezuelan relations were at their lowest ebb. In 2009, Colombia signed a defence cooperation agreement (DCA) with the United States, permitting the US to access seven military facilities for the purposes of counter-narcotics and anti-terrorist operations. The agreement was very poorly received in Caracas, which (again) broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia and reduced bilateral trade between the two countries to a bare minimum. In April 2010, Chávez waded into the presidential campaign, accusing Santos of posing a ‘real military threat’ and being a ‘pawn of the Yankee empire’, warning that there would be war if he won. In July 2010, in the last weeks of the Uribe administration, Colombia accused Chávez, before the OAS, of harbouring FARC and ELN camps in his territory, and alleged that prominent FARC and ELN leaders were among those hiding in Venezuela. Chávez responded by (again) breaking off diplomatic relations. Santos kept quiet until he took office (on August 7), but once he did, he moved very quickly to diffuse tensions and seek to normalize relations with Chávez after years of mutual distrust and enmity. He met with Chávez in Santa Marta just three days after his inauguration, agreeing on a five-point plan to restore normal relations, including a commitment by Chávez not to allow the presence of illegal armed groups in his country. By November 2010, Santos was calling Chávez his ‘new best friend’, an unfortunate statement which has since come back to haunt him. Santos’ government also improved relations with Ecuador, Bolivia and other South American countries.

In late August 2010, when the Constitutional Court suspended the DCA until it was ratified by Congress, Santos made no attempts to resuscitate it – understanding that it had only served to worsen Colombia’s diplomatic isolation in the region. For Santos, restoring cordial diplomatic ties with other South American countries was a crucial first step towards any future peace process, and has tried to avoid enmeshing himself in any diplomatic controversy – even when it gets him accusations of ‘weakness’ at home.

Politically, Santos tried to return to the moderate, pragmatic consensual politics of the pre-Uribe period – in other words, to significantly lessen the levels of polarization in party politics and institutional relations. Santos worked to improve executive-judiciary relations, which had been worryingly poor under Uribe’s second term, although that was largely frustrated with the government’s judicial reform trainwreck in 2012 (later abandoned – it’s a long story). Santos built a ‘national unity’ coalition, bringing the Liberal Party back into power – which wasn’t really difficult, since the Liberals don’t like being in opposition (and Santos is the paragon of Colombian liberalism). Notably, he appointed Rafael Pardo – the Liberals’ (disastrous) presidential candidate in 2010 and, more significantly, a one-time uribista senator who had a nasty falling out with Uribe over the justice and peace law – as labour minister in October 2011, another move which annoyed Uribe. Santos also attracted a good chunk of the Green Party into supporting his government, leaving the small left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole (Polo) as the only congressional opposition.

What Santos perhaps did not anticipate was the rapidity and fury with which Uribe turned against him, gradually, over the course of 2011 and 2012, becoming the president’s most visible and vocal opponent. The reasons for which Uribe broke with his former defence minister will continue to be a matter of debate for years. Officially, Uribe claimed that Santos was ‘weak’ on security matters and, more importantly, was entering into political negotiations with a narco-terrorist group – in other words, Santos betrayed his democratic security legacy. While the peace process is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the nasty divorce, there are other factors. Uribe resented Santos’ appointments of several of old rivals of his to cabinet, and also saw the he was seeking to undo his legacy in other policy fields (like foreign relations). At the same time, the courts began closing in on the major corruption scandals of his second term, which Uribe (dishonestly) claims is political persecution (tellingly, Uribe didn’t cry political persecution was General Mauricio Santoyo was charged by a US court – instead he ran away from him as fast as he could, maybe because it’s much harder to claim political persecution in an American legal case).

In June 2011, Congress adopted the victims and land restitution law (Law 1448/2011), an extremely ambitious law. Symbolically, it recognized the existence of an internal armed conflict rather than a ‘terrorist threat’ (sparking Uribe’s wrath), a semantic difference which is much more significant than it might seem at first glance. Concretely, the government committed itself to recognizing the victims of the armed conflict and providing them with reparations which include land restitution, thereby addressing what is by several accounts the crux of the entire 68-year conflict. The term ‘victims’ is fairly broadly defined, in both individual and collective terms, to include victims of any international humanitarian law or human rights violation which occurred as part of the armed conflict (after 1985) – and was further expanded in 2013 by the Constitutional Court, which included victims of the Bacrim as well. Victims are granted access to a whole host of immediate and medium/long-term reparation measures, the most important of which is land restitution for those who were directly or indirectly dispossessed of their land or forced from it during the conflict since 1991. Moreover, the law shifts the burden of proof onto the present owners or occupiers of the land, who must first prove that the land was legally acquired. Unsurprisingly given the complexity of the issue, implementation of the law, especially land restitution, has been slow, painful and riddled with obstacles.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, Juan Manuel Santos, a far more astute and cunning politician than one might think, had put together – without saying it – the necessary military, diplomatic and political groundwork for a peace process. He reasserted the State’s military supremacy, to make sure that the FARC knew that the peace process wouldn’t be a Caguán 2.0. He rebuilt Colombia’s image in the region, and ensured that Chávez (and Raúl Castro) would provide the diplomatic backing and encouragement for the peace process in its early stages. He was not successful at building a political consensus for peace, although he did get the institutional support for it. With the victims law, he gave an indication to the ever-skeptical FARC that his government, for a change, was serious on important conflict-related problems.
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« Reply #19 on: September 24, 2016, 08:12:15 PM »

Top secret: Initial contacts and the exploratory phase (2011-2012)

Beginning in the spring of 2011, a number of secret initial meetings took place between representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC. The guerrilla reports that the first such meeting occurred in March 2011, near the Venezuelan border, with the FARC represented by Rodrigo Granda (the FARC’s ‘foreign minister’) and Andrés París (a veteran political theorist and experienced negotiator) and the government by two presidential advisers. After further meetings in July, both sides agreed to continue exploratory talks in Havana, Cuba. At this point, the government appointed senior officials to secretly participate in the process: Frank Pearl, Uribe’s last high commissioner for peace who was then serving as environment minister; Sergio Jaramillo, the president’s national security adviser who had become a recognized expert on human rights and defence issues through his work in and out of government; and Enrique Santos, the president’s brother and a former director at El Tiempo (also noted for his leftist views in the past). Enrique Santos’ participation was seen as a gesture of goodwill by President Santos to the guerrilla. The FARC negotiating team was joined by Mauricio Jaramillo, commander of the eastern bloc and Marcos Calarcá, a spokesperson for the guerrilla.

While baby steps were taken in initiating the peace process, the war continued in Colombia – the negotiating parties had undertaken not to be influenced by outside events. In November 2011, a military operation in the Cauca (Operation Odiseo) killed the FARC’s commander in chief, Alfonso Cano. He was replaced by Timoleón Jiménez alias ‘Timochenko’, a commander who operated in the Magdalena Medio. Timochenko was born in the Quindío in 1959 and was active in the communist youth movement (JUCO), through which he was sent to study at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow (he also studied in Yugoslavia and Cuba). He joined the FARC at the time of the Seventh Conference (1982), and rose quickly through the ranks of the organization, becoming the youngest member of the Secretariat upon his appointment in 1986. Timochenko respected the elders of the organization (Marulanda, Jacobo Arenas, Alfonso Cano), but also earned the respect of the base and middle-level commanders (cadres). At the time of his accession to power, the media described him as a hardline militarist and ideologue, but the peace process showed that either those descriptors were off-base or, if they were accurate, did not play a significant role in the dynamics of the negotiations.

The exploratory phase continued despite Alfonso Cano’s death. By August 2012, ten preparatory ‘rounds’ had taken place, each lasting between four and eight days for a total of approximately 65 encounters between both sides (besides these formal meetings, contacts and exchanges between the two parties were limited, to ensure confidentiality). During the exploratory phase, both sides designated two ‘guarantor countries’ – Cuba, the host and Norway, for its experience in international conflict mediation, while the two parties named one facilitator or ‘accompanying’ country each – Venezuela by the FARC and Chile by the government.

In February 2012, while the peace process was still a well-kept secret, the FARC announced the proscription of extortive kidnappings (‘legalized’ by their infamous ‘law 002’ in 2000), presented as a first ‘gesture of peace’.

In mid-August 2012, as the exploratory phase drew to a close, Uribe claimed via Twitter – his main political platform (4.52 million followers) – that the government was negotiating with the FARC in Cuba, a claim initially denied by the defence and foreign ministers. On August 27, TeleSUR broke the news that the government and the FARC would announce an agreement to begin formal peace negotiations, and President Santos confirmed the information hours later.

Santos gave a televised address on September 4, formally announcing the signature of a ‘general agreement’ setting the rules and agenda for peace negotiations. To reassure a skeptical public, he made sure to stress that past mistakes would not be repeated – no territory would be demilitarized and military operations would continue. Despite these reassurances, the ghost of the Caguán lingered over the peace process from beginning to end – widespread skepticism and pessimism that it would be just another peace process, like the Caguán or La Uribe (1984-1986).
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« Reply #20 on: September 24, 2016, 08:12:34 PM »

Reality check: the installation of dialogues (2012)

The government and the FARC had signed a ‘general agreement for the termination of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace’ in Havana on August 26, 2012, an agreement which would serve as a roadmap and framework for the formal peace process, with the rules and procedures under which negotiations would operate as well as a six-point thematic agenda. The six issues to be discussed were comprehensive rural development, political participation, end of the conflict (including a bilateral and definite ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and a surrender of weapons by the FARC), illicit drugs, victims and ratification/implementation/verification of the agreement. As per the agreement, each negotiating team was composed of up to 30 people, with up to 10 participating in sessions and five being plenipotentiaries. The discussions were to be private, although periodic reports were to be issued and a mechanism to receive proposals for individuals and organizations was set up. Cuba and Norway were the guarantor countries, and Venezuela and Chile were the two sides’ accompanying countries. Underlying the entire process was one key principle – ‘nothing is agreed upon until everything has been agreed upon’ (another key principle was not to be influenced by external events, i.e. the continuation of the conflict).

Unlike the Caguán, the Havana peace process began with a defined (and limited) agenda, rulebook and predefined international support. Unlike La Uribe, a ceasefire was not the starting point for the talks but rather one of several issues to be discussed (and, in practice, being one of the toughest, it was discussed last). Unlike all previous peace processes, finally, the FARC explicitly agreed to the ‘end of the conflict’ (including cessation of hostilities and decommissioning) as the end goal of the talks.

From another standpoint, the Havana peace process began – unlike the Caguán in 1998 – with the State holding, unquestionably, the military advantage over the guerrilla.

The Colombian government’s negotiating team was led by Humberto de la Calle, seconded by Sergio Jaramillo, who was appointed as High Commissioner for Peace. Humberto de la Calle is a veteran Liberal politician, who served as interior minister under President César Gaviria (1990-1993) and Vice President (1994-1997), elected as Ernesto Samper’s running-mate (he had lost to Samper in the Liberal primary) but distancing himself from Samper during the Proceso 8.000 before breaking with him entirely and aligning with Andrés Pastrana in 1998 (along with several other anti-Samper Liberals). He was Pastrana’s interior minister between 2000 and 2001 and Colombia’s permanent representative to the OAS between 2001 and 2003. He supported Uribe, serving as a legal advisor, notably working on issues like the 2004 constitutional amendment to allow Uribe a second term. De la Calle therefore came with political connections, a legal background, thorough knowledge of the constitution (working as interior minister during the constituent assembly) but also firsthand experience with peace and demobilization processes having worked on the demobilization and political integration of the M-19, EPL, MAQL etc. in the early 1990s. Besides de la Calle and Jaramillo, the government’s team included Enrique Santos, Luis Carlos Villegas (president, at the time and since 1996, of the ANDI, the main employer’s association), former police director (2007-2012) General Óscar Naranjo and former commander of the armed forces (2002-2003) General Jorge Enrique Mora. The presence of two respected retired generals, Naranjo and Mora, was a calculated decision to involve the military in the peace process and assuage their concerns – their absence from La Uribe or the Caguán contributed to the failure of both. General Mora, reputed to be a staunchly anti-guerrilla hardliner, reassured the military, with his record as top army commander during the Caguán (criticizing the FARC’s abuses in the DMZ) and armed forces commander during the crucial first years of Uribe’s democratic security (modernization of the armed forces, Plan Patriota).

The FARC’s chief negotiator was ‘Iván Márquez’, commander of the Caribbean bloc and a high-ranking member of the Secretariat. In 1986, he was elected as alternate representative for the UP from Caquetá, but returned to the guerrilla shortly after the extermination of the UP began. Although he was commander of one of the FARC’s regional blocs (but a weak one, debilitated by the paramilitaries and military since the late 1990s), he is better known for his active participation in all of the peace processes since 1991 as well as the ‘humanitarian exchanges’ negotiations under Uribe, which gave him access to the Venezuelan political and military leadership (in 2010, Bogotá claimed that he was hiding in Venezuela). Márquez, despite his de facto role as the FARC’s main foreign representative (post-Raúl Reyes), is seen as one of the more dogmatic leaders of the guerrilla. The other FARC negotiators included Rodrigo Granda, Jesús Santrich (a lower-ranking member of recent ascendance, an ‘intellectual’), Andrés París, Mauricio Jaramillo, Marcos Calarcá, Pablo Catatumbo (commander of the western bloc, another of the main members of the Secretariat) and Tanja Nijmeijer (a Dutch member of the FARC). The FARC also demanded the presence of Simón Trinidad, a former negotiator from the Cagúan who is currently imprisoned in the United States on charges of kidnapping and drug trafficking. Timochenko, Iván Márquez and Pablo Catatumbo are wanted by the US State Department’s Narcotics Rewards Program.

The peace negotiations were formally installed in Oslo, Norway on October 18 and moved to their permanent location in Havana in November. After the brief optimism and confidence sparked by the announcement of dialogues (Santos declared that they would be over within six to eight months), the installation of talks in Oslo was a cold shower. Iván Márquez’s speech was widely interpreted by the Colombian media as an unexpectedly radical and defiant tirade against the government, a defence of the guerrilla’s armed struggle and a controversial list off of issues excluded from the agenda (capitalism, foreign investment, military doctrine, land ownership). Márquez’s speech took the government aback, and dampened illusions with fears that the FARC, once again, had no real commitment to peace and that the peace process would be another futile talking shop.

On November 20, 2012, the FARC announced their first unilateral ceasefire, lasting until January 20, 2013. The guerrilla presented it as their contribution towards strengthening the nascent climate of understanding.
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« Reply #21 on: September 24, 2016, 08:13:17 PM »

In it for the long haul (2013)

January 2013 began with a disquieting escalation of the conflict in Colombia following the end of the FARC’s first ceasefire. On January 25, the FARC kidnapped two police officers in the Valle del Cauca, claiming to be within their rights to capture prisoners of war. On January 31, an ambush in Nariño killed four soldiers and an attack on a police station in La Guajira killed three police officers the next day. The FARC claimed that they acted in retaliation to an attack which killed 20 of theirs during the ceasefire. The government, facing a skeptical and pessimistic public and Uribe’s fiery opposition, sternly warned the FARC that their actions undermined the peace process and that they would not hesitate to respond in kind. The guerrilla sought to use this wave of violence as an argument for a bilateral ceasefire, which was politically impossible for the government.

On May 26, both sides announced a partial agreement on the first item, comprehensive rural reform. The agreement focused on the issues of land access and use, unproductive land, property titles, rural development, infrastructure, social development in rural regions, agricultural and livestock production, technical assistance, subsidies and credits, food and nutritional policies.

Soon afterwards, a new sticking point between the government and the FARC came up: the ratification mechanism for an eventual peace agreement, and the latter’s insistence on a constituent assembly. The guerrilla claimed that a constituent assembly was the only way to properly implement an agreement, change the political system and reform political institutions. The government, which saw the Pandora’s box entailed by a constituent assembly, refused the idea out of hand – and remained steadfast in their refusal. Instead, the government proposed using an existing form of popular participation – a popular consultation, referendum or plebiscite. In August 2013, hoping for a final agreement by the end of the year, the government presented a bill organizing constitutional referendums necessary for the implementation of a final agreement, hoping to hold it alongside the 2014 congressional (March) or presidential (May) elections. To signal their disagreement, the FARC briefly ‘paused’ the dialogues in Havana. Frustration with the slow pace of the process and the growing political pressure from the approaching 2014 elections – in which Uribe was to participate with a new political party, the Democratic Centre – led to speculation that the government was considering suspending or even breaking off the peace process.

In November, the two sides announced a partial agreement on the second item, political participation, was announced, albeit with contentious points left unresolved. The FARC announced a second unilateral temporary ceasefire on December 15, 2013, valid through January 14, 2014.

Less noticed by the media and public opinion, the FARC made their first, timid, expressions of contrition – recognizing that they had left victims (a shift from their traditional argument that they are the victims), and Pablo Catatumbo saying that prolonging kidnappings were a mistake which brought political costs to the guerrilla.
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« Reply #22 on: September 24, 2016, 08:13:31 PM »

Peace given a chance (2014)

In February 2014, Semana revealed that a military intelligence unit in Bogotá had been illegally monitoring the private communications of the government’s negotiators in Havana, as part of so-called ‘operation Andromeda’.  the illegal monitoring of the government negotiators’ private. Santos called the illegal interceptions unacceptable and ordered a public investigation to see if ‘dark forces’ were trying to sabotage the peace process. Heads rolled – two generals, including the head of military intelligence, were dismissed. The FARC expressed their willingness to continue the peace negotiations, although the government’s embarrassments might have allowed them to bring in a more controversial and nefarious character to their team, Fabián Ramírez from the southern bloc, the one most mixed up in drug trafficking.

A partial agreement on illicit drugs was announced on May 16, just nine days before the presidential election. These developments in Havana were naturally overshadowed by the congressional elections (in March) and the presidential elections (May 25 and June 15). Álvaro Uribe’s led his newly founded Democratic Centre’s list for the Senate in March, obtaining just over 2 million votes and 20 seats (plus 18 in the lower house) and placing as the second biggest party in the Senate behind the Partido de la U. However, the Unidad Nacional parties backing Santos’ re-election – the U, the Liberals and vice presidential candidate Germán Vargas Lleras’ Radical Change – and the broadly pro-government Conservative caucus retained absolute majorities in both houses, although the novelty was a strong, organized right-wing opposition to the government with a substantial congressional presence. Santos appeared favoured, but dangerously weak, in the presidential election with mediocre poll numbers. Óscar Iván Zuluaga (a former senator and finance minister 2007-2010), the underestimated candidate of Uribe’s CD, overtook his other rivals – Enrique Peñalosa (Green), Clara López (Polo) and Marta Lucía Ramírez (Conservative) – to become the most serious threat to Santos, who was further hindered by his dreadfully poor first round campaign. Zuluaga opposed the Havana peace process as it stood, and said that he would impose conditions on the FARC for their continuation: a permanent and verifiable ceasefire within 8 days, followed by their demobilization, conditions judged to be realistically impossible. Promising ‘peace without impunity’, Zuluaga said he was disposed to reduced jail sentences for those who had committed crimes against humanity but with political eligibility limited only to guerrilla fighters, not commanders. Claiming, in Uribe’s tradition, that there was no armed conflict but rather a ‘terrorist threat’, Zuluaga’s position boiled down to an AUC-like demobilization of the guerrilla, with the justice and peace law’s legal benefits, but without any negotiations on social and political reforms.

Zuluaga surprised by finishing first on May 25 with 29.28% against 25.72% for Santos, a very poor standing for an incumbent; Ramírez, who won 15.52% despite lacking the support of much of the Conservative Party’s bosses and congressmen, offered potential reserves for Zuluaga whereas Santos looked to Clara López, who also did well for herself (15.21%). Peñalosa with 8.27% became an afterthought – with Santos, he was the main loser. Zuluaga won Ramírez’s endorsement – although, again, the bulk of the Conservative caucus stayed with Santos – and moderated his view on the peace process somewhat as a result, agreeing to continue negotiations if the FARC gave ‘tangible signs of peace’ and after evaluating what had been agreed upon.

For Santos, the first round was a wake-up call, for he realized that what would inevitably be his main political legacy was under real threat. Energized, he reorganized his campaign and doubled down on peace, as an abstract value put up against war, symbolized by Uribe/Zuluaga. On the one hand, Santos built a ‘coalition for peace’ with endorsements from the left and centre-left: Clara López, Antanas Mockus, Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro and Antonio Navarro Wolff. On the other hand, Santos’ people fired up the government’s political machines and caciques (people who you don’t want to be seen with, but who you absolutely need if you’re going to win an election), particularly potent political actors in the Caribbean region, where Santos lagged far behind the government parties’ congressional results in the first round.

Santos’ all-out game paid off, and he won 51% to 45%. Colombians had expressed their skepticism, frustrations, uncertainties and fears about the peace process, but in the end a narrow majority of them had opted to ‘give peace a chance’ in the person of Juan Manuel Santos, whose second term, far more than his first, would be defined almost entirely by the peace process.

The FARC had declared two unilateral temporary ceasefires during the first and second rounds of the presidential election, between May 20 and 28 and again between June 9 and 30.

Looking back, the first meeting with a delegation (first of five) of victims of the armed conflict in August 2012, marked an important moment in the peace process. It was an highly symbolic and solemn exchange between victimizers and their victims, and several accounts say that it had a real, profound impact on the FARC, who saw, perhaps for the first time, the horrors and tragedies they were responsible far. For years, the FARC had dismissed the voices of victims and the broader voices of millions of Colombians exasperated with them as the product of ‘manipulation’ and ‘brainwashing’ by a biased oligarchic media and government. Notwithstanding these encounters, victims of the FARC feeling that they had not been sufficiently taken into account organized a forum to have their voices taken into account. The forum brought together both opponents and supporters of the peace process.

Beginning in July, a series of attacks by the FARC hit civilian populations particularly badly - bombings destroying electric pylons left Buenaventura without electricity, bombings on roads and water conduits cut off municipalities in the Meta and Guaviare from running water or communication for several days, a grenade attack by the FARC against a police officer killed his 3-year old daughter while in the Putumayo the guerrilla forced tanker trucks to spill the crude oil they carried. Santos warned the FARC that they were playing with fire, and that negotiations could not continue forever under such actions. On their side, the FARC threatened to leave the negotiation table if the government continued killing its commanders. The FARC also escalated their rhetoric, with Pablo Catatumbo blaming the State for the bulk of the victims of the conflict and justifying kidnappings, and Timochenko’s complaint in a statement that the media was making excessive demands on the guerrilla to face their victims and seek forgiveness.

Slow but steady progress continued to be made in Havana. An historical commission on the conflict and its victims was created, parallel discussions on the ‘end of the conflict’ item began and a sub-commission on gender issues was installed. In late September, to end the wildest rumours, Santos announced at the United Nations General Assembly that the government had decided to make public the agreements reached up till that point in Havana – including the joint drafts of the partial agreements on comprehensive rural reform, illicit drugs and political participation. That decision was far less important than it might seem, since the FARC had already published those draft agreements months before, without asking anyone.

On November 16, the FARC kidnapped General Rubén Darío Alzate, commander of the Joint Task Force Titán. Alzate was the first general to be captured by the guerrilla in the history of the armed conflict. Santos ordered government negotiators not to travel to Havana until the hostages were released, while the FARC mostly highlighted the political implications of the kidnapping and used it to insist on the need for a bilateral ceasefire. Through mediation, facilitated by the guarantor countries and the International Red Cross, General Alzate was released by his FARC captors on November 30 and handed over to representatives of the Red Cross. What was initially seen as mortal threat to the peace process ended up demonstrating how far the talks had come.

As a result of Alzate’s kidnapping, both parties in Havana began talks on de-escalation of the conflict on December 12. On December 17, the FARC announced in a statement that they would be declaring an indefinite unilateral ceasefire beginning on December 20, which would end if guerrilla fronts were attacked by the authorities.
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« Reply #23 on: September 24, 2016, 08:14:17 PM »

Roller coaster ride – optimism and crisis (January-August 2015)

Between January and April 2015, the Havana talks showed signs of continued progress and growing international support. On February 20, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of a special envoy to the Colombian peace process, Bernard Aronson. The appointment was welcomed, including by the FARC, and interpreted as a clear endorsement of Colombia’s peace process by the United States. On February 27, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited the negotiating table in Havana. On March 7, the negotiating parties in Cuba announced the creation of a mine clearance pilot project, to clean and decontaminate land from the presence of anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnances with the leadership and coordination of the Norwegian People’s Aid. The announcement was significant, as the FARC undertook to reveal the location of mines and suspending the planting of new ones in that territory, and it was the first aspect of the peace negotiations which would have an immediate impact on the ground. The pilot project was launched in Briceño, Antioquia.

On March 10, in a televised statement, President Santos recognized that the FARC had kept their word on the unilateral ceasefire and, as a gesture to de-escalate the conflict, ordered the Ministry of Defence and military commanders to cease the bombing of FARC camps for a month. Peace seemed to be solidly on track.

On April 15, the FARC killed 11 soldiers in an ambush in the Cauca, beginning a major crisis which threatened the future of the peace process and left everybody bewildered by what was seen as the FARC’s sabotage of a successful de-escalation process. The guerrilla claimed that the army had been advancing with reinforcements on their positions. Santos immediately ordered bombings to resume, determined to remind the guerrilla of who was boss on the battlefield. However, Santos ultimately resolved to continue with the peace process as is, after several voices in the government had suggested imposing a deadline for the agreement.

The ambush in the Cauca turned public opinion resolvedly against the peace process and boosted the popularity of its main opponent, Álvaro Uribe. In an Ipsos poll, Santos’ approval fell to 29% compared to 40% in November 2014, pessimism in the peace process increased 16 points to 69% during the same period and Uribe’s favourability increased from 41% to 57%. Nevertheless, only 27% of respondents in the poll wanted to break off dialogues and launch a military offensive. For a skeptical public, the FARC’s attack was a sign that their ceasefire had been deceitful and only heightened frustration with a peace process which had recorded no formal agreement since May 2014. However, according to the Conflict analysis resource centre (Cerac), the attack on the soldiers was the only severe violation of the ceasefire, given that the FARC had generally complied with their ceasefire up to that point, resulting in the lowest levels of violence in the conflict since 1984.

In retaliation for the attack in the Cauca, a military operation in Guapi (Cauca) killed 26 guerrillas on May 22, and days later a FARC commander was killed by the military in the Chocó. The FARC called off their unilateral ceasefire, and began a wave of attacks, primarily targeting infrastructure, like the Trans-Andean oil pipeline. Sabotage left Buenaventura (Valle) and Tumaco (Nariño) without electricity, a power pylon in Caquetá was bombed, a police colonel was assassinated in Ipiales (Nariño) and 13,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Nariño – leaving an environmental catastrophe behind. With these actions, the FARC had sought to regain the military initiative and put political pressure on the government, but, again, the guerrilla miscalculated as it had only further reduced their credibility in the eyes of the public.

The escalation of the conflict, unprecedentedly low levels of popular support for the peace process (and Santos’ abominable approvals), the negotiations’ low levels of credibility and the apparent confirmation of Uribe’s warnings all placed the Havana peace process in critical condition. From Havana, the negotiators tried to salvage the talks by announcing some ‘confidence-building measures’ – a technical sub-commission for the end of the conflict or the beginning of the mine clearance pilot project in Briceño, which had the government and the FARC working together for a common purpose. President Santos ordered that the bodies of the guerrillas killed in combat be identified and returned to their families, an important step to recognize the humanity of the enemy combatants. The FARC, including Timochenko, adopted a more conciliatory tone in their rhetoric.

The crisis worried Cuba and Norway, who increased pressure on both sides to commit to finishing what they had begun in Havana and de-escalate the conflict, including suggestions for a bilateral ceasefire. On July 8, the FARC announced a one-month unilateral ceasefire from July 20, which they later extended indefinitely. The government lacked the political capital necessary to officially announce a bilateral ceasefire, but a de facto bilateral ceasefire would emerge on the ground as the FARC fulfilled their ceasefire and a corresponding reduction in military offensives against the guerrilla. On July 12, both sides announced a major agreement to “expedite in Havana and de-escalate in Colombia”, by moving towards a final agreement without delay through a change in the format of the talks (simultaneous technical work on the ‘core items’ of the agenda while concurrently building agreements at the general table). The communiqué reiterated the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, and the government agreed to begin a ‘de-escalation process of military actions’ consistent with the FARC’s suspension of all offensive actions. In August, Santos reordered the suspension of military bombings against the FARC, a politically unpopular decision.

#LaPazEstáCerca (September-December 2015)

On September 23, the government and the FARC announced, with great pomp and circumstance, an historic agreement on transitional justice. President Santos, accompanied by a whole bunch of high-ranking politicians, and Timochenko travelled to Havana for the announcement and finished off the ceremony with an unscripted handshake, overlooked by a beaming Raúl Castro.

The momentous agreement was the product of lengthy late-night discussions between lawyers from both sides in Havana and Bogotá, who had been working tirelessly on it since July. To expedite matters and resolve the impasse at the table in Havana, negotiators delegated the file to a group of six respected jurists (three for each side), including the atypical Conservative politician Álvaro Leyva (who is held in higher esteem by the FARC than by governments), two former Constitutional Court judges, an American law professor, a Spanish lawyer and a human rights advocate. By September, they had a text ready to be announced in Havana, and Santos hurried to announce it so that he had something to show for months of talks.

The overall response was positive, although far more positive abroad than domestically. Outside Colombia, with the exception of Human Rights Watch, reaction was overwhelmingly positive – with effusive praise from John Kerry, whose words even got retweeted by Iván Márquez, and a positive evaluation from Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the ICC. In Colombia, the agreement was recognized as perhaps the most important moment in the peace process till then, because it resolved one of the most difficult issues with a formula satisfactory to both sides and combining elements of restorative justice with alternative legal sentences for those responsible for crimes against humanity. Uribe was very critical of the agreement, ironically sharing some of Human Rights Watch’s criticisms, which certainly made for strange bedfellows considering HRW’s resolute opposition to the justice and peace law. Polls showed that Colombians welcomed the deal with cautious optimism, improving their perceptions and faith in the peace process (and, by consequence, Santos, whose approvals bounced back to 40%), but remaining very skeptical about the FARC’s true intentions.

In Havana, Santos had imprudently announced that the peace process would be finished within six months, by March 23, 2016 (an announcement which the FARC did not appreciate). As it turned out, the September 23 agreement was an agreement on broad contours, and the negotiators in Cuba got bogged down in the nitty-gritty details of it, delaying announcement of a partial agreement on the ‘victims’ item of the agenda. Nevertheless, they did announce, in October, immediate humanitarian measures for the search, location, identification and delivery of the remains of missing persons and the creation of a search unit for disappeared persons. On December 15, a partial agreement on the entirety of the fifth item (victims) was announced, including transitional justice, a truth commission and the October announcements on the search unit for disappeared persons.

Although the clock was ticking on the March 23 deadline, it was clear that a final agreement would be reached sooner or later in 2016, which meant that the thorny issue of ratification reared its nasty head again. In November, the government endorsed a bill by senator Roy Barreras (Partido de la U) organizing a plebiscite on the final agreement, which was again rejected by the FARC in Cuba, who instead insisted on a constituent assembly. In December 2015, with the government’s majority in Congress, the plebiscite bill was adopted, setting the exceptional 13%-of-registered-voters threshold for approval. Uribe’s CD opposed the plebiscite as a ‘trap’, called into question the legality of the reduced threshold for approval and demanded instead that voters have the chance to express their opinion on each specific point of the agreement (a logistical nightmare, obviously). The bill proceeded to the Constitutional Court for mandatory judicial review, giving the government some time to push the FARC into agreeing with it.
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« Reply #24 on: September 24, 2016, 08:14:48 PM »

#AdiosALaGuerra (2016)

While the March 23, 2016 seemed increasingly difficult to meet, further steps sealing the irreversibility of the peace process were taken. In January, the negotiators announced that a trilateral mechanism would verify and monitor the final ceasefire, cessation of hostilities and decommissioning of weapons, and that the mechanism would be chaired and coordinated by a political mission of unarmed UN observers from member states of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Put otherwise, both sides asked the UNSC to create the political mission for a renewable 12-month period. Both the government and the FARC took the opportunity to highlight the importance of the matter and their mutual commitment to peace.

Following a pattern which was becoming all too familiar, one bit of good news was followed by two bits of bad news. The government and the FARC went head-to-head over the plebiscite again, with the former saying that there’d be a plebiscite regardless of whether the FARC liked it or not and the latter claiming that a plebiscite contravened the August 2012 general agreement. In late February, the FARC’s ‘armed proselytism’ during a political education event in La Guajira (attended by Iván Márquez and others) created a new firestorm in Colombia. Since 2015, the FARC’s negotiators had been authorized by the government to travel back home to organize political education events with their troops only, and up until then all these activities had occurred without major problems. However, the presence of armed men mingling with the civilian population during this particular event rekindled fears about the use of weapons by the guerrilla during political events. President Santos notified the guerrilla that political education events were suspended until further notice and issued an ultimatum that either a final agreement was to be signed on March 23 or it would be understood that the FARC were not ready for peace. This firestorm, mixed in with more unrelated bad news domestically, meant that Santos’ approvals collapsed again – according to Gallup, to just 21% in April 2016, the lowest approvals for a Colombian president since Pastrana during the Caguán.

March 23 came and went without any white smoke in Havana. Negotiators began issuing a series of short joint communiqués saying that they were continuing their work. On May 12, desperate to show off something, the government overdid it by playing up a ‘major agreement’ which turned out to be fodder for lawyers and nerds, namely an agreement to provide legal security to the final agreement. As per the deal, the final agreement will be considered as a special agreement under the terms of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and form part of the Constitution’s constitutionality bloc (as international humanitarian law). The government will then present before Congress an ordinary law to approve the final agreement as a special agreement, Congress will approve or reject it as a whole within 8 days and the Constitutional Court will review it. Afterwards, the government will present a constitutional amendment to incorporate the full text of the final agreement to the Constitution as a transitory article. Finally, after signature of the final agreement, the President will make a unilateral declaration in the name of the Colombian State before the Secretary General of the UN, relating the final agreement to Resolution 2261 of January 25, 2016.

The May 12 deal ensured legal security to the agreement, increasing the FARC’s confidence that the agreements will be followed – constitutional entrenchment of a final agreement will protect it from future changes in political conditions, and commit the Colombian government before the international community. By agreeing to this procedure, the FARC signalled their acceptance of the political institutions which it had rejected and fought against for decades. At the same time, without yet endorsing the plebiscite itself, the FARC indicated that the final agreement would be submitted for popular ratification, and thereby implicitly dropped their insistence on a constituent assembly as an implementation mechanism.

Once again, this announcement created controversy in Colombia. Uribe likened it to a coup d’état while Alejandro Ordóñez wrote a letter to Santos in which he accused him of replacing the Constitution in tandem with the FARC.

On June 23, the government and the FARC announced another historic agreement – this time on the end of the conflict, including the bilateral ceasefire, cessation of hostilities and decommissioning of weapons. The agreement was signed by Santos and Timochenko during a ceremony in Havana attended by a lot of regional heavyweights: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Raúl Castro, Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Danilo Medina (Dominican Republic, president pro tempore of CELAC), Salvador Sánchez Cerén (El Salvador, a former FMLN guerrilla), Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexico) as well as the Norwegian foreign minister and representatives from the EU and the US. The contents of the agreement are explained later in this text, but they basically laid out the modalities for the bilateral ceasefire, cessation of hostilities and decommissioning of weapons – including the role of the trilateral mechanism with UN participation, the concentration of the guerrilla in transitory rural normalization zones, the collection and storage by the UN of all weapons received from the FARC over a three phase process of 180 days. In addition, the agreement included a companion agreement on security guarantees, aimed at ensuring the safety of social movements, communities, human rights groups, political parties and movements (especially the political movement to be created by the FARC in their reintegration to civilian life). This is a particularly important issue for the FARC, haunted by the genocide of the UP.

Unexpectedly, on June 23, the FARC also explicitly agreed to the plebiscite as a ratification mechanism – of course, they didn’t say so openly, but through convoluted language about acknowledging the decision to be rendered by the Constitutional Court on the plebiscite law. Prior to June 23, the Court had announced a positive preliminary report on the plebiscite and ruled in its favour on July 19.
The June 23 agreement was the last major step needed before the final agreement, and the word ceasefire led the international media into falsely reporting the ‘end of the war’ or even a ‘peace agreement’ in Colombia. Resolving the unclosed points from all the other items and agreeing to the details of the sixth item (implementation and verification) took two months.

It is important to mention that, since July 2015, the de-escalation of the conflict had been a success. Over 13 months from July 2015 to August 2016, the Cerac counted just 10 offensive actions (killing 4) by the FARC in violation of their unilateral ceasefire (and an additional six which may have been committed by the FARC but required verification) and 412 non-violent interventions of the armed forces against the FARC (mostly seizure and destruction of explosives). As of August 20, 2016, there had been 68 days without any offensive actions attributable to the FARC and 42 days without reported combats between the armed forces and the FARC. The Cerac evaluated the 13-month period as “the lowest intensity of the conflict in its 52-year history.”

On August 24, 2016, the government and the FARC announced that they had reached a final agreement, a 297-page document. Again, the international media missed the point: it was not the signature of the agreement and certainly not the end of the war in Colombia (there’s a pesky little group known as the ELN…). The August 24 announcement was part of a Santos strategy: announce a ‘pre-signature’ which would allow him to legally convene the plebiscite for a month or so later (October 2), but hold the formal signature ceremony at a later date, set for September 26 in Cartagena (before the plebiscite, part of Santos’ subliminal message of “don’t be idiots and fock this up”).

On August 29, the bilateral ceasefire began following orders from Santos and Timochenko.

That wraps up part 2 of my embarrassingly long write-up: next up: the content, i.e WHERE'S THE MEAT?Huh
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