Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Authorities in Bolivia announced the arrest Feb. 1 of Felipe Froilán Molina Bustamente AKA "El Killer"—long wanted in the "disappearance" and probable assassination of socialist leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz during the period of military rule. Some 80 police agents were involved in the raid of a private house in the upscale Cota Cota suburb of La Paz, where Molina was found hiding behind a false wall. He had been convicted in absentia in 2007 of organizing a semi-official paramilitary death squad that carried out the disappearance of Quiroga and other leftist dissidents, and sentenced to 30 years. Quiroga, leader of Bolivia's Socialist Party One (PS-1), was abducted July 17, 1980 at the offices of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), where he was overseeing a meeting of the National Council for Defense of Democracy, a civil society group dedicated to resisting the military regime of Gen. Luis García Meza Tejada, who had just seized power in a coup d'etat. There whereabouts of his remains are still unknown, and President Evo Morales expressed hope that Molina will cooperate in recovering them. (ABI, Opinión, Cochabamba, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Feb. 1)
A "peace summit" was held in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena last week, as last year at this time, bringing together international experts and civil society representatives to discuss the ongoing process to end the country's multi-generational civil war. The conference came as the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution in support of Colombia's peace process, empowering a "special political mission" to the country to oversee implementation of pending accords with the FARC guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 20; El Espectador, Jan. 7) According to Colombia's Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), political violence registered over the past six months is at its lowest level since the FARC first took up arms in 1964. CERAC cited the FARC's unilateral ceasefire that came into force in July, and the government's suspension of air-strikes. The report found that both the FARC ceasefire and government air-strike halt had been broken, but registered only 16 clashes between guerillas and government troops over the past six months, resulting in the deaths of 17 guerilla fighters and three members of the security forces. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22)
A United Nations report released Jan. 19 details the severe and extensive impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict in Iraq, with at least 18,802 civilians killed and another 36,245 wounded between January 2014 and October 2015, while another 3.2 million people have been internally displaced due to violence. An estimated 3,500, mainly women and children, are being held as slaves by Islamic State militants. "The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering," the report states. "The so-called 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide."
As the new year opened, the Taliban pushed deeper into Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province, with the Afghan army struggling to retake territory newly won by the insurgents. Kabul has sent reinforcements, but as AP reported Dec. 29, police are refusing to return to the streets even of those areas the army has supposedly secured. According to Karim Atal, director of the Helmand provincial council, security forces are for now staying inside their base in Sangin district. And this isn't just another district in Afghanistan's rugged hinterlands. Sangin is a key opium-producing district in Helmand—itself both the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and Afghan poppy cultivation. It is also straegically localted on a corridor connecting Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to the province's northern districts. So, as the BBC News states: "Regaining full control of Sangin would increase the Taliban's mobility in the north of the province and cut a key supply line for Afghan forces with Lashkar Gah. Sangin is also a rich opium production centre—meaning potential tax revenue for the Taliban from the drugs trade."
Colombian prosecutors will seek to charge some 1,500 civilians with conflict-related crimes allegedly committed by guerilla groups like the FARC, which is currently negotiating peace with the government. The civilians are all suspected of having either ordered or taken part in crimes like homicide, kidnapping, extortion and forced displacement carried out by leftist guerilla groups during Colombia’s more than 50-year-long armed conflict. Vice-Prosecutor General Jorge Fernando Perdomo said the civilians were incriminated by demobilized guerrillas of the FARC, ELN, EPL, ERG and ERP. In total, the transitional justice tribunal that will be put in place if peace is reached between the FARC and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos will prosecute tens of thousands of people allegedly involved in war crimes or crimes related to the conflict.
In a public ceremony held in the central plaza of Segovia, Antioquia department, representatives of the Colombian government on Dec. 20 formally acknowledged the state's responsibility in the Nov. 11, 1988 massacre, in which 43 residents were slain by paramilitary troops who fired indiscriminately as they swept through the town's streets. The ceremony, preceded by a march from the town's cemetery to the central plaza, was overseen by Guillermo Rivera, presidential advisor in human rights, and members of the government's Unit for Victim Reparations. Rivera admitted the massacre had been ordered by local politicians in response to the victory of the leftist Patriotic Union in the town's municipal elections. (El Espectador, Bogotá, Dec.. 20)