Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)
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)
After 50 years of internal war, Colombia finally seems to be approaching a peace accord with leftist guerillas. But the US Senate is considering legislation that could throw a big obstacle on Colombia's path to peace. The Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, sponsored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), aims to target every link in the chain of narco-trafficking—right down the impoverished peasants who grow the coca. The bill has unanimously passed the Senate twice before, but never cleared the House. On Oct. 7, it passed the Senate a third time, and a big push is on to make it law. "Since drug cartels are continually evolving, this legislation ensures that our criminal laws keep pace," said Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
Without fanfare in either country, some 3,000 US troops are now arriving in Peru for an anti-drug "training mission." The troops embarked, along with several cargo planes, on the USS George Washington Sept. 1—sparking street protests in Lima. Thousands filled downtown Lima chanting slogans against the "Yankee terrorists," and several US flags were burned. Ex-congressman Gustavo Espinoza decried what he called a "military invasion." He suggested that the US had ulterior motives behind the mobilization: "What is looming is a sort of 'sting operation'...designed to enhance the North American presence not only in Peru but in the Americas... The Empire seeks to change the correlation of forces now in place in the region." (HispanTV, Sept. 2; TeleSUR, Sept. 1)
Peru's army on July 30 announced that it had rescued 39 people—the majority indigenous Asháninka and 26 of them underage—who were being held captive in Sendero Luminoso camps in the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE). Some had apparently been held for up to 30 years. The children, aged 4 to 13, were reportedly malnourished and suffered from skin diseases. Reports said soliders were led to the camps by two youths who had been born in capitivity and deserted. But reports also said that some of those "rescued" were reluctant to leave, and even "resisted." No shots were fired in the raids, which were carried out along the Rio Tambo in Sector Five of Pangoa district, Satipo province, Junín region. One of the "rescued" women was pregnant, and may have been held in sexual slavery. The children and adults alike worked cultivating coca leaf. Anti-terrorism police commander Gen. Jose Baella said that some of the adults were abducted between 20 and 30 years ago from Puerto Ocopa and nearby towns in Junín, back when the rebel movement was still strong. Deputy defense minister Iván Vega said Sendero is believed to hold at least 200 more captive in the VRAE. (El Correo, Aug. 6; AP, AFP, Aug. 1; La Rioja, July 30; El Comercio, July 28)
Colombia surpassed Peru last year in land under coca cultivation, resuming its number one position for the first time since 2012. The latest annual report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) finds that territory under coca cultivation dropped 14% in Peru, from 49,800 hectares in 2013 to 42,900 in 2014—the smallest area under cultivation since 1998. Colombia meanwhile experienced a 44% jump from 48,000 hectares to 69,000. Peru made gains against coca in the Upper Huallaga Valley, while coca fields expanded in Colombia's Putumayo, Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare regions—all on the frontier lands of plains and rainforest east of the Andes. The findings do not necessarily mean that Colombia is now the world's top cocaine producer, as much of Peru's crop is more mature and higher yielding, having never been subjected to eradication. While Peru eradicates in the Upper Huallaga, it resists US pressure to do so in a second coca cultivation zone, the Apurímac-Ene Valley, for fear of inflaming peasant unrest. (AP, UNODC, July 15; UNODC, July 2)
Since Colombia's FARC guerillas called off their unilateral ceasefire following a military air-strike last month, peace talks with the government have resumed in Havana. As the new phase of talks opened May 25, FARC leaders appealed to the government to instate a bilateral ceasefire. (EFE, May 25) But the very next day, government forces carried out a mixed land and air assault on a camp of the FARC's 18th Front along the Río Chimirindó, in Riosucio municipality, in the Pacific coastal region of Chocó—leaving 41 guerillas dead. Among the dead was the 18th Front's commander, Román Ruiz, authorities said. (El Teimpo, May 26) The next day, Colombia's air force carried out new strikes, targeting the 4th Front of the FARC's Magdalena Medio Bloc at Alto la Cruz hamlet, Segovia municipality, Antioquia. Ten guerillas were killed in the strikes—which came as the climax of a three-day operation in the area that authorities said left 36 guerillas dead. (El Tiempo, May 27)
At least 18 FARC fighters were killed May 22 in an air-strike on a camp near the coastal village of Guapi in Colombia's southwest region of Cauca. The strike came little more than a month after President Juan Manuel Santos ended a suspension of aerial bombing in response to a guerilla attack that killed 11 soldiers. The army said the aim of the air-strike was intended to kill "Javier el Chugo," second-in-command of the FARC’s 29th front, although it wasn't immediately clear if he was among the dead. (Colombia Reports, May 22) The FARC responded to the bombardment by announcing its own suspension of a unilateral ceasefire the guerillas had declared in December. A statement from the FARC command said: "We did not seek the suspension of the unilateral and indefinite ceasefire proclaimed on Dec. 20, 2014 as a humanitarian gesture to de-escalate the conflict, but the incoherence of the Santos government has done it, through 5 months of ground and air offensives against our structures throughout the country." (Colombia Reports, May 20)