Looking Back on 2013 in Colombia, From Redactions to Resolutions

As we approach the end of the year, Red Hot Burning Peace takes the opportunity to report on some overlooked stories from the last couple of months and tie up some loose ends, covering President Santos' apology to the comunidad de Paz de San Jose de Apartado, Drummond's fine, Petro's ongoing battle for reinstatement, and the current FARC ceasefire.
Luke Finn 12/26/2013

As is traditional among bloggers and journalists, in the aftermath of a strenuously enjoyed Christmas, the Red Hot Burning Peace Blog will be engaging in a certain amount of housekeeping this week, tidying up interesting stories that have not received the attention they deserved, before it makes its I'll-definitely-quit-smoking-this-time New Year’s Resolutions.

Santos Apologizes to the Comunidad de Paz de San Jose de Apartadó

2292Christmas Lights at Plaza Bolivar, site of Bogota protests. Image: El Tiempo

As befits the season, some positive news: On the December 10, the International Day of Human Rights, President Santos made a speech at the Casa de Nariño, apologizing to the Comunidad de Paz de San Jose de Apartadó for what he referred to as “unjust accusations” made by the previous government—that of Álvaro Uribe. In February of 2005 there was a massacre in the village of Mulatos, where eight Community members were murdered (including three children, one only 18 months old) by members of the paramilitary group the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia in collaboration with members of the Colombian National Army (7th Division, 17th Brigade, stationed in Carepa, to be exact—and its worth being exact when directing this level of disgust and contempt). Following the massacre, Colombian military officers repeatedly claimed the massacre had been committed by FARC guerrillas to stop people from leaving the Community. They then used false testimonies to back up this claim. The then-President Uribe made the further accusation that the Peace Community, its leaders and allies, were in fact protecting the FARC and giving them refuge. All these claims were false, and were used in an attempt to cover up yet another war crime committed by the Colombian National Army.

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An investigation by the Prosecutor General's office resulted in the symbolic sacrifice of Capitan Guillermo Gordillo Sanchez, now sentenced to 20 years in prison, deflecting a more systematic investigation of the 17th Brigade's relationship with paramilitary groups. Years later, in 2012, the Constitutional Court ordered the office of the President to retract and apologize for the constant stigmatization of the Comunidad de Paz, an emblematic community with strict principals of non-violence and communal work.

Santos's speech consisted of that apology and retraction (though he did not go so far as to actually invite any community members to hear it). However, the Constitution Court Order (Auto No. 164/12) also requires:

· A “procedure to avoid future accusations against [the Community], such as the establishment of a direct channel of communication”

·  The establishment of a “Commission of Evaluation of Justice”

·  A “collective plan of prevention for the security and integrity of the Community and their accompaniers”

·  A “transparent procedure to address the complaints of the Community”

·  The “establishment of a procedure to revise and apply the principles of International Humanitarian Law, which also respects the constitutional duty of the armed forces and the rights of the Peace Community”

These elements have not been implemented as of yet.


The privately owned, Alabama-based, and famously litigious coal miners Drummond Company has developed a *redacted* reputation in Colombia, especially amongst human rights activists, for their *redacted* and *redacted* activities, where they have been closely linked to *redacted* groups. It is therefore with great *redacted* and Christmas *redacted* that I can report on the recent decision by Colombia's Ministry of the Environment to fine Drummond 6,965 million Pesos (roughly equivalent to 3.6 million dollars, or a day’s take from Drummonds operation at their El Cerrejon mine) for dumping around 3,000 tons of coal into the sea at their port in Magdalena, near the tourist resort of Santa Marta. The dumping was spotted by lawyer, journalist, and blogger Jose Alejandro Arias, who is currently wearing bulletproof vests and has special protection provided by the police due to threats against his person since he publicized the incident on his blog, although clearly any suggestion that the threats and incident are connected are *redacted.*

The money itself, as it stands, will hardly make a dent in Drummonds profit margin, although if they are forced to change their port operations and stop exports for even a matter of weeks, the monetary cost of the “mistake” (speculation that the dumping of coal in the Caribbean was in fact standard operating procedure is *redacted*) will rise. However, the fine is a landmark moment, especially for the Ministry of the Environment—the most poorly funded of all the ministries—as it represents the largest fine ever given in Colombia for environmental damage, and orders Drummond Company to help clean up the damage done in the Santa Marta bay.

I will be sure to follow the case closely, as this *redacted* company is *redacted* *redacted.*


I wrote last week about the case of Mayor Petro of Bogotá being removed from office and barred for 15 years by Procurador Ordonez. Protests have continued, although have naturally gotten a smaller as time goes on and as everyone flees Bogotá for Christmas. President Santos has refused to back either Petro or Ordonez, a move indicative of his government's shift toward a technocratic rather than openly political position, and made in response to a political climate in Colombia that grew increasingly polarized throughout 2013. Petro's appeal at the Fiscalia is ongoing, and he is currently reaching out for international support, especially in the United States (he has already received words of support from U.S. Acting-Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker), across Latin America, and now in Europe. In The New York Times last Thursday he wrote a piece entitled “Don't Trash Colombia's Democracy” (cringing puns should really be left to English tabloids), entreating Santos to support him.


In another bit of good news, the FARC again announced their now-traditional Christmas Ceasefire, which began on December 15 and will last in theory for 30 days. Just as traditionally, the truce was broken by the 36th Front the day after the ceasefire was announced. The 36th Front, led by explosives expert Ovidio Antonio Mesa Ospina, alias "Anderson," bombed the town of Anori in Antioquia, injuring five. The same Front broke last year’s ceasefire too, then claiming that they had not heard the announcement.

The ceasefire can be seen as a gesture of goodwill by the FARC around the peace talks—one part negotiation tactic, one part public relations strategy—especially given that the National Armed Forces will not be reciprocating with a ceasefire of their own. Depending on how it holds, the move will also demonstrate the level of control the FARC leadership has over its Fronts in the field. Though the 36th Front is a major source of income for the FARC, Anderson is still a junior Commander and has not moved up the ranks as he may have liked within the Iván Ríos Bloc of Urabá; the bomb is probably a message to FARC leadership. If the FARC leadership fails to maintain a ceasefire, they send a signal to all negotiating parties of their lack of control. The question will be asked: if the leadership can't hold a ceasefire for 30 days, how exactly will they manage a demobilization of their troops?   

And with that, we end 2013, looking forward to a very interesting 2014, filled with elections, popular movements, and the possible end to the world's oldest insurgency campaign. Salud, Cheers, and have a good New Year. 


Luke Finn is a writer and international accompanier with Fellowship of Reconciliation Peace Presence in Colombia. He graduated from the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester. Follow @Peace_Presence and on Facebook.

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