Colombia’s government has made several moves during the coronavirus crisis that could severely threaten the country’s peace process and prospects of peace in general.
It would only be natural if the pandemic consumed attention of the administration of President Ivan Duque at the cost of the peace process that began in 2016, but this hasn’t been exactly the case.
With the support of the government of US President Donald Trump, the government has actively pursued policies that severely increase the chances of armed conflict reigniting, according to peace activists.
Defendamos la Paz speaks out against plans for the reforms of the Peace Agreement, which the government and the ruling party failed to obtain through legislation, to become a reality through the back door, while the citizenry remains focused on the pandemic.
Peace organization Defendamos La Paz
Denying victims rights
During the emergency, Duque’s peace commissioner, Miguel Ceballos, implemented a policy that sought the individual demobilization of members of illegal armed groups instead of collective demobilization processes.
The policy is virtually a repetition of the former policy of Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, which benefits war propaganda while completely depriving victims of their rights to justice, truth and reparation.
The individual demobilization of guerrillas, paramilitaries and narcos allows the government to present each demobilization as a result in the war while ignoring the illegal armed groups’ recruitment of new fighters.
While extracting intelligence from these individuals and using them for war propaganda purposes, the government shields the demobilized members of illegal armed groups from compensating their victims or contributing to clarifying their crimes.
So far, the clarification of crimes committed during the armed conflict has largely exposed how the state has inflated guerrillas’ responsibility for the violence while minimizing its own.
Peace talks with the ELN
Neither Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group, the ELN, nor the government appear to have any serious interest in talks that could lead to a peace process with the guerrillas.
The government did make a superficial effort to reestablish informal contact with the ELN by appointing two so-called “peace promotors,” but this was quickly rejected by the rebels.
The ELN appears to be putting its money on using the coronavirus crisis to forge a bilateral ceasefire that would alleviate the situation for inhabitants of regions controlled by the guerrillas until Duque steps down in 2022. The administration, however, has shown no interest in this.
At the request of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the ELN declared a unilateral ceasefire in April, but highlighted how the military ignored this request and continued to carry out attacks.
The ELN then said it would adopt a “defensive strategy” in an apparent attempt to make Duque look like the main aggressor.
With Colombia’s economy tanking, the guerrillas can only win as soaring unemployment will make recruitment only easier.
Peace process with FARC
The CNGS is supposed to formulate policies that would allow the dismantling of structures formed by paramilitary death squads, the private sector and public officials that have existed for decades and are by far the main violator of human rights in Colombia.
This commission was supposed to be meeting monthly since 2017 already, but has only met a few times in arguably the grossest violation of the peace deal.
The biggest obstacle appears to be that Duque and his political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, are being investigated for conspiring with narcos to rig the 2018 elections.
In fact, there are indications that Duque’s far-right Democratic Party would be nothing but a fringe party had it not been for paramilitary groups and narcos.
Meanwhile, hundreds of human rights defenders and community leaders, as well as demobilized FARC guerrillas, have been assassinated during the peace process.
Killing social leaders / political persecution
The lockdown to slow down the spread of the coronavirus has confined human rights defenders to their homes, while guerrillas, narcos and paramilitaries have continued the extermination of activists.
According to conflict monitor Indepaz, at least 70 social leaders and 20 FARC members taking part in the peace process have been assassinated so far this year, in what appears to be an extermination campaign.
The killing of social leaders is terrorizing entire communities while the persistent killing of demobilized FARC members spurred the former guerrillas’ former political chief, to rearm.
Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa additionally has been accused of abusing his power by ordering criminal investigations against Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez and opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, some of Duque’s main critics that could result in at least five years in prison.
Other social leaders critical of the government and journalists have been arrested on apparently trumped up charges while journalists have been detained for no reason.
Last but not least, journalists, NGOs, politicians and the Supreme Court have reportedly been spied upon by the National army.
While in the middle of the pandemic, The US Embassy and the US Army’s Southern Command announced the deployment of so-called Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), which will carry out joint missions in what Duque dubbed “Future Zones,” war-torn regions historically abandoned by the state and controlled by the FARC until their demobilization in 2017.
The sending in of US soldiers is part of a gradual destruction of a counternarcotics strategy supported by the United Nations.
Duque’s five “Future Zones” had already excluded 12 other war torn areas which had been included in the peace deal to receive development aid.
The sending in of US soldiers to support forced eradication efforts is diametrically opposed to the government’s obligation to seek peaceful initiatives to include these regions in the legal economy through the investment in sustainable agriculture.
The mission is even more controversial because the soldiers will be assisting Colombian task forces accused of having ties to traffickers.
The announcement last month was rejected by farmers organizations, counternarcotics experts and social organizations who demand the implementation of the peace deal, not an escalation of violence.
Evading international scrutiny
While in the epicenter of the pandemic, the extension of Colombia’s contract with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the contract to monitor progress of the strategy to reduce cocaine production by helping coca farmers enter the legal economy through road infrastructure, the granting of land titles and the substitution of coca crops, has silently been ignored.
Even before taking office in August 2018, Duque’s former Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said he would stop this so-called PNIS program.
The government is legally obliged to continue this program, but has defunded it, with disastrous consequences for farmers who voluntarily removed coca, only to be left starving to death.
Without independent verification Duque will be able to claim to be executing the program without any independent organization being able to verify the claims of the government that has become notorious for its disinformation.
More deaths is more good news
The government has stepped up bombarding media with combat results instead of reporting on the progress in the implementation of peace policies.
Following the rules of war propaganda, the Defense Minister has reported all kinds of arrests and killings of alleged members of illegal armed groups that are almost impossible to verify because of the lockdown.
Coincidentally, the Defense Ministry reports have also helped to make ongoing complaints about the government’s alleged failures to attend the coronavirus pandemic more invisible, not to mention the incessant complaints about military corruption.