Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on July 18 announced details of an operation to seize nearly 278,000 hectares said to have been illegally usurped by the FARC in Meta region, on the eastern plains. "Operation Yari" was led by the military's elite Task Force Omega, although it was not clear if any actual combat was involved. Santos said the lands were a mixture of private predios (collective peasant holdings) and "vacant" state lands. While Santos named the FARC's East and Southern fronts as controlling the lands, there was some ambiguity as to how they had been usurped. He said: "These lands had been acquired illegally, because the titles were not legal or because they were occupations of vacant lands" that pertain to the state. He said the former predios would be turned over to the government's Banco de Tierras for redistribution to expropriated campesinos, as mandated by the terms of the peace process now underay. He said the lands were used by the FARC both for cattle ranching and processing cocaine. Many of the lands were in La Macarena, an area the government has especially targeted for coca eradication. (MiRegión, La Macarena, El Espectador, Bogotá, Radio Caracol, Reuters, July 17)
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 to 2014—the smallest area under cultivation since 1998. Colombia meanwhile experienced a 44% jump from 48,000 hectares to 69,000. Peru made gains againt 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)
Flights to the Galápagos islands were canceled June 12 and Ecuadoran soldiers fired tear gas to clear roadblocks as residents staged a nine-hour general strike to protest cost-cutting legislation that will cut subsidies they call essential to meet high living costs in the remote territory. The strike effectively shut down the two main islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. Protests in the archipelago have been mounting since June 8, when Ecuador's National Assembly overturned the 1978 Special Regime Ordinance for Galápagos Province, giving public employees on the islands a wage subsidy that effectively doubled their salaries. Under the reform, the 25,000 inhabitants of the islands, which lie 600 miles from Ecuador's coast, also lose the right to fly free of charge to and from the mainland. (El Universo, June 13; Ecuador Inmediato, AP, June 12; El Comercio, June 11)
War Resisters' International (WRI) isused a statement June 12 expressing concerned for the safety of two of its members in Venezuela. The statement notes that o May 13, the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, publicly shared details of the travel arrangements of WRI member Rafael Uzcátegui of the Program for Education and Action on Human Rights (PROVEA), as well as those of Carlos Correa of the activist network Espacio Público. The information was shared in Cabello's weekly TV program Con el Mazo Dando, in which human rights defenders iare frequently disparaged and details of their whereabouts revealed. Among other details, Cabello announced that Uzcátegui and Correa were travelling to Chile to meet the former coordinator of PROVEA. "This information had only been shared in private online communications, so there is cause to believe these communications are being monitored by the authorities," WRI writes. "Sharing such information puts Rafael, Carlos, and their friends and colleagues at risk. It arms militant government sympathizers with the information they would need to intimidate or attack them."
Colombia's Congress voted on June 3 to limit presidents to a single term, a measure backed by President Juan Manuel Santos. The presidential term limit undoes a law passed by Santos' predecessor and rival, Alvaro Uribe, and reverts to the term limits that were in place before 2005. Santos ran against his former mentor in 2010 and was re-elected last year but vowed to get rid of the constitutional reform passed under Uribe's leadership. The measure passed amid strong opposition from the Democratic Center party, led by Uribe. Surveys show that more than 70% of Colombians disfavor presidential re-elections due to abuse of power. Santos split from Uribe when Santos opened up talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2012.
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)
Peru's authorities can't seem to put out the last flicker of the Sendero Luminoso insurgency. A generation ago, the Maoist guerillas seemed capable of toppling the government but are now largely confined to a remote pocket of jungle known as the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM). But that happens to be a top coca cultivation zone, affording the insurgency access to funds. Now, authorities claim to have uncovered evidence that the neo-Senderistas are in league with one of the re-organized Colombian cocaine cartels, ironically known as the "Cafeteros" (coffee-producers). "For the first time in an objective and concrete manner, the state can corroborate the link between drug trafficking and terrorism in the VRAEM," Ayacucho regional anti-drug prosecutor Mery Zuzunaga told Cuarto Poder TV.