In the aftermath of last month’s failed mercenary incursion against Venezuela and the failure to prevent the Iranian fuel shipments after another barrage of ‘maximum pressure’ and threats, the US has announced that it will send troops of the Special Force Assistance Brigade to Colombia ‘to combat drug trafficking’ and ‘ensure peace’. One of the main focal points of their efforts will be areas along the border with Venezuela.
According to the statement issued on Wednesday by the US Embassy in Colombia, a specialized brigade of the United States Army will deploy to Colombia in June to ‘support peace and the fight against drug trafficking’ in areas hit by violence, crime and poverty. The deployment involves troops of the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), which already has forces deployed to the Caribbean as part of a force to ‘counter narco-trafficking’ (and attempt to enforce a maritime blockade against Venezuela). The US already has hundreds of military personnel, as well as possibly at least as many contractors, in Colombia.
It is the first time that the brigade has been deployed to a Latin American country, a fact that according to the US Embassy “reaffirms once again the commitment of the United States to Colombia, its best ally and friend in the region.”
“SFAB’s mission in Colombia is an opportunity to show our mutual commitment against drug trafficking and support for regional peace, respect for sovereignty and the lasting promise to defend shared ideals and values,” the commander in chief of the United States Southern Command (Southcom), Admiral Craig Faller, was quoted as saying.
SFAB is a specialized unit of the United States Army formed to advise and assist operations in allied nations. The mission in Colombia will begin in early June and last for several months, during which the focus will mainly be on the ‘Future Zones’ (Zonas Futuro) defined by the Colombian Government. The Future Zones strategy is a plan of the Government of Colombian President Iván Duque, which allows the State to intervene comprehensively, with security, justice and social investment programs, in the regions most affected by violence, crime and poverty.
The initiative will be developed in five regions of the country: the Pacific of Nariño (southwest); the Catatumbo region, bordering Venezuela; Bajo Cauca and southern Córdoba (northwest), Arauca (also located on the eastern border) and Chiribiquete and nearby National Natural Parks, in the Amazon, which are the areas with the largest coca crops in the country.
The Colombian Defence Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, and the commander of the Military Forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro, have said that for the Colombian Government, the fight against drug trafficking is a priority shared with the United States, as it is one of the main engines of violence that affects communities and social leaders.
According to the report “Dynamics of the armed confrontation and its humanitarian and environmental impact” presented on Tuesday by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (Fundación Ideas para la Paz – FIP), the murders of social leaders in Colombia grew by 53% in the first four months of 2020, and forced displacement also increased by 5%. The study details that 16 leaders were killed in January, 11 in February, 13 in March and 9 in April for a total of 49, while in the first four months of 2019 there were 32. (LINK)
Apart from the proximity of many of the ‘Future Zones’ to the Venezuelan border, the zones have been problematic for the residents and their militarization has done nothing to improve their situation up to now. They were originally established as ‘Strategic Zones for Comprehensive Intervention’, which was subsequently changed to a more benign sounding ‘Consolidation and Rehabilitation Zones’; such designation granted exorbitant powers to the central government and the military to limit democracy and fundamental freedoms in the areas affected, for which reason they were declared unenforceable by the Constitutional Court in 2003. Faced with this, the Presidency decided to simply rename them ‘Future Zones’.
The announcement occurs against a backdrop of ongoing assassinations of Indigenous, rural and other community leaders, as well as of demobilized FARC members who have abided by all terms of the peace accord only to be hunted down once they demobilized, surrendered their weapons and registered in the transition zones.
The frequency and systematic nature of the assassinations was confirmed by a report released last month by Coordinación Colombia, Europa, Estados Unidos, an umbrella group for NGOs and other civil society organizations from Colombia, Europe and the US. (The report is available here)
The report also notes that the conditions generated by the declaration of the State of Economic, Social and Ecological Emergency throughout the national territory (Presidential Decree 417 of 17 March 2020) and the imposition of severe measures on the population such as mandatory isolation in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has not prevented the persistence of serious violations of human rights and the oppression of manifestations of citizen dissatisfaction with the government.
Since the 6th of March, the date the first Covid-19 case in the country was confirmed, at least 10 ex-combatants who signed the peace have been killed in Sucre, Putumayo, Chocó, Tolima and Meta. During the same period (6 March to mid-April), 21 social leaders were assassinated, generally while they were in their homes in compliance with the quarantine measures. In some cases they were taken from their homes by armed men to later appear assassinated in other places by the usual ‘unknown’ or ‘indeterminate’ hitmen, who have been able to move freely around the heavily militarized zones amid the mobility restrictions that have been imposed on the rest of the community.
In these cases the Public Security Forces have been completely ineffective in counteracting the activities of illegal armed groups, even in zones that have been declared a high priority where the forces have a heavy presence, a point emphasized in the report which states:
“It is of great concern for this platform, that despite the early warning alerts issued by the United Nations, as well as by Church organizations, about continued human rights violations, and the reports of confinements, restrictions on the mobility of the communities and displacements, in Carmen del Darién, Alto Baudas, Southern Córdoba, Bajo Cauca, Roberto Payán and Tumaco, due to confrontations between illegal armed groups and their terror campaigns against local communities, it is surprising that: ‘the authorities always seem to be the last to know, in spite of the gigantic apparatus and budget destined for military intelligence, and they limit their response to a declaration that they will visit the area to verify the complaints.’”
It is evident that, being located in the regions where the links where the Public Force and the narco-paramilitary structures appear to be most consolidated, the Future Zones have not stopped human rights abuses or the persecution and extermination of social and community leaders and organizations that oppose the government’s objectives.
In these circumstances, the report by Coordinación Colombia, Europa, Estados Unidos emphasizes the urgency of implementing the Collective Protection Program for community leaders, organizations and social movements as agreed in the Final Peace Agreement with the FARC-EP in 2016. Rural communities and social movements have been demanding the implementation of the Peace Accord, and most importantly the provisions of the Accord designed to directly address the factors that are generating violence against the social leaders (such as dismantling of paramilitary structures, a major overhaul of State security agencies, revision of military doctrines based on the notion of an internal enemy, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition and guarantees for the free exercise of social protest and the participation of communities).
Nothing in the latest announcement acknowledges and confronts the evident collusion and delegated role of controlling and disciplining communities by violence and terror through paramilitary groups. Following on from his predecessors, the Duque Government is stubbornly resisting the dismantling of the paramilitary groups and the investigation of their patrons, collaborators and benefactors. Among other actions, three years after its creation the government is still preventing the National Commission for Security Guarantees from agreeing on the necessary actions to be taken and following up on the plan to dismantle the paramilitary structures.
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