The two-year peace process between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the Colombian government survived a January 31 deadline set by the Pastrana administration on the previous extension of the arrangement whereby government forces have agreed to absent themselves from five municipalities in southern Colombia. This time, it has been extended for an additional eight months. The search for a similar peace arrangement with the ELN (National Liberation Army) went forward, but as of this writing in mid-March is at a critical impasse.
Even as peace agreements are pursued, paramilitary offensives continue in many parts of Colombia. Long affected by encroaching paramilitarism has been the city of Barrancabermeja, in north central Colombia, where the situation has been especially critical in recent weeks (see article by Régulo Madero, president of CREDHOS, p.3). Yet it is especially in southern and southwestern Colombia where the paramilitary forces have opened new fronts in the last year or so. These are areas targeted by Plan Colombia's "push into the south," the fumigation-and-helicopter-based crop eradication program that has great potential for bringing U.S. military advisers and U.S. corporate military consultants into direct confrontation with FARC forces (see p.19).
Nationwide the crisis of human rights and international humanitarian law has worsened as never before, with the toll of politically-motivated violent deaths climbing from 1997 to date from 10 persons killed each day to 20 persons killed each day (see p.2). Even so, Colombians of all walks of life continue to pursue alternatives to war. These include local and regional elected officials. In March 2001 the four governors, representing their own departments of Putumayo, Cauca, Nariño, and Tolima (who were also speaking on behalf of the governors of Caquetá and Huila) visited Washington, D.C., to protest the fumigation and the military thrust of Plan Colombia, and to promote alternative policies (see p.2).
In addition to addressing the above, this issue features interviews with Afro-Colombian leader Carlos Rosero, about how the Afro-Colombian communities have been affected, and with human rights workers Marta Ascuntar and Fernando Sánchez of Cali (p.14), as well as an article by Luis Gilberto Murillo (p.12), the former governor of Chocó, about Colombia's African roots.
As usual, a newsletter such as this can barely begin to convey the Colombia's complex situation and the dramatic humanitarian crisis. The resource list (p.20) suggests starting points for further research. Delegations such as those organized for May (p.19) and July by Witness for Peace offer the chance to see the situation for oneself.
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