Colombia. During the year, the government was able to note further important successes in the fight against the left-wing guerrilla FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), which has fought for 50 years. In recent years, the military has succeeded in tracking down and killing several senior FARC leaders. In early November, the government announced that during “Operation Odysseus” they succeeded in killing none other than the group’s top leader Alfonso Cano during an escape between the cities of Suárez and Morales in the province of Cauca in southwestern Colombia. From several directions, calls were made to President Juan Manuel Santos to seize the opportunity and start peace talks, which the President however rejected with reference to the fact that the FARC is terrorists. No peace will be heard from FARC either, but the day after Cano’s death, the guerrilla secretariat announced that 52-year-old Rodrigo Londoño, alias “Timochenko”, FARC:
According to Countryaah official site, the military’s success in the fight against the FARC during Santo’s presidential term has dramatically increased the president’s popularity. According to an opinion poll shortly after Cano’s death, he was supported by a full 83%. Santos said he wanted to defeat the “enemy” until 2014, and instead called organized crime the country’s biggest problem. But assessors believed that FARC would pass through this crisis just as they have done so many times before. Kidnappings and attacks on the energy sector increased, for example. during the year.
Santo’s popularity also characterized the regional elections on October 30. His main political opponent, former president Álvaro Uribe, saw his candidates defeated in several cities. The election of Gustavo Petro as the country’s second most important political office, the mayor’s post in the capital Bogotá, was not only a major setback for Uribe’s favorite Enrique Peñalosa, but also an important political signal to the entire war-torn country – Petro is a former guerrilla warrior who put down arms and became civilian politician. President Santos was not late to cite Petro as an example to follow for the country’s remaining leftist guerrillas. In the governor elections held at the same time, Partido Liberal (PL) became the big winner with a win in six provinces, while Partido de la U won the most mayor posts.
In November, tens of thousands of university students went on demonstrations in the country’s largest cities in protest of what they perceived as a threatening privatization of higher education. The demonstrations were clearly inspired by the long student strike in Chile and were interrupted only after a promise that the privatization plans were withdrawn. At the beginning of the year, Colombia was hit by heavy rains and floods, which only killed 100 people in April and left 70,000 homeless.
The peace process with ELN
In March 2016, it was announced that exploratory talks had taken place between the Colombian government and the ELN guerrilla. The talks were organized by Norway and several Latin American countries, among others, and led to a framework agreement for future peace negotiations. Until June 2018, five rounds of talks were conducted in Havana, Cuba. The government’s demand for unilateral ceasefire has been a central and difficult topic. The government broke the talks following an attack on a Bogotá police school on January 17, 2019 in which 21 people were killed, and President Duque has demanded extradition of ELN leaders who were in Havana.
The challenges of President Duque
Iván Duque Márquez was elected President of Colombia in 2018. President Duque’s political agenda places great emphasis on the country’s economic development and he has been prominent in his critical stance on the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla. Duque’s government has faced opposition and criticism from various teams during 2019 and the president is struggling with low confidence figures.
The discontent was expressed in large demonstrations that started on November 21 in Bogotá and lasted for several weeks, also in other parts of the country, gradually known as “21N”. The background for the demonstrations is complex, including pension and tax reform, violence against leaders of indigenous and civil society organizations and demobilized FARC guerrillas, limited implementation of the peace agreement, and a military attack on a FARC camp where child soldiers were held. In addition, the demonstrations fell into a broader picture of simultaneous popular uprising in several Latin American countries. Peaceful protesters from civil society, trade unions, the media, students and indigenous peoples were met by armed forces in the early days and a young man lost his life. This contributed to a stronger polarization between President Duque and the protesters. The President initiated talks to find a solution to the situation, at the same time as security measures have been sharpened and the right to demonstrations is limited. Towards the end of 2019, the situation calmed down somewhat, but there was still a great deal of tension associated with the outcome of the President’s dialogue initiative, as the underlying problems remained unresolved.