Friday, October 19, 2018
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Ecuador’s northern border: the FARC
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
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An absence of Colombian authorities allows guerrillas to control border with Ecuador.

The Colombian military’s March 1 massacre of Colombian guerrillas and three Mexican students on Ecuadorian soil opened up new dimensions about a complex reality of security along the border, an issue Ecuador has been familiar with for years.

Since 2005, there have been 17 incursions of the Colombian army into Ecuadorian territory. One of the most serious occurred in early November 2007, when Colombian helicopters bombed camps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the Ecuadorian village of Yanamaru, in the eastern jungle province of Sucumbios, which borders Colombia.

The previous Colombian incursions had killed at least six Ecuadorians near the San Miguel River, which separates Sucumbios from the Colombian department of Putumayo.

Even though Colombian officials had admitted the operation in the Binational Border Commission, the neighboring country did not repair the damages or pay reparations to the victims’ relatives.

Toxic fumigation
Ecuador and Colombia had also become embroiled in a tense standoff over the Colombian government’s aerial fumigations of coca crops — an eradication tactic it had used since 1999.

“The planes crossed the border and fumigated in our territory,” Froilán Canticuz, director of the Awa indigenous community in Mataje, denounced before the Interinstitutional Committee Against Fumigations, an Ecuadorian umbrella group of human rights and civil society organizations. “We had to put signs up above the trees so they knew they were in Ecuador.”

According to the committee, the fumigations damaged crops and the health of the residents along the border, especially in the jungle province of Sucumbios and the northern coastal province of Esmeraldas. There was a slow exodus from these provinces to other cities, especially the Amazon city of Lago Agrio.

This was in addition to the thousands of Colombians who fled their country’s internal armed conflict. According to the government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 250,000 Colombians living in Ecuador who are eligible for refugee status. Ecuadorian authorities have 50,000 requests for refugee status and less than 20,000 have been accepted.

In 2002, the Interinstitutional Committee, or CIF, requested that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights provide protection to these border communities.

After the March 1 offensive by the Colombian military, the CIF urged the Ecuadorian government to file a claim against Colombia before the International Court of Justice in the Hague for the damages it allegedly caused by the fumigations.

Ironically, neither the fumigations nor the attack have forced the Colombians to take control of the 700-kilometer (438-mile) border. Ecuadorian Defense Minister Wellington Sandoval recently said that “Ecuador’s northern border is the FARC.”

FARC territory
Many Ecuadorian villages near Colombia are either bordering FARC controlled territory or are near a FARC base.

With the absence of the Colombian state in that area, those who want to carry out any activity in the border area must speak with the FARC: small-scale traders from Ecuador who cross over the border need its permission; village authorities and Ecuadorian parish leaders must speak with the guerrillas to regulate activity near their borders.

Even nongovernmental organizations that work in the area and want to hold meetings in Colombian territory must have permission from the FARC, according to reports from the International Peace Observatory, the CIF and the Regional Human Rights Advising Foundation, organizations that work constantly along the border.

Trade with the FARC is also notorious.

“They come and buy products from the campesinos; that doesn’t mean that the campesinos are part of the FARC,” said Paco Chuji, president of the Sucumbios Federation of Organizations of Kichwa Nationality.

This dynamic has led the Colombian government to adopt the theory that the FARC receive support from Ecuador and launch strikes from within Ecuador, an idea that would involve Ecuador in the Colombian conflict.

Since 1998, the implementation of the US-backed Plan Colombia has led Ecuador to position more troops along its border.

“It costs us US$300 million a year to guard the border that Colombia doesn’t guard, and it’s not enough. No one helps us,” said Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

On the other hand, Ecuador’s military presence has changed daily life for the indigenous communities along the border, those who feel the brunt of the conflict, who have to suffer mistreatment by soldiers.

One example is what happened in Yanamaru on Nov. 5. After a Colombian incursion, the Ecuadorian army robbed some food and domestic items, according to a report presented to the Sucumbios Public Defender’s Office.

“Things will not be solved with more soldiers,” said Chuji, but the military presence along Ecuador’s border with Colombia will continue for a while to come unless Colombia resolves its conflict with negotiations, or if the FARC no longer controls the border.

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