Friday, September 30, 2016

Yes to peace likely in Colombia on Sunday, but ... (Sept. 30, 2016)

Colombia is in full gear for the plebiscite on the peace accord with the FARC this weekend. Voters will be asked to give a yes or no answer to the question: "Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?" The accord must receive a majority of the votes, and 13 percent of the electorate must participate, in order for the agreement to be implemented.

The vote is expected to pass by a double digit margin -- the yes camp is projected to get between 55 and 66 percent according to the last polls published earlier this week, while the no camp would receive about 36.6 percent. (See Tuesday's post.)

The simplicity of the question belies the complicated feelings most Colombians have, however. Across the country, nearly everyone has experienced killings and kidnaps, bombings and displacement over the past half century of conflict – or knows someone who has, reports the Guardian.

In fact, while international players seem to approve of the deal almost across the political spectrum (from Argentina's Mauricio Macri to Cuba's Raúl Castro), Colombians have a deep ambivalence, notes the Financial Times. John Paul Rathbone says an unpleasant surprise result is certainly possible, and compares the mood in the country to that in the U.K. before the Brexit vote, in a piece that compares the two campaigns that seemed to obvious to outsiders. "The greater the international support for a Yes vote, the greater its sense of being condescended to — and the greater the vigour of its arguments that the complexities of Colombian history are being ignored."

La Silla Vacía breaks down the main players lobbying for and against the accords. Though most governors and mayors seem to be in favor of the agreement, not all are actively campaigning, notes La Silla Vacía in a separate piece.

The anti-peace accord campaign has been led by former President Álvaro Uribe, who basically argues that it amounts to amnesty for horrific crimes committed over the years. Yet he has managed to gather unlikely bedfellows from victims rights groups to wealthy ranchers, reports the Los Angeles Times

In fact, the most divided group is the direct victims of FARC violence, according to the Guardian.

"It's evident that after 50 years of deaths, massacres, kidnappings, recruitment of minors, terrorism, drug trafficking and millions of internally displaced, the Colombian people desire peace. We're all in favor of peace, but we are not all in favor of an agreement that, to end the conflict with the FARC, weakens our institutions and the rule of law, and permits crimes against humanity to remain without adequate sentences and those responsible to enter politics, with risks for the future of our democracy," writes Marta Lucía Ramírez in a New York Times español op-ed.

A major fear of the "No" camp, and many who do support the peace process, is whether the country can reach a peace with the FARC -- entailing significant concessions -- and yet remain at war due to the violence generated by criminal bands (BACRIM) and the ELN guerrilla force, reports La Silla Vacía. This piece looks at three regions where such fear is significant: Catacumbo, Nariño, and Córdoba.

Critics of the deal say a no vote would be a mandate for a renegotiation, but Havana talk leaders from both sides have categorically rejected that vision. Writing for La Silla Vacía, Rodrigo Uprimny challenges that vision, arguing that while legally feasible, a renegotiation would be politically inviable. Apart from the local factors -- namely FARC refusal to sit down again -- he points to the cases of North Ireland and Cyprus in particular as examples of the impact of popular support or rejection, respectively.

And the stories of both the people in favor and against are wrenching. La Silla Vacía profiles, for example, the story of a soldier who says those lobbying for war have no idea of the actual human cost entailed. El País profiles Liberal Party legislator Clara Rojas, who was famously kidnapped by the FARC in 2002. She emphasizes the integral nature of the accord, which cannot be separated into pieces as the anti-agreement camp angles to.

The New Republic focuses on the millions of internally displaced and how they've been impacted and affected dynamics of violence around the county. "Violence in Colombia bleeds through easy classifications. Many perpetrators in the Colombian conflict are themselves victims. The mercurial street gangs that have haunted Bogotá for a generation may not carry ideological pretensions, but they recruit from the improvised shantytowns that have sprouted up as refugees from the war-torn countryside settle along the city’s ever-expanding periphery. ... According to La Fundación Ideas para la Paz, a leading conflict research center and advocacy group, the persistent, overarching patterns of crime in Bogotá owe to the enduring link between those common pandilleros and the very militias that forced many of their parents to relocate in the first place."

El País emphasizes the involvement of a younger generation of Colombians in the campaign. Youth groups have sought to depoliticize the plebiscite -- which many fear is doubling as a referendum on President Juan Manuel Santos' administration -- and instead focus on the agreement itself.

FARC leader Felix Antonio Muñoz, known as Pastor Alape, said the group is not planning to emulate Cuban or Venezuelan models, despite holding the Castro brothers and Hugo Chávez as inspirations, reports the Miami Herald. Capitalism in Colombia is retrograde now, Muñoz emphasized a platform of rural development, using fallow lands, fighting corruption and ensuring that large-landowners pay taxes.

The treaty marks the end of the road for the FARC rebels, fighters must now figure out how to reintegrate into society, reports the New York Times which has some great pictures accompanying the piece.

If you're Colombian and undecided -- about a quarter of the population was at last count -- La Silla Vacía has a helpful quiz and a breakdown of the agreement's contents to help you decide.

News Briefs
  • The sudden decision to fully resume deportations of undocumented Haitian migrants attempting to enter the U.S. has split dozens of families who now have members on either side of the Mexico-U.S. border, reports the New York Times. The U.S. policy change aims at tightening the border in light of a wave of undocumented Haitian migrants coming from Brazil, but has caught men in Mexico while their wives and children were admitted to the U.S. (See Sept. 22's post.)
  • The number of migrants attempting to cross the border into the U.S. is set to match the 2014 records (see Monday's post.) Their paths -- mostly from Central America -- are heavily determined by human smugglers, who appear to be operating in a heavily organized criminal market, writes the Woodrow Wilson Center's Eric Olsen, based on interviews with migrants, conducted with Dr. Guadalupe Correa Cabrera in the Rio Grande Valley. "... The vast majority seem to arrive with the assistance of an “uncle” or “tio” or “guide” who brings them up through the various and constantly changing routes, and stashing them a “safe houses” along the way. Many migrants did not know where these houses are located, and sometimes are not sure what cities they had traveled through." His report looks at some of the deeper issues of the industry, including why the migrants are fleeing their homes and how most of the migrants at the Mexican border are unaware of just how hard the border crossing itself is.
  • The IADB together with a group of Latin American NGOs has launched a campaign towards an ambitious, but achievable, goal: to halve murder rates in the next decade. The groups, which include Igarapé Institute, Nossas Cidades, and Open Society Foundations, note that the region has the worlds' highest homicide rate, reports La Nación. But that can change, argue Robert Muggah and Nathalie Alvarado in El País. They suss out a series of factors that contributes to elevating violence in the region -- including social and economic inequality, youth unemployment, weak security and justice institutions, and the strong presence of organized crime. But the data also points to good news for policy makers, they say. Violence is concentrated in hot spots, and innovative solutions -- most multidimensional -- are popping up around Latin America.  
  • The effects of the Operation Car Wash investigation in Brazil are being felt in more ways than one. Politicians used to campaigning with deep (albeit dirty) pockets are suddenly forced obey new campaign finance caps, reports Wall Street Journal. The new landscape is affecting electoral races for this Sunday's municipal elections -- which the WSJ calls "bellwether contests" that will set the stage for the 2018 presidential election.
  • The U.N. has just tapped a high level public health physician to head up the organization's cholera efforts in Haiti, reports the Miami Herald. (See Sept. 20's post.) "Known for his organized mind, results-oriented style and willingness to take personal risks to achieve the task at hand, [David] Nabarro is known as the go-to guy who helps the United Nations respond to “really tricky situations,” as he put it."
  • Mexico's epidemic of disappearances has led to a new sad ritual in Veracruz -- families lined up to give blood for DNA samples to be matched against remains found in clandestine graves, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

  • Read more here:
  • A year after a disastrous landslide outside of Guatemala City killed at least 280 people in an informal community, little has changed in the country. Officials estimate that there are over 8,000 communities living at risk of floods, mudslides and other disasters, but who have not been moved, reports the Associated Press. (See briefs for Oct. 5, 2015.)
  • On the International Right to Know Day, the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expressión e Información released a report on a decade of access to information in Latin America. This year marks the ten year anniversary of an Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision that marked access to information as a human right. Since then several countries have advanced with legislation recognizing citizens' rights in this area, including Argentina and Paraguay, marks the report. And the work of civil society has been key in pushing this agenda. Speaking in Paraguay, Moisés Sánchez, the executive secretary of the Allianza, marked that access to information requires a paradigm shift in state administration, reports ABC. Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela have rated poorly in terms of access to public information according to the report, emphasizes El Impulso.
  • Journalists in Latin America work under pressure, and threats of violence, a situation that also needs to be taken into account in discussions of access to information and democracy, said Transparency International's  Fabiano Angelico, speaking in Paraguay this week, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • A Venezuelan shipping tycoon is paying the legal fees for President Nicolás Maduro's nephews, who have been charged in a U.S. court with conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine into the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. William Ruperti is underwriting their legal fees, as he does business with the government, including winning a multimillion-dollar contract from the state-owned oil company, recently.
  • Newsweek reports that Trump violated the Cuba embargo in 1998, spending at least $68,000 seeking business opportunities there.
  • The Guardian profiles a small subset of American expatriates in Mexico: Gringos for Trump -- more color than substance.
  • A public policy program in Peru managed to halve childhood stunting in just seven years, reversing a trend that was considered an innate characteristic for the country's indigenous population, reports the Guardian. The piece focuses on the multi-agency success story that channeled economic growth to reducing chronic child undernutrition. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Clandestine graves, homicides and corruption -- Mexico Briefs (Sept. 29, 2016)

News Briefs
  • Eleven victims of police sexual assault in the wake of a protest crackdown in 2006 are taking their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The case could complicate President Enrique Peña Nieto, who ordered the police attacks as governor of Mexico State. (See last Thursday's briefs.) The New York Times has a photo-essay of the women who suffered brutal sexual abuse, featuring their perspectives ten years afterwards.
  • The Mexican government's utterly botched investigation into the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students "contributed significantly to the erosion of public trust in the authorities," in a country where most Mexicans feel unsafe in their community and mistrust of police is high, reports InSight Crime. "This has been compounded by several factors including continuing indications of corruption among security forces, a general lack of accountability for security force abuses, persistently high levels of violence, and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the government to make serious efforts to determine the whereabouts of the thousands of people reported missing in the country." (See Monday'sTuesday's, and yesterday's briefs.)
  • The spotlight of the Iguala drew attention to a nation-wide epidemic of disappearances and a countryside riddled with clandestine graves. The lack of official response has driven an "improbable wave of widows, parents, siblings and friends of the disappeared assuming the role of amateur forensic anthropologists," reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Three Mexican priests were murdered in the same week (see Monday's briefs), a sign of general, widespread drug cartel violence, reports the Guardian. Over the past four years, 15 priests have been killed in Mexico, perhaps a sign of the obstacle they present for gangs seeking to control local power structures.
  • A $1.3 billion government program to hand out nearly 10.5 million televisions to Mexico's poor was rife with corruption, especially in the latter stages of the 2014-2015 implementation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • But let the Mexican free of corruption throw the first stone, said Peña Nieto inaugurating National Transparency Week. He said Mexican society is interwoven with corruption in all of its strata, reports Animal Político.
  • Mexico's mining industry is strengthening organized crime, according to a prominent activist heading the government's Commission for the Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples. Illegal production makes up nearly 10 percent of the country's gold industry, but legitimate mining operations also have links to the cartels -- which either control them outright or demand extortion payments from national and international operators, reports InSight Crime.
  • El Faro reports on a shelter for families displaced by gang violence in a semi-rural municipality of Caluco in El Salvador. Nineteen families have gathered over the past few weeks in the first shelter of its kind since the civil war, but local authorities are running out of supplies and there's been no attention from the national government, according to Carlos Martínez.
  • Three people were killed and the vice governor of Goiás state was injured in a campaign rally shooting in the central Brazilian state, reports Reuters. José Eliton, who was leading to become Itumbiara mayor in this Sunday's municipal elections was wounded, the latest in a spate of violence against municipal candidates. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • The violence against candidates in Rio, particularly, is stoking fears that the city's shadowy militias, linked to rogue police officers, are seeking to influence the vote in Sunday's elections, reports the AFP.
  • The Colombian peace accord is a front-runner for next week's Nobel Peace Prize, reports Reuters. The award would theoretically be shared by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, though winning could hinge on the results of a national plebiscite on the agreement this Sunday. (Full coverage of the pre-plebiscite tomorrow.)
  • Colombia's second-largest guerrilla force, the ELN, says they're really ready to start peace negotiations now. The process was formally announced in March, but has been stymied by the group's continued kidnappings and attacks on infrastructure, reports Reuters.
  • More than 80 police officers in Honduras have allegedly been working for Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), reports TeleSur.
  • The 2009 coup in Honduras opened a chapter for extremely questionable hydro-power deals, with projects receiving permits despite political conflicts of interest and bypassing community consultation mechansims, reports El Faro. "Since the 2009 coup d'etat, the successive administrations of Micheletti, Lobo and Hernández have granted 111 concessions for hydroelectric constructions. They also approved an incentives law that grants fiscal exceptions to those who develop these projects. Some of Honduras' most powerful families created "green" companies to develop hydrological projects in the midst of extremely poor communities. The state buys most of the energy produced."
  • A third of Argentina's population is poor, according to numbers released by President Mauricio Macri's revamped statistics office, reports El País. It's the first time in years the country has an official statistic measuring poverty, though its in line with private assessments. Macri campaigned last year on the promise to revamp Argentina's discredited statistics office. But the ensuing change in methodology means there's no opportunity for comparison to past measurements, according to Página 12
  • U.S. President Barack Obama's candidate for ambassador in Cuba has no chance of Senate approval, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Peruvian authorities say a remote indigenous community burned a woman alive earlier this month, accusing her of making people sick through witchcraft, reports the Associated Press
  • Sandra the orangutan changed Argentine jurisprudence last year, when a judge declared her a non-human person, which entitled her to some legal rights enjoyed by humans. But she remains in her concrete cell in a Buenos Aires zoo -- that has since been shut down, partially in recognition of its inhumane housing for animals. Transferring Sandra poses risks to her health, and though everybody seems to agree her habitation should be improved in the meantime, not much has been done, reports the Associated Press.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Maduro heralds talks with the U.S. (Sept. 28, 2016)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called for a new era of relations with the U.S. -- a marked shift from his usual allegations of coup plots from the imperialists to the north. Speaking on Venezuelan state television yesterday, Maduro lauded a meeting in Colombia with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, reports Reuters.

Maduro also said Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon would soon visit Venezuela, a follow-up to a June visit, which has not yet produced apparent results, according to the Associated Press.

Kerry and Maduro sat down on the sidelines of the Cartagena peace pact signing ceremony on Monday, though the meeting had been arranged two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.) The State Department said Kerry used to opportunity to express concern over economic and political tension in Venezuela.

But the 40 minute conversation doesn't herald a thaw in relations, but rather reflects international concerns that Venezuela is heading towards political and economic collapse, according to the NYT. 

The meeting also comes as Venezuela is increasingly isolated regionally -- from the Mercosur trade bloc, which will review its membership, and as rightward leaning governments from Argentina to Peru use the country to signal their human rights commitment. (See, for example, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's U.N. General Assembly speech, last Wednesday's briefs.)

Referendum aside: Venezuela's opposition called for mass rallies on Oct. 12 to push the government to hold a recall referendum this year. Pushing back against a National Electoral Council  (CNE) time-table that would have citizens vote on ousting Maduro next year, the MUD coalition called for daily protests against "unconstitutional" requirements for signature gathering efforts to validate the recall initiative, reports Reuters. The opposition aims to have the recall referendum this year, which, if successful, would trigger a new election to select Maduro's replacement. The CNE announcement last week set a timeframe that would push it to next year, but also demands that validation signatures be gathered from 20 percent of the electorate of each state, while the opposition argues that it should be of the national electorate. (See Monday's briefs, as well as last Friday's and Thursday's.)

Prodavinci has a historic vision of the 2004 referendum aimed at ousting then-president Hugo Chávez.

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Havana embassy chief, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in 50 years, reports the Miami Herald. But U.S. lawmakers opposed to normalization of relations with Cuba have promised to block the confirmation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An in-depth New Yorker piece by Jon Lee Anderson evaluates Obama's policy of opening up Cuba "by using seduction instead of force." The novel approach, which has led to a diplomatic thaw and a slow normalization of relations between the Cold War enemies over the past year and a half, built on a sea-change in Miami's exile community, he writes. The policy was based on three premises, said Obama. "No. 1 was, Cuba is a tiny, poor country that poses no genuine threat to the United States. No. 2, in this era of the Internet and global capital movements, is that openness is a more powerful change agent than isolation. ... No. 3 was the belief that, if you are interested in promoting freedom, independence, civic space inside of Cuba, then the power of things like remittances to give individual Cubans some cash, even if the government was taking a cut, that then allowed them to start a barbershop, or a cab service, was going to be the engine whereby individual Cubans—not directed by the United States, not directed by the C.I.A., not through some grand conspiracy, but Cuban people—who now have their own little shop and have a little bit of savings can start expecting more." The piece reviews some of the background to the actual dialogue between Obama and Castro, and how Obama's visit earlier this year provoked a backlash among the Communist leadership on the island. "It’s not a cure-all. It’s a start. And if U.S. policy then simply repeats some of the mistakes of the past, it has no force, then it just looks like cosmetics and manipulation. If, on the other hand, what we do seems to reflect examination of our own past and where we’ve been right and where we’ve been wrong, then the possibilities of more allies, more support, stronger pro-American sentiment are a whole lot greater. And one of the things that you can’t always measure but I’m absolutely confident is true is that world opinion matters. It is a force multiplier," said Obama.
  • Mexico's attorney general's office has racked up more debts than achievements in the investigation into the 43 Ayotzinapa students' disappearance. On the second anniversary of the crime, the PGR recognizes that it still lacks a confirmed line of investigation, and that it's handling of evidence and treatment of witnesses is questionable (to say the least), reports Animal Político. (See Monday's and yesterday's briefs.)
  • On Monday thousands of people rallied in Mexico City, a rally that served as a focal point for broader protests against human rights violations, reports EFE.
  • NACLA has a series commemorating the students, two years after their disappearance. The first piece features a piece by the mother of one of the students. "Now I have lost all of that: the work, the corn harvest, the bread sales. Now I search for my son and I search for justice for the past two years without him," says Cristina Bautista, the mother of Benjamín, one of the missing Ayotzinapa students.
  • Far from improving since the disappearances two years ago drew national and international attention to Iguala, violent crime in the northern Guerrero municipality has increased. Last year, under the watch of federal and state police, homicides increased by 45 percent, and so far the trend this year is on track to surpass that, reports Animal Político.
  • The rise in homicides affects the entire country, but has been accompanied with a drop in common crimes like robbery and extortion, reports the Wall Street Journal. Households last year spent 18 percent more than in 2014 to protect themselves, and the overall cost of crime and insecurity was estimated at 1.3 percent of gross domestic product.
  • Mexican leftist presidential candidate Andrés López Obrador portrays himself as an honest figure in a playing field of corrupt politicians. But in recent assets declarations he failed to disclose two Mexico City apartments he bought during his tenure as the city's mayor, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Part of the FARC's move to a peacetime organization includes plans to invest in rural economic development, including secret, but already functioning, communal farms, reports Reuters. FARC leadership doesn't want to publicize existing projects, out of fear that they will be seized for victims' reparations, but they include a milk processor and a bean farm. Future business plans involve factory projects and tourism initiatives.
  • There has been much praise of the U.S. role in helping Colombia and the FARC reach a peace accord, but not enough recognition in U.S. media of the role played by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, argues Greg Grandin in a fiery The Nation article that lambasts the Washington Post's coverage in particular. (See Sept. 19's briefs.) Praise of Plan Colombia's role in bringing the FARC to the negotiating table elides an important factor in how the two sides successfully reached a deal, he says, emphasizing negotiations and concessions between the government and the state's sworn enemy. (Leaving aside the U.S. media criticism, Martín Granovsky makes a point in Página 12 about how the pact reflects regional efforts -- from most of the Colombian political spectrum, to the Castro brothers and Hugo Chávez, and including Chilean support of the Havana talks. He also notes the importance of the U.S. and Norwegian support though. See yesterday's post.) 
  • Haitian authorities called of an LGBT Afro-Caribbean cultural festival, citing numerous threats of violence, reports the Associated Press. Co-hosts, including FOKAL, were threatened with arson and other attacks, but hope to hold the event at a later date.
  • The Financial Times profiles an unlikely candidate in Brazil's upcoming municipal elections. José Afonso Pinheiro was fired from his janitorial job in a beachfront tower, after testifying that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was given a luxury apartment by a construction company in exchange for Petrobras contracts. Now he's running for municipal councilor in Santos, on a platform of honesty and competence.
  • Argentina's largest public sector employee unions held a strike yesterday, demanding higher wages to counter inflation and tariff increases that have decimated their purchasing power, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Human rights groups say more than a thousand people have been internally displaced in El Salvador since the beginning of 2015 due to threats -- mostly from gangs, but in some cases from authorities. The numbers do not include the thousands who have fled the country, reports the Associated Press.
  • Former Peruvian spy chief Vladimir Montesinos was sentenced to 22 years in jail for the forced disappearance of a professor and two students in 1993, reports the BBC.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet promised to send a bill legalizing gay marriage in the first half of next year. She spoke at an LGBT rights panel at the U.N. last week, and promised that the bill "will also consider governmental support for several measures destined to strengthen the rights of the LGBT community, including reforms to anti-discrimination laws," reports Reuters.
  • Speaking at a Woodrow Wilson Institute event last week, Bachelet said women in politics are held to a higher standard, reports People's World. She also said former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment was easier because she was a woman, according to Brazil 247
  • Panama formally requested the U.S. extradite former President Ricardo Martinelli in connection to illegal alleged phone taps of dozens of business, opposition and labor leaders, reports the Associated Press.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Signed pact is just the beginning of Colombia's peace process (Sept. 27, 2016)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño signed the 297 page peace accord yesterday in an open-air ceremony in Cartagena attended by about 2,000 international dignitaries, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It was an image that Colombians have been yearning to see -- and a promise of peaceful politics that draws 52 years of fighting to a close, according to the New York Times. The international coverage is rife with emotional Colombian citizens praising peace. 

But La Silla Vacía's Juanita León says the ceremony's symbolism did spark the popular emotion needed to fully assure a win for peace in this weekend's upcoming plebiscite required to implement the accords.

And at a time when the region's politics are increasingly polarized between incoming right-wing governments and the end of the "pink tide's" leftist presidents, the peace pact is a moment of regional unity, noted several sources. Indeed, the ceremony offered the opportunity for a rare meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, report the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times.

The ninety minute ceremony was filled with symbolic gestures, like when Santos took a dove shaped pin he has worn for years and gave it to his former adversary, who fastened it onto his own shirt, reports the Associated Press. Santos welcomed the FARC into democracy, reports El Espectador, and praised their decision to "exchange bullets for votes" as the "bravest and most intelligent a subversive group could make."

Though Londoño -- known by his nom-de-guerre Timochenko -- called on the Colombian government to honor promises to develop impoverished rural areas. But he also made a rare show of contrition, notes the WSJ, an important gesture ahead of the Sunday plebiscite on the pact. Though polls show that a majority the electorate favors the pact, many Colombians detest the guerrilla group and are loathe to concede pursuing justice for war crimes.

But, again, La Silla Vacía is far more critical than the international press. León criticizes Londoño's speech as "arrogant" for a country that would prefer to see him behind bars. And said he offered only a limited apology for the pain caused by the conflict. El Espectador was more positive, noting he asked the country to disarm hearts and minds. "I sincerely apologize to all the conflict's victims," said Londoño. 

Pacifista has highlights of Santos' and Londoño's speeches.

Critics of the deal, lead by former President Álvaro Uribe, said Santos is attempting to influence voters by holding the high profile event so close to the referendum, reports the Miami Herald.

But support for the peace pact is greatest in the rural areas most affected by violence, Woodrow Wilson Center expert Cynthia Arnson noted to the WSJ.

And transitional justice must not be confused with a general amnesty, warns peace process expert Mô Bleeker in an interview with Pacifista.

Civil society groups are struggling to give victims a chance to process their psychological wounds -- see this piece on "Que la paz te toque" by Fundación Mi Sangre, and the work of PazArte al campo.

The latest polls show the "yes" camp winning with 55 percent, over 36.6 in favor of "no," reports El TiempoEl Universal says polls show the "yes" camp could receive up to 66 percent. In a blog post from last week Andrés Gutiérrez analyzes the polls, showing a double digit lead for the "yes" vote, and show some of the regional trends. Though only 13 percent of the electorate must participate in the referendum for it's decision to be binding, an op-ed by Juan Tokatlian in El Tiempo notes that a higher participation rate would more auspiciously usher in a new era of peace. 

As Colombian's cast their votes on Sunday, FARC fighters will begin gathering in 27 camps around the country, where they will hand over their arms to a U.N. verification mission, reports El Tiempo. Within six months the FARC weapons will be melted down for three monuments to the victims of the conflict.

Beyond the direct implications of the deal in ending the conflict and providing a transitional justice framework, Colombian's need peace in order to continue developing the country, argues Ipsos Mori's sustainable development research director,
Jonathan Glennie, in a Guardian op-ed.

El Tiempo has an interesting piece on the challenges peace poses for the police, which must now focus on working with communities and on targeting local manifestations of organized crime, according to National Police director general Jorge Hernando Nieto.

Yellow butterflies: again speeches at yesterday's ceremony made reference to Gabriel García Márquez's fictional character, Mauricio Babilonia, and the yellow butterflies that followed him everywhere. "...Which once again proves that Gabriel García Márquez is the thread that conects Colombian identity," wrote Juanita León.

News Briefs
  • A string of apparent political assassinations in Rio de Janeiro has some calling for federal intervention, reports the Wall Street Journal. At least 15 politicians or candidates in the upcoming municipal elections have been killed in the greater Rio area since November of last year -- the latest was samba-school president running for city council who was shot dead yesterday.
  • Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has taken a spotlight role campaigning for his party's candidate in next month's elections. It's turning into a game-changer for the election and is energizing supporters in poor neighborhoods, reports the Associated Press. The twice-elected and twice-ousted leader has kept a low profile since returning from exile in 2011, but could regain influence if Maryse Narcisse, the presidential candidate for his Fanmi Lavalas party wins.
  • Mexico is suffering a rise in homicides after a three year decline, mostly related to organized crime, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The unresolved tragedy of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students "has become such a stain for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto that it is now shorthand for the Mexican authorities’ reckless approach to human rights in the country – where those responsible for crimes such as torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are rarely brought before the courts," writes Amnesty International's America's Director Erika Guevara-Rosas. (See yesterday's briefs on the two year anniversary of their disappearance.)
  • Mexico's Human Rights Commission determined that soldiers summarily executed six civilians in a 2012 incident in southern Guerrero state, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico's ruling PRI party announced it will strip party rights from Veracruz governor Javier Duarte, who is under federal investigation for corruption, reports the Associated Press. (This is the guy under whose watch the state has become one of the most dangerous areas in the region for journalists, see Aug. 5's post.)
  • People deported from Britain -- like the 40 people deported to Jamaica on a charter flight earlier this month -- can find themselves displaced from communities they have lived in for decades, far from their families and with little legal recourse to appeal, reports the Guardian.
  • UFPE researcher José Luiz Ratton criticizes the implementation of Pacto Pela Vida in Brazil, saying it's doomed to failure under the current system, reports UOL.
  • Brazil's government Oscars committee has decided against sending the critically acclaimed film "Aquarius" as the country's contender at next year's Academy Awards. The decision has little to do with art, and everything to do with politics, say critics. The "Aquarius" cast and crew held placards denouncing the impeachment process of then-President Dilma Rousseff at the Cannes Film Festival. Screenings of the film across the country have become a catalyst for expressing outrage, reports the New York Times

Monday, September 26, 2016

Colombia-FARC sign peace treaty: let loose the yellow butterflies (Sept. 26, 2016)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño will meet today in Cartagena to sign a historic peace deal that will end half a century of conflict -- though it must be ratified by a plebiscite next weekend in order to be implemented. More than a dozen presidents, 27 foreign ministers and the heads of the United Nations, the OAS, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank are expected at the event, reports the Miami Herald.

The 2,500 guests have been asked to wear white as a sign of peace, and Santos will sign using a pen made from a recycled shell used in combat, reports the Associated Press.

The deal, which was negotiated for nearly four years in Havana, offers an end to fifty years of fighting that has killed a quarter of a million people, reports Reuters.

"Today's is a slightly artificial ceremony," writes Silla Vacía's Juanita León. "The peace accord with the FARC was signed a month ago. Nor can it be celebrated, because the "Yes" must still win on Oct. 2. Yet, and though a significant portion of Colombians remain in disagreement, it's a historic date: it's the day two very different countries -- which are in disagreement over pretty much everything -- pact to stop killing each other."

On Friday delegates at the FARC guerrilla conference unanimously backed the deal. "The war is over. Tell Mauricio Babilonia that they can release the yellow butterflies," said FARC leader Ivan Márquez, in reference to a fictional character in Gabriel García Márquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude." The event marked the end of the FARC as an armed group, reports El Universal.

The group will now transition into a political part, with 10 unelected seats in Congress throguh 2026, reports Reuters.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of peace is for the victims of the conflict. The Associated Press profiles the town of Puerto Rico, where an elite guerrilla platoon massacred seven people at a town meeting in 2005. Ahead of the Oct. 2 referendum, town opinion remains divided, but "even supporters resent seeing guerrilla commanders who terrorized their town for years now touting themselves as peacemakers and being rewarded with a political future."

But skeptics must give peace a chance, says a government negotiator, Frank Pearl, profiled in the Miami Herald. The piece goes into the history of the negotiation, which started under former President Álvaro Uribe's administration, according to the piece. (Uribe is now a primary opponent of the deal.)

Most polls show the peace plan winning in next weekend's election, the most momentous in Latin America in decades, according to the Observer. The piece has in-depth reporting on FARC leadership in the past year. But even if the deal is rejected in the plebiscite, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño (aka Timochenko) has promised to try to maintain the fragile ceasefire, reports the Observer separately.

The agreement marks the end of Cuban revolution inspired guerrilla movements, reports the Guardian. They follow the path of other communist militants around the region, which made little headway in overthrowing governments, but later made comebacks at the ballot boxes. But in countries where they have continued through the years, their longevity is intimately linked to drug production and smuggling -- a source of funding and weapons, explains the Guardian.

(More tomorrow on Colombia's peace deal and campaigns for the plebiscite.)

News Briefs
  • The fate of the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students remains murky, two years after they were last seen in a violent confrontation with municipal police. An international panel of experts harshly condemned Mexico's official investigation into the events, pointing to a flawed theory based on confessions extracted by torture and mishandling of evidence. (See April 25's and April 26's posts.) On the second anniversary of the disappearances, the New York Times profiles the stories of three survivors.
  • The U.S. administration's sudden decision last week to tighten immigration policy for undocumented Haitians has left hundreds of migrants stranded in Tijuana, where they had expected to soon enter the U.S. (See last Thursday's post.) And likely thousands more are still risking their lives on the dangerous journey north from Brazil, where many moved after the devastating 2010 earthquake. But economic downturn has made that haven untenable for many, who now are trying to reach the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. Trips can take up to six months and cost bteween $3,000 and $7,000. The 7,000 mile journey starts in Brazil and traverses 11 countries along the route to the U.S. -- which is fraught with dangers from criminals to natural obstacles in jungles, reports the Miami Herald. The policy change leaves thousands in flux -- it's not clear whether they'll stay in Mexico or aim for another Latin American country, reports the New York Times.
  • U.S. efforts to stop massive undocumented migration from Central Americans fleeing rampant violence at home have largely failed, according to the Washington Post. The number of families and unaccompanied minors arriving so far this year is on pace to exceed the numbers for 2014, when a flood of migrants prompted a border crisis. Rights experts cited in the piece say the U.S. misdiagnosed root causes of the migrant flow and failed to address the humanitarian needs of the Northern Triangle countries most migrants come from.
  • Though Trump's border wall proposal has received a lot of vitriolic attention from Mexicans, they should be more concerned by both candidates NAFTA bashing, argues Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed. But actually rewriting the agreement -- which has supporters and detractors in Mexico as well -- "would be a herculean task — assuming the next American president really goes there, whatever he or she promises at election time."
  • Venezuela's national electoral commission basically determined that President Nicolás Maduro cannot be ousted by a recall referendum until next year, a timetable that means the opposition's efforts to replace him before his administration's midpoint (which would trigger a new election) have failed. The decision last week is dividing the opposition coalition -- while some factions say it's important to continue pushing for the recall referendum as a show of strength, others say it's futile to keep trying to work within a ruling party dominated system and that the opposition must instead take to the streets, reports the Associated Press.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales referred to the OAS as an "overseer of the empire," and said the organization shouldn't exist if it "does not represent or respect the sovereignty of its member states." Morales spoke at a New York press conference, in which he also criticized OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's stance on Venezuela, which the Bolivian president said compromises the country's sovereignty, reports TeleSUR.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pabo Kuczynski took office a couple of months ago -- just days after revelations that a police "death squad" killed 27 alleged criminals and staged the bodies in attempted robberies. The new administration has promised to clean up the force in a country where 65 percent of citizens don't trust police, reports the Washington Post. Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio already fired 39 of the countries 86 police generals, and has promised extensive reforms that include raising officers' wages, improved training and civilian staff control of external contracting.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court green-lighted a probe into corruption allegations against President Michel Temer, reports the Wall Street Journal. The preliminary investigation is based on plea-bargain testimony by a key witness and allegedly implicates Temer and several high-ranking members of his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party or PMDB.
  • Brazilian police arrested a former finance minister and presidential chief of staff earlier today, part of the sweeping Petrobras corruption investigation. Antonio Palocci served in the governments of former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would require Nicaragua to make political changes ahead of this year's elections in order to receive international loans. The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act proposes blocking Nicaragua from obtaining loans from international financial institutions unless the country "is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections." The Nicaraguan government rejected the measure "as a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter," reports Reuters.
  • A Pemex fuel tanker explosion this weekend is a new blow to the Mexican state-oil company, which has had a series of accidents in recent years, reports the New York Times. There were no reported victims this weekend, however, and authorities say the tanker's double hull makes a spill into the Gulf Coast unlikely.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Guatemalan human rights prosecutor arrested for alleged hit-and-run case (Sept. 23, 2016)

A Guatemalan prosecutor involved in high-profile human rights cases has been detained on homicide charges related to an alleged hit-and-run incident. Supporters say the accusations are part of a malicious wave of litigation against human rights advocates seeking justice for civil war crimes, brought forth by the Foundation against Terrorism, a group linked to retired generals, reports the Guardian

Orlando López was the lead prosecutor in the 2013 genocide trial against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and in the arrest earlier this year of 14 former military officers in connection to crimes against humanity committed during the country's civil war. 

See Jan. 7's post on the arrests and Aug. 17's briefs on intimidation of human rights advocates in Guatemala. Earlier this week an International Justice Monitor post covered the specifics of the human rights case, see Wednesday's briefs.

López himself has been the target of litigation from the Foundation before, for example this case last year. 

News Briefs
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales gave a fiery speech against corruption at the U.N., a week after his brother and son were barred from leaving the country pending a fraud investigation, reports Reuters. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • The new timetable announced by the Venezuelan national election commission (CNE) makes a recall referendum all but impossible this year, according to Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Earlier this week the CNE announced that the opposition must collect the signatures of 20 percent of the Venezuelan electorate in each state, within three days at the end of October. The opposition coalition will be hard pressed to come up with the signatures in all states, within such a short time frame, and with the added complication of too few finger print scanning machines for voter verification. Several experts dispute the 20 percent in each state requirement, arguing that the law calls for the signatures of 20 percent of the general electorate. 
  • Nonetheless, the opposition has promised to keep pushing for the recall referendum to occur this year, in which case the ousting of President Nicolás Maduro would trigger an election for his replacement. The opposition MUD coalition will meet this weekend and announce a strategy on Monday, reports Reuters. The obstacles could mean splits in the opposition front -- already hardliner María Corina Machado is calling for civil disobedience.
  • Brazilian police detained Guido Mantega, who served as former President Dilma Rousseff's finance minister, on allegations that he solicited a $2.35 million bribe from billionaire Eike Batista. The funds were allegedly used to pay off debt from Rousseff's 2010 campaign, reports the Wall Street Journal. The former minister was released yesterday, due to his wife's ill health. Investigators raided 30 homes yesterday in six Brazilian states, and issued warrants to question or arrest 16 people, all within the framework of the massive Petrobras corruption investigation. Other targets yesterday include dexecutives of construction companies Mendes Junior and OSX, which belongs to Eike Batista, once one of Brazil's richest men, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's attorney general asked the Supreme Court to reverse a presidential decree permitting aerial spraying of insecticide in the fight against Zika-virus carrying mosquitos. The method poses risks of immediate damage to ecosystems and human poisoning, he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • The U.S. should immediately suspend all police and military aid to Honduras, in line with the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act presented in Congress, argues Dana Frank in an New York Times op-ed. Frank points to violence against rights activists -- exemplified by the assassination of environmental and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres earlier this year, along with at least eight colleagues so far in 2016 -- as well as a general security crisis exacerbated by corrupt police and military forces. She also calls for a stronger international commission against corruption and impunity. (A counter to the vision presented by Sonia Nazarro who wrote last month about the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Honduras, see Aug. 15's post.)
  • The FARC guerrilla conference held this week for delegates to ratify the peace accord with the Colombian government has served as an opportunity for the rebel group to present a new face. The marxist Woodstock has been partially a marketing exercise to improve the image of a group hated in Colombia after decades of fighting, kidnappings and bombing, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See briefs through out this week.)
  • Cartagena is besieged by a crime wave, just days before the Colombian government and the FARC are due to sign the peace accord formally, reports InSight Crime.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. He called for a strong, unified international response to North Korea's nuclear program, which puts neighbors South Korea and Japan at particular risk, reports Reuters. The elder Castro told Abe the issue of Pyongyang's nuclear program should be resolved peacefully through dialogue, according to a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman.
  • Mexico City female hip-hop artists are taking a stance gender violence in a neighborhood known for femicide and sexual violence, reports the Guardian.