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Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Secretary of State Kerry and Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín.
John Kerry is about to make his second trip to Latin America as secretary of state. The first was in June, when he attended the OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala. This time, he is to go to Colombia on Sunday and Monday, and then to Brazil.
In Colombia, Secretary of State Kerry is expected to discuss with President Juan Manuel Santos the ongoing peace talks with the FARC guerrillas, for which the Obama administration has expressed support; the issue of security and Colombia’s provision of security assistance to third countries; and the state of bilateral trade two years after approval of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
In his 28 years as a U.S. senator with a strong interest in foreign affairs, John Kerry has a long record of positions on U.S. policy toward Latin America. He opposed the Reagan administration’s massive aid to abusive regimes in Central America, especially aid to the Nicaraguan contras, during the civil wars of the 1980s. He has criticized the U.S. approach to Cuba as “frozen, stalemated.”
During the past 15 years, though, Senator Kerry consistently supported the aid packages that made Colombia by far the number-one recipient of U.S. military assistance in Latin America.
His support for “Plan Colombia,” however, was neither full-throated nor wholehearted. While Senator Kerry supported assistance to curtail drug trafficking, he criticized insufficient emphasis on drug treatment to reduce demand at home. He expressed concerns about the possibility that counter-drug aid could evolve into a larger counter-insurgency mission (as it did during the 2000s). He criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record, and endorsed human rights conditions that his Senate colleagues applied to U.S. military assistance. He has even at times urged the State Department not to certify improvements in the Colombian military’s human rights record, as required by foreign aid law.
Here are excerpts from Senator John Kerry’s record on Colombia, the country that Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting in a few days.
From his 1998 book The New War, where he characterized drug cartels as a principal threat.
Drugs have made Colombia rich; the nation is awash in profits earned by the export of cocaine to the US and the rest of the world. But the country has been all but stolen from its people, virtually taken over by the drug cartels. … A willing army of young Colombians enlist with the cartels, dreaming of easy money, while some young Colombians join the police, army, and customs department just to make money by cooperating with drug criminals.
From the June 22, 2000 Senate debate on the “Plan Colombia” aid appropriation, where he supported the aid package as a flawed but necessary option. Here, he raised concerns about counterinsurgency entanglements, displacement, human rights, and insufficient attention to domestic drug demand. He said he expected Europe to counter-balance the U.S. aid package’s lopsided emphasis on military aid. This did not happen.
Colombia’s situation is bleak, and this may be its last chance to begin to dig its way out. If we fail to support aid to Colombia, we can only sit back and watch it deteriorate even further.
… My first concern is the fine line that exists between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, particularly since they are so intertwined in Colombia. It is impossible to attack drug trafficking in Colombia without seriously undercutting the insurgents’ operations. We must acknowledge that the more involved in Colombia’s counternarcotics efforts we become the more we will become involved in its counterinsurgency, regardless of our intentions to steer clear of it. But, because the drug trade is the most destabilizing factor in Colombia, our cooperation with the government will over the long run, advance the development and expansion of democracy, and will limit the insurgents’ ability to terrorize the civilian population. But our military involvement in Colombia should go no further than this. Efforts to limit number of personnel are designed to address this.
I appreciate the concerns expressed by my colleagues that the United States contribution to Plan Colombia is skewed in favor of the military, but we must keep in mind that our contribution is only a percentage of the total Plan. … As part of our contribution, and to balance military aid, the United States must continue to support Colombian requests for additional funding from international financial institutions and other EU donors. We must also continue to implement stringent human rights vetting and end-use monitoring agreements, and make sure that our Colombia policy does not end with the extension of aid.
Second, I am concerned that even if the Plan is successful at destroying coca production and reducing the northward flow of drugs, large numbers of coca farmers will be displaced, worsening the current crisis of internally displaced people in Colombia.
My third major concern with respect to this aid package is that it does not adequately address Colombia’s human rights problem. … I would like to commend my colleagues on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for bolstering the human rights component of this legislation.
Despite my reservations, the potential benefits of this plan are too large to ignore. In light of the changes made by the committee, I believe the plan can help advance United States interests by reducing drug trafficking and thereby promoting stability and democracy in Colombia. We must now work to ensure that our concerns do not become realities.
… Increasing funding and expanding drug treatment and prevention programs are absolutely imperative if we are to coordinate an effective counterdrug campaign, particularly if we are to expect any real improvement in the situation in Colombia.
… As we support Colombia’s efforts to attack the sources of illegal drugs, we need to make sure we are addressing our own problems. … It is clear that drug treatment works, and there is no excuse for the high numbers of addicts who have been unable to receive treatment. As we increase funding for supply reduction programs in Colombia, we must increase funding for treatment to balance and complement it.
A July 26, 2004 letter to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe from 23 U.S. senators, including Senator Kerry, expressing human rights concerns and supporting the work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We remain deeply concerned about the continued levels of violence directed at the civilian population. There are reports of increased violations, such as extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, attributed directly to Colombian security forces. In addition, guerrillas continued their indiscriminate use of explosive devices against civilians while paramilitary forces carried out assassinations and massacres despite the existence of a cease fire. We believe that an adherence to UNHCHR’s recommendations will help to establish the “democratic security” for all Colombians to which you are personally committed.
The most urgent of UNHCHR’s recommendations is to cut ties between the army and paramilitary forces engaged in abuses, by suspending, investigating and vigorously prosecuting officials engaged in such collaboration.
… We remain concerned about the commitment of the Attorney General’s office to investigate high-level officials implicated in human rights violations and links to paramilitary groups.
The United Nations also raises important points regarding the vulnerability of human rights defenders, journalists and union leaders. Your government’s protection program for human rights and union leaders is important. However, progress investigating and prosecuting threats and attacks against such leaders is essential.
An October 15, 2004 statement from the Kerry for President campaign
President Uribe has achieved deserved popular support for his efforts to make Colombia more secure. I have been encouraged by declining levels of murders, massacres and kidnappings and progress in addressing the challenges of drug trafficking, guerrillas and paramilitaries. I am further encouraged that the Colombian government has agreed to use the recommendations of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as a framework for achieving the just peace that all Colombians deserve.
A persistent cycle of violence, such as that occurring in Colombia, can ultimately be broken only by combining greater security efforts with ending impunity, strengthening the rule of law and the defense of human and labor rights. For Colombians, that means condemning and putting a stop to the kidnappings, killings, and extortion practiced by outlawed guerrilla groups and by paramilitary groups who continually violate international humanitarian law. It also requires severing all links between the security forces and the paramilitaries; punishing those in uniform who have perpetrated these links and engage in extrajudicial killings and abuses; and better protecting judges, prosecutors, journalists, human rights activists and unionists from intimidation, violence and murder.
In Colombia, we must focus on the fight against narco-trafficking and counterinsurgency at the same time as we support the rule of law, alternative development, and the expansion of legitimate state authority to achieve a durable peace. As a Senator I have consistently supported Plan Colombia; and, as President, I will work with President Uribe to keep the bipartisan spirit in Washington alive in support of Plan Colombia, while insisting on progress on ending the violence against civilians.
A July 1, 2005 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 22 U.S. senators, including Senator Kerry. The letter urges the secretary of state not to “certify” that the Colombian military’s human rights record is improving, thus freeing up a portion of military assistance. This letter includes an early mention of a practice that, three years later, would erupt in Colombia as the “false positives” scandal of extrajudicial executions.
We believe there has been insufficient progress in suspending from the armed forces, investigating and vigorously prosecuting security force members who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, or who have aided or abetted paramilitary organizations. Even some of the highest-profile cases have not advance.
… Greater progress in breaking links between the army and paramilitary forces is
imperative. The United Nations notes “continued reports… of cases in which
coordinated operations have been carried out by members of the security forces and
paramilitary groups, and cases in which the victims had been detained by members of the paramilitary forces and subsequently reported by the army as having been killed in combat.”
… We believe that it is time for the State Department to make clear to the Colombian government that further progress regarding its own security forces is necessary prior to certification. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Statement on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2012
In Colombia, where conflict has displaced an estimated 4 million people, our partners are helping the government to provide reparations and land restitution to affected individuals and families.
September 4, 2012 statement upon the announcement of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC
Colombians have suffered for far too long from the violence and insecurity associated with its decades-long internal armed conflict. President Santos has taken the difficult steps toward negotiating a political solution and has indicated that lessons learned from prior peace talks will be taken into consideration. This is an important and welcome sign. Any negotiation that helps strengthen Colombia’s democracy, promote the respect for the rule of law and human rights, and bring peace to the country is a good thing and deserves support.
Senator Kerry at his January 24, 2013 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
One of the great stories of Latin America is Colombia … President Uribe stepped up in a critical moment and began the process of rescuing that nation, President Santos is now doing an amazing job, we strengthened the relationship by passing the economic trade agreement. We have to build on that. And that is an example for the rest of Latin America of what awaits them… [Also] hope to bridge the gap with some of the other countries.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
A study by Somos Defensores, a non-governmental protection program for human rights defenders, reveals shocking growth in murders of Colombian human rights defenders. The chart below illustrates that in 2012, the number of murders was nearly 14 times what it was in 2006. And 2013 is on a pace to be even worse.
The number of murders, although still high, remained relatively consistent around 30 per year between 2008 and 2011. But in 2012, the year after Colombia’s government passed a land restitution law encouraging displaced victims to come forward and claim stolen property, the number more than doubled to 69. The chart posted here, compiled by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, puts the horrifying jump in context.
The first half of this year exhibited a 27% increase over the same time period in 2012. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were killed between January and June, a rate of one every five days. Of these 37, 12 reported receiving threats prior to their murder, suggesting the “evident institutional weakness for the security and control of the implementation of public policy in human rights,” reports Somos Defensores.
Friday, August 2, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Uruguay is likely legalizing marijuana
As of this week, Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. In a landmark 50-46 vote on Wednesday, the country’s lower house approved legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis. While the initial draft gave the state a monopoly in the production and distribution of marijuana, the passed version approved a private, albeit strictly regulated, market. The United Nations said the measure violated (pdf) international drug control treaties and called for Uruguay to reconsider the legislation.
According to InSight Crime's Steven Dudley, the bill is an important step as it will provide a real life experiment for legalization and provide proponents in the region with a boost, However, “Uruguay is too small to swing the pendulum in this political debate. The tendency, for the moment, appears to be keeping the status quo as evidenced by Brazil, Canada and the United States' federal governments firm positions against legalization.” The article, which complemented an excellent report written for InSight Crime by Pan-American Post author, Geoff Ramsey, noted challenges for the Uruguayan government going forward. The report, “Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of drugs,” also maps out drug policy throughout the region as well as the marijuana market in Uruguay. Ramsey also provided good coverage on the issue in the Pan-American Post throughout the week, and noted that "Because the Senate is anticipated to make minor changes and pass it back to the lower house, the bill will likely be signed into law in September or October."
Honduras: the presence of gangs expands and the investigation into DEA-backed drug operation killings continues
It has been over a year since a DEA-backed botched drug operation in Honduras killed four civilians. This week TruthOut published an article on the follow up investigation and DEA presence in the country and found, “ Honduran judicial authorities highlight a lack of cooperation from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, impeding their investigation. A leaked State Department memo suggests high-level interference in the United States' own investigation.” Read more here.
The Associated Press reported that Honduran gangs now have a presence in 40 percent of the country's territory. They are also increasingly targeting the middle class as officials estimate that the gangs obtain about $50 million from extorting small businesses, taxi drivers, teachers, and others. According to Honduran government numbers, 17,000 small businesses closed in 2012.
Mexico’s overall homicide rate dropped in 2012; Violence spikes in Michoacán
Mexico's homicide rate fell for the first time in six months, according to a report released Tuesday by Mexico's National Statistics and Geography Institute. The report found that the murder rate dropped from 24 per 100,000 people in 2011 (27,213 homicides) to 22 per 100,000. With a murder rate of 77 per 100,000, Chihuahua (2,783) and Guerrero (2,684) tied for the most deadly states in 2012. Despite the drop, as Alejandro Hope noted, the figure of 24 per 100,000 is still extremely high when compared to nine per 100,000, the rate in 2007. More from InSight Crime and Animal Politico.
In response to a government security surge, drug cartels in Mexico’s western Michoacán state have launched a wave of attacks recently in which at least eight federal police officers were killed, over 20 criminals shot dead, and several more wounded. Among those killed was a key Mexican Navy admiral. As the Associated Press noted, it is rare for cartels to target military members. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed an additional 2,000 soldiers and police to the state, following the 6000-strong military and police surge in May.
El Salvador’s government and the gang truce
It seems as though the Salvadoran government is playing a much larger role behind the scenes in the country's gang truce than it will publicly admit to. While the government claims its role has not extended beyond facilitating the ceasefire, an article in El Faro's Sala Negra reported on a meeting between former deputy minister Douglas Moreno and gang leaders at the Ministry of Justice and Security. The publication reported Security Minister David Munguia Payes and President Funes had previously approved the meeting. As to why the Salvadoran government continues to distance itself from the truce, Central American Politics blog highlighted that the agreement is not popular among Salvadorans or the U.S. government.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas posted its El Salvador update for July that provides a great overview of the current political landscape as well as the security situation and the gang truce.
Brazil is still protesting
Although the waves of social unrest in Brazil have quelled since June, there still ongoing protests in major cities like São Paulo, where hundreds of people took to the streets in protest of Governor Geraldo Alckmin in solidarity with those in Rio de Janeiro who were calling for the impeachment of Governor Sergio Cabral, accused of “corruption and arrogance.” In a poll Al Jazeera took of 544 people throughout the country, the top issues were: “Putting an end to government corruption was the most visible demand of demonstrators, followed by calls for more transparency in public service spending; an end to police violence and a more participatory political system.”
The Financial Times reported that the protests are honing in on more specific targets while the AFP noted they are becoming more radical in nature.Reuters reported on growing concerns about the country’s ability to host the World Cup and Olympics following security blunders during Pope Francis’ visit last week. Human Rights Watch had an article on extrajudicial killings by police in São Paulo and another on police violence. The Rio Real blog has an interesting post on police, the military and public security in Brazil.
Snowden leaks: XKeyscore
According to the latest leaks by Edward Snowden, a program known as “XKeyscore,” which reportedly had the ability to track ‘nearly everything a user does on the Internet,’ had servers located in several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. More from Foreign Policy and The Guardian.
Colombian peace talks re-start, but with tension
This week the Colombian Government and FARC guerrillas began a twelfth round of negotiations in Cuba. For detailed updates on the process, see the Washington Office on Latin America’s blog dedicated to the peace process. At the moment there are several issues of contention straining negotiations between the two sides, including protests in southern Colombia and the release of a former U.S. marine the group has held since June. Lead government negotiator, Vice President Humberto de la Calle reconfirmed that the army would continue to fight and that the FARC “will be held to account for everything that has happened during the conflict.” Uruguayan President Mujica, once a guerrilla himself, visited Cuba this week and reportedly met with FARC members. More from the BBC, Christian Science Monitor, EFE, Semana, and the Associated Press.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
This post was written with CIP intern Victor Salcedo
United States policy
On July 26, the United States donated $5.7 million worth of speed boats, equipment and facility construction to the Nicaraguan Navy to aid the country’s fight against drug trafficking. This included two speed boats (Boston Whaler, model 370) with their respective haul trucks (Ford 450XLT) valued at $1.2 million. Five U.S.-trained Nicaraguan sailors will operate and maintain the boats, reports U.S. Southern Command.
“President Barack Obama proposed giving Colombia about $323 million in aid next year, mostly to combat drug trafficking and violence. Detroit, with an 81 percent higher homicide rate, will get $108.2 million,” Bloomberg News reported.
Over 70 percent of the 99,000 weapons recovered by Mexican law enforcement since 2007 were traced to U.S. manufacturers and importers, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations report on gun trafficking and violence in the Americas. ETrace data from 2011 for the Caribbean indicated that over 90 percent of the weapons recovered and traced in the Bahamas and over 80 percent of those in Jamaica came from the United States. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not released data from Central America.
The Colombian Air Force will be adding two “more advanced” drone aircraft from Israel to its fleet in October. It is also working on its own drone aircraft called “Iris” that will start to fly next week. Colombia’s Air Force currently has over 50 drones, purchased from the United Kingdom, which it disclosed would begin to be used to monitor borders and cities, combat illegal armed groups and drug trafficking, and respond to natural disasters.
Since 1986 the Colombian Army has killed 3,896 civilians who were then presented as combat kills, in an attempt by military members to inflate their success rate against the guerillas, Colombia’s Prosecutor General Office confirmed Monday, according to Colombia Reports. A report released last week found that of the 220,00 Colombians killed in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, 176,000, or about 80 percent, were civilians.
According to the National Autonomous University of Honduras, there were 2,929 murders during the first five months of 2013. This represents a 3.7 percent drop in homicides compared to the same period in 2012, when 3,043 killings were registered. The Observatory also counted 16 days (not contiguous) in 2013 in which Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, had not registered a violent death. San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, has only experienced two murder-free days this year according to the Observatory, although the government registered three such days.
Honduran gangs now have a presence in 40 percent of the country's territory, the Associated Press reported. Officials estimate that the gangs obtain about $50 million from extorting small businesses, taxi drivers, teachers, and others. According to Honduran government numbers, 17,000 small businesses closed in 2012.
According to the Mexican government, a total of 244 public servants, including 14 soldiers, were murdered during the first six months of 2013. As InSight Crime notes, this high number was possibly tied to violence related to recent elections.
There has been a recent spike in violence in Mexico’s western Michoacán state as drug cartels battle themselves and security forces. The past week has seen a wave of attacks in response to the government security surge, including at least eight guerrilla-style ambushes by gunmen in which at least eight federal police officers were killed, over 20 criminals shot dead, and many more wounded. The Mexican government has reportedly deployed an additional 2,000 soldiers and police to the state, following the 6000-strong military and police surge President Peña Nieto ordered in May.
Over the past decade, the homicide rate in the Brazilian state of São Paulo has dropped by 63 percent and fallen by 80 percent in city of São Paulo, the state’s capital. Human Rights Watch also reported that while police killings in the state decreased by about 34 percent during the first six months of 2013, there were still a registered six killings per week in the first semester of 2013.
The northeast region of Brazil has the most violent cities for the country’s youth. According to the Mapa da Violencia (pdf) 2013 published this month, youth homicide grew by 326 percent in the country.
According to the Financial Times, the Brazilian government mobilized 14,000 troops and over 7,000 police for Pope Francis’ visit. The overall cost of the trip and week-long youth festival ranged from $145 million to $159 million, the Associated Press reported.
Friday, July 26, 2013
This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations committee did a full mark-up of the House’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. The committee approved a $5.8 billion cut to foreign aid, including a 10 percent cut to the State Department overall. The committee also voted to lift human rights conditions on aid to many Latin American countries. According to The Hill, "During debate, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) said they were outraged by the removal of restrictions on aid to central and South American countries over human rights violations." Read a summary of the Senate’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill highlighting the biggest differences with the House version here.
On Friday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement ending conversations to restore diplomatic ties with the United States. The statement came following the State Department's backing of critical remarks made by President Obama’s United Nations ambassador nominee, Samantha Power. In Thursday’s press briefing, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "We are open to having a positive relationship with Venezuela moving forward. That’s what our focus is on, and we still are leaving the door open for that."
Despite Pena Nieto’s plans to scale back cooperation with United States intelligence and law enforcement in its fight against drug cartels, outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met on the border and announced plans for a bi-national security communications network and corresponding patrols between U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican Federal Police, the Washington Post reported.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the state of human rights in Honduras. The witnesses, as well as those on the commission, lamented the United States government’s continued funding of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo’s administration, under which citizens have experienced grave human rights abuses at the hands of organized crime, the police and the military. At the close of the hearing, the commission’s co-chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) noted that the United States needs to "make it clear to the Honduran government that enough is enough" on human rights abuses. The hearing can be watched here.
The list of witnesses: Senator Timothy M. Kaine, Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group, Dr. Dana Frank, Professor of History, University of California Santa Cruz, Tirza Flores Lanza, Lawyer, Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals for San Pedro Sula and Viviana Giacaman, Director for Latin America Programs, Freedom House.
Carlos Urrutria, Colombia’s ambassador in Washington, resigned after being implicated in the theft of 100,000 acres of land throughout central Colombia. According to El Tiempo, President Juan Manuel Santos accepted Urrutria’s resignation on Tuesday, following the accusations made by the Polo Democratico party.
Last weekend, United States Vice President Joe Biden called Brazilian President Roussef in an effort to ease tensions and provide explanations about surveillance practices in Brazil. According to the New York Times, Biden called to "express his regret over the negative repercussions caused by the disclosures" and to extend an invitation to Brazil to send a delegation to Washington to receive "technical and political details" about the case.
The New Yorker found the N.S.A. holds a strong interest in Brazil because "That’s where the transatlantic cables come ashore." Last week at the Aspen Institute, N.S.A. Director General Keith Alexander emphasized that rather than collecting e-mails and phone numbers, the agency is interested in collecting "metadata around the world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit." Brazil’s geography, which bulges out eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, makes Brazil one of the most important telecommunication hubs in the world.
On his first international trip as pontiff, Pope Francis arrived back to his home continent on Monday, first visiting Brazil, which has faced more than a month of often violent protests against government corruption and public spending priorities. Foreign Policy reported on the approximate costs of the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day, including the mobilization of 14,000 troops and more than 7,000 police, bringing security costs to over $52 million dollars. Estimates for the total costs of the trip and the weeklong festival range from $145 million to $159 million. More from Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, and the Associated Press.
In a speech given while inaugurating a drug rehabilitation clinic in a favela (Brazilian slum) on Wednesday, Pope Francis assailed narcotics trafficking and criticized calls to legalize drugs in Latin America. "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug laws," Francis said. "Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people." More from Folha de Sao Paulo and the Pan-American Post.
According to the New York Times, the Pope’s visit has been marred by "missteps" that characterize the challenging day-to-day life of Rio residents. To name a few, the Pope’s motorcade got stuck on a crowded thoroughfare, the subway system carrying thousands gathering for a conference of Catholic youth broke down, and violence, possibly incited by undercover intelligence agents, continues to erupt in protests that have ended in water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. More from BBC News.
On Thursday, Pope Francis delivered some his most politically provocative remarks since his papacy began this year, criticizing the "culture of selfishness and individualism," urging youth to fight against corruption, and praising the Brazilian government’s antipoverty programs. According to the New York Times, although he never directly mentioned the anti-establishment protests, Francis did critique Rio’s pacification project in the city’s slums. "No amount of pacification will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," the pope said in Varginha.
On Tuesday, gang gunman believed to be working for the Knights Templar cartel staged a series of attacks on the federal police, leaving 20 assailants and four federal police dead. This outbreak of violence in Michoacán follows the recent arrest of the Zeta gang leader Miguel Angel Treviño. Although President Peña Nieto sent thousands of troops into the state two months ago, as the AP noted, "The cartel’s deep local roots and proven capacity for violence could make Michoacan the graveyard of Peña Nieto’s pledge to reduce drug violence."
An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times said President Peña Nieto’s approach to the drug war is starting to look a lot like the much-criticized strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. As an example, the piece looked at the arrest of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, which "had all the familiar hallmarks: Treviño Morales' moves were tracked in real time by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone, while American intelligence monitored his communications and shared what was learned with Mexican authorities."
Writing for Forbes, Nathaniel Parish Flannery examined the history of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatistas, Mexico’s masked guerrilla group in the Chiapas state. According to the article, Chiapas has not fared well in modern Mexico. "Of all of the states the most agricultural, least electrified, least schooled, least literate, & poorest state has been Chiapas." The piece also provides an overview of different analysis of the movement.
Animal Politico detailed the top 45 criminals that the Mexican government has set as priority targets in its security strategy. The list includes nearly all of the leaders of the country’s main drug cartels.
Upon reflecting on Raul Castro’s lengthy public lecture criticizing Cubans’ culture and conduct, islanders agreed that moral decay is prevalent in today’s Cuban society. However, Cubans point to an unworkable economic system and the crumbling of Cuba’s infrastructure and social services as the roots of the uncouth behavior Castro bemoaned in his speech. The article does note, however, that despite the grievances, "Havana has avoided the rampant crime and drug violence that plague many Latin American — and American — cities." More from the New York Times.
Foreign Relations published an article, "Cuba after Communism," detailing economic reforms that are transforming an island that has been clinging to Communism for the past fifty years. Authors Julia E. Swieg and Michael J. Bustamante argue that because of these changes, "Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere."
According to the Washington Post, the 18th Street gang and rival gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have taken more steps toward what their Organization of the Americas backers are calling "a peace process," carefully avoiding the term "gang truce." While bringing the region’s two most notorious transnational gangs together in El Salvador has produced a 50 percent decline in homicides, translating the model to Honduras, where there’s a weaker government, worse violence, and a more lucrative drug trade will be a challenge.
The Miami Herald reported on South Korea’s announcement of its intention to explore a free trade agreement with Panama just days before Panama’s seizure of a North Korean freighter carrying undeclared military cargo. The article highlights the differences between Panama’s relations with the two Koreas.
Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics blog both covered the poll numbers for next year’s election in El Salvador. The race is tight and breaks down three ways between the FMLN’s candidate, Salvador Ceren, ARENA’s Norman Quijano, and former President Tony Saca.
Central American Politics blog also has an overview and round-up of news stories about the gang truce that were published this week.
On Monday, Colombia’s FARC rebels offered armed support to a rural protest in Catatumbo, a gesture that could increase friction as peace talks between FARC and the government continue in Havana. The Colombian government responded to a statement FARC released in support of mobilization of the farmers with a warning that guerrilla infiltration in Catatumbo will permanently endanger the inhabitants of the region.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a historic report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years. The five-year investigation presented many alarming findings, including the revelation that 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013, 80 percent, or 176,000, of which were civilians. See Reuters and Thursday’s Just the Facts post for overviews in English and El Espectador and Verdad Abierta for good Spanish coverage.
On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met on the border, where they agreed to improve relations, which became strained when President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Henrique Capriles in May. President Maduros also expressed full support for Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC.
"Megateo," the boss of a dissident faction of the officially demobilized EPL that has been heavily involved in narcotrafficking in northeast Colombia, expressed interest in joining the peace talks. "I wish that in these accords the ELN [Colombia’s second largest rebel group], and EPL were [involved] to jointly come up with proposals," stated the EPL leader in an interview published in Semana. Megateo also admitted to involvement in the drug trade, kidnapping, and extortion, revealing that he gets $200 per kilogram of cocaine in his domain. He claimed the money from his illicit activities is a "way to finance the war" against the state.
President Santos said he would not let the FARC get any media benefit from the capture of Kevin Scott Sutay, an American veteran who was trekking alone through eastern Colombia’s dangerous jungle when he was kidnapped. As the Daily Beast noted, "Sutay's kidnapping has heightened tensions between the rebels and the government as the two sides navigate delicate peace talks." More from Reuters.
Colombia’s Constitutional court held a hearing on the recently passed Legal Framework for Peace bill. The legislation permits demobilized guerrilla fighters to hold elected office, and grants Congress the power to prioritize investigating certain crimes over others. Proponents of the bill say it will allow the justice system to target systematic human rights abuses, while critics, which include former President Álvaro Uribe, the UN and various human rights groups, say it will lead to impunity for human rights abuses. As Reuters noted, supporters like President Juan Manuel Santos say the measure is necessary for a peace agreement. The Pan-American Post and Reuters provided helpful overviews of the bill in English and El Espectador has an overview of arguments presented at the hearing. The court has until August 20 to rule on the bill.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Victor Salcedo
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years. The 431-page document was the result of a five-year investigation that revealed some alarming statistics about kidnappings, deaths, and massacres carried out during the past five decades. The report, “¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de guerra y de dignidad,” (“Enough Already! Memories of War and Dignity”) can be download on the Historical Memory Center’s website."
This reports comes in the midst of ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC. Upon receiving the report, President Santos said it was a “first window towards the truth that we owe to the victims of this country.”
Some key findings from the report:
The report found that in total, 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013. Of that number, 176,000 were civilians -- a ratio of eight civilians for every ten deaths, or about 80 percent.
Since 1981, paramilitaries have been the biggest perpetrators of violence. In the past three decades, there were 1,983 massacres, which have cost the lives of more than 400 children. The paramilitaries were responsible in 59% of the cases, the guerrillas in 17%, and state officials in 8% of the cases. Victims were 60% farmers, 10% workers, and 30% traders.
Between 1985 and 2012, 26 people were displaced per hour. The number of people displaced by the fighting – 4.7 million — represents almost the entire population of Ireland, Costa Rica or Lebanon.
There were 23,154 assassinations between 1981 and 2012. In 16.8% of the cases the guerrillas were the ones responsible, while in 10% of the cases the police force carried out the assassinations.
The majority of kidnappings, around 27,000, between 1970 and 2010, were carried out by the FARC. Between 1996 and 2002, there were 16,040 kidnappings. Of those, the FARC were responsible for 8,578 and the ELN for 7,462. Kidnappings have occurred in 919 municipalities across the country.
Colombia has the second-highest number of landmine victims in the world, after Afghanistan: 10,189.
5,000 reported cases of forced disappearances. Out of that number, only 689 cases were solved.
As Colombia Reports noted, Gonzalo Sánchez, director of the Historical Memory Center said in an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo:
“We propose that the State take the lead. The State says it would not recognize anything until the crime is proven in the highest appeal. But if we are reconstructing what has happened and if we believe the victims, we must ask for forgiveness. This is a mechanism that facilitates the peace process.”
He added that the “biggest sin of the State” was to “fight the war without fighting the causes.”
The El Tiempo interview can be found here, an El Espectador article expanding on the report’s findings can be found here, and an English summary of the report can be found on the Colombia Reports website. Colombian magazine Semana has a selection of quotes organized by topic and an accompanying article.
Friday, July 19, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, leader of the notoriously violent Zetas drug gang in Mexico, was captured by Mexican armed forces early Monday near the border town of Nuevo Laredo. Treviño Morales, also known as “El Z-40,” was wanted on both sides of the border for ordering the kidnapping and killing of 265 migrants, along with numerous other charges of torture, murder, money laundering, and other crimes. His arrest is the highest-profile arrest in the fight against organized crime since Enrique Pena Nieto took the presidency. More from Dalla Morning News, BBC, Vice, Insight Crime and CNN.
Many analysts have said that Treviño’s arrest may result in more violence in areas where Zetas wield control. In addition to sparking retribution from the vindictive Zeta organization, the Zetas weakening will spur rivals like the Sinaloa Cartel to make a play for control of Zetas-dominated trafficking routes. CNN Mexico reported that security measures were strengthened in Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Veracruz, and Durango for fear of a resurgence of violence in response to the capture. While most observers agree that Z-40’s arrest was a positive step towards slowing the type of hyper-violent crimes the Zetas and Treviño himself have perpetuated, it will have little effect on the drug war as a whole or do much to reduce the flow of drugs.
On Wednesday, the United States and Cuba resumed immigration talks in Washington after a two-year hiatus. In addition to discussing aviation safety, visa processing, and other cooperation on migration, the U.S. Department of State reiterated its call for the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross.
The Washington Post reported that diplomats who have previously faced strict limitations on their travel within the United States and Cuba recently have been increasingly, and more easily, moving about each country. The Post points to the travel as a part of a larger, slow-moving thaw of relations between the two countries, evidenced by Wednesday’s migration talks and last month’s talks on resuming direct mail, among other events.
Cuba confirmed that a North Korean cargo ship seized in Panama was carrying “obsolete” missiles and other armaments, including two Mig-21 jets and parts for a SA-2 anti-aircraft system from the 1960s) to be repaired in North Korea and then returned. The weaponry was found among a load of 10,000 tons of sugar, the Guardian reported. The 35 North Koreans on the boat were arrested after resisting police efforts to intercept the ship, and the captain reportedly tried to commit suicide during the operation.
The U.S. government has agreed to lend equipment and personnel to help inspect the ship, following a request from the Panamanian government. Meanwhile the UN’s sanctions committee will assess the case to determine if it violated arms sanctions against North Korea. Some analysts have suggested the incident shows the weakness and “dire straights” of the Cuban military. More from BBC,Reuters and NBC.
On Tuesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he did not think the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was needed in the country. During an address given in Bogota, he stated “Colombia has advanced enough to say: We don’t need a U.N. human rights office in our country anymore.”
The next day the government announced it would renew the UN mandate, extending it until October 31, 2014. The UN High Commissioner on this issue, Navi Pillay,said the office's work was still needed in the country, as its main objective is "to see Colombia united and all Colombians enjoying human rights." According to IPS news, Pillay travelled to the embattled Cauca department in southern Colombia to "meet for several hours with leaders of black, indigenous and rural communities who had plenty to say about the need for multilateral bodies to continue monitoring human rights in this country." Colombia's Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín echoed President Santos' remarks that the country's human rights situation had improved and did not necessarily need the office present to continue to make progress.
Next Monday, July 22, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will meet on the border to carry out a “complete revision of the bilateral relations” between the two countries. Relations, which Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Minister categorized as “a little cold” this week, have been especially strained since President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles in May.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa congratulated his administration for going nine (non-consecutive) days so far this year without a single murder in Tegucigalpa, Honduran Culture and Politics reports. “Before we were always talking about 2 digits; the were more than 30 (daily) murders... but yes its getting better, and it is because of the police cleanup and the participation of the armed forces. However, the Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University contends that despite a few murder-free days the situation is not really improving; according to its director, Migdonia Ayestas, there have been an average of 20 murders per day through May 31 of this year.
InSight Crime featured an article that looked at homicide distribution since the onset of the Salvadoran gang truce. Using police data, the article found that while it is undeniable that the truce resulted in a significant drop (nearly 50 percent) in homicides, that there was not a decrease in all municipalities and that the number of municipalities in which homicides are increasing has risen. More from Tim’s El Salvador Blog.
On Wednesday, President Rousseff reiterated her proposal for a plebiscite to address Brazilians concerns about corruption and public spending. Congress rejected her first proposal on June 24, however a Datafolha poll shows that 68 percent of Brazilians favor holding a plebiscite.
While there is variance among the numbers, all polls have President Rousseff’s approval dropping significantly in the wake of the protests, with a MDA pesquisa poll showing a drop to 33 percent, down from 54 percent in June, while CNT/MDA pollhas her rating plunging 24.4 points from 73 percent in June to 49 percent this month.
Reuters reported that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed that her Worker’s Party government will not spend beyond its means, “rejecting the temptation of increasing outlays to improve public services in the wake of an outburst of national discontent last month.” In a speech to an advisory group of ministers and business leaders on Wednesday, she stated, "Our pact for fiscal stability and inflation control limits any temptation for fiscal populism."
The Wall Street Journal reported that in Sao Paulo police killed one suspect for every 229 arrested in 2012, according to government statistics, while in 2011 in the United States, that number was one per 31,575. According to the article, "The problem is acknowledged by government officials, including São Paulo's governor, who has replaced his hard-line security chief with a mild-mannered lawyer vowing to take steps to reduce unjustified police shootings."
Pablo Longueira, the conservative coalition’s candidate in the Chilean presidential campaign, has dropped out of the race, further weakening the conservative’s chances of beating former President Michelle Bacelet of the Socialist party, the Associated Press reported. At a news conference on Wednesday, Longuiera’s son revealed that his father’s surprise resignation was due to a medically diagnosed bout of depression. According to Guillermo Holzmann, a political science professor at the Universidad de Valparaiso, the resignation “wasn’t considered under any political scenario because the campaign is on its final stretch. This is a crisis for the right-wing coalition.”
United States Policy
The United States Department of Homeland Security is sending 30 agents to Puerto Rico as part of a Operation Caribbean Resilience, which was launched last year to fight drug trafficking.
The government of Bolivia stated that restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States is “far off,” according to Terra, an Argentine news agency. Bolivia and the United States have not had diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level since September of 2008, when President Evo Morales expelled Washington’s representative, Philip Goldberg, and the American government applied a reciprocity measurement with the representative of La Paz in Washington, Gustavo Guzmán.
Brazil’s foreign minister said Monday that Washington had not sufficiently responded to Brazil’s request for an explanation of the alleged US electronic spying disclosed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, according to the Global Post.
The U.S. State Department’s updated travel warning puts Mexican states Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas as the “least secured states” in the country. The travel warning highlights kidnapping and murder rates that have been increasing. In general, just 12 out of 31 Mexican states (plus DF) are categorized as safe enough without travel warnings.
Mexican secretaries of national defense, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, and Marina Vidal Sanz Francisco Soberon, began a tour of the United States and Canada to meet with senior military in those countries and to promote military and naval cooperation between Mexico and its counterparts, Milenio reported.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro demanded that the United States apologize on Thursday for Washington’s U.N. ambassador-designate’s remarks criticizing Venezuela’s human rights record. During her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Samantha Power vowed to stand up against “repressive regimes” and contest “the crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.” Maduro replied with a demand for “immediate correction by the U.S. government” for what he called “despicable” criticism, Reuters reported.
The Congressional Research Service released a report this week: “Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean” (PDF)
The Washington Office on Latin America has launched a new website dedicated to the Colombia peace talks that houses documents, updates, U.S. government statements and an in-depth timeline.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
This post was written by the Washington Office on Latin America and is cross-posted with their blog.
The period since our last Colombia Peace Process Update (May 20) saw a big step forward in the Havana, Cuba peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. This was followed by several weeks of reduced momentum, marked both by minor crises and encouraging developments.
Land and rural development agreement
On May 26th, at the conclusion of their ninth round of talks, the Colombian government and the FARC announced a breakthrough. After more than six months, they had reached agreement on land and rural development, the first of five points on the negotiating agenda. This is the first time the government and FARC have agreed on a substantive topic in four different negotiating attempts over 30 years.
While the agreement’s text remains secret under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the two sides’ joint statement (English – Spanish) indicates that it covers the following:
- Land access and use. Unproductive lands. Formalization of property. Agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones.
- Development programs with a territorial focus.
- Infrastructure and land improvements.
- Social development: health, education, housing, eradication of poverty.
- Stimulus for agrarian production and a solidarity-based, cooperative economy.
- Technical assistance. Subsidies. Credit. Income generation. Labor formalization. Food and nutrition policies.
A bit more information about what was agreed appears in the negotiators’ first joint “report of activities” (English - Spanish), which was published on June 21st.
Foreign governments and international organizations applauded the agreement on the first agenda item. “This is a significant achievement and an important step forward,” reads a statement from the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. “This is a positive step in the process to achieve peace in Colombia,” said OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the agreement “historic” and “the best peace message that the Bolivarian peoples could receive.” The government of Chile said it “constitutes a very relevant achievement, which has required flexibility and moderation from both sides.” European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed “hopes that this crucial, albeit partial, agreement will add fresh impetus to the Havana negotiations, with a view to the rapid conclusion of a final peace agreement.”
U.S. reactions, too, were positive. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, on a May 26-27 visit to Colombia, praised the land accord and the FARC-government process, calling them “serious and well designed.” Biden added in a joint appearance with President Santos, “Just as we supported Colombia’s leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table.” U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Peter Michael McKinley called the accord “an advance that encourages the possibility that these negotiations are going to end the conflict in Colombia.” U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “The agreement on land reform is the first ever between the Colombian Government and the FARC, and as such the terms of its – and in terms of its substance it’s a highly positive step forward in the peace negotiation. So we’ve long given our strong support for President Santos and the Colombian Government as they pursue lasting peace and security that the Colombian people deserve.”
The post-accord honeymoon was brief, however, as an argument between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments dominated the period leading up to the mid-June start of talks on political participation. Relations between Bogotá and Caracas, rather hostile when Álvaro Uribe and Hugo Chávez were presidents of their respective countries, warmed in 2010 when incoming President Juan Manuel Santos sought a rapprochement with the Venezuelan government. Venezuela’s leftist government went on to play an instrumental role in getting the FARC to the negotiating table, and is officially one of two “accompanying countries” of the process (along with Chile).
The episode began on May 29, when President Santos agreed to meet in Bogotá with Henrique Capriles, the leader of Venezuela’s political opposition. Capriles narrowly lost Venezuela’s April 14 presidential vote to, and refuses to recognize the election of, President Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government responded with vehement anger. “I made efforts with the Colombian guerrillas to achieve peace in Colombia. Now they’re going to pay us like this, with betrayal,” Maduro said. “The situation … obliges us to review Venezuela’s participation as a facilitator in this peace accord,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. Venezuela recalled its envoy to the talks for “consultations” in Caracas.
FARC negotiators declared themselves to be “worried, very worried” on June 1, and wrote on June 7 that the dialogues were “in limbo” due to Venezuela’s temporary absence.
By then, however, tensions between Colombia and Venezuela were diminishing. “The Colombian armed conflict remains, and we are dedicated, beyond our differences, beyond the current conjuncture, to bring the eradication of this last focus of violence,” Jaua said on June 4. By June 12 Venezuela’s envoy to the talks, OAS Ambassador Roy Chaderton, had returned to Havana. “It would be a historic crime to deny Colombia the opportunity to reconcile,” Chaderton said on June 23.
Two rounds of talks, little agreement
The Colombian government and FARC negotiators went on to hold two ten-day rounds of talks in Havana (June 11-21 and July 1-9) on the second agenda topic, “political participation,” which includes three sub-points:
- Rights and guarantees for political opposition, especially for post-peace accord political movements. Access to the media.
- Democratic mechanisms for citizen participation, including direct participation.
- Promoting greater participation in the political process, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
As difficult as the land and rural development agenda topic was, noted Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, “the political participation issue may be even thornier.” Indeed, there is little progress yet to report. The guerrilla-government joint communiqué issued on July 9, after the eleventh round concluded, noted simply, “Each side presented its general vision on political participation, beginning with the issue of security guarantees for the opposition, as an essential element to build a final accord.”
A central difficulty appears to be diverging views about what this agenda item’s sub-topics mean. On June 19, the FARC began issuing a series of documents laying out its “10 minimal proposals” for the political participation agenda topic. The guerrillas’ demands are ambitious. They include doing away with presidentialism; abolishing the House of Representatives and replacing it with a “Territorial Chamber”; creating a new branch of government called “Popular Power”; and restructuring the armed forces, the tax system, and the central bank.
The Colombian government has repeatedly rejected these topics as beyond the scope of the agreed-upon agenda, calling on the guerrillas to pursue them through the political process after the accord is reached.
The demand upon which the FARC has insisted most strongly is a Constituent Assembly: an elected body that would rewrite Colombia’s constitution after a peace accord is reached. Guerrilla leaders have repeated this demand, calling it “the key to peace.” On June 11, the first day of the tenth round of talks, the FARC proposed that this constitutional convention take place in 2014, thus delaying for one year Colombia’s March 2014 legislative elections and May 2014 presidential election. Lead government negotiator Humberto De la Calle rejected both proposals: “That [the election delay] won’t happen, a constitutional convention won’t happen.”
De la Calle published a column in the June 16 issue of Colombia’s most-circulated newsmagazine, Semana, laying out the government’s case against the constitutional convention. “This is neither the optimal mechanism, nor the most practical, as it is more burdensome than other tools and doesn’t produce the desired effects.” The convention, he adds, would render the peace accords irrelevant, as its elected members could go well beyond — or completely reverse — what was agreed in Havana.
It is not clear why the FARC are seeking a constitutional convention. It would be a very risky move: the guerrillas are very unpopular in densely populated areas of Colombia, and would be unlikely to win more than a tiny minority of assembly members (though they may seek a number of automatic seats). Meanwhile former President Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the peace talks, remains quite popular, and his political group would be likely to win many seats: perhaps enough to roll back any of the FARC’s gains at the negotiating table, and maybe even enough to change election rules to allow Uribe to run for another term in office.
FARC leaders may be calculating that, although they would be a minority, Colombia’s elite would be so split on key issues that the ex-guerrillas could cast decisive, tie-breaking votes. The FARC also does not want a deal that appears to be inferior to what the smaller, weaker M-19 guerrilla group got in a 1990 peace process: those ex-guerrillas played a pivotal role in the convention that wrote Colombia’s 1991 constitution.
Instead of a constitutional convention, Colombia’s government is offering a referendum: a popular vote that would cement the peace accords’ commitments into law. The FARC rejects this. In a letter to Semana responding to De la Calle’s column, the group’s negotiators argue, “To submit to referendum an agreement that even in the partial definition of its first point is already more than 20 pages long … would not be practical or technically possible.”
In statements to the press on July 7, FARC negotiator Andrés París appeared to show some heretofore unseen flexibility on the constitutional convention demand. “Neither this point nor any other has to become an unmovable obstacle that impedes the progress of the process,” said París who, according to Medellín’s El Colombiano newspaper, “said that a constitutional convention is not the only way to legalize the peace process.” However, in a July 9 statement marking the end of the eleventh round of talks, the FARC repeated its insistence on a constitutional convention. The government remains firmly against the idea.
Another issue that may prove difficult is whether the FARC will disarm after a peace accord is reached. In past peace processes, the guerrillas have indicated a desire to keep their weapons even after the conflict ends, citing concerns for their own security. At the outset of the current talks, it appeared that the FARC may have been moving away from this position. But now the guerrillas are indicating reluctance to disarm.
Interviewed in Cali’s El País newspaper on June 16th, guerrilla negotiator Andrés París said, “[We are interested in following] the Irish model because principles were established and, for example, they did not turn in weapons.” (The Irish Republican Army did not fully disarm until 2005, seven years after the Good Friday Agreement officially ended the conflict.) París added that the guerrillas have “repeatedly” told the government that “it will never have” a photo of a ceremony in which guerrillas symbolically turn in weapons.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos voiced frustration in a June 23 speech before a march of conflict victims in El Carmen, Bolívar department. “Keep your word! Negotiate over those [agreed agenda] points, play clean, don’t start asking for the impossible, don’t start asking for things that nobody is going to concede, things that aren’t in the accords.” Santos continued, “Now we see that maybe they won’t turn in their weapons. One of the agenda points is precisely that they turn in their weapons because if not, why are we talking?” The President concluded his remarks by reminding the FARC that “the Colombian people’s patience is not unlimited.”
The U.P. is restored
On July 9 the State Council, Colombia’s top administrative tribunal, issued a decision that breathed some oxygen into the “political participation” issue. The magistrates reinstated the legal status of the Patriotic Union party. Founded during a failed mid-1980s peace process and at least initially linked to the FARC, the Patriotic Union saw about 3,000 of its members, candidates, and officeholders murdered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The party lost its legal charter when it failed to present candidates in the 2002 elections. The State Council ruled that this should not have happened because the party had been illegally forced to the margins by violence.
During June and July, the peace talks took place amid a backdrop of social protest, particularly a weeks-long series of road blockades and demonstrations carried out by small farmers in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, in northeastern Colombia near the Venezuelan border. There, thousands of protesters have been demanding an end to aerial herbicide fumigation in coca-growing areas, the establishment of a “peasant reserve zone” to limit the size of landholdings, and more state services. Colombia’s government has met the protesters with high-level attempts to negotiate, but also with heavy force. Violent clashes with protesters (some of whom themselves have employed violence) have killed four Catatumbo protesters.
As Catatumbo is a zone with much illegal armed group presence (FARC, National Liberation Army [ELN], and a tiny remnant of the otherwise demobilized EPL guerrillas), some Colombian government officials accuse the FARC and others of instigating the protests. Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo accused the FARC of “seeking to influence the process in Havana, and that is something we are not going to permit.” In a July 8 statement, the FARC negotiators in Havana expressed support for the Catatumbo protesters and denied that they have infiltrated them. However, journalists from Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine reported that while the protesters’ grievances are real and guerrillas are certainly not in charge, “we could confirm that many campesinos have been pushed into mobilization by the guerrillas.”
“Please, listen to the campesinos of Catatumbo; don’t repress them, don’t kill them, don’t criminalize them with the same old frame-up that they’re guerrillas,” said FARC negotiator Iván Márquez. President Santos replied: “It’s a stupid move, because with those messages, what they [the FARC] are doing is proving that those demonstrations were infiltrated by the guerrillas.”
A FARC-ELN partnership?
The July 1 start of the FARC talks’ eleventh round was accompanied by a new guerrilla announcement. The FARC and Colombia’s smaller but similarly long-lived guerrilla group, the ELN, released two joint communiqués indicating that the groups’ top leaders had held a “summit” somewhere in Colombia. At this meeting, these statements report, the FARC and ELN agreed to put behind past disputes (including a late-2000s conflict that claimed hundreds of lives in Arauca department), and to work for “unity of all political and social forces working to carry out profound changes in society.” The groups say that “a political solution to the social and armed conflict” is part of their “strategic horizon.” The ELN, notes the Colombian investigative website La Silla Vacía, appears to endorse the FARC’s call for a constitutional convention. Speaking to reporters in Havana, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said, “We will do everything we can so that talks between our sister organization and the government begin.”
It remains far from clear, however, how the ELN might be incorporated into talks. Joining the ongoing FARC talks at the same table, mid-agenda, might prove unwieldy and further slow down a process that is already not moving at great speed. A separate, parallel negotiating table, however, would give the guerrillas less leverage and create pressure on the government to appear to give both groups “equal treatment” despite their unequal strength.
Even if this could be worked out, two more immediate obstacles remain: resource policy and kidnapping. The ELN’s banner issue — as land is to the FARC — is Colombia’s policy toward mining and energy investment. This is a topic of central economic importance, accounting for much of Colombia’s current export revenue. The Santos government convinced the FARC to exclude mining and energy from the agenda of the Havana dialogues. But for the ELN it is probably the most important issue, and it is difficult to imagine a political negotiation that excludes it.
On kidnapping, President Santos has stated several times that talks with the ELN — a group that pioneered kidnapping for ransom as a fundraising tactic — will not start until the group releases all of its captives. In Arauca on July 4 (the group’s 49th anniversary), the ELN released an army corporal, Carlos Fabián Huertas, whom it had captured during an attack on a military column in mid-May. President Santos called the release “a gesture in the right direction.”
But the ELN continues to hold a Canadian mining company manager whom it kidnapped in Bolívar in January. Talks with the government will not begin until Jernoc Wobert is released. On July 11, though, in letters to President Santos and the Colombians for Peace civil-society group, the guerrillas reiterated their refusal to free Wobert. The ELN continues to insist that Wobert’s company first renounce four mining titles that it claims were obtained illegally.
Other indications of foreign support
The peace talks received an outpouring of international expressions of support after the May 26th accord on land and rural development. Since then, backing has been more sporadic, but the following examples stand out.
- UK Prime Minister David Cameron expressed “great support for the peace process and said that we must persevere, because it is not easy,” President Santos reported after meeting with Cameron in London on June 6. “I congratulated the President on progress in the peace talks with the FARC and looked forward to seeing more progress on this, and on human rights concerns, in the future,” read a statement from UK Foreign Minister William Hague.
- “We will keep supporting [the peace talks] in any way that we can be of use,” said the foreign minister of Chile, Alfredo Moreno, during a June 27 meeting with Colombian Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín.
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “expressed his enormous respect for the peace process in Colombia and highlighted the advances of the country, the work and leadership of President Santos to achieve a much safer and prosperous country,” according to a Colombian Foreign Ministry readout of a June 7 meeting, at the OAS General Assembly in Guatemala, between Kerry and Colombian Foreign Minister Holguín.
A twelfth round of talks between the FARC and the Colombian government is to begin in Havana on July 22nd. “If there is sufficient political will, we can achieve an agreement by the end of the year … as long as there is a wish to advance,” President Santos said on July 3. The FARC may not be in as much of a hurry, however. Guerrilla leaders continue to state that they “don’t want an ‘express process.’”
“We are certain that the five-decade long Colombian armed conflict is nearing an end,” FARC negotiator Iván Márquez told Colombia’s RCN television network on July 15. “It is possible [to reach an agreement by November]. But to achieve peace you need time. A bad peace deal is worse than war.”
Friday, June 28, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Protests: Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Venezuela
There have been many relatively large-scale protests happening in the region recently.
Chilean student are protesting for education reform. On Wednesday, over 100,000 students in Santiago marched in a demonstration, which turned violent as students clashed with police.
Venezuela has also been experiencing a series of protests involving the education sector.
In Costa Rica, people are taking to the streets to show their growing frustration with the administration of President Laura Chinchilla, one of the region’s least popular presidents.
In Nicaragua last week, senior citizens protested for greater benefits, particularly a reduced pension. The demonstrations also turned violent, but this week the government and protesters reached an agreement that addressed some demands. The agreement, however, did not include the issue of pensions.
In Brazil the nation-wide protests continue to rage on, despite President Dilma Rousseff's counter proposals to address several issues like education, health, and public transport. The New York Times reported on why Brazilians are so upset at their Congress, noting its "penchant for sheltering dozens of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes." Other articles highlight police violence, poor public services, and the lavish lifestyle of lawmakers as some of the reasons behind the movement. As BBC notes, the government has started to put some reforms in place in response to the massive demonstrations.
For a list of articles on the protest, visit Just the Facts’ Brazil News page. The Pan-American Post also has offered good coverage. Interesting note: The Rio police are running out of tear gas.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual World Drug Report on Wednesday. The report looked at a spectrum of related-issues, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are unregulated in international markets as they are often used for medical purposes and relatively new. The report also found thatMexico is the world's number two producer of opium and heroin in the world, and ties with Afghanistan as the second-largest producer of marijuana.
A U.S. Department of State report found that Iran's influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning, “As a result of diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies’ capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran’s poor management of its foreign relations," according to Bloomberg News.
Last Friday, negotiators from the FARC and Colombian government released a joint report (PDF) offering more detail about the land reform agreement that both parties signed about a month ago. More from Ginny Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace. Colombia's most powerful criminal organization, the Urabeños, has called for inclusion in the peace talks. More from InSight Crime
The Colombian government is ramping up efforts to target crime. This week the government announced plans to invest $2.3 billion into citizen security for 2013-2015. The funding accounts for 2.4% of the country's 2013 national budget, and will cover the addition of 25,000 police to the national force. Colombian media also reported this week that the country is looking to France as a model for how to target common crime. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón met with France's police director to discuss strategies such as the use of a gendarmerie, a militarized police force.
More than 12,000 peasant farms have participated in riots protesting eradication programs in the coca-producing region of Catatumbo in northeast Colombia. The violent protests have left four protestors dead and another 50 injured.
Mexico welcomed the U.S. Senate's passage of an immigration bill, but showed concern that border security measures included in the bill "move away from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness." According to theLos Angeles Times, “Fernando Belaunzaran, a congressman with Mexico's left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, tweeted this week, ‘ the U.S. is about to militarize the border with Mexico as if we were at war.’”
Mexico's Gendarmerie will now have 5,000 members and be part of the national police force, the country's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced over the weekend. In December, President Peña Nieto said the force would initially be comprised of 10,000 members, eventually reaching 30,000 or 40,000. Writing for InSight Crime, Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope has an article on the pros and cons of absorbing the Gendarmarie into the Federal Police.
The Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) on USAID reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The report criticized USAID's management of funds and projects and called for greater oversight. Several findings illuminated the reconstruction efforts shortfalls, among them -- of the 15,000 houses that were originally planned, just 2,649 are expected to be built.
Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí resigned after the country’s Congress called for his impeachment over mismanagement and corruption. Since April a congressionally-appointted oversight committee has run his office, citing a myriad of problems: impunity, failure to enact police reform, and misuse of funds.
Ecuador announced it was withdrawing from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which was the main point of leverage the United States had over it when considering the issue of granting Snowden asylum. ATPDEA is said to create hundreds of jobs in Ecuador and save exporters $23 million a year, offering U.S. trade benefits on 247 products. The deal was up for renewal in July, but members of the U.S. Congress had said they would vote against extending it if Ecuador granted Edward Snowden asylum. Ecuador then offered the United States $23 million for human rights training to help it avoid "espionage, torture, extrajudicial killings and other acts that denigrate humanity.”
BuzzFeed details Ecuador's own surveillance practices targeting journalists, including the U.S.-mediated purchase of a "GSM interceptor" in an effort to "intercept text messages, falsify and modify the text messages." Investigative magazine Vanguardia will publish its last print edition Monday. As newspaper El Comercio explained, the magazine's staff said the closure was not a product of the law, but rather a business decision made by the outlet's owners. Many have linked the closure to a controversial new media law passed last week. The law invokes harsh penalties for language deemed defamatory or libelous by a newly-created government council, but prohibits the government from shutting down media outlets. For more information on the law, check out Reporters Without Borders' description.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixo Ortega met with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to discuss possibly renewing relations. However, a recent audiotape of a Venezuelan opposition member claiming the opposition called for a coup in a meeting with U.S. diplomats in Washington could keep relations cool between the two countries. These statements add more fuel to President Maduro’s on-going rhetoric of a conspiracy campaign by the opposition to destabilize the government.
Cuba's first privately run wholesale market in half a century will open on July 1st, according to state media. The Economist reported that many see its opening as a further step on Cuba's hesitant path towards freeing up wholesale markets and loosening the state's control of food distribution.