Tuesday, January 10, 2012

FARC Leader Calls for Peace Talks

In a surprising development yesterday, the leader of Colombia’s FARC rebels called for renewed dialogue with the government.  In an announcement posted on the group’s website, Rodrigo Londono, alias “Timochenko,” called on President Juan Manuel Santos to return to the El Caguan peace process, which ended in 2002 after the guerrillas hijacked an airplane and kidnapped several hostages, including a Liberal Party Senator.

In the floridly written statement (Londono quotes Jack London and likens the FARC’s situation to Adam and Eve’s after they were cast from the Garden of Eden), the rebel leader said he wanted to discuss the issues "privatizations, deregulation, the absolute freedom of trade and investment, environmental degradation, democracy in a market economy, and military doctrine.” He also called for both sides to return to the negotiating table “without absolute truths.”

The move comes as somewhat of a surprise, as Londono is seen as more of a military than a political leader. When he replaced the FARC’s former commander “Alfonso Cano” in November, many saw it as a sign that the group could be less likely to return to the negating table (see InSight Crime’s analysis).

Londono made no mention of complying with the conditions that President Santos has called necessary for any future negotiations with the FARC: an unconditional ceasefire and the release of its hostages. Still, there is evidence to suggest that the group is ready to negotiate in good faith. Last month the rebels agreed to free six members of the security forces that they have taken prisoner, thanks to negotiations with the conflict mediation group Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz. As noted in the January 3rd Post, however, the release could take up to two months.

The government has also appeared to have made several steps to facilitate dialogue in recent months, including planned legislation which would allow demobilized guerrillas to hold public office.

News Briefs:

·         Following last month’s New York Times article on the increase of U.S. government-sponsored money laundering operations as part of a campaign to infiltrate drug trafficking organizations, the NYT gives a case study of such an operation, which “blurs the lines between fighting and facilitating crime.” According to documents made public by Mexican magazine Emeequis on Monday, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents smuggled and laundered $2.5 million in the United States as part of an attempt infiltrate the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in 2007. More from the AP.

·         El Universal reports on the discovery of 15 bodies piled on top of one another outside of a convenience store in the Mexican stare of Michoacan. As both the BBC and Reuters note, the state has been fairly quiet since officials killed the leader of the Familia Michoacana as part of a massive security sweep in December 2010, so the incident could be a sign that a conflict is flaring up again.

·         InSight Crime’s Patrick Corcoran takes a look at the Mexican government’s recent decision to withhold the tally of murders linked to organized crime from the public.

·         Mexico’s quasi-governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has said that police in the state of Guerrero fired into the crowd at a demonstration last month, killing two. The CNDH was not able to determine whether federal or local police officers were behind the shootings, and said officials did not act to help those wounded in the protest.

·         The New York Times offers a look into corruption in Rio de Janeiro, where many police officers and army officials are members of urban militias which control large swaths of the city.

·         Nearly two years after the devastating earthquake which destroyed much of the Haitian infrastructure, Haiti’s president has acknowledged that much recovery work remains to be done. As he presented his first government report since being elected in May, President Michel Martelly conceded that he had made several blunders in his first few months in office, as he is “young to power.”

·         AP and the Wall Street Journal report on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in Venezuela yesterday, where Hugo Chavez mocked the U.S. media’s portrayal of ties between the two countries, saying "When we devils get together ... it's like they go crazy.” Chavez also thanked Ahmadinejad for Iran’s economic assistance, which he said had helped build 14,000 homes and several factories.

·         Both Ahmadinejad and Chavez are expected to be in Nicaragua today for the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega. The AFP offers an overview of Ortega’s controversial third term in office, which he will begin with support from two-thirds of the Nicaraguan legislature. This majority is enough to enact major changes to the constitution, though so far Ortega’s FSLN has denied having any plans to do so.

·         The case against six Uruguayan soldiers who allegedly raped a Haitian man while serving in the U.N. peacekeeping mission there may be have to be temporarily abandoned, as prosecutors say they can’t obtain testimony from the victim. However, the AP reports that the man claims he was never contacted.

·         The New York Times’ Latitude blog analyzes Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s apparent false cancer diagnosis. After Clarin questioned the public portrayal of her illness, the Kirchner administration responded by providing a copy of the initial diagnosis, and has since aggressively shot down any suggestions that she intentionally misled the public into thinking she had thyroid cancer.