Tuesday, May 29, 2012

FARC to Free French Journalist, As President Legislates for Peace

Colombia’s FARC rebels have said they will free French journalists Romeo Langlois on Wednesday, after holding him prisoner for more than a month.

Langlois surrendered to the guerrillas when they attacked an army patrol he was embedded with on April 28. The FARC have repeatedly said they would free him, but the date of the release was only given in a statement dated Saturday on website www.resistencia-colombia.orgreports the WSJ. They will hand the journalist over to a committee made up of representatives of the Red Cross, activist group Colombians for Peace, and French delegates. Colombians for Peace leader, former Senator Piedad Cordoba, told press that “Tuesday at midday we should know the nearby city where we have to travel towards and Wednesday in the morning we’ll receive the exact coordinates,” reports Colombia Reports. Military operations will be suspended in the surrounding area until 7 a.m. Thursday.

On Monday the rebels released a proof-of-life video which apparently showed Langlois to be in good spirits, while having a wound he sustained during the clash attended to by rebels. "It's weird. Usually I ask the questions. I am the journalist, but ok," the French reporter is seen telling a female guerrilla, in the footage which appeared to be shot soon after he was taken captive, according to Colombia Reports, which has posted the video.

The holding of Langlois was seen by some as the FARC reneging on their statement that they would no longer carry out kidnapping for ransom, thereby holding up efforts for peace. The Economist looks at the efforts of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to push through a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to set more lenient criteria for dealing with ex-guerrillas if serious peace talks do get underway.

“These proposals have aroused the opposition of some strange bedfellows, including Alvaro Uribe, Mr Santos’s hardline predecessor, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based pressure group,” notes the Economist, with both sides arguing that the move could allow impunity for rebels who have committed crimes against humanity.

Previous legislation dealing with the disarming of paramilitary groups was deeply flawed, with only seven convictions achieved since the peace process in the mid 2000s. “But the debate in Colombian society about how to strike a balance between justice and peace will continue,” says the magazine.

News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has vetoed parts of a bill regulating the protection of the Amazon rainforest, including an amnesty for illegal loggers. Environmentalist groups had asked her to veto the entire thing, reports the BBC. On Monday she presented a final version of the bill, which will still reduce the amount of forest that farmers must conserve and cut penalties for those that break the law. This may have been as much as the president could do politically, reports the LA Times; “Rousseff often has difficulty corralling a coalition to support her positions and may not have been able to hold back revisions to the forestry law any more than she did, analysts say.”
  • The Miami Herald reports that an undersea fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela, trumpeted as a move to bring faster Internet access to the island, is in service, but only for the use of the government. Last week, the WSJ published a report asking what had become of the cable after it arrived to the island in February 2011, saying “maddening, nobody has explained what happened to the much-ballyhooed $70 million project.” According to a Venezuelan official, the cable is in operation, but its benefits have not been made available to the Cuban public.
  • The New York Times reports on a virtual reality program being used to treat residents of Ciudad Juarez, north Mexico, who have been traumatized by the violence of the drug war that has enveloped the city in recent years. Patients work with therapists and watch scenes of soldiers battling gunmen, a safehouse for kidnap victims, an armed robbery, or a police checkpoint, with the aim of forcing them to relive and cope with their ordeals. They have tasks like revisiting the site of their trauma - this is important, according to the therapists, “because unlike Iraq war veterans who eventually leave the battle zone, patients in Ciudad Juarez continue to live in danger.”
  • A member of the Knights Templar, a drug trafficking organization based in west Mexico, has been detained along with several other individuals over an arson attack on Sabritas, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, reports the AP. Warehouses of the potato chip company were firebombed on Friday and Saturday in the states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, in what authorities said was part of extortion attempts. It is noteworthy that the criminal group is apparently targeting such a large organization, as usually smaller businesses would be seen as presenting an easier target. 
  • The New York Times reports on Peru’s efforts to cope with the legacy of the brutal conflict in the 1980s and 1990s, with many alarmed by efforts to found a political party linked to the Shining Path guerrilla group -- “many of the hundreds of thousands of signatures the former guerrillas collected came from college students too young to recall the turmoil of the war.” See InSight Crime's look at the organization, Movadef, which has been banned from registering itself as a political party.
  • The NYT reports on the work of the Border Patrol at the US-Canada border on the Olympic Peninsula, far west of Washington state. The number of agents has risen 10-fold in six years, which according to some is because “the peninsula has ... become an unlikely new frontier in the effort to fight illegal immigration from Latin America.” The increased detentions of and pressure on the undocumented have driven many away, leaving local schools short of pupils, local shops with dropping custom, and trailer parks half-empty, says the report.
  • With more on migration, the NYT has a piece on stash houses for immigrants who make their way over the US border into Texas, which agents are now detecting more frequently, and have more people crammed into each one. Often the migrants are kept in overcrowded conditions, with 60 to a three-bedroom house, sometimes beaten and abused. The phenomenon has declined in Arizona and California in recent years, but officials were not certain of the reasons for this. Some told the newspaper that people smugglers were desperately trying to increase profits in the face of falling migration over the Mexican border.
  • The Economist looks at Danilo Medina’s win in the Dominican Republic presidential elections, saying that he may find himself governing under the shadow of predecessor Leonel Fernandez, from the same party, who has held office for 12 of the last 16 years. The current first lady will be Medina’s vice president, and there is every chance that Fernandez will run for the presidency again in four years. Their party, the PLD, dominates all branches of the government, appointing the members of the Supreme Court and the Electoral Tribunal, as well as the body which oversees government accounts.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics looks at the State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Report, released Thursday, criticizing the Honduras section for stating that the government of that country took important steps to strengthen human rights last year. The Lobo government's appointment of a minister for justice and human rights is “at best a symbolic nod to human rights, without effect in the real world, and at worst -- as here -- serves as a kind of blind to serious assessment of the government's abysmal human rights record.”
  • The Washington Post has a beginners’ guide to the Mexican presidential elections, and a piece on leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is trying to “repackage himself as the wise uncle that Mexico needs to take itself into the 21st century.”
  • El Salvador’s Contrapunto has a piece on the presidency of Uruguay’s Jose “Pepe” Mujica, who it says donates 90 percent of his salary to charity.

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