Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Colombian Government Launches Peace Talks With FARC

After weeks of rumored negotiations, the Colombian president acknowledged that the government has agreed to restart formal peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC ), which collapsed in 2002. According to initial reports yesterday by RCN Radio and Telesur, the government signed a preliminary agreement with the FARC in Havana, Cuba. The agreement was apparently brokered with the help of Venezuelan, Cuban and Norwegian officials.

As yet, there has been no mention of a ceasefire between rebels and the military. The agreement reportedly lays the basis for future peace talks to be held in Oslo, Norway beginning on October 5. If these are successful, negotiations will continue in Havana. Caracol Radio reports that the talks in Oslo will be centered around six themes: rural poverty and development; participation in the political process; turning in arms; truth and reconciliation; drug trafficking and insecurity.

While President Juan Manuel Santos had long denied reports that his government was holding talks with the guerrillas, he acknowledged the Havana agreement in an announcement last night. Santos also extended the invitation to members of the country’s second-largest guerrilla army, the National Liberation Army (ELN), the leader of which recently told Reuters that his group would be interested in peace talks so long as they did not involve a ceasefire as a precondition. However, the president did not mention the terms of the talks or confirm the timeline outlined in previous media accounts.

A separate Reuters piece cites a Colombian intelligence source who says that U.S. President Barack Obama “is aware of the process and is in agreement.”

For now it appears that President Santos’ peace bid has the support of the vast majority of the country. An El Tiempo poll conducted last week notes that 74 percent of Colombians support negotiations with guerrillas. The move could thus be a boon for Santos’ flagging approval ratings, which have fallen in recent weeks to around 25 percent.  

Not everyone is happy with the new development, however. Ex-president Alvaro Uribe reserved some predictably harsh criticism for his former defense minister’s peace initiative. Speaking at an academic forum in Baranquilla, Uribe claimed that Santos’ “negotiations with terrorists” would only serve to boost the reelection campaign of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and will prompt “electoral propaganda from Chavez saying that he managed to sit the Colombians down for peace talks.”

For a more in-depth analysis of the peace talks: La Silla Vacia has a rundown of the eight key factors necessary to a successful peace process, InSight Crime examines what this could mean for the future of security in Colombia, and the Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris’ Ariel Avila lays out the case for negotiation in an op-ed for Semana magazine.


News Briefs
  • The New York Times profiles the uneasy truce between El Salvador’s two largest street gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Five months in, the truce appears to be holding steady despite several recent high-profile murders of gang leaders, contributing to a 32 percent drop in homicides in the country.  Although some analysts fear that the government’s facilitation of this truce a dangerous level of political agency to the maras (see InSight Crime’s take on this), President Mauricio Funes assured the public yesterday that his government has not negotiated directly with gang leaders
  • The Times with a look at Mexico’ s slow progress on the justice reform front, and U.S.-facilitated trainings for judicial officials. Thanks to a $5 million program developed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Mexican Attorney General’s office, 7,700 government prosecutors, investigators and forensics specialists have been trained in conducting more open, accusatory trials.
  • Police in Nicaragua say they have seized more than $9 million from 18 individuals attempting to pass themselves off as members of a Mexican news crew, the AP reports. The individuals were arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of having criminal ties.
  • The Brazilian Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s decision to place a hold on Brazil’s Belo Monte dam project in the Amazon on the grounds that local indigenous groups were not properly consulted. The AFP notes that this is just a preliminary decision, and that it could be reversed if the Court rules in favor of local tribes.
  • A Nuevo Herald investigation has found that the daughter of Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo, who some have suggested could succeed Raul Castro in office, has defected to the United States. 24 year-old Glenda Murillo Diaz reportedly crossed the border into Texas on August 16, and is now residing in Tampa, Florida.
  • The fire at Venezuela’s Amuay refinery, where a deadly blast killed more than 40 on Saturday, has nearly been extinguished according to Venezuelan officials. Reuters reports that firefighters have put out the flames raging in two of the three affected storage tanks, and the third will follow shortly. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez claims that the facility, which is the second-largest oil refinery in the world, will resume production by the end of the week.
  • More information has come out about Tropical Storm Isaac’s toll on Haiti. At least 24 were killed as a result of the storm, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Infobae reports that Chile’s security minister admitted that some police officers forced a number of detained student protesters to remove their clothes last week in an apparent attempt to humiliate and demoralize them. The names of the authorities responsible were not released, however, and no charges have been brought against them.
  • For those unfamiliar with Chile’s student protests, BBC Mundo has a nice overview of the main issues at stake, as well as an explanation of the historical importance of the student movement in the country.
  • Mexico’s Caravan for Peace, led by poet Javier Sicilia, is on a tour of the United States. The Caravan has been stopping in major cities since August 12, and is scheduled to reach Washington, DC on September 12. The AFP interviews activist Daniel Gershenson, who provides a firsthand account of the movement’s work in the U.S. so far.