Friday, August 24, 2012

Is Colombia's Cabinet Reshuffle Part of Peace Plan?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asked his entire cabinet to hand in their resignations, amid plummeting approval ratings and rumors that he is holding peace talks with the rebels.

After remaining above 70 percent for his first year in office, Santos’ approval rating dropped below 50 percent as he reached the halfway point of his four year term this month. This is thought to be due in large part to the perception that security is worsening, with dissatisfaction stoked by former President Alvaro Uribe, who is doing his best to stir discontent among the population and institutions like the armed forces.

Sources in the presidential palace told El Tiempo that Santos wanted a cabinet that was more focused on peace and on social issues. It said that former presidential candidate Horacio Serpa was tipped to be the interior minister, and that he could help create the right climate for peace negotiations. Lucho Garzon of the Green Party is also likely to take a place in the new line-up. Justice Minister Ruth Stella Correa backed this theory, saying that Santos might be seeking to set up a cabinet “more closely linked to the subject of peace,” Semana reports.

La Silla Vacia says that Santos may be trying to create a strong team capable of withstanding attacks from the Uribe camp if peace talks with the rebels do begin. Uribe has accused the current administration of conceding too much to the guerrillas, and claimed they are secretly holding talks with FARC leaders in Cuba.

Santos may also be trying to definitely distance himself from the Uribe era, getting rid of those more closely linked to the former president, as El Tiempo notes.

La Silla Vacia has a list of the ministers who are expected to stay and those who are expected to go, including those in the ministries of health, transport and education.

The first changeover announced was that Energy and Mining Minister Mauricio Cardenas would replace Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry, which Reuters called a “surprise move,” given Echeverry’s good performance over the last two years. Colombia’s economy expanded 6 percent in 2011. Echeverry told the Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog that the change was at his request, as he wanted to leave the post for personal reasons. This will mark the second change in mining minister in Santos’ two years in power.

News Briefs 

  • The WSJ takes a look at Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who it says has taken the opportunity offered by the Julian Assange asylum case to command the world stage, casting himself as a statesman and defender of press freedom. Carlos Perez, an owner of Ecuadoran newspaper El Universo who was sentenced to three years in prison for a column criticizing the government, told the WSJ that Correa and the WikiLeaks founder have little in common. "Assange is a hacker who thinks that governments should make information transparent, while Correa thinks the government shouldn't give out any information at all." The Christian Science Monitor reports from Guayaquil, where Correa told press that his position on Assange was not a contradiction. “There is this image of the media as being about Woodward and Bernstein and the struggle for freedom of expression, but that’s not the case here. The press in Latin America is totally corrupt.”
  • The AP reports on the split between the leaders of Mexico’s Zetas gang, saying that it appears Miguel Angel Trevino Morales “Z-40” has won against his former partner Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, “Z-3.” A US agent told the news agency that Trevino had gained more loyalty from the Zetas members because he was the one fighting on the streets with them, while Lazcano took more of a background role.
  • The leader of the Knights Templar drug gang has released a video in which he calls for the country to form a common front against the Zetas, “and particularly against Z-40.” He also claims that his organization is not a drug cartel, saying; "Our only function is to help the people, preserve our state ... and keep our country free of people causing terror ... It sounds a little controversial, but this is what we want: to live in peace." In the background were a Mexican flag, a statue of a knight, and pictures of Che Guevara. InSight Crime says that the Knights are one the criminal groups in Mexico most dedicated to propaganda.
  • Francisco Toro writes for the NYT Latitude blog on a rare challenge to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on one of his live TV broadcasts, when a group of steelworkers criticized a halt in construction work on a local factory, and demanded a return to collective bargaining. Toro calls this kind of confrontation on Chavez’s shows, which feature carefully selected government supporters, a “rare spectacle.” 
  • International Crisis Group’s blog has a report from Villa Nueva, Guatemala, which is the site of a US-backed model police precinct. The program, which aims to counter corruption among officers and provide training in community-oriented policing, was implemented in 2004, but the municipality has only started to see firm security improvements in recent months, helped by the local government’s work to improve services like street lighting and rubbish collection.
  • In the WSJ, a former State Department official argues that under the Obama administration the State Department’s “Background Notes” on foreign countries have become mere PR puff pieces for the president. James M Roberts argues that 70 percent of the latest Brazil briefing is now about the Obama administration’s programs in the country, and that right-leaning governments such as Chile’s come in for greater criticism than left-orientated ones.
  • An analyst from Eurasia Group told World Politics Review that a Belize was pursuing a high-risk strategy with its threats to default on its debt, and that Prime Minister Dean Barrow is gambling that he will be able to rely on funds from multilateral institutions. “Overall, this is a very risky move given Belize’s debilitated infrastructure and vulnerability to natural disasters -- which explain in part why the country is so saddled with debt in the first place.”
  • The Washington Post interviews Colombian author Hector Abad Faciolince, whose memoir about the murder of his father by paramilitary groups in the 1980s has recently come out in the US. Abad says that his book, “Oblivion,” aims to keep his father’s story alive in “a country without memory.” 
  • The NYT has an editorial on the plight of Haitians living in inadequate accommodation as tropical storm Isaac moves towards the island. About a third of the million made homeless in 2010 still live in temporary camps. “The slogan “Build back better” — so often repeated as the principle guiding the immense international aid and reconstruction effort — must seem like a cruel joke.” The AP reports that the storm is unlikely to gain enough power to strike HispaƱola as a hurricane.
  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has freed a rancher accused of ordering the killing of US nun and rainforest activist Dorothy Stang in 2005. Regivaldo Galvao was freed on appeal in 2010, but had been ordered back to prison while the appeal process was completed, reports the AP.

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