Thursday, September 6, 2012

Assessing Santos' Peace Team Picks

President Juan Manuel Santos named the members of the negotiating team set to begin talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) this October in Norway. The FARC are expected to announce the members of their delegation later today.

Some of the picks appeared intended to appease critics on the Colombian right and reassure members of the security forces that their interests would be well represented. Notably, one of the negotiators includes retired General Jose Mora Rangel, whom La Silla Vacia calls the clearest symbol that the Oslo negotiations will be markedly different from the 1998-2002 peace process. Mora Rangel was the head of the armed forces during that time and is now the most prominent spokesman for retired military personnel. As La Silla Vacia points out, he represents the military hardline and the opposite of the “politics of appeasement” that some conservatives fear will be granted the FARC.

The security forces have another (unsurprising) representative on the negotiating team: retired police General Oscar Naranjo, one of Colombia’s most respected public figures who enjoys high approval ratings. The Wall Street Journal notes that Naranjo “has detailed knowledge of the FARC's drug-running operations, one of the most delicate areas to be addressed by the negotiations.”

Heading the negotiators is former vice president Humberto de la Calle. As a profile by La Silla Vacia highlights, De la Calle is one of Colombia’s most seasoned political operatives, who has worked for almost every presidential administration in the past 20 years. He is a liberal on good terms with the conservatives, which may also boost the credibility of the negotiating team in the eyes of right-wing critics. In the early 1990s, as Minister of Government under President Cesar Gaviria, De la Calle helped integrate demobilized members of guerrilla groups the M-19 and EPL into the political process. La Silla Vacia states that he was “essential” in implementing the reduced prison sentences and other benefits that encouraged the guerrilla groups to reintegrate. This past experience in a successful negotiation process is probably the most significant boost that De la Calle brings to the negotiating table.

Also on the team is former Environmental Minister Frank Pearl, who previously served as the High Comissioner for Peace under President Alvaro Uribe. Another negotiator is Sergio Jaramillo, one of Santos’ closest political advisors who served as vice minister when Santos was Uribe’s minister of defense. Rounding out the group is a representative from Colombia’s private business sector, Luis Carlos Villegas. Semana has a brief profile of the six negotiators, although the actual team sent to Oslo may be as large as 30 people, counting the aides and assistants. Semana also published the full text of Santos’ declaration when naming the negotiating team.

None of the delegation members is currently a sitting member of Congress, which has done little to dampen optimism in Congress for the peace talks, Semana reports. All in all, the delegation members appear to have been carefully selected, but it remains to be seen how well received they will be by the FARC. As Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas noted to Reuters, "This is the best chance at peace in a generation, but it's a Herculean task, there's no doubt.”

News Briefs
  • The Council on Foreign Relations examines sections of the Democratic platform relevant to Latin America. The key differences from the Republican platform is related to immigration and international trade, the CFR observes, noting that the Democrats “endorse an expansive free trade future.” And just outside the convention venue in North Carolina, the Guardian reports on a rally held by undocumented Latinos bearing the slogan “No Papers, No Fear.” 
  • The former head of Chile’s secret police during the Pinochet regime was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of a student activist in 1975, reports the BBC. The sentencing is partly symbolic as the former police chief, Manuel Contreras, is already in prison serving sentences that amount to over 200 years. 
  • An editorial in the Miami Herald criticizes attempts in Ecuador and Venezuela to penalize NGOs that receive funding from USAID. However, the newspaper picks some odd examples for examples of this alleged government “crackdown” on USAID-backed groups, including Venezuelan electoral watchdog group Sumate, which presents itself as a non-partisan civil group but is essentially an anti-Chavez organization. The Miami Herald editorial also fails to give any context on the long history of tensions between Sumate and the Chavez administration, including the NGO’s 2004 campaign to revoke the remainder of Chavez’s time in office via referendum. By not telling the full story on why Venezuela has had a troubled relationship with Sumate, the editorial weakens its own argument. Bloggings by Boz notes that the editorial sheds light on a key difference between the current US presidential candidates: a Romney administration would likely dramatically cut USAID’s budget “before Presidents Correa and Chavez can get around to kicking the US out.”
  • Four politicians in Rio de Janeiro, including a mayor, candidate for mayor, and head of city council, were arrested during an anti-corruption sting, reports the AP
  • Americas Quarterly notes that Ecuador revoked the permits for 26 foreign NGOs inside the country, under the terms of a 2011 decree that requires NGOs to sign new agreements with the government in order to continue operations. 
  • The Wall Street Journal on attempts by Mexican resort hotels to continue attracting US tourists, despite fears over increased violence and crime in the country. The article notes that even though most resort areas generally see low levels of drug trafficking violence, occupancy rates have still fallen dramatically in resorts along the coast. The manager of the Four Seasons resort in Punta Mita told the newspaper that part of the problem is the US perception of violence dynamics: “Unfortunately, when some people hear Mexico they equate [the country] as being one location. It’s almost…like there is an event in New York and you evacuate Los Angeles.”
  • The AP profiles the difficulty of changing dollars to pesos in Argentina under the new regulations enforced by President Cristina Fernandez, and some of the ways that the regulations have affected life for ordinary people trying to make purchases or use credit cards while abroad. 
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs argues that Caribbean states are increasingly looking to assert their independence, shake off the last remaining ties of colonial rule, and increase economic ties within the Caribbean region.

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