Friday, October 19, 2012

Colombia-FARC Peace Talks Begin

The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas marked the official beginning of the first peace talks in a decade yesterday with a joint press conference in Oslo, Norway. The Associated Press aptly describes the Oslo talks as “brief, symbolic and largely perfunctory,” noting that more substantive dialogue will begin on November 15th in Havana, Cuba, when the two parties will address the issue of “comprehensive agrarian development.”

The brevity of the talks did not entirely preclude political drama from playing out in the news conference, however. As El Tiempo reports, the most notable aspect of the event was probably the scorching rhetoric espoused by Ivan Marquez, the leader of the FARC’s negotiation team.  In his remarks to the press, Marquez asserted that peace in Colombia did not mean “the silence of rifles, but rather structural changes,” and proceeded to rail against the major multinational mining and agribusiness companies operating in the country, as well as the recently-signed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Semana reports that Ivan Marquez’s words caused some journalists present to wonder, and later to ask, if he was going back on the initial five-point agreement the rebel group had previously signed in Havana, which focused solely on land reform, political participation, the FARC's involvement in the drug trade, victims’ rights and ending the conflict.

In reponse, the Colombian government’s lead negotiator, former Vice President Humberto de la Calle, coolly stated that neither the country’s economic model nor the issue of foreign investment were on the negotiating table. De la Calle added that “if talks do not progress, the government will not be held hostage to this process.”

Despite Marquez’s harsh tone, there is still reason to view the talks with optimism, as the Washington Office on Latin America’s Adam Isaacson told Bloomberg. “Though Marquez’s rhetoric was bellicose -- and it will continue to be, no doubt -- the launch of the talks was carried out with seriousness and discipline,” Isaacson said. He also pointed out that the FARC did not announce any “new obstacle” to the negotiations, and that the talks were devoid of a “circus atmosphere.”

La Silla Vacia notes that the grievances brought up by Marquez are not all that different from the current demands of many Colombian social movements, and suggests that his remarks could be a sign of the guerrilla movement’s attempts at making common cause with the more mainstream Colombian left. 

In an opinion piece for Semana, journalist and researcher Juan Diego Restrepo asks whether journalists are up to the task of covering the peace process objectively. Restrepo is critical of the decision by the two most-watched television channels in Colombia to cut their live coverage of the Oslo talks right before FARC representatives were about to address the press, and says that errors in questions asked to guerrillas and government officials alike demonstrate that Colombian reporters need to refresh themselves on the history of past talks.

News Briefs
  • The New York Times profiles Mexico’s participants in the Homeless World Cup, an organization which seeks to address the problem of homelessness through competitive soccer. According to the Times, Mexico’s teams “reflected a struggle less tied to living on the streets than to the dangers they produce. They represented the particular pain of this country in this moment: drug violence.”
  • The Economist takes a look at the progress Mexican officials have made in capturing high-level cartel kingpins, which has unfortunately not led to a reduction in violent crime.
  • El Universal and the AP report that Mexican law enforcement have arrested the leader of a religious movement in Michoacan known as “Nuevo Jerusalem” on charges related to the destruction of a public school.
  • The Argentine government has arrested former General Mario Benjamin Menendez, who served as the military governor of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands during the country’s brief occupation there in 1982. According to Clarin, Menendez helped oversee “La Escuelita,” the first and most infamous torture center of the Argentine dictatorship located in Tucuman province.
  • The New York Times has the latest on Ghana’s seizure of an Argentine naval ship at the behest of U.S. creditors, reporting that the head of Argentina’s military intelligence is the most recent official to resign in the aftermath of the incident.
  • The L.A. Times reports on objections to the recent erection of a statue of Azerbaijani dictator Heydar Aliyev in the upper class Mexico City neighborhood of Polanco. The government of Azerbaijan reportedly paid millions to have the statue built there, but many locals see it as both an eyesore and an affront to democratic values.
  • According to a Venezuelan doctor cited by The Miami Herald, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has suffered a stroke and is in a “neurovegetative state.” This same doctor apparently claimed that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was close to death back in April, however, so the report should probably be taken with a grain of salt.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was forced to postpone an appearance at a rally with Sao Paulo mayoral candidate Fernando Haddad today because it would clash with the finale of popular telenovela “Avenida Brasil,” The Guardian reports.
  • Ecuador’s electoral court yesterday officially set the date for the country's next presidential election on February 17, 2013. Reuters notes that President Rafael Correa would likely win re-election should he run, although he has not yet declared his candidacy.
  • The Wall Street Journal highlights the developing spat between the governments of Colombia and Argentina, sparked by Colombia’s claims that the country’s economy has surpassed that of Argentina's in size. 

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