Monday, November 26, 2012

Colombia Peace Talks Produce First Results but Tensions Continue

The first week of formal talks between the Colombian government and guerrilla insurgents the FARC has yielded plans for a public forum on agrarian reform - the first of the five points up for negotiation.

“The objective of the forum will be to receive useful input and proposals from the participation of civil society,” according to a statement issued from negotiations in Havana. It will be held in Bogota over three days on December 17th, 18th and 19th,

The government and the guerrillas have invited the UN and the National University investigative group to organize the forum and report back on its conclusions, which will be handed to negotiators on January 8th.

However, despite the progress from Havana, the situation in Colombia remains tense.  On Sunday, the FARC responded to allegations they have broken their own unilateral ceasefire  by accusing the army of faking combats in a “a dangerous pantomime” of “media shows” and “televised false flag operations.” They also  accused Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon of “trying to sabotage efforts to make peace in the country.”

However, the rebels did admit to blowing up two electricity pylons in the  municipality of Campamento, but claimed the order to halt operations had not reached local commanders in time and blamed the incident on the media for not publicising the ceasefire widely enough.

After pausing for a break today, negotiations will resume Tuesday and the next announcement on progress is expected Thursday, after the end of the second phase of talks is completed.

News Briefs
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has dismissed a number of senior officials after six people were arrested for allegedly running an influence-peddling ring selling government permits to businesses in return for bribes, reports the BBC.
  • Colombia has has sent a letter to the United Nations and will send another to the Organization of American States to protest a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice granting almost 30,000 square miles of disputed maritime territory to Nicaragua, Colombia Reports reports. The court ruled in favor of Colombian sovereignty of the disputed islands of San Andres and Providencia and surrounding waters but granted remaining territory in the western Caribbean sea to Nicaragua.
  • The owner and editor of Brazilian news website Ultima Hora News,Eduardo Carvalho, has been murdered by unknown gunmen, the Global Post reports. Carvalho, who specialized in publishing stories critical of politicians and police in his home state of Mato Grosso do Sul, had been receiving death threats since last year. He is the 11th journalist to be murdered in Brazil this year, according to Reporters Without Borders. In three of the cases a definite link with their work has been established.
  • The Washington Post reports on the small community of Jewish converts in Bello, a small town on the outskirts of Medellin in Colombia. The converts believe they are descended from Jewish families that fled the Spanish inquisition and lived incognito in Catholic Colombia. Historical records and anecdotal evidence suggest Jewish refugees played a central role in founding many towns in the state of Antioquia, where Medellin is located.
  • The New York Times has a feature and slide show examining the population explosion in cities in the Amazon region of Brazil. The region now has a population of close to 25 million after growing 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, a boom fueled by high birth rates and economic opportunities and one which could have serious environmental implications.
  • Argentina will today appeal for US judges to suspend an order for it to pay $1.3 billion to holders of defaulted debt, the Financial Times reports. If the ruling is not overturned and Argentina refuses to pay the bonds, which are unpaid since the country’s $100 billion default in 2001, then it could mean the country heading for a technical default.
  • The L.A. Times looks at the mixed responses to Rio de Janeiro’s slum pacification program, in which specialist police units have militarized several of the city’s favelas after driving out the drug gangs that had run them. While many of the favela’s residents were glad to see the back of the gangs they now complain of police abuse and corruption and some believe behind the true motives for the program lie more with real estate speculation and preparations for the World Cup and Olympics than concern for their welfare. The BBC contrasts the situation in Rio with that of Sao Paulo, where the crime rate is on the rise and the city has been hit by an ongoing conflict between the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) gang and the police, which has left 95 police officers dead.
  • The Havana Note blog analyses the decision by the family of Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor imprisoned on spying charges in Cuba, to sue the US government and Development Alternatives Incorporated for their role in his imprisonment. The blog concludes that for the U.S. government, it will now be “harder to sustain a self-righteous stance of injured innocence about Alan given what he has put on the record and could expand in a public trial. But an out of court settlement for a more reasonable amount of damages can only be achieved if coupled with Alan's release. And that can't happen until Washington accepts Havana's offer of serious bilateral negotiations.”
  • Nineteen bodies were found in a mass grave near Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, the AP reports. Eleven of them were apparently long-dead men and eight others were tortured and killed in recent days.
  • The Miami Herald has a feature looking at Ranmase - a weekly Haitian radio program that pits politicians and other guests against each other in a no-holds-barred debate and is, according to one former guest, where culture, politics, and social conflicts burst open.”
  • The BBC looks at the growing number of young Mexican entrepreneurs using start-up businesses in an effort to create positive social changes within the country.
  • In the fourth part of the it’s series on the Panama Canal, the Miami Herald looks at the role of Afro-Caribbean workers in construction of the canal and the campaign to keep alive the memories of their suffering and labor.