Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FARC Announce Unilateral Ceasefire

The second round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) officially began in Havana, Cuba yesterday with a surprising announcement from Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s second-in-command and leader of the group’s negotiation team. In a press conference, Marquez said that the FARC’s leadership had “order[ed] its guerrilla units throughout the country to halt all types of offensive military operations against government forces as well as all acts of sabotage against public or private infrastructure" beginning at midnight on November 20th and ending at midnight on January 20th

The unilateral ceasefire is the first such declaration made by the FARC since the last attempted peace negotiations, which ended in 2002. According to a statement published on the rebel group’s website, the move is meant to "strengthen the climate of understanding necessary for starting the dialogue to achieve the purpose desired by all Colombians."

Despite the declaration, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos has vowed to continue military operations against the guerrillas. In a brief statement in Bogota yesterday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said that the announced ceasefire was simply not credible. "It's very hard to believe they are able to stop murdering children and launching attacks against civilians like the ones we have seen in recent weeks," he said. Caracol Radio reports that the guerrillas have carried out a total of 48 attacks since peace talks were first announced in August, killing 30 members of the security forces and 17 civilians.

The ceasefire is a potential game-changer in the peace negotiations. La Silla Vacia notes that it amounts to a test of the strength of the FARC’s command structure, as it puts the group’s top leadership in conflict with its forces on the ground. If a rogue element in the guerrilla group disobeys orders and launches an attack, it could call into question the credibility of the FARC’s top negotiators to speak for their organization as a whole.

According to Ariel Avila of the Nuevo Arco Iris Foundation, however, the mere fact that the FARC has announced the ceasefire is proof that it has the organizational capacity to enforce it. As Avila told Semana magazine, "The announcement shows that they are completely organized, and it will be obeyed at every rank."

The FARC’s unilateral cessation of hostilities also puts the government in a difficult position. While Santos has repeatedly maintained that a ceasefire is not on the table, waging an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign over the next two months could create a public relations disaster, painting the government as unnecessary aggressors in the conflict. Considering the fact that more than 70 percent of Colombians support the peace process, this would not be a smart move. Ultimately, if the FARC are able to maintain internal discipline enough to hold the temporary ceasefire, it may force Santos to suspend the government’s campaign against the guerrillas whether he wants to or not.

News Briefs

  • In long-awaited decision, the International Court of Justice on Monday upheld Colombia's sovereignty over a cluster of seven Caribbean islands, rejecting Nicaragua’s claim to the archipelago. At the same time, however, the court ordered the expansion of Nicaragua’s maritime boundary, granting the Central American country increased fishing grounds and the rights to reported underwater oil reserves in the area. Semana reports that in response, President Santos “emphatically rejected” the ruling, saying it is inconsistent with previous treaties signed by the two countries. El Tiempo has more on what the decision means for the two countries’ maritime borders.
  • La Tercera reports that on Sunday, three former leaders of Chile’s student movement announced their intentions to run for office as representatives in next year’s legislative elections, submitting their “pre-candidacy” to the country’s Communist Party. Among them is Camila Vallejo, the geography student and former president of the University of Chile Student Federation who became the international face of Chile’s student movement earlier this year. Meanwhile, El Ciudadano offers a comprehensive outline of what is next in store for the movement as it continues to fight for more affordable education in the country.
  • Mexican leftist politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is launching a new political party in the country, according to El Universal. On Monday, Lopez Obrador kicked off the first convention of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which initially began in 2011 as an offshoot of his own presidential campaign. MORENA, which aims to be an alternative leftist voice in Mexican politics, elected its state delegates yesterday and is set to vote on its national leader today.
  • A new poll conducted by Peru’s El Comercio puts the approval rating of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala at 43 percent, marking a five month high. The survey found that those who approve of Humala said they backed him because of his increased focus on economic development and social programs, while his critics cited insecurity and rising prices as their chief reasons for disliking him.
  • Plaza Publica has an in-depth investigation on the damage that the November 7th earthquake caused in the western Guatemalan province of San Marcos, where a lack of state presence has ensured that hundreds of impoverished residents are still without homes.
  • Ecuador’s National Assembly will vote today on President Rafael Correa’s proposed tax hike on the banking sector, which is intended to help pay for increased welfare payments in the country.  BBC Mundo reports that the measure is likely to pass, although it sets the stage for a larger showdown between Correa and the Ecuadoran financial sector in the near future, a view shared by the Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog.
  • The New York Times reports on support for ending the U.S. government’s 50-year-old trade embargo on Cuba, which is growing among the Cuban exile community and in Washington policy circles alike.
  • The Miami Herald compares New York’s attempts to find shelter for some 40,000 people affected by Hurricane Sandy to the Venezuelan government’s response to mass flooding in late 2010 and early 2011, in which an estimated 30,000 families were relocated to government offices, shopping malls, and (in some cases) luxury hotels. According to the country’s hotel owners association, nearly half of these “five star evacuees” are still living in hotels rent free, awaiting reassignment to subsidized housing.
  • Analyst James Bosworth takes a look at the message that President Obama’s weekend diplomatic visit to Asia sends to Latin American leaders, pointing out that the U.S. holds Asian governments to different (and notably lower) standards than governments in the Americas when it comes to issues like human rights and democracy promotion.

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