Monday, January 21, 2013

FARC Rebels Announce End of Two-Month Ceasefire

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) called an end to a unilateral ceasefire yesterday, with rebel leaders saying that the government’s decision refusal to join the truce left them with no other choice. While the ceasefire, which began in November, had always been scheduled to end on January 20, guerrillas said they would be willing to extend it if the government agreed to end hostilities as well. In Havana, where peace talks between officials and the FARC are still underway, the guerrilla group’s head negotiator Ivan Marquez urged the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos to reconsider its opposition to a truce.

While Santos has firmly rejected any talk of a government-backed break in hostilities, he did recognize that the FARC’s 60-day ceasefire had some effects, Caracol Radio reports. "The fact is that the number of operations carried out by the group decreased significantly, the number of police and soldiers killed or injured decreased," the president said on Sunday.

But the FARC did not completely halt all violent activity in the country over the past two months. According to the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, FARC elements violated the ceasefire several times; the body documented 57 reported attacks on security forces, infrastructure targets and civilian populations since November.

Still, these incidents were reasonably minor, and even President Santos noted that there was “relative compliance” with the ceasefire within the FARC’s ranks. This is a positive sign for the prospects for peace in the country as it shows that the FARC’s command structure is still reasonably strong, and that the rebel’s top negotiators do in fact have the ability to speak for their organization as a whole. It also means that if the peace talks succeed and eventually lead to a demobilization process, there is reason to believe that the majority of rebels will participate, and internal splintering will be kept to a minimum.

News Briefs
  • While the FARC have reined in armed actions in recent months, the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) drew attention to itself on Friday after the government announced that the guerrilla group had kidnapped five mining workers in the northern province of Bolivar. Three of the hostages, a Canadian and two Peruvians, are foreigners. El Espectador reports that the army is patrolling the area in search of the victims, and officials say three suspects linked to the incident are already in custody.  Although the FARC announced in February that it would stop kidnapping civilians for ransom, the ELN has made no such declaration and continues the practice, which the group refers to as “retention.”
  • After speaking out against the dominant global anti-drug strategy last April at the Summit of the Americas, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has resumed his call for drug decriminalization once more. In an interview with the Observer, Perez said that he will be traveling to Davos, Switzerland this week to participate in the World Economic Forum, and hopes to gain support for alternative drug policies there.
  • Meanwhile, Guatemala’s Plaza Publica and Central American expert Mike Allison both offer interesting analyses on Perez’s first year in office. Although the president so far has a mixed record on education issues and encouraging rural development in Guatemala, as both pieces note, his security policies have helped make him tremendously popular in the country.
  • As drug-linked violence continues to rage in parts of Mexico despite President Enrique Peña Nieto’s best efforts to reduce crime, the Associated Press profiles the rise of civilian self-defense squads in rural Mexico. According to the AP’s investigation, residents of at least a dozen towns across the country have started up their own vigilante groups to defend locals against powerful drug gangs.
  • La Tribuna reports that retired Honduran General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, who led the military portion of the coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, has been chosen by  the recently-formed Patriotic Alliance Party to run as a candidate in the upcoming Honduran presidential elections in November.  One of his opponents will be Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, which will doubtlessly make for a tense campaign season.
  • IPS highlights the unpopularity of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, which has been unaffected by Chile’s positive economic growth under his administration.  Analysts quoted by the news agency claim that this is evidence of the importance of personality politics in Chile, and point to the success of President Michelle Bachelet’s carefully-maintained image as further proof.
  • Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced yesterday that Hugo Chavez has finished post-operative care and entered a “new phase” of treatment, according to El Univeral. And while the vice president said that Chavez was gaining strength, he also assured Venezuelans on Friday that elections would be held within 30 days if Chavez were to resign, as mandated by the constitution.
  • For the first time in 50 years, Cubans will be able to legally watch non-Cuban television in real time. As of yesterday, Venezuela’s TeleSur will broadcast live on the island every day for 14 hours a day, according to the AP and BBC Mundo.
  • The government of the Falkland Islands has announced that the archipelago will hold a referendum on its political status this June, and that it will invite international observers to ensure that the vote is free and fair. Following the announcement, the Argentine government released a statement saying that the move showed a “lack of respect for international law.” The AP notes that vast majority of the islands’ residents are expected to vote in favor of maintaining the island’s status as a UK overseas territory.
  • The Miami Herald reports that the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti is pressuring the government to move towards holding long-overdue legislative and local elections.

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