Friday, January 25, 2013

Progress in Peace Talks Permits Cautious Optimism in Colombia

As the latest round of talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) comes to a close in Havana, Cuba, some apparent overlap between the two parties’ positions offers hope for a sustainable peace in the country. Before breaking for a weeklong recess on Thursday, both the guerrilla and government negotiating teams admitted that they had found some common ground on the issue of land reform, one of the main disputes being addressed at the talks.

El Tiempo reports that the FARC published a message, available on their website, to their Chilean and Venezuelan facilitators in which they thanked them for serving as intermediaries in the negotiations, and recognized “fortunate coincidence” between the group’s position on land reform and inequality and that of the Colombian government. Rebel spokesman Jesus Santrich confirmed this to members of the press in Havana yesterday, and said that the talks are moving forward at an accelerated pace, or as he put it, "in the rhythm of mambo."

The government has agreed that it shares a similar attitude towards land reform with the FARC, according to former vice president Humberto de la Calle, head of the official negotiating team. Yet De la Calle also told reporters yesterday that “notable differences remain,” signaling that the two still had a great deal of ground to cover before reaching a deal.

The chief negotiator also reiterated the government’s official rejection of a ceasefire with FARC rebels. "We want peace, but not at any cost. Not if as a result of the conversations the guerrillas are able to get stronger and continue to wage war," De la Calle told reporters, an allusion to the previous series of peace talks a decade earlier, in which the FARC took advantage of a ceasefire to strengthen their control over rural areas.

While the guerrillas so far appear to be engaging in the latest peace process much more earnestly, some fear there is a risk that history will repeat itself. An Ecuadoran general, for instance, announced last week that he had reason to believe that the FARC have been stepping up arms purchases in Ecuador during peace talks, although the guerrillas have denied the allegation.

Ultimately, however, there appears to be reason to believe that the latest round of dialogue may actually end the decades-long conflict in the South American country. Even President Juan Manuel Santos, who has previously voiced only measured optimism about the prospects for peace, seemed to express increased hopefulness in a tribute to the conflict’s diplomatic facilitators yesterday, asking: "If today we are a growing country that is an example to many, what could Colombia be without this conflict?”

News Briefs
  • Chile will host a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Santiago tomorrow, and both the Financial Times and El Universal have in-depth coverage of the issues to be discussed at the conference. The latter notes that the only Latin American government absent from the meeting is that of Paraguay, which the Chilean government apparently “asked not to come.”
  • Santos’ statement may have been a reference to remarks made by US Secretary of State nominee John Kerry yesterday at a senate confirmation hearing, in which he called Colombia a “model for the region” and “an example to the rest of Latin America about what awaits them if we can convince people to make better decisions," according to El Tiempo. President Santos also announced yesterday that Colombia is among the first in a list of countries poised to be admitted into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). If accepted, Colombia would become the third Latin American member in the organization, after Mexico and Chile.
  • The Santos administration unveiled two ambitious decrees yesterday designed to support women who have been victims of domestic violence. According to the AFP, one provides a tax cut to businesses which hire women who have suffered from any kind of domestic abuse, and the other lays out the conditions under which victims are eligible for temporary government assistance in the form of food, housing and medical care.
  • In response to the Honduran Congress’ passage of a controversial bill allowing for the establishment of “model cities” on Wednesday, La Prensa reports that the Honduran Association of Jurists will present a legal challenge to the law, an earlier version of which had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Honduras Culture and Politics, however, argues that the new law is nothing like the previous legislation, and amounts to “a law designed to benefit the monied class in Honduras … the class that sees the government of Honduras as its reliable income stream.”
  • The model cities law was not the only controversial law passed by the Honduran Congress this week.  Lawmakers also passed a law granting themselves the authority to remove any government official (a power that it already claimed by dismissing four Supreme Court justices in December), and a law on mining which critics claim is designed to keep royalties low and limit restrictions on harmful practices like strip mining, according to La Tribuna and La Prensa.
  • After Guatemalan President Otto Perez announced yesterday at the World Economic Forum that he is in favor of decriminalizing illegal drugs, he also told reporters that that he would not be opposed to facilitating a kind of truce with street gangs in order to reduce violence, following El Salvador’s example. El Periodico reports that Perez later said that his comments were taken out of context, however, and that a gang truce would not be implemented in Guatemala.
  • The Mexican government has announced that it will end its practice of parading criminal suspects before TV cameras and members of the press before putting them on trial, and will no longer refer to suspects by their group affiliation or alias. InSight Crime suggests that this is part of President Enrique Peña Nieto's attempts to differentiate his criminal policies from those of his predecessor.
  • In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Human Rights Watch’s Juan Miguel Vivanco criticizes the United States government’s recent praise of Mexico’s human rights performance, calling this a “celebration of failed policies.”
  • This week's issue of The Economist offers coverage of the progress made by Guatemala’s President Otto Perez, as well as the case of a Venezuelan family which claims it is being targeted for murder by state police and a critical piece on Cuba’s failure to replace its aging leadership with younger faces.
  • Spanish newspaper El Pais’ decision to publish a doctored image that its editors falsely believed to depict Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lying in a hospital bed continues to cause controversy. According to EFE and the Wall Street Journal, the Venezuelan government has announced that it intends to take legal action against the newspaper.  Meanwhile, FT’s Beyond Brics blog reports that Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez has also expressed outrage at the photo’s publication, likening El Pais to her adversaries in the Argentine media group Clarin.
  • Brazil’s Truth Commission, charges with investigating abuses committed under the military dictatorship, announced on Wednesday that it has begun an investigation into the death of former president Juscelino Kubitschek. Kubitchek supposedly died in a 1976 car accident, but many suspect that his death was ordered by the military regime, the AP reports.

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