Thursday, January 17, 2013

Santos Raises Possibility of Popular Referendum on Peace Accords

Now that the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas have begun a new round of peace talks in Havana, and both parties have acknowledged a desire to speed up their pace and develop a final resolution to the conflict, the outline of an endgame seems to be emerging. While the FARC negotiators have called for a national assembly to be set up to change the constitution to reflect any eventual peace agreement, the government has rejected this demand.

El Tiempo reports that yesterday, however, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that while constitutional reform is out of the question, he would be in favor of putting the terms of a peace treaty up for popular vote through a referendum. "It's very possible that we could find a way to seek popular approval for any accord, and that is to be discussed," the president told reporters in an address in the Norte de Santander province.

The FARC’s desire to solidify a peace agreement in the constitution is not without precedent. The country’s current constitution, approved in 1991, was drafted largely as a result of government talks with the demobilizing M-19 guerrilla group. This afforded the group a high political profile, making it easier for the guerrillas to transition into conventional politics. Without a constitutional assembly, the FARC’s leadership may feel that the group’s political demands are being minimized, and may be less inclined to demobilize.

But by opening the door to a popular vote, President Santos has ensured that the rebels still have a way to coincide their demobilization with social justice reforms. He has also created an immediate incentive for the FARC to adapt themselves to democratic politics, as the guerrillas would have to make their demands acceptable to not only the government, but to the general public as well.


News Briefs
  • In an indication of their interest in tying social reforms to the accords, the FARC have called on the government to stop passing new laws related to the themes being discussed in peace talks. In a letter sent to Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo, the guerrillas accuse the government of moving to pass laws “without hearing the views emanating from the peace table in Havana,” El Espectador reports. The rebel group also requested that Restrepo join in on the peace talks directly, in order to facilitate an agreement on land reform, a central issue for the FARC.
  • La Silla Vacia has an in-depth look at the difficulties that Colombia faces in implementing its land restitution law. The news site reports that in the small “pilot zones” where displaced people have begun to return to their land, providing security for these individuals is a difficult task, so victims’ groups are calling for a ban on possessing firearms in restitution sites. 
  • Some 200 representatives of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche met Wednesday in the first-ever Mapuche Summit in the southern Chilean city of Temuco. AFP and Telesur report that while only two local government officials were present, the summit ended with a call for a “new relationship” between Indians and the Chilean State, and a demand for a formal apology from the government for “the moral, cultural and intellectual harm caused to the Mapuche people.”
  • A brief diplomatic row between Venezuela and Panama broke out yesterday after Panama’s Organization of American States (OAS) ambassador Guillermo Cochez appealed to the organization to respond to the delayed inauguration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which he characterized as a violation of the organization’s democratic charter. Following his statement, the government of Canada proposed sending an investigative commission to the country to assess the situation, to be led by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. However, soon after the remarks, the government of Panama issued a statement saying that it did not share its ambassador’s views on the issue, according to El Universal.
  • Meanwhile, Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles is demanding that Chavez appear to the people of Venezuela and explain his absence. The move comes after the government released an official document bearing Chavez’s signature in response to questions over whether he personally authorized the recent nomination of Elias Jaua as foreign minister.
  • Bloomberg reports that Ecuador is investigating whether major banks in the country violated local anti-trust law last year when they sent out emails to customers and bought televised ads warning that an increase in taxes on the financial sector would harm the economy. The tax hike, which was passed last November, will be used to fund popular social programs in the country.
  • El Universal reports that a plan to reform Mexico’s education system has been passed by legislatures in 18 of the country’s 31 states, which will allow President Enrique Peña Nieto to sign it into law. The reform will weaken the control that the powerful teachers’ union currently has on hiring new teachers, a responsibility which will be shifted to the federal government. The move was heavily opposed by teachers’ union boss Elba Esther Gordillo, a high-profile figure who has held the position for more than 20 years, and is considered a major blow to her political clout, as the AP notes.
  • A Mexican court rejected the appeal by two army generals and three high-level officers accused of having links to drug trafficking organizations yesterday. The court found that there is “sufficient evidence” to keep the five officers in prison and move forward with their trials. The generals -- Tomas Angeles and Roberto Dawe -- were major figures of the military-led crackdown on drug trafficking under the previous administration of President Felipe Calderon, and their trial could have tremendous implications for the state of corruption in the Mexican armed forces.
  • Yesterday marked the 21st anniversary of the end of El Salvador’s bloody civil war, and El Diario de Hoy reports that Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren -- who has announced that he will run for president in 2014 -- marked the occasion by calling on the Supreme Court to repeal the country’s controversial amnesty law.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics profiles the latest attempt by conservative lawmakers in Honduras to pass a bill that would allow for the creation of autonomous “model cities,” a project which was rejected by the Supreme Court in October.