Monday, March 4, 2013

Colombian Congressmen Visit FARC Negotiators in Cuba

In an encouraging sign for the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels, a team of six Colombian lawmakers traveled to Havana on Sunday to meet with members of the FARC negotiating team. The delegation includes congressmen from every major political party, and is headed by Roy Barreras, president of the Senate and a member of the conservative U Party.

Officially, the delegation is in Havana in order to speak with guerrillas about the effect of the talks on victims of the conflict and share their vision of an eventual peace accord. But according to El Colombiano, the legislators are also discussing the possibility of the FARC’s integration into the democratic process.

The Marcha Patriotica, a campesino movement which emerged in late 2012, is widely expected to become the guerrillas’ main voice in politics if the peace talks are successful, although its leaders deny having any ties to the rebels. Semana  notes that the Havana delegation includes Senator Gloria Ines Ramirez, a vocal supporter of the Marcha Patriotica movement. It also includes the Green Party’s Alfonso Prada, who the magazine describes as an outspoken advocate of recently-passed reforms which allow former guerrillas to participate in conventional politics.

As President Juan Manuel Santos has established November 2013 as a deadline for both parties to reach a peace accord, if talks are successful the FARC could begin participating in the electoral cycle as early as the March 2014 legislative elections.

The rebels may even get a chance to participate in the democratic process before then. In January, Santos raised the possibility of putting the terms of an eventual peace treaty up to popular vote through a referendum. If the proposal goes forward it could provide the FARC with a convenient stepping stone to democratic participation. It would also force them to make their demands acceptable to the Colombian public, which is largely unsympathetic to the FARC.

News Briefs
  • El Universal reports that Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) voted on Sunday to alter its platform to allow for private investment in oil industry. The revision is a major shift for the PRI, as its role in the historic nationalization of oil in Mexico and the founding of the state-owned oil company, Pemex, is a source of pride to many in the party. The move is also in line with the position of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has been a longtime advocate of ending Pemex’s monopoly on oil production while still preserving its state-owned status. In order to pay for the potential loss in government revenue resulting from the move, the PRI also amended a section of its platform that prevented members from voting in favor of sales taxes on food and medicine. The AP notes that PRI lawmakers are expected to submit a bill to end Pemex’s monopoly later this year, which is ironic as the same legislators rejected similar measures when they were proposed by the National Action Party (PAN) under former President Felipe Calderon.
  • The first trial of abuses committed under “Operation Condor,” an international counterinsurgency campaign orchestrated by right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone in the 1970s and 1980s, will begin tomorrow in a Buenos Aires court. According to El Pais and El Nuevo Herald, the trial involves 18 dictatorship-era figures, and will seek to establish the extent to which the governments of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil collaborated in acts of political repression, disappearances and murder  during this period.
  • The Colombian government conceded to a demand of striking coffee growers on Saturday, and announced it will raise the subsidy it provides to farmers. But according to Reuters and El Tiempo, while the government has called on them to end a week-long strike involving roadblocks and demonstrations throughout the country, cafetero leaders say the protests will continue until a higher minimum price for coffee beans is set.
  • As mentioned last week, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño is on a tour of the region aimed at building support for a series of reforms which could limit the independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Fortunately, not every government in the region agrees with Ecuador’s position on the matter. During a meeting between Patiño and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations Jose Antonio Meade on Friday, El Universal reports that the two found they held “fundamentally different” opinions of the Commission. According to Prensa Latina, Patiño also met with Colombia’s foreign minister in Bogota on Friday, although there are no reports of the meeting in the Colombian press.  Patiño's tour continues this week, and he is expected to meet with the governments of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela in the coming days.
  • Sarah Stephens of The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) offers a look at gender inequality in Cuba, providing a sample of an upcoming CDA report on the issue. According to Stephens, the majority of those with graduate degrees are women, but they occupy just one-third of top-level positions in the country.
  • The AP assesses the legacy of Honduran Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of the Catholic Church’s largest aid network, Caritas Internationalis. While Rodriguez has earned praise for his social justice work, he has also been criticized for supporting the coup that overthrew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 and making allegedly anti-Semitic remarks.
  • Uruguay’s El Pais reports that the president of the country’s National Drug Council, Julio Calzada, has released more details on the bill to legalize marijuana consumption currently under consideration in the Uruguayan Congress. If the bill is passed, the government will provide between 20 and 40 licenses to private entities interested in growing cannabis. The law would also establish a maximum of 20 to 30 hectares to be used to grow the plant nationwide. Meanwhile the ruling Frente Amplio coalition is still split on how to proceed with the bill, largely due to a lack of popular support for cannabis legalization. Frente Amplio lawmakers favor passing the bill now while they have a majority, but President Jose Mujica reportedly supports the idea of hosting a series of public forums to raise awareness of the bill’s benefits.
  • The Miami Herald profiles “Isla Presidencial,” a satirical internet cartoon that lampoons major Latin American politicians. The show’s first episode has gained nearly 5 million views on YouTube since it debuted in February 2010, and it is now in its second season. Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is depicted as a vain bully in the cartoon, is said to be a fan and has publicly complimented the show.
  • Hundreds of Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the lack of information about Chavez’s health and urge the Supreme Court to rule on whether he is healthy enough to continue in office. According to the AP, Chavez supporters held a simultaneous counter-protest to demonstrate support for the ailing president.
  • The L.A. Times is the latest to highlight concern over Chavez’s deteriorating health in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Jamaica, where officials fear a new Venezuelan government will stop providing oil to their countries at subsidized rates.  Analysts expect Chavez’s most likely successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, to continue the program but an opposition government would certainly put it in jeopardy. 
  • La Razon reports that the three Bolivian soldiers who were recently freed after being held captive in Chile for a month for allegedly crossing the border illegally will be given medals by President Evo Morales. The Bolivian government has formally accused Chile of violating international law by detaining the soldiers, and is moving forward with a case against Chile in the United Nations.
  • Harvard University Professor of Government Steven Levitsky has an interesting op-ed in La Republica on Lima mayor Susana Villaran’s struggle to keep her office in the face of vocal opposition and an upcoming recall election on March 17. According to Levitsky, the anti-elitist and racial undertones in the discourse adopted by the movement against Villaran are indicative of a persistent form of populism in Peruvian politics. He argues that this can be found across the political spectrum in the country, and is similar to the political cultures of neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador.
  • Argentina is seeing cause for optimism in its appeal of a U.S. court ruling ordering the country to pay $1.3 billion to holders of its defaulted debt. The AP reports that the court has asked Argentina to provide more information on a previous offer to issue new bonds to the creditors, which has given the Argentine government a “glimmer of hope,” according to the Financial Times.

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