Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Uribe Goes from Critic to Borderline Saboteur of Colombia Peace Talks

On the eve of a major peace march held in Bogota yesterday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos delivered a televised address in which he accused unnamed sectors of “poisoning” his government’s peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This was almost certainly a veiled reference to ex-President Alvaro Uribe, who has recently stepped up his criticism of the Havana talks, and now appears to be on the verge of outright sabotaging them.

On Sunday, the former president used his Twitter account to post an internal army memo listing the coordinates where military operations had been temporarily suspended in order to guarantee the safe passage of guerrilla leaders leaving Colombia to join their comrades at the negotiating table in Cuba. Over the weekend, at least three FARC rebels were permitted to travel to Cuba, including Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo,” Jaime Alberto Parra Rodriguez, alias “El Medico,” and Luis Antonio Losada Gallo, alias “Carlos Antonio Lozada.”

In his Monday address, President Santos mentioned the leak of coordinates as a “truly irresponsible act,” although El Colombiano reports that he did not specifically mention his predecessor and former boss by name, in keeping with his general avoidance of direct conflict with Uribe. La Semana reports that an investigation into those responsible for passing the military memo to Uribe is underway, and they may face criminal charges if caught.

Despite the tacit rebuke, Uribe has continued his assault on the government’s peace process, accusing Santos and the country’s chief prosecutor of endorsing impunity for FARC crimes. Uribe also leveled strong criticism against yesterday’s march. In an interview with La F.M. Radio, he claimed that some 400 buses had arrived in Bogota to participate in the event, full of people who had been “forced to march” by the FARC.

While Uribe has been skeptical of the Havana talks since their beginning, his decision to leak potentially sensitive government information suggests he has moved from criticism towards active interference with the peace process. This is significant in the current political climate, as polls show that Uribe has more public support than Santos, and favorable opinion of the talks is dropping. If the former president continues to sabotage the government’s negotiation efforts, it could represent a major obstacle to an eventual peace accord.

News Briefs
  • Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes has said that police will investigate accusations that opposition lawmaker Roberto D'Aubuisson is plotting the assassination of Venezuelan interim President Nicolas Maduro. In an interview with a television network linked to Prensa Grafica, he said opening an investigation would be “the least [his government] could do.” El Faro notes that the Venezuelan government has finally released alleged recordings of D'Aubuisson contracting an assassin to kill Maduro, although D’Aubuisson says the voice in the recording is not his, and members of Funes’ party are skeptical as well.
  • Haitian Finance Minister Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie has resigned after a year working for the current government. According to the Miami Herald, Jean-Marie was considered by many to be “one of the more credible and competent” members of the administration of President Michel Martelly. Sources close to the former official told the Herald that she felt “she no longer had the support of her colleagues in her effort to provide responsible management of Haiti’s finances and economy.”
  • A couple accused of kidnapping their two children from protective custody and traveling to Cuba on a fishing boat have been arrested and handed over to U.S. authorities, ending a Cuban version of the 2000 Elian Gonzalez affair.
  • Guatemala’s Prensa Libre looks at an escalating anti-mining protest in the southeastern municipality of San Rafael las Flores, where local protesters are occupying land granted last week to a Canadian mining firm.
  • Citing internal disagreement over a proposed marijuana legalization bill, Uruguay’s ruling Frente Amplio (FA) coalition has announced it will take a month to rally support for the measure among FA lawmakers. Red21 reports that at least two legislators in the coalition have expressed doubt about the bill, raising questions as to whether the bill will have the necessary votes to pass once it is debated in Congress.
  • The Economist profiles the city of São Paulo’s experiments with addressing its crack epidemic by forcing addicts to seek treatment. While the move is popular and has seen mixed success, the demand for treatment is far higher than the government’s capacities. Additionally, forced treatment is often plagued by high dropout rates. Outpatient programs, by contrast, have a higher long-term success rate. Locals in the area of the city most affected by crack say a better alternative to the current coercive strategy would be to construct a drug addiction hospital in the area.
  • Human Rights Watch is calling on the Peruvian Congress to reject a proposal which would impose criminal penalties of 6 to 12 years in prison for denying “terrorist crimes” with the purpose of “promoting the commission of terrorist crimes or publicly defending terrorism or to serve as a medium to indoctrinate terrorist objectives.” Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, argues that the law’s vague terminology threatens free speech.
  • The United States government has added a Honduran aspiring politician, Jose Miguel Handal Perez, to its “kingpin list,” freezing his assets and prohibiting any U.S. citizens from doing business with him. According to the U.S. Treasury, Handal oversees a drug smuggling network, shipping cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela to Mexican drug cartels. As the BBC notes, he has announced his intention to run for a congressional seat in November’s elections.
  • El Proceso reports that Honduran legislators yesterday questioned the lack of progress in a government police cleanup initiative in which only 3,200 out of 14,000 total police officers in the country have been vetted since the program began last year.  In congressional testimony, Eduardo Villanueva, the head of the group charged with leading the process, told lawmakers that 230 officers failed the tests, but only seven were subsequently dismissed. According to Villanueva, progress has been so slow partially because his office cannot directly fire police officers, only recommend their dismissal to the National Police head.
  • The New York Times reports on the exhumation of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and the investigation into claims he was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime.
  • Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an editorial praising deceased Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, and praising his daughter Rosa Maria for carrying on his legacy and calling for “genuine democratic change” on the island.

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