Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Colombia’s Peace Talks Advance…Finally

After six months of dialogue, the negotiating teams of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government announced on Sunday that they have reached a preliminary agreement on land reform, a major breakthrough in the Havana peace talks.

The issue is extremely important to the rebel group, as it permits FARC leaders to show rank and file members they were able to get significant concessions from the state. This in turn allows them to claim that their nearly 50-year struggle was not in vain, providing a strong incentive for the group’s demobilization.

Semana magazine has a copy of the text of the joint press statement released on Sunday by both negotiating teams, which says that the two have agreed to include land redistribution and rural development provisions in a final peace accord. El Tiempo reports that President Juan Manuel Santos categorizes the preliminary agreement into four main pillars: land access and usage, food security, education and health programs, and infrastructure improvement.

News site La Silla Vacia has more on the importance of land reform to Colombia’s rural economy, specifically the issue of guaranteeing land titles to small-scale campesinos who frequently lack formal ownership of the land they work. According to Ana Maria Ibañez, a rural development expert and dean of Universidad de los Andes’ Economics department, just half of all small-time farmers in Colombia hold deeds to their land. This makes it difficult to organize effective development programs in the country’s interior, and leaves campesinos vulnerable to forced displacement.

The preliminary accord is a positive step towards a lasting peace in Colombia, but it is still far too early to celebrate. The agreement is meaningless unless the final peace accord is signed, and even then, it will have to be approved by a popular referendum. This may be a tall order for many in the country. A Gallup poll released in early May shows that a strong majority (67 percent) support the talks, but half of respondents (52 percent) remain skeptical that the talks will result in peace, illustrating the need for a clear explanation to the public of just how much has been conceded to the FARC. 

Another concern is the timeline for talks. President Santos has publicly said that he does not support the idea of the negotiations extending into next year. Considering that it has taken six months for both sides to agree on the first of five points, this deadline may not be realistic. Fortunately, as Ginny Bouvier of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Colombia Program points out, the work on land reform has caused both parties to developed a functional process for consulting with their respective bases and leadership structures, which will hopefully allow negotiations in coming months to pick up the pace.

News Briefs
  • The peace talks received an important endorsement yesterday from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who arrived in Colombia for a meeting with Santos. "We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve,” Biden said. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal looks at how the agrarian reform announcement has lifted mounting pressure on President Santos over the talks’ slow progress.
  • A new study of Colombia’s armed conflict by the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) has found that the majority of human rights violations in 2012 were committed by criminal neo-paramilitary groups like the Urabeños. By the CINEP’s count, these groups carried out  565 violations last year, the police committed 268 and the military committed 187.
  • BBC Mundo reports that two of the most inflammatory political commentary shows in Venezuela -- Mario Silva’s “La Hojilla” for VTV on the left and Globovision’s "Buenas Noches" for the opposition -- have gone off the air this week, the first because of the leak of tapes in which Silva discusses divisions in the ruling PSUV party, and the latter because of a change in the network’s management. While this doesn’t automatically pave the way for the kind of political reconciliation between moderates on both sides that the International Crisis Group called for in a recent report, the resulting change in media climate may prove to be a step in the right direction.
  • In an effort to tackle a list of more than 26,000 disappeared, yesterday Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the creation of a task force charged with finding missing people. According to the L.A. Times, the group will have 12 investigators who will respond to missing person reports nationwide.
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero reports that Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes “punched a constituent in the face after being called the Portuguese equivalent of ‘excrement’ in a dispute before stunned diners at a Japanese restaurant” on Sunday, and has since written a public apology to the city.
  • As mentioned in yesterday’s post, leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 street gangs in Honduras are expected to announce a Church-facilitated ceasefire today in a press conference at a prison in San Pedro Sula. According to La Tribunua, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo announced yesterday that he will do “whatever is necessary” to support the initiative, although he also clarified that the state would not make any pacts with criminal groups.
  • The Miami Herald reports that President Michel Martelly is altering his campaign promises somewhat, tempering Haitians’ expectations as his administration makes mixed progress against poverty and development. While the article acknowledges that some changes have been made in the country, it claims these are “cosmetic” shifts like cleaner streets and repaved roads, and on the whole the country remains a  developmental mess.
  • On Saturday, Chile’s Communist Party formally endorsed the presidential campaign of former President Michele Bachelet. The endorsement is a victory for Bachelet, as the party’s base has been heavily supportive of some of the most active social movements in the country at the moment. The endorsement suggests she will not face significant criticism from the left ahead of elections next November.

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