Thursday, May 23, 2013

FARC Desertions Continue as Peace Talks Stall

The L.A. Times recently published an interview with Reinel Usuga, a former squad commander in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who deserted the guerrilla army this month along with 10 of his men. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the most interesting elements of the article is the fact that Usuga claims one of his reasons for surrendering was the idea of top FARC negotiators living in comfort while engaging in peace talks in Havana. From the Times:
But Usuga, 30, a squad commander with the 57th Front Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said in an interview days after his surrender that another issue irked him: The apparent "comfort" of rebel leaders negotiating in Cuba was an irritating juxtaposition to the everyday risks he and his comrades were facing in the jungle. 
"We all realize they are living in better conditions than those of us in the line of fire," said Usuga, a 10-year veteran of FARC, Colombia's largest and apparently dwindling rebel group. "There are no safe zones left in the 57th Front. Just when it seems quiet, something happens, a bombardment or ground attack. The armed forces were always on top of us."
According to the article, 500 FARC rebels have defected this year as of May 18, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. If Usuga’s sentiments are widely held among members of the rebel group, this rate could climb in the coming months. The progress of peace talks seems to have slowed of late, and the fact that the negotiating team is staying in a mansion in the exclusive Havana suburb of El Laguito certainly doesn’t help its image among rank and file guerrillas.

While both parties continue to express optimism about the general direction of the talks, they have yet to announce a preliminary accord on agrarian reform, the main sticking point in negotiations. Last month the FARC team told the press there would be “white smoke” on the land reform issue in May, so unless an announcement is made in the next week it is likely that the talks have fallen far behind schedule.

News Briefs
  • Following Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s deployment of troops to Michoacan this week, the AP offers a dramatic look at the embattled western state, which it claims is “burning” as part of a terror campaign by the local Knights Templar cartel. The group is reportedly setting fire to lumber yards, factories and buses as a means of intimidating locals into making protection payments. Because of the similarity of Peña Nieto’s military operation to those of his predecessor Felipe Calderon, many victims in the state are skeptical that the arrival of troops will bring relief.
  • Days after the Organization of American States released a report including decriminalization and legalization as valid drug policy options in the hemisphere, a presidential commission on drug policy in Colombia has presented a report to the Ministry of Justice with similar conclusions. The report (.pdf) was drafted by President Juan Manuel Santos’ Drug Policy Advisory Commission, and calls for the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs to be decriminalized in the country. While the Constitutional Court ruled in June 2012 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, the commission suggests that this be solidified into legislation, as well as expanded to include synthetic drugs like methamphetamine. For more, see Vanguardia and W Radio.
  • In response to a recent remark Santos made about the demobilization of the AUC paramilitary coalition, in which he called it “not very successful,” El Tiempo reports that former President Alvaro Uribe has retorted in his usual confrontational manner. He tweeted that “paramilitaries who committed atrocities have been extradited, jailed, on the run, but have never been met with impunity,” a jab at the government’s indications that demobilized FARC members could take part in a transitional justice program involving alternative of shortened sentences.
  • Presidents of the four members of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico) are meeting today in meet in Cali, Colombia, for the trading bloc’s seventh summit. They are joined by the heads of state of Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Spain and Canada, which have all expressed interest in potentially joining the bloc.
  • El Nuevo Herald reports that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is desperately seeking investment in dollars in order to stave of food and basic good shortages in the country, despite heightened revenue caused by high oil prices.
  • The new owners of Globovision, Venezuela’s only overtly anti-Chavista news channel, have announced that they hope to “contribute to a climate of peace and not of conflict,” fueling suspicions that it will tone down its criticism of the government due to the change in management.
  • The United Nations Development Program has released a report praising the increase of participation of indigenous peoples in Latin American politics over the past two decades. However, it notes that indigenous women face “triple discrimination” for being female, indigenous and poor, and calls for more inclusion of indigenous women in democratic politics in the region.
  • The AP has an interesting piece on the work of Conrad Tribble, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who has become well-known among opposition and pro-Castro bloggers alike on the island for his skilled use of social media and willingness to engage with sectors who oppose the United States. Access to internet remains limited in the country, though the government is attempting to combat that through the construction of a fiber optic cable connecting Venezuela to Cuba. A new branch of that cable has just come online, linking Cuba to Jamaica, according to the AP.
  • Forbes magazine has released its latest ranking of the World’s Most Powerful Women, and has placed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as second on the list, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
  • While Argentina is still battling with courts over the implementation of a 2009 media law, the government of neighboring Uruguay has sent its own law to Congress aimed at guaranteeing access to media and preventing monopolies in the sector, Telesur reports. 

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