Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Colombia's FARC Suggest Delaying Elections

In a sign that peace talks between the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group are not following the timeline declared by President Juan Manuel Santos, FARC negotiators have asked to postpone next years’ elections.

When peace talks between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and government negotiators resumed again today, there was reason to be optimistic about the pace of negotiations. Two weeks before, both parties had agreed to include wide-ranging land reform measures in an eventual peace treaty. The preliminary agreement was the result of six months of negotiations, and was seen as a major breakthrough in the talks.

However, on Tuesday it became clear that a final peace accord is still a long way off. El Tiempo reports that when the talks resumed, FARC negotiators made an unexpected and controversial proposal: to postpone the national elections scheduled for 2014 by a year. FARC negotiating head Ivan Marquez said the move would help ensure that the peace process doesn’t become hijacked by political interests during campaigning ahead of legislative elections in March and presidential elections in May.

In a press statement, the rebels asserted they could not call for “anything less than” a national assembly to be established to change the constitution, and that a yearlong pause in the election cycle would facilitate this.

Unsurprisingly, the government rejected the proposal, just as it did when the FARC first suggested a constitutional referendum early this year. Humberto De la Calle, head of the government’s negotiating team, shot down the proposition immediately. “Do not be distracted by proposals that contribute little to clarity, as with the proposed delay of elections. That isn’t happening, [and] a constitutional assembly isn’t happening,” De la Calle said.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who is currently visiting Israel, told reporters: “There is not the slightest chance that can happen. We have an electoral calendar. It will be followed.”

Of course, there is a good chance that the FARC’s suggestion was meant more as posturing for the media, and is not a reflection of their current position. Still, it is a clear sign that the FARC are not overly concerned about meeting the timeline for talks set by Santos. In December 2012, the president said that dialogue with the FARC would not extend past November “at the latest.”  After the agreement on land reform was made, many analysts expected the negotiations to pick up the pace on the next items on the agenda. The mere fact that the guerrillas are still mentioning items considered off the table by the state, however, suggests this may not be the case.

News Briefs

  • A new Datafolha survey shows that public approval for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has fallen by its largest margin since she took office in January 2011. The poll found that 57 percent of respondents held positive views of Rousseff, down from 65 percent in March. Still, the survey suggests she will easily win reelection next year, and remains far more popular than her closest challengers.
  • After some 140 Mundurucu Indians occupied the offices of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency Funai on Monday  to protest the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, officials say the protestors are expected to return to their villages today.
  • An Argentine federal judge has ruled that the passage of a judicial reform package in Argentina, which subjects the Magistrates Council (the body responsible for appointing and impeaching judges) to popular elections, is unconstitutional, La Nacion reports. The ruling effectively cancels the first election of judges, which was scheduled for August 11.
  • The Associated Press looks at Nicaragua’s plan to build a rival to the Panama canal with China’s help, noting that the bill fast-tracking the project in Congress lacks significant detail. Meanwhile, La Prensa questions who in China stands to gain most from the Nicaraguan canal.   
  • The Wall Street Journal notes that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to deepen cooperation between the two countries on trade and counternarcotics strategy in a White House meeting yesterday.  In remarks at a subsequent joint press conference, Humala told the president: “I am convinced that under your administration we will substantively and qualitatively fight against the scourge of drugs.” This effectively dashes any remaining hope that Humala might side with the growing consensus in the region against U.S.-backed drug policy.
  • As Colombia-Venezuela relations continue to sour, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro yesterday presented the issue of improving ties with Colombia to the Council of State, an influential committee of advisors created last year by Hugo Chavez. In a speech in the presidential palace yesterday, the president said he had charged the council with assessing “policy, successes and threats from Bogota, of which are many,” El Universal reports.
  • Maduro has announced he will sign a new bill into law on Saturday which will restrict access to firearms in the country and set up programs for owners of illegal firearms to surrender their weapons. As InSight Crime has pointed out, however, the government has had little success implementing a ban on firearms sales in place since last year.
  • The Guardian reports on an ambitious bill to prohibit metal mining permanently in El Salvador, where 90 percent of the surface water is contaminated by pollutants and a quarter of the rural population lacks access to potable water. The proposal has the support of the majority of Salvadorans, but it remains to be seen if the ruling FMLN party will move it forward.

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