Monday, June 3, 2013

Venezuela Takes Out Anger Over Santos-Capriles Meeting on Colombia Peace Talks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to meet with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles last week has put the Venezuelan government’s participation in the peace talks with FARC rebels in jeopardy, causing the guerrilla group to express concern about the future of negotiations.

It is safe to say Santos’ meeting with Capriles has brought Colombia-Venezuela relations to their lowest point since diplomatic relations were restored in 2010. As a result, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has withdrawn his representative to the peace talks in Cuba, Roy Chaderton.

It is unclear whether Chaderton will be back in Havana when negotiations resume on June 11. While Maduro has said he has “lost confidence” in Santos’ commitment to peace, he has made it obvious that ending his government’s role as a facilitator would be direct retribution for the Capriles meeting.

“On the campaign trail, I received envoys authorized from President Santos, I made arrangements with the Colombian guerrillas to achieve peace in Colombia, setting aside time -- hours and hours of work -- to help Colombia,” Maduro said in a televised address last Thursday. “And now they are going to pay us back in this form? With betrayal?”

Colombian negotiator Humberto de la Calle expressed hope on Friday that the two countries could resolve the matter soon, as “the role played by Venezuela has been very important to the talks very important, very important.”

Meanwhile, the FARC has also released a statement on the issue, in which it admits to being “worried, very worried” by the developments in recent days. The guerrilla group made a plea to the Venezuelan government to authorize direct contact between its negotiators and Chaderton  in order to “clarify the situation.” As Semana magazine notes, the communiquĂ© suggests that while the rebels appear capable of carrying on talks alone, Venezuela is an important strategic ally to them and they would prefer its participation to continue.   

The Cuban government, for its part, has sided with Venezuela in the debate. In a statement released on Saturday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared Cuba's "unvarying position of solidarity with Venezuela and of recognition of the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro.”  

Rodriguez also described Capriles’ attempts to gain international support for his grievances as a plot to “hurt the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean, diminish independence and hurt the efforts of Venezuela and other states in favor of peace.”

News Briefs
  • The AP offers a profile of the Mapuche conflict in Chile, largely sympathetic with the government in its tone. The article claims that the government has spent “decades trying to appease Mapuche demands,” and is now “at an impasse” over how to meet Mapuche demands in the face of violence protests. For a more balanced take on the history of the Mapuche conflict, see this February op-ed for El Mostrador by political scientist Jose Mariman. In it, Mariman describes the conflict from the indigenous perspective, and points out  that several administrations since Chile’s return to democracy have promised special recognition for the Mapuche, all to no avail.
  • In an interview on Sunday, Venezuelan Defense Minister Diego Molero publicly dismissed claims that he entertained the idea of supporting a military coup to unseat President Nicolas Maduro, as suggested in a recently-released recording of a conversation between a leading PSUV member and an alleged Cuban intelligence officer. As the AP points out, the comments appear to be a demonstration of official concern about the remarks.
  • The Associated Press reports on a mining conflict in the Guatemalan town of San Rafael Las Flores. Locals, complaining that a planned Canadian silver mine would pollute the water supply, organized mass demonstrations last month. In response President Otto Perez declared a state of siege, sending hundreds of troops and suspending the right of assembly. This has fueled comparisons to the military’s brutal role in the 1960-1996 civil war, and the AP suggests it has contributed to rising dissatisfaction with the president. According to a recent CID Gallup poll, Perez’s approval rating fell from 68 percent in May 2012 to 48 percent this May.
  • Writing for Foreign Policy, journalist Mac Margolis attempts to “look at the bright side” of the recent court decision to overturn the guilty verdict against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. He argues that the fact that a trial even occurred is historic, and proves that Guatemala’s democratic institutions have made important progress.
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine has published a new special on the impact of its decades-long armed conflict, “5.5 Million Victims and Counting.” The special features several perspectives on the challenges of implementing an ambitious victims’ reparation law, as well as graphics illustrating the geographic spread and incidence of displacement, homicide and practically every other crime linked to the conflict.
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has announced that talks to lay out a path to membership for Colombia will begin in the coming weeks. Costa Rica has also been invited to begin formal talks in 2015. If both countries are successful in their bids, they will join Chile and Mexico as the only four Latin American countries in the organization.
  • Reuters reports on a growing conflict over land rights in Brazil between indigenous groups and the farm industry, illustrated by a violent confrontation between some 200 Terena Indians and police in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The protestors were evicted from a ranch belonging to a congressman on Thursday, and one was shot dead in the scuffle.
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal features a column by conservative editorial board member Mary Anastasia O’Grady in which she criticized Argentina’s recent deal with Iran to establish an international committee to investigate 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. O’Grady highlights an eight-year investigation by an Argentine prosecutor into the bombing which points to Iranian involvement. The WSJ column has been picked up by leading Argentine daily La Nacion.
  • The New York Times looks at growing concern in Mexico following the abduction of a group of 11 youths from the trendy Zona Rosa neighborhood in Mexico City, an incident which has called the capital city’s safe image into question. Since the kidnapping, the mothers of two of the victims have acknowledged that their husbands are imprisoned drug traffickers, according to the AP.
  • Forty years after Pablo Neruda’s death, a Chilean judge has ordered police to compile a portrait of and find the individual prosecutors say may have poisoned the poet.

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