Tuesday, July 2, 2013

FARC, ELN Release Joint Statement Calling for Widening of Peace Talks

With the future of talks between the Colombian government and the ELN uncertain, the FARC is now actively promoting the inclusion of its smaller guerrilla cousin in the peace process.

On Monday the official website of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) negotiating team in Havana published a joint communique signed by FARC commander Timoleon Jimenez and Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, head of the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). The statement claims that the two held a rare “summit” somewhere in the interior of the country with the aim of strengthening their mutual goals. In addition to stressing the need for a “united guerrilla and revolutionary movement,” the two rebel leaders agreed that “any solution to the internal conflict in our country through dialogue must inevitably advance through conversations with all Colombian insurgents.”

The statement is a rare demonstration of cooperation between the two rebel groups, each of which has historically taken great pains to distance itself from the other. The two have occasionally even engaged each other in combat, most recently in a 2010 clash over territory in the northeastern province of Arauca.

By declaring support for wider talks, the FARC are adding pressure on the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to involve the ELN in the peace process. The latter guerrilla group has been highly vocal about its desire to participate in the negotiations, even sending representatives to Havana in January only to have them turned away by Cuban officials because they lacked the permission of the Colombian government.

In April the president said he was willing to negotiate with the ELN “sooner rather than later,” but subsequently insisted that the rebels release all prisoners and hostages as a pre-condition, especially Jernoc Wobert, a Canadian mining engineer who was captured in January. The ELN has said it is open to freeing the Canadian, but gave no details about a date or the logistics of the release.

Reuters notes that the communique amounts to the FARC “flexing its political muscles,” and claims it is “sure to annoy President Juan Manuel Santos who has called on the rebels to stick to what was agreed upon before talks began in Cuba.”

The statement comes just as the government resumes the latest round of talks with the FARC in Havana, which will focus on participation in democratic politics. Last month FARC added ten points to the previously agreed-upon agenda for the round, advocating for the attorney general and ombudsman’s offices to be submitted to popular election and reasserting their position that the government should delay elections to hold a constituent assembly.

In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Colombia historian Eduardo Posada Carbo argues that the FARC’s changed proposal “dilute the climate for peace, feeding doubts about the motives of the FARC in this new phase.” For Mauricio Garcia Villegas of the Bogota-based Dejusticia research center, the rebel’s demands for a new constitution reflect “a mix of ingenuity and dogmatism,” fueled by the inaccurate assumption that they speak for a majority of the country.

News Briefs
  • The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 (pdf), released yesterday, found that Latin America and the Caribbean had met two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- poverty reduction and access to clean water -- and is progressing on others. According to the report, the number of people living in poverty, as well as the number of people suffering from malnutrition, has been halved since 1990. However, it also notes that the region is failing demonstrably to meet certain goals, namely reducing maternal mortality and ensuring environmental sustainability.
  • La Jornada reports that recent efforts to strengthen security along the U.S./Mexico border have forced migrants to seek out more costly and dangerous methods of crossing into U.S. territory. According to surveys conducted by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Colef), there has been an increase in price for false documents, as well as the use of so-called “safe houses,” properties controlled by criminal groups along the border which are frequently used to extort the relatives of undocumented migrants.
  • In an interview with The Guardian, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa flushed out some of his recent comments regarding the case of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. As Correa told the AP in a weekend interview, Snowden would have to reach Ecuadorean territory before the government could consider his asylum request. The president also characterized a temporary Ecuadorean travel document given to Snowden, leaked last week by Univision, as a “mistake” by the London consul.
  • In an editorial in Venezuela’s El Universal, Rafael Garrido Alvarez takes a crticial stance of LGBT rights in Venezuela, arguing that the state should afford special protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals in accordance with the UN Yogyakarta Principles.
  • The Guardian also features an interesting profile 18-year-old Moises Paredes, the spokesman for a collective of secondary students in Chile who is part of a new wave of leaders in the country’s vibrant student movement. In describing the recent police raids on schools seized by student protesters, Paredes accuses the government of heavy handedness, “making the student movement more radical, leading to students seizing more schools and more universities.” Meanwhile, La Tercera reports that Camila Vallejo -- as well as three other former leaders of the student protests who are running for congressional seats in November’s legislative election -- endorsed presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet ahead of last Sunday’s primary election.
  • A Petrocaribe summit in Nicaragua ended on Saturday, with the heads of state of member countries agreeing to form a trade bloc, the AP reports.
  • In remarks made to reporters in Moscow, where he and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro are visiting for a Gas Exporting Countries Forum, La Razon reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales claimed he would like to improve relations with U.S. President Barack Obama. However, he recognized that this is unlikely. “I don’t know if it’s on his orders, but some structure permanently conspires against us, provokes us, financing the opposition,” Morales said.
  • In one of his final public addresses before President-elect Horacio Cartes takes office next month, Paraguayan President Federico Franco accused the Mercosur trading bloc of implementing a strategy of “relentless persecution” of his government, La Nacion reports. Paraguay was suspended from the bloc last year as a result of the coup which removed former President Fernando Lugo from office. With Paraguay out, Mercosur was able to pass a resolution granting membership to Venezuela. Franco’s position is likely shared by Cartes, who has vowed that Paraguay will remain outside Mercosur if Venezuela is granted the rotating presidency of the bloc after a summit later this month.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff made a public pitch for a national referendum on political reforms in a press conference yesterday, claiming it would allow the public to vent their anger at government institutions. She is expected to send a proposal for a non-binding referendum to Congress later today, where it will face significant hostility from the opposition, according to O Globo.
  • In Foreign Affairs, Emma Sokoloff-Rubin looks at another period of political turmoil in Brazil: the final years of the military dictatorship. The author describes the circumstances behind the release of “Bailei na Curva,” a political play about life under the dictatorship penned by dissidents in 1983.