Thursday, July 11, 2013

The UP as the ‘FARC’s Political Party?’ Not So Fast

The Union Patriotica (UP), a left-wing Colombian party formed in 1985 during peace talks between President Belisario Betancourt and FARC guerrillas, has regained legal status. But the political landscape has changed since the UP was barred from electoral participation in 2002, and it appears it will not be the political outlet for the rebels that it was in the 1980s and '90s.

On Tuesday, Colombia’s highest administrative court annulled a 2002 electoral court ruling preventing the UP from political participation after it was unable to present candidates that year. The decision grants the party full legal recognition, and allows it to participate in the upcoming March 2014 legislative elections.

There were mixed reactions to the development on Colombia’s left. Some, like Polo Democratico Congressman Ivan Cepeda (whose father was a UP leader killed in 1994), celebrated the news. In an interview with La FM radio, Cepeda called for the UP to serve as a banner to unite all the various left-leaning political forces in the country. Clara Lopez Obregon, the Polo’s president, has suggested a 2014 electoral alliance between the two.

But this may not be possible in today’s Colombia. La Silla Vacia notes that the UP’s emergence challenges the Polo Democratico’s hold on the left in the country. Since 1990 the Polo (a product of the demobilization of the M-19 guerrilla group) has been the only major leftist party with legal recognition, and has used this to exercise a certain control over smaller social movements which make up its base. According to the news site, now that the UP has been revived this power dynamic has shifted. These groups could potentially gain a larger say in the Polo’s affairs by threatening to support the UP instead.

It also seems that new version of the UP will not be the same party as before, which had links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and in some cases served as the rebel group’s political mouthpiece. While the BBC describes the UP as the “FARC’s political party,” this is inaccurate.  The guerrilla group has expressed eagerness to participate in democratic politics if the peace talks are successful, but the UP won’t be its main outlet, according to UP President Omel Calderon. "They [the FARC] have their own organizations with which they can do this," Calderon said in a recent interview with Semana magazine.

This is a likely reference to the Marcha Patriotica, a campesino movement which emerged in late 2012. Though its leaders deny any ties to the rebels, it is widely expected to become the FARC’s main voice in politics.

The fact that the UP will have to negotiate a new role for itself in Colombian politics is a testament to the country’s democratic progress. When the UP emerged nearly three decades ago, it was the first democratic political movement to unite the left in years. It was also a significant threat to the political establishment, dominated by the Liberal and Conservative parties. This challenge to the two-party system was met with violence, and some 3,000 of its members are alleged to have been killed in a brutal paramilitary assassination campaign. As Steve Dudley writes in his book Walking Ghosts: Murder and Guerrilla Politics in Colombia:
“They were unionists, teachers, students, housewives, and children […] They'd given up on the democratic process as long as the Liberals and Conservatives dominated the government. Before the UP was founded in 1984, they'd believed all politicians were corrupt, and voting didn't seem to change this fact. But for a brief time the UP had given them hope, and many of them had returned to politics with a renewed vigor. They all paid for this choice with their lives.”

News Briefs
  • Outrage over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) alleged surveillance of communications and internet activity in Latin America has continued to grow in the region. Even Colombia, the closest United States ally in South America, has requested a formal explanation from the U.S. about its activities, El Espectador reports. The governments of Mexico and Chile, also relatively close to the U.S., have done so as well. The issue is expected to be strongly condemned in a planned Mercosur summit which kicks off today in Uruguay, according to La Nacion.
  • In spite of Brazil’s recent condemnation of the NSA surveillance, relations with the U.S. won’t be significantly damaged and President Dilma Rousseff’s state visit to Washington in October is still on, according to Congressman Nelson Pellegrino, a Workers’ Party leader in the lower house of Congress.
  • After one Brazilian lawmaker’s use of an air force plane to travel to a Confederations Cup soccer game sparked scandal over abuse of public funds in the country earlier this month, The Guardian reports that the governor of Rio de Janeiro state is facing similar allegations after it was revealed that he used a state-owned helicopter to make private trips.
  • Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, argues that support for granting former NSA contractor Edward Snowden among ALBA bloc nation constitutes a “sad reminder of the lack of diplomatic maturity of those countries and a red herring to the whole issue that they want to highlight.” He suggests that they are only interested in offering asylum out of anti-American sentiment, and contrasts that with the “legitimate issues” raised by governments in Colombia and Brazil. Today’s Wall Street Journal makes a similar assertion, claiming that support for Snowden among Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia amounts to a “paradox,” as they have “cracked down against journalists in their own countries at the same time they champion Mr. Snowden's cause.”
  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has announced he will ask Congress to impose a two-year moratorium on granting new licenses to mine metal in the country, Prensa Libre reports. Reuters claims the move is an effort to smooth tensions in largely indigenous communities, where locals have expressed fierce opposition to the mining industry recently. In May Perez announced a state of emergency in four southeastern Guatemalan towns after a series of deadly clashes with police.
  • According to Peru21, construction on a controversial copper and gold mining project in the northwestern region of Cajamarca known as Minas Conga is expected to begin in late next year. In July 2011, the region was the site of mass anti-mining demonstrations, which ultimately forced President Ollanta Humala to declare a state of emergency in three provinces there.
  • La Tercera reports Bolivian President Evo Morales has expressed thanks to the permanent council to the Organization of American States (OAS) for condemning the  decision by Portugal, Spain, France and Italy to deny airspace access to his plane on suspicions that he was harboring Edward Snowden on board.
  • Three months before Mexico will undergo an assessment by the UN Human Rights Council known as the Universal Periodic Review, 30 civil society groups have presented a report detailing eleven areas in which the country has made little progress since its first such review in 2009, Animal Politico reports. These issues include indigenous rights, investigating forced disappearances, abuses by security forces and inhumane prison conditions.
  • A Brazilian indigenous group has blocked a key railway linking the giant Carajas iron mine to port in northern Para state. According to O Globo and BBC Mundo, the demonstrators are protesting a lack of access to public services in their area.
  • MercoPress reports that Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro has agreed with Brazil that Venezuela, not Paraguay, should receive the bloc’s president pro tempore chair as a result of this summit, despite the latter’s protests. This comes as the Paraguayan government insisted that it is not interested in returning to the trade bloc if it does not receive the presidency.