Wednesday, August 21, 2013

FARC Admit Partial Blame for Bloodshed in Colombia

For the first time in history, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have admitted to sharing partial blame for the violence in the country’s nearly 50 year-old armed conflict. In a statement that was read aloud by rebel spokesman Pablo Catatumbo at a press conference in Havana yesterday, the guerrilla group acknowledged that “without a doubt, there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces.”

While it may not seem like much, it was the first time that the guerrilla group has unconditionally accepted any responsibility for violence, and amounts to a significant step towards lasting peace in the country. The FARC also expressed openness towards “reparation with full loyalty to the cause of peace and reconciliation,” which as El Tiempo points out is one of the five points on the agenda for peace talks. El Espectador reports that, with the announcement, the guerrillas “seem to understand at last that without accepting responsibility for victims there is no possibility for peace.”

La Silla Vacia notes that the admission is a major departure from statements that FARC leaders made when the talks began in October, in Oslo, Norway. Then, FARC negotiating team leader Ivan Marquez accused the government of attempting to turn the guerrillas “from victims into victimizers,” and claimed that the group was “not the cause but the answer” to violence in the country.

The statement takes on added weight in the wake of President Juan Manuel Santos’ admission last month that the state was responsible for “serious human rights violations” in the conflict.

 This is good news for the talks, which are now entering their thirteenth round. While the two parties are still hashing out the details of political participation, the second of the five points, both Santos’ and the rebels’ admission of responsibility lay a positive foundation for a discussion on attending to conflict victims. And now that Santos has backed away from an November deadline, the slow pace of the talks have become less of a problem.

News Briefs

  • Press freedom and human rights groups in Mexico are sounding alarm bells over proposed changes to the country’s freedom of information institute, which were recently approved by a congressional committee. While the reforms were initially embraced because they would make unions and political parties susceptible to freedom of information requests, the changes have taken on other, negative characteristics. According to the L.A. Times, under the new rules the Supreme Court would have the power to review decisions by the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI), and allow government agencies to refuse to release certain documents they deem necessary for national security purposes.  Animal Politico reports that senators of the opposition PAN and PRD parties have announced that they were not aware of the proposals, and will join together to prevent them from passing in the Senate. The announcement comes after a coalition of transparency advocacy groups including Fundar, the Collective for Transparency and Mexico Informate released a press statement condemning the changes as a “serious setback in transparency and accountability.”
  • Both houses of Brazil’s legislature have passed a bill which will reserve funds from oil royalties exclusively for health and education. Under the law, 75 percent of state proceeds will go to education while 25 percent will be for health care. When the measure goes into effect, it is expected to bring in some $800 million in resources next year.  Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has called the bill a “historic victory,”  and O Globo reports that the president intends to sign it into law in the coming days.
  • Although Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos initially sought to downplay the massive labor demonstrations that began this week -- he claimed they lacked “the expected magnitude” on Monday -- they do not appear to be dying down. The first two days of strikes saw roadblocks, arrests and clashes with police in provinces around the country. Colombia Reports provides a helpful overview of the various actors involved in the protest, which brings together health workers, coffee farmers, truckers, university teachers, rice growers, sugar cane cutters, and miners. According to El Espectador, the protests picked up steam on Tuesday, with major demonstrations in the provinces of Boyaca, Cauca, Arauca, Nariño and Putumayo.
  • The New York Times looks at slowing economic growth in Peru. Last week President Ollanta Humala announced that “the crisis has come to Peru,” and while he has since walked that statement back, the NYT notes that in the coming years the country’s economic progress appears poised to continue at a more measured rate than in the previous decade.
  • After Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s decision last week to open up the Yasuni Amazon Reserve to oil drilling was heavily criticized by environmental and indigenous rights activists, El Comercio claims that lawmakers in his Alianza Pais party are feeling pressured to distance themselves from the president on the issue.
  • Chilean retired General Juan Emilio Cheyre Espinoza, who was army from 2002 to 2006 and now presides over the country’s electoral commission, has sparked a controversy after admitting to El Mercurio that he put a child of Dirty War victims up for adoption after his parents had been killed. Cheyre allegedly had no part in the murders, only in submitting victims’ son to adoption. The son, since identified as 40-year-old Ernesto Lejderman, has said he does not think Cheyre should face charges for his actions, though local human rights groups are calling for him to step down from his current position.
  • After Guatemalan TV journalist Carlos Alberto Orellana Chavez became the fourth media worker killed in the country so far this year, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on the government of the Central American country to conduct a full investigation into the incidents. There is little reason for optimism on this front, however. Today’s Prensa Libre reports that, while the country has seen over 2,185 homicides so far this year, police statistics show just 100 have been detained in connection with a murder.
  • On Tuesday, the U.S. deported Sandra Avila Beltran, the drug trafficking figure known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” to Mexico after she served part of her sentence for participating in a drug smuggling network. She was put under the custody of Mexican officials, and will now serve time in her home country for money laundering charges.
  • The Miami Herald profiles Sandra Honoré, head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, whose linguistic skills and commitment to the job have earned her a positive reputation among officials in the country. 

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