Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Santos Backs Off November Deadline for FARC Talks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is backing away from deadlines he initially placed on peace talks with FARC guerrillas, a sign they will likely extend into next year.

In a Monday interview with Caracol Radio, Santos told the Bogota-based radio station that he was “optimistic” about the dialogues’ potential to end the country’s 50 year-long armed conflict. “I've seen so far that there is a will, that in fact both sides want to move towards some agreements,” said the president, although he also claimed that the peace talks were moving “too slowly.”

As Reuters reports, Santos cautioned that he was willing to pull the plug on the peace process if it appeared that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was using them to gain a military advantage. “If I see that they have no future, that there is no will on the other side, that this is going nowhere, that same day I will dismantle the negotiating table and talks will end,” the president said.

Despite the hardline tone in his remarks, he also signaled an apparent willingness to extend the talks past his initially slated timeline. In December 2012, the president said that dialogue with the FARC would not extend past November “at the latest,” but progress at the negotiation table has come too slowly to accommodate this. Of the five points on the agenda, both sides have only come to an agreement on agrarian reform.

While this was seen as a breakthrough for the process, since then it became clear that an agreement is a long way off still, as the two sides still have clashing agendas for the talks. Even though Santos has consistently rejected the possibility of calling a national assembly to change the constitution, for instance, the rebels have repeatedly insisted on it.

Fortunately, as the L.A. Times reports, the president is no longer insistent on the deadline. “If in November we haven’t finished entirely, we’ll see where we are, and if we have to prolong the talks a couple of months, we’ll extend them," Santos said. “Deadlines in these processes are totally counterproductive.”

News Briefs
  • The head of military police in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, Colonel Erir Ribeiro da Costa Filho, has been relieved of duty afterhe had announced an amnesty for police officers who committed “administrative infractions” since 2011, O Globo and the AP report. He was dismissed after meeting with Jose Beltrame, the top security official for Rio state, who questioned the amnesty.
  • Mexican scholar Alejandro Madrazo Lajous, who heads the Right to Health Program at the CIDE Research Institute in Mexico City, offers an interesting take on the marijuana regulation bill that passed Uruguay’s lower house last week. He argues that its chance of successfully reducing the black market for the drug is good considering the success of an aggressive anti-smoking campaign championed by former President Tabare Vazquez. As Madrazo notes, the cigarette campaign faced much of the same criticism that the marijuana bill does, with pundits claiming that the country lacked the state capacity to carry it out effectively. But, he writes, “Uruguay’s resounding success with tobacco proved the naysayers wrong.”
  • Although the economics of the bill will be left up to regulation, Uruguayan Drug Secretary Julio Calzada gave local reporters a rough estimate of how much the drug will be sold for in pharmacies, saying it would cost around $2.5 dollars per gram, El Pais reports. Although he claimed that this was “not too much over or under” the street price, El Observador reports that police have questioned this, claiming that cannabis is available for half that price on the black market.
  • Nancy Obregon, a former Peruvian congresswoman and coca activist, has been accused of trafficking and links to the Shining Path after the emergence of a tape recording in which she was apparently discussing drug shipments out of the country. La Republica reports that Obregon is accusing the administration of President Ollanta Humala of going after her for political reasons, and Peru21 notes that Humala’s opposition is attempting to link her to the president, alleging that he hand-picked her candidacy.
  • According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, coca cultivation in Bolivia last year fell for the second consecutive year. Total estimated coca cultivation declined 7 percent in 2012 to around 25,300 hectares, following a 12 percent drop in 2011, the UNODC survey found.
  • On Monday, foreign ministers of the countries belonging to the Mercosur trade bloc expressed outrage to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in a private meeting. Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, who attended the meeting, claims that the UN chief “reacted in a way that shows a sensitivity to the message that we conveyed from our heads of state.”
  • The Washington Post looks at the dangers that Central American migrants face on the journey northward. Despite the high number of Honduras, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who are killed, injured or kidnapped in the trek, the number of U.S. immigrants from these countries has surged in recent years, which the paper claims is due to “too few jobs, too much violence and too many young people.”
  • At Venezuela Politics and Human Rights, researchers Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde have written up their latest post in a series on citizen security reform in Venezuela, this time focusing on a disarmament bill that President Nicolas Maduro signed last month. Their post looks at the changes made to the law since its inception in 2010, the main debates over the measure among political actors and an overview of its main points.
  • Chile’s La Tercera reports that a judge has rejected a request by a human rights group to try the father of conservative presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei for the murder of the father of former president and current candidate Michelle Bachelet. The prosecution argued that the senior Bachelet died of a heart attack after being submitted to torture in a military prison which was led by the former General Matthei, and that the latter knew of Bachelet’s death, but the judge found there was not enough evidence to proceed.
  • BBC Mundo looks at the success of Nicaragua’s highly vocal elderly pension movement (best profiled by Tim Rogers at Nicaragua Dispatch), which has fought to expand pensions to senior citizens who did not log the necessary hours to meet qualifications. After their cause was taken up by student groups in the country, the government ceded to their demands, making it, in the BBC’s estimation, “the most successful social movement in the country in recent years.”

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