Thursday, October 10, 2013

Colombian President Floats Potential Pause in Peace Talks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos appears to have sent up a trial balloon on putting talks with FARC rebels on hold during the country’s upcoming election season. While the issue is not being discussed at the negotiating table in Havana, representatives of the guerrilla group have voiced support for the idea.

Santos first floated the possibility in a meeting on Tuesday with leading members of his Social Party of National Unity (also known as the Party of the U). As El Tiempo reports, Santos laid out the situation in Havana as he sees it. While the president remains hopeful that the talks will pick up the pace and an accord can be reached before November 18, one year after they began, he recognizes this may not be realistic. Unfortunately, the following months could put unnecessary strain on the peace process, as both legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for the first half of 2014. The former is set for March, and the latter will be held in May.

Santos outlined three possible options going forward. According to him, both parties can either freeze the dialogue while elections are underway, the government can simply walk away from the table, or the talks can continue through election season. “My own wish is for things to speed up, because people are starting to doubt the process,” said Santos, adding that “people are wondering why agreements are not being reached.”
Yesterday reporters asked FARC spokesman Andres Pais about the remark, to which he replied that the rebel group would be willing to put the talks on hold “if necessary,” but he cautioned that this would have to be a bilateral decision.

For now, however, this appears to be off the table. La Silla Vacia reports that sources in both the government and the FARC’s negotiating teams say a pause in the talks is not being discussed, and there are no plans to take up the issue in the current round of negotiations.

Postponing the talks might prove beneficial to the peace process.  By announcing a temporary recess, the talks could be insulated from the political pressures of the electoral cycle. It could discourage conservative candidates from using them as targets in their campaigns, a favorite tactic of former President Alvaro Uribe’s resurgent political force.

More likely, however, it would open up further criticism of Santos’ handling of the negotiations, perhaps fueling comparisons with the previous failed peace process, which ended following accusations that the FARC was abusing a ceasefire to strengthen itself militarily.

Caracol Radio reports that even the suggestion of putting the talks on hold has sparked a backlash among the county’s political class, including members of Santos’ own party. Former President Ernesto Samper, of the Liberal Party, was among the most notable critics of the proposal, who described it as a political error. “This would simply and easily surrender the electoral agenda to the opposition,” Samper said.


News Briefs
  • Colombian academic Daniel Mejia, head of the country’s presidential commission on drug policy, has publicly criticized the government’s response to a report he co-authored with Adriana Camacho of the Universidad de los Andes, which looked at the efficacy and harmful side effects of pesticides used in aerial coca-eradication spraying campaigns. In an interview with W Radio on Monday, Mejia said the research found that glyphosate, the chemical most used in aerial spraying, only achieves reductions in coca yield of 12 to 15 percent per hectare sprayed. However, it has been found to damage human skin cells. He also accused the Colombian Foreign Ministry of pressuring him not to release the study until after the International Court of Justice ruled on a petition filed by Ecuador about cross-border spraying. The case was settled out of court last month, but that did not stop the Foreign Ministry from attacking the legitimacy of his paper once it was published, Mejia said.
  • After unexpectedly dropping out of the race and then announcing his return over the weekend, the leading opposition candidate in Costa Rica's presidential race has quit the campaign trail a second time. La Nacion reports that Rodolfo Hernandez of the conservative Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) sent a letter of resignation to electoral authorities yesterday afternoon, officially ending his campaign. The move makes it all but certain that the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) will hold onto power after February’s elections, virtually ensuring PLN candidate Johnny Araya’s victory.
  • The New York Times reports that the United Nations was hit by a “double dose of scrutiny” yesterday. In addition to the suit filed by Haitian human rights advocates over the role of UN peacekeeping forces in spreading Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic, Transparency International UK released a report which detailed corruption in recent UN peacekeeping operations around the world.
  • American journalist Glenn Greenwald was questioned by Brazilian senators about the contents of former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s leak in a congressional hearing on NSA espionage in the country on Wednesday. The AP reports that Greenwald balked at the questioning, insisting that “there should always be strict separation between governments and journalists.” Greenwald also recommended that the Brazilian government give asylum to Snowden.
  • Although the Domincan Republic’s Constitutional Court decision last month to deny citizenship to children of Haitian migrants has put Dominican discrimination against Haitians in the spotlight recently, local human rights groups have been fighting against it for years. The AFP reports that as part of this week’s ongoing special session in Mexico City, on Tuesday and Wednesday the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a public hearing in the case “Tide Mendez et al against the Dominican Republic.” The plaintiffs in the case are a group of six families who claim they were arbitrary detained and collectively expelled from the DR between 1999 and 2000, as a result of structural racism against Dominicans of Haitian descent. For more on the details of the case see press releases by Haiti Libre as well as the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which is representing the victims.
  • The L.A. Times profiles the vulnerability of Mexico’s judicial institutions to manipulation by powerful men. This was illustrated recently by two high-profile custody battles in which political powerbrokers were accused of abusing their influence to gain a legal advantage against the mother of their children.  The cases have been highlighted by human rights organizations and feminist groups in the country, which say they point to serious flaws in the court system.
  • The long-running labor strike in Venezuela’s Orinoco Steelworks factory in the eastern city of Guayana, which the NYT’s William Neuman recently described as a microcosm of the country’s political divisions, has ended.  Workers and the company have agreed to what Venezuela Analysis describes as an “advanced payment” plan in which the workers will receive two lump sum payments in exchange for returning to work. Rafael Uzcategui of Venezuela human rights group PROVEA provides an excellent analysis of the government’s handling of the incident, noting that President Nicolas Maduro’s use of language demonizing strike leaders is at odds with his self-proclaimed status as a “workers’ president.”
  • According to a new report by an independent working  group which monitors the Colombian government’s adherence to a 2008 Constitutional Court order for it to take measures to safeguard women against sexual violence linked to the armed conflict, the government has made little progress on this front. As Semana and El Tiempo report, sexual violence against women is one of the least-investigated crimes in the country. According to the report (English version available here), the government’s remedies for have been merely “illusory,” and have failed to stem the violence.
  • In a surprise announcement, the Cuban government has appointed new editors  for Granma and Juventud Rebelde, the country’s two main newspapers. The AFP reports that Granma editor Lazaro Barredo, considered a hardline communist, has been replaced by Juventud Rebelde editor Pelayo Terry. Terry’s old position will be filled by Marina Menendez, his former deputy editor. The BBC reports that the shakeup is seen as a step towards less secrecy and self-censorship in the island’s official press.
  • While Rio de Janeiro’s battle against police abuse has been in the headlines in recent weeks, police in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires face similar allegations of extrajudicial executions and abuse of authority. A new report by Argentina’s Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) has found that between 2003 and 2012, 1,150 died as a result of “institutional violence” of security forces. Of these, only half were killed by on-duty, uniformed officials.