Thursday, October 17, 2013

Colombia’s Lower House Approves Referendum on Peace Deal

Despite the fact that FARC rebels and the government appear no closer to signing a treaty to end the country’s 50-year civil war, lawmakers in Colombia’s lower house have voted to authorize a referendum on the terms of an eventual peace accord.

The Colombian Chamber of Representatives voted 105 to two in favor of allowing the referendum on Wednesday after several days of debate, Caracol reports. While normally the country’s laws prohibit referendums to be tied to general elections, the bill creates an exception for the peace treaty. It will now move on to the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass.

Because the specifics of an eventual peace agreement remain undefined, the content of the bill is relatively sparse. It simply paves the way for a referendum to take place alongside either the upcoming legislative election in March or the presidential election in May.  According to El Espectador, it also prohibits the use of public funds in campaigns for or against the peace deal, and charges the National Electoral Council with establishing further campaign regulations.

The AP notes that political opponents accuse President Juan Manuel Santos of using the referendum to leverage his re-election campaign. “One thing that is clear is that [Santos] is playing politics with the peace process, it doesn’t take a genius to realize it,” Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Alternative Democratic Pole told the news agency.

These accusations seem off the mark, however, considering that Santos has consistently maintained that any peace agreement with the FARC should be submitted to a popular vote.  He first floated the idea in January, to counter FARC negotiators’ demands for a constituent assembly.

While tying the referendum to elections may seem like a political move, it may have more to do with maximizing voter turnout . In order for it to pass, the referendum needs 7.5 million votes, or 25 percent of the electorate.

News Briefs
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero looks at a Latin American trend: exhuming the bodies of deceased political figures to look for clues about their demise or further narratives of their heroism. While the recent exhumations of Pablo Neruda in Chile and Simon Bolivar in Venezuela have received significant media attention, Romero points out that the region has a long history of unearthing and studying bodies of historical individuals.
  • The AP profiles the Jamaican government’s attempts to establish a presence in crime-ridden urban neighborhoods. In addition to increasing patrols in violent areas, Jamaican police have begun a campaign aimed at painting over murals and graffiti commissioned by gangs, part of an attempt to delegitimize local crime bosses, known as “dons.”
  • Venezuela’s El Nacional has the content of the so-called “Enabling Law,” the bill that President Nicolas Maduro is pressuring Congress to approve, which would grant him the authority to pass certain measures by decree. Meanwhile, the ruling PSUV is still one vote shy of 99 it needs to authorize the bill in the National Assembly.  BBC Mundo looks at who among the opposition might support the measure, with the most likely candidate being the deputy representative of Congresswoman Maria Mercedes Aranguren, who could take her seat if she is stripped of her position as a result of a corruption investigation.
  • As part of the lawsuit filed by US oil giant Chevron against American lawyer Steven Donziger and other Ecuadorean indigenous and environmental activists, witnesses in court yesterday accused Donziger of fraud and misconduct. Reuters reports that Christopher Bogart, the head of a firm that helped finance Donziger's successful $18 billion suit against Chevron in Ecuador, said that he withdrew investment in the case because of legal concerns about the actions of Donziger and Ecuadorean lawyers.
  • Following the Worker Rights Consortium’s publication of a report alleging that the Haitian garment industry routinely violates the country’s minimum wage laws, the Geneva-based Better Work organization has released a report finding that garment factories in the country fail to meet safety standards. In response to the criticism, the AP reports that Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has released a statement saying that Haiti is “continuing to build an environment that holds ourselves and employers accountable for safe working conditions, competitive and growing wages, and opportunities for advancement.”
  • The L.A. Times reports on discrimination that indigenous women face in Mexico, which was illustrated by several recent incidents in which indigenous pregnant mothers were turned away from hospital clinics and forced to give birth outside the facilities. Human rights advocates say that the cases underline the inferior quality of health care available to low-income indigenous communities in the country.
  • The Guardian’s Mark Tran has an overview of the challenges faced by small-scale coffee and cardamom farmers in Guatemala. Their crops have been hit hard by a devastating outbreak of coffee rust disease, which some locals blame on global climate change.  Tran contrasts the fate of these monocrop  growers with that of subsistence farmers in the same area, whom he claims are doing comparatively better.
  • In a sign of growing ties between Russia’s defense industry and Latin American militaries, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is visiting Peru and Brazil this week to promote the sale of Russian arms. On Wednesday, the Brazilian Defense Ministry announced that it was moving forward with a $1 billion purchase of anti-aircraft missile batteries from Russia.  

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