Thursday, November 7, 2013

Colombia Opens Door to FARC's Participation in Politics

After over five months of dialogue, the negotiating teams of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have signed a preliminary agreement paving the way for the rebels' eventual political participation, the second item in the six-point agenda for talks.

In a joint press release, the parties described the agreement as “promoting pluralism and political inclusion.” While the communiqué did not list the specifics of the agreement, it outlined its content in three basic points, including:  1.) honoring rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition, including access to the media 2.) the establishment of new mechanisms of direct democratic participation and 3.) promoting greater participation in governance among the most vulnerable populations.

The Associated Press reports that President Juan Manuel Santos praised the agreement in a national address yesterday, saying “We have come farther than ever before.” Hector Riveros, who oversaw peace negotiations with the rebels under then-President Cesar Gaviria in the mid-1990s, told the news agency he believed the current peace process had made the most progress since talks in the 1980s.

The head of the government’s negotiating team, Humberto de la Calle, said that the agreement would pave the way for a new “opening for democracy,” in Colombia, La FM Radio reports.  De la Calle cautioned, however, that it would only apply if all six points of the peace agenda are fulfilled. While the negotiating teams have agreed on land reform and political participation, The BBC notes that the remaining issues include disarmament, drug trafficking, rights of the victims and implementing the peace deal.  

La Silla Vacia takes a critical look at the agreement, pointing out that despite the FARC’s stated intention to empower social movements with the agreement, it could also be interpreted as an attempt to boost their political profile in areas where they have a greater presence. According to the Colombian news site, this “could provide a powerful political platform for the FARC to drift into civilian life if they truly show that they have support bases that believe in their ideas and vote for them without the pressure of arms.”

This is a big if. Today’s El Tiempo reports that, according to the latest AmericasBarometer public opinion survey in the country,  just 17 percent of 1,505 respondents living in conflict areas said they wanted to see the FARC have a role in conventional politics. However, 59 percent said they supported the peace talks. This suggests that those most impacted by the armed conflict are simply tired of violence, and are not looking to the rebels as a post-war force for political change.

News Briefs
  • In Lima on Tuesday, Peru21 reports that hundreds of protesters came out in a demonstration against Congress’ decision to appoint Congresswoman Martha Chavez as head of a legislative working group on human rights policy. As La Mula has reported, Chavez has repeatedly denied that the state committed crimes during the country’s armed conflict. She is also known for having said that a Truth and Reconciliation Report “should be thrown in the trash.” In remarks to El Pais, the National Coordinator of Human Rights Director Rocio Silva Santisteban said the appointment was tragic proof of lawmakers’ lack of attention to human rights issues. El Comercio reports that President Ollanta Humala’s Gana Peru party has condemned the appointment and called Chavez “unqualified” to head the commission, while the opposition Fuijmorista bloc has rallied behind her.
  • Yesterday, Nicaraguan lawmakers began to study a proposal which would end a constitutional ban on consecutive presidential terms in the Central American country. National Assembly secretary Alba Palacios told the AP that she and six other legislators had formed a committee to assess the bill, and plan on consulting with civil society, academic, religious and opposition groups. The Guardian notes that the Supreme Court has already ruled against term limits, so it’s unclear if the law is necessary to formalize the decision.
  • A new poll in El Salvador shows that FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren has a slight lead over his closest rival, Norman Quijano of the conservative ARENA party, ahead of February’s presidential election. Sanchez Ceren has support of 29.4 percent of Salvadorans, followed by 27.6 percent for Quijano. Former President Tony Saca remains in third place, with 12 percent support. Some 31 percent remain undecided. El Nuevo Herald profiles claims by some in El Salvador who say Saca is splitting the conservative vote, with some even suggesting that he is purposefully attempting to aid the FMLN’s chances.
  • While most English-language coverage of the Nicaraguan constitutional reform has focused on its language allowing reelection, it involves other important changes as well. Tim Rogers of Nicaragua Dispatch breaks these down, noting that it would also give the president new decree powers, authorizes the removal from Congress of legislators who defy party leadership, and allows active-duty members of the police and military to hold office.
  • The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has released a new report which looks at the impact of Honduras’ 2009 coup on economic inequality.  In “Honduras Since the Coup: Economic and Social Outcomes,” researchers Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre argue that deposed President Manuel Zelaya made important gains against poverty before his ouster. In the years since his removal, economic equality, unemployment and underemployment have increased dramatically, and the CEPR report claims that most of this is due to decreases in social spending rather than the 2008–09 global recession.
  • WOLA Senior Fellow Coletta Youngers has an excellent response to a particularly inflammatory op-ed recently written by Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Youngers takes issue with OGrady’s characterization of Bolivia as a “repressive narco-state” which has “turned Bolivia into an international hub of organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists.” As the WOLA researcher points out, Bolivia is not identified by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist haven, and the European Union Ambassador to Bolivia, Tim Torlot, recently flat-out denied that Bolivia was anything near a “narco-state.”
  • In the wake of the recent violent clash between coca eradicators and growers in the northern Apolo region last month, Bolivia’s ruling MAS party has motioned to postpone a revaluation of its laws regarding drugs and controlled substances (including coca cultivation quotas). Last year, the party had resolved to reform the bill in 2014, but El Deber reports that this will be postponed until after next year’s general election.
  • In its continuing efforts to rein in currency speculation, the Venezuelan government has announced tighter controls over its foreign exchange system, including the creation of a new agency tasked with administering dollars. According to President Nicolas Maduro, the institute will ensure that dollars flow to imports and reduce the amount that wind up on the illegal black market.
  • El Universal reports that in a 4-1 ruling, the Mexican Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision which freed convicted drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero, accused of killing two DEA agents in 1985. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has announced a new bounty for Car Quintero, offering up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
  • The L.A. Times examines the Mexican port city of Lazaro Cardenas, where federal police and military personnel have taken over local police duties in an attempt to crack down on cartel activity across the state of Michoacan. Security analysts say the move is a major blow to the finance structures of criminal groups in the state, but it remains to be seen if the presence of federal authorities will bring a long-term solution to endemic corruption and drug violence.

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