Monday, November 11, 2013

Colombian Govt: FARC Won't Get Legislative Seats

With an eventual peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) looking more and more likely, negotiators are coming under pressure to provide details on how the guerrillas will abandon arms to participate in democratic politics. In response to criticism, the government has clarified that new legislative seats will be granted to conflict-ridden areas, but not directly to the rebels themselves.

In an interview published over the weekend, President Juan Manuel Santos told the Washington Post that he believed a peace deal would be reached with the rebels. “I think this time we will reach an agreement, and we will have peace,” Santos said. While the president has expressed optimism about the talks at various moments in the past year, this is the most certain he has sounded about their potential for success since they began.

The remark came days after the FARC and government negotiating teams announced they had signed an agreement designed to facilitate the guerrillas’ entry into democratic politics. Among the details of the accord included in their joint press release was the pledge to create new mechanisms to guarantee social movements and civil society groups a greater voice in the country’s political process. This would include granting “Special Temporary Peace Constituencies” to conflict-ridden areas, giving them additional elected representatives in the lower house of Congress to advocate their interests “during a transitional period.”

This raised a host of questions about the nature of these new positions, including who would designate which areas would be granted representatives. Critics of the peace process framed the announcement as a thinly-veiled method of granting the FARC direct seats in Congress. Of course, former president and leading government critic Alvaro Uribe was among the first to attack the proposal, calling it an “unacceptable” concession to “terrorists.” This is despite the fact that, as Caracol Radio points out, the ex-president himself suggested granting legislative seats to armed groups as part of a peace process in 2003.

In response to such criticism, the party leaders of the ruling National Unity coalition released a statement on Thursday backing the announcement, relayed to press by Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo. El Espectador reports that Cristo assured reporters that the Temporary Peace Constituencies would not be set aside for the FARC, as filling the positions would involve a process of “open competition,” presumably marked by a popular vote.

This was echoed by chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle in an op-ed published in leading daily El Tiempo and other local outlets on Sunday.  According to De la Calle, the temporary legislative seats amount to an “innovative” attempt to incorporate largely overlooked regions in governmental decisions. He writes:
Indeed, it does not involve mechanisms to promote the representation of a movement arising from the FARC, but to temporarily increase the presence in the House of Representatives of those territories which have been marginalized from the representative system due to the conflict. This will be through electoral circles in provinces, so they may choose additional representatives. 
Some have said they are constituencies for the FARC. False. All residents can aspire to exercise such representation on behalf of social movements or organizations representing victims, farmers, women and social sectors, for example. Yes, these will be different from ordinary parties. This is a strategic concept aimed at integrating marginalized territories and compensating citizens who have been excluded as a result of the conflict.

News Briefs
  • In other Colombian conflict news, El Espectador reports that FARC Secretariat member and negotiator Pablo Catatumbo expressed regrets to reporters about the rebels’ reliance on kidnappings to finance their activity. The guerrilla group officially announced it would cease kidnapping for ransom in February 2012, and Catatumbo claims it was a strategic mistake to have carried them out for so long. “Kidnapping, as you call it and what we call economic retention, has incurred a high political cost,” the FARC leader said in an interview.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has obtained a medical clearance to return to work, a month after she underwent surgery to remove a blood clot on her brain. La Nacion reports that the president is awaiting the results of blood tests and cardiac exams in order to announce when and under what conditions she will officially resume office.
  • In an illustration of her support for greater equality for same-sex couples, Telesur reports that leading Chilean presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet sent a representative to the Gay Pride Parade in Santiago on Saturday. Additionally, five of the nine candidates for president attended the march in person, a sign of changing attitudes towards marriage equality in the South American country.
  • Speaking at a fundraiser in Miami on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama said that it was time for the country to consider a new approach to Cuba policy. While he did not propose specific changes, he called for the U.S. to be “creative” and “thoughtful” in updating its Cuba policy. “Keep in mind that when Castro came to power I was just born, so the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet, Google and world travel doesn't make sense,” he said.
  • The Associated Press profiles optimism in Cuba that the ongoing overhaul of the Port of Mariel could eventually turn it into a hub of commercial activity and spur economic growth on the island, especially if the U.S. ever ends its 51-year-old embargo. But while officials and some analysts are hopeful that the port’s opening next year will draw in foreign businesses, critics say the local government’s strict employment regulations and reputation for bureaucracy will limit investment.
  • As the Venezuelan government attempts to rein in inflation and extend price controls, in a late night address on Sunday President Nicolas Maduro announced increased inspection of stores selling shoes, clothing, cars and other goods in order to make sure they aren’t engaging in price gouging. On Friday he ordered troops to take control of a five-store chain of electronics stores after its prices were deemed to be too high, instructing them to sell their goods at reduced prices and liquidate their inventories, the New York Times reports.
  • Miami Herald reporter Jim Wyss, head of the paper’s Andean Bureau, was detained in Venezuela for nearly 48 last week after he was arrested near the Colombian border on Thursday. Local military officials in the western state of Tachira, apprehended Wyss after he asked for an interview with army authorities. According to the Herald, they claimed he did not have permission to report in the country.
  • InSight Crime has a translation of an excellent investigation piece by Jose Luis Pardo and Alejandra S. Inzunza on military collusion with drug trafficking in Venezuela, which initially ran in El Universal Domingo.  The two characterize Venezuela as the country where “the drug traffickers wear military uniforms,” noting that the politicization of the armed forces under Hugo Chavez made it easy for certain elements allied with the ruling PSUV to participate in the drug trade without consequences.