Monday, December 2, 2013

Colombia Names Women to Negotiating Team as Peace Talks Shift to Drugs

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has appointed two new female members to the government’s official negotiating team with FARC rebels in Havana, a move which some say could ensure that the talks take more gender-related aspects of the armed conflict into account. The two parties resumed negotiations Thursday on yet another tricky issue on the agenda, illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking.

One of the appointments, that of Nigeria Renteria, was first reported on November 23, when members of the administration told the press that she would replace Luis Carlos Villegas, who was moving on to serve as the new Colombian ambassador to the United States. Renteria’s appointment received quite a bit of praise. She is an Afro-Colombian woman from the department of Choco, and until now has been the head of a presidential advisory committee for women’s equity (see profiles of her by Reuters and El Espectador). Then, later in the week it became clear that there would be another woman appointed to the negotiating table: Maria Paulina Riveros, previously the head of the Interior Ministry’s human rights division. Both are plenipotentiaries, meaning they have been granted full authority to speak and negotiate on behalf of the government.

While their appointment has clear symbolic value, Colombia conflict expert Virginia Bouvier is optimistic that the move will have consequences for the direction of the peace process as well. In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, she writes:
The inclusion of women -- including an Afro-Colombian woman -- as full members at Havana's negotiating table challenges some of the stereotypes behind gender and ethnic discrimination that permeate Colombia. But it also has the potential to be transformative in other ways: As the president's senior advisor for gender equity since last June, Rentería was charged with mitigating "intra-familial violence, child pregnancy, sexual abuse, and human trafficking." Before joining the government, she worked as a lawyer and as the regional director of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare for Colombia's most impoverished state, Chocó. Riveros has been a liasion for the Interior Ministry with ethnic communities on human rights issues presented before the Organization of American States's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. If she and Riveros can use their backgrounds to help ensure that the peace table addresses the gendered and ethnic dimensions of violence that permeate Colombian society, they could reshape the face of long-term peace in Colombia.
The two parties resumed talks on Thursday in Havana, tackling the next item on the agenda: “The Solution to the Problem of Illicit Drugs.” Previous agenda items have been extremely contentious (political participation was seen as a particularly prickly issue, and the recent agreement was a key breakthrough), and this one is sure to have its own pitfalls as well. For one thing, the FARC has consistently downplayed or denied its involvement in the drug trade. It is unclear how much the rebels are willing to admit that some elements of the group are active mid- and upper-level traffickers, to say nothing of their routine taxation of drug smuggling and coca cultivation. Still, in an interview published Wednesday by Reuters, Colombia’s newly-appointed police chief General Ricardo Restrepo told the news agency that negotiations would make it far easier to carry out coca eradication and crack down on trafficking.

Another thing to watch during the next stage of negotiations is the issue of drug legalization. Santos, of course, has made a name for himself as one of the biggest champions a new debate on drug policy in the hemisphere. But not many know that the FARC adopted the “legalization of drug use” to their political platform years ago. RCN Radio reports the rebels released a press statement on Thursday reaffirming their commitment to this stance and to resolving the issue of drugs, which they claimed was “used as an excuse for intervention by foreign powers” in Colombia. Considering that the consumption of small amounts of cocaine, marijuana and synthetic drugs is already decriminalized in the country, there is a chance that the guerrillas could push the issue even further, perhaps even advocating full legalization.

News Briefs
  • On Saturday, the president of the Dominican Republic signed an executive order outlining a plan to implement the recent controversial court ruling on nationality. According to an official press release, the plan provides a period of 18 months for those affected by the ruling to apply for citizenship or workers’ visas, and those who do not participate would be subject to deportation. Meanwhile, an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) delegation has arrived in Santo Domingo for a country visit to assess the human rights consequences of the ruling. The Listin Diario reports that a demonstration was held in the city yesterday in support of the ruling and to protest the IACHR’s visit.
  • The Senate vote on Uruguay’s marijuana regulation bill, which has been delayed for weeks, finally has a fixed date. Officials in the country’s ruling Frente Amplio (FA) coalition have told the press that the vote will take place on December 10. Because the FA has a comfortable Senate majority, it is expected to pass and be signed by Mujica before the end of the year. On Sunday, Brazil’s Folha de São Paulo published an extensive interview with the Uruguayan president, in which he requested “the help of the world” with his country’s “social-political experiment” with marijuana legalization. According to Mujica, Uruguay’s neighbors (Brazil and Argentina) have applied considerable pressure on his administration to abandon the measure, out of fear of cross-border spillover of the drug. Mujica also noted that the bill has a “high political cost” for him at home, acknowledging that it is largely unpopular. 
  • On Thursday, Mexico’s main leftist party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) announced it would be pulling out of the Pact for Mexico, the accord it made in December 2012 to adhere to a loose agenda with the other two major parties in the country. According to PRD Chairman Jesus Zambrano, the decision was made in response to the PAN and PRI parties’ plan to end the monopoly of state-owned oil company Pemex, which he said went far beyond what his party deemed acceptable. As a result, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters note that the other two parties are expected to rewrite the proposal even further to give private companies a greater role in Mexico’s oil industry.
  • The Associated Press reports on Venezuela’s quiet cutbacks to foreign aid under President Nicolas Maduro, largely consisting of loans and subsidies through Petrocaribe. According to the AP, spending on these programs fell to $1.7 billion in the first nine months of 2013, compared with over three times that amount for the same period last year. For many analysts, this is a sign that the country’s regional influence has peaked.
  • The Washington Post has an update on the military occupation of the Mexican port city of Lazaro Cardenas, an attempt by President Enrique Peña Nieto to weaken the Knights Templar cartel’s influence in the area. While many locals support the army’s presence in the city, some say it has scared off cargo ships from the port.
  • The Post also has an overview of opposition to corruption and drug cartels among Catholic clergy in Michoacan, where outgoing Apatzingan Bishop Miguel Angel Patiño has become a vocal critic of the government’s response to organized crime (see this profile of Patiño’s criticism by Dudley Althaus of InSight Crime). The paper notes that the bishop’s decision to call out corrupt officials has put the Church in an awkward position, as it has maintained a less confrontational stance in the state.
  • Following President Barack Obama’s recent calls for an updated U.S. policy toward Cuba, the Miami Herald published an editorial last week arguing that any changes should take into account the Cuban government’s ongoing repression of pro-democracy advocates in the country, some of whom support the embargo.  In response, The Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Sarah Stephens points out in a letter to the editors that this view is hardly representative of all Cuban dissidents, and argues that easing the trade embargo could be a method of fostering continued economic and political reforms on the island.
  • Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro has challenged the results of last week’s presidential election, calling it a “fraud of incalculable proportions” and demanding a vote-by-vote recount. Thousands of supporters marched in downtown Tegucigalpa yesterday to support her claim. Castro’s LIBRE party has not challenged the legislative elections, however, which give it the second-largest number of seats in Congress after the National Party. RAJ of Honduras Culture and Politics offers a helpful breakdown of the dynamics in Honduras’ new Congress, highlighting remarks by political analysts which suggest that an uneasy alliance between the National Party and the more traditional wing of the Liberal Party can be expected, which could establish a simple majority (roughly) aligned with president-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez.
  • The AFP profiles Hernandez’s campaign promises on crime and violence, noting that he has backed military involvement in law enforcement and is widely seen as the biggest supporter of a “mano dura” approach to crime in Honduras.
  • Reuters notes that despite the bitter opposition voiced by some, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s plan to bring in thousands of Cuban doctors to the country has been well-received in the poor communities where they have been sent. Still, the news agency notes that Brazil’s medical community continues to oppose the measure, even as polls suggest that over 70 percent of Brazilians are in favor of it. 

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