Thursday, May 29, 2014

Zuluaga Reverses on Colombia Peace Talks

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the Uribista presidential frontrunner in Colombia's first round vote, has altered his stance on negotiating with FARC guerrillas, dealing a blow to President Juan Manuel Santos’ attempts to frame their contest as a choice between “war vs. peace.”

The reversal was part of a pact with Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez, who came in third place in Sunday’s election, obtaining 15.5 percent of the vote. Ramirez agreed to support Zuluaga’s bid in exchange for adopting some of her proposals, including softening his approach to peace talks. In a joint declaration released yesterday, the two agreed that negotiations with rebels should continue under a Zuluaga administration, albeit under some new conditions. These include:
a. Immediately ending the recruitment of children. 
b. Desisting from laying landmines and providing the government with maps of existing minefields for clearance to start immediately. 
c. Stopping terrorist attacks against the population. 
d. Ending war crimes. 
e. Stopping attacks on infrastructure. 
f. The government will reach an agreement on a time limit for negotiations with the FARC. 
g. We will insist that the FARC comply with their commitment to end kidnapping and extortion and on the necessity of the group ceasing activities related to drug trafficking.
As Semana reports, this is a far cry from Zuluaga’s recent remarks on the peace talks. On Monday he said he would provisionally suspend the talks immediately upon taking office, and end them unless guerrillas adopted a permanent unilateral ceasefire, a condition the FARC have rejected in the past. In previous statements the Uribe-backed candidate also said he would not allow rebel leaders to participate in politics without serving jail time.

La Silla Vacia suggests that these new conditions are far more realistic. The FARC have already announced an end to kidnapping, and issues like drug trafficking, landmines and the recruitment of minors are currently being negotiated.

The news site also points out that the announcement puts President Juan Manuel Santos in a tight spot ahead of the June 15 runoff. Up to now, he has based much of his re-election campaign on his image as the “peace candidate,” and Zuluaga’s mano dura approach to FARC negotiations has played into this. But with his opponent embracing an updated, more nuanced position on peace talks, Santos may have a harder time convincing voters that a vote for him is a vote to end the country’s long-running armed conflict.

News Briefs
  • Despite some opposition, the United States House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that instructs the Obama administration to compile a list of Venezuelan officials linked to human rights abuses and freeze their assets in the U.S.  The vote follows the approval of a separate sanctions measure by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, though analysts cited by Bloomberg suggest the Senate bill is unlikely to move to the full floor unless opposition protests and a violent crackdown escalate dramatically.  
  • As U.S. lawmakers passed the sanctions bill, the Venezuelan government announced yet another discovery of an alleged plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro, supposedly backed by the opposition. Over at Venezuela Conspiracy Theories Monitor, Hugo Perez Hernaiz has a good overview of the claims made by heavyweights in the ruling United Socialist Party yesterday, who said the plans also included the assassination of various other government officials. As the New York Times reports, the “evidence” of the plot includes emails from opposition figures like Maria Corina Machado, who in one alleged message said she had the backing of  U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker.
  • In Peru, the recent abrupt replacement of drug czar Carmen Masias is being seen by some analysts as a sign that the administration of President Ollanta Humala has shifted his approach to drug policy somewhat. Masias, who has publicly complained that she was unceremoniously told to resign on Tuesday, has been replaced by Alberto Otarola Peñaranda, a former defense minister with close ties to Humala. IDL-Reporteros claims that the replacement is the result of the administration backing away from plans to adopt an aggressive, confrontational eradication strategy in the coca-growing VRAE region -- which Masias supported -- in favor of one based on alternative development and subsidized replacement crops. According to El Comercio, her removal was the result of an agreement reached between the government and coca growing associations in the VRAE. The Centro de Investigacion Drogas y Derechos Humanos, a Lima-based drug policy reform advocacy group and research center, has praised Masias’ ouster as an opportunity for the government to adopt a more “efficient, sustainable, respectful and clear” approach to drugs in Peru.
  • The AP has a photo essay on the impact that the Peruvian government’s recent crackdown on illegal mining in April has had on a once-booming mining town in the Amazon region.
  • A new Gallup poll shows 66 percent of Hondurans support newly-inaugurated President Juan Orlando Hernandez, significantly higher than the 34 percent of votes that won him victory in November’s elections. InSight Crime notes that the poll also shows wide public satisfaction with his hardline crime policies, which are largely a continuation of the militarized approach to security of his predecessor.  
  • A French court has ruled in favor of extraditing former Argentine police official Mario Alfredo Sandoval, who is wanted in his country for a list of over 600 human rights violations stemming from his time working at a special prison for dissidents during the dictatorship era.
  • Indigenous Diaguitas activists in Chile have reached a preliminary agreement with Canadian mining company Barrick over a controversial gold mine along the Argentina-Chile border, which critics say threatens the local water supply. But while the AP reports that locals and environmentalists have hailed the agreement as a victory, El Ciudadano notes that a coalition of activist groups in the area has said those negotiating with Barrick do not fully represent the affected community.
  • A Mexican federal court has ordered the government to pay compensation to Jacinta Francisco Marcial, an Otomi indigenous woman whose arrest and imprisonment for kidnapping on dubious grounds was condemned by local and international human rights groups. As Animal Politico reports, the Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez Human Rights Center has called the ruling a “historic precedent,” as it establishes grounds for victims of unjust imprisonment to seek reparations from the state.
  • Former Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad has responded to his addition to Interpol’s wanted list this week by saying that the charges against him, which include embezzling public money in a 1999 banking crisis, are "predominantly political." Mahuad is living in the U.S. and has lectured at the Harvard, which is reportedly “evaluating” its relationship with the ex-president.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on opposition to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez among the agricultural industry in the country, noting complaints among farmers that the government is using record soy exports to stem a drop in foreign reserves.