Monday, June 9, 2014

Colombia Peace Talks Turn to Victims

On Saturday the Colombian government and FARC rebels mapped out an outline for talks on victims’ rights, and agreed to set up a working group to begin hashing out the next and final substantive item on the peace process agenda: putting an end to the fighting. But while a promising groundwork for lasting peace appears to have been laid, a lot is riding on next Sunday’s election.

As El Espectador reports, the agreement (see joint statement here) asserts that “victims’ rights are non-negotiable,” and that both sides will take responsibility for victims rather than “exchanging impunity.” More specifically, both parties agreed that these rights include truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition, and that the satisfaction of these rights is fundamental to establishing peace. They set forth a 10-point “declaration of principles” for debate.

To focus the current round of talks on conflict victims, the negotiators announced they will invite a diverse delegation of victims to Havana to share their experiences and expectations for the peace agreement. They also agreed to give a special emphasis to gender, setting up a subcommittee that will review the current and previous agreements to ensure they properly take into account the different ways the conflict has impacted both men and women. The National University and United Nations have also been invited to arrange civil society forums on victims’ rights, as they did with previous dialogue points.

As the BBC notes, panel of experts will be convened to create a “historic commission on the conflict and its victims,” though -- as Colombia conflict expert Virginia Bouvier points out -- this will not replace a post-conflict truth commission that will include the participation of a much greater segment of Colombian society, and victims’ groups in particular.

One of the most promising elements of the announcement, at least for those who have criticized the slow progress of talks, is the negotiators’ establishment of another subcommittee which will work separately on the conditions of a ceasefire, the final major agenda item. Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle told reporters that this would “streamline and strengthen” the talks, according to El Tiempo. After that issue is resolved, the two sides will only have to hammer out the details of implementation before a final peace accord is ready to be signed.

This is a positive development, but it increasingly looks like the future of the talks -- at least along their current trajectory -- will depend on the results of the June 15 presidential runoff. News site La Silla Vacia asserts that the joint statement’s rejection of impunity for abuses undermines the main argument of President Juan Manuel Santos’ Uribista challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (that the current talks allow the FARC to get off the hook for atrocities).

Regardless, the right-wing candidate is unmoved. Following the announcement he attacked the FARC’s credibility, calling the guerrillas the “primary victimizers” in the conflict in remarks to El Tiempo. In fact, figures compiled by the official National Center for Historic Memory suggest that paramilitary groups are responsible for more targeted killings and massacres than rebels, while guerrillas were disproportionately behind kidnappings and property destruction.

Zuluaga went even further, saying that if victorious he would not consider his government bound by the three preliminary agreements reached in Havana. Pointing to similar remarks by President Santos in the past, he said he would review the negotiations thus far. “Nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon,” Zuluaga said. “And here there is nothing.”

News Briefs
  • In an interview with Spain’s El Pais published on Saturday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto touched on the issue of marijuana policy reform, and his remarks were subsequently picked up by Reuters. While he insisted that his personal position against marijuana legalization has not changed, the president signaled openness to debating the issue, citing recent legalization of the drug in Colorado and Washington states. “As it is so paradoxical and absurd, it is clear that opening a debate on the topic is in order,” Peña Nieto said. “[W]e can't continue on this road of inconsistency between the legalization we've had in some places, particularly in the most important consumer market, the United States, and in Mexico where we continue to criminalize production of marijuana.”
  • The New York Times looks at the standoff in Haiti between President Michel Martelly and lawmakers over the terms of holding long-overdue municipal and legislative elections in October. The president’s critics accuse him of wanting to rule by decree, while his supporters counter that lawmakers are trying to postpone the end of their terms and turn public opinion against Martelly ahead of presidential elections in 2015.
  • The Miami Herald is the latest U.S. media outlet to underline the gap between Brazil’s past promises that the World Cup and upcoming Olympics would spur development in the country, and the reality that much of the planned projects have been delayed or canceled.
  • The Wall Street Journal notes that a metro workers’ strike that began in São Paulo on Thursday continues to impair public transportation in the city today, just three days before the World Cup kicks off. On Sunday a local labor court ruled that the strike was illegal, and São Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin promised that participants would be fired. According to O Globo he has made good on his threat, and 60 subway workers were dismissed early today, as police dispersed a sizeable protest in the city center with tear gas.
  • On Sunday, Caracas saw thousands participate in a rally to support jailed opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, according to the AP, though the AFP puts the number at around 500. El Nacional has published Lopez’s written responses to questions submitted after the recent ruling ordering his continued imprisonment, in which he accuses the judge who handed down the ruling of being manipulated by political interests.
  • On Friday, a court in Geneva handed down a life sentence to former Guatemalan National Police Commander Erwin Sperisen for the killings of seven inmates in a Guatemala City prison in 2006. Prensa Libre reports that President Otto Perez Molina said he would respect the ruling and continue to follow the case.
  • El Faro’s Sala Negra offers a sobering look at the dark side of police work in El Salvador, with a profile of “Harry,” a national police inspector who details systemic abuses and extrajudicial killings of alleged gang members by members of the country’s security forces.
  • The Washington Post has an in-depth investigation into the heart of the conflict between the Chilean government and Mapuche activists in the southern Chile region of Araucania. While officials have begun recognizing a responsibility to address the historic oppression of  Mapuche communities, the view that government land transfer programs provide insufficient compensation is fueling a wave of occupations of land owned by timber companies and non-Mapuche settlers.