Monday, July 21, 2014

Colombia’s Santos Seeks to End Re-Election

In a speech before Colombia’s newly-inaugurated Congress yesterday, President Juan Manuel Santos called for lawmakers to become a “Congress of peace,” and to “legislate for a new, post-conflict nation,” El Espectador reports.

Of course, one of the biggest obstacles to this is the right-wing opposition led by Santos’ former boss, ex-President Alvaro Uribe. While Santos’ coalition holds a majority in both houses, Uribe’s position gives him a greater platform from which to attack the peace process. In an insightful analysis of how Uribe’s arrival to Congress will change the political landscape in Colombia, La Silla Vacia notes that the new legislative term marks the first time in recent history when the country’s right wing has found itself in the opposition minority. As a result of Uribe’s heightened profile, the news site argues that the legislature will take on new importance as a political battleground.

Aside from Santos’ message of peace, the president renewed his support for another initiative with important consequences for Colombia’s democratic development: ending presidential re-election.

Echoing statements he made on the campaign trail in recent months, Santos promised to present a bill to reverse a 2004 constitutional amendment that paved the way for Uribe to seek reelection in 2006. As BBC Mundo reports, the president said the measure would abolish re-election, but extend the presidential term to “five or six years.” Because the reforms would not take effect until he leaves office in 2018, Santos would not benefit from them and will end his current term after the normal four-year period.

If passed, Santos’ proposal would amount to a rare curb on executive power in a region where leaders like Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales are flirting with indefinite re-election. And by extending the presidential term by one or years, the measure deflects criticism from those who say ending re-election would limit the ability of presidents to implement meaningful policies.

News Briefs
  • On Friday, the Associated Press published an investigation by Caracas-based correspondent Hannah Dreier on the impact that Venezuela’s 2010 ban on foreign funding has had on NGOs in the country. While the existence of fines as high as double the amount of received donations intimidate many civil society activists, Dreier finds that the Venezuelan government is either unable or unwilling to enforce the ban. Last year, the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy together provided $7.6 million to support Venezuelan civil society groups, 15 percent more than in 2009.
  • Nearly three decades after the height of the Contra War, the specter of political violence is again rearing its head in Nicaragua. In the north of the country on Sunday, unknown gunmen opened fire on buses in which Sandinista supporters were returning from a rally in Managua celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. Five individuals were killed in the attacks, and 19 were injured, according to La Prensa. Police reportedly have four suspects in custody. While authorities have chalked up the violence to the work of common criminals, Fusion notes that a shady neo-Contra group known as the “Armed Forces of National Salvation (FASN-EP)” has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Whether the FASN-EP represents a significant security threat remains to be seen, but the incident is the latest in a series of attacks that suggest Contra groups are rearming in the country, as InSight Crime has reported.
  • On Saturday, Folha’s Poder e Politica aired an interview with Jose Mujica, in which the Uruguayan president offered some typically off-the-cuff remarks about the state of Latin American relations, discussing the threat of Brazil being seen as a regional “imperialist,” and lamenting the “stagnation” of the Mercosur trading bloc.
  • In Mexico, public opinion is largely opposed to U.S. immigration policies and sympathetic to the plight of Central American migrants, making a crackdown on migration through the country largely unpopular. But the crisis along the U.S. -Mexico border has increased pressure on Mexican authorities to restrict the flow of migrants, and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong has framed a new border deal with Guatemala as a step in that direction, The New York Times reports. U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that he will meet with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in the White House on Friday to discuss a regional approach to the issue.
  • The L.A. Times reports that dangers faced by undocumented immigrants do not stop north of the Texas-Mexico border, with the hostile arid landscape there proving fatal to more than 400 immigrants since 2009. The AP, meanwhile, has an interesting factbox showing the costs associated with smuggling migrants from Central America into the U.S., with a total price tag ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. Reuters notes that many of those deported to their countries of origin are faced with the difficult task of repaying loans to smugglers and criminal groups, risking death if they fail to pay up.
  • The director of a group home raided in Michoacan last week, in which hundreds of youths and adults were found living in deplorable conditions, was freed from police custody on Sunday without charges, the AP reports. In the aftermath of the raid a number of high-profile Mexicans, including former President Vicente Fox, leapt to her defense and supported her release.
  • In a column for Razon Publica, Colombian drug policy experts Juan Carlos Garzon and Julian Wilches write that Colombia has been “the victim of its own success” in terms of its security strategy in recent years. While large transnational criminal groups have found it much harder to operate in the country, an increase in domestic demand for drugs has accompanied the rise of smaller, local gangs.
  • On Thursday, Colombian negotiators and FARC rebels at peace talks in Havana released a joint communiqué outlining the method by which delegations of victims’ groups will be sent to weigh in on the peace process. Under the agreement, the first delegation will arrive in Havana on August 16th. Colombia conflict analyst Virginia Bouvier has a breakdown of the development, noting that it represents a “vote of confidence” from both the guerrillas and government in the role that the United Nations system in Colombia and a think tank affiliated with the National University have played in carving out a space for participation of civil society in the talks.
  • El Nuevo Herald has a long report on U.S.-Cuba cultural exchanges, noting the ways in which the program has been used by musicians and musical scenes to open spaces autonomous from official influence, which is especially the case with Cuban hip-hop.

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