Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Santos to FARC: Attacks Could Derail Peace Process

After winning re-election on a platform to continue peace talks with the FARC, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has shifted his tone somewhat, warning the rebels that continued attacks on infrastructure could end the peace process altogether.

Speaking at a sugar industry event yesterday, the president gave one of his strongest condemnations of armed FARC actions during the peace process. Referring to attacks like the recent destruction of electric pylons that left the Pacific port city of Buenaventura without power, Santos said such incidents were “demented.” He also claimed the guerrillas were ultimately “digging their own political grave because this is exactly what makes people reject them.”

According to a statement released by the administration, Santos continued: “This is what we’re telling them:  If you keep this up, you are playing with fire and this process can end; because we can’t stay in this situation indefinitely, as the Colombian public is confused and doesn’t understand.”

It’s worth noting that while Santos has criticized FARC attacks during the peace process before -- even as he refused their offer of a bilateral ceasefire -- this is the first time in recent months that he has described them as a potential deal-breaker.  

Following a December bomb attack on a police station in Cauca that left nine dead, Santos condemned the violence and promised to continue the military offensive against the FARC.  A month later, in response to a bombing of a public plaza in a town near Cali that killed one and left over 40 wounded, Santos called the incident “an act of infinite stupidity,” and  “irrational and contradictory” on the part of the FARC.  In April, he warned the rebels that their destruction of highways and bridges in Cauca was lowering public faith in the peace process. But in none of these cases did he explicitly put the future of talks on the line.

Bogota-based newspaper El Tiempo today calls Santos’ remark “one of the harshest statements yet about the future of the negotiating table in Havana,” and points out that it was made as both the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups appear to have stepped up attacks on infrastructure targets in recent months. Semana magazine cites Vicente Torrijos, a political analyst at Bogota's Rosario University, who described the president’s words as a reaction to rebels’ apparent attempt to put pressure on the peace process by escalated attacks. Reuters notes that the statement comes in the wake of his election contest against Uribista challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, whose popularity “showed the strength of skepticism about the peace talks.”

News Briefs
  • Argentina has until midnight (Eastern Standard Time) tonight to avoid going into default for the second time in 13 years and the eighth time in its history. The Wall Street Journal reports that an Argentine bankers association has presented a last-minute proposal to fend off default, and La Nacion notes that Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof has said that negotiations with bondholders will continue today. In a column for Medium, Felix Salmon has a critique of mainstream reporting on Argentina’s debt negotiations, providing a look at the calculus behind Argentine officials’ approach to the issue. As he notes, both the political and economic cost of a default for the government is relatively low, especially compared to the last default in 2001.
  • Brazilian news site R7 reports on a new survey to be published today by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security (Forum Brasileiro de Seguran├ža P├║blica), showing 73.7% of Brazilian police officers support the demilitarization of the Military Police, the state police forces. The poll, which collected responses from 21,000 police, also found that 93.6% identified corruption as one of the main obstacles to their job efficiency, and 99.1% complained of low wages. For a good discussion of the importance of reform and demilitarization of Brazil’s police, see this February NYT column by Vanessa Barbara.
  • Many of the region’s heads of state arrived in Caracas yesterday for the 46th Mercosur Summit, in which Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez will take over the bloc’s rotating presidency from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. As La Nacion reports, the two day meeting is the first summit with a Paraguayan leader present since the country was suspended following the ouster of President Fernando Lugo in 2012. EFE notes that the heads of states present offered support for Argentina’s holdout battle. According to El Observador, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica offered a critical take on the summit in his address to participants, questioning the utility of the bloc’s frequent meetings. Calling for more fruitful dialogue, Mujica said that if the region’s presidents had nothing significant to negotiate, they should just “talk on the phone.”
  • WBEZ Radio has a good interview with Frank Bajak, head of Andean News for the AP, who discusses Peru’s recent controversial environmental reforms and their consequences. He notes that a new law passed last month restricts the Environmental Ministry’s jurisdiction to set water, air and soil standards, as well as ability to set aside nature reserves.
  • Reuters reports on the latest manifestation of extreme devotion to Hugo Chavez -- what Hugo Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde have called a “civil religion” -- in Venezuela by some of his supporters: a new type font, based on the deceased leader’s own handwriting.
  • For Animal Politico, Ernesto Lopez Portillo Vargas of Mexican security policy research group InSyde has an overview of Mexico’s response to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent decision to send National Guard troops to the state’s southern border. While Perry has described the move as sending of a “powerful message”  to dissuade undocumented immigration, the order was criticized by Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat, which sent a note of protest to Washington.
  • InSight Crime’s Patrick Corcoran has a write-up of the main findings of a recent report by Mexican think tank Fundar, which concludes that Mexico’s newly launched gendarmerie police force operates under a strategic vision that prioritizes eliminating the enemy over protecting the civilian population, and is essentially an extension of militarized approaches of the past. Corcoran goes even further, arguing that the new force is simply “window dressing,” incorporating units and individuals from previously existing security institutions with no real change in focus.
  • Spanish news agency EFE reports on the efforts of "Hijos e Hijas por la Memoria," a Colombian organization of youths that have lost parents in the country’s armed conflict, and which is now calling on both the U.S. and Cuban governments to declassify intelligence documents related to their respective roles in the conflict.
  • The latest issue of Americas Quarterly features an analysis of the European Union’s improved ties with Cuba by the Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Sarah Stephens, who argues that it paves the way for the Obama administration to pursue similar engagement. The publication also features AQ’s third annual Social Inclusion Index of the hemisphere, which takes into account a broad range of factors including human development, women’s’ rights, insecurity and education. This year, the index has been tweaked to add indicators of access to justice and disability rights.