Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Colombia’s ‘Peace Talk Hacker’ Points to Uribista Conspiracy

The hacker accused of attempting to sabotage Colombia’s peace process and cause President Juan Manuel Santos to lose his re-election bid in June has gone public, accusing allies of former President Alvaro Uribe of plotting against talks with FARC rebels.

When computer engineer Andres Sepulveda was arrested in May after videos surfaced of him meeting presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga , he initially resisted claims that he was hired by the Zuluaga campaign to shake public faith in the Havana talks. He signed a document alleging that he was being pressured to admit to false evidence against Zuluaga, Uribe, and other members of Uribe’s Democratic Center party.

But in an extensive interview with Semana magazine, Sepulveda now says that he was compelled to sign this by Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, an Uribe ally. Saying he has since been “abandoned” by Uribismo, Sepulveda has now turned entirely against his former employers. In the interview, he admits to illegally gathering information on the peace talks in Havana.

According to the hacker, the Zuluaga campaign explicitly gave him money to purchase sensitive data from a secret military intelligence post in Bogota that was monitoring the communications of the government negotiating team in Havana. The listening post, which was shut down in February after being discovered by public prosecutors, caused President Santos to speculate over “loose wheels” in the military plotting against the peace process.

Sepulveda claims that not only did Zuluaga’s campaign ask him to obtain the private communications of the FARC negotiators in Havana, they wanted him to dig up dirt on the Democratic Center’s political enemies. This included anyone who publicly supported the peace talks, like President Santos, Senators Ivan Cepeda and Juan Manuel Galan, and Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre.

As The Miami Herald reports, the news has struck a nerve in Colombia, with Santos calling for a full investigation into Sepulveda’s accusations, and Zuluaga and Uribe denying them wholeheartedly.

The allegations that military intelligence officers are actively colluding against the peace talks come at a particularly key moment for the peace process. The government is beginning to study the feasibility of a ceasefire, and needs the military command to be united on the issue.

Fortunately, so far things have been going well on this front. For the first time since negotiations began, a group of military leaders traveled to Havana on Friday to begin outlining a ceasefire with FARC commanders there.  Yesterday, the Defense Ministry announced that General Javier Florez, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, would be leaving this position to head the ceasefire commission full time.

News Briefs
  • In his latest op-ed, Miami Herald syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer looks at the race for OAS Secretary General, which kicked off in July when Guatemala and Uruguay named their respective nominees to the position. Since then, Peruvian Inter-American Human Rights Court Judge Diego Garcia Sayan has signaled his interest in the job as well. Oppenheimer is critical of Uruguay’s Luis Almargo and Garcia Sayan, claiming they are “courting the votes of Venezuela and its ALBA bloc allies.” He argues that while the race is still too early and the South American candidates may yet prove their critics wrong, Guatemala’s Eduardo Stein is the best candidate to appear thus far. However, in doing so Oppenheimer minimizes Stein’s decision to sign a controversial a public letter condemning the genocide charges against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Stein apparently claims the letter was “misinterpreted,”  and that it was really a call to investigate all human rights crimes.
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero reports on the impact that Brazil’s upended presidential race has had on financial markets in the country. As he notes, foreign investors and commercial interests are becoming increasingly critical of President Dilma Rousseff’s economic policies, even as her creation and expansion of social programs have made her largely popular among the country’s low-income citizens. Meanwhile, O Globo takes a look at the positions of the three main presidential candidates on security issues, noting that they all agree that the federal government should increase its role in citizen security. Rousseff, for her part, has even proposed a constitutional amendment that would redefine security as a federal issue rather than a state one, as it stands under current law.
  • After close to 40 hours of negotiations, judicial authorities in Brazil’s Parana state say they have reached an agreement with the hundreds of prisoners that took control of a penal facility there in a riot that left four dead. According to O Globo, some 800 inmates -- 75 percent of the prison’s population -- will be transferred to other prisons under the deal.
  • Ecuadorean press freedom advocacy group Fundamedios has accused President Rafael Correa of inciting violence against U.S.-based opposition journalist Emilio Palacio, who recently made allegations that the president secretly flew to New York on a private jet in April. In response to the claim, Correa said the report was false and asked supporters in his weekly address whether they wouldn’t like to “give [Palacio] some kicks,” as El Comercio reports. Fundamedios also noted that following Correa’s remark, official paper El Telegrafo issued a report accusing Palacio of lying and anonymous Twitter users made remarks about putting a price on his head.
  • BBC Mundo has an insightful report on the struggles of Mexican families who have lost children to U.S. Border Patrol officers, who often claim they are forced to open fire after the youths began throwing rocks at them. Despite efforts by the ACLU and others to prosecute officers for excessive use of force, U.S. courts have consistently ruled that the victims are not subject to U.S. law as they were killed on Mexican soil.
  • Mexican officials have announced plans to increase investment in the country’s rail lines and allow them to speed up, which they frame as part of an initiative to dissuade Central American migrants from riding on top of north-bound trains, the AP notes. Authorities also say they will increase surveillance along train routes, though they have not offered specifics on this plan.
  • In the latest instance of violence against media professionals in Honduras, on Saturday the owner of a television channel was gunned down in the eastern province of El Paraiso. As EFE notes, the country’s human rights office says 48 media workers and journalists have been killed in the country since 2003.
  • The government of Guatemala declared a state of emergency yesterday in 16 of its 22 provinces in response to one of the worst droughts in the country’s history. As La Prensa Libre reports, authorities say some 236,000 families are affected by the drought, and that it could fuel malnutrition and hunger in parts of the country towards the end of the year.
  • The Vatican has announced that its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, has lost his diplomatic immunity and may be tried there on charges that he sexually abused Dominican children. As the New York Times recently reported in a profile of the case, many Dominicans feel that the Vatican inappropriately shielded Wesolowski from criminal charges when it whisked him out of the country last year.