Tuesday, August 12, 2014

FARC Leader Says Peace Deal in 2014 Unlikely

While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said he hopes to strike a deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) this year, the FARC’s top commander has said this is not likely.

In June, President Santos told reporters: “If we maintain the correct dynamic in this process, I hope that this year we can end the war.”

In an interview published on the rebel group’s website yesterday, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” said that the four months left in the year is not enough time for a final peace agreement to be brokered.  According to the FARC head, the remaining two points of the five-point agenda, victims’ rights and an end to hostilities (on top of a final deal on implementing the accords), are too complex to be rushed.

“I'm afraid not,” said Timochenko. “Of course we all would like things to happen as soon as possible, but that does not mean that we shouldn't have an objective look at them.”

Ultimately, it is unlikely that the current agenda item, which is focused on victims of the 50-year war, will be settled before the year is out. As the rebel leader pointed out, a bilateral truth commission begins its work on August 21, and has been given four months to present negotiating teams in Havana with a final report.  As Semana notes, however, the government and FARC negotiators will begin to debate ending hostilities in parallel talks starting the following day, August 22.

Fortunately, the president’s remark in June was more of a suggestion than a deadline. Once the peace process began in earnest and it became clear that progress would be slow, last year he walked back from a November 2013 deadline that he previously said would be “the latest” he would allow talks to continue. Since then he has said that setting any deadlines would be counterproductive.

Beyond his view of the timeline for peace talks, Timochenko’s interview is also noteworthy for his statement regarding the consequences of killing any of the FARC’s top leaders. As Reuters notes, he insinuated that doing so would pose a serious threat to the rebels’ continued participation in talks. This apparent “red line” comes just after Santos himself used similar language regarding FARC attacks on infrastructure and civilian targets, saying they could jeopardize the future of negotiations.

News Briefs
  • A national forum for Colombian conflict victims, held in Cali last week at the behest of the negotiation teams in Havana, saw heated debate between different victims’ associations over the makeup of a commission that will provide input at the negotiating table starting August 16. However, Dejusticia’s Rodrigo Uprimny argues in an El Espectador op-ed column that those who were present witnessed an important process of mutual affirmation among conflict victims, which he describes as a tentative step towards a lasting peace. Meanwhile, Colombian conflict news site Verdad Abierta has a new special on the victims’ rights phase of the Colombian talks, describing the debate over who exactly should be considered a conflict victim and, thus deserves a place at the table.
  • AFP reports that at least one striking worker for the government-owned Orinoco Steelworks (SIDOR) company was injured in clashes with police yesterday. Workers have been calling for a new contract since their old one expired four years ago, and their struggle has been highlighted internationally as an example of discontent with the government among some labor groups. Human rights group PROVEA has issued a statement on the protest and other cases of repression of SIDOR workers, noting that they clash with President Nicolas Maduro’s claims to be “a Workers’ President.”
  • Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a historic energy reform law that opens up the sector to private investors for the first time in 70 years. As El Universal and the L.A. Times report, the president also announced that the timetable for rolling out the law would be sped up, saying that on Wednesday officials would release specifics about which areas of oil and gas production will remain under state energy monopoly Pemex and which will be open to outside investment. News site Animal Politico notes that the new law could take a heavy toll on small-scale and indigenous farmers in the country, who will be unable to refuse the expropriation of their land to be used by the energy sector.
  • While a recent Washington Post article on police executions in Brazil notes that some analysts have hope that the country has reached a turning point on police killings, the evidence for this is scarce. Brazilian news site Ponte has an analysis of the increase in police executions in São Paulo in the first half of 2014 compared to last year, based on official figures obtained via a freedom of information request. As a map of the incidents shows, the killings tend to happen in the same, neglected neighborhoods in the city’s east and south sides, for both periods.
  • Israel appears to be attempting to soothe over tensions with Brazil, which spiked recently when an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman responded to Brazil’s decision to recall its ambassador in protest to the Gaza offensive by calling the Brazilian government a “diplomatic dwarf” and joking about Brazil’s 7-to-1 loss to Germany during the World cup. As O Globo reports, newly-elected Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Dilma Rousseff to apologize for the remarks, saying they “do not correspond” to his country’s relations with Brazil.
  • Sala Negra, of Salvadoran news site El Faro, has published the first of an excellent multi-part investigation into the immense political opposition faced by former Guatemalan prosecutor Claudia Paz y Paz, as well as her and others’ efforts to ensure that reforms to country’s rickety justice system have some lasting impact.
  • Costa Rica has become the latest country in the hemisphere to have legislators present an initiative to loosen marijuana laws. The bill is sponsored by lawmaker Marvin Atencio of the Citizens' Action Party, and has been endorsed by the Minister of Health as well as a number of legislators from opposition parties. As La Nacion reports, if passed the measure would task the Ministry of Health and the Social Security System with creating a system to regulate the cultivation, sale and purchase of medical marijuana.
  • Antonio Rodriguez, or “Padre Toño,” the Spanish priest who was recently arrested and accused by Salvadoran officials of helping imprisoned gang members extort victims on the outside, has been taken out of jail and hospitalized. As El Faro reports, the transfer was made on Sunday, and his lawyers say it was necessary to treat his diabetes.
  • After an armed attack on Haiti’s main prison led to the escape of over 300 inmates on Sunday, authorities are still looking for the apparent orchestrator of the jailbreak, wealthy businessman and convicted kidnapper Clifford Brandt. The Miami Herald profiles remarks from some analysts who say the incident profiles the weaknesses and lack of oversight in the country’s penal system.
  • The Bolivian government has announced that it extradited a former Argentine military officer accused of committing crimes against humanity during the Dirty War, including torturing and murdering captured dissidents. As the BBC reports, Jorge Horacio Paez Senestrari had been on the run from Argentine officials since 2011, and was found holing up in an apartment in Santa Cruz.
  • U.S. Judge Thomas Griesa has threatened to hold the government of Argentina in contempt if officials continue to make statements and fund ads like those that ran in major U.S. papers last week in which the country denied that it was technically in a default because it had in fact deposited the money necessary to pay its debts. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the judge called such statements "false and misleading."