Tuesday, September 2, 2014

FARC Temper Hopes for Imminent Ceasefire

While the Colombian negotiating parties in Havana have made some important progress recently, FARC leaders have made it clear that the peace talks are nowhere near establishing an end to hostilities.

On Friday President Juan Manuel Santos announced that General Javier Florez, until recently head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces, would be in charge of a new “Transitional Command,” tasked with overseeing “the process of moving from war to peace,” as well as supervising the demobilization of the FARC and the surrender of their weapons. One week prior to the announcement, Santos appointed Florez as head of a military sub-commission in charge of mapping out the details of an eventual ceasefire.

This followed a brief but historic meeting between Colombian military leaders and FARC negotiators in Havana on August 22.

These developments, paired with the important progress made on the issue of both parties’ responsibility to conflict victims (see Virginia Bouvier’s concise analysis of the 27th round of talks), have fueled cautious optimism that the peace process could succeed, despite Santos’ recent warning that FARC attacks could jeopardize the future of negotiations.

But in their recent remarks to the press, the FARC have sought to dampen expectations somewhat. In an AFP interview last week, for instance, FARC negotiator Andres Paris cautioned that a ceasefire, as well as disarmament, would be a slow process. “No one has suggested to the FARC, nor have we ever said to the government, that there would be a single moment when we would hand over our arms. I repeat, there will be no photo op of the FARC handing over its arms,” he told the news agency.

On top of this, yesterday the FARC’s top negotiator in Havana, Ivan Marquez, stressed via a press release that negotiations are not “in the final stages,” and accused the government of “creating false expectations.” Marquez claimed the rebel group was particularly alarmed about Santos’ claim that General Florez would oversee the FARC’s demobilization.

“It should be noted in relation to the creation of the Transition Command, that the FARC will in no way accept a military hierarchy to resolve issues that are political by definition,” Marquez said. The guerrilla added that any demobilization would also be contingent on the “demilitarization of the state and society.”

This may be a long way off. According to Tony Lopez, a Cuban political analyst who appears to have some access to the backchannel talks in Havana, restructuring the Colombian armed forces to focus exclusively on protecting national sovereignty rather than internal security is currently off the table. As Lopez writes in analysis for Las 2 Orillas, the issue is one of 28 sticking points that have been left to debate at the very end of the peace process, a list which also includes the specifics of land redistribution and a series of proposed political reforms.  

 News Briefs
  • Foreign Policy has a thorough investigative report on the status of the proposed free market “zones for economic development and employment" (ZEDEs), also known as “model cities,” in Honduras. Following a Supreme Court endorsement of a constitutional amendment allowing for the creation of ZEDEs in May, the controversial initiative appears to be moving forward despite concerns from local communities and civil society groups who accuse the project as a violation of sovereignty and human rights.  Particularly interesting is the makeup of the committee overseeing the ZEDEs, which includes libertarian heroes like Grover Norquist, Ronald Reagan’s son Michael, Cato Institute senior fellow Richard Rahn and Barbara Kolm, the head of Austria's Hayek Institute.
  • Last night, Brazil saw the second televised debate of the main presidential candidates ahead of the October 5 vote. In the course of the debate, it became clear that President Dilma Rousseff is no longer writing off leading challenger Marina Silva. As Folha notes in its analysis, Rousseff clearly went on the offensive last night, attacking Silva’s proposed policies as utopian and unrealistic. As the AFP reports, Rousseff also doubled down on her commitment to popular social programs and following in the legacy of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
  • São Paulo-based Reuters correspondent Brian Winter has an analysis of Marina Silva’s chances of winning October’s election. Despite the polls showing that she could ultimately beat Rousseff in a runoff vote, he notes that the local press is becoming increasingly skeptical of her anti-establishment image, a factor which could ultimately prove drive her poll numbers back down in the coming weeks.
  • The New York Times takes a critical look at Mexico’s education system, profiling a new Mexico City billboard set up by civil society group Mexicanos Primeros which calls attention to the amount of money spent on salaries for teachers who do not show up to work.
  • According to Mexican news site Animal Politico, President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced that he will present new legislation in the Senate aimed at providing greater protections to children and adolescents in the country. In addition to leveling fines against adults who are informed of school violence or abuse but do not take action, the bill would give unaccompanied Central American migrant youth access to services like medical, psychological and legal assistance, as the Wall Street Journal notes.
  • In an address to Congress on Monday, Peña Nieto gave a detailed account of his administration’s security accomplishments, claiming to have brought drown the country’s 2013 homicide rate to 19 per 100,000, from 22 the year before. Also on citizen security, it seems the first units of Mexico’s controversial new gendarmerie police force are being deployed around the country. Milenio reports that the federal government has deployed them in five states across the country: Baja California, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Jalisco and Tamaulipas.
  • Yesterday, lawmakers in the Mexican state of Coahuila passed a marriage equality bill. While Mexico City passed a similar law in 2009, Coahuila will be the first and only state in the country to recognize same-sex marriages, as Proceso notes.
  • The Washington Post has an update on the suspiciously one-sided trial of Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, noting that the judge presiding over the case has rejected all but one of 68 proposed defense witnesses, while allowing the prosecution to call 108. The trial’s outcome appears almost certain, but because of the number of witnesses called Lopez’s lawyers say it will likely drag on for months.