Monday, November 17, 2014

Colombia Peace Talks Suspended After General Kidnapped

The Colombian government suspended peace talks with FARC rebels on Sunday after the alleged kidnapping of an army general in the western department of Choco.

According to Caracol Radio and Semana, General Ruben Dario Alzate and two others were abducted by armed men along a remote river in Choco. Hours after the incident, a massive search and rescue operation was organized in the area, but so far there have been no signs of the three.

Yesterday evening President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that the FARC were behind Alzate’s abduction, and announced that plans for the official negotiating team to travel to Havana on Monday for the latest round of talks had been canceled. Dialogue with the rebels, the president said, would be suspended “until this is cleared up and these people are freed.” As RCN reports, Santos said he held the FARC directly responsible for the safety of the three hostages.

If the reports of FARC involvement are true, Alzate’s capture amounts to a valuable find for the guerrilla group. Local and international media have reported that this incident amounts to the first time in 50 years of conflict that the guerrillas have managed to take a general prisoner.

Yet the story is also interesting for other reasons, like the unanswered questions about what the general was doing in the area where he was captured. Local press reports claim that Alzate was surveying an energy project in a rural community while he was intercepted, but it is unclear whether he was conducting this work in any official capacity. As the head of all military operations in the area, it was highly unusual for the general to be traveling in a dangerous area with such light security, as El Tiempo notes.

 In a Twitter message yesterday, President Santos himself voiced doubts about Alzate’s activities, asking the Defense Ministry to explain “why Gen. Alzate broke all the security protocols and was dressed in civilian clothes in a red zone.”

Colombia conflict analyst Virginia Bouvier, in a characteristically astute analysis of the incident, writes that Santos would be unwise to allow this one incident to derail the peace talks, and “would do well to remember that there are saboteurs on all sides.” The Colombian government, after all, has had to confront its share of attacks on the peace process as well, as repeated allegations of military interference demonstrate.


News Briefs
  • The New York Times has published the latest in a string of editorials calling for reforms to U.S. policy towards Cuba. In today’s column, the paper’s editorial board criticizes the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which allows Cuban doctors on overseas assignment to defect. While it concedes that Cuba should “compensate medical personnel more generously,” the paper also claims that the U.S. program amounts to political manipulation of immigration policy in order to fuel “brain drain” on the island.
  • Following Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s return to his country on Saturday following a weeklong series of trade talks in Asia, the Wall Street Journal reports that protests continues to rage across the country. The New York Times has a round-up of analysts’ speculation over whether the president will capitalize on the moment to implement judicial and anti-corruption reforms. Because Mexico saw similar waves of popular discontent with drug violence and security policies under former President Felipe Calderon, the NYT reports that many analysts are skeptical of the potential for the current protests to result in meaningful change.
  • According to O Globo, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Australia yesterday. The Brazilian leader later told local press that her  Foreign Ministry is talking with the State Department about rescheduling an official visit to Washington, which was canceled last year in the wake of the NSA spying scandal.
  • The WSJ notes that Brazilian Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo hit back against the government’s critics over the weekend, issuing a statement denying that the Rousseff administration is interfering with a federal police investigation into a Petrobras money laundering scheme.
  • In Paraguay, a judge has begun heating oral arguments in the trial of 13 rural laborers accused of killing six police officers in the 2012 clashes that contributed to the ouster of President Fernando Lugo. As BBC Mundo reports, some in the country have criticized the trial as one-sided, noting the fact that none of the police who killed 11 workers have faced charges.
  • Nomada has an update on the recently-halted judicial nomination process in the country. According to the Guatemalan news site, the country’s Constitutional Court will decide this week whether to annul recent judge appointments and start the progress again, as some anti-corruption groups have suggested. However, because two of the five judges on the top court have been accused of lacking impartiality in the case, they may be relieved by substitute magistrates. Nomada claims that two other judges are expected to vote in favor of annulling the nominations, meaning that the deciding vote could lie with one of the two replacements.
  • Recent requests made by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and the UN’s human rights chief for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Lopez’s defense team has told journalists that the judge handling the case has rejected the appeals, calling them merely statements in favor of the opposition figure.
  • As Haiti begins to rely more on its own police force in the face of a withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping forces, the Associated Press reports that the country’s law enforcement officers are increasingly facing the first tests of their trustworthiness and effectiveness.
  • Uruguay’s El Pais reports that the government is rolling out the latest stage of the country’s bold new cannabis law: authorizing the commercial production of hemp. Also this week, the paper notes that the law’s regulatory body, the Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), is expected to announce the next phase in the bidding process for the companies interested in obtaining contracts to grow psychoactive cannabis for commercial sales.