Monday, June 15, 2015

FARC escalates attacks in Colombia further challenging peace process (June 15, 2015)

A score of FARC attacks on mostly civilian targets last week left Colombians doubting the peace process, which has been ongoing since 2012, but has been complicated in recent months by attacks between the FARC and the Colombian military, as well as the perception that they are dragging on too long.

Two police officers were killed in Friday's attacks, reports EFE.

Attacks last week were directed at oil pipelines and infrastructure, as well as high-tension electric towers that left about a million people temporarily without power, reports the Los Angeles Times. The attacks will aggravate troubles caused by a recent downturn in the price of crude oil, which has led to wells shutting down and worker layoffs. 

It was the first coordinated series of attacks since the rebels called off their five-month cease fire on May 22. Though he condemned the attacks, President Juan Manuel Santos said he remains committed to the peace talks in Havana.

The odds are good that the peace talks will continue, according to Adam Issacson in the LA Times piece. But the future hinges on whether the attacks continue.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights congratulated both sides for continuing the peace talks, despite setbacks, reports EFE.
And the Pope wants help as well. Francis has offered personal and Church assistance to Santos, reports AFP.

Others are less optimistic. Andrés Bermúdez Liévano at Silla Vacía says the violence is reverting back to pre-peace talk levels: the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación counts 124 armed actions in the past three weeks. Should the rate of attacks continue, it will be at the FARCs record level of 2002, he says (the piece has interesting graphics).

From last week, Adam Issacson discusses what an eventual Truth Commission will be able to do. The “Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition,” will be charged with investigating and establishing responsibility for the atrocities committed during the country's 50-year conflict with the guerrilla group once peace is signed. (See June 5th's briefs.) The announcement nearly two weeks ago gave the peace process a badly needed shot of momentum at a time when, following the end of the FARC’s unilateral cease-fire, the pace of fighting has quickened, he said.

News Briefs

  • Brazilians are having a heated debate over a controversial measure in Congress to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. At heart is the question of whether violent teenage offenders can be rehabilitated (as mandated under current law) or whether they should be tried as adults and ­incarcerated in the country's packed and dangerous prisons, reports theWashington Post. Though the proposed bill has the support of nearly 90 percent of the country according to a recent Datafolha poll, critics (including President Dilma Rousseff) say the move won't solve the problem of juvenile delinquency. Reducing the legal age at which teens can be tried as adults will not help Brazil's security crisis argued Ilona Szabó de Carvalho in O Globo last week. "Bringing young people into overcrowded and inhumane prisons will further feed the vicious cycle of violence, rather than reduce it."
  • Rousseff urged delegates from her Workers' Party to accept pending cuts designed to restore confidence in Brazil's economy, which is sliding into recession. The austerity measures have been designed to preserve Brazil’s investment grade credit rating, but have antagonized party faithful who see them as a sellout to banks and political conservatives they have long criticized, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • U.S. authorities are examining payments made by Nike, in a 1996 soccer sponsorship with Brazil, for possible evidence of any wrongdoing by the company in addition to its counterparts in the deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Tom Shannon, counselor to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, met with Venezuela's number two government official, Diosdado Cabello, reports Reuters. The meeting seems to be further sign of a thaw between the two ideological foes, reports Reuters. The meeting took place in Haiti and was mediated by Haitian President Michel Martelly. During the meeting the delegations discussed common areas of agreement, including support for the Haitian people in their struggle against cholera, reports TeleSur.
  • Foreign Policy has a piece on Venezuelan jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López. His ongoing trial on charges of incitement to commit public crime, damaging property, arson (the government dropped the charges of premeditated aggravated homicide, and terrorism) is Kafka-esque, according to international legal counsel Jared Genser. "Judges have denied López the presumption of innocence and private access to his attorneys. They have refused to allow him to present evidence in his own defense, and have rejected 58 of the 60 witnesses who would testify in his favor, while permitting prosecutors 100 of their own. The outcome is, thus, preordained." His lawyer expects López to be convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence.
  • Thousands of Nicaraguans protested the planned Grand Canal, a $50 billion project that will span the country and compete with the Panama Canal. Demonstrators are concerned about potentially huge environmental costs and the displacement of thousands from their land. The government says the project will bring vital investment for the poverty stricken nation, reports the BBC.
  • The Mexican Supreme Court has de facto legalized gay marriage, though on the books marriage is still technically between a man and a woman in most states, reports the New York Times. Multiple decisions which rule that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are discriminatory have been little publicized, according to the piece, but form part of a legal strategy to bypass state legislatures.
  • The New York Times has its own piece on the corruption protests rocking the Guatemalan and Honduran governments (the story has been ongoing for weeks). The piece links the phenomenon to corruption protests in the region, though it doesn't go into detail. It gives background on the graft scandals, which come as the Obama administration has asked Congress to grant $1 billion in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to help fight gang violence, which has provoked tens of thousands of minors to migrate north towards the U.S. The piece quotes  Eric L. Olson, an analyst at the Wilson Institute who says the corruption scandals make it "just unavoidable that it’s going to make people skeptical about sending large amounts to Central America."
  • A new social class is struggling in Brazil. The AP reports on "super debtors" — people who rose into the middle class during Brazil's nearly decade-long boom, but now find themselves drowning in debt as Latin America's largest economy stalls, causing inflation to heat up and unemployment to rise.
  • A former Roman Catholic archbishop accused of paying for sex with children while he was a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic and of possessing child pornographic material will be tried in the Vatican, the first on pedophilia charges to be held inside the Vatican City, reports Reuters. Allegations of crimes committed in the Dominican Republic were based on an investigation by police there.
  • Margarita Zavala, wife of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said she might run for the presidency in 2018. A former congresswoman for the center-right National Action Party (PAN), Zavala might run as an independent. She was popular during Caldron's 2006-2012 administration. According to Reuters her bid appears to be a challenge to PAN leadership, which denied her a spot on the list of safe seats on offer in lower house legislative elections held last weekend.
  • Florida Senator Marc Rubio sponsored several Haiti election-related amendments that unanimously passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, condition the release of U.S. funds to Haiti on the State Department’s reporting of whether the upcoming Haitian elections are free, fair and responsive to the people of Haiti, and on descriptions of "attempts to disqualify candidates" from office for "political reasons," reports the Miami Herald.

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