Monday, July 6, 2015

Glimmers of hope in foundering Colombia-FARC peace talks (July 6, 2015)

The Colombia-FARC peace talks in Havana are foundering, as guerrilla attacks increase on Colombian territory. Citizen support for the negotiations, which have been ongoing for nearly three years, are at an all time low.

Yet there are some glimmers of hope. The Colombian government is willing to consider a bilateral ceasefire before a deal is signed, if the FARC accepts judicial responsibility for the violence it perpetrated and abstains from extortion and the drug trade, according to chief negotiator, former VP Humberto de la Calle. In an unprecedented in an interview with journalist Juan Gossaín this weekend De la Calle.

FARC demands for a bilateral ceasefire has been a recent sticking point in the negotiations, reports Reuters. Another issue has been the group's rejection of serving jail time for the most severe crimes perpetrated during the fifty year conflict.

General optimism regarding the peace process lasted until March of this year, as the FARC and government officials came to an agreement to clear landmines. But in April FARC guerillas ambushed and killed 11 soldiers in southern Colombia. In response President Juan Manuel Santos resumed aerial bombing of FARC encampments, which in turn led the rebels to end the unilateral cease-fire which they had declared in December, reports Reuters. 

In another positive announcement, the FARC yesterday proposed to begin the implementation of a deal made with the government to curb the drug industry, according to Colombia Reports. Carlos Antonio Lozado, one of the FARC’s negotiators and top commanders made reference to a UN report from last week which reported that coca cultivation had grown by 44 percent. (See last Friday's post.) 

"The way we see it, the partial accord on point 4: Solution to the Problem of Illicit Drugs, contains all the essential elements with which you can construct a comprehensive plan for the substitution of these crops in the entire national territory," said Lozado. Such a step, accompanied by other gestures of deescalation, "would not just return the confidence and the credibility of the [peace] process, but put them at a new level, safe from pressures and provocations of its enemies," said the FARC leader.

Partial agreements have been reached at the talks on three of the five agenda points, including land reform, an end to the illegal drugs trade, and political participation for the left-wing guerrillas, explains TeleSur. Discussions on reparations for victims, as well as the demobilization of combatants, are ongoing.

Negotiators must pick up the pace or risk jeopardizing the entire process, argues The Economist. Transitional justice -- what kind of punishment perpetrators of war crimes must face -- is a major sticking point right now. The government should call the FARC bluff and make a take-it-or-leave-it offer on justice, argues the magazine.

The Economist only focuses on guerrilla war crimes, but of course, a transitional justice deal will also include army and paramilitary crimes. A good example is the false-positives killings, in which army units systematically killed several thousand civilians and passed of the bodies as guerrilla combatants (see June 24th's post). (Silla Vacía made the case that the scandal regarding these executions would likely make the army more interested in reaching an agreement in Havana.)

"Punishment of some kind is essential if a peace agreement is to stick, and to be endorsed by public opinion (polls find that up to 80% of Colombians want the FARC to do jail time)," argues The Economist piece. "According to Javier Ciurlizza of the International Crisis Group, an NGO, the FARC have in private at last accepted the principle of punishment, but want it meted out by an international tribunal and only after they have had the chance to build a political base. Those conditions are unacceptable to the government. Behind these quibbles lies a worrying philosophical abyss. The guerrillas still portray themselves as rebels against an abusive state, but most Colombians see them as a bunch of criminals who must show remorse and accept the rules of democracy."

And that might be exactly what the government is aiming to do, according to Silla Vacía's analysis of De la Calle's interview. Should negotiators fail to agree within the next few days on the outline of the final agreement, the government might unilaterally attempt to impose an end-of-the-year deadline for negotiations. Yet, according to its analysis, some FARC commanders fear that paramilitary groups will attack them should they lay-down arms, and are hoping to stretch out the peace process in order to ensure better outcomes.
De la Calle also emphasized that the transitional justice negotiations must be internationally acceptable. A general amnesty is impossible because of Colombian judicial decisions and popular demand, but also because of the ICC and the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, he said.

De la Calle said that alternate sentencing might be possible, to be carried out in "conditions of dignity, without bars or striped pyjamas." Silla Vacía interprets his phrase -- and says the government seems to be contemplating jail alternatives such as demining work and community service. 

FARC commanders are also concerned they might eventually be extradited, as is happening with paramilitary commanders now. Silla Vacía interprets that De la Calle attempted to assuage those fears by pointing out that such a decision lies with the president. Yet that commitment will be of little use in the future once the accords are signed notes Silla Vacía.

News Briefs

  • Pope Francis arrived in Quito, the first stop on his three-country South America trip. He brings his message of a church in transformation to a region that contains nearly forty percent of the world’s Roman Catholics, but that has seen many faithful leave in recent years to join Protestant denominations or abandon organized religion altogether, reports the New York Times. In a separate piece the New York Times analyzes Catholicism's falling popularity in the region, though the countries he's visiting on this trip -- Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay -- are the least affected by the trend. They are also among the region's poorest countries, in keeping with his poverty-centric message. The Pope is expected to talk about environmental themes in after a recently released encyclical urging the world to halt potentially catastrophic climate change and ecological degradation that is at least partially caused by economic development and consumerism. Another ongoing theme is inclusion of the poor in society.
  • The Pope arrives at a moment of domestic tension, there have been ongoing protests against President Rafael Correa's government and a proposal to raise inheritance taxes (see last Thursday's briefs). Correa made reference to papal criticism's of unequal distribution of wealth in his welcome speech yesterday, reports the NYTimes piece. He faces a contradiction in his left-wing support for populist government's poverty reduction initiatives and justice for past human rights violations in the region and concern for civil rights and opposition to authoritarianism, argues the Wall Street Journal. Opponents of Bolivia and Ecuador's governments hope for a boost from his visit, but its not clear that the pope will be inclined to meddle in internal politics.
  • The pontiff is expected to address issues of poverty on this trip and to urge dialogue among all sectors of society, reports the AP.  Pope fans will be interested in the AP's dispatch of recent developments of his trip, including a a surprise appearance outside the Vatican ambassador's residence in Quito, Ecuador and personal conversations with each of the 75 journalists who travelled with him from Rome.
  • Goodwill, or pragmatism, from Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff's visit to the U.S. overcame further revelations this weekend regarding National Security Administration spying on Brazilian politicians. Brazilian authorities said it was old news, and brushed off WikiLeaks' release of a list of 29 Brazilian phone numbers of government and finance officials it says were "selected for intensive interception." The group said the release shows that spying by the U.S. in the South American nation went further than eavesdropping on its President, reports CNN.
  • About five thousand people marched in Guatemala City, demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina. The president lost a fight for immunity from prosecution related to corruption scandals rocking his government. Last week a Guatemala's Constitutional Court rejected an immunity appeal and on Friday  Congressional committee recommended fully lifting that immunity and allowing the investigation to proceed, reports AFP. But Guatemalan opposition politicians fear that the corruption probe into Pérez Molina might be fixed, reports TeleSur. Critics suggest a deal has been struck to rig the process so that the decision can be easily challenged in court and ultimately protect Perez Molina from facing trial for corruption.

  • Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia -- part of the Pacific Alliance loosely knit regional group -- are deepening economic ties, reports the Wall Street Journal. The emphasis is on increasing ties with the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. But slower economic growth and flagging popularity may slow down advances.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration wants to strike harder at unruly teacher's union by sapping its funding and wresting control back into the hands of the state, reports the Washington Post. The showdown focuses on whether the members of the union’s militant offshoot, with 80,000 members, will submit to standardized tests intended to assess knowledge of subject areas. The wider union, the National Education Workers Union, with more than 300,000 members, is the largest trade federation in Latin America. The union's threat to boycott elections last month led to burning of polling booths and electoral material. (See June 3rd's post.)
  • The conservative PRO party candidate won the first round of Buenos Aires city mayoral elections yesterday. Horacio Rodriguez Larreta is the designated successor of the current mayor, Mauricio Macri, who is the leading opposition presidential candidate for national elections in October.
  • Two Argentine judges, who had controversially decided to reduce the sentence of a convicted child-abuser, resigned this weekend. Horacio Piombo, 72, and Benjamín Sal Llargués, reduced the sentence because they claimed that the 6-year-old victim, a boy, had already displayed homosexual tendencies, reports the New York Times. The case garnered widespread anger in Argentina and some critics said the governor of Buenos Aires province should reject the resignations and force the judges to face an impeachment process.

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