Last week FARC leaders held a sort of political event in Conejo, a town near the Venezuelan border. Pictures and video footage show leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia interacting with townspeople with heavily armed guerrillas standing by, reports the Associated Press. (See last Friday's briefs.) The Colombian government said the event is a violation of the safe passage granted to FARC commanders to promote the peace deal among their 7,000 troops.
The episode shows the divergent views over the peace process, according to the Post. "The government wants the guerrillas to make amends, recognize wrongdoing and help bring law and order to rural Colombia. But FARC views the process as a runway to electoral politics, and nothing like a capitulation."
On that note, Silla Vacía has an interesting piece on the FARC's political platform, which includes the idea that the peace accords are the fruits of 52-years of armed conflict. A pamphlet distributed at the Conejo event says the group is advancing in the construction of socialism and how each social group wins with the peace agreement. The pamphlet urges each community to create an implementation and verification committee for the accords.
On Wednesday Cuba and Norway, the "guarantors" of the peace process, said the two sides had reached an agreement to "set aside their recent differences and normalize the talks," reports EFE. They did not specify, however, when Bogota and the FARC would return to the negotiating table.
A more realistic date for a final peace agreement and signing ceremony would be closer to mid-June, according to the Post. The U.N. envoy to Colombia also said a bit more time might be needed and that the first half of the year might be a feasible time-frame, according to Colombia Reports.
Colombia and the FARC have yet to agree on the details of disarmament and the manner the final accord will be ratified. President Juan Manuel Santos wants to put the peace deal to a popular vote, but the FARC wants it passed by a constituent assembly.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday he may be meeting with participants in the Colombia peace talks within the next few days, reports Reuters.
And Amnesty International slammed the accord that establishes the outlines of a transitional justice system for victims of the fifty-year conflict. In its annual report that was published this week the organization said deal doesn’t meet international standards when it comes to granting truth, justice and reparation to victims, according to Colombia Reports.
Meanwhile, analysis of the revamped Plan Colombia -- "Peace Colombia" -- looks at the new priorities and how different they really are.
Obama's $450 million proposal means a 32 percent boost in aid over this year, but much of the funds will still go to military and counternarcotics programs rather than projects to build a sustainable post-war society, according to analysis by Colombia Reports.
"From the information we have available now, “Peace Colombia” appears to be an important and necessary step, and an improvement over past U.S. approaches in Colombia. But it is also a smaller, and more military-focused, program than it should be. The new package is different than what came before, but not radically different," writes WOLA's Adam Isacson.
While the new funding is an increase over current spending, it's still far less than what the U.S. government was providing a decade ago. "This sends the unfortunate message that Washington is more generous in times of war than in times of consolidating peace. Still, for the first time, the majority of U.S. aid will go to non-military priorities: to Colombians who do not wear uniforms and carry weapons," explains Isacson.
In a NACLA piece, Winifred Tate looks at the history of Plan Colombia and argues that it failed to address the roots of the Colombian conflict. The counternarcotics efforts failed to stop drug trafficking and impunity for violence has continued over the past twenty years, she says. "After 15 years, the hollow triumphs of Plan Colombia have created a nation of victims where impunity still reigns supreme."
- There's ongoing concern that a successful peace deal in Colombia could push many demobilized guerrillas towards criminal organizations, as occurred when right-wing paramilitary groups were disbanded, reports Bloomberg. (The Washington Post had a similar piece earlier this month, focusing specifically on the country's most powerful crime syndicate, Clan Úsuga, see Feb. 5's post.)
- Haiti's provisional president has appointed reputable economist Fritz Jean as the new prime minister, reports Reuters. Jean's job will include helping create a balanced election council supported by Haiti's fractious rival political parties, a key step needed to hold the election set for April. The U.S. educated economist once headed Haiti's central bank and the YMCA, reports the Miami Herald. He will be sworn in later today. His name was put forward by human rights organizations. Some interpret the technocrat's appointment as a sign that provisional president Jocelerme Privert, views his caretaker government as having a wider mission than organizing April's presidential and partial legislative run-off elections. He believes it should prevent the total collapse of the country's economy, according to the Herald.
- Jamaican voters narrowly chose the opposition in yesterday's general election. Voters tired of years of tough IMF-mandated austerity measures chose the Jamaican Labour Party's promises of job creation and tax cuts, reports Reuters. Preliminary results from the Electoral Commission showed the Jamaica Labor Party capturing 33 spots in the 63-seat Parliament, enough to form a government. Jamaicans are also discontent over rising levels of crime, notes the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
- Testimony in Brazil's ongoing "Operation Car Wash" investigation into corruption at Petrobras led to several search and seizure warrants in several states yesterday focused on suspected bribes and over billing in two large railway projects, reports Reuters.
- Brazilian police raided the offices of the country’s biggest steelmaker and questioned the company’s chief executive yesterday as part of an investigation into suspected tax fraud of about $380 million, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- A proposed bill to open Brazil's offshore oil fields to private investment received Senate approval this week (see yesterday's briefs), but faces fierce resistance from opponents who say the resource should stay under national control, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- President Dilma Rousseff's approval ratings have increased, despite the ongoing recession and massive corruption scandal. Nonetheless, a majority of Brazilians still want to see her impeached, reports Reuters. The number of Brazilians who favor Rousseff's impeachment has slipped to 55.6 percent from 62.8 percent in July, while 40.3 percent now oppose impeaching her, compared with 32.1 percent in July, the poll said.
- In his most recent book, "Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America," Ioan Grillo explores "the move from the Cold War to a chain of crime wars soaking Latin America and the Caribbean in blood," reports InSight Crime. Looking to explain the wave of violence that has engulfed the region, Grillo points to the collapse of military dictatorships and guerrilla forces in the region, and weak emerging democracies, plagued by corruption, which have failed to establish working justice systems and the rule of law.
- An interesting piece by journalist Carlos García on InSight Crime debunks common myths about the MS13 gang. "While it is true that the MS13 is extremely violent, their aggression does not make them by extension a multidisciplinary criminal group. The simple fact that an individual belongs to a gang does not make him a drug trafficker, kidnapper, pimp, or in the most extreme case, an ally of Islamic terrorism. Compelling evidence exists that refute these accusations."
- A series of raids yesterday in Honduras targeted assets from extortion rings that include MS13 and government officials, reports InSight Crime. A focus on the financial side of extortion networks could signal a new type of crackdown against the gang, that could be more effective than "mano dura," according to the piece.
- Former Salvadoran President Tony Saca will face a civil trial "for illicit enrichment," reports EFE.
- The BBC has a feature on landless peasants who were given small plots to farm from expropriated land in Venezuela. Venezuela's parliamentary opposition says the expropriations were arbitrary and lawless; it has proposed a new law which would allow former owners to claim back expropriated land. Many of the smallholders are die-hard Chávez supporters, and pro-government candidates swept the board in the rural area of the Maizal commune, on the plains and mountains of two states, Lara and Portuguesa.