Thursday, March 24, 2016

Colombian negotiators miss peace deadline, daunting post-conflict scenario (March 24, 2016)

Colombian government and FARC rebel negotiators failed to reach a final peace accord by yesterday, missing a deadline set six months ago. (See post for Sept. 24, 2015.)

They say substantial differences still exist and more time is needed to conclude the talks, reports the Associated Press.

Colombia's chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle said the country was not interested in signing a deal at any cost or one that could not be maintained, reports the Miami Herald.

The FARC negotiators in a separate statement that they had proposed a "roadmap" to finalize an agreement and reiterated the guerrillas' commitment to see the talks through, reports the Guardian.

The peace negotiators have managed to reach full or partial agreement on many – but not all – of the key agenda items set out for the talks, including land reform, political participation by former rebels, an end to drug trafficking by the group, and transitional justice.  However, the disarmament and reintegration process of nearly 7,000 FARC fighters into Colombian society still remains in question, explains the Cipher Brief.

It had long been understood that a final peace accord would not be reached by yesterday, notes WOLA's Adam Isacson. A smaller, but still momentous "bilateral cease-fire" was expected, with the possibility of an enormously symbolic photo op with Obama at the end of his Cuba trip.

The issue of "concentration zones," where about 18,000 FARC fighters, supporters and relatives will gather to disarm, is a big point of contention at this point, according to WOLA's analysis.

A major stumbling block continues to be mutual mistrust between the two sides, as demonstrated by a disagreement last month over a FARC political act in the town of Conejo, near the Venezuelan border. (See Feb. 26's post.) The scandal provoked by the images of FARC leaders lobbying for peace while surrounded by armed guerrillas has brought to the fore the issue of where demobilized fighters will be located, notes Silla Vacía.

The camps would ideally be as isolated as possible from the government perspective, explains Silla Vacia. The government aims at a short term stay in the camps for fighters to reintegrate into civilian lifestyles. In the meantime, fighters would be prohibited from leaving.

But the FARC envisions staying in territories they currently control, where they can fulfill sentences for crimes committed and transition their group into a legal political party. They foresee a far longer disarmament process and see the concentration zones as areas in which they can five to eight-year "restriction of liberty" penalties for human rights crimes.

The emphasis on remaining in these territories speaks to commitment to protecting them, as well as a sense that the demobilized fighters will also be safer there, reports Silla Vacía based on interviews with rebel negotiators.
Guerrillas want to maintain their territorial base in towns where they have held influence for decades, while the government wants the zones to be as unpopulated as possible.

Both sides are also increasingly concerned about guaranteeing guerrilla safety from paramilitary forces after demobilization, notes WOLA.

The two sides must also still agree on a referendum mechanism for the agreement, how the peace tribunals will be put together and a precise disarmament schedule, according to Silla Vacía.

The rebels want the terms of a peace deal incorporated into a new constitution, while the government favors a simple vote by the public, reports the Los Angles Times.

The negotiations will likely take a few more months, reports El País, though FARC negotiators say good news will come. Silla Vacía also reports that a final agreement could still be months away. 

Yet, once that occurs, the challenges ahead will be momentous. The agreement's "significance will be quickly overshadowed by the gargantuan security, economic, and political tasks of the post-war era that will stretch—and perhaps exceed—the capacity of the Colombian state in coming years," writes Cynthia J. Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center for the Cipher Brief.

A post-conflict scenario still wouldn't mean peace everywhere. Earlier this week the U.N. warned about a possible surge in violence by paramilitary successor groups if the FARC demobilizes following a peace accord with the Colombian government, according to Colombia Reports.

Nearly 90 municipalities will be at extreme risk for violence after a FARC demobilization, and will require rapid state intervention to prevent criminal power vacuums, according to the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (PARES). This risk is highest along the impoverished Pacific coast, the Antioquia department that has a long history of paramilitary violence, and the south of the Bolivar department, which has long been disputed territory because of its strategic location for drug trafficking, according to Colombia Reports.

"The Colombian government has yet to announce a strategy against organized crime for the post-war era, but already the debate lines are being drawn, between those who see an active role for the army, marines, navy, and air force, and those who see the effort as principally one for the National Police," notes Arnson.

Nonetheless progress has been made since the historic Sept. handshake between President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño, notes Colombia Reports. Then the two sides made major strides and had already agreed on victims, rural reform, political inclusion of the FARC and the rebels' abandoning of the drug trade.

Since then, advances have included the creation of a specialized unit to locate "disappeared" people and the creation of a U.N. mission to oversee disarmament once an agreement is reached. (See Jan 19's and Jan. 26's posts.)  
Earlier this week FARC leaders welcomed the backing of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who met with them in Havana, another historic moment for a group more known for protesting imperial policy in Latin America, notes Colombia Reports. (See Tuesday's and Wednesday's briefs.)


Carnal Relations 2.0?

U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Buenos Aires wrought traffic havoc around the city, but also showcased a new warmth between Argentina and the U.S. Obama is the first U.S. president to hold high level talks with an Argentine leader in 20 years, reports the New York Times.

He took it a few (tango) steps forward on the dance-floor at a state dinner last night, and toasting "a new beginning," reports the Miami Herald.

This visit was intended as an example of efforts to improve U.S. standing in the region, and to give warm support to Macri's push to take the country in an investor friendly direction. (See yesterday's post.)

The visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that ushered in a period of brutal repression, and left as many as 30,000 "disappeared." Obama promised to declassify secret military and intelligence documents that could shed light on the atrocities of that era.

Closing out his South America trip, Obama plans to use his visit to Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires to lay the groundwork for the U.S. to come clean about any involvement, notes the Associated Press.

"We are absolutely determined to do our part as Argentina continues to heal and move forward as one nation," Obama said. "I hope this gesture also helps to rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries — and that's a principal message that I have not only for Argentina but for the entire hemisphere."

But human rights are not merely history, write Gastón Chillier and Ernesto Semán in a scathing New York Times op-ed, that calls out Obama's endorsement of Macri in light of questionable practices in his first 100 days in office.

They draw special attention to the case of social activist Milagro Sala, who was detained for leading a social protest in northern Jujuy province, and remains in detention while being investigated for alleged embezzlement. They point to other worrisome policies, such as permitting security forces to shoot down unidentified planes suspecting of drug trafficking (they call it "a de facto death penalty without trial"); a recent court ruling that police officers could demand identification from citizens there without probable cause; and a new protocol for policing protests that gives the authorities more power to put down and criminalize demonstrations. (See Feb. 19's post.)

Chillier and Semán also call out Macri's use of executive orders to change a media law aimed at curbing monopolies and his "fixation on promoting free-market orthodoxies."

"A presidential visit to Argentina that neglects to notice how Mr. Macri’s government is undermining human rights and democratic institutions — and instead pours empty praise on his policies — will rightly be read as a return to the bad old days," they conclude.

News Briefs
  • Haiti's political process continues to get increasingly bogged down. On Sunday lawmakers rejected the general policy objectives of a seasoned economist named prime minister of a temporary caretaker government, leading Provisional President Jocelerme Privert to name Enex Jean-Charles to the post this week. He is scheduled to go before Congress today, which must approve the appointment in order to advance towards much delayed presidential run-off elections to select the next government. In addition to a verification process for the questioned electoral process, the opposition is also demanding an audit of the country's finances under former President Michel Martelly. The country is in dire financial crisis and a humanitarian crisis looms, reports the Miami Herald. An ongoing drought has provoked a food security crisis, the country is behind on payments to Venezuela's Petrocaribe oil-loan program. This week the Port-au-Prince mayor's office announced that corpses can't be picked up off the streets in the capital because the company in charge of the task has not been paid.
  • The political storm in Brazil worsened yesterday, with revelations that construction giant Odebrecht had made payments to over 200 politicians from 18 parties, reports the New York Times. The payments may or may not have been illegal, but the list, which was first reported by the Brazilian journalist Fernando Rodrigues, demonstrates the close ties between Brazil’s politicians and the nation's construction conglomerates, notes the NYTimes.
  • More than 2 million Brazilians are set to lose unemployment benefits by June, which could erode support for President Dilma Rousseff among her working-class core, reports Reuters.
  • A Supreme Court decision late Tuesday to move a corruption investigation of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the highest court's purview puts the Supreme Court squarely in the middle of the drama caused by a high profile corruption investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Monday's post.)
  • Mexico's attorney general's office announced an investigation into InterAmerican Human Rights Commission Secretary General Emilio Álvarez Icaza for alleged embezzlement of $2 million, reports El Financiero.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a piece on how the interests of Google and the Obama administration aligned over Cuba policy. (See Monday's post.)
  • A 21-year-old American woman has been detained in Honduras for allegedly heading a faction of the Mara Barrio 18, reports Reuters.

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