Friday, May 13, 2016

Colombia gears up for a Plebiscite for Peace (May 13, 2016)

Colombia's government and FARC rebel group negotiators agreed yesterday to legal mechanisms that will make an eventual peace deal constitutionally binding, if approved by a popular referendum, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Yesterday's agreement would protect the final peace deal from future governments and legal challenges that could stall its implementation, reports Silla Vacía. Such an agreement aims to reassure wary guerrilla leaders that the deal will not be reneged on after their disarmament, no matter who inhabits the presidential palace.

The government must present a bill to modify the Constitution to include an eventual deal by May 18, reports CNN. International organizations will also be invited to monitor the agreement's implementation.

The agreement announced yesterday would actually make an eventual deal part of the international Geneva Conventions for Colombian law, explains La Vanguardia. The final deal would be considered a Special Humanitarian Agreement, explains Publimetro.

The two sides have been negotiating an agreement since 2012 to end nearly five decades of fighting that have killed thousands and displaced millions in the country.

Yesterday's announcement marks the beginning of several legal debates, but the end of an ongoing FARC demand for a Constituent Assembly to approve an eventual deal, according to Silla Vacía. It's a victory for the government negotiators, reports El Colombiano.

The government has refused to budge on the demand for a plebiscite. The FARC had been long opposed to a referendum to ratify the peace deal, fearing anti-guerilla sentiments in the general population. They also argued that a Constituent Assembly was needed to give the pact a legal degree of protection. The government rejected the proposal out of fear that the entire negotiation would be up for review in such a case, reports Silla Vacía.

The gridlock was lifted last week, when FARC leaders indicated their acceptance of a plebiscite. (See yesterday's briefs.)

The actual referendum itself is more of a popular consultation, in which citizens will be asked to approve or disprove the deal put forth by the government, explains Publimetro.

Citizen support for a "yes" vote in the embattled Valle de Cauca region is increasing, as is the percentage of the population that would participate in the vote, reports Noticias Caracol.

As part of a series of measures meant to assure FARC fighters of their safety in an eventual disarmament, the Colombian government is stepping up efforts to crack down on criminal groups formed after a 2006 right-wing paramilitary disarmament, reports Reuters.

While the goal of former President Álvaro Uribe's call to "civil resistance" against the peace negotiation is not completely clear, in practice, it will likely coalesce into a "no" campaign for the referendum, reports la Silla Vacía separately.

News Briefs
  • The Dominican Republic has presidential elections this weekend, and President Danilo Medina appears to be cruising towards re-election. He may even garner over 50 percent on Sunday and avoid a second-round election, reports the Associated Press. The beginning of his administration was divisive, Medina increased sales tax and university fees implemented to close the budget deficit. But the country's GDP growth of 7 percent is the best in Latin America and the Caribbean and people are pleased with pubic spending.
  • Acting Brazilian President Michel Temer came in with calls for unity and said his primary task was to form a government of "national salvation" that could restore the country's credibility and attract investment. (See yesterday's post.) Any sense of a new dawn in Brazilian politics will quickly bump up against the difficult reality of economic and political crisis, warns the Wall Street Journal. The new interim president must quickly enact economic policies and maintain the backing of a divided Congress and public, reports the Wall Street Journal in another piece.
  • Temer will be assisted by a brand-new, all-male, conspicuously white cabinet, reports the Guardian. Temer's cabinet choices are in keeping with predictions of a rightward shift in Brazilian government, reports the New York Times. He named a soybean tycoon who deforested tracts of the Amazon to be his agriculture minister. His first pick for the science ministry is a creationist, who instead wound up as trade minister. He pick for human rights, a female, favored legislation that would complicate access to abortion for rape victims. He instead demoted the human rights ministry to a second tier within the Ministry of Justice.
  • New Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said his top priority is to bring clarity to public finances and that tax increases could be in the offing, reports Reuters. He said the government needs to reduce spending and be more transparent to jump start a contracting economy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Like Brazil doesn't have enough commotion at the moment, a public health specialist writing in the Harvard Public Health review, argues for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympic games to be cancelled in order to avoid spreading Zika further around the world. "Mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer.  And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not—for it is impossible that Games will slow Zika down—the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too."
  • Rousseff's ouster sent shockwaves throughout the region, "where Brazil was once viewed as an emerging economic power and the model for a new form of leftist rule, matching support for big business with muscular social-welfare programs to alleviate poverty and nurture a new middle class," reports the Washington Post. Argentina's government rushed to show its support for the new Brazilian government, reports the Buenos Aires Herald. While the Venezuelan government condemned the impeachment as U.S. backed coup, reports Reuters.
  • City University professor Carolina Matos rejects the "end of the pink tide" narrative in a Guardian op-ed. "The exaggerated claims of the demise of Latin America's leftwing parties have been an easy, and lazy, attempt to dismiss the political forces that struggle for more justice and more democracy," she writes. Analyzing what has happened in Brazil, she argues that setbacks occurred because the New-Labour style governance failed to "conduct political reform or to respond to the corrupt practices of some of their own members, while simultaneously creating the means to grant more autonomy to federal policy and the justice system in their fight against corruption."
  • If Latin America isn't becoming more American, maybe the U.S. will move towards the regional political norm. A piece in Foreign Affairs by Omar G. Encarnación compares presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to Latin American caudillos, and argues that the rise of populism in the U.S. is intimately linked to a widening inequality gap. "A cursory review of the legacy of caudillismo offers a window into what a Trump presidency might portend for the United States. The picture is decidedly dark; caudillismo rests at the very heart of Latin America’s most serious ills—from political violence, to economic backwardness, to the creeping authoritarianism still found in many of the region's democracies. Not surprisingly, many Latin Americans have greeted the arrival of what they have termed "Trumpismo" with a mix of knowing and apprehension."
  • U.S. immigration officials plan to crack down on the latest wave of Central American migration which has made its way to the country over the past couple of years, many fleeing gang violence at home.  immigration agents are mainly targeting young mothers with small children, and unaccompanied youths who turned 18 after they entered the U.S., reports NPR. (See yesterday's briefs on an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendation against the deportation of a Salvadoran woman and her 12-year-old daughter from the U.S.)
  • The third meeting of the U.S.-Cuba bilateral commission will be next Monday. It serves as the steering committee for the rapprochement process, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A truckload of supplies delivered to Haiti's biggest public hospital will not be enough to end a resident doctors strike, reports the Associated Press. Resident doctors have refused to take new patients since late March, saying the government doesn't provide adequate resources or pay them fairly.
  • Venezuela lost it's latest court case against Delaware-registerd website "DolarToday," which publishes a black-market dollar-bolivar exchange rate the government says is undermining the economy and fueling inflation, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A new map combines satellite imagery with previously untapped native knowledge to show areas where indigenous groups live in Central America and where forest is still preserved. The goal is to help tribes and communities hold their own in negotiations over land threatened with development, reports Reuters.
  • Medellín miracle theory: infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar helped create the conditions that led to the city's famed revival, by taking it to the brink of collapse, according to the Guardian. "It might seem a little unorthodox to consider one of the world’s most powerful and violent criminals an urban planner, but to ignore his role in the story of Medellín's development would be to grossly distort history."

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