Friday, June 24, 2016

Colombians hope peace agreements mean #ElUltimoDiaDeLaGuerra (July 24, 2016)

Colombian and FARC negotiators agreed yesterday on a bilateral cease-fire and a plan for the disarmament of 7,000 rebel fighters, a key component of a broad peace deal that is now expected as soon as next month. But Colombian press is exuberantly celebrating the agreement, saying it heralds the end of 5 decades of fighting.

The agreement yesterday includes a roadmap for a bilateral ceasefire, the establishment of concentration zones for former fighters, disarmament for guerrillas, and -- as a bonus -- the FARC acceptance of a plebiscite ratification of the accord, explains Silla Vacía. It's actually three separate agreements: cease-fire and disarmament; guarantees for demobilized fighters and the fight against paramilitary forces; and an agreement on the referendum for peace, according to El Tiempo.

El Tiempo has more details on the specific agreements, such as the phases for disarmament.  It was a historic moment, and the Havana handshake between President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño (known by his war alias "Timochenko") was witnessed by six heads of state and international dignitaries, reports El Espectador

The conflict over the past five decades has caused 200,000 deaths and 6.9 million displaced people across Colombia, according to El Espectador.

"Colombia got used to living in conflict. We don't have even the slightest memories of what it means to live in peace," Santos said yesterday in Havana. "Today a new chapter opens, one that brings back peace and gives our children the possibility of not reliving history."

"We trust that within a reasonable time we will be pointing to another ceremony: the signing of the final accord," said Timochenko. "May this be the final day of the war."

#ElUltimoDiaDeLaGuerra was trending in Colombia's twittersphere, and was adopted by leftwing politicians hoping to create a broad coalition space that could welcome former FARC fighters, reports Silla Vacía.

It means the "irreversible end" of the guerrilla group as an armed force, according to Silla Vacía's Juanita León.

Colombians celebrated the deal yesterday, with hundreds of people watching live on a giant screen set up in Bogotá, reports the Associated Press.

Attention is now shifting to a popular referendum, in which Colombians will be asked to ratify the final deal. It's an uphill battle, according to the AP, given the unpopularity of the rebel group among Colombians, many of whom desire harsher penalties for perpetrators of violence over the past decades. Supporters also fear that voters will stay home, denying the referendum the minimum participation rate it needs to be valid.

Technically the plebiscite mechanism must first be supported by the Constitutional Court, and then approved by the president before being submitted to citizens. It must then be approved by at least 13 percent of registered voters, about 4.4 million votes, explains El Tiempo. It is a binding referendum, and peace deal must be implemented if approved and scrapped if not. Public officials will be free to campaign for either camp.

A recent poll showed that more than half of Colombians fear that one or both sides will fail to fulfill their commitments -- investment in the case of the government and handing over all weapons in the case of the guerrillas -- according to the Guardian.

And rebels fear they will be left defenseless in the face of their enemies, notes the Washington Post.

Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer argues the relevance of the deal has been oversold, at a cost of ignoring other more important issues facing Colombia.

Silla Vacía's Juanita León celebrates Santos' role in bringing the negotiations thus far. But she also points to the importance of the rise of the Latin American left in the years leading up to the peace negotiations -- an example of former guerrilla's rising to power democratically. And also Hugo Chávez's conviction that the armed struggle represented more of an obstacle for "21st Century Socialism" than help. Finally, she credits the high cost of warfare, which added a convincing economic argument for peace among the Colombian elite.

León notes that defects -- like a perceived lack of strong convictions --- which have led to a low level of popularity for Santos, have, ironically, been key in helping him move the negotiations forward.

Silla Vacía reviews what disarmament and cease fire has looked like in other civil conflicts, several of which were monitored by the U.N. as this one will be. 

El Tiempo has more details on the concentration zones where demobilized FARC fighters will gather for about six months in areas they have traditionally been present in. The zones will be bordered by a kilometer-wide safety border in which neither security forces nor FARC will be present, but will be controlled by the monitoring forces.  

And the Miami Herald has a piece on women fighters who are worried they will lose their status as equals in a post-conflict scenario.

Interesting detail: the FARC weapons handed over in the peace implementation will be melted down and used for three monuments, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Guardian has a piece on the history of the conflict from 1964 through the present.


Venezuelan situation debated in OAS, no vote

The OAS permanent council held a session on Venezuela yesterday, in which member state ambassadors met to analyze Secretary General Luis Almagro's 114 page report on the country including arguments for invoking Article 20 of the Democratic Charter. The session ended inconclusively, with no vote on the Democratic Charter issue. 

Almagro accused the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolás Maduro of violating basic democratic principles, altering the country's constitutional order, reports Reuters. He argues that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis. (See yesterday's post.)

Nonetheless, member states did not back his view, though they also did not back Venezuela's move to block the presentation of the report yesterday, note WOLA's David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey in their live analysis of the meeting.

Though media reports portrayed the session as an opportunity to suspend Venezuela, a vote on the issue would have merely called on the PC to "undertake a collective assessment of the situation," explain  Smilde and Ramsey.

"Moving forward it remains to be seen whether, now that the debate over Venezuela and the Democratic Charter appears tabled, the UNASUR dialogue process will move forward. Of course, there are some serious roadblocks in this process, and it is unclear what kind of progress both sides are willing to make," they write.

Notably yesterday's debate was rife with references to U.S. interventionism in the region, notes the Washington Post. And Venezuelan allies made the case that Almagro's quest to sanction Caracas would only weaken the OAS itself.

News Briefs
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto vetoed part of package of anti-corruption bills passed by Congress. He asked legislators to change a measure that would have forced people or firms who receive government funding to publicly disclose their assets, reports Reuters. This is the first veto for Peña Nieto who has pushed for tougher anti-corruption laws. His popularity is affected by a series of corruption scandals involving his government. The clause rejected by Peña Nieto is viewed as revenge by legislators who would be forced to publish their tax returns, holdings and potential conflicts of interest, explains the Associated Press. But the clause would affect private citizens' right to privacy, argued the president's legal advisor. Business leaders argued the clause was excessive, and could even affect foreigners who don't live in Mexico but work for transnational companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. Peña Nieto is calling on Congress to hold a special session to make the changes, in order to avoid delays in the implementation of the new laws.
  • The Mexican government held preliminary meetings with the dissident teachers union who set up roadblock in Oaxaca to protest new education laws, reports the Wall Street Journal. A deadly confrontation with security forces last weekend led to eight deaths. (See Monday's post.) TeleSur reports up to 12 deaths, and says Oaxaca residents blame police for the confrontation and now want security forces out of the area.
  • The narrative over the deathly confrontation between protesters and security forces last weekend in Nochitxlán in Oaxaca state points to a police disaster, argues Raymundo Riva Palacio in an El Financiero op-ed. He points to incoherent explantations from the police, who killed eight protesters, and said they demonstrated susceptibility to armed attackers.
  • Men who identify as women? No problem in the small Mexican town of Juchitán de Zaragoza, where they are called "muxes" and enjoy social acceptance. Now what bathroom they should use in public, that's the contentious issue, reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil's landmark social housing program, "Minha Casa, Minha Vida," is facing cuts that could disrupt its work providing homes to poor Brazilians, reports Reuters. The national Ministry of Cities said spending on the program would be reduced 1.5 percent, which could affect the construction of 4.2 million new homes that are under contract to be built under the program. Though some experts criticize the program as inefficient, it has made a helped millions of Brazilians living in precarious housing situations.
  • Latest Olympic challenge: the Islamic State is posting digital propaganda in Portuguese, and poses an apparent threat to the upcoming Rio games, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Hackers also present a relevant, though less lethal, threat, write Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah and Nathan Thompson in the Los Angeles Times. They say Brazil is taking its responsibilities to create a secure Olympics seriously, but in the process has set up a sprawling surveillance infrastructure that concerns civil liberties watch groups. On the ground, "Brazil has a less stellar record of protecting its own, especially the poorest residents of Rio, many of whom live in the city’s most marginal settlements, thefavelas. A widely lauded public security program — known as pacification police units — has ground to a halt. According to Rio’s Institute of Public Security, between January and April of this year, there were 1,715 murders in the city, a 15% increase over the same period last year, with the violence concentrated in low-income areas. As police are redirected to Olympic duty, those crime statistics, and insecurity in the favelas, may rise."
  • The New York Times has a sweet piece on Argentine writer Eduardo Sacheri's work which "has revived the soccer story as a respectable literary genre with compelling tales that use the sport as a prism to explore his nation’s idiosyncrasies."

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