Yesterday's post looked at new polls indicating the difficult task for Colombia's government and proponents of the peace agreement to convince voters to say "yes" in the plebiscite on the Havana peace accord with the FARC, and some of the reasons why President Juan Manuel Santos seems unsuited to the campaign at hand.
For those who expected that peace would be approved by a war-weary citizenry eager to put five centuries of conflict behind them -- and who understood from the media that this was the likely response -- the poll results require more perspective.
The polarization between the two camps was solidified last week when former President Álvaro Uribe declared himself soundly in the "no" camp, after a few months of wavering between that option or recommending abstention altogether from the referendum. Deciding to promote "No" was no easy decision, as it legitimizes the plebiscite exercise itself, according to Semana. Uribe's camp considers this referendum exercise illegitimate, as it puts the entire accord for a yes or no vote (rather than putting individual parts of the agreement to be approved, and must only achieve participation of 13 percent of the electorate to pass.
Uribe and others opposing the peace agreement say they are voting in favor of peace by voting "no," reports CNN Español. The "No" camp also accuses the government of giving in to terrorism and assures voters that their approach will mean lower taxes.
The Uribistas focus on three aspects of the accords that they particularly oppose: that former FARC leaders will be able to run for political office, transitional justice agreements they consider to be a free pass for FARC war crimes, and that security forces will also be judged by the special peace tribunal that the accord would establish, explains Semana.
"It is incredible that today peace divides Colombian society. But the explanation is simple. This peace process justified the terrible crimes of the perpetrator revictimizing hundreds of thousands (sic), or millions, of victims of a violence that cannot be justified," writes former vice president Francisco Santos Calderón in an op-ed for El Tiempo that pretty much sums up the tone of the anti-peace agreement campaign.
A December agreement between the FARC and government negotiators on the issue of transitional justice established a Special Peace Jurisdiction to hear confessions, to try and punish war crimes and crimes against humanity, and to determine reparations to victims, explained WOLA at the time. Though the deal means a lot of truth, a lot of reparation and little justice, it also represents the best compromise possible, argued Silla Vacía's Juanita León in December. (See post for Dec. 16, 2016.)
Santos defends the plebiscite structure, noting that peace accords must always be considered as an integral package, and voters cannot pick and choose the elements they like.
In the meantime, though the "No" campaign has already been definitively launched, the National Electoral Council, is still hammering out the rules of the campaign, including funding and how many "promotional committees" can represent each side. Silla Vacía has a full report, noting in particular that the "No" camp could be favored by a unified leadership and message, while the wide coalition in favor of peace has a big variety of participants and perspectives.
The election will be the third consecutive poll in which Santos and Uribe face off against each other, notes El Heraldo. In the 2014 congressional elections Uribe established his Centro Democrático party as an important legislative force. In the subsequent presidential elections that same year, Uribe actually beat Santos in the first round, losing the presidency in the second round vote by only 807,000 votes, reports El Heraldo.
The vote itself is expected for late November or early December, with public education initiatives throughout September and October, reports El Universal. The vote must achieve the participation of 13 percent of the electorate to have validity, and a simple majority will be enough to approve or disprove the accords.
- The Colombian government will expand its land restitution program into former no-go areas, aiming to return land stolen from farmers by illegal armed groups in the country's south, reports Reuters. Up to 15 percent of Colombian territory has been abandoned or illegally acquired through violence and fraud by leftist rebels and paramilitary groups over the course of the past fifty years of conflict.
- Three months ahead of Nicaragua's controversial presidential election, over seventy percent of the population plans on voting for incumbent Daniel Ortega and his running mate, First Lady Rosario Murillo, reports AFP. (See last Wednesday's post on accusations that he's used the judiciary to fragment the opposition.)
- Child malnutrition is becoming a grave issue in Venezuela, reports the Miami Herald.
- An obscure Marxist professor from Spain is increasingly central in guiding Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who calls him "the Jesus Christ of economics," reports the Wall Street Journal.
- InSight Crime has a great interview with former Guatemalan attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz, whose tenure catalyzed the avalanche of corruption cases that have shaken up the country's political establishment. The questions focus on her groundbreaking case against former Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges stemming from the country's decades-long civil war. His conviction was later overturned and Paz y Paz suffered considerable backlash from defenders of the status quo. "... During the genocide trial, they said that I or my family belonged to a leftist group, that I was a guerrilla, that my family were terrorists, etc. The arguments were not about how solid the evidence was presented during the trial, which were very, very strong, but rather personal attacks," said Paz y Paz. While she is enthusiastic about the corruption cases brought by the CICIG and her successor, Thelma Aldana, she notes that "we can't ask the prosecutors, the Public Ministry, the attorney general or the CICIG to reform the state. They have a clear role to play, which is what they are doing in investigating cases involving clandestine or illegal structures and bringing these cases to trial so they can be judged. But they cannot be responsible for institutional reform, that is the responsibility of the Guatemalan citizenry. The debate over constitutional reforms with respect to the election of judges and magistrates has been opened, which is a topic within the mandate of the CICIG, but other actors in the country must play a leading role on other issues."
- Mexican First Lady Angelica Rivera is relaxing in $2.05m apartment in Key Biscayne Florida owned by Grupo Pierdant, which is a contender to run Mexico’s ports, according to an investigation by the Guardian. The same company has also shouldered the property tax on another Key Biscayne apartment purchased by a holding company Rivera set up. The two properties are apparently managed as a single unit. Rivera starred in the 2014 "Casa Blanca" scandal that decimated the popularity of President Enrique Peña Nieto, when Aristegui Noticias reported that she purchased a $7m mansion in Mexico City from another government contractor.
- Leaders from Mexico's three biggest political parties came together in recent years to plan an assault on billionaire Carlos Slim's telecommunications dominance by passing legislation aimed at increasing competition -- and it seems to be working, reports the New York Times.
- Cuban and American bankers held a historic meeting in Havana, a first in over half a century, reports the Miami Herald.
- Cuban officials deny that talks with their U.S. counterparts over compensation claims amount to a negotiation, calling into question willingness to settle anytime soon, reports the Miami Herald.
- Peruvian interior minister Carlos Basombrio said there is strong evidence that police officers ran death squads between 2011 and 2015, an issue prosecutors are now investigating, reports the Associated Press. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
- The Brazilian Senate is set to vote tomorrow on whether to try President Dilma Rousseff for budgetary manipulation. Though the motion is widely expected to pass -- and requires only a simple majority -- political experts will be scouring the vote for signs of unravelling of acting President Michel Temer's support, reports Bloomberg. A show of support in his favor could strengthen his administration's hand in passing controversial legislation such as relaxing labor laws and cutting pensions.
- U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said the controversial impeachment process against Rousseff resembles a coup and called on the U.S. to defend democracy and demand the political crisis be resolved with new elections, reports TeleSUR.
- Brazil's environmental regulation agency denied a major dam project's development permits, citing concerns over indigenous communities and wildlife in the area in question, reports the Guardian.
- Speaking in Buenos Aires, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Argentina and other large countries to ratify the Paris climate accord, reports Reuters.
- The U.S. Government posted 1,078 pages of newly declassified records pertaining to human rights abuses in Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The information includes data on emblematic torture and kidnapping cases, Patricia Derian's report on human rights in the country, intelligence reports on the 1976 coup, "negotiations" between the U.S. and the Argentine military on "geopolitical" issues, and letter between Jimmy Carter and Jorge Videla regarding human rights in Argentina, reports La Nación. The documents were presented yesterday to human rights organizations -- including Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and CELS -- in the Casa Rosada and cast light into different factions within the Carter administration regarding the military junta ruling Argentina, reports Página 12. They show the "near constant" tension between administration officials pushing human rights as Carter's signature foreign policy and concerns that sanctioning the military junta could push it into the Soviet Union's arms, notes the Washington Post.
- Massive utility hikes in Argentina, spurred by the government withdrawal of subsidies and price controls, are shaping up to be a major point of contention -- the government policy is being challenged in court and in street protests, reports La Nación.