Monday, September 12, 2016

NYT: U.S. and Uribe undermined Colombia's previous attempts transitional justice (Sept. 12, 2016)

Colombians will soon vote on a peace accord with the FARC that includes a transitional justice agreement that will permit alternatives to jail for those who confess to serious crimes committed in the context of the country's five-decade civil conflict. 

While former President Álvaro Uribe has seized on that aspect to delegitimize the hard-won peace agreement, an in-depth New York Times piece looks at how he -- along with the U.S. justice system -- undermined a previous transitional justice program aimed at paramilitary leaders "responsible for massacres, forced disappearances and the displacement of entire villages."

The investigation found that 40 paramilitary leaders and associates accused of atrocities and extradited by Uribe to the U.S. on drug charges, have received relatively lenient sentences: they will have served an average of seven and a half years, while "federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine trafficking — mostly street-level dealers who sold less than an ounce — serve on average just over 12 years in prison."

While the paramilitaries were extradited for allegedly continuing to commit crimes inside Colombian jails, the New York Times links the move to their confessions of ties between paramilitaries and Uribe's allies and relatives. The 2008 extraditions effectively shut down access that information.

The piece goes into the tangled history of the paramilitaries, which though financed through drug smuggling, were for years somewhat on the same side as the Colombian government and the U.S. in the fight against the FARC.

"For 52 years, with abundant American support, the Colombian government has been locked in a ferocious armed conflict with leftist insurgents. Though it initially empowered paramilitary forces as military proxies, the government withdrew official sanction decades later, long after landowners and cartels had co-opted them. Before their demobilization in the mid-2000s, the militiamen came to rival the guerrillas as drug traffickers and outdo them as human rights abusers."

News Briefs
  • Up to 30 percent of the electorate remains undecided ahead of the Oct. 2 plebiscite on the peace accord with the FARC, reports la Silla Vacía, which has a helpful tool to help voters organize their priorities in choosing "yes" or "no."
  • Colombia's judicial Council of State overturned the 2012 election of polemic prosecutor general Alejandro Ordóñez -- on the basis that reelection was not constitutionally permitted and that three Supreme Court magistrates who nominated him did so illegally as he had hired family members to work for him. Additionally, there were dozens of conflict of interest that should have barred 59 lawmakers from voting in Congress, reports El Espectador. The ruling comes amid a polemic pitting Ordóñez against President Juan Manuel Santos regarding the public officials' role in campaigning for the peace accords, notes El Tiempo. The suit has been dragging on since 2013, was brought forward by a coalition led by Dejusticia, reports El Espectador separately. The piece looks at some of the organization's other struggles in favor of same-sex marriage, indigenous and gender rights, and against discrimination.
  • This weekend the FARC turned over 13 child soldiers to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Though all of the guerrilla fighters will demobilize if the peace accords are approved in Octobers plebiscite, the handover of minors -- considered victims not criminals -- is a humanitarian issue that must be dealt with ahead of the deal, reports the Guardian. The government estimates there are about 170 members under 18.
  • A bill in the Colombian congress could legalize coca products, providing an outlet for coca farmers who supply the illicit drug market, reports the Miami Herald.
  • New York Times editorial criticizes the ease with which Mexican journalists can be sued for libel. A "recent flurry of specious lawsuits," has had a chilling effect on investigative reporting an criticism, even as lawmakers passed a new anticorruption law that demands more transparency from public officials. The editorial calls on the country to make it harder for politicians sue for libel, noting the case of investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui who is being sued by President Enrique Peña Nieto. (See July 22's briefs.)
  • Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched on Saturday against gay marriage, reports Reuters. The demonstrations challenged Peña Nieto's proposal to recognize same-sex marriages permitted in several states to be recognized nationally, reports Reuters. The marches in 11 states were headed by Roman Catholic clergy, reports Animal Político. A counter-march yesterday in Mexico City brought out people defending gay marriage.
  • Tijuana shelters are overflowing with migrants seeking to enter the U.S. The latest wave comes from Haiti, joining groups of Mexicans fleeing violence within the country, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights has a post on the wave of detentions and "brief enforced disappearances" of opposition leaders and press in Venezuela in the lead up and aftermath of the massive opposition march on Sept. 1. And more could be on the way, they warn, citing President Nicolás Maduro's promise to stay strong in the face of "militants of terror and the right."
  • As the country's crisis worsens, nearly 60 percent of Venezuelans want to leave, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuela and China have been strategic allies for the better part of the past decade, but with increasing security issues for citizens and companies, along with unpaid bills, China appears to be recalculating the relationship, reports the Wall Street Journal. Venezuela's already fragile finances may be further hit by lack of new loans and investment from China.
  • Chile's pioneering and internationally-lauded private pension fund fails to provide livable pensions for most of the country's retirees, a situation which has citizens increasingly angry as they demand an overhaul, reports the New York Times. (See Aug. 22's briefs on massive street protests.) But attempts at reform mostly maintain the general private fund (AFP) system, notes the piece, and include "creating a state-run pension administrator, raising the retirement age, instituting a 5 percent contribution from employers and adopting stronger regulations for the pension fund administrators." The system's potential failure is a problem for international institutions like the World Bank, which has held it up as a model, according to the Financial Times. More than 30 countries around the world have copied it. At the heart of the system's failure are inconsistencies in paying into the funds, and lack of competition which allows managers to earn high fees. Still, should tweaking work, the country's pension system will continue to be a successful example, according to the piece.
  • Argentina's Ranquel indigenous communities have been eking out slow recognition in a country that has long denied it's non-European traditions, reports the New York Times. They are slowly broadening exposure to their language and attempting to reclaim ancestral lands. More broadly, they are reversing a long-standing tradition of shame at having indigenous lineage.

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