Friday, September 30, 2016

Yes to peace likely in Colombia on Sunday, but ... (Sept. 30, 2016)

Colombia is in full gear for the plebiscite on the peace accord with the FARC this weekend. Voters will be asked to give a yes or no answer to the question: "Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?" The accord must receive a majority of the votes, and 13 percent of the electorate must participate, in order for the agreement to be implemented.

The vote is expected to pass by a double digit margin -- the yes camp is projected to get between 55 and 66 percent according to the last polls published earlier this week, while the no camp would receive about 36.6 percent. (See Tuesday's post.)

The simplicity of the question belies the complicated feelings most Colombians have, however. Across the country, nearly everyone has experienced killings and kidnaps, bombings and displacement over the past half century of conflict – or knows someone who has, reports the Guardian.

In fact, while international players seem to approve of the deal almost across the political spectrum (from Argentina's Mauricio Macri to Cuba's Raúl Castro), Colombians have a deep ambivalence, notes the Financial Times. John Paul Rathbone says an unpleasant surprise result is certainly possible, and compares the mood in the country to that in the U.K. before the Brexit vote, in a piece that compares the two campaigns that seemed to obvious to outsiders. "The greater the international support for a Yes vote, the greater its sense of being condescended to — and the greater the vigour of its arguments that the complexities of Colombian history are being ignored."

La Silla Vacía breaks down the main players lobbying for and against the accords. Though most governors and mayors seem to be in favor of the agreement, not all are actively campaigning, notes La Silla Vacía in a separate piece.

The anti-peace accord campaign has been led by former President Álvaro Uribe, who basically argues that it amounts to amnesty for horrific crimes committed over the years. Yet he has managed to gather unlikely bedfellows from victims rights groups to wealthy ranchers, reports the Los Angeles Times

In fact, the most divided group is the direct victims of FARC violence, according to the Guardian.

"It's evident that after 50 years of deaths, massacres, kidnappings, recruitment of minors, terrorism, drug trafficking and millions of internally displaced, the Colombian people desire peace. We're all in favor of peace, but we are not all in favor of an agreement that, to end the conflict with the FARC, weakens our institutions and the rule of law, and permits crimes against humanity to remain without adequate sentences and those responsible to enter politics, with risks for the future of our democracy," writes Marta Lucía Ramírez in a New York Times español op-ed.

A major fear of the "No" camp, and many who do support the peace process, is whether the country can reach a peace with the FARC -- entailing significant concessions -- and yet remain at war due to the violence generated by criminal bands (BACRIM) and the ELN guerrilla force, reports La Silla Vacía. This piece looks at three regions where such fear is significant: Catacumbo, Nariño, and Córdoba.

Critics of the deal say a no vote would be a mandate for a renegotiation, but Havana talk leaders from both sides have categorically rejected that vision. Writing for La Silla Vacía, Rodrigo Uprimny challenges that vision, arguing that while legally feasible, a renegotiation would be politically inviable. Apart from the local factors -- namely FARC refusal to sit down again -- he points to the cases of North Ireland and Cyprus in particular as examples of the impact of popular support or rejection, respectively.

And the stories of both the people in favor and against are wrenching. La Silla Vacía profiles, for example, the story of a soldier who says those lobbying for war have no idea of the actual human cost entailed. El País profiles Liberal Party legislator Clara Rojas, who was famously kidnapped by the FARC in 2002. She emphasizes the integral nature of the accord, which cannot be separated into pieces as the anti-agreement camp angles to.

The New Republic focuses on the millions of internally displaced and how they've been impacted and affected dynamics of violence around the county. "Violence in Colombia bleeds through easy classifications. Many perpetrators in the Colombian conflict are themselves victims. The mercurial street gangs that have haunted Bogotá for a generation may not carry ideological pretensions, but they recruit from the improvised shantytowns that have sprouted up as refugees from the war-torn countryside settle along the city’s ever-expanding periphery. ... According to La Fundación Ideas para la Paz, a leading conflict research center and advocacy group, the persistent, overarching patterns of crime in Bogotá owe to the enduring link between those common pandilleros and the very militias that forced many of their parents to relocate in the first place."

El País emphasizes the involvement of a younger generation of Colombians in the campaign. Youth groups have sought to depoliticize the plebiscite -- which many fear is doubling as a referendum on President Juan Manuel Santos' administration -- and instead focus on the agreement itself.

FARC leader Felix Antonio Muñoz, known as Pastor Alape, said the group is not planning to emulate Cuban or Venezuelan models, despite holding the Castro brothers and Hugo Chávez as inspirations, reports the Miami Herald. Capitalism in Colombia is retrograde now, Muñoz emphasized a platform of rural development, using fallow lands, fighting corruption and ensuring that large-landowners pay taxes.

The treaty marks the end of the road for the FARC rebels, fighters must now figure out how to reintegrate into society, reports the New York Times which has some great pictures accompanying the piece.

If you're Colombian and undecided -- about a quarter of the population was at last count -- La Silla Vacía has a helpful quiz and a breakdown of the agreement's contents to help you decide.

News Briefs
  • The sudden decision to fully resume deportations of undocumented Haitian migrants attempting to enter the U.S. has split dozens of families who now have members on either side of the Mexico-U.S. border, reports the New York Times. The U.S. policy change aims at tightening the border in light of a wave of undocumented Haitian migrants coming from Brazil, but has caught men in Mexico while their wives and children were admitted to the U.S. (See Sept. 22's post.)
  • The number of migrants attempting to cross the border into the U.S. is set to match the 2014 records (see Monday's post.) Their paths -- mostly from Central America -- are heavily determined by human smugglers, who appear to be operating in a heavily organized criminal market, writes the Woodrow Wilson Center's Eric Olsen, based on interviews with migrants, conducted with Dr. Guadalupe Correa Cabrera in the Rio Grande Valley. "... The vast majority seem to arrive with the assistance of an “uncle” or “tio” or “guide” who brings them up through the various and constantly changing routes, and stashing them a “safe houses” along the way. Many migrants did not know where these houses are located, and sometimes are not sure what cities they had traveled through." His report looks at some of the deeper issues of the industry, including why the migrants are fleeing their homes and how most of the migrants at the Mexican border are unaware of just how hard the border crossing itself is.
  • The IADB together with a group of Latin American NGOs has launched a campaign towards an ambitious, but achievable, goal: to halve murder rates in the next decade. The groups, which include Igarapé Institute, Nossas Cidades, and Open Society Foundations, note that the region has the worlds' highest homicide rate, reports La Nación. But that can change, argue Robert Muggah and Nathalie Alvarado in El País. They suss out a series of factors that contributes to elevating violence in the region -- including social and economic inequality, youth unemployment, weak security and justice institutions, and the strong presence of organized crime. But the data also points to good news for policy makers, they say. Violence is concentrated in hot spots, and innovative solutions -- most multidimensional -- are popping up around Latin America.  
  • The effects of the Operation Car Wash investigation in Brazil are being felt in more ways than one. Politicians used to campaigning with deep (albeit dirty) pockets are suddenly forced obey new campaign finance caps, reports Wall Street Journal. The new landscape is affecting electoral races for this Sunday's municipal elections -- which the WSJ calls "bellwether contests" that will set the stage for the 2018 presidential election.
  • The U.N. has just tapped a high level public health physician to head up the organization's cholera efforts in Haiti, reports the Miami Herald. (See Sept. 20's post.) "Known for his organized mind, results-oriented style and willingness to take personal risks to achieve the task at hand, [David] Nabarro is known as the go-to guy who helps the United Nations respond to “really tricky situations,” as he put it."
  • Mexico's epidemic of disappearances has led to a new sad ritual in Veracruz -- families lined up to give blood for DNA samples to be matched against remains found in clandestine graves, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

  • Read more here:
  • A year after a disastrous landslide outside of Guatemala City killed at least 280 people in an informal community, little has changed in the country. Officials estimate that there are over 8,000 communities living at risk of floods, mudslides and other disasters, but who have not been moved, reports the Associated Press. (See briefs for Oct. 5, 2015.)
  • On the International Right to Know Day, the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expressión e Información released a report on a decade of access to information in Latin America. This year marks the ten year anniversary of an Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision that marked access to information as a human right. Since then several countries have advanced with legislation recognizing citizens' rights in this area, including Argentina and Paraguay, marks the report. And the work of civil society has been key in pushing this agenda. Speaking in Paraguay, Moisés Sánchez, the executive secretary of the Allianza, marked that access to information requires a paradigm shift in state administration, reports ABC. Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela have rated poorly in terms of access to public information according to the report, emphasizes El Impulso.
  • Journalists in Latin America work under pressure, and threats of violence, a situation that also needs to be taken into account in discussions of access to information and democracy, said Transparency International's  Fabiano Angelico, speaking in Paraguay this week, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • A Venezuelan shipping tycoon is paying the legal fees for President Nicolás Maduro's nephews, who have been charged in a U.S. court with conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine into the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. William Ruperti is underwriting their legal fees, as he does business with the government, including winning a multimillion-dollar contract from the state-owned oil company, recently.
  • Newsweek reports that Trump violated the Cuba embargo in 1998, spending at least $68,000 seeking business opportunities there.
  • The Guardian profiles a small subset of American expatriates in Mexico: Gringos for Trump -- more color than substance.
  • A public policy program in Peru managed to halve childhood stunting in just seven years, reversing a trend that was considered an innate characteristic for the country's indigenous population, reports the Guardian. The piece focuses on the multi-agency success story that channeled economic growth to reducing chronic child undernutrition. 

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