Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Colombia in limbo (Oct. 5, 2016)

Colombia finds itself in a sort of grey-zone limbo after voters narrowly rejected a peace accord with the FARC, said President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday. The bilateral ceasefire between the guerrilla group and the government is in effect through the end of the month, which means the clock is ticking on efforts to revive some form of the deal, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Rebel forces are camped in remote areas and uncertain of how to proceed (demobilization was supposed to start immediately post-ratification) said government negotiators, though the FARC leadership questioned Santos' exact timetable yesterday. 

Hope for a new deal, insofar as there is any, rests on the exhaustion of both sides, according to the New York Times editorial board. And while everybody -- from the FARC to the government to the opposers of the deal -- says they want peace, it's not clear they can come to a common agreement on how that would look. The FARC is arguing to maintain the current deal, while former President Álvaro Uribe, who led the "no" campaign, is pushing for a new accord. The government is hoping for a short renegotiation, reports the Guardian

But the ball is in the FARC court, said Colombia's foreign minister yesterday, they will have to decide whether they're willing to cross their own red lines, reports the Miami Herald.

Uribe is meeting with Santos today -- and the current president already met with former President Andrés Pastrana earlier today, who said the meeting was an advance towards a political pact, reports El Tiempo. Pastrana, who opposed the pact, said the agreement was an important "base" document, and that it's important to activate the FARC concentration zones, reports El Tiempo.

But it's not so clear that Uribe's forces, emboldened by Sunday's vote, will actually join the negotiating table, notes Juanita León in La Silla Vacía

Another possibility is a Constituent Assembly, which both the Uribistas and the FARC have supported in the past, and in which the FARC could actually stand to win even more concessions, though the outcome is far from clear. But such a path will be difficult to get through a Santos' dominated Congress, notes León. Additionally, the Uribistas have shied away from pushing this alternative, reports Semana. Uribe is calling for a rapid solution as well.

A third option will be to pass a peace accord through Congress, a process similar to the demobilization of paramilitary groups in 2006 -- when an accord was made far stricter against AUC leaders by legislators. This is the preferred route for Uribistas, according to La Silla Vacía.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Santos to reaffirm support for peace efforts, and special envoy Bernie Aronson will travel to Havana, where peace negotiators are reconvening for more talks, reports Reuters.

In part, what commentators are rushing to suss out is what message voters sent on Sunday. All sides have essentially said they do not support a return to armed conflict -- instead the "no" camp is demanding harsher penalties for guerrilla leaders. But the FARC appears unwilling to renegotiate the terms of the agreement hammered out over four years in Cuba, and argue that international law protects the existing agreement. (A difficult argument given it's national rejection by the electorate.)

La Silla Vacía analyzed voting data and makes the case that had more people gotten out to vote on the coast (affected by Hurricane Matthew) the "yes" vote might have won. But it also topples the myth that the "yes" vote was mainly rural, pointing out that "yes" also won in big cities including Bogotá, Cali, and Barranquilla.

Many argue that those most impacted by the fighting -- as measured by displacement -- voted overwhelmingly in favor of peace. And there is also a clear wealth division among voters in favor of peace and against, according to analysis by Leopoldo Fergusson and Carlos Molina in La Silla Vacía.

But the data is not so clear, according to other analysis by La Silla Vacía, which says it depends how you define "conflict suffering," instead voter tendencies more closely correlated to Uribe support, says that piece.

But reaching a new agreement will require a decision to bridge differences, observes Rodrigo Uprimny in La Silla Vacía. He masterfully quotes a Borges poem lauding how the Swiss, who "had the habit of war," one day "took the strange resolution to be reasonable," and decided to "forget their differences and emphasize their affinities." 

Uprimny makes the case that the distance between the "yes" and "no" camps is not as wide as it might seem -- the campaign against the accord largely ignored the vast majority of issues -- such as rural development, disarmament mechanisms, reparation programs etc. Rather the disagreement is largely over transitional justice, in some cases clauses that are not directly spelled out in the agreements, and thus with varied interpretations on how strictly alternative to prison would be applied. He hopes that the pact can largely be rescued.

But the disagreements are vast, argues Semana. They include the touchiest subjects of the accords: political participation of FARC leadership, inclusion of military human rights violations, whether drug trafficking can be considered a political crime in this context as the FARC leadership has argued, and whether alternatives to jail are sufficient punishment for crimes committed in the war.

The question over jail-time for FARC leadership was considered a deal breaker during the Havana negotiations -- but with the popular rejection of that deal, that could change, reports the New York Times.

The vote on Sunday was not just about the deal and widespread distrust of the FARC, however. It also reflected Santos' unpopularity, and Uribe's efforts to undermine him, argues Jaime Abello Banfi in a New York Times op-ed. But the political polarization voters indicated must permit political agreements to be reached if the country is to avoid stagnation, he warns.

On a broader note, the "no" vote has backed a wave of social conservatism, whose first victim yesterday was the Minister of Education, Gina Parody, who resigned from Santos' cabinet, reports La Silla Vacía.

While referendums may seem like the ultimate popular governance tool -- putting decisions directly in the hands of the electorate -- they in fact leave voters vulnerable to political elite messaging as they make complicated decisions with insufficient information, argue some political scientists. "They tend to be volatile, turning not just on the merits of the decision but also on unrelated political swings or even, as may have happened in Colombia, on the weather," explains a New York Times piece on the iffy outcomes of referendums.


Hurricane Matthew potentially kills hundreds in Haiti and could derail upcoming presidential elections

Hurricane Matthew has forced ten thousand Haitians into shelters, and water is in short supply -- the U.N. has called it the “largest humanitarian event” since the 2010 earthquake, reports the Guardian. Authorities still have not been able to gauge the full impact of the storm, which hit the country's remote south-west peninsula yesterday as communications are down.

Initial reports are of five deaths, 10 injured and one missing, reports the New York TimesReuters reports 10 dead. Hundreds of dead are feared, however, according to some aid groups. Homes, crops and livestock were destroyed along the southern coast, which cut off transportation to the area as well.

Aid groups are concerned over the potential worsening of the cholera epidemic -- introduced to the country by U.N. peacekeepers after the earthquake. And timing of the storm, just ahead of the plantain harvest, could lead to food shortages in upcoming weeks.

And the hurricane could mean new delays for presidential election redo scheduled for this Sunday. Authorities are expected to make an announcement today, but crucial voting infrastructure was destroyed, according to the NYT.

The storm will likely exacerbate hardship in a country where 55,000 are still in shelters after the 2010 earthquake. It's a story all too familiar for a country with a location uniquely succeptible to tropical storms and earthquakes. "Storms have frequently destroyed arable land and killed livestock, leaving an already destitute people struggling to feed themselves and dependent on imported food. Political infighting and poverty have been exacerbated by repeated natural disasters and slow recoveries," explains the New York Times in a piece that looks at the recent history of natural disasters in the country.

News Briefs
  • Municipal elections over, Brazil's President Michel Temer is pushing forward with unpopular austerity measures -- including limiting growth in government spending for the next 20 years to the rate of inflation, reports Reuters. But though Dilma Rousseff is gone, but that doesn't mean austerity measures are going to sail through Brazil's congress. Central Bank President Ilan Goldfajn met with tough opposition from Workers' Party senators yesterday when he defended the bill, reports the Wall Street Journal. Goldfajn defended conservative policies as the only way to restore economic growth to the country, but was challenged by PT senators who said fiscal adjustment "will only reinforce the vicious cycle of economic contraction."
  • Temer's popularity rating remains low: polls show approval at 14 percent, and negative views of almost 40 percent, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian judges threw out a case against military police who violently repressed a prison riot in 1992, in which 111 inmates were killed. Evidence taken at the so-called Carandiru Massacre showed that many were shot multiple times and at close range, but a three-judge panel last week found that there was insufficient evidence linking any specific police officers to the deaths of any particular inmates, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A coalition of civil society organizations said yesterday that the Honduran government is responsible for the loss of the Berta Cáceres homicide investigation file, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. (See Monday's post.)

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