Monday, November 14, 2016

New Colombian peace deal (Nov. 14, 2016)

The Colombian government and the FARC announced a “new final accord” on Saturday. They aim to revive the peace deal narrowly rejected by voters six weeks ago by incorporating proposals from the opposition, religious leaders and others, said negotiators.

Negotiators were working against the clock, with thousands of guerrillas waiting in limbo to disarm, pending a final accord, reports the Wall Street Journal. The new deal is expected to be presented to Colombia's legislators, but not subjected to popular vote, according to the BBC. President Juan Manuel Santos likely has the congressional support needed to pass the agreement, which does not need plebiscite ratification, according to another Wall Street Journal piece.

Negotiators, who before the October referendum had insisted it was the best deal possible, humbly admitted the changes represent an improved accord that reflects a broader consensus, notes the Guardian.

The changes are considerable, notes the Economist. The government presented 500 proposed modifications to the FARC, after listening to proposals from critics of the deal. And after marathon negotiating sessions in Havana, most were accepted, report El Tiempo. (The final 310 page text was released earlier today. El Tiempo has the full document.)

The most important changes relate to the transitional justice system -- though war crimes will still go through special tribunals, sentences will be served in clearly delineated areas. They still will not face jail time, however.

In a televised address President Juan Manuel Santos said the accord will not be integrated into the country's constitution and that the FARC will be required to present a complete inventory of its assets, which are destined for victim compensation, Santos said in a televised address, reports Reuters.

In many cases the changes were just clarifications to the original vague language of the agreement, but others are more substantial. 

However its unclear if the changes will be enough to mollify voters who felt the previous deal was too soft on the guerrilla fighters, reports the New York Times. The leader of the "no" campaign, Álvaro Uribe said the modifications did not go far enough, according to the BBC. Opposition leadership asked for time to review the changes before giving opinions, reports Semana.

Former fighters will still be able to hold public office, a right Santos defended in his speech. "The reason for all peace processes in the world is precisely so that guerrillas leave their arms and can participate in politics legally," he said. The agreement for the FARC to obtain up to 10 guaranteed seats in congress for a few years apparently remains unchanged, though several newspapers said it might have been eliminated.

State funding for the political party the FARC establishes will be set at 15 percent, the same as other big parties, and less than the 20 percent originally accorded, notes la Silla Vacía.

After the surprise "no" vote in October, both sides extended a ceasefire through the end of the year, to buy time to reach a new agreement. 

Though most Colombians support peace, the pact was rejected by many who hoped for harsher punishment for rebels who seemed unpenitent for crimes committed in the fifty years of fighting. And socially conservative voters, a coalition of Catholic and evangelical Christians also used the vote as an opportunity to repudiate the government's socially liberal agenda, notes the NYT.

On that issue, the new agreement specifies that the much maligned "gender approach" (enfoque de género) simply means "recognition of the equality of rights between men and women ..." In this way negotiators attempted to separate themselves from the conservative phantom of "gender ideology," reports El Tiempo. Gender approach means particularly "guaranteeing affirmative measures to promote that equality, the active participation of women and their organizations in the construction of peace and the recognition of the victimization of women due to the conflict."

But the debate over the fate of FARC fighters and their role in politics has eclipsed the issue of rural land reform, a key component of the rejected deal and a central reason for its strong support in the country's rural areas, writes Michael Albertus in the Washington Post. The new accord announced seems to defend private property more strongly, reports El Tiempo.

Less reported concessions in fact relate to assuaging the fears of agrobusiness or large rural landowners, according to la Silla Vacía. The new accord specifies defense of private property, and that land valuation will not automatically go up (meaning taxes won't increase for owners). Extensive rural development projects will not be paid for through higher taxes either, which is why the new agreement gives a longer timeframe for their implementation.

Semana reports on criticisms for the delay between the announcement of the new deal on Saturday evening and the release of the full text of the "assembled" document earlier today. Negotiators initially planned to release only the modifications, but in an attempt to stave off misinterpretations, decided to incorporate them into the final accord, a process which took another day.

The time issue is crucial, notes la Silla Vacía. Guerrillas grouped into holding areas awaiting disarmament have sometimes been short supplies and lack funds to purchase them with. There's fear that a small incident could set off a larger conflict again.

The Economist also notes that Santos is set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec 10 in recognition for his role in ending the conflict -- and everybody hopes to have an actual accord by then.

News Briefs
  • There's another boom in migration north to the U.S.: a 23 percent increase in the 2016 fiscal year (which ended in Sept.) over the previous year. The trend is notable for the increase in family groups traveling from Central America, reports the New York Times. About 77,700 migrants caught on the southwestern American border in the past fiscal year were traveling in families, nearly twice as many as were detained in families the previous year. The vast majority were from Central America's Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Advocates say the surge reflects the increasing control of gangs in the area which present families with the stark choices of collaborating, leaving, or being killed. The wave of migrants has also overwhelmed other countries in the area -- most families still aim for the U.S., but Mexico, Belize, and Costa Rica are increasingly viewed as asylum destinations.
  • On Saturday the Venezuelan government and opposition representatives reached tentative agreements that fell far short of the initial opposition demands, reports Reuters. President Nicolás Maduro agreed to consider allowing foreign donations of food and medicine to alleviate national shortages, and to work towards naming new members to the national electoral board. The anti-climactic announcements left the opposition coalition strained to the breaking point, according to David Smilde. "There was no mention of the referendum or national elections." The announcement used terms such as "sabotage" and "contempt of court" that reflect the government narrative, and many opposition leaders have called for a return to protests in light of the lack of progress. To make matters worst, yesterday Maduro antagonized the opposition, saying that there will be no early election as they demand, reports the BBC. Speaking on his weekly television program, the president asked: "An electoral way out? Way out to where?" The next round for dialogue between the two sides is Dec. 6. "As has been suggested several times on this blog, not all opposition politicians are fully committed to a recall referendum that would lead to Nicolas Maduro’s removal, simply because it would mean the opposition would be required to assume the presidency of a country in crisis, assume the political costs of reform, and then face new elections a year or so later. Much more attractive would be a new general election that would lead to a full presidential term. The 2018 presidential election could in theory be moved up to the first quarter of 2018 without a constitutional change, and that is probably what will be negotiated next in the dialogue," writes Smilde.
  • The Mexican government froze 112 bank accounts and temporarily seized four properties belonging to the former governor of Veracruz state, Javier Duarte, on the lam and wanted on charges of money laundering and corruption, reports the Associated Press.
  • A priest abducted in Veracruz was found alive after three days, but with notable signs of torture. Priests say they are increasingly targets of drug cartels reports the Associated Press. The disappearance of Fr Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz had sparked two days of unrest in the town of Catemaco, reports the BBC.
  • New York Times op-ed by Antonio Martínez highlights the paradox faced by pedestrians and cyclists in Mexico City: though they are given preferential treatment by new traffic regulations, drivers of motor vehicles are the primary beneficiaries of public spending. "Every corner of this vast city is laid out for the convenience of automobiles; every new building project creates more parking spots, or even pedestrian overpasses and underpasses so as not to inconvenience car drivers. The problem has increased as public transportation is gradually abandoned and private options like Uber are on the rise." Though civil society groups are pushing sustainable mobility as a public policy priority, the author is not optimistic about their success. "Traditionally in Mexico, what emerges through consultation is never put into practice, and what is implemented is never subject to consultation. The signs are not encouraging."
  • An op-ed I wrote for New York Times Español focuses on how the Argentine government's "depolitization" shields a serious regression on human rights issues in a country widely recognized for its achievements in human rights after the last dictatorship's massive repression.

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