Thursday, April 16, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 16, 2015

Peace derailed?

Two years of peace talks between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla movement, FARC, have been jeopardized by the death of 11 soldiers late Tuesday night. President Juan Manuel Santos' government says the FARC violated a unilateral cease-fire and has lifted a ban on aerial attacks of guerrilla encampments, reports the AP.

The FARC claims the guerrillas reacted to ongoing offensive counter-insurgency operations on the part of the military, according to a statement from Havana. The guerrilla movement had been complying with a unilateral cease-fire since December, but said yesterday that a bilateral cease-fire is necessary and urged the government to continue the ongoing peace negotiations.

Santos insisted that he will not allow himself to be pressured into a bilateral cease-fire. 

The setback is the result of ambiguity in the negotiations, according to Silla Vacia's Juanita León. The FARC conditioned its cease-fire on not-being attacked by official forces, but offensive action was not defined. The FARC seems to have interpreted territorial control of one of their strong-holds as an offensive action, she says.

 “The FARC’s unilateral cease-fire and the government’s cessation of bombing raids were confidence-building, allowing people to give the talks some focus, some space to breathe,” Cynthia Arnson, a director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told the Wall Street Journal. “The return to war is a bad sign for the peace talks overall.”

Yesterday's events have been polarizing FARC supporters blame the army, while opponents of the peace process say the attack was intentional, reports the AP.

El Tiempo refers to a "risky" interruption in scaling back the war's intensity and laments the set-back to the unilateral cease-fire and suspension of aerial attacks, but lays the responsibility for the situation at the FARCs feet.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Santos has staked is reputation on ending the conflict, but has come under pressure to do so militarily. Yesterday's events have strengthened opponents of the peace process.

The New York Times reports that talks had been progressing well -- "the finish line seemed to be getting closer." Though rounds of peace talks have failed over the past two years, in recent months several positive steps led experts to announce an end-point in sight. In December the FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire, and in February promised to stope recruiting fighters younger than 17. In March both sides said they would work together to remove land mines, and Santos ordered a one-month halt to aerial bombings of FARC encampments. The respite had been extended for a second month just last week.

La Silla Vacía launched a new website -- La Silla Blanca -- a one-stop-shop for information on the peace negotiations. The site include the text of the agreements, a time-line of the process, and a virtual museum dedicated to the 50 year conflict. Fun features include a translator for the different factions' interpretations of words. The site encourages participation, allowing victims a space to send a message to FARC leader "Timochenko" and respond to polls on their vision of the peace process.

News Briefs

  • Mexico's election watchdog said opposition political party's ads accusing President Enrique Peña Nieto of misspending taxpayers' money is slanderous, and ordered them pulled off the air. The move raises concerns about the ability of political parties to criticize the government, says theWall Street Journal.
  • The Mexican "Migrant Via Crucis" -- demanding migrant human rights -- continued its journey towards the capital, despite immigration authority's threat to detain illegal migrants. The priest Alejandro Solalinde accompanying the movement said human rights activists surrounded the undocumented Central American migrants, creating protective barrier against the hundreds of police officials they encountered yesterday, reports AFP. Authorities said yesterday they sought to avoid confrontation. The caravan will continue towards México DF tomorrow by bus. 
  • Seven out of ten parents in Central American don't permit their children to play on the street for fear of violence, according to Juan Martín Pérez, executive secretary of the Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña de la Defensa de los Niños y Adolescentes. Central America is the most violent region in the world, reports the AFP. The violence directly impacts children's activities, they are more sedentary and have less contact with the community, according to Pérez
  • Argentina's congress passed a law yesterday nationalizing the country's railroad system. The move continues a policy of reversal of the questioned neoliberal privatization policies of the 1990s, and will allow the government to continue reinvigorating the country's moribund rail system. Though private operators will still be able to function, reports Página 12, the state will have more control over the terms of the contracts and will determine the management of rail-lines as well as investment.
  • Federal police detained the treasurer of Brazil's governing Workers' Party yesterday as he headed out for his morning jog in Sao Paulo, reports the AP. He is accused of involvement in a wide-ranging investigation into corruption at state-run oil giant Petrobras. An arrest warrant was also issued for his sister-in-law and his wife was questioned regarding a series of unidentified deposits in her bank account investigators suspect of being related to the kickback scheme. The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal also report on the issue.
  • Two members of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe's cabinet were sentenced yesterday to more than six years in prison for bribing legislators to support the right-wing leader's reelection.
  • The U.S. and Cuba will resume negotiations regarding two U.S. fugitives as part of an ongoing dialogue regarding judicial cooperation, made possible by the White House's decision to remove Cuba from the four-country list of nations that support terrorist activities (see yesterday's post). 
  • Spain and Colombia vouched for Cuba's rejection of terrorist activity, according to a State Department spokesperson quoted in AFP. Cuba has been on the state-sponsors of terrorism list since 1982, in part for its support of FARC guerrillas in Colombia and Basque ETA separatists in Spain -- though it's worth noting that the U.S. only officially recognized those organizations as terrorist in 1997. Havana has hosted ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC since 2012.
  • Removal from the list will eliminate a barrier for investment that has complicated Cuba. The country will now be eligible for multi-lateral loans and will have access to financial institutions, reports the New York Times. However, while non-American companies will now have an easier time working with the island, American companies will still have difficulties. Experts note that Americans still can't invest in Cuba and the areas in which they can trade are still limited. They also note that Cuba also has restrictions regarding foreign businesses.
  • A House bill introduced yesterday would tie removal of more sanctions against Cuba to an improvement in the country's human rights record, reports the Miami Herald. The Cuban Human Rights Act of 2015 calls for the United States to vigorously oppose human rights violations in Cuba and to maintain the status quo on sanctions, the embargo and federal law regarding Cuba as long as human rights violations continue.

  • Mexico deported 37,510 Central American citizens between January and March of this year, reports AFP, citing a Guatemalan government official. This is a 76 percent increase over the same period last year. This is part of an ongoing trend: in 2014 Mexico deported 114,009 Central Americans, more than the 72,692 expelled in 2013. According to Mexican statistics, over 200,000 undocumented foreigners, mostly from Central America, cross into the country each year on the way to the U.S.
  • The UN's High Commission for Human Rights will install an mission in Tegucigalpa according to Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández. The office will work closely with the nation's human rights officials, he announced yesterday, according to Reuters. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, due to drug and gang related violence, surpassed only by neighboring El Salvador. In 2014 there were 68 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, and most go unpunished, according to human rights organizations. 
  • The U.S. is applying a "carrot for Cuba and a stick for Venezuela," possibly with the intention of dividing the ALBA governments, according to Bolivian president Evo Morales. Nonetheless, Bolivia and the U.S. are taking steps to reestablish normal diplomatic relations, reports AFP, seven years after Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador accusing him of supporting a right-wing plot against the government.
  • South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye started a 12 day Latin America tour in which she will visit Colombia, Perú, Chile and Brazil. It is her first official trip to the region. 

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