Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Peace draws closer for Colombia -- but the economy has citizens glum anyway (Jan. 19, 2016)

Peace in Colombia, after a fifty year conflict with rebel FARC group, seems tantalizingly close. But for the roughly 7,000 guerrilla fighters who will lay down their arms if negotiations come to fruition, the future is uncertain. 

The Associated Press made a rare, three-day visit to a secret FARC camp in Antioquia state earlier this month.

A separate AP piece looks at the history of the Colombia conflict, starting with the 1948 "La Violencia."

So far, the parties have reached agreement on the FARC's inclusion to politics, a far-stretching rural reform, the rebels’ abandonment of drug trafficking, victim compensation and justice, explainsColombia Reports. But a few thorny issues, including a bilateral cease-fire, how to concentrate and demobilize FARC fighters and how to assure their safety from paramilitary organizations, must be agreed on for a final peace accord.

The two sides agreed to a March 23 deadline for a final agreement, though the FARC negotiators say it could take longer. A few months after that there will a plebiscite to ratify the accord, which will require 5 million votes, according to Silla Vacía.

Silla Vacía has a podcast debate on the upcoming challenges to the process, featuring Ángela Cerón, director of the Women for Peace Iniciative; Mauricio Uribe, professor at the Eafit University School of Government and Political Science; and Rodrigo Pombo, lawyer, columnist and university professor.

Optimism over the potential peace has Colombia starring in international headlines. Last week, U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon called Colombian peace a priority for 2016. Obama mentioned the peace process in his State of the Union address, and Pope Francis often mentions it.

Last week World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called on foreign governments to step up funding commitments to ensure the peace process's continuity, reports the Associated Press. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is seeking to raise more than $3 billion to finance the first five years of an ambitious post-conflict agenda that includes everything from road-building in the long-neglected countryside to helping displaced farmers return to their lands.

But the mood at home is less optimistic, economic woes include inflation and a devalued currency, while a drought is threatening energy and water shortages, reports the Miami Herald.

According to a December poll by IPSOS Napoleón Franco, only 38 percent of the population is optimistic about the peace process and only 37 percent agree with the way negotiations are being handled.

"Everyone’s in favor of Colombia reaching peace," Javier Restrepo, IPSOS' director of public opinion told the Miami Herald, "but not everybody agrees on a negotiated solution." 

Even with peace on the horizon, the conflict continues. More than 400 people from several villages in northern Colombia have been displaced due to ongoing violence between leftist rebel group FARC, their neo-paramilitary rivals "Los Urabeños," the military and drug traffickers, according to Colombia Reports.

Last week the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) sent a letter to Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Villegas, raising concerns about seven military officers who have been nominated for promotions. These officers have been linked to crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings and illegal wiretapping to participation in the infamous “false positives” scandal, in which thousands of Colombian civilians were killed or forcibly disappeared between 2002 and 2008. (See the June 24 2015 post.)

News Briefs

  • The killing of a newly sworn in mayor in Mexico on Jan. 2 is a sign of a wider effort on the part of drug cartels to control municipal politics across the state of Morelos, writes Ioan Grillo in anNew York Times op-ed. Cartels are extorting mayors for payment. "And as they take control of these politicians, the cartels transform themselves into an ominous shadow power, using the tools of the state to affect anyone who lives or works in its jurisdiction," he writes. (See Jan. 4th's briefs.)
  • Central America has the highest homicide rates in the world, and gang-violence is creating a quiet refugee crisis in the region. Women in particular are in danger, writes UNHCR's Melissa Fleming in the Guardian. Last month UNHCR released a harrowing report, called Women on the Run, which shares the terrifying experiences of 160 women, including 15 transgender women, who escaped.
  • Migration activists say the announcement of an expansion of the U.S. refugee program for Central Americans fleeing extreme violence in their home countries will do little to solve the humanitarian crisis in the region, reports VICE. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Brazil must shrink its budget, according to the new Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa. He told reporters that an improved fiscal situation will help the country climb out of recession and reduce inflation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Some health experts in Brazil believe the government's response to the spread of the mosquito-born Zika virus -- a genetically similar disease to both dengue and chikungunya -- has been slow and inadequate. As many as 1.5 million Brazilians could be infected by the virus, which believe can cause microcephaly in human fetuses, reports the Wall Street Journal. (Seeyesterday's brief's.) Nonetheless Olympic and tourism authorities are downplaying the risks for foreign visitors, though the health ministry has warned pregnant women to consult doctors before traveling, according to Reuters
  • The start of operations at the world's fourth biggest hydropower plant at Brazil’s Belo Monte dam could be held up by a court decision that its owner, Norte Energia and the government have failed to build a safety net for local communities, reports the Guardian.
  • Roughly 2,000 protesters demonstrated in Port-au-Prince yesterday, demanding new elections and the immediate removal of outgoing President Michel Martelly. In the Haitian capital roads were blocked with flaming tire barricades, stones were thrown and two cars were set on fire, reports the Associated Press. In the meantime, electoral offices were attacked in northern towns, ahead of Sunday's run-off presidential election, which comes amid allegations of fraud and irregularities in the first two rounds of voting last year.
  • Haiti's newly sworn in parliament -- both chambers -- has a notable absence: female lawmakers. The Miami Herald reports that the all-male legislative body comes despite a newly adopted constitutional amendment calling for at least 30 percent female participation in public offices, including elected posts.
  • Peru's top-logging official, Rolando Navarro, has been dismissed without much explanation, and critics say it's due to pressure from the timber trade. The move comes after a large seizure of illegal timber in November of last year, after which timber sector protests displayed Navarro's name on a symbolic coffin, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri will meet with British PM David Cameron at this week's World Economic Forum in Davos, a sign of warming in ties between the two countries that have been strained by disagreement over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. Though Macri's government maintains Argentina's claims over the territory, he has promised a less confrontational stance and work on improving bilateral relations, reports the Guardian.
  • Honduran authorities have announced with much fanfare the start of excavations on a site they say may be the long-rumored "White City" ruins. Also known as the "City of the Monkey God," the site is located in Honduras' jungle-covered Mosquito coastal region, reports the Associated Press. President Juan Orlando Hernández is under fire for his embrace of the legend, which critics from the indigenous community call offensive, racist and discriminatory, reports theGuardian
  • Peru is heading towards a presidential election in April, with conservative Keiko Fujimori -- daughter of the former president and neoliberal reformer Alberto Fujimori -- in the lead. (See yesterday's brief's.) The Guardian looks at Villa El Salvador, a community of indigenous people in Lima who fled the high Andes after a 1970 earthquake. The neighborhood was founded on the principle of ayni, an Inca word meaning "conviviality, co-operation, I help you and you help me." 

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