Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Colombia's elusive peace - analysis of specific issues (March 29, 2016)

A much awaited peace accord between Colombia and the FARC wafts tantalizingly within reach, though it failed to materialize by last week's deadline. (See last Thursday's post.)

A series of articles by WOLA look at specific issues within the peace negotiations. Gimena Sanchez writes about the need to integrate Afro-Columbian and indigenous groups, make up a disproportionate number of the victims and displaced communities of the conflict, into the process.

A specific problem is also that it seems likely that the FARC "concentration zones," where they relocate to disarm, will overlap with the territorial rights of these communities, explains Adam Isacson in another article. (See last Thursday's post for more on the debate regarding the demilitarized areas.)

In a separate post Isacson reviews the role of the U.N. mission to Colombia to oversee the eventual agreement. (See Jan 26's post.) "It will be charged with monitoring and verifying the FARC's 'laying down of arms.' The guerrillas will not be handing over weapons to Colombia’s government. This would be seen as symbol of surrender. Any such proposal would run contrary to the spirit of the negotiations, and would have been rejected by the FARC."

And though the military has historically opposed an agreement with the FARC, support has somewhat improved, writes Isacson in a third post

"However, our reading of Colombian media, and numerous recent interviews with officers and experts, lead us to conclude that a majority of officers do share three concerns that could dampen their support for post-conflict consolidation at key moments. These are misgivings about transitional justice, the likelihood of a deep cut to their personnel and budgets, and uncertainty about their new roles in a post-counterinsurgent Colombia."

On the other hand, Human Rights Watch continues to criticize the transitional justice aspects of an eventual agreement. "The justice agreement between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) could allow members of the armed forces responsible for the systematic execution of civilians to escape justice," Human Rights Watch said yesterday in a new analysis of the agreement.

The analysis makes specific reference to the so-called "false positives" extrajudicial killings decade ago, in which innocent civilians were presented as guerrillas killed in combat. (See post for June 24, 2015.)

"Under the justice agreement announced with FARC, a newly created Special Jurisdiction for Peace would handle most – if not all – false-positive killings," writes HRW. "Provisions in the agreement allow authorities to waive some criminal prosecutions. Other provisions could be interpreted to narrow the scope of commanders’ responsibility for crimes committed by their subordinates. People the Special Jurisdiction convicts could avoid spending any time in prison, and those already convicted by the ordinary justice system could be released."

Meanwhile, Colombian authorities arrested an army general for his role false positives killings. Gen Henry Torres is the highest-ranking military officer to be detained for the crime, reports the Guardian

News Briefs
  • But violence will still be an issue of concern in Colombia. "Last year, according to the Resource Center for Conflict Analysis (CERAC), there was a huge spike in the murder of social leaders, political party activists and union members compared to the year before. Thus, such murders jumped 35 percent from 78 in 2014 to 105 in 2015," writes Dan Kovalik in the Huffington Post. "Specifically, the rate of union murders more than doubled from 2 to 7; the rate of political leaders and activists killed increased 66% from 15 to 25; and the murder of public officials, teachers and journalists jumped 31% from 29 to 38. In terms of the murder of political activists/leaders, moreover, most were from opposition, left-wing parties. Indeed, 6 leftist political leaders have been killed already in 2016."
  • Yesterday the Brazilian Bar Association filed another impeachment request against President Dilma Rousseff, or obstructing justice, fiscal accounting tricks and granting international football body FIFA tax-exempt status during the 2014 World Cup, reports Reuters. The group is well respected and the fact that it has joined the charge against the government is bad news for Rousseff's administration, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva affirmed to foreign journalists that he believes Rousseff can fend off impeachment proceedings in Congress. Silva said he will seek the cooperation of the Democratic Movement's president and the country's vice president, Michel Temer, reports the Associated Press.
  • But today the Democratic Movement (PMDB) will likely decided to break from Rousseff's floundering coalition, reports Reuters. "A formal rupture appears inevitable and will increase the isolation of the unpopular Rousseff, freeing PMDB members to vote for her impeachment." The relationship between the two parties has long been conflicted, notes the WSJ. Should impeachment be approved in the lower chamber, which could occur early in May, Rousseff would be temporarily suspended and replaced by Temer, who is viewed as more business friendly. Brazilian media reported over the weekend that a team of Temer aides is drawing up a plan for his first weeks as president.
  • It's interesting to note that the commission of legislators in charge of determining Rousseff's impeachment are hardly squeaky clean themselves. Of 65 members on the impeachment commission, 37 face charges of corruption or other serious crimes, according to data prepared for the Los Angeles Times by the local organization Transparencia Brasil. Rousseff herself, on the other hand, has never been formally investigated or accused of corruption. Temer himself is allegedly linked in an illegal ethanol-purchasing scheme according to claims that emerged in Car Wash investigations.
  • An unnerving "reassurance": The military has promised to abide by the nation's constitution and laws, despite the severe ongoing "political, economic and ethical-moral" crisis, army commander Gen. Eduardo Villas Boas said yesterday, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Yesterday, Silva also accused the judge in charge of investigating corruption at state-owned oil company Petrobras of releasing tapped phone conversations in order to tarnish his image, reports the New York Times. He has claimed he is the victim of a Big Brother-style investigation that is turning the judicial process into a reality game show, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs and Friday's post.)
  • The judge in question, Sergio Moro, who is overseeing Brazil's Car Wash anticorruption probe said yesterday that he has sent the country's Supreme Court a spreadsheet found in the home of a former Odebrecht SA executive that is reported to contain information on payments to more than 200 people, including many politicians, by the construction company, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil should be treating the mosquito-borne Zika virus as an STD, according to health organizations, who point to mounting evidence that sexual transmission is more common than previously believed, reports the Guardian.
  • Haiti might be moving closer to finally holding those often-postponed presidential run-off elections, reports the Miami Herald. The interim government said it will release the names of a new electoral commission today.
  • A Haitian midwife writes in the Guardian on the challenges faced by birthing mothers in the country.
  • In Peru, Keiko Fujimori maintains her lead in the upcoming presidential elections. A new Ipsos poll pegs her at 32 percent, more than double that of her closest competitor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who had 16 percent, reports Bloomberg. Veronika Mendoza had 12 percent and Alfredo Barnechea had 11 percent.
  • Mexican toll-road operator OHL got slapped with close to $3.5 million in fines for accounting practices that boosted its income and asset valuations, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentina's pro-business Macri administration is cutting funding to Telesur, an alternative regional television network started by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in 2005. It aimed to provide an alternative to mainstream media, reports the New York Times. The government says the broadcaster blocks alternative viewpoints, reports the Associated Press. Argentina's exit could be a major blow for the network which has the support of Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Uruguay, reports the Miami Herald.
  • In the New Republic, Steven Cohen explores "declassification diplomacy," in reference to the Obama administration's decision to declassify previously undisclosed U.S. government files documenting the extermination of political leftists carried out by the Argentine regime between 1976 and 1983. (See last Wednesday's post.) "What we know already is damning enough. We know about the rapes and tortures," he writes. "We know about the instruments used to perform them. We know about the babies born in captivity and given away to their parents’ murderers. We know about the midnight helicopter rides over the Río de la Plata, and the icy plunge to the waters below. We know that, in 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Argentine foreign minister, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly." And we know that, despite all the U.S. government came to know about those "things," it continued to protect and support the people and institutions carrying them out." But of course, U.S. collaboration with human rights violators was hardly limited to Argentina, and the release of records on a country-by-country basis is a cynical exercise in strategic publicity, argues Cohen.
  • But the focus on the past shouldn't distract observers from the series of agreements Obama and Macri signed during the U.S. president's state visit last week. (See last Thursday's post.) Página 12 columnist Horacio Verbitsky lambasts the secrecy they are shrouded in, the Argentine government only gave headlines such as: cooperation in security, and to combat grave crimes. They include U.S. assistance in drug trafficking with the Brazilian and Paraguayan border, as well as FBI assistance in creating "national fusion intelligence centers" to combat terrorism and organized crime. They also agreed on a series of measures to facilitate trade between the two countries, though Verbitsky argues this mainly will involve easing U.S. exports to Argentina. In exchange, Macri hopes for a flood of foreign investment in Argentina.
  • The United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf sided with Argentina and expanded the country's maritime territory in the South Atlantic Ocean by 35 percent to include the disputed Falkland/Malvinas Islands, reports the Associated Press. There is an ongoing unresolved diplomatic dispute over the islands with the UK. The British government said it had not yet seen the full report, and stressed that the commission was merely an advisory body, reports the Guardian.
  • As the border-wall debate continues in the U.S., families on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border meet in a tiny stretch of the Tijuana-San Diego border where families are sanctioned to touch fingertips through a steel-mesh fence, reports the Guardian.

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