Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Post conflict strategies for Colombia's border region (June 29, 2016)

News Briefs
  • Colombia's post-conflict strategies must take into account the country's border areas, where violent non-state groups are deeply entrenched, writes Annette Idler in the Washington Post. "Finding a peace solution that accounts for the interests of these groups — but also breaks up the vicious cycle of state neglect and organized crime that has driven much of the conflict — will be essential tandem goals." She notes in particular that, in many of these areas, people "often make a pragmatic decision to support FARC or ELN, rather than an ideological choice. Whichever group will help inhabitants survive guides this choice." The future for these areas is further complicated by the creation of concentration zones for demobilized FARC fighters, she says, noting that the fate of civilians near these areas is unclear. "My research on post-conflict strategies for Colombia’s border areas suggests that better communication can help connect the disjointed people of Colombia’s peripheral regions, and promote peace as a common goal," writes Idler.
  • The country known for cocaine trafficking is starting to look at medical marijuana to generate rural jobs, reports the Wall Street Journal. The government granted its first production and export license for cannabis derivatives to a Canadian-Colombian company and seeks to approve more production licenses in the next few weeks.
  • Jennifer Lynn McCoy, former director of the Americas Program at The Carter Center, has an interesting piece in The Conversation on the role of international mediation between opposing political camps in Venezuela. At the invitation of the Venezuelan government, UNASUR mediators are trying to foster dialogue between Chavistas and the political opposition. At the same time, as the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has been spearheading diplomatic efforts to discredit the government and push for an ouster referendum demanded by the opposition. McCoy notes that international mediators have been invited several times since an attempted coup against Chávez in 2002. "They have been asked to help resolve deep antagonisms between those who support Hugo Chavez’s 21st Century Socialism, and those who fear Venezuela will become a poor socialist country like Cuba. The country has become so polarized that there are virtually no individuals or organizations perceived as neutral. ... Once normal political adversaries, opposing parties begin to see each other as enemies to be vanquished. Those in the middle who are ready to dialogue and compromise are labeled traitors. Each side tries to force the entire population to identify with one camp or the other." But the combined international pressure, including talks with a U.S. diplomat, could help resolve Venezuela's crisis, argues McCoy. "The next step to watch is whether the international response spurs Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to facilitate citizens’ rights to petition for a recall referendum on Maduro's presidency."
  • The latest in the Venezuela crisis journalism genre from the Washington Post describes a nation facing increasing food shortages and desperation. "The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive ... What has been a slow-motion crisis in Venezuela seems to be careening into a new, more dangerous phase." (See last Thursday's post on a piece in The Nation that includes criticisms of the Washington Post's editorial stance on Venezuela.)
  • A piece in Nacla give an in-depth look at the Oaxaca teacher's union struggle against education reform, and the local populations rejection of police repression earlier this month that killed over nine people. (See yesterday's briefs and June 20's post.) The piece compares the current situation to that in 2006, when government repression of striking education workers led to a six-month popular takeover of Oaxaca City. "Oaxaca has proven to be one of the last strongholds in resisting a global wave of similar education reforms in the last two decades, and its state-wide local union (Sección 22) is one of the most radical in the hemisphere. ... The social movement that has emerged against the reforms, which are sponsored by a host of national and international corporations and financial institutions, rejects the policy as a back-door way to discipline and shrink the educational labor force, require local residents to pay for education, sell access to schools to foreign corporations, and absolve the federal government of responsibility for educating its citizens," explains Eric Larson.
  • Puerto Rico is headed for a debt default on Friday unless the U.S. Senate approves a restructuring bill today. A New York Times editorial emphasizes that the bill would permit the island to avert "chaotic default and escalating human misery. Without a restructuring process that puts all claims on the table, creditors — who were or should have been aware of the risks in lending money to Puerto Rico — will never have an incentive to accept less than full repayment. The entire burden of the debt would fall on Puerto Ricans." The Washington Post has background on the politics of the Senate debate. A piece at COHA looks at the background of how Puerto Rican debt got so out of hand: "due in large part to a pattern of convoluted United States policies toward the island."
  • The Nicaraguan government expelled six foreign environmental activists, accused of handling explosive substances without proper authorization, reports the Associated Press. The four Mexicans, one Argentine and a Costa Rican were part of a group that has been holding workshops on ecological projects in poor Central American communities in recent months. They were detained following an explosion during a workshop on making low-fuel-consumption ovens in Southern Nicaragua.
  • Brazil's Congress opened up an ethics investigation to determine if conservative legislator Jair Bolsonaro broke parliamentary decorum when he praised an Army intelligence officer responsible for torture during the last military regime, reports Reuters. The praise for Army Colonel Carlos Ustra prefaced his vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff in April. Rousseff was tortured by Ustra's Army intelligence unit. (See April 18's post.)
  • Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state has been forced to slash its budget drastically in light of a financial crisis -- leaving police helicopters grounded and patrol cars idle just as the Olympic Games are approaching, reports the Associated Press. The piece quotes Igarapé Institute's Ilona Szabo, who says the cuts have led to "a very big crisis in ... the self-esteem of the policemen." Nonetheless, she said the sheer number of officers on the streets should help avoid a major security breech at Olympic sites and in Rio’s beachfront neighborhoods.
  • As the upcoming U.S. election shakes the foundations of NAFTA, Mexico and Canada have agreed to closer ties. The two countries have agreed to settle protracted disputes, such as visa requirements for Mexican visitors to Canada and opening up the Mexican market to Canadian beef imports, reports Reuters.
  • Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was officially declared the winner of Peru's presidential election yesterday, reports EFE. The president-elect will take office in a month. He called for unity among Peruvians, and said he would launch a social revolution seeking equality among citizens.
  • Al Jazeera has a piece on a form of chronic kidney disease affecting Central American sugarcane workers. "Mesoamerican Nephropathy", also known as CKDu has killed over 20,000 people in Central America over the past decade. Diagnoses generally come too late to help the patient. There is growing consensus that it is brought on by harsh working conditions, including heavy labor and heat stress, notes the piece.
  • A Panamanian judge has asked Interpol for help in arresting the country's ex-president Ricardo Martinelli on spying and corruption charges, according to AFP.

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