Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A final peace accord for Colombia expected today (Aug. 24, 2016)

Colombian government and FARC negotiators are expected to announce later today that they have reached a final peace deal, according to Reuters

Earlier today FARC guerrilla leader Timoleon Jimenez, known as Timochenko, tweeted: "We are at the doors of important announcements that bring us close to the final deal."

The final points remaining for agreement center on the demobilization of fighters and their reintegration into civil society and participation in politics, reports Al Jazeera. The negotiating teams have been bunkered down for about a week finalizing details that also include how to socialize the pact -- ie, educate citizens ahead of the plebiscite vote -- and the participation of black and indigenous communities in the agreement's implementation, reports El Espectador.

President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to fly to Havana, where negotiations have been taking place for the past four years, for the announcement, reports TeleSur. The final signing of the agreements will likely take place on Sept. 23, according to El Espectador

But the text will immediately be sent to Colombia's Senate in order to convoke a plebiscite on the deal -- necessary for its final ratification, reports La Silla Vacía.

Concretely the deal seeks to ameliorate the social conditions that have prolonged guerrilla fighting in Colombia for the past fifty years, to permit fighters to seek power through politics instead of armed struggle, and to permit a process of truth, reconciliation and reparations for victims of the conflict, summarizes La Silla Vacía's Juanita León.

She analyzes the many factors that have made an agreement possible at this time, including the guerrilla's weakened tactical position and the rise of elected left-wing leaders around the region, pointing to alternate possibilities for the FARC.

But as the plebiscite on the accord nears, Colombians are increasingly divided over what concessions should be made to FARC fighters, how to mete out justice for five decades of abuses and whether former guerrillas should be able to participate in politics, reports Reuters in a separate piece. (See Aug. 8's post.)

That vote, which will likely take place in October, is already shaping up to be a political clash between President Juan Manuel Santos, who has spearheaded the peace process and staked his political reputation on it, and former President Álvaro Uribe, who argues that the accords enshrine too many concessions to the FARC, reports the Washington Post. (See Aug. 9's post.)

Polls show a contested vote, but victims themselves and those most affected by the conflict are the most inclined to forgive and back the peace talks, notes Reuters.

The issue of transitional justice -- the agreements outline punishments of up to eight years of restricted liberty, but not jail, for fighters who admit to war crimes including sexual violence and forced disappearances -- is a big point of contention for Colombians. An Ipsos poll earlier this month found that 88 percent of Colombians wanted FARC commanders must serve jail time, and 75 percent saying they should be banned from politics.

A final agreement, and subsequent public education on the text, should help clarify the public's opinion, notes the WP.

Confused about the timeline after the final deal is announced? Colombia Reports has an outline of subsequent steps, including the formal presentation of the deal to the public, a FARC conference to explain to fighters how demobilization will work, and the plebiscite. 

"To make the content of the deal effectively known by the public is going to require the cooperation of the country’s TV networks whose news and opinion programs are notoriously inaccurate and biased, and could end up confusing rather than informing the public," notes CR.

On the subject of informing about the deal -- La Silla Vacía has a dedicated site analyzing what is already known, costs and criticisms.

Earlier this week the FARC elected its 18 Monitoring and Verification Team members, reports TeleSur.

As the conflict winds down, there are already signs of change afoot. The Associated Press reports on thousands of FARC rebels who are already emerging from hideouts and preparing for civilian life, and even holding a "FARC Olympics."

Already reports of new criminal gangs cropping up in FARC territory in Nariño, ahead of the expected demobilization of it's approximately 7,000 armed fighters, means the security situation could become even more volatile, according to InSight Crime. The territory is one of Colombia's most important drug trafficking hubs, and the local government and pastoral groups have warned that new illegal armed groups are operating freely in the area. "Nariño is set to be one of the most problematic regions in Colombia's imminent "post-conflict" era, in which rival criminal groups are expected to fight for control of the FARC's criminal empire throughout the country. How these new criminal dynamics play out in and around Tumaco will determine who will benefit the most from peace with the guerrillas."

In the context of post-conflict, two of the country's most powerful paramilitary organizations -- the AUC successor group Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and Medellín crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado, are negotiating demobilization with Colombian authorities, according to Colombia Reports.

News Briefs
  • A weeklong protest by residents of Colombia's impoverished and largely Afro-Colombian Choco province in demand of basic public services culminated with government concessions to fund a few public works, clear the debt of the province's only public hospital and establish transparency mechanisms for the administration of the province's funds, report TeleSur and Semana. But residents say there is no agreement yet, and promise to maintain the protests. And Santos' handled the civic social protests -- in which shops, schools and public transport were shut down in support of residents demands for support of health and road systems -- very poorly, according to Colombia Reports. He sent riot police, who clashed with protesters in the provincial capital, a response that could harm his promotion of the peace deal. "The combination of fierce opposition to the peace deal with one of the country’s two determined terrorist groups and the rejection of the violence used in legitimate social protests have steadily pushed the president’s popularity downward."
  • The presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala signed an agreement to create a joint force to combat the region's street gangs. The program will involve intelligence sharing and expedited extradition of suspects between Northern Triangle countries, reports the Associated Press.
  • Separately Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced he is seeking congressional approval for a military cooperation agreement with Israel. Though he did not announce specifics, it would likely involve the purchase of advanced military equipment, reports InSight Crime. The move raises questions about human rights concerns and the potential to facilitate abuses by the Honduran armed forces, according to InSight.
  • InSight Crime has an interesting analysis of a remotely detonated bomb in a Guatemalan bus. Though it's not the first time such a device has been used by gangs, the curious thing was Barrio 18's reaction -- the immediate purging of its suspected authors. It could be an effort at public relations on the part of the gang -- often considered crueler than it's main rival, Mara Salvatrucha -- or an attempt to ward off official efforts to dismantle the gangs network, according to InSight.
  • Peruvian journalist Gabriela Wiener has a powerful op-ed in the New York Times illustrating the culture of widespread gender abuse in Peru that spurred massive #NiUnaMenos marches last weekend. She notes how in Peru, as elsewhere in the region, views that a woman in a miniskirt is "asking for it" are still common: a survey "found that 24.9 percent of Peruvians believe that a woman “provokes” her sexual assault, illustrating how gender violence is entrenched in every sector of Peruvian society, including women ... Seven of every 10 Peruvian women have experienced some kind of gender violence. According to a recent survey, in 2015 95 women were murdered. This year, 54 and counting. Peru is second in number of rapes in the region, according to the O.A.S. Observatory on Citizen Security. César San Martín, the former head of the judiciary, revealed that approximately 90 percent of rape reports were just shelved. Only 5 percent of the victims would report a sexual assault because they did not trust the Law."
  • Speaking before Congress earlier this week, Peruvian Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio also pointed to a broad crisis of faith in law enforcement, saying that 90 percent of citizens don't feel safe. Though InSight Crime said the statistic itself might be exaggerated, it is the case that "Peruvian public perception of insecurity generally runs high compared with other South American nations." With increasing dissatisfaction with the state's capacity to curb crime, there has been an increase in lynchings of suspected criminals, notes InSight Crime. (See yesterday's post on the government's investigation into an alleged police "death squad.")
  • Mexican journalist Lucia López Castillo survived a shooting by a masked man outside her home in Veracruz, but is in serious condition and lost a kidney to bullet damage, reports the Guardian's Roy Greenslade. She did not cover politically sensitive issues or organized crime, so it's not immediately apparent whether her work was the cause of the attack. But it comes as Veracruz is increasingly recognized for its danger to reporters. (See Monday's briefs, for example.)
  • Storms damaged more than a hundred acres of monarch butterfly forest habitat in central Mexico, quadrupling the impact of illegal logging, reports the Guardian.
  • Transgender activists say Mexican police ignore threats to the community, in a country with one of the highest rates of transphobic violence in the world, reports Reuters.
  • Two of Sinaloa Cartel drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's sons have apparently been freed, after an alleged kidnapping by the rival Jalisco New General Cartel, reports InSight Crime. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Rio de Janeiro's local government together with Brazil's national government have pledged support for the Paralympics games, to be held next month, as the event's organizers are short on cash due to tenuous sponsorship and poor ticket sales, reports the Wall Street Journal. The governments have promised $77 million to bail out the Rio 2016 organizing committee which has refused to disclose its finances.
  • Some Argentine political observers say Pope Francis is shunning President Mauricio Macri, criticizing his stance as meddling in his home-country's politics, reports the Wall Street Journal. While the Vatican categorically rejects the characterization, observers point to Macri's scaling back of populist economic policies, which has impacted the country's poor.
  • Mexico's creative class is seeking inspiration at home rather than abroad, according to the New York Times, which says the shift among young artists reflects a broader change.

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