Friday, August 26, 2016

Colombians begin to debate peace (Aug. 26, 2016)

Negotiators finally finished the monumental task of hammering out a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC (see yesterday's post). 

President Juan Manuel Santos hand delivered 297-page accord to lawmakers yesterday, reports the Associated Press. And the formal bi-lateral cease-fire between both sides will begin on Monday at midnight.

Now voters must ratify or reject the accord, a simple yes or no decision that belies the deep wounds of Colombians and complicated concessions contained in the agreements. Colombians are deeply divided over the issue. 

The government and proponents of the deal must win support from many who would prefer to see the guerrillas militarily defeated, notes Reuters.

The latest poll by El Tiempo shows the favorable vote leading slightly, with 32.1 percent against 29.9 percent against. Several recent polls showed the "no" vote leading, a tendency that has reverted since Aug. 17. However, the intended abstention rate has increased to 26.9 percent, an issue of concern for proponents who must achieve a minimum of 13 percent of the electorate in order for the pact to be ratified.

Humberto de la Calle, the government’s chief negotiator, said a rejection by voters could have “unimaginable” and “catastrophic” consequences if Colombians reject the pact, reports the Miami Herald. He also rejected the argument put forth by the "no" camp, led by former President Alvaro Uribe, that a rejection of the deal is an opportunity to renegotiate a deal with tougher terms for the FARC.

While many Colombians object to the terms of the deal that basically amnesty most FARC fighters, and provide alternatives to jail for the worst crimes committed by them, de la Calle emphasized that the pact -- which includes two-year subsidies for former fighters -- should be seen as a "safety net" that allows the FARC to take a chance on peace.

Human rights groups have noted that soldiers who committed human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, would also be except from jail-time under the pact.

Yet, "though flawed, the “transitional justice” that the peace accord will bring about will be more rigorous than that achieved in other countries, such as South Africa and El Salvador, which have ended bitter conflicts," argues the Economist. "The peacemakers asked the pope and the UN secretary-general to help pick the committee that will appoint judges to the tribunal. That will bolster its credibility."

Yet, except for avoiding jail, the achievements of the FARC at the negotiating table have been modest, according to the Washington Post.

In a country where most families have been in some way affected by the violence, people are torn between the desire to move forward and mistrust of the FARC, as well as a desire for more punishment for crimes, reports the New York Times.

Yet proponents of the pact are also affected by a new generation that has been less affected directly. “For the most part the average Colombian today is urban and the war is just something they saw on TV,” Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America told Fox News. “These people haven’t really been affected by the war since the mass kidnappings.”

On the other hand, rural areas more affected by fighting are inclined to end the war, despite misgivings over justice, according to the Economist.

The New York Times talks with some Colombians about their personal experiences.

The " "Yes" campaigners, like former President César Gaviria categorically reject that vision, saying that a no vote means the FARC would continue fighting, reports the Economist.

The formal end of war is an opportunity for Colombia to "at last to become a normal country," according to the Economist.

Al Jazeera has an interview with Judith Simanca Herrera, a FARC commander also known as Victoria Sandino, a member of the Havana negotiating team.

This morning the U.N. Security Council had scheduled a meeting to discuss the organization's role in implementing the peace deal, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs
  • Striking miners in Bolivia kidnapped and beat to death deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes, who went to Panduro to mediate a dialogue, reports the Associated Press. The episode followed the killing of two protestors in clashes with the police. Informal miners, numbering at about 100,000 in the country, are associated into cooperatives, and are demanding the right to associated with private companies. The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia, former allies of President Evo Morales, have been on indefinite protest since mining legislation negotiations failed. About a 100 people have already been arrested in relation to the murder, reports Reuters.
  • The Associated Press profiles the case of Marvin Ramos Quintanilla, a Salvadoran who portrayed himself as a reformed gang member since leaving jail three years ago, but who prosecutors say used pastoral credentials to gain access to incarcerated leaders and running MS finances. Quintanilla was captured last month in the Operación Jaque crackdown on the gang's financial network. (See July 29's post.)
  • Washington Post op-ed by Joel Dreyfuss notes the long and complicated history of international interference in Haiti's affairs, topped by the cholera epidemic brought by U.N. peacekeepers six years ago and misspent aid funds following the 2010 earthquake. The problem is that Haitians themselves are ignored, he says. He also emphasizes long-running interference by other nations in national elections which has distorted results. "The ultimate challenge for Haiti — and many other small countries — is how to gain a measure of control over their own destinies, especially when they are in the “back yard” of powerful nations, dependent on foreign aid and are forced to deal with internal divisions. ... But the best incentive for change will come from Haiti itself. A new chapter for the embattled nation will come only when Haiti’s rapacious business and political elites and its masses of neglected poor learn the lessons from 200 years ago — that no one is coming to save them."
  • The U.N. admission to partial responsibility for the Haitian cholera epidemic means policy changes aimed at preventing such outbreaks in future peacekeeping missions can finally be implemented, write epidemologists Ralph Frerichs and Renaud Piarroux in the Miami Herald.
  • The expanded role of the military in combatting rampant criminal violence in Central America poses a threat to democracy argues Alberto Mora, the coordinator of the "State of the Region Report," in an interview with EFE.
  • Peruvian health clinics will offer the morning-after pill free of charge, an important advance for women's rights after more than a decade of heated debate, reports TeleSur.
  • Brazilian police recommended that prosecutors file charges against American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte for providing false testimony in an episode where he claimed to have been robbed by men in police uniforms, reports the New York Times. (See Aug. 18's briefs.)
  • Thirty-eight former Argentine military officers were convicted yesterday for their roles in kidnapping, torturing and killing several hundred victims during the country's last military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Thousands of people gathered outside the courthouse in Córdoba celebrated, holding pictures of the victims, reports the New York Times. The trial grouped together about 20 cases from torture centers around the province, including the infamous La Perla. Argentina has led the region in prosecution of human rights crimes committed during its dictatorship, with over 600 convictions so far. This case is the first in Córdoba that also included atrocities committed by death squads before the 1976 military coup.
  • A report by the International Labor Organization found Latin America and the Caribbean will be the region most affected by youth unemployment this year, reports EFE. The rate is expected to reach 17.1 percent next year, which in absolute numbers means 9.3 million unemployed youths.

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