Monday, September 26, 2016

Colombia-FARC sign peace treaty: let loose the yellow butterflies (Sept. 26, 2016)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño will meet today in Cartagena to sign a historic peace deal that will end half a century of conflict -- though it must be ratified by a plebiscite next weekend in order to be implemented. More than a dozen presidents, 27 foreign ministers and the heads of the United Nations, the OAS, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank are expected at the event, reports the Miami Herald.

The 2,500 guests have been asked to wear white as a sign of peace, and Santos will sign using a pen made from a recycled shell used in combat, reports the Associated Press.

The deal, which was negotiated for nearly four years in Havana, offers an end to fifty years of fighting that has killed a quarter of a million people, reports Reuters.

"Today's is a slightly artificial ceremony," writes Silla Vacía's Juanita León. "The peace accord with the FARC was signed a month ago. Nor can it be celebrated, because the "Yes" must still win on Oct. 2. Yet, and though a significant portion of Colombians remain in disagreement, it's a historic date: it's the day two very different countries -- which are in disagreement over pretty much everything -- pact to stop killing each other."

On Friday delegates at the FARC guerrilla conference unanimously backed the deal. "The war is over. Tell Mauricio Babilonia that they can release the yellow butterflies," said FARC leader Ivan Márquez, in reference to a fictional character in Gabriel García Márquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude." The event marked the end of the FARC as an armed group, reports El Universal.

The group will now transition into a political part, with 10 unelected seats in Congress throguh 2026, reports Reuters.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of peace is for the victims of the conflict. The Associated Press profiles the town of Puerto Rico, where an elite guerrilla platoon massacred seven people at a town meeting in 2005. Ahead of the Oct. 2 referendum, town opinion remains divided, but "even supporters resent seeing guerrilla commanders who terrorized their town for years now touting themselves as peacemakers and being rewarded with a political future."

But skeptics must give peace a chance, says a government negotiator, Frank Pearl, profiled in the Miami Herald. The piece goes into the history of the negotiation, which started under former President Álvaro Uribe's administration, according to the piece. (Uribe is now a primary opponent of the deal.)

Most polls show the peace plan winning in next weekend's election, the most momentous in Latin America in decades, according to the Observer. The piece has in-depth reporting on FARC leadership in the past year. But even if the deal is rejected in the plebiscite, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño (aka Timochenko) has promised to try to maintain the fragile ceasefire, reports the Observer separately.

The agreement marks the end of Cuban revolution inspired guerrilla movements, reports the Guardian. They follow the path of other communist militants around the region, which made little headway in overthrowing governments, but later made comebacks at the ballot boxes. But in countries where they have continued through the years, their longevity is intimately linked to drug production and smuggling -- a source of funding and weapons, explains the Guardian.

(More tomorrow on Colombia's peace deal and campaigns for the plebiscite.)

News Briefs
  • The fate of the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students remains murky, two years after they were last seen in a violent confrontation with municipal police. An international panel of experts harshly condemned Mexico's official investigation into the events, pointing to a flawed theory based on confessions extracted by torture and mishandling of evidence. (See April 25's and April 26's posts.) On the second anniversary of the disappearances, the New York Times profiles the stories of three survivors.
  • The U.S. administration's sudden decision last week to tighten immigration policy for undocumented Haitians has left hundreds of migrants stranded in Tijuana, where they had expected to soon enter the U.S. (See last Thursday's post.) And likely thousands more are still risking their lives on the dangerous journey north from Brazil, where many moved after the devastating 2010 earthquake. But economic downturn has made that haven untenable for many, who now are trying to reach the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. Trips can take up to six months and cost bteween $3,000 and $7,000. The 7,000 mile journey starts in Brazil and traverses 11 countries along the route to the U.S. -- which is fraught with dangers from criminals to natural obstacles in jungles, reports the Miami Herald. The policy change leaves thousands in flux -- it's not clear whether they'll stay in Mexico or aim for another Latin American country, reports the New York Times.
  • U.S. efforts to stop massive undocumented migration from Central Americans fleeing rampant violence at home have largely failed, according to the Washington Post. The number of families and unaccompanied minors arriving so far this year is on pace to exceed the numbers for 2014, when a flood of migrants prompted a border crisis. Rights experts cited in the piece say the U.S. misdiagnosed root causes of the migrant flow and failed to address the humanitarian needs of the Northern Triangle countries most migrants come from.
  • Though Trump's border wall proposal has received a lot of vitriolic attention from Mexicans, they should be more concerned by both candidates NAFTA bashing, argues Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed. But actually rewriting the agreement -- which has supporters and detractors in Mexico as well -- "would be a herculean task — assuming the next American president really goes there, whatever he or she promises at election time."
  • Venezuela's national electoral commission basically determined that President Nicolás Maduro cannot be ousted by a recall referendum until next year, a timetable that means the opposition's efforts to replace him before his administration's midpoint (which would trigger a new election) have failed. The decision last week is dividing the opposition coalition -- while some factions say it's important to continue pushing for the recall referendum as a show of strength, others say it's futile to keep trying to work within a ruling party dominated system and that the opposition must instead take to the streets, reports the Associated Press.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales referred to the OAS as an "overseer of the empire," and said the organization shouldn't exist if it "does not represent or respect the sovereignty of its member states." Morales spoke at a New York press conference, in which he also criticized OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's stance on Venezuela, which the Bolivian president said compromises the country's sovereignty, reports TeleSUR.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pabo Kuczynski took office a couple of months ago -- just days after revelations that a police "death squad" killed 27 alleged criminals and staged the bodies in attempted robberies. The new administration has promised to clean up the force in a country where 65 percent of citizens don't trust police, reports the Washington Post. Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio already fired 39 of the countries 86 police generals, and has promised extensive reforms that include raising officers' wages, improved training and civilian staff control of external contracting.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court green-lighted a probe into corruption allegations against President Michel Temer, reports the Wall Street Journal. The preliminary investigation is based on plea-bargain testimony by a key witness and allegedly implicates Temer and several high-ranking members of his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party or PMDB.
  • Brazilian police arrested a former finance minister and presidential chief of staff earlier today, part of the sweeping Petrobras corruption investigation. Antonio Palocci served in the governments of former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would require Nicaragua to make political changes ahead of this year's elections in order to receive international loans. The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act proposes blocking Nicaragua from obtaining loans from international financial institutions unless the country "is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections." The Nicaraguan government rejected the measure "as a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter," reports Reuters.
  • A Pemex fuel tanker explosion this weekend is a new blow to the Mexican state-oil company, which has had a series of accidents in recent years, reports the New York Times. There were no reported victims this weekend, however, and authorities say the tanker's double hull makes a spill into the Gulf Coast unlikely.

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