Thursday, October 6, 2016

Colombians march to demand peace (Oct. 6, 2016)

Tens of thousands of Colombians -- as many as 30 thousand in Bogotá and hundreds in Baranquilla and Cali -- marched yesterday in support of the peace process with the FARC, dealt a harsh blow by last weekend's plebiscite in which voters narrowly rejected a long-negotiated accord. (See Monday's and yesterday's posts.)

The "March for Peace" was organized by student groups and social organizations. Many walked in silence holding candles or white flags, while others held pictures of conflict victims, reports the Associated Press. Such a turnout is rare in Colombia, where marches are rare, according to the AP.

Such popular pressure is an important message to politicians to find a way past the impasse presented by Sunday's polarized vote, argues Rodrigo Uprimny in an interview with Semana.

While the country's political leadership and the FARC attempt to figure out how to salvage the process -- held together tenuously by a bilateral ceasefire for now -- social groups are discussing raising 20 million signatures to ratify the peace accord rejected on Sunday, reports La Silla Vacía.

Yesterday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Uribe and his political adversary, former President Álvaro Uribe, met for over four hours -- an attempt to find common ground on how to move forward. Uribe came with leaders of the anti-pact campaign: former President Andrés Pastrana, former prosecutor Alejandro Ordóñez, and former minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, reports El Tiempo.

Though neither divulged specifics, Santos said “we are very close to reaching peace” and that "with responsibility and celerity we’ll achieve it," reports the Financial Times. Uribe said he "laid out adjustments and initial proposals that should be introduced in the texts" of the accord signed with the FARC ,reports the Wall Street Journal. He called the accord weak, and said an agreement was needed for the entire population, not half, reports the BBC.

But while the meeting -- the first between the two former allies turned rivals since 2010 -- was charged with symbolism, there was no "white smoke," writes La Silla Vacía, still no hint how to get a peace accord out of the wreckage.

In the meantime its unclear whether the FARC will be receptive to a renegotiation of terms. So far they've said they don't want the agreement reopened, but have voiced a commitment to peace, reports the Miami Herald. The leadership has instructed forces -- some of which had already begun preparing to go to the concentration zones detailed in the accord -- to sit tight. Yet the limbo of the moment is raising practical questions, such as how the guerrilla troops will be sustained while the situation is sorted out, notes la Silla Vacía. (Apparently they have supplies for about two more weeks, though it looks like the government will step in afterwards.)

News Briefs
  • At least 136 people were killed by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, but authorities are still assessing the full extent of the impact, reports the Guardian. The New York Times has a photo gallery of some of the aftermath. (See yesterday's post.)
  • In the wake of the extensive damage and rising death toll, Haitian authorities again postponed the presidential election redo scheduled for this Sunday, reports the Miami Herald. No word on when they might be held, but opposition leader Jude Célestin applauded the move, saying aid is more critical at this moment. Nonetheless, he urged the provisional electoral council to schedule a date so a president can assume office by Feb. 7, 2017, as scheduled.
  • New York Times editorial criticizes the Mexican government's attempts to curb rampant human rights abuses, arguing that the massive mishandling of the investigation into the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students shows its lack of commitment. The editorial comes in the wake of the U.S. State Department's unpublicized recommendation to Congress to certify Mexico's commitment to upholding human rights, allowing it to receive a full security aid package of about $155 million. 
  • In the month or so since Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been ousted Brazil's stance on regional diplomacy has changed dramatically. The under the PT government, the country maintained good relations with the regions' leftist administrations, but also with more conservative neighbors -- now Brazil has taken and inspired a far more polarized stance, reports the Los Angeles Times. In the meantime, the country remains in an economic recession, though the government seems likely to avoid calling new elections, an option the voters would like but investors prefer to avoid. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is also being prosecuted for corruption, a move that also impacts his political projections for the 2018 presidential election, notes the piece. One thing that remains the same: street protests, though now they're demanding Fora Temer, and running into far more violent police reactions.
  • Brazilian police recommended prosecutors charge Lula in a third corruption case -- this time alleging that he illegally helped his nephew’s construction company win contracts for public-works projects in Angola, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's lower house yesterday approved a bill that would allow more foreign investment in the country's off-shore oil fields. Supporters say the project is key to revive that aspect of the flagging economy, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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