Monday, October 3, 2016

Colombians reject peace deal (Oct. 3, 2016)

The plebiscite on the Colombia-FARC peace accord was rejected by voters yesterday by a surprise, razor-thin margin of 50.2 to 49.8. The results belied all the polls leading up to the vote, and leave the fate of the 52-year-old conflict with the guerrilla group uncertain, reports El País.
With a difference of only 60,000 votes, the electorate rejected six years of negotiations and ushered in a period of uncertainty and instability for a government which bet its legitimacy on the peace accords, according to La Silla Vacía. It's uncharted territory for the country, notes the Associated Press.

Absenteeism of over 60 percent affected the polls, especially along the Caribbean coast where bad weather kept voters away, notes the Wall Street Journal.
Even the victorious "no" camp was surprised by the results. La Silla Vacía has some reactions from both sides, and El País has a video of the distraught reactions of "yes" proponents yesterday.
The Financial Times continues the Brexit comparison, noting that there is no ready-formulated Plan B for peace. (See last Friday's post.) But, "unlike the Brexit referendum, in Colombia lives are at stake. If the victory of the No vote leads to a re-escalation of violence, those deaths will be on their shoulders."

Though the accords were internationally lauded, and heralded as a done deal, the actual vote reflects massive polarization in Colombia. (See Friday's post.) 
The agreement was perceived as too lenient for fighters, who would basically be permitted to become regular citizens, and leadership which would have received reduced, alternative sentences that avoided jail, reports the New York Times. The message to the government is a demand for harsher punishment, agrees the Wall Street Journal separately.
The results could, however, be a catalyst for a new peace accord, hopes El Tiempo. A renegotiated peace will involve multiparty talks and could be even more complicated than the negotiations that ended in the rejected accord, according to the Guardian.
Yesterday President Juan Manuel Santos, who was handed a profound political defeat by voters, assured Colombians that the bilateral cease-fire between the two sides remains in effect. FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño also said he was uninterested in continuing the conflict, though it's not clear what sort of new agreement could be renegotiated, reports the New York Times. He promised to continue the struggle using only words.
Santos convoked all political forces -- especially those which campaigned against the accords -- to a discussion table for today, reports La Silla Vacía. A potential result could be the calling of a Constitutional Assembly -- a solution both the uribistas and the FARC had previously called for, reports Semana.
The results spell a period of political uncertainty -- though the immediate winner is former President Álvaro Uribe, who led the "no" campaign, according to La Silla Vacía. And his speech yesterday went far beyond issues of peace -- including a rejection of Santos' proposed tax reform, and calls for a traditional conception of family, calling for a defense of family values "defended by religious leaders and moral pastors." It's the beginning of a political struggle that will lead into the 2018 presidential race.
Another winner are conservative activists, who through a Constitutional Assembly could get the chance to overturn a recent Constitutional Court decisions permitting gay marriage and gay adoption, reports Semana.
Big losers include the negotiators of the accord, who in recent months had emphasized that a "no" vote would not mean a return to the negotiating table. Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle has already presented his resignation, reports Semana
Semana crunches the election results, and says that the victims of conflict violence overwhelmingly voted in favor of peace. The piece emphasizes the example of Bojayá. In Choco, 79 people were killed in a church in the midst of a confrontation between FARC guerrillas and paramilitary forces in 2002 -- yesterday 96 percent of voters supported the agreement.
U.S. based Colombians, many who fled violence at home voted 63 to 38 against the deal, notes the Miami Herald.
For those who believed the polls and international coverage that the "yes" was a shoo-in, La Silla Vacía has some of the reasons for the loss, which include popular rejection of the FARC, rejection of Santos (see post for Aug. 9, for example), the "no" camp's portrayal that voting against the agreement would permit a better peace negotiation and Santos' failure to pander to conservative Colombian elements.
Many signals of seriousness from the FARC -- asking of forgiveness, announcing that they will use their patrimony for victim compensation, and the destruction of 600 kilos of explosives on Saturday -- had the appearance of opportunism and too-little too-late, according to El País.
Though it seems the pact will indeed now have to be renegotiated, Uribe is strongly opposed to key elements of the agreement that was scrapped by voters yesterday, namely transitional justice for war crimes (he instead emphasizes the institution of justice) and the distribution of large tracts of land for rural inhabitants (which he says weakens the institution of private property), reports La Silla Vacía
He will demand jail time for FARC human rights violations and forbid guerrilla leadership from participating in politics, reports El Tiempo. He also emphasized the need to use the resources they allegedly accumulated through illicit means to contribute to victim compensation.
La Silla Vacía separately analyzes the impact the results will have for tax reform -- apparently needed for international credit agencies to maintain the country's rating, but now in serious doubt. In turn, the electoral reversal is spelling bad news for international investors who had been hoping for a peace dividend, reports the Financial Times separately.
The United Nations reaffirmed it's commitment to the peace process, reports Reuters.
Last week references to Gabriel García Márquez were hopefully focused on the yellow butterflies that follow one of his fictional characters. This week the apocalyptic end to One Hundred Years of Solitude might be more appropriate, the part where red ants carry out the newborn, pig-tailed, final member of the doomed Buendía clan.
Cáceres investigation stolen
The paperwork of the Berta Cáceres homicide investigation was stolen last Thursday, along with the car of the Honduran magistrate in charge of the case. Authorities said it could be a robbery aimed at thwarting the inquiry into the March murder of the environmental activist, but could also be the actions of a group aiming to harm the state, or just a common carjacking, reports El Tiempo.
The incident occurred when Judge María Luisa Ramos left her work with the case in her car, though the Supreme Court retains copies of the files, explains La Tribuna. Already the defense and prosecution approved the reconstruction of the file, reports La Prensa.

The Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) said a mission official will be assigned to supervise the reconstruction of the official file, and urged authorities to carry out a rapid and effective investigation into the robbery, reports La Prensa separately. The press release notes the irregularity of the case being carried in a private vehicle.
El Heraldo said the magistrate gave "ambiguous" responses about why the official case file was in her car, instead of copies.
News Briefs
  • Brazilian's frustration with the economy and anger at politicians in the midst of widespread corruption scandals punished the Workers' Party in municipal elections yesterday. The party of former President Dilma Rousseff -- impeached last month -- had its worst showing in local elections since 2000, reports the Wall Street Journal. Perceived outsiders, like the center-right PSDB and lesser known parties gained ground. The pro-business party's gains led the Brazilian real to strengthen against the dollar, reports the Financial Times. President Michel Temer's PMDB lost the Rio de Janeiro mayorship, but won mayoralities across the country. Though there were some reports of gunfire and vote-buying arrests, the day was peaceful, after a spate of violence against candidates recently stoked concern, reports the Wall Street Journal separately. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian police detained a well known community journalist and photographer attempting to cover evictions from a favela community, reports the Guardian. Rene Silva, the founder of Voz da Comunidades (Community Voice), was detained alongside a photographer, Renato Moura this weekend, and other community activists attempting to record the events were assaulted by police using teargas and rubber bullets.
  • Salvadoran Judge Alberto Guzman decided to reopen the controversial case of the 1981 El Mozote massacre during the country's bloody civil war, reports the Guardian. It's the first such case to be opened since the Supreme Court struck down a general amnesty law in July. (See July 14's and July 15's posts.)
  • Mexico's tax authority said it will report at least 31 ghost firms that billed the Veracruz state government for multiple contracts, reports Animal Político. The works which were never carried out are just part of the massive web of corruption surrounding outgoing governor Javier Duarte. (See Aug. 5's post, for example.)
  • The entire Trump candidacy has had a series of strange effects in Mexico -- his visit with President Enrique Peña Nieto has contributed to the leader's massive unpopularity at home, while his relatively strong showing in polls has affected Mexico's currency. Which, ironically, has led to a windfall for Mexican families receiving remittances from migrants in the U.S. -- the very people Trump has railed against throughout the campaign -- reports Bloomberg.
  • The New York Times has a shocking report on the state of mental hospitals in Venezuela, where medicine shortages are compounded by lack of food. One patient profiled had his nose bitten off and eaten by an unmedicated inmate. It's accompanied by a picture of a patient who has lost half his weight this summer, looking more like a concentration camp survivor than anything else.
  • Venezuela is at a turning point politically: either the government becomes "autocratic" or permits a political transition. The government's weakness permits the opposition to push for a transition, but high exit costs for many government actors makes that scenario difficult, says Venezuelan political scientist Benigno Alarcón in an interview with Hugo Prieto. The opposition must present a united leadership moving forward, he says, comparing the situation to that in South Africa. He also looks forward to the, now very likely, possibility that the recall referendum will not occur this year as the opposition had hoped. "But let me go back to the fundamental issue, the strategy. At least up to now everyone within Chavismo remains united about one thing. What do I mean by this? The fundamental thing for the government is to remain in power. And to allow a recall referendum to take place in 2016 does not only mean that Maduro has to leave power, it means the entire government leaving power. This is why all the factions within Chavismo are in complete agreement in that they cannot allow Maduro to leave, because this means that they also leave. And this gives the government a certain level of coherence. But I ask myself what will happen after January 11, when Maduro’s exit will not imply that everybody has to leave. We need to monitor this very closely. It could well happen that after January 11 various factions of Chavismowill begin their struggle for power in the next two years. Some could try to position themselves in order to win the next presidential elections or, in the worst case, to win time in order to reach agreements for a low-cost exit."
  • Jamaica has long struggled against its international reputation as a ganja mecca. But now the government is seeking to leverage the country's Rasta history through legalization of medical marijuana. Leaders have set their sites on  "wellness tourism" as a possible wellspring of revenue, reports the New York Times.

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