Thursday, September 7, 2017

Colombia peace briefs (Sept. 7, 2017)

  • Pope Francis disembarked in Colombia yesterday, for a five day visit aimed at showing support for the peace process with the FARC, reports the Wall Street Journal. Nearly 80 percent of Colombians are Catholic and the visit has generated considerable excitement. On the plane journey the pontiff told reporters that dialogue and stability for Venezuela is also a concern. The peace process remains a contentious issue in Colombia and advocates home the papal visit will soothe polarization. It's a risky bet, according to the New York Times. Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal last year, in a vote that divided the country. Since then, the FARC fighters have demobilized, handed over their weapons and become a political movement. Though public opinion in favor of the deal has risen slightly, it remains divisive.
  • Homicides on the whole are down in Colombia -- the exception being former FARC territories where illegal groups are competing for control. Some of these rural areas, relatively peaceful last year, have seen murder rates increase by 800 percent this year, demonstrating the government's inability to guarantee peace in these areas, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • New data on FARC assets shows that much of the reported wealth is falling into the hands of dissidents, reports InSight Crime, as part of a series on the group's wealth and relationship with the criminal economy. "With these stolen resources and possibly thousands of hectares of drug trafficking real estate now under their control, the criminalized rebel factions are gaining power and turf, threatening to become a national and potentially a regional security threat." In other cases, certain factions reported very little wealth considering what is known about their illegal activities, notes the piece. "While the FARC always denied direct involvement in drug trafficking, it has been the financial bedrock of their revolution," writes Jeremy McDermott in another article in the series, which estimates of the FARC's riches for 2015-2016, the last period in which the guerrillas were active as an organization.
  • Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, Dairo Antonio Úsuga offered his surrender to the government earlier this week, after security forces killed his number two in the powerful Urabeños criminal force. Also known as the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia - AGC, the group has been proposing political negotiations with the government for two years, reports InSight Crime. President Juan Manuel Santos flatly rejected the possibility this week, but did say leniency in exchange for cooperation could be possible. If the surrender occurs it will be an important coup for Santos, reports the BBC. It will be the third landmark in the past few weeks for peace in Colombia, after the disarmament of the Farc guerrillas and the recent commitment of the ELN Marxist rebels to a 102-day long truce. Colombian security forces have been targeting the group's leadership as part of "Operation Agamemnon" -- a two-year old police-led manhunt authorities have captured over 1,500 alleged members and seized 100 metric tons of cocaine and more than $170 million in assets from the organization. It's clear that Úsuga, alias Otoniel, is seeking an out as security forces get closer. "But it is unlikely that the Urabeños cells running lucrative criminal activities across Colombia will share his willingness to surrender. The Urabeñosoperate more like a franchise than a hierarchical criminal organization, meaning that many -- if not the majority -- of those using the group's powerful brand name operate semi-independently and do not respond directly to the top leadership," according to InSight.
News Briefs
  • HIV/AIDS is the latest crisis to hit Venezuela, a country once praised for its HIV prevention programs and free treatment. Medicine shortages are affecting those already infecting, while rates of newly infected people are jumping, reports the Washington Post.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wouldn't rule out EU sanctions against Venezuela, after a brief meeting with opposition leaders yesterday, reports the Associated Press.
  • As protests falter in Venezuela, the opposition is pinning hopes on October's regional elections as a way to maintain pressure against Nicolás Maduro's government, reports Reuters.
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales seems to have lost the fight against the U.N. anti-impunity commission last week. But "Morales has a coterie of allies," including a broad swathe of national politicians with corruption charges against them, business elites, and a military immersed in organized crime, warns Anita Isaacs in a New York Times op-ed. The many players defending the CICIG and the Public Ministry's crusade against endemic corruption must work together, she says focusing on civil society, the U.S. and the international community.
  • Brazilian attorney general Rodrigo Janot's parting actions -- filing charges against two former presidents and their key political allies -- are the ultimate mike drop according to the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.) Janot leaves his successor with a series of politically charged cases, just as the campaign for next year's presidential election starts to get underway. "Regardless of how the cases unfold, Mr. Janot and other prominent legal officials have set in motion a debate about the structural problems that have made cronyism and corruption routine in Brazil."
  • Prisons are not the answer to rising violence in the region. Nonetheless, they're unlikely to go away soon, and incarceration policies should be carried out in the most human way possible. Nathalie Alvarado, the coordinator for the citizen security and justice program at the Inter-American Development Bank, shares lessons on how this can be achieved on the Sin Miedos blog (InSight Crime has it in English.) Key insights: prison infrastructure should be geared towards inmate rehabilitation; encourage the development of soft skills and changes in behavior for prisoners; improve conditions for prison management; and forge links between the penal system and the private sector to provide opportunities for inmates and their families.
  • The murder of a Jamaican LGBT activist may not have been related to his sexual orientation, but the episode -- in which neighbors did not respond to screams for help -- underscores the homophobia that permeates the country, reports the Daily Beast. However, the country's LGBT community is increasingly vibrant and visible, according to the piece. "Politically, there is momentum toward repealing the country’s “Buggery Law,” and the police investigation of Pottinger’s murder has, according to local activists, been serious and swift."
  • Six farmers in Peru's Amazon were killed by a criminal group seeking to take over their land in order to get into lucrative palm oil trade, reports the Guardian. Indigenous leaders accused the local agricultural authority of handing out falsified land titles and said it also bore "direct responsibility" for the crime.
  • Rebuilding after extensive floods earlier this year will cost Peru $7.92 billion, reports Reuters.
  • Local referendums, known as “popular consultations” in Colombia, are increasingly being used to block oil and mining projects, reports Bloomberg.
  • The son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo was sentenced to 24 years in prison this week after pleading guilty to a U.S. charge of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, reports Reuters.
  • The second round of NAFTA talks ended on Tuesday amid resistance to discussing Mexico’s low wages and large differences over dispute resolution mechanisms, reports the Associated Press. Though there are few proposals for those thorny issues, text for most of the rest of the treaty is coming together.
  • Though Trump's constant railing against the deal and Mexico is seen as political posturing, it has had the effect of pushing Mexico towards other trading partners -- and an opening with China is a very real possibility, reports the Atlantic. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was in China this week, where he discussed  trade and investment, as part of a strategy to diversify and open new markets for his country’s products, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's conservative PAN and center-left PRD said they will ally for next year's presidential elections, though they haven't even agreed on a name for the coalition, reports the Associated Press. They hope to beat out the ruling PRI party and leftist challenger Morena.
  • Disappeared social activist Santiago Maldonado has become an unnecessary political crisis for the Argentine government, argues Martín Caparrós in a New York Times Español op-ed. He posits that Maldonado likely wasn't killed by security forces following orders, rather it seems likely he was a victim of an overly violent repression. The government could have avoided the international ruckus by responding rapidly to the human rights violation, rather than its customary stonewalling and denial. He concludes (with perhaps too much kindness for the government) that it's still unclear whether the Macri administration is just clueless when it comes to human rights, or really doesn't care.
  • The death toll from Hurricane Irma stood at 11 this morning, though authorities warned it would increase as communications improved, reports the New York Times. The storm, one of the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic, made direct hits on Barbuda, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, and raked the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Barbuda was largely destroyed -- 60 percent of residents were left homeless, reports the Washington Post. And Hurricane Jose could hit the same islands in the Caribbean. Scientists are concerned that twin megastorms might be the new normal, reports the Guardian. Separately, the Guardian reports on the damage island by island.

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