Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Win for Colombia's Peace Deal (Oct 12, 2017)

Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled that the various terms of the country's peace deal with rebel group the FARC -- once all of the elements are approved by Congress -- cannot be modified for the next 12 years. This means that even should a candidate from a conservative opposition partu (including Democratic Center, founded by former president and outspoken peace deal critic Alvaro Uribe) win Colombia's presidency in May 2018, s/he cannot reverse the more controversial elements of the agreement. 

Juanita Leon at La Silla Vacia notes that the Court's unanimous ruling is especially significant given that just over a year ago, a narrow majority of the Colombian people voted against the peace deal in a plebiscite. This outcome continues to fuel critiques by Demoncratic Center and other opponents that peace deal terms -- especially those concerning transitional justice and amnesty for the FARC -- should be renegotiated. 

In fact, the Constitutional Court's ruling will now protect the elements of the peace deal -- particularly the transitional justice element -- that are least popular with Uribe and his supporters, Leon writes. 

However, this ruling doesn't create an "untouchable" peace deal: it does nothing to guarantee that the government continue supporting the land reform initiatives, illegal crop substitution projects, and the peasant reserve zones which are fundamental to addressing the problems that long fueled the Colombian conflict. Depending on the outcome of Colombia's elections next year, it's still quite possible that a new executive and legislature would back away from these programs. 

News Briefs 

  • Buzzfeed reports on a case which highlights the difficulties faced by Central American asylum seekers in providing "skeptical" U.S. immigration authorities with evidence of their need for asylum. Asylum seekers must pass a "credible fear" assessment test before they are granted a hearing, but as Buzzfeed points out, those fleeing gang violence lack the resources and the "hard" evidence (say, a police report confirming that they've been threatened in their native country) needed to back up their claims. As U.S. federal asylum laws are "heavily weighted to asylum claims based on state-sponsored persecution," this makes it even harder for Central Americans fleeing gang violence to make a case for refugee status and protect themselves from being deported back to dangerous situations. Indeed, under the current system, there is almost "a perverse incentive for persecuted people to wait until they are tortured or raped before coming to the United States."
  • Bolivia saw large street protests in reaction to President Evo Morales' efforts to ban term limits. According to Reuters, the Morales government blamed the opposition for organizing the demonstrations, which were "dismissed... as political rallies disguised as a grassroots movement." 
  • Thanks to a sweeping law approved in July, Jamaican authorities have the power to put crime-prone areas under virtual martial law for a given period of time. The areas are called "zones of special operations" (Zoso), and so far, the government has created only one -- in the neighborhood of Mount Salem in Montego Bay. While authorities say they've managed to reduce crime and violence in the area, a representative from Human Rights Watch told The Guardian that these measures could feed police and military abuse. 
  • The Financial Times profiles how gang violence and sexual assault is "torturing a generation" of young girls in El Salvador. "One of the saddest indictments of a girl’s status in El Salvador is the pitiful value she commands in the gang’s twisted economy," the article observes, reporting on how gang culture involves using girlfriends and sisters as a means to leverage status or seek revenge. 
  • Mexico's most populated state registers the second-highest number of femicides in the country, which prompted the federal government to issue the country's first ever "gender violence alert" in 2015. While this is supposed to mandate state authorities to promptly investigate the disappearance of any woman, in practice this is not happening, the Associated Press reports
  • The Conversation examines a new report published in medical review journal The Lancet, which found that three-quarters of all abortions in Latin America are performed illegally
  • A World Bank report released Wednesday shows that Latin American and Caribbean economies have registered strong growth, although the report does not account for damage caused by this year's hurricane season. The Miami Herald has a brief summary of the report's most significant findings. 
  • A Guatemalan court convicted a man of killing two journalists in 2015, reports the AP
  • Americas Quarterly editor-in-chief Brian Winter asks why Brazil's establishment politicians have failed to address endemic crime and violence levels in the country. "It is immoral and ultimately suicidal for Brazil’s political class to continue to treat violence as somebody else’s problem, or some kind of taboo," he concludes. 
  • In the wake of the destruction of Hurricane Maria, some leaders in the Caribbean -- with backing from United Nations leadership -- see an opportunity to rebuild more "climate change-resistant" countries. “The intensity of hurricanes and multiplication of hurricanes in the Caribbean in this season is not an accident,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said during a visit to Caribbean islands devastated by the hurricane. “It is the result of climate change.” Via The Miami Herald
  • At Forbes, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Woodrow Wilson Center policy fellow Earl Anthony Wayne takes a brief look at how the NAFTA renegotiation could put U.S.-Mexico security cooperation at risk. Continued cooperation on this front is especially crucial given rising drug overdose and addiction rates in the U.S. (fed in part by heroin and fentanyl smuggled in from Mexico), and rising violence levels in Mexico (June 2017 was the most violent month in 20 years). However, this partnership "will be made much more difficult if the United States is perceived to be unfairly punishing Mexico in the renegotiation of NAFTA," Wayne writes. 
-- Elyssa Pachico

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