Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Colombia's fraught peace (Jan. 30, 2018)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos suspended peace talks with the ELN guerrilla force after a spate of bomb attacks over the weekend killed seven police officers and wounded 47, reports the BBC. (See yesterday's briefs.) 

Authorities yesterday said the attacks were carried out by the ELN, reports Reuters. (Semana reports on the police investigation into the attacks.) "My patience and the patience of the Colombian people has its limits, so I have taken the decision to suspend the start of the fifth cycle of negotiations, that was scheduled for the coming days, until we see coherence between the ELN’s words and its actions," Santos said. His stance was backed by politicians and business sectors, reports El Espectador

The return to violence bodes ill for the country's peace negotiations. "I think Colombia is in for several weeks of pointless bloodletting," WOLA analyst Adam Isacson told the New York Times. And the issue of peace, and the debate over whether the government has been too soft on former guerrillas, will be dominant in the country's upcoming elections.
Colombia is a country shaped by conflict, now that the FARC has disarmed after five decades of violence, residents will have to forge a lasting peace, writes Alma Guillermoprieto in National Geographic. She sketches a vivid picture of a county that must face up to entrenched rural poverty and remaining threats from the conflict, such as land mines and criminal groups that seek to control the land and illicit economies dominated by the FARC until now. 

"In a great irony of this complicated war, the FARC may turn out to be by far the cheaper of two evils, compared with the cost of controlling the savage new drug-trafficking gangs taking over the territories where guerrillas and paramilitaries once fought for control. The government estimates that 5 percent of the guerrilla forces have refused to lay down their weapons and may eventually find their way into the ranks of the so-called bacrim (short for bandas criminales). Today these gangs are mostly involved in the drug trade, but they’re slowly taking over old guerrilla and paramilitary sidelines as well: extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking."

La Silla Vacía reports on a complication in coca crop-substitution efforts, a key component of the peace deal: what to do with the people who made a living harvesting the leaves of the illicit plant used to make cocaine. More than 400 families in the Caquetá region have signed agreements to destroy their crops, and have received payments in exchange. The harvesters, left without income, are starting to migrate to other regions in the country where coca cultivation remains strong. This displacement shouldn't be occurring, notes the piece, in theory harvesters should receive a subsidy in exchange for community service work. But bureaucratic hurdles are making the subsidies hard to obtain, and government sources point to the difficulty of truly determining who the harvesters are.

News Briefs
  • Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández swore in for a second term -- won in a highly questioned election -- in the midst of a militarized capital city and clouds of tear gas launched at protesters, including his opponent in the presidential election, writes Carlos Dada in a vivid account in El Faro. (See yesterday's post.) The diplomatic observations are particularly relevant: not a single president from the region attended, and the head of the OAS anti-corruption mission (MACCIH) was absent in protest of a law that would limit investigations into lawmakers. Countering accounts that the protest movement has fizzled, Dada writes of the clashes between protesters and security forces, of the different smoke produced by tear gas and burning tires deployed by each side. "This is how it has been in Honduras for two months. Every day. Since Hondurans went to the polls to choose a president and the two main candidates -- Nasralla and Hernández -- probclaimed themselves victors. ... Since then, almost forty people have been murdered, and human rights organizations denounce arbitrary detentions and operations aimed at harassing, capturing, or beating their leaders; national and international journalists have been harassed, threatened, detained or interrogated by police and military officers. The country is undergoing a profound political crisis generated by the reelection. If Hernández's second term continues as it starts, he will not be able to govern."
  • National Catholic Reporter teamed up with Radio Progreso journalists to report on communities outside the capital on the inauguration day. "In a country where a jurisdiction for members of the military has now been organized with its own judges and prosecutors separate from the state, there is no guarantee that military personnel will be held accountable for human rights violations. In this time of intense political polarization and social crisis, the military acts with impunity, protected by the ever-growing, centralized power of the re-elected president," writes Tom Webb.
  • Honduras has the world's highest femicide rate, accompanied by "shocking numbers of rape, assault, and domestic violencecases, happening with near-total impunity," reports ABC News.
  • A new Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on El Salvador voices concern "over the increase of a military presence in public security tasks" and notes that homicide rates, while reduced in recent years, remain among the highest in the world. "The IACHR observes that the high rates of public violence and the context of criminality have a different impact on women and girls and on other groups at special risk, such as migrant persons and persons deprived of liberty." The report also makes special mention of the absolute criminalization of abortion, which has led to women being sentenced to decades of prison after suffering obstetric complications, suspected of inducing termination of pregnancy. "These sentences are said to be occurring in the context of proceedings that allegedly fail to respect the right of the accused to a fair trial by not recognizing the principle of presumption of innocence and not assessing the evidence in accordance with inter-American standards on due process protections. Moreover, negative stereotypes around the concept of the “bad mother” and the “murderous mother” are said to prevail in these sentences."
  • El Salvador's government is seeking to extend exceptional measures permitting restrictions on rights of incarcerated suspected gang members, despite criticism from the U.N.'s human rights high commission and the national Procuraduria de Derechos Humanos, reports El Faro. Its important to note that many of the people affected by the measures are in pre-trial detention, writes Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives.
  • The upholding of a criminal conviction of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last week, supports "an array of dangerous judicial practices that create a state of exception proper of authoritarian regimes," writes Hernán Gómez Bruera in a New York Times Español op-ed. "It seems that in the Brazilian judiciary anything goes in an anti-corruption trial ..."
  • Despite the ruling that technically invalidate's Lula from running in this year's presidential election, he remains a viable force, according to current president and political opponent Michel Temer, AFP reports.
  • Ecuadoreans head to the polls on Sunday in a popular referendum asking them to determine term limits for elected officials, among other reforms enacted by former President Rafael Correa. The vote is also a showdown between Correa and his successor, current President Lenín Moreno, reports the Wall Street Journal. Polls predict that all seven proposals on the ballot will be approved, including restrictions on mining, revamping of government watchdog agencies and harsher terms for sexual predators. But more broadly, it will serve to bolster Moreno's break with his former mentor. (See Jan. 5's post.)
  • The spat has been carried out in part on social media, notes El País. And  New York Times investigation into fake social media followers found that an advisor to Moreno bought tens of thousands of followers and retweets for his campaign accounts during last year’s elections.
  • On the same subject, El Espectador reports on an analysis of Colombia's presidential candidates' social media accounts.
  • A group of Colombian youths have filed a suit asking the government to reduce deforestation of the Amazon to zero, reports El País. The case alleges the government's failure to stem rising deforestation in Colombia puts their future in jeopardy and violates their constitutional rights to a healthy environment, life, food and water, reports Reuters. Their case is accompanied by De Justicia, that argues the Colombian government must assume compromises made in the Paris Climate agreement. 
  • Mercury used by illegal gold miners in Peru's Amazon is impacting communities far away from the actual mines, reports the Miami Herald, in an ongoing series on the far flung illicit gold industry.
  • Peru's glaciers are quickly melting -- the New York Times has a feature on an "ayudante de campo," the local version of sherpas.
  • Jamaican authorities banned a an anti-gay, Holocaust denying pastor from visiting the island, in response to activist outcries, reports the Guardian. Arizona pastor Steven Anderson has called for gay people to be stoned death and  has previously been denied entry to South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom and Botswana. "The decision was made by the chief immigration officer because the pastor’s statements are not conducive to the current climate," said spokesperson for the Ministry of National Security.
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines is seeking to cash in on medical cannabis. Draft legislation would allow for the transformation of the illegal marijuana industry, reports Caribbean News Now.
  • Gunmen killed at least 14 people in a Brazil nightclub, reports the BBC.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri announced national government job cuts, and new rules forbidding cabinet members from employing family, reports the BBC. The new policy would save the country $77 million. The savings are a drop in the bucket in terms of public spending, notes La Nación. The nepotism measure will affect about 40 employees.
  • Chile has created five new national parks in Patagonia, spanning 10.3 million acres. They are in part the result of donation by the former CEO of the outdoors company Patagonia, who donated 1 million acres, reports the Guardian.
  • Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's ratings have plummeted since his Christmas pardon of former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori, who had been serving a jail sentence for human rights violations, reports Reuters.
  • The frontrunner in Mexico's presidential race, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has proposed doing away with presidential immunity. He said he'd advocate reforms to allow a sitting president to be charged with corruption and electoral crimes, reports Reuters.
  • While AMLO remains in the lead with 32 percent support, polls show Ricardo Anaya, of a right-left coalition, is gaining, with 26 percent support, reports Reuters.
  • Trump talks tough on migrants, but in Mexico his bark has been worst than his bite: last year is estimated to be a record-breaker for remittances, writes Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed. "This gap between rhetoric and reality reflects the deep-rooted relationship between the United States and Mexico and the confusing agenda of the Trump presidency."

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