Thursday, August 29, 2019

FARC dissidents call to arms (Aug. 29, 2019)

A group of former FARC guerrillas said they will resume armed conflict, after demobilizing in the wake of a landmark peace treaty signed three years ago. Two former FARC leaders, known as Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, announced the offensive in a 32-minute YouTube video. They were in combat uniform and flanked by other armed fighters. It is believed the force could be between 2,200 and 3,000 fighters strong. 

The announcement underscores the floundering nature of the FARC peace deal. Critics say the government has not fulfilled promises of protection and reintegration into civilian life for former guerrillas. At least 120 rebels have been killed since the peace deal was signed. And hundreds more social leaders have been assassinated by armed groups vying for power in former FARC territories.

"The state has not fulfilled its most important obligations, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Márquez in the statement.

Current President Iván Duque campaigned in opposition to the peace deal signed by his predecessor, and has sought to modify a special justice system that would keep rank and file rebels out of jail. This year his administration sought to imprison Santrich on drug trafficking charges, after the Supreme Court ordered his release. Santrich disappeared shortly after and reappeared in the video yesterday.

The group’s objective is the installation of a government that will support peace, Márquez said. It will fight corruption and fracking and demand payments from those participating in illegal economies and from multinational companies, he said.

Márqeuz said the new dissident group would not attack soldiers or police officers who were “respectful to popular interests,” and would avoid kidnappings -- but he also said he plans to cooperate with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is known for violence.

Márquez was a key FARC representative in Havana, where the peace deal was negotiated. Yesterday two former negotiators from the government, Sergio Jaramillo and Humberto de la Calle, condemned the new call to arms, but also said the government was to blame in undermining the deal: “Again and again, we told the government that its permanent attacks on the peace process and the risk to legal stability that come with it, could push commanders to make wrong decision,” they said.

Former FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, said on Twitter the “great majority” of ex-FARC fighters remain committed to peace “despite all the difficulties and dangers.” But increasing numbers have been abandoning peace initiatives, and some analysts say the new call to arms could unite a couple dozen splinter groups of dissident fighters.

The new rebel group said the video was filmed in the Colombian Amazon, but some security experts said many of the dissidents were likely on the Venezuelan side of the border, and that the new call to arms will not immediately alter Colombia's security risks.

  • Out of the frying pan: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans who fled their country's humanitarian crisis found refuge in Colombia, but many have instead found themselves in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict where they are particularly vulnerable to abuses by armed groups, write Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk and Juan Pappier. (Americas Quarterly) "Colombia should get full credit for keeping an open-door policy for Venezuelans ... But residents in these conflict-ridden areas need the Colombian government to increase its presence and reassert the rule of law." (See Aug. 8's briefs for the full Human Rights Watch investigation on Armed groups in Colombia's northeastern Catatumbo region.)

Guatemala controlled by mafia -- CICIG's parting words

Guatemala's corruption is structural -- the country's state is captured by a "mafia coalition," which seeks to perpetuate the status quo and impunity, said the CICIG in its scathing final report, presented yesterday. One of the reasons why corruption networks persist is that "they have distorted democratic institutionality in their favor and they have molded the political system and designed mechanisms that allow them to occupy positions of power, manipulating legislation."  The report said that profound government restructuring is required to combat the phenomenon. (Associated PressEFE)

The United Nations backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala formally ends its mandate next week. But head commissioner Iván Velásquez said yesterday's report would be the CICIG's final public act. He spoke via video conference, as he has been barred from entering Guatemala by the Morales government, which has focused on undermining the anti-impunity commission's work throughout its term.

The final report particularly focuses on illustrating how illicit networks co-opt the state through illicit campaign financing.

In theory the CICIG's work will be continued by Guatemala's public ministry, which has worked with the CICIG throughout its 12-years of operation. But attorney general Consuelo Porras has shown little inclination towards this direction reports Nómada. Today she will inaugurate the new Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad, the unit which had worked with the CICIG. But she has refused to hire the 60 Guatemalan investigators and prosecutors that had worked with the CICIG. Several soon-to-be former CICIG collaborators have voiced concern for their safety. The Nómada piece also explains why losing trained professionals, including specialized police, will significantly affect corruption investigations moving forward.

Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei said earlier this week that he will propose a new anti-corruption body which, “unlike the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), will collaborate with fixing the system.” (Telesur)

The report was presented at the CICIG headquarters, which will be razed and replaced with a mall. (EFE)

News Briefs

  • The United States will not prosecute or otherwise seek to punish President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela if he voluntarily leaves power, according to the U.S.'s special envoy for Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. He clarified to the New York Times that he sees no indication that Maduro will step down, but that the U.S. is sending a message. He also said that high-level talks described by Maduro and U.S. President Donald Trump absolutely did not occur. There are no secret negotiations between the two governments he said.
  • Abrams also said Trump administration would not support new national elections with an incumbent — either Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as the country's interim president by the U.S. — on the ballot.
  • The Organization of American States condemned “grave and systematic” human rights abuses in Venezuela and demanded an independent investigation, in a resolution passed yesterday by a 21 to three vote. (AFP)
  • The U.S. State Department opened a representative office in Venezuela in Colombia, yesterday. The Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU) will be headed by James Story, the U.S. charge d’affaires to Venezuela, and will continue U.S. opposition to Maduro and support for Guaidó from Bogotá. (Reuters)
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez asked his Canadian counterpart to help end U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. Rodríguez and Chrystia Freeland met yesterday in Havana, their third meeting since May regarding the Venezuela crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's Central Bank reported a $700 million jump in reserves coming from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, according to Bloomberg.
  • Retroviral drugs are increasingly impossible to obtain in Venezuela, which has become the only country in the world where large numbers of HIV patients have been forced to discontinue treatment for lack of medication, reports Foreign Policy. Desperate patients increasingly seek resources in Colombia.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules in pursuit of rapidly constructing the oft-mentioned border wall between Mexico and the U.S., according to the Washington Post. He reportedly reassured  subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the job done.
El Salvador
  • At least 116 people were killed by police in El Salvador in recent years in cases involving excessive use of force and abuse of authority, the country’s human rights prosecutor said in a report published this week. One of the more disturbing findings was the level of police impunity, said Raquel Caballero, head of the Prosecutor’s Office for the Defense of Human Rights. In the 48 cases of excessive police force, only 19 were prosecuted and two cases led to convictions.(Reuters)
  • The fires raging in the Brazilian Amazon are likely to intensify over the coming weeks, reports the Guardian.
  • Hundreds of Brazilian governmental workers said their work enforcing environmental regulations had been hampered by the Bolsonaro administration. In an open letter, employees of the country's environmental agency warned that  Brazil’s environmental protection system could “collapse” if nothing changes. (New York Times)
  • Members of the Xirin indigenous tribe of northern Brazil have taken matters into their own hands, expelling the loggers and ranchers who illegally occupied their land and set fire to the forest in Pará state, reports the Guardian.
  • Though it hurts to admit it, Bolsonaro is not the only person responsible for Amazon fires. The global fashion industry -- and its consumers -- have a lot of blame to shoulder for the blazes consuming the rainforest, particularly leather products, reports the Guardian.
  • The world cannot demand that Brazil turn 61 percent of its national territory into an ecological reserve, efforts to protect the vital ecosystem must respect the country's sovereignty and seek sustainable development that builds on the rainforest's natural wealth, argues former Brazilian cabinet member Roberto Mangabeira Unger in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra and his Colombian counterpart, Iván Duque, called a meeting of Amazon countries to coordinate fire fighting strategies. (Reuters)
Argentina - sigue girando
  • Argentina's government announced a debt restructuring -- "reprofiling" is the spin term-- yesterday, a move that was widely expected but nonetheless left markets reeling. The peso weakened 2 percent against the dollar today. Country risk is at its highest level since 2005. The initiative seeks to extend the maturity for short-term debt issued in Argentina as well as bonds issued abroad without reducing the capital or the interest, explained Finance Minister Hernán Lacunza. (Wall Street JournalReutersForbesInfobae)
  • In a speech today President Mauricio Macri sought to blame the political opposition, the likely winner of October's presidential elections, for the financial unrest. He also lashed out at the electoral primary system, which at a national level has functioned as an elaborate opinion poll ahead of the general elections and left him in a tricky lame duck situation. (Infobae)
  • Earlier this week presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, widely expected to win in October, met with IMF representatives. He later lambasted the multilateral organization and Argentina's government, saying they are to blame for the country's "social catastrophe." "The loan received by the country and the raft of conditions associated with it has not generated any of the hoped-for results: the economy has not stopped contracting, employment and the situation for businesses and families has continued to get worse, inflation has not shown any sustained reduction, and public debt has only grown," said a statement from Fernandez's office. (Buenos Aires Times)
  • In a region where presidents often try to cling to power as often as possible, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra wants to call early elections. It could be part of a strategy to go out with popular support, and also a reflection of his relative lack of power, reports the Financial Times.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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