This week’s likely top stories: Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian is sentenced to 15 years in Cuba; Mexico searches for 58 missing students; Venezuela’s bolivar hits a new low; Peru arrests two suspects in the murder of Indigenous activists; Colombian peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle says his e-mail was hacked.
Canadian executive jailed in Cuba: A Cuban court sentenced the president of the Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group, Cy Tokmakjian, to 15 years in jail for bribery, and sentenced two other Tokmakjian Group employees to eight and 12 years in prison. Company lawyers were notified of the sentences on Friday. Tokmakjian, who denies the charges against him, was detained in 2011 as part of an anti-corruption investigation carried out by the Cuban government. The court has also seized the assets of The Tokmakjian Group, which sold transportation, mining and construction equipment to Cuba. The company is now suing Cuba for $200 million through the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and Canada’s Ontario Superior Court.
Mexican students go missing after protest: Mexican authorities are searching for 58 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who went missing in Guerrero state late last Friday. The students were protesting discriminatory hiring practices for teachers when a group of armed assailants accompanying the police shot at the protesters, resulting in the deaths of at least six people, including two students. The students apparently went missing in the aftermath of the shootings, and authorities said they may have fled into the surrounding hills. The Mexican prosecutor’s office has arrested 22 policemen thought to be involved in the violence, and Guerrero’s public security ministry is searching for the students. Guerrero’s state government has said that the students are not believed to be in the custody of the municipal, state, or federal government, nor under the custody of the army.
Venezuelan bolivar hits a new low: The Venezuelan bolivar’s value on the black market has sunk to a new low of 100 bolivares to the U.S. dollar, according to dolartoday.com, a website that tracks the currency on Venezuela’s “parallel” currency market. Venezuela’s currency control system has three tiers, with the best exchange rate of 6.3 bolivares to the dollar available only for critical goods like medical supplies and important food staples. As of Friday, the dollar is 16 times more expensive on the black market than it is on Venezuela’s official currency market. At this time last year, the dollar was worth 41 bolivares on the black market.
Suspects arrested for murder of Indigenous activists in Peru: Peruvian authorities have arrested two suspects in the murder of four Asháninka tribal leaders and environmental activists who fought illegal logging on their land. The leaders—Edwin Chota, Leoncio Quintisima, Francisco Pinedo, and Jorge Ríos—were shot and killed earlier this month in a remote part of the Amazon jungle near the Brazilian border, despite asking both the Peruvian and Brazilian governments for protection. According to Peruvian prosecutor Eder Farfan, the two suspects arrested are loggers; more arrests are expected as the investigation continues.
Colombian peace negotiators hacked again: Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said on Saturday that his e-mail and cellphone had been hacked by people looking to sabotage Colombian peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The negotiators had just released copies of three preliminary agreements made during the peace talks in Havana to make the discussions more transparent. Earlier this year, the Colombian media revealed that a secret military intelligence unit was also spying on Colombian government negotiators in Havana and intercepting their e-mails.
Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), accused Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration of negligence on Tuesday for refusing to agree to a bilateral ceasefire. The Santos administration maintains that doing so would provide the FARC with an opportunity to take advantage of the ceasefire to build up their forces, as the FARC has done in the past.
While the peace negotiations have faced criticism, most notably from former President Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian government and the rebels have reached several partial agreements on three points of their agenda—the political participation of the FARC after disarmament, eliminating illicit drug production and implementing agrarian reform. However, due to the lack of a ceasefire, Colombian military forces have continued to clash with the FARC in the Colombian countryside.
Throughout the peace process, which began in Oslo in November 2012 and has since moved to Havana, the FARC has declared four unilateral ceasefires. Victims of both sides of the conflict called for a bilateral ceasefire earlier this month.
Que en Colombia hay enemigos del proceso de paz que adelanta el Gobierno con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en la Habana no es nuevo ni sorprende. Hay fuerzas partidarias que le apuestan a las conversaciones de paz, tanto como aquellas que nunca estuvieron de acuerdo con que se comenzaran, el uribismo en particular. Este es el resultado de haber priorizado una salida militar sin éxito durante 50 años de conflicto armado.
Sin embargo, a los colombianos les cuesta confiar en una guerrilla a la que por años se le ha culpado por todos los males del país, especialmente después del fracaso de los diálogos del Caguán, en los que las FARC se fortalecieron militarmente al tener una zona de 42.000 km2 donde eran “Dios y Ley” durante el gobierno de Andrés Pastrana.
De estar en desacuerdo, a sabotear el proceso, hay un trecho enorme. Más aún si el sabotaje incluye una de las herramientas más nocivas contra la privacidad y el ejercicio de la oposición política en Colombia: las llamadas “chuzadas.” Recordado como uno de los grandes lunares del gobierno de Álvaro Uribe, que finalmente obligó a su sucesor Juan Manuel Santos a liquidar el controvertido Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), el caso reveló que ese organismo de inteligencia interceptaba ilegalmente las comunicaciones de periodistas, activistas de derechos humanos, jueces, magistrados y políticos de la oposición, con el objetivo de enlodar sus nombres, abrir expedientes falsos e incluso encomendar fuerzas paramilitares para asesinarlos.
La historia de Colombia es prueba de que el ejercicio de la oposición política en el país es peligroso. Ahora en la era de Santos aparece de nuevo este fantasma, descubierto gracias a las revelaciones del portal Semana.com.
Two top Colombian intelligence officers were dismissed on Tuesday after allegations that the Colombian military was spying on government peace negotiators.
General Mauricio Zúñiga, chief of army intelligence, and General Jorge Andres Zuluaga, director of the army’s national intelligence center, were dismissed from their positions after an investigation by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana found an undercover intelligence-gathering site set up by an army team in Bogotá. According to the investigation, the army recruited hackers to break into the email accounts and text messages of government officials associated with the peace talks in Havana.
Army General Juan Pablo Rodríguez said in an interview that the military knew about the site, which was one of their “many intelligence gathering activities.” However, Rodríguez said that the military never approved of spying on government officials.
President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an in-depth investigation. He said that military spying on the country’s own citizens and officials is unacceptable, and questioned whether the incident is linked to plans to sabotage the peace negotiations.
This is not the first time that Colombia’s security forces have been linked to illegal spying and wiretapping. During the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (Administrative Department of Security—DAS), the country’s main intelligence service, faced allegations of illegally wiretapping public figures and collaborating with paramilitary groups. After Santos’ election, the DAS was dismantled and several of its agents were prosecuted.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelan opposition agrees to participate in corruption debate; Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei registers her candidacy; Humala’s popularity reaches a new low; peace talks resume in Colombia; and environmental groups seek a referendum to prevent drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Forest.
Public Debate on Corruption in Venezuela
On Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that he would ask the National Assembly for an enabling law to combat corruption, and challenged the opposition to participate in a public debate to discuss the government’s nationwide anti-corruption campaign. The Venezuelan government has made over 100 corruption-related arrests in the last month, including several political and media figures associated with the opposition.
On Sunday, Julio Borges, the national coordinator of Primero Justicia, said the opposition would participate in a public debate on corruption, and called on the president to “tell us the time and location” for a discussion on national TV and radio. According to Henrique Capriles, opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, recent anti-corruption efforts are a strategy to divert public attention from other pressing problems such as insecurity and inflation. Capriles’ offices are currently under investigation for corruption.
Evelyn Matthei Officially Registers her Candidacy
On Sunday, the candidate for the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), Evelyn Matthei, officially registered her candidacy for the Chilean presidential election on November 17. Matthei was accompanied by leaders of UDI and Renovación Nacional (RN)—the two parties that constitute the ruling Alianza coalition. After registering her candidacy, Matthei gave a speech that recognized the current lead of former president and current presidential candidate of the Nueva Mayoría coalition, Michelle Bachelet. Still, Matthei expressed hope of taking the election to a second round of voting. If no candidate secures half of the votes in the first round, a second round of voting would be held in mid-December.
Humala’s Popularity Reaches a New Low
On Sunday, the latest Ipsos-Perú survey published by El Comercio revealed that Ollanta Humala’s popularity dropped to 29 percent, the lowest during the two years of his presidency. Despite the government’s recent military win again the Shining Path terrorist group, the president registered 4 percentage points less popular support than in July 2012. The survey also revealed that first lady Nadine Heredia’s popularity dropped to 38 percent, and Lima Mayor Susana Villarán continues to have one of the highest disapproval rates in the country, which reached 69 percent in August.
New Round of Colombian Peace Negotiations
On Monday, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) begin a new round of negotiations in Havana to discuss topics such as political participation. This is one of the most controversial items in the peace agenda as it involves negotiations around the incorporation of the rebel group into the country’s democratic system. According to Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator, the FARC must surrender their arms and reach agreements around the five topics of the agenda to participate in Colombian politics. President Juan Manuel Santos sent a message to the FARC stating his commitment to the negotiations, but warned that the military fight will continue in the interim.
Environmental Groups in Ecuador Vow to Save Yasuní Program
On Sunday, environmental groups, human rights groups and Indigenous lawmakers threatened to take Ecuador’s government to international court over a plan to drill for oil in Yasuní, a protected part of the Amazon rainforest that is believed to hold some 900 barrels of oil—about a fifth of Ecuador’s total reserves. The actions follow President Rafael Correa’s statement last week that the government was abandoning the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, a long-term commitment to refrain from drilling in the rainforest area if the international community came up with $3.6 billion to offset some of the foregone benefits of the oil money. The president said that “the world has let Ecuador down,” as just $13.3 million has been delivered to the country. In the coming days, Correa plans to ask the National Assembly to declare crude-oil exploitation in the Yasuní as a "national interest." In response, some of Ecuador’s Indigenous lawmakers have called for a national referendum to decide on the issue.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) began their tenth round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba on Monday. This round of talks will address the second point in the five-point peace agenda: integration of the rebel group into Colombian politics.
The FARC’s post-conflict participation in Colombian politics is one of the most controversial points in the agenda, and the guerrillas have made a number of demands to ensure their participation. FARC Commander Luciano Marín Arango, known by the nom-de-guerre “Iván Márquez,” asked the government to postpone Colombia’s May 2014 presidential election to allow the talks to continue uninterrupted under the current administration. The group claims that political campaigning could get in the way of the talks, and wants to call a Constitutional Assembly to enact the political and institutional changes now under discussion.
The FARC also claimed that it is pursuing a “unification process” with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN), Colombia’s second-largest rebel group. Though the ELN is not part of the peace talks in Cuba, its leaders have expressed their willingness to participate in the negotiations.
The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de La Calle, has rejected the guerrilla group’s proposal. While he recognized that one of the key objectives of the negotiations is to enable the FARC to become a political party and have broader participation in local and national politics, he refused to consider any proposal that lies outside of the previously agreed-upon peace agenda. “This [agenda] is what the government is ready to discuss and nothing else," he said. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos also rejected the rebel group’s proposal and ruled out the possibility of extending the electoral terms.
Despite these differences, some progress has been made in the negotiations. The parties achieved a partial agreement on land reform in May, which includes a consensus on the use and distribution of the land—a key issue that led to the FARC’s emergence in the 1960s. Other topics on the agenda include the fight against drug trafficking and the compensation of the victims of the armed conflict.
The peace talks began in November 2012, and aim to end half a century of armed conflict that has led to more than 600,000 deaths and millions of displaced people.
Desde que inició el proceso de paz del gobierno colombiano con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en la Habana, es innegable que el tema de encontrar una salida política al conflicto ha hecho que muchos coincidan o discrepen sobre los posibles escenarios. Como todo en política.
En la marcha del pasado martes fue inevitable que amigos y enemigos de la paz se sentaran en diversas orillas según sus nuevas apuestas. De un lado, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, el alcalde de Bogotá Gustavo Petro, el movimiento Marcha Patriótica liderado por Piedad Córdoba e Iván Cepeda—quienes recientemente recibieron un reconocimiento en Copenhague—, indígenas, campesinos, afrocolombianos, policías, soldados y las mismas FARC desde la Habana, coincidieron en que es necesario que los colombianos blinden el esfuerzo de los negociadores en Cuba. Durante años, estos personajes tuvieron visiones aparentemente irreconciliables y se denunciaron unos a otros sin tapujos sobre temas de alto calibre, tales como la responsabilidad del Estado en relación a los llamados falsos positivos.
Del otro lado se encontraron quienes han hecho un ruido permanente en el proceso: los sectores más ultraconservadores encabezados por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe y recientemente por el ex mandatario Andrés Pastrana—quien durante su gobierno no logró alcanzar los acuerdos pretendidos con la guerrilla—acompañados por el Polo Democrático Alternativo, uno de los partidos más antiuribistas de Colombia. A pesar de sus diferentes matices, a todos en este grupo les preocupa que la paz se convierta en una campaña por la reelección—un escenario absolutamente obvio para Santos en el contexto en que se juega todo su capital electoral.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos joined hundreds of thousands of Colombians in a march through Bogotá on Tuesday to support the peace negotiations between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government.
The march drew together an estimated 800,000 people across Colombia and 200,000 in Bogotá alone, making it the largest demonstration to take place in Colombia’s capital city. Similar demonstrations took place in Cali, Barranquilla, and Santander. In an address to the crowd, President Santos urged unity and said that “All conditions are set…[for] an end to the conflict.”
Since peace talks began in Oslo in October, the Colombian government and representatives of the FARC have been negotiating a peace treaty that is expected to address agrarian reform, a top priority for the FARC. The president and his team have also addressed the demilitarization and disarmament of the rebels and explored ways to integrate the FARC’s leadership into the political system. In addition to agrarian reform and demobilization, social development—health, education, housing, and poverty eradication—have been a top priority for both sides.
However, Santos announced last week that the government would not negotiate a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC until the two sides reach a final agreement. Without ceasefire in place, some Colombians fear that there will be no end to the conflict which has killed at least 600,000 people and displaced another three million.
Political opponents of the current administration, including former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, refused to participate in Tuesday’s march. Uribe and other politicians have argued that the march supports the FARC, rather than victims of violence and kidnappings.
Today concludes the seventh round of peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba, with news yesterday signaling there could be an agreement on one of the most important issues on the agenda: agrarian reform.
The issue of land reform is an important part of the negotiations for both sides, yet progress has been slow. In the past, the FARC has declared that to solve agrarian problems, there must be a “democratization,” which means distribution of land held by large landowners. The FARC’s proposal for land reform includes a demand for a redistribution of land and the improvement of property conditions.
By the end of today, there will likely be a press conference detailing the solutions reached in this latest round of dialogues with negotiations resuming again on April 2.
The Colombian peace process began ceremoniously in Oslo, Norway, in October 2012 with negotiations commencing in Havana, Cuba, in November 2012. Lead negotiators include former Vice President Humberto De La Calle on behalf of the Colombian government and Ivan Márquez on behalf of the FARC.
Peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government are slowly progressing in Havana, Cuba, despite renewed violence and generally low expectations. Land reform continues to be a contentious area and just last month the FARC unveiled a 10-point communiqué outlining its requests. While the plan failed to explicitly mention the 4 to 5 million citizens currently displaced due to the conflict, successful peace talks could create new opportunities for these Colombians to return to their land.
The multiple perpetrators in Colombia’s armed conflict mean that a peace treaty with only one group (the FARC in this case) will not provide a complete solution. The FARC and the paramilitaries (the largest and most organized adversaries for much of the conflict) each displaced millions of civilians from some 7 million total hectares of land. Although estimates vary, by all counts the paramilitaries displaced as many individuals as the FARC and perhaps even twice the amount. Drug traffickers and organized criminal groups like the new bandas criminales (BACRIM) have also followed suit, ousting a good portion of 2011’s estimated 200,000 displaced persons, according to the Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES).
The first step to reversing the displacement is providing basic security, particularly in the areas most affected by the conflict (Caqueta, Putamayo, Valle del Cauca, among others). Here the FARC peace agreement would begin this process, but comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is critical.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.