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.
Top stories this week are likely to include: President Obama discusses immigration reform in the State of the Union; Ecuador prepares for presidential and congressional elections; Colombia and FARC make progress in peace negotiations, Venezuela’s currency devaluation goes into effect; and Mexican farmers begin to release suspected criminals in negotiations with Guerrero state.
President Obama to Discuss Immigration, Guns in State of the Union Address: U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to renew his demand for comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and climate change in this Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, according to senior officials. Obama has called for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and told House Democrats that immigration reform will be a “top priority and an early priority” of his second term. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban American and one of eight U.S. Senators in a bipartisan effort to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, will deliver the Republican response—a signal that the GOP is seeking to overcome its poor standing with Latino voters in the last election. “The president and Senate negotiators have laid out two different visions with respect to a path to authorized status for undocumented immigrants. The principles to be laid out in Tuesday’s speech will set a marker of just how much the president is willing to negotiate,” said AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Tuesday’s speech will be the 100th State of the Union address.
Ecuador Prepares for Elections Next Sunday: Ecuador's presidential race will enter its final week as voters at home and abroad prepare to elect the country's next president and members of the national assembly on February 17. President Rafael Correa is heavily favored to win re-election to a third term. A survey last week by polling agency Perfiles de Opinion showed that 62 percent of expected voters support Correa, while only 9 percent of voters say they support his nearest rival, Guillermo Lasso. Correa has held office since 2007, and if he wins Sunday’s elections, he will serve a four-year term that will end in 2017.
Colombia and FARC say they are Nearing an Agreement on Land Reform: The Colombian government and FARC leaders said Sunday that they are making progress in the latest round of peace negotiations in Havana, which included an "exhaustive analysis" of land reform. During a press conference on Sunday, the FARC said that they are prepared to free two police officers and one soldier captured by the rebel group in January, fulfilling demands by the Colombian government to release the hostages at once. FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said Sunday that the negotiations were on track and advancing at “the speed of a bullet train.” The sixth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC will start on February 18.
Venezuelan Currency Devaluation Takes Effect Wednesday: The Venezuelan government's long-expected currency devaluation, announced last Friday, will officially go into effect on Wednesday. The official exchange rate will change from 4.3 bolivars to the dollar to 6.3 bolivars to the dollar, the fifth time the country’s currency has been devalued in a decade. Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, currently leading the country in the absence of the ailing President Hugo Chávez, said that the devaluation was needed to fund the country’s social programs, and was also a response to attacks on the bolivar by capitalist “speculators.” The impending devaluation has already caused a rush of panicked last-minute shoppers to buy domestic appliances and other goods over Carnival weekend.
Mexican Farmers Begin Turning over Hostages: Mexican farmers in the township of Ayutla who detained 53 suspected criminals in January released 11 of their hostages last Friday after negotiations with the Guerrero state government. The farmers, fed up with recent drug-related violence and kidnappings in their community, have formed so-called “self-defense” forces to set up checkpoints, capture and imprison suspected criminals before trying them before an ad-hoc town assembly. The vigilante justice has been criticized by human rights groups, but the farmers say they are acting to protect themselves in the absence of the state, which has so far tolerated the movement. The Guerrero state government said the farmers agreed to turn over "the first 20" detainees, though it's not clear whether more will be released. The farmers have said they will not back down until the government proves it is capable of protecting them and establishing peace in the region.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced today that six members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and two policemen were killed in an attack near the Venezuelan border. The announcement comes only days after the president requested that the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN) set free two German citizens who were seized last week in the northern Catatumbo region. These events have raised concern about the viability of the peace talks in Havana, but both the government and the FARC remain optimistic about progress.
Iván Márquez, head of the FARC’s negotiating team, believes there are many reasons for his side to be optimistic about the peace process. “Destroying the road towards peace over claims of armed conflict would be unreasonable,” he stated. But since the group’s two-month ceasefire came to an end on January 20, kidnappings and violence have resumed in the country.
Smaller but more politically motivated than the FARC, the ELN has also expressed its interest in engaging in peace talks with the government, but the group refuses to stop its attacks on civilian and military targets as a precondition to begin the negotiations. The peace-building process held in Cuba recently concluded its third phase, with no major progress made toward ending the longstanding conflict. Land reform is currently the main focus of the negotiations.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba takes over the chairmanship of CELAC on Monday as the summit wraps up in Santiago; a bipartisan group of U.S. senators release a plan for comprehensive immigration reform a day before Obama lays out his proposals; violence in Colombia increases following the end to the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire; Argentina and Iran seek approval for an international truth commission to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires; mining protesters blockade a highway in Peru.
Bipartisan Senate Group, Obama Release Plans for Immigration Reform
A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators will announce at 2:30pm (EST) a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that is contingent upon first ensuring that new border security measures and an exit system are in place. The agreement comes a day before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce his proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. The bipartisan group includes Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the discussions more recently. They met over the weekend to finalize the draft of a principles agreement that also outlines a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, known as DREAMers, and other principles for reforming the immigration system. “Today’s release of bipartisan principles for immigration reform legislation will put down a marker of what will be possible in a potential comprehensive package this spring. This, combined with the president’s speech in Las Vegas tomorrow and the significant weight that is expected to be placed on reform in the State of the Union on February 12, illustrates that if reform is to happen now is the year,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Cuba takes over Chairmanship of CELAC as Summit Concludes
The two-day Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) summit concludes today in Santiago, as Cuba formally assumes chairmanship of the regional body today. CELAC—which includes 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations and excludes the U.S. and Canada—hosted leaders from the European Union, who pledged to deepen ties with Latin America while meeting with regional trade blocs like Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance for trade discussions. As the summit wraps up today, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro is expected to deliver a message from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—still in Cuba recovering from surgery—who was noticeably absent from the summit. Also absent were Paraguayan President Federico Franco (Paraguay was not invited), Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who left early to deal with the aftermath of the nightclub fire that killed over 230 people in Rio Grande do Sul.
Violent Attacks Increase in Colombia After Ceasefire
In the first week since the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) ended a unilateral ceasefire it had announced in November, the guerrillas have reportedly carried out 32 violent attacks between January 20 and 26, surpassing the number of attacks before the peace talks were announced. The Colombian government warned that the increased violence, including the FARC’s kidnapping of two policemen last Friday, could undermine the rebels’ peace talks with the government in Havana. The third round of talks concluded last Thursday, with no major progress toward ending the conflict between the rebels and the government.
Argentina and Iran Agree to Create a Commission to Investigate Bombing
The foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran agreed Sunday to create an international truth commission that would investigate the 1994 car bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Argentine prosecutors have said that the attack was orchestrated by Iran’s current defense minister and carried out by Hezbollah. Formation of the truth commission will require legislative approval in both Iran and Argentina to move forward, and would consist of five independent judges from other countries that would analyze documentation investigating the attack. Jewish groups in Argentina have said the agreement will strengthen Argentine-Iranian ties at the expense of the victims of the attack, and expressed doubt that any suspects would be brought to trial.
Hundreds of Protestors Protest Mining Project in Peru
Hundreds of protestors in northern Peru are continuing a week-long highway blockade near Cañaris after 31 people were injured Friday in a confrontation with police over the nearby Cañarico Norte copper project. The protesters say that Canadian mining company Candente Copper Corp. will divert water that locals rely on for farming, but Peru’s vice-minister of energy and mines says that the protesters have been misinformed about the project’s environmental risks. Despite the protests, a roundtable meeting will go forward as scheduled on February 2 to discuss the project. Meanwhile, Peru's Ministry of the Environment will publish a guide to reducing social conflict through "ecological and economical zoning."
With the fate of peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government hanging in the balance, the FARC requested yesterday that Colombian Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo participate in the negotiations in Havana, Cuba, to address the guerrilla group’s demand for agrarian reform.
The FARC’s proposal, presented on Monday, calls for a complete rural agrarian reform that includes property redistribution and the improvement of property conditions, among other elements. (See this document for more details.) Hours after the FARC’s request, Restrepo praised the group’s intentions but said that the proposal should be discussed by the members of the peace negotiation team, to which he does not belong. Besides land reform, the agenda for the peace talks includes the end of armed conflict, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition, drug trafficking and the rights of victims of the conflict.
On Monday, the FARC’s chief negotiator, Iván Márquez, said that the two-month ceasefire would come to an end on January 20. The rebel group’s intention to resume military operations—as well as the FARC’s allegedly increasing weapons acquisitions in Ecuador—may endanger the peace process that began in October.
The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, stressed that Colombia is willing to extend guarantees to the rebels as long as the FARC agrees to end the fighting. Talks in this third phase of negotiation will go on for 11 days, followed by a three-day break. The deadline for the negotiations is set in November.