This week's likely top stories: Colombians march against possible amnesty for FARC; Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamonthe steps down; Chinese railroad company wins $275 million in orders from Argentina; Venezuela seeks to expand PetroCaribe despite its fragile economic situation; Thousands gather across the U.S. in anti-police brutality protests.
Uribe Leads Protest Against Possible FARC Amnesty: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s Centro Democrático party and the Colombia Quiere movement led marches across the country on Saturday to protest a possible amnesty for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in peace talks between the rebels and Colombian government in Havana. Currently, the government and the rebels are meeting to determine how to disarm FARC combatants and whether to prosecute them for crimes. Protesters across Colombia said that the FARC should face justice, and expressed concern that the peace talks would grant the guerrillas amnesty after 50 years of armed conflict. Further inflaming tempers, seven people—including two children—were shot to death on Friday in the department of Antioquia, in what appears to have been an execution. However, it is unclear whether the shooting involved members of the FARC, the ELN, or members of criminal gangs in the area.
Haiti in Turmoil over Long-Postponed Elections: Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamonthe stepped down on Sunday in an effort to quell protests over government corruption and delayed elections that have roiled the Caribbean nation since December 5. Lamonthe, who began his term in 2012, is the third prime minister to resign since President Michel Martelly took office in 2011. Despite international support for Lamonthe’s efforts to attract investment to Haiti, a commission appointed by Martelly last week called for the resignation of the prime minister, the head of the Supreme Court and the current members of the Provisional Electoral Council. Meanwhile, Haiti has yet to hold legislative and local elections that were scheduled for 2011, leaving 10 out of 30 Senate seats unoccupied. Martelly has blamed the stalled elections on opposition senators who refuse to pass his election law. If Haiti fails to hold elections, the parliament will be dissolved in mid-January and President Martelly will rule by decree. The president announced that negotiations to resolve the political crisis would begin today.
Chinese Railroad Company Brings in $275 million from Argentina: In another strong display of “railroad diplomacy,” state-owned China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Ltd. (CSR) confirmed this morning that it received a $275 million order from Argentina for Chinese locomotive products. The 80 locomotives and more than 2,000 freight cars from China will be used to populate Argentina’s Belgrano Cargas line once a $2.1 billion railway rehabilitation project—contracted to China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC)—is complete. The project will be financed by a supplemental loan agreement finalized by Presidents Xi Jinping and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in July. CSR, which has been supplying trains and other railway products to Argentina since 2006, is currently considering a merger with its principal domestic rival, China CNR Corp Ltd, which would make it competitive with multinational railroad behemoths Siemens and Bombardier.
Venezuela to Expand PetroCaribe Despite Oil Glut: On Sunday, at a summit in Havana marking the 10th anniversary of the leftist Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas—ALBA), Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro revealed his intentions to expand the already frail PetroCaribe oil subsidy program, which has been providing Caribbean countries with oil at low interest rates and a favorable long-term payment plan since 2005. In light of the fact that PetroCaribe shipments fell 11 percent in 2013, which forced beneficiaries to diversify their energy portfolios, Maduro insisted that, “Petrocaribe, what it must do at this stage, is consolidate, strengthen, grow and deploy itself.” However, Venezuela’s capacity to deliver on its promise remains questionable, considering the impact of the severe global drop in oil prices on Venezuela’s economy, with inflation already hovering around 60 percent. In order to finance the expansion, Venezuela is considering a plan to sell billions of dollars of PetroCaribe debt to Wall Street.
Tens of Thousands March in U.S. to Protest Police Killings: Tens of thousands of Americans marched on Saturday in the largest anti-police violence protests since Michael Brown, a black teenager, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri this August. Marches took place in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, San Antonio, San Diego, and Washington DC in memory of victims of police shootings and to denounce the racial injustice and police impunity. No arrests were made at the Millions March in NYC—by far the largest event—which drew approximately 30,000 participants in a procession that ended at the NYC Police Department’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. An estimated 25,000 people rallied in the nation’s capital, including the families and relatives of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford.
In a press release Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced that it would create a special fund for reparations for victims of the armed conflict. The group also asked the Colombian government to take tangible actions to protect the rights of said victims.
The release came on the second day of the twenty-seventh convening of the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC taking place in Havana. The topic of restitution for the victims of the conflict is the fourth point of a six point peace agenda, and by far the most controversial subject being negotiated. A total of 60 victims’ testimonies will be presented before two teams of negotiators, with the first 12 victims arriving in Havana to testify this Saturday.
In their statement, the FARC recognized that finding a solution to this issue will not be easy but emphasized the necessity of doing so. “This matter is very important because it is going to hand us the keys to clear the path toward the reconciliation of the Colombian family,” said Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator. Land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking have already been discussed, while disarmament and the way in which the final peace deal will be incorporated are the final two topics that have yet to be addressed.
Colombia currently has the greatest number of displaced people in the world at over 5 million due to the armed conflict over the past 50 years. While peace talks have been ongoing since November 2012, both the FARC and the Colombian government continue to blame each other for the over 220,000 individuals killed and the millions more displaced.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with recently re-elected Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday as part of his four-nation tour of the Americas. The primary focus of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing peace talks with the Colombian insurgent groups. For the past 18 months the Colombian government has been negotiating with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN)—the two groups that have been involved in the Colombia’s internal conflict over the last 50 years. The talks were central to Santos’ win over Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga on Sunday with 50.95 percent of the vote.
While the U.S. has provided more than $9 billion since 2000 to help fund Plan Colombia, which has been fighting the drug war and the FARC and ELN insurgents, its current assistance is at its lowest level since 1998, with only $300 million sent this year. Biden affirmed the U.S.’ support of Colombia during the peace negotiations, but gave no specifics as to how such backing would be carried out. “Just as the United States has supported Colombia’s leaders in the battlefield, so do we fully support you at the negotiation table,” Biden told reporters.
Likely top stories this week: Former President Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s presidential elections; Protesters rally in support of ousted Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro; USAID plans to pull out of Ecuador by September 2014; the FARC’s 30-day ceasefire goes into effect; a study finds that Mexico leads the world in kidnappings.
Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Elections: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won Sunday's runoff election to become president of Chile again, easily defeating conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei with 62 percent of the vote. Matthei, meanwhile, captured only 37 percent of the vote—the poorest showing by the Chilean Right in two decades. Bachelet served as president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with an 84 percent approval rating, and will be sworn in in March 2014.
Thousands of Colombians March For Mayor Petro: Supporters of Bogotá's recently-dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, rallied in the streets last Friday to protest Petro's removal from office. On December 9, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez accused Petro of mismanagement of Bogotá's trash collection system and barred him from holding political office for 15 years. Protesters say that Ordóñez, who is not an elected official and is an ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, has no authority to remove Petro from office.
USAID Makes Plans to Leave Ecuador: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to pull its $32 million aid program out of Ecuador by September 2014, according to a letter written Thursday by USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing. The move comes six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered USAID to leave his country. USAID has not been successful at renegotiating its contract with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Correa has said he suspects the organization of meddling in his country's affairs.
FARC Ceasefire Begins: A 30-day ceasefire by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) began on Sunday as the rebels continue peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana. The ceasefire was declared on December 8 after a rebel bomb in the department of Cauca killed nine people. However, the rebels have said that the removal from office of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, will have an impact on the peace process. The Colombian government, meanwhile, will continue its operations against the FARC.
Mexcio Leads the World in Kidnappings: The new RiskMap 2014 report from the security company Control Risks found that Mexico had more kidnappings-for-ransom than anywhere else in the world this year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. Twenty percent of all kidnappings that happened in the world this year occurred in Mexico, according to the report.
The Colombian Government on Tuesday accused the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) of plotting to kill former President Álvaro Uribe. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said he had met with Uribe to inform him of “the detection of a plan by the FARC's Teofilo Forero Mobile Column to make an attempt on his life."
The plot was revealed amid tense peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC that have been taking place in Havana since last November. Uribe, who waged a fierce war against the FARC during his presidency from 2002 to 2010 and reduced the rebel group’s ranks by half, has been an outspoken critic of the talks. Minister Pinzón said that Uribe and his family would receive whatever security they needed in addition to their standard 300-person detail.
The news comes less than a week after the government and the FARC reached a key point in peace negotiations by agreeing on a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The other four items to be on the agenda include disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the victims and peace deal implementation. The president of the Colombian Congress, Juan Fernando Cristo, said that if the plot is confirmed, “we have to demand that the [FARC] negotiators in Havana explain it to the country.”
The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reached a key point in peace negotiations this Wednesday, as the two parties agreed upon a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The issue of political integration was previously highlighted by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as a primary goal for the negotiations, which he hopes to conclude by the end of this year.
The talks began in Havana last November, and have stalled numerous times as the parties have sought to reach an agreement to end the country’s fifty-year-old armed conflict. According to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (National Center for Historical Memory), the conflict has killed 220,000 people and has displaced hundreds of thousands more. Political experts believe the integration agreement will boost public support for the negotiations, which has declined in recent months due to increasing criticisms from opposition parties ahead of the 2014 presidential elections.
Humberto de la Calle, chief negotiator for the Colombian government, said the talks will lead to a “new democratic opening,” adding, “Never again politics and weapons together.” Chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez also voiced his support for Wednesday’s development, saying it was “an important step in the right direction to end the conflict and to achieve a real democracy in Colombia.” In addition to agreements on land reform and political integration, the parties hope to conclude negotiations by the end of 2013 on the remaining issues of disarmament, drug reform, reparations for victims, and peace plan implementation.
Likely top stories this week: Military operations expand into a Rio de Janeiro favela; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner takes a month-long medical leave from office; Colombia-FARC negotiations advance in Cuba; Mexican tax reform faces new opposition; IMF warns against the threat of a U.S. debt default.
Rio de Janeiro Expands Military Control of Favelas: A peaceful military operation was conducted on Sunday in the Lins de Vasconcellos favela of Rio de Janeiro, home to approximately 15,000 residents. Authorities have already established 34 Unidades de Polícia Pacificadoras (Police Pacification Units—UPPs) across the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area—and now plan to install two in Lins de Vasconcellos—in an effort to promote public security for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. UPPs came under public criticism recently after 10 military police officers were accused by public prosecutors of torturing and killing Amarildo de Souza, a resident of the Rocinha favela.
Argentine President Takes Medical Leave: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was ordered by doctors to take a month-long leave of absence after they confirmed she had suffered a head trauma. Vice President Amado Bodou will assume presidential responsibility during Kirchner’s absence. The announcement precedes midterm congressional elections scheduled for October 27 during a political low for Kirchner’s governing coalition. The group recently reported its worst performance in ten years, having received just 26 percent of national votes in the electoral primaries.
Colombian Government and FARC Leaders Resume Peace Talks: Following disagreements that resulted in a two-week stall in peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government, FARC Chief Negotiator Iván Márquez announced this week that both parties have agreed to resume negotiations. The talks began 10 months ago in Havana, Cuba, and have now been recorded in a 25-page document that includes agreements on the key issue of land reform. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hopes to conclude negotiations by the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of the FARC surrendering all weapons in exchange for legal and political integration.
Mexican Tax Reform Faces New Opposition: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed tax reforms face new opposition from the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN). The plan seeks to promote annual economic growth beyond 5 percent by reducing government subsidies for national energy production and raising annual revenue by 1.4 percent from increased sales and income taxes. The PAN has cited concerns that the tax reform bill would disproportionately burden middle-income families by imposing new taxes on private education tuition, mortgages and home rentals.
IMF Warns against A Possible U.S. Debt Default: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has warned against the looming threat of a U.S. debt default and the damaging effects it could have on the global economy as the U.S. Congress remains stalled in negotiations over a government shutdown. A recent report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury also warned against what would likely be the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, noting, “a default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic.” In a recent speech, Lagarde said the U.S.’s ability to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling was “mission critical” to global economic growth and stability.
The Constitutional Court of Colombia, the country’s highest court, ruled yesterday that peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) are constitutional, rejecting a legal challenge that would have stalled negotiations in ending over 50 years of conflict.
The decision comes after several weeks of the court listening to intense debates over the Legal Framework for Peace, an amendment approved in Congress last year that modified the constitution to lay the groundwork for a negotiated peace with the FARC. Human rights groups have challenged this framework, with concerns that the reform will lead to institutionalized impunity for many guerilla fighters responsible for kidnappings, massacres and attacks. Gustavo Gallon, a lawyer with the Colombian Commission of Jurists, had presented the formal legal challenge that was up for debate.
The law formed the basis of the peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says that the court’s decision allows the country to move forward with these important peace negotiations. He emphasizes that the country will need to find the “middle point between justice and peace that enables us to put a definitive end to this conflict.”
Likely top stories this week: Six people die in “La Bestia” train accident in Mexico; Colombia-FARC peace talks resume in Havana; Venezuela and Palestine sign energy deal; Roberto Azevêdo will become the new WTO director; and public consultations on energy reform begin in Mexico.
Six Dead and 22 Injured in “La Bestia” Train Accident: On Sunday, at least six people were killed and 22 were injured in the derailment of the cargo train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) in southern Mexico, a train that is notorious for transporting Central American migrants through Mexico and to the U.S. border. According to official sources, at least 16 of the passengers injured in the accident were nationals of Honduras between 20 and 30 years old. Public Security Minister for Tabasco State Audomaro Martinez Zapata said that thieves had stolen the nails and metal plaques from the tracks, which led to the accident. Migrants’ rights activists demanded immediate measures to put an end to the risks that undocumented migrants face when traveling across the country, and criticized the Mexican government for not taking this issue seriously. On Sunday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto lamented the accident via Twitter and expressed his solidarity with the victims’ families.
Colombia-FARC Talks Resume after Crisis: On Saturday, lead Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) would resume in Havana on Monday. This statement put an end to one of the biggest crises to afflict the peace process since it began in November 2012, which was prompted when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal last week that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum. On Friday, the FARC announced that it was putting the peace talks on hold to study the referendum proposal. In response, Santos stated that the FARC is not entitled to “dictate pauses and impose conditions” on the negotiations, and ordered his team of negotiators to return to Bogotá to evaluate the implications of a hiatus in the peace process. So far, the talks are advancing at a slow pace and negotiators have only been able to reach a partial deal on one of five points in the agenda. Still, both sides have remained at the negotiation table, raising hopes for an end to the five-decade-long armed conflict.
Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority Sign Energy Deal: On Saturday, Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority signed an energy agreement that will allow Venezuela to sell oil at a “fair price” with “flexible repayment terms” to Palestinians, as well as provide expert advice and training for the fuel management and handling. The deal was signed during a meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, while al-Maliki is on a tour of Latin America. During his trip to the region, al-Maliki also met Ecuadorian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility Ricardo Patiño and Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar. Venezuela, Ecuador and Guyana are among several countries from Latin America and the Caribbean that recognize Palestine as an independent state.
Roberto Azevêdo to Become New WTO Director: Next Sunday, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo will become the new director general of the World Trade Organization. Azevêdo has served as Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008 and was selected in May to become the first Latin American to lead the WTO. In August, Azevêdo announced the appointment of four deputies, who will assume their posts in October: Yi Xiaozhun of China, Karl-Ernst Brauner of Germany, Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria and David Shark of the United States. One of Azevêdo’s main objectives in his new position is to revive the stalled Doha Round trade talks. In a recent statement, Azevêdo said that regional and bilateral trade accords obstructed efforts to revive global trade talks and “steal the attention a little from the multilateral system.”
Public Consultations on Energy Reform began in Mexico: On Sunday, Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática—PRD) began the first phase of a citizen consultation on the country’s fiscal and energy reforms. The set of energy reforms presented by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on August 13 would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors. The fiscal reform seeks to increase Mexico’s tax take by about 4 percentage points of GDP as a means to channel more resources towards education, health and infrastructure projects at the federal, state and municipal levels. Jesús Zambrano, the president of the PRD, called citizens from all parties to participate in the consultation. Members of the PRD have different positions from President Peña Nieto on both the fiscal and energy reforms and hope the result of the consultations will be taken into account by the central government. The first phase of the consultation took place in almost 3,000 centers installed in parks, plazas and metro stations in Mexico City and in the states of Coahuila, Campeche, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Colima, Nuevo León, Sonora, Nayarit, and Tabasco. A second phase of consultations will begin next Sunday.
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.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.