May 5, 2015
Over 330,000 teachers will continue to strike in Colombia after a 20-hour round of talks between the government and the Federación Colombiana de Educadores (Colombian Teachers’ Federation—FECODE) failed to produce an agreement. The results of the meeting were announced yesterday by the Defensoría del Pueblo(National Ombudsman’s Office), which is mediating the negotiations.
The strike, which began on April 22 and centers around teachers’ demand for higher salaries, better health services and the repeal of teacher evaluation, is affecting an estimated 9 million-plus students, who have not attended class since the strike began. After nationwide protests late last month, Colombian Minister of Education Gina Parody seemed to discount the possibility of resuming negotiations until the strike ended. Protesters marching on the Ministry of Education were greeted by a banner strung across the ministry’s façade that read: “Let the children return to class.” “My urgent plea is to not affect the children,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said at the time. “The children should not have to pay for the consequences (platos rotos) of these protests.”
The government has been in negotiation with FECODE since February to reach a compromise, but the union rejected an earlier deal that included a 10 percent raise in teacher salaries because it was tied to a reform package that would have had to have been approved by the Colombian Congress. After the latest round of talks, the government’s negotiators, including Minister Parody, Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas, and Labor Minister Luis Eduardo Garzón, accepted a package proposed by the Ombudsman that incudes a 12 percent salary increase.
FECODE, however, has indicated that it wants Santos to take a more active role in the negotiations. “The government commission has shown a series of limitations when it comes to negotiating,” a FECODE spokesperson said after the talks concluded, noting the union’s hopes “that it will be President Santos who gives clear instructions about the path to follow.”
November 24, 2014
Aunque los cálculos políticos y militares anunciaban una pronta liberación del general del Ejército Rubén Darío Alzate Mora, secuestrado por las FARC en el Chocó, el hecho que provocó la suspensión del proceso de paz entre el gobierno colombiano y esa guerrilla por primera vez en dos años de diálogo, todavía lo tiene en vilo.
Las operaciones de rescate de la Cruz Roja Internacional, lideradas por los países garantes Cuba y Noruega e iniciadas el pasado 19 noviembre, podrían tomar más tiempo de lo esperado por la necesidad de cesar operaciones militares en el Chocó. Una versión del plagio habla de que el General y sus acompañantes, el cabo Jorge Rodríguez y la abogada Gloria Urrego, se subieron de manera voluntaria en una chalupa en el corregimiento de las Mercedes con dos guerrilleros vestidos de civil, y se fueron río abajo. Otra dice que los sujetos iban armados hasta los dientes y los obligaron a hacerlo.
Cuando se de la esperada entrega del general, vendrá por primera vez la rendición de cuentas de un ex secuestrado: al militar le espera una citación al Senado para que explique qué hacía vestido de civil y desarmado, en una zona roja de alta presencia guerrillera, que él mismo conoce como la palma de su mano. No en vano estaba allí al mando de una fuerza de Tarea Conjunta antiguerrilla, en uno de los departamentos más golpeados por la violencia de las FARC.
Las misteriosas circunstancias del histórico plagio de un General de la República, el hecho de que el ex-presidente Álvaro Uribe fue el primero en dar la noticia en su Twitter y el debate que el Congreso está dando sobre el proyecto del fuero militar, no son hechos aislados. Al contrario, ponen sobre el tapete la fuerte voz que quieren tener los militares y los sectores de ultraderecha en el proceso de paz, y la necesidad del gobierno—en particular a través de su ministro de defensa, Juan Carlos Pinzón—de hacerles sentir que nadie está claudicando en el terreno de la guerra. Que la moral de las tropas debe estar siempre en alto. Que las fuerzas militares, entregadas ellas mismas por 50 años a combatir al terrorismo, jamás serán equiparadas con los guerrilleros en términos de juzgamiento y condena—no importa cuántos excesos hayan podido cometer o con quién se hayan aliado para lograr la derrota de ese gran y único enemigo llamado FARC.
November 5, 2014
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will travel to Colombia today for a two-day meeting with Colombian government officials, businesses and civil society organizations to discuss security, trade and human trafficking, his office said Tuesday.
Senator Rubio will be traveling to the South American nation in his capacity as a member of the Senate’s intelligence and foreign relations committees. “Colombia is a key U.S. ally, and Florida has also benefited from all of the security and economic gains they have made in recent decades,” said Rubio, who represents the state with the largest Colombian immigrant community in the United States. Rubio’s trip comes on the heels of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ securing financial aid from the European Union to continue the peace process.
While the details on the amount of funding provided by the EU is yet to be determined, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her support of the peace process and Germany’s state-owned development bank pledged $100 million over the next two years to support projects born from the peace negotiations.
The recently released issue of Americas Quarterly has demonstrated that experts are divided on whether or not the peace talks, which began in October 2012 in Oslo, will be successful in ending the 50-year conflict between the Colombian government and the guerilla Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). In the past, Senator Rubio has expressed his skepticism that negotiations will be enough to deter the FARC.
President Santos will be in Europe during Senator Rubio’s visit.
Monday Memo: Santos’ Cabinet – Venezuela-Colombia Border – Codelco – Argentine Ex-Captain Deported – Pemex Fire
August 11, 2014
This week’s likely top stories: President Juan Manuel Santos announces new ministers; Venezuela and Colombia crack down on smuggling; Codelco’s CEO has new plans for Chuquicamata Mine; Bolivia deports an Argentine accused of crimes against humanity; a fire at a Pemex refinery kills at least four people.
President Santos to announce new Cabinet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to announce new Cabinet ministers today as he launches his second term in office. Of the 16 Cabinet positions, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, and Minister of Foreign Relations María Ángela Holguín will retain their titles, while former Minister of the Interior Aurelio Iragorri will now be Minister of Agriculture, and Juan Fernando Cristo, former president of the Senate, will take Iragorri’s place at the ministry of the interior. At his inauguration address last week, Santos said that in addition to signing a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), he will focus on education and equality as pillars of his 2014-2018 presidential term.
Venezuela to shut its border with Colombia at night: Effective today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to close the Colombia-Venezuela border between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am each night in an effort to reduce smuggling. Heavily subsidized Venezuelan goods—such as food and fuel—can be sold at much higher prices in Colombia, causing tax losses for the state and profits for drug gangs and guerrilla groups. So far this year, the Venezuelan government has seized 21,000 tons of food and 40 million liters of fuel that were destined for Colombia. Maduro and Santos agreed to the measures on August 1 at a summit in Colombia.
New Codelco CEO says open-pit mine must go underground: Nelson Pizarro, the new CEO of Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, said on Sunday that Chile’s open-pit Chuquicamata Mine should be transformed into a subterranean mine to make it profitable. Pizarro, who was named Codelco’s CEO at the end of July and will officially take over on September 1, faces opposition from the miners’ unions, who say that the plan to revamp the mine will cause many to lose their jobs because many are not trained to work underground. Pizarro replied that “if the unions don’t do their part, there will be no future for Codelco.” Codelco is currently the largest producer of copper in the world.
Bolivia deports Argentine accused of Dirty War crimes: Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, a former infantry captain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has been deported back to Argentina after he was captured on Friday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Páez was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz during the dictatorship. He had been temporarily released from prison in San Juan in 2011 to await his trial, but after he failed to attend his hearing, local police and Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest. Now that he has returned to Argentina, Páez’s trial is expected to resume.
Pemex refinery accident in Mexico: A fire that broke out on Friday at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil refinery in Ciudad Madero, Mexico, had killed at least four people as of Sunday night. Seven refinery workers were still hospitalized, according to Pemex officials. The latest explosion happened as workers performed maintenance on an empty petroleum coke tank, which was used to hold a solid carbon by-product of the oil refining process. On July 24, a different fire had broken out at the refinery, injuring 23 workers. Last week, the Mexican government passed secondary legislation to open its energy sector to private and foreign investment for the first time in over 70 years, in an effort to increase production and attract foreign expertise and technology.
August 8, 2014
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began his second term yesterday after winning reelection in the second round in June, defeating Óscar Iván Zuluaga who was backed by former President Álvaro Uribe. Santos based his campaign on the promise of a peace, with the hope of coming to an agreement the left-wing guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
When Santos initiated the process of peace talks with the FARC in 2012, he broke with Uribe, his former mentor, who had a military-based approach toward dealing with the guerrilla groups. In response, the FARC announced a cease-fire—though the group has engaged in some acts of violence since this announcement—and the Colombian government began peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba in November 2012.
The Corte Constitucional de Colombia (Constitutional Court of Colombia) decided on Wednesday that it will allow guerrillas who give up their arms to participate in politics, unless they have been accused of committing crimes against humanity or genocide. This is seen as another victory for Santos, as Rafael Guarín, a former vice minister of defense and uribista, had previously challenged Santos peace reform in court, attempting to block any future political participation of guerrillas in the Colombian government.
Santos will face an uphill battle, with 61 percent of Colombians skeptical that FARC is interested in peace, and 50 percent disapproving of Santos’ approach towards peace. He also has faces opposition from Uribe, who now serves as a senator, and his allies in congress, as well as a smaller guerrilla group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, (National Liberation Army—ELN), who have recently been stepping up attacks on infrastructure.
July 30, 2014
Human Rights Watch released a report today that documents killings, disappearances and sexual violence against Afro-Colombian communities in Tumaco, a city in southwestern Nariño department. The abuses were reportedly committed by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–FARC).
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said that “the FARC has a tight grip over the lives of many Tumaco residents, who are forced to keep silent as the guerrillas plant their fields with landmines, drive them from their homes, and kill their neighbors and loved ones with impunity.”
In addition to the crimes committed by FARC, the report highlights abuses by neo-paramilitaries and police, and the general atmosphere of crime in the state. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch believes that of the 17 killings that took place in 2013 and 2014, 12 are likely to be attributed to FARC.
Despite the high levels of crime, an increase of 200 policemen in Tumaco has reduced the level of homicides by 41 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to El Espectador. The city has created a five-year plan from 2014-2019 that proposes infrastructure investments such as power plants, improving the port and airport, and building 200 interest-free housing units.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos threatened on Tuesday to halt peace negotiations with FARC after continuing attacks—including an attack on the Ariari aqueduct on Saturday, which left around 16,000 people without water in the Colombia state Meta, and an attack on an electrical tower in Buenaventura on Monday, leaving 450,000 without power. After the attack in Meta, Santos stated, “They are digging their own political grave because this is exactly what makes people reject them.”
Santos will begin his second term on August 7, after a competitive election that showcased many Colombians’ skepticism towards achieving peace with the FARC. Out of 17 countries in the hemisphere, Colombia ranked 11th overall in Americas Quarterly’s 2014 Social Inclusion Index, which was released on Tuesday.
June 20, 2014
On June 15, 15.8 million Colombians went to the polls and gave peace a chance—literally. With 51 percent of the vote, President Juan Manuel Santos won a second term against the Centro Democrático´s Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won 45 percent.
In three weeks, Santos bounced back from his defeat in the first-round election on May 25 and secured four more years in the Casa de Nariño. The 2014 elections realigned political forces in Colombia and drew a new political map, with important future consequences.
Here are five takeaways from Santos' win:
1. Promises of peace
Santos ran his campaign for re-election on the promise to continue the current peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana, Cuba.
With low levels of public support for his administration, Santos owes his victory to voters’ leap of faith that it will be possible to sign a peace deal with guerrilleros. Between the first round and the runoff election, Santos’ campaign managed to obtain key endorsements from the left-wing opposition—the Polo Democrático Alternativo—and the center-left Alianza Verde. This support, based exclusively on the continuation of the peace process, ended up being crucial to Santos' victory.
In other words, Santos' re-election is, more than anything, a mandate to negotiate with the FARC.
June 19, 2014
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.
June 18, 2014
¿Cómo se gobierna con la izquierda y la derecha en la oposición? ¿Cómo se concilia a un país donde casi 7 millones de personas (los que votaron por Óscar Iván Zuluaga) creen que el camino es la guerra y que no se debería estar sentado en la Habana con terroristas? ¿Cómo se entiende que lo del domingo fue, más que un voto por Juan Manuel Santos, un plebiscito por la paz—y que no es un cheque en blanco para el presidente, sino el momento de firmar acuerdos y ejecutarlos?
Esa Colombia política, llena de sorpresas—que, en medio de la propaganda sucia (como no), puso a la opinión pública a debatir si quiere más sangre y muertos o algún escenario de perdón y reconciliación—comienza una nueva era en que la mentada palabra “paz” cobrará su verdadero valor.
Porque fue la esperanza de paz la que hizo que las fuerzas de izquierda fueran con “tapabocas” a votar por Santos, quien propone el modelo de desarrollo neoliberal que tanto combaten.
En su discurso de triunfo, Santos fue vitoreado entusiastamente por un público que gritaba paz y a quienes se refirió como los “millones de compatriotas” que “votaron por la ilusión de cambiar el miedo por la esperanza,” y les propuso “desterrar para siempre el odio y la violencia de nuestra democracia.” Incluso le habló a las víctimas al subrayar que “es el momento de reconocerlas, es el momento de reconstruir regiones azotadas por la violencia.”
Monday Memo: Santos Wins in Colombia – Argentine Appeal Rejected – Biden Visits Latin America – Bolivia Hosts Summit – Neves to Face Rousseff in Brazil
June 16, 2014
This week’s likely top stories: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos wins re-election; the U.S. Supreme Court rejects Argentina’s appeal; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits Latin America; Bolivia hosts the G77+China Summit; Aecio Neves will represent the PSDB in Brazil’s elections.
Santos Re-elected President in Colombia: Colombian voters re-elected incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday, awarding him nearly 51 percent of the vote. Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who led in the first round election on May 25, gained only 45 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff election and delivered a concession speech on Sunday. Santos’ campaign focused on continuing his government’s peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana, and called his election a victory “of hope over fear.” Santos will be inaugurated on August 7 to serve another four-year term.
Argentine Appeal Rejected By U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the Argentine government on Monday, rejecting the country’s appeal in its case against holdout creditors Aurelius Capital Management and NML Capital Ltd. The court let a lower-court ruling stand without comment, upholding a decision that Argentina owes more than $1.3 billion in principal and interest. The Argentine government warned that the decision could have severe consequences and “trigger a renewed economic catastrophe.” Argentina defaulted on about $100 billion of its debt during its 2001 financial crisis.
Biden to visit Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: Obama administration officials announced on Sunday that Vice President Joe Biden will add a stop to his tour of Latin America this week: Guatemala. The vice president will attend today’s soccer match between the U.S. and Ghana in Brazil, and then visit Colombia and the Dominican Republic before meeting with Central American leaders in Guatemala on Friday. The vice president is expected to discuss the soaring number of unaccompanied Central American minors who have crossed into the United States without papers. This year, 48,000 unaccompanied young immigrants were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol.
Bolivia Hosts G77+China Summit: Bolivia hosted the G77+China Summit this weekend in Santa Cruz, marking the 50th anniversary of a group of 77 developing countries that has since expanded to 133 countries. China, while not a member of the G77, joined the summit to signal its increasing trade ties with the region. Bolivian President Evo Morales called for a new world order where “the peoples of the world can grow in peace and live well” and an end to the UN Security Council, which Morales said has only reinforced global hierarchies and no longer promotes peace. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of the G77+ China for global development and added that countries must protect human rights to achieve sustainable development. The summit concluded with a call to end poverty by the year 2030.
Aecio Neves to Run Against Rousseff in October: The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), nominated Senator Aecio Neves to run for president against incumbent President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections. On Saturday, Neves, a former governor from the state of Minas Gerais, said that he would implement a more austere economic policy, reducing public spending to reign in the country’s inflation. However, Neves also said in a June 2 interview that his government would continue funding the popular Bolsa Familia cash transfer program. Current polls show that Rousseff holds an eight percentage point lead over Neves in the case of a runoff election, which would take place on October 26.