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.
This week's likely top stories: Colombia to resume peace talks with FARC once hostages are released; Mercosur and Pacific Alliance convene to discuss regional cooperation; Uruguayans return to polls on Sunday to elect president; Panama courts Walmart for its regional distribution center; Goldcorp to inaugurate Cerro Negro mine in Argentina.
Hostages Released and Peace Talks to be Resumed: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- FARC) will resume after the two parties reached an agreement to free hostages kidnapped by the FARC over a week ago. The FARC will release a total of five hostages, including General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC. The Colombian delegation will return to Havana and resume peace talks as soon as the captives are liberated and the humanitarian operations by the Red Cross to return the captives home are underway. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, just after the kidnappings took place.
MERCOSUR and Pacific Alliance Meet in Santiago: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated a meeting today in Santiago between Latin America’s prominent regional integration blocs, the Alianza del Pacífico (Pacific Alliance)—comprising Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru—and the Mercado Común del Sur (Southern Common Market—Mercosur)—which represents Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela. The meeting, a follow up to Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Heraldo Muñoz’s proposal last February to design a formal trade alliance between the entities, brings together representatives from both sides, including trade officials, academics, union members, and business leaders, in order to dialogue about opportunities for cooperation on climate change, infrastructural development, public health, tourism, and the export of manufactured goods. In her opening statement, Bachelet said, “We are hoping that this historic meeting sets us on our first steps down the shared path of developing our Latin America and each one of our countries.”
Uruguayans Vote for President on Sunday: Uruguayan voters will return to the polls this Sunday, November 30, to elect the country’s next president in a runoff vote. Former president and Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) candidate Tabaré Vázquez is almost assured a victory after a November 12 Cifra poll showed that 52 percent of eligible voters plan to elect Vázquez, compared with the 35 percent of voters who plan to vote for challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN). Other polls have made similar predictions, and Lacalle Pou recently said that he fully expects to be defeated by Vázquez in the second round. Vázquez just missed an outright victory after he won 47.8 percent of votes during Uruguay’s first round election on October 26, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff. Vázquez served as Uruguay’s president from 2005 to 2010.
Panama Courts Walmart to Host Distribution Center: Panamanian business leaders have asked U.S. multinational Walmart to build a Latin American distribution center in Panama’s free trade zone, the Zona Libre de Colón (ZLC). ZLC Manager Surse Pierpoint said that Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela has sent a letter to Walmart executives asking them to consider the proposal, which Pierpoint said will “elevate the status and image of the ZLC” and attract additional companies to Panama. Pierpoint and other business leaders, including the head of the Consejo Empresarial Logístico (Business Logistics Council) and the Cámara Marítima (Maritime Chamber) are seeking a meeting with Walmart executives, expected to take place in December or January, to pitch the proposal.
Goldcorp to Open New Mines in Argentina: Today, the Argentinian Secretary of Mining, Jorge Mayoral, announced in a memo following an on-site meeting with Goldcorp’s Vice President and COO of Central and South America, Eduardo Villacorta, that the company’s Cerro Negro mine will be inaugurated in February 2015. In 2010, Canadian gold giant Goldcorp acquired the Cerro Negro mine, located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, and invested $1.67 million in its reconstruction. Cerro Negro is expected to forge between 130,000 and 180,000 ounces of gold before the end of 2014, and once fully operational, the mine will maintain a production capacity of 4,000 tons per day of concerted gold and silver throughout its 23 year lifespan. Cerro Negro marks the Vancouver-based miner’s second Argentinian venture, after its 37.5 percent share of the Alumbrera copper mine in Catamarca.
This week's likely top stories: Colombia’s peace talks suspended over kidnapping; U.S. will grant refugee status to select minors from Central America; Brazilian police arrest 27 in Petrobras corruption scandal; Cruise ship tourism is booming in Cuba; Pemex invests millions in hydrocarbon production and exploration.
Kidnapping Halts Colombian Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after the rebel group kidnapped a Colombian army general this weekend. General Rubén Darío Alzate Mora—who was apparently dressed as a civilian when captured—and two other people were reportedly abducted on Sunday by the FARC’s 34th front in the western department of Chocó, making General Alzate the first general ever to be kidnapped by the guerrillas. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed hundreds of troops to the area on Sunday. On Santos’ orders, Colombian government peace negotiators will not travel to Havana today to participate in the second round of the two-year-old peace talks with the FARC.
Some Central American Minors to Receive Refugee Status: Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the U.S. government will grant refugee status to minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if their parent is a legal U.S. resident. The program, to be launched next month, will permit immigrant parents to request refugee status for any children under age 21 living in any one of the three Northern Triangle countries. Upon arrival, the children will be eligible to work and will eventually be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Currently, a maximum of 4,000 Latin American immigrants per year from Colombia and Cuba only are eligible for refugee status in the United States. Biden’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about the surge of unaccompanied Central American migrant youth who entered the U.S. illegally this year. The Obama administration is expected to announce further reforms to the immigration system in the coming weeks.
Brazilian Police Arrest 27 in Petrobras Corruption Scandal: In response to mounting political pressure to resolve the Petrobras corruption scandal, Brazilian police made 27 arrests on Friday in connection with the investigation by order of federal prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public MInistry). Those arrested included Renato Duque, the former director of engineering and services at the state-owned oil company, as well as nine executives from construction firms who signed fraudulent contracts with Petrobras. Authorities also froze $277 million in assets belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies. Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, arrested in March, first disclosed the details of the company’s alleged decade-long, $3.8 billion dollar kickback scheme to buy influence among the members of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Responding to the arrests, President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003-2010 while serving as energy minister, commented that “This will change forever the relationship between Brazilian society, the Brazilian state and private companies.” Following Petrobras’ statement that it would delay the release of its third quarter earnings, the company’s stock fell five percent on the IBOVESPA exchange.
Hike in Cruise Ship Tourism Projected in Cuba: The state-run Cuban tourism agency, Cubatur, announced late last week that it is expecting the arrival of more the 200 cruise ships at ports throughout the island during the upcoming winter season, which ranges from late November to April. Tourism is the nation’s second largest source of income (after technical and medical expertise), and it brought 2.85 million visitors to the island in 2013. The resurgence of cruise ship tourism reflects the Cuban government’s attempt to diversify its tourist offerings. The cruise ship industry had been all but abandoned in Cuba since the Spanish firm Pullmantur was acquired by the U.S.-owned Royal Caribbean cruises in 2006 and subsequently shut down all operations to the island. The Cuban government has rejuvenated the cruise ship tourism sector by establishing joint operations with international companies. This was made possible by the Foreign Investment Law, inaugurated in 2014, which aims to attract foreign investment through concessions such as new tax breaks, more flexible labor policies, and a reinforcement of the offer of allowing 100 percent ownership.
Pemex to Invest Millions in Upstream Oil Industry: Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) announced to investors today that it is planning to invest up to $161.7 million between 2015 and 2019—or 78 percent of its available capital—to its upstream search for potential underground and underwater sources of hydrocarbons. Pemex’s investment may cover shale gas extraction from the Agua Nueva deposit in the Tampico-Misantla Basin and deep-water drilling across the Perdido Fold Belt in the Western Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, only $34.4 million will be rerouted back into downstream activities—such as refining, marketing and distribution—to increase the efficiency of oil refineries like the complexes in Tula, Salmanca, and Salina Cruz. Since peaking in 2004, Pemex’s crude oil production has fallen by nearly one million barrels a day. Moreover, this past October, the state-owned oil company posted its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. Against this grim background, the redistribution of capital resources into upstream projects represents Pemex’s long term objective of achieving national energy security by diversifying the national energy portfolio.
On the afternoon of February 27, a bright and warm winter day in Cuba, the staff at the Hotel Nacional in Havana busily prepared for the arrival of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was due to a give a talk to a group of business people that afternoon. Meanwhile, I was seated on a couch in the rear of the hotel, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, chatting with Sergio Jaramillo, the high commissioner for peace in Colombia.
Jaramillo is leading the government delegation to the peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia— FARC) and the Colombian government. He told me he was reading the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, and that those long, difficult poems helped him remain alert. “In general, people are very self-centered,” Jaramillo said. “Here, you need to think about what the other is thinking, what the other thinks I'm thinking. It is an exercise in extrapolation that helps you think differently, helps you find common ground. It is a cliché, but it's true.”
Jaramillo probably has the most challenging job in Colombia. Since February 2012, there has not been a single month that he hasn’t traveled to Havana to meet with representatives of the FARC. Over the past four decades, guerrilla and paramilitary groups have kidnapped 358 mayors and 75 congressmen. In the last century, six presidential candidates have been killed while campaigning. According to the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (National Center of Historical Memory—CNMH), the conflict with the FARC has caused at least 220,000 deaths since 1958, and more than four out of five killed are estimated to be civilians. Colombian society is traumatized. Therefore, negotiating with the FARC is a political and personal risk for everyone involved.
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.
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.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.