This Week in Latin America: Dilma visits U.S.—DR defends immigration policy—Honduras protests—Colombia false positives
June 29, 2015
Here’s a look at some of the stories we’ll be following this week:
Dilma and Obama Meet on Climate, Trade: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff travels to Washington, DC today to meet with President Barack Obama. The trip, partly the product of a yearlong charm offensive by Vice President Joe Biden, is a sign of warming relations between the U.S. and Brazil. Revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on members of the Brazilian government led Rousseff to cancel a previous state visit in 2013. Obama and Rousseff are expected to focus on areas of mutual interest, particularly trade, defense and efforts to build support for a global agreement on climate change.
Domican Immigration Policy Under Scrutiny: On Tuesday, the Dominican Republic’s foreign minister, Andrés Navarro, will appear before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC. He is expected to respond to recent, widespread criticism of changes to his country’s immigration policies, particularly regarding the potential deportation of thousands of Haitian immigrants and their children. In a speech on Thursday at a Central American Integration System (SICA) summit in Guatemala, Dominican President Danilo Medina addressed critics, saying that the country’s policies were respectful of both Dominican law and human rights. “If in the United States, with all its resources, it’s difficult to properly document immigrants, it’s logical that it would be a challenge for us as well,” he added. Meanwhile, Haiti's prime minister last Thursday warned of a humanitarian crisis, saying that 14,000 people had crossed into Haiti in the space of a week.
Anti-Corruption Proposal Rejected by Protestors: Protests continue to swell in Honduras, as thousands of marchers took to the streets on Friday in a fresh rejection of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government. The protests marked the fifth straight Friday that marchers have gathered in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and came just days after Hernández presented a proposal for combatting corruption, a chief concern among protesters. The proposal calls for the creation of a new, “integrated system” against impunity and corruption. According to government officials, it is intended to spur dialogue among diverse sectors of the population who have been calling for Hernández’s resignation. James Nealon, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, responded to the proposal via Twitter writing that, while it is not the U.S.’ job to dictate how Central American countries deal with corruption, Hernandez’s ideas were “worthy of serious study.”
False Positives Increase Pressure on Santos: Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos may have to weather another blow to peace talks with the FARC after a report released by Human Rights Watch implicated high-ranking members of the Colombian army in the false positive killings of the early 2000s. The report argues that several members of the military’s top brass knew about and may have even ordered these acts, in which civilians were killed by the military and falsely identified as guerrillas. Support for the negotiations is slipping and there are calls for the imposition of a deadline on the talks. Many wonder whether any peace deal can be negotiated without first renewing the ceasefire agreement with the FARC, which broke down in April.
June 16, 2015
The use of child soldiers by armed groups is one of the most regrettable aspects of Colombia’s long-running internal conflict, and is a sticking point in the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, that began in November 2012. Human rights organizations have accused the rebel group of forcibly recruiting children, and the Colombian military reports that the FARC have trained children for dangerous combat duties such as using grenades and planting mines.
FARC representatives have vacillated between downplaying and justifying the presence of children among their ranks. In an interview with AQ published last fall, Andrés París, a negotiator for the FARC in Havana asserted that the forces practices adhered to international humanitarian law. “We are the people’s army, so all people have the right to participate: children, women and adults,” París said, adding, “we don’t have 10-year-old kids carrying AK-47s.”
No one knows for certain how many children currently remained mired in the conflict. While the Colombian government estimates that the FARC alone retains 2,000 underage combatants, FARC negotiator Iván Márquez stated in an interview last February that the guerrilla had determined that only 13 fighters younger than 15 are among its ranks.
In a hopeful sign, FARC negotiators announced yesterday that they expect to reach an agreement for the “handover” of children under the age of 15 who are within their ranks. According to a statement, the guerrilla’s negotiators hope to “finalize, together with the government delegation, the protocols needed to make good on this promise during the course of” the next round of peace talks, which begin tomorrow.
The FARC announced in February that it would put an end to the recruitment of individuals younger than 17 years old. After the announcement was criticized for not going far enough, the guerilla organization declared for the first time that it would work to discharge children younger than 15.
Speaking from Stockholm, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, “Let’s hope it’s true. That would be a step in the right direction.”
The announcement comes at a time of increasing tension in the peace process. While the two sides reached an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to look into human rights violations perpetrated over the course of the conflict, talks have been strained by a resumption of violence since the FARC’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in December, including a ground attack by the FARC on April 15. In his remarks from Stockholm, President Santos said of the attacks, “They are completely irrational acts that undermine people’s confidence in the peace process.”
June 5, 2015
On Thursday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC—Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and the Colombian government announced an agreement to establish an independent truth commission to investigate human rights violations committed during Colombia’s 50-year internal conflict.
The 11 anticipated commissioners, to be elected by a seven-member committee, will carry out investigations for a period of three years. However, according to the statement, the commission does not have the authority to impose penalties and any information unearthed by the commission will be inadmissible in a court of law. Cuban and Norwegian representatives from the Havana peace talks said that the commission would begin to function after the parties sign a final agreement and the FARC lay down their arms.
While this marks a milestone for the two-and-a-half-year peace talks in Havana, the agreement may receive pushback from victims and relatives seeking legal remedy and redress.
Moreover, violence continues to threaten the peace negotiations. During a televised speech in March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared a suspension of aerial bombing after the FARC announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in December. However, he reinitiated air strikes after guerrillas killed 10 soldiers in a ground attack on April 15. The FARC ended the ceasefire in May due to what they said was Santos’ “inconsistency.” On May 21, three bombing raids resulted in the death of 27 rebels.
April 16, 2015
On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumed bombing of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) after an early morning attack by the rebel group killed at least 10 soldiers and left 17 injured. In the deadliest clash since the FARC announced a unilateral cease fire nearly four months ago, guerillas ambushed the soldiers with grenades and firearms in the rural southwestern province of Cauca.
In a televised press conference, Santos described the attack as “deliberate” and said it “implies a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire.” Santos’ order to resume bombing suspends the truce he made in March in response to the FARC’s adherence to its cease fire.
The killing of the soldiers is a significant setback to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC that, after more than two years, seemed to be making conclusive progress. Since the FARC’s December announcement of a unilateral cease fire and Santos’ subsequent ban on air raids on FARC camps, the FARC had agreed to end its recruitment of child soldiers and the two groups recently agreed to work together on a historic landmine removal project. The group had also reached agreements with the government on land reform, political participation of ex-rebels, and joint cooperation against drug trafficking.
March 13, 2015
Cada vez que nuevos anuncios emergen de la mesa de conversaciones que el gobierno mantiene con las FARC en Cuba, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos califica el proceso de ‘irreversible’, ‘cerca del fin’ o de ingresar a ‘una etapa definitiva’. Cierto es que tras 33 rondas de conversaciones y pese al hermetismo de las primeras, mucho se ha avanzado en temas duros como el reconocimiento de las víctimas y las responsabilidades en el negocio del narcotráfico que alimenta el conflicto.
Ahora el cese de bombardeos por un mes contra los campamentos de las FARC, decidido unilateralmente por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, ha levantado una polvareda de opiniones por cuanto para unos, como el procurador general, es un cese bilateral disfrazado y viola la constitución, y para el gobierno, es una respuesta al cese al fuego decretado por las FARC desde diciembre pasado.
No menos revelador resulta el hecho, como lo publicó la Revista Semana, de que el Ejército haya reducido sustancialmente sus actividades militares, pero no solo desde el comienzo de las negociaciones sino incluso desde los años en que el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe, enconado contradictor del proceso, dirigía el país con sus políticas de mano dura y seguridad democrática . En suma, es una realidad que el conflicto ha ido desescalando en el terreno militar, y que aunque mantener arriba la moral de las tropas, es una muletilla bastante popular en el cuerpo castrense, por lo cual sin su participación pacífica, no hay negociación que avance.
Es imposible hablar de un cese al fuego bilateral si no se hubieran sentado cinco generales activos y un almirante en la Subcomisión Técnica del Fin del Conflicto, a discutir el tema. Si soldados y guerrilleros no fueran parte del equipo que se conformó para la tarea titánica de desactivar las minas antipersonales regadas por la geografía de 688 municipios del país, no habría forma de aliviar a estas comunidades.
Monday Memo: Colombia Peace Talks—Peru-Chile Spying—Citigroup Sale—Puerto Rico VAT—Chilean Corruption
March 9, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: Colombia and FARC agree to clear landmines; Peru recalls ambassador to Chile; Citigroup to sell Central American entities; Puerto Rico debates possible VAT; Chilean officials charged with corruption.
Colombia and FARC to Remove Landmines: The Colombian and the FARC guerrilla group reached an agreement on Saturday to work together to clear the country of landmines and explosive devices. Their joint statement was read by Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor countries for the peace process, and the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will assist in the de-mining efforts. This weekend’s agreement marked important progress in the negotiations; for the first time, high-level military commanders were present, and the removal of mines and explosives is a major step toward disarmament. Over 11,000 Colombians have been hurt or killed by landmines in the last 15 years.
Peru Recalls Ambassador to Chile: On Saturday, Peru recalled its ambassador to Chile over spying accusations. Last month, the Peruvian government announced that three Peruvian naval employees were being investigated for allegedly disclosing military information to Chile. On February 20, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala sent Chile a diplomatic note requesting an answer regarding the claims, although Peru has not yet received a response. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz stated that Chile “does not promote or accept acts of espionage in other states or its own territory.” Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara claimed that Peru will not send its ambassador back to Chile until the issue is addressed. Chile and Peru have long harbored tensions over their borders.
Citigroup Inc. to Sell Central American Operations: Citigroup Inc. may soon sell its Central American retail units to Banco Popular Español S.A., which is based in Madrid, Spain. According to a source’s comments on Saturday, Citigroup aims to sell its retail operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama in an effort to leave markets yielding low revenues and to streamline operations. Citigroup hopes to sell for $1.5 billion. The deal is not yet finalized and is subject to change. Spokesmen for both banks declined comment on the matter.
Puerto Rico Proposes Plan to Combat Tax Evasion: Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla is supporting a new plan to impose a 16 percent value-added tax (VAT), in an effort to reduce the territory’s $73 billion public debt. The plan, which is currently being considered by lawmakers, would replace Puerto Rico’s current tax rate of 7 percent and would curb tax evasion on the island. Pending approval, producers would pay the VAT on raw materials, and include it in the price given to retailers, and the VAT would eventually be paid by consumers. Charging the VAT at each stage in the sales process would ensure proper collection. Currently, Puerto Rico’s informal economy is estimated to be worth $16 billion, a figure representing approximately 25 percent of the GDP. García Padilla is expected to make an announcement regarding the plan today.
Chilean Corruption Scandal Racks Opposition Party: After court hearings last week, a tax auditor, a former government official and four executives from the Penta Group, one of Chile’s largest financial groups, were jailed on Saturday for tax fraud, bribery and money laundering. Ten defendants were implicated in the scandal, including two tax officials and two politicians from the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) opposition party. In a public declaration on Monday, La Superintendencia de Bancos e Instituciones Financieras (Superintendency of Banks and Financial Institutions—SBIF) announced that the Penta executives, including owners Carlos Délano y Carlos Eugenio Lavín, would be unable to maintain their positions as shareholders in the company.
February 13, 2015
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced yesterday an immediate ban on the recruitment of minors younger than age 17.
In a statement on Thursday, the UN's International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, the FARC reiterated, “We want to take steps that will ensure that fewer generations and fewer young people will be involved in military confrontations which put their lives at risk.” The new ban will increase the previous minimum recruitment age of 15 by two years.
Additionally, the chief negotiator for the FARC, Iván Márquez, accused the Colombian government of using minors to fight the guerrillas through the forced recruitment of young men and the use of children for gathering intelligence. He called on the armed forces to join the FARC in discontinuing the recruitment of minors.
The Colombian government and the FARC have been involved in peace talks in Havana, Cuba since 2012. Many opponents of the peace talks point to the FARC’s own use of child soldiers in their criticism of the negotiations. The Colombian government has stated that it has rescued almost 6,000 former child soldiers in the last 15 years, many of them former guerrillas. Yet the FARC has disputed these figures, and says that its recruitment practices are in line with international humanitarian law.
January 8, 2015
In a video statement released yesterday, Colombia’s Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN) reaffirmed its willingness to join formalized peace talks with the Colombian government and announced that it would consider a ceasefire.
In the video, ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez said, “The government […] has called the insurgents to the table. We will attend this dialogue to examine the will of the government and the Colombian State. If we conclude that arms are no longer necessary, we will consider quitting using them.”
For two years, the Colombian government has been conducting formal peace talks with the country’s largest rebel movement, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia—FARC). On December 20, 2014, the FARC declared a unilateral, indefinite ceasefire, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently said that he had instructed government peace negotiators to “accelerate” the talks with the FARC.
Last June, Santos revealed that his government and the ELN had begun separate preliminary peace talks in January 2014. Until now, little was known about the progress of those talks. The two sides recently concluded a “spiritual retreat” in the Colombian city of Cartagena, after which the President Santos urged the ELN to consider a ceasefire.
“We have given much thought to a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire, in this regard with must recognize that the FARC have delivered. We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative and to reach an agreement as soon as possible regarding the issues we have been discussing for some time,” Santos said.
Read more about the Colombian peace negotiations here.
December 22, 2014
Los entusiastas de los diálogos recibimos con optimismo—y siempre cautela—las noticias de la última semana: la Unión Europea reconoció a Palestina como Estado, Cuba y EEUU restablecieron sus relaciones diplomáticas después de 55 años de “guerra fría,” y las Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) declararon un cese al fuego unilateral e indefinido.
Decisiones audaces y polémicas, que siempre necesitan veeduría, pero que envuelven ánimos de ensayar nuevos métodos a la hora de solucionar diferencias. Desde que el gobierno de Colombia se embarcó en los diálogos con las FARC hace casi dos años y medio, muchas decisiones han sido controversiales, comenzando por el proceso de paz mismo—que tiene enconados contradictores, como el senador y ex presidente, Álvaro Uribe. Cada año que comienza—o cerca de cada elección—el presidente Juan Manuel Santos promete una firma de paz inminente. ¿Será que el 2015 le da la razón?
El año pasado también hubo una tregua de las FARC, aunque limitada a un mes durante las fiestas de fin de año. Según la Defensoría del Pueblo, fue entonces violada en tres ocasiones con ataques a la fuerza pública. Y ese es el meollo del asunto: las concesiones de las FARC en el terreno militar se reducen al ataque, no a la posibilidad de “legítima defensa.” Una tregua no es un desarme, ni una concentración de combatientes en una zona desmilitarizada (vieja fórmula de los diálogos del Caguán durante el gobierno del presidente Andrés Pastrana). Si no es decididamente bilateral, no obliga a la otra parte a no usar las armas; y el gobierno colombiano ha sido clarísimo en que nunca renunciará a su deber de defender a los ciudadanos. Y finalmente, necesita verificación, la que también es generalmente implementada en medio de un armisticio.
La víspera de la tregua (19 de diciembre), las FARC mataron a cinco militares en el departamento del Cauca y todavía el Ejército sigue buscando a un soldado desaparecido. Es la vieja táctica de la guerrilla: mostrar poder militar antes de mostrar voluntad de paz. En adelante, si las fuerzas militares aprovechan esa concesión de las FARC para atacarlas, la tregua será violada en instantes, y con ello vendrá toda la crítica de sectores opuestos al diálogo. ¿Hay una fórmula exitosa? Si no hay desarme, el escenario bélico es una bomba de tiempo; un desarme es el fin último de los diálogos—aunque no sabemos qué tan cerca estamos.
December 1, 2014
This week's likely top stories: Global leaders gather in Lima for the COP20 Climate Summit; Tabaré Vázquez wins the runoff presidential election in Uruguay; With FARC hostages released, Colombian peace talks are set to resume in Havana; Venezuela braces for impact as oil prices hit rock bottom; Cuba misses the mark on economic growth in 2014.
Global Leaders Gather for COP20 Climate Summit in Lima: Thousands of government officials and environmental advocates will gather in Lima this week and next for the annual UN Climate Change Conference. The 20th annual session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP20, opens today and will conclude on December 12, bringing together delegates from 195 countries to draft an international agreement on reducing carbon emissions and global warming. Last month in Beijing, both China and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 2030, which could help advance the talks. If the talks in Lima succeed, a climate change agreement could be signed in Paris in late 2015.
Tabaré Vázquez Wins Uruguayan Election: Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez will return to the presidency after he easily defeated challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN) in Sunday’s runoff election. Vázquez, of the governing Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) earned 52.8 percent of the vote to Lacalle Pou’s 41 percent. Vázquez pledged to continue outgoing President José Mujica’s controversial marijuana legalization policy, and to focus on education reform and crime reduction, two major concerns of Uruguayan voters. The Frente Amplio has been in power since 2005, when Vázquez was elected to his first presidency; it won a narrow majority in Congress in October’s elections.
Hostages Safely Home and Delegation Returns to Havana: With three FARC hostages released on Sunday, the Colombian government delegation will return to Havana, Cuba to meet with delegates from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) to discuss the resumption of peace talks. Pastor Alape, a FARC negotiator, traveled from Cuba to personally coordinate the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, as well as his two companions, who were kidnapped in mid-November. The release “contributed to restoring a climate conducive to continuing the talks” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. A two-day meeting in Havana to evaluate recent events will begin Tuesday. Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, shortly after the kidnappings took place.
Oil Plummets to $65 Per Barrel, Rocking Caracas: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) decision last week to maintain its current production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day caused oil prices to plummet to $65 per barrel—the lowest level since the global recession in 2008. Venezuela will be among those hit hardest by the recent price drop: according to an International Monetary Fund assessment, the country can only hope to break even with oil priced at about $120 per barrel. Already plagued by failing political and economic policies, Venezuela might be forced to avoid a default by pursuing any number of difficult choices: devaluing its currency, seeking a bailout from the Chinese, cutting imports, raising domestic energy prices, scaling back petroleum subsidies to PetroCaribe member nations, or even cutting the popular chavista social welfare programs. The decline in oil prices also dragged down other commodities, which sank to a five-year low as China’s demand for fuel and metals slows. The larger trend of stagnating commodity prices will cause stress on many national economies in Latin America which remain dependent on commodity exports.
Cuban Economy Hoping for Substantial Growth in 2015: In spite of the economic reforms instituted by President Raul Castro in 2014, the Cuban economy failed to reach its projected levels of growth this fiscal year. Before presenting Cuba’s budget and economic plan for 2015 at a cabinet meeting on Friday, Vice President and Minister of Economy Marino Murillo Jorge announced that the Cuban economy will grow by 1.3 percent instead of the state’s initial estimate of 2.2 percent. According to Murillo, the nation’s underperforming sugar and manufacturing sectors are responsible for the reduction in projected growth. By increasing capital investment in renewable energy production, infrastructure projects and food imports, and continuing to pave the way for expansion of its burgeoning non-state sector, the Cuban government is maintaining its optimistic estimate that GDP will grow 4 percent in 2015.
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