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.
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 18, 2014
In a statement published on one of its official websites Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) declared an indefinite, unilateral cease fire and end to hostilities in Colombia, on the condition that the rebels are not attacked by government forces. The announcement was made as part of the peace talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration in Havana, and it marks the first time the guerrilla group has declared an indefinite halt to the fighting.
However, Santos has so far refused to reciprocate the gesture, saying that a bilateral ceasefire could potentially allow the FARC to regroup and attack, as they did during the failed peace negotiations that took place from 1999-2002. The president’s wariness also stems from an incident this September that nearly foiled accords again, when the FARC took General Ruben Dario Alzate and two of his traveling companions hostage in September, along with two others in a separate incident. All the hostages were released in November in order to continue the peace negotiations.
Currently, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators have reached agreements on three points of the original five-point peace agenda, but have stalled on the fourth point of restitution for victims. The Colombian government and FARC leaders have been engaging in peace talks in Havana since 2012. That same year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dismissed a temporary Christmas truce proposed by the FARC by saying, “The sooner we get to a peace agreement, the sooner we will silence the guns.”
Over 200,000 people have been killed since the internal war began between the guerillas and the government began in 1964. The FARC ceasefire will go into effect this Saturday, December 20.
Read more in AQ’s Fall 2014 issue on Cuba and Colombia.
Follow ongoing developments in Cuba here.
November 25, 2014
FARC delegates in Havana released two hostages today in an apparent effort to revive peace talks suspended since last week. The two soldiers, Paulo César Rivera and Jonathan Andrés Díaz, were captured on November 9 in Arauca department and were released to the Colombian army this morning.
The FARC has said that it plans to release General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other hostages on Thursday, although the rebels warned earlier this week that the release could be cancelled due to the significant military presence in the region where the hostages are being held. General Alzate was captured along with corporal Jorge Rodríguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego on November 16 while travelling unarmed and without bodyguards in Chocó. Alzate and his companions are allegedly still there.
The November 16 kidnapping led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks in Havana, ongoing since 2012. There is some controversy as to how a general could have stumbled on to FARC territory without any security, but the talks will remain suspended until Alzate, Rodríguez and Urrego are released.
On Sunday, the defense ministry announced the temporary cessation of operations in part of the northeast of Colombia in order to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the area where Rivera and Díaz were being held to assist with the process.
As of yet, President Santos has denied the FARC’s offers for a ceasefire.
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.
Monday Memo: Brazil Military Drills — Mexico High-Speed Rail — Colombia FARC Trials — AT&T Expands — Mexico Protests
November 10, 2014
This week's likely top stories: Brazil’s military launches training operation in Amazon; Mexico cancels high-speed rail contract to Chinese-led consortium; Indigenous court in Colombia convicts seven FARC members; AT&T purchases Iusacell; Mexico erupts in protests over reported discovery of remains of the 43 missing students.
Brazilian Military Trains in the Amazon: According to the chief of Brazil’s Amazon Military Command, Gen. Guilherme Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira, today Brazil will launch Operation Machifaro, a five-day training exercise simulating a foreign invasion of the Amazon by a superior force, in an attempt to “consolidate a doctrine of jungle combat.” The exercise consists of 550 troops who will conduct drills in Manaus, the Amazon’s largest city, and other regional outposts. Despite the peaceful relations that Brazil maintains with its smaller neighbors and the unlikelihood of a foreign invasion, the defense of the Amazon and protection of its resources has been a top concern of Brazilian national security historically.
Mexico Cancels High-Speed Rail Contract with China: Only three days after awarding a $4.3 billion contract for Mexico’s first high-speed rail project to a consortium led by China Railway Construction Corp., Mexico rescinded the contract last Thursday and will re-open the auction to new bids for six months. Given Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s diplomatic mission to Beijing this week, the cancellation comes as a surprise, but Peña Nieto’s administration said the move represents an attempt to increase government transparency. The China Railway group—which plans to bid again in the new round—was the only consortium to submit a proposal for the project in the first round. After the original decision had been announced, the opposition Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) had accused the government of favoritism, arguing that the sole bid was too expensive. On Sunday, the website Aristegui Noticias revealed that the president’s private home was built by a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, one of the companies belonging to the China Railway-led consortium.
Colombian Indigenous Community Convicts FARC: Members of the Nasa tribe in Colombia’s southwestern Cauca department have convicted seven FARC guerrillas for the murder of two members of the Nasa’s unarmed Indigenous Guard, which patrols and protects tribal territory. Manuel Antonio Tumiñá Jenbuel, 42, and Daniel Coicué Julicue, 63, who had asked the guerrillas to leave their land, were shot and killed by members of the FARC on November 5 after they started to take down signs that the FARC had posted in their community. Thousands of people participated in a tribal assembly in Toribio to sentence the rebels, deliberating for hours before sentencing five of the defendants to between 40 and 60 years in prison and destroying the guerrilla’s weapons. Two teenagers received a lighter sentence of 20 lashes each. Colombian Indigenous authorities have jurisdiction over their own territories under Colombian law. The FARC’s Iván Márquez addressed the community on Sunday, tweeting “we regret what happened with the Nasa community of Toribio.”
AT&T Buys Mobile Carrier Iusacell from Grupo Salinas: This weekend, U.S. mobile phone carrier AT&T Inc. purchased Iusacell SA, the third-largest Mexican mobile phone carrier, from billionaire Ricardo Salinas for $2.5 billion. AT&T will absorb Iusacell’s 8.6 million subscribers onto its regional 3G network as well as the company’s $800 million of outstanding debt. The acquisition of Iusacell enters AT&T in tough competition against Carlos Slim’s mobile carrier, América Móvil SAB. Remarking on President Peña Nieto’s business friendly policies that paved the way for this deal, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, said that the “acquisition of Iusacell is a direct result of the reforms put in place … to encourage more competition and more investment in Mexico.” In light of its purchase of DirecTV for $48.5 billion earlier this year, AT&T has solidified its expansion into the Latin American telecommunications market.
Mexico Outraged By Massacre of 43 Missing Students: Mexico erupted in protests this weekend after Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo said on Friday that 43 students who disappeared six weeks ago in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, were massacred and their remains incinerated shortly after a protest on September 26. Murillo said that corrupt police in Iguala arrested the students on orders from the town’s former mayor, and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which carried out the killings. Members of the gang have confirmed that they participated in the murders, but relatives of the missing students have said they will not allow the government to close the case until there is concrete proof of the students’ fate. More than 70 people, including the former mayor of Iguala and his wife, have been arrested in connection with the murders. Protesters took to the streets and to social media this weekend, using the hashtag “YaMeCanse” to decry violence, corruption, and the federal government’s failure to stop the murders.
November 7, 2014
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.