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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
This week’s likely top stories: Mexico launches a new civilian police force; Peru shows slow economic growth in key commodity sectors; the Colombian military held its first meeting with the FARC in Havana; a U.S. federal judge rejects Argentina’s local debt swap plan; Brazilian authorities are negotiating the release of hostages taken in a prison riot in Paraná state.
Mexico launches new elite police force: On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the inauguration of a new federal police force or gendarmerie—technically a military force tasked with police duties—aimed at quelling outbreaks of violent crime. The 5,000 new officers will function as a division of the 36,000-strong civilian federal police. National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García said the gendarmerie will protect Mexico’s economic assets—like oil, mines, and farms—from organized crime, especially in rural areas where criminal activity has negatively impacted commerce or tourism. The new police force comes as a result of Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign promise to reduce violence. Although homicides have been steadily decreasing since 2011, critics say that the relatively small police force will not significantly impact issues of insecurity, especially in Mexico’s urban centers where most of the violent crimes are occurring nationwide.
Peru shows slow second quarter growth: Peru’s GDP grew just 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year, as compared to 6.2 percent this time last year. Meanwhile, domestic demand grew 2.2 percent, versus 7.1 percent in 2013. Peru’s commodity-driven economy experienced a boom over the last decade that saw average growth of 6.4 percent, but Colombia has now overtaken it as the fast-growing large economy in the region. The country’s halted growth comes as a result of weak performance from the mining, fishing and agriculture sectors. "Mining investments have decelerated, but that will be replaced by a cycle of investments in infrastructure projects," said Scotiabank economist Pablo Nano, who still expects 4.0 percent growth on the year.
Military leaders join FARC in Havana for first meeting: The first meeting between Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) leaders and the Colombian military occurred in Havana last Friday. General Javier Florez, head of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff and one of the FARC's strongest adversaries, represented the military, joining the Colombian government and FARC negotiators for the first time. Humberto de la Calle, the leader of the government's negotiating team, stressed that there is no current discussion to negotiate a cease-fire, but that the government has formed a subcommittee to determine the procedure for implementing a cease-fire once the two sides have reached a final agreement. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez affirmed that the meeting showed just how much the peace talks have progressed since they began in 2012. Negotiators have already discussed land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking, while disarmament and the final peace deal have yet to be addressed.
U.S. rejects Argentina's proposal for local debt swap: U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa ruled last week that Argentina's latest plan to avoid its default is illegal and “lawless.” The ruling comes in response to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal to allow defaulted bond holders the opportunity to swap out their debt for locally-issued debt. The plan was aimed at resuming interest payments to investors who accepted restructured bonds while evading payment to the hedge funds that are owed approximately $1.3 billion. Griesa had previously ruled that Argentina cannot make interest payments to bond holders that accepted restructuring until the Argentinean government paid the holdouts. Griesa strongly criticized the plan but did not hold the country in contempt, explaining that it would not inspire a willingness to cooperate, and instead pressed the two sides to negotiate an agreement.
Riot in Paraná prison leaves four dead: Four prisoners have been killed and several others injured during an inmate riot at a penitentiary in the southern state of Paraná, Brazil that began Sunday morning. The riot started when a group of inmates overpowered prison guards and in the ensuing chaos, as many as 1,000 prisoners took over several parts of the facility. The riot is said to be caused by prisoners' frustration regarding inadequacies in sanitation and diet at the prison, although many gangs are taking advantage of the chance to seek revenge on enemies. Two guards are currently being held hostage, and Brazilian authorities resumed negotiations today in an attempt to secure their release and end the riot.
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.