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.
Human Rights Watch released a report today that documents killings, disappearances and sexual violence against Afro-Colombian communities in Tumaco, a city in southwestern Nariño department. The abuses were reportedly committed by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–FARC).
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said that “the FARC has a tight grip over the lives of many Tumaco residents, who are forced to keep silent as the guerrillas plant their fields with landmines, drive them from their homes, and kill their neighbors and loved ones with impunity.”
In addition to the crimes committed by FARC, the report highlights abuses by neo-paramilitaries and police, and the general atmosphere of crime in the state. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch believes that of the 17 killings that took place in 2013 and 2014, 12 are likely to be attributed to FARC.
Despite the high levels of crime, an increase of 200 policemen in Tumaco has reduced the level of homicides by 41 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to El Espectador. The city has created a five-year plan from 2014-2019 that proposes infrastructure investments such as power plants, improving the port and airport, and building 200 interest-free housing units.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos threatened on Tuesday to halt peace negotiations with FARC after continuing attacks—including an attack on the Ariari aqueduct on Saturday, which left around 16,000 people without water in the Colombia state Meta, and an attack on an electrical tower in Buenaventura on Monday, leaving 450,000 without power. After the attack in Meta, Santos stated, “They are digging their own political grave because this is exactly what makes people reject them.”
Santos will begin his second term on August 7, after a competitive election that showcased many Colombians’ skepticism towards achieving peace with the FARC. Out of 17 countries in the hemisphere, Colombia ranked 11th overall in Americas Quarterly’s 2014 Social Inclusion Index, which was released on Tuesday.
Caracas announced yesterday its opposition to the “illegal and arbitrary” arrest of former Venezuelan general, Hugo Carvajal in the Dutch-administered Caribbean island Aruba. While Carvajal–ex-director of military intelligence in Venezuela and personal advisor of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez–awaited his approval as consul in Aruba, he was detained on Wednesday night at the request of the U.S. government for his supposed involvement in drug-trafficking and support of the Colombian guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–FARC).
Carvajal was involved Chávez’s first coup attempt in 1992 and served as the military intelligence chief from 2004 to 2011. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Carvajal and other Veneuzlean military officials accusing them smuggling cocaine and providing weapons to FARC rebels. He has also been accused of providing protection and documents of identification for Colombian cartel leaders, including Wílber Varela, in Venezuelan territory.
Although Venezuelan authorities declared the capture illegal because General Carvajal had a diplomatic passport, the Dutch government had never approved of his appointment. The U.S. has have 60 days make a formal request for request an extradition of the former general.
Carvajal is one of three former high-ranking officials from Chávez’s administration that have been charged in drug-trafficking cases. Benny Palmeri-Bacchi, one of these former officials, was arrested upon his arrival in Miami, and yesterday pleaded not guilty to protecting a drug-trafficker who brought cocaine from Venezuela to the United States.
Miedo. Una simple lectura—que no pretende ser estadística—de las redes sociales, tras el resultado electoral del pasado domingo en Colombia, me arrojó innumerables veces esa palabra. Colombianos indignados y connotados columnistas la usaron para manifestar lo que sienten frente al escenario que el 40% de los votantes del país nos dejó para segunda vuelta: otra elección entre representantes de la misma oligarquía de siempre, el presidente en ejercicio, Juan Manuel Santos y el candidato del Centro Democrático uribista, Óscar Iván Zuluaga.
Una elección entre la ultraderecha y la centroderecha, entre la guerra y la paz, entre los amigos y enemigos del ex presidente y flamante senador Álvaro Uribe, quien es sin duda no solo el gran elector de la jornada sino el gran protagonista de la política colombiana de los últimos 12 años.
Es así como el epílogo de la carrera electoral a la que llegó Colombia el domingo, y que hasta hace apenas un mes parecía ser liderada por la anunciada reelección de Santos (difícilmente un mandatario no es reelecto; Lula, Evo, y Correa son ejemplos) estuvo marcado por la abstención y el miedo.
Ya no es el miedo a salir a votar o a ser amenazado si no se vota por el candidato respaldado por los violentos; paradójicamente, fue una de las jornadas electorales más tranquilas, gracias a la tregua pactada con las FARC y el ELN desde La Habana. Es el miedo a que ese proceso de paz se rompa, o a que por seguir avanzando en la idea de diversos sectores del país de que es conversando y no a bala que la guerra se acaba, los guerrilleros salgan impunes de sus crímenes o venga a Colombia el “castro-chavismo.”
El miedo a que las FARC se “adueñen” del país fue el discurso ventilado sin cesar desde la campaña de Zuluaga (es decir, la de Uribe). El ganador de primera vuelta con el 29,26%, 3.759.862 votos, ya anunció que rompería el proceso de paz si gana la segunda. Un mensaje que siempre cala porque es más fácil vender el discurso de seguridad que el de la paz, y porque sobre el segundo, difuso y complejo, se ha especulado mucho desde que se iniciaron las conversaciones en La Habana. El elector común no tiene información sobre lo que se está pactando en Cuba o tal vez simplemente no le interesa. Tampoco ha habido suficiente pedagogía.
Si bien muchos en Colombia queremos la paz, la complejidad de discutir políticas como la agraria, la antidroga o la participación política de los alzados en armas no pasa por el análisis del electorado. Que eso le signifique seguridad en el mediano y largo plazo, no es algo que el ciudadano digiera la hora de ir a la urnas.
Si es en cambio de expresa preocupación para partidos políticos, intelectuales y medios de comunicación que han hablado en los últimos días de hacer un frente por la paz para rodear el proceso. Esto es, votar por Santos. Aún sus más enconados opositores—como su contendor del 2010, Antanas Mockus; la ex candidata del Polo Democrático Alternativo (un partido de la izquierda), Clara López (que obtuvo en la primera vuelta el nada despreciable número de 1.957.626 votos); y el alcalde de Bogotá, Gustavo Petro—hoy hacen campaña pública para rodear el proceso. Dentro de los movimientos de izquierda y de organizaciones de derechos humanos que tienen sentidas diferencias con Santos por haber manejado con desatino las protestas y demandas de sectores campesinos, hay un debate interno por tener que elegir el mal menos peor con tal de no dejar que la ultraderecha se tome el país, con todo lo que eso significa: falsos positivos, avance del paramilitarismo y más guerra.
Así las cosas y a sabiendas de que los conservadores se irán con Zuluaga (es decir con Uribe), lo que representa los 1.995.628 votos que obtuvo Marta Lucía Ramírez, aún falta saber que pasará con los votos de Enrique Peñalosa (1.065.111, correspondientes al 8,29 por ciento) y con la también histórica cifra de voto en blanco que alcanzó el 6%. De las alianzas y de lo que pase en las siguientes dos semanas y media de campaña, depende el futuro del país. Zuluaga se ha mostrado inmune e impune a los escándalos: ni un hacker entregándole información confidencial sobre La Habana lograron desbancarlo del primer lugar.
Las FARC, que cumplieron 50 años de fundadas este 27 de mayo y quienes fueron factor de peso electoral en su momento (eligieron a Pastrana y a Uribe por razones totalmente opuestas) prefirieron callar hasta segunda vuelta. El país también les pide un gesto generoso de paz que devuelva la confianza de que el proceso vale la pena, que extiendan la tregua y avancen en pactos. Aunque es el tema que por décadas ha trasnochado a Colombia, este 15 de junio más que nunca es el ballotage (segunda ronda) por la paz. Y contra el miedo.
The Colombian attorney general’s office announced yesterday that authorities have arrested a hacker suspected of spying on communications belonging to the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) as they conduct peace talks in Havana.
Andrés Sepúlveda was arrested in a raid on a Bogotá office for allegedly running an illegal spying ring. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre said that Sepúlveda’s operation was selling information to a third party in an attempt to “sabotage, interfere and affect the peace process in Havana.” Investigators believe that President Juan Manuel Santos’ emails may have been intercepted.
Sepúlveda is linked to the political campaign of Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate who is running against Santos in Colombia’s May 25 presidential election. Zuluaga acknowledged yesterday that Sepúlveda has been providing social network and security services for his campaign since February, but insisted that the spying ring had nothing to do with his campaign.
A prior spying scandal unveiled in February also targeted the peace talks in Havana, but Montealegre said that the latest scandal was not linked to Operation “Andrómeda,” in which members of the Colombian military set up a special intelligence unit to spy on the government, the FARC, and journalists’ communications.
The raid comes days after Santos’ chief campaign strategist, J. J. Rendon, resigned amid allegations that he received $12 million from drug kingpins in exchange for mediating a negotiated surrender.
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) condemned the removal of leftist Mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro from office Thursday, saying it will have a negative impact on the peace negotiations.
Last December, Petro, a former member of the demobilized guerrilla group Movimiento 19 de Abril (19th of April Movement—M-19), was removed as mayor and banned from holding office for 15 years by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, for alleged mismanagement of the garbage collection system. A backlash of protests and lawsuits filed by Petro's supporters suspended his removal until Wednesday, when the Council of State reviewed and rejected the lawsuits and President Juan Manuel Santos approved Petro’s removal.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s second in command, said that the decision to oust Petro affects the trust that has been built between the FARC and the government throughout the peace talks, and casts doubt on the promise of political participation for demobilized guerrillas.
Petro accused Santos of staging a coup on the city and showing his inability to achieve peace. Márquez stated that it will be impossible to achieve an agreement with the Colombian government if it continues to make decisions that undermine Colombian democracy, like the forced removal of a popularly elected official. “We can very respectfully say that the mafia of the right has taken the power,” Márquez added.
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Likely top stories this week: Nicaraguans vote in local elections; protests continue in Venezuela; the FARC says it will continue peace talks during elections; a Mapuche leader is sentenced to prison; Chileans no longer need visas to enter the United States.
Nicaraguan Elections: Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (The Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN) Sunday in elections for regional councilmembers in the country’s two autonomous regions—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Opposition leaders alleged that Sunday’s elections were marred by irregularities as well as violence, but the FSLN said that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and attributed five deaths in El Tortuguero on Sunday to common crime. 300,000 Nicaraguans of African, mestizo or Indigenous descent were registered to vote in the elections.
Protests Continue in Venezuela Despite Carnival: Protesters marched through the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as the death toll from three weeks of conflict has risen to at least 17 people. Maduro encouraged Venezuelans to observe the Carnival holiday, hoping to dampen the protests. On Sunday, the Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office announced that it had released 41 detainees. The anniversary of Hugo Chávez’ death is on Wednesday, March 5, and may spark more clashes.
Peace Talks to Continue During Colombian Elections: Peace negotiators for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) confirmed on Sunday that the guerrillas will continue to negotiate with the Colombian government even as elections take place on March 9. Colombians will elect legislators next Sunday, and vote for president and vice president at the end of May. On Friday, members of the FARC said that they had invited the United States government to join in the peace talks, but the U.S. State Department said it was unaware of efforts to make the U.S. a party to the peace negotiations.
Chilean Indigenous Leader Sentenced: Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday for his role in an arson attack in southern Chile that killed an elderly couple last January in a dispute over Indigenous land rights. The attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the death of Mapuche student Matias Catrileo, who was killed by policemen in a land dispute in January 2008. Cordova’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, saying that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the attack.
Chile, U.S. Waive Visa Requirements: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that Chilean citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States, making Chile the only country in Latin America to join the list of 38 countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (Mexico enjoys its own special status). U.S. citizens will now also be able to avoid a $160 “reciprocity fee” that they paid upon entering Chile. Chileans will no longer need a visa to enter the United States starting on May 1.
Likely top stories this week: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announce a ceasefire; Venezuelans vote in municipal elections; the Mexican Congress debates energy reform; Police strikes across Argentina continue; Bill Clinton visits Rio de Janeiro for the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting.
FARC Rebels Announce a Ceasefire: In a statement on Sunday, Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) announced a 30-day ceasefire that is scheduled to begin on December 15. The announcement was made a day after nine people died in a FARC firebomb attack at a police station in the town of Inza in the province of Cauca. Peace talks continued on Sunday, but the Colombian government said it would not stop fighting the rebels until a peace accord is signed.
Venezuelans Vote in Municipal Elections: Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to elect mayors and city councilmembers in municipal elections that many saw as a critical test for the government of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, with nearly all polling stations reporting, the National Electoral Council announced that the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party—PSUV) captured a majority of the votes nationwide, but the opposition won in Venezuela’s biggest cities, including Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barinas—the birthplace of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Mexican Congress to Debate Energy Bill: Mexican Senate committees are debating a controversial energy reform bill that would allow private companies to invest in Mexican state oil company PEMEX through new production-sharing contracts. As protesters gathered outside the Senate on Sunday, lawmakers reviewed the bill, which is expected to move to the full Senate and lower house this week. The Senate resumed debate of the bill on Monday, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to pass the legislation by Christmas.
Police Strikes in Argentina Lead to Violence: Violence continues in Argentina after police in Córdoba went on strike last week to demand higher wages, leading to a collapse in security and rule of law. Police forces in at least eight other provinces followed suit, leading to looting and violence in which at least three people died. Though violence continues in several provinces, strikes in the Argentine provinces of Neuquén, Santa Fe, San Juan and Catamarca appear to be drawing to a close after government officials agreed to raise wages. Police are demanding higher wages to combat Argentina’s estimated 26 percent inflation.
Bill Clinton Visits Rio: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the start of the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting in Rio de Janeiro, which will gather together business leaders, politicians and members of civil society for three days. On Sunday, Clinton met with Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, and Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sérgio Cabral. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend the meeting on Monday.
Likely top stories this week: Colombian government and striking farmers reach a deal; Henrique Capriles takes Venezuela’s election results to the IACHR; Enrique Peña Nieto outlines his plans for reform; Brazilians protest again; and the Colombian government and FARC resume peace talks.
Colombian Government Strikes Deal with Farmers: The Colombian government announced on Sunday that it had reached an agreement with protesting farmers that have been striking since August 19. The strike aimed to draw attention to the economic difficulties they face in competing with cheap imports from abroad. The farmers agreed to lift all road blockades by Tuesday and will join the government in negotiations to address their demands and reach a final agreement. The government has already agreed to cut fertilizer prices and provide cheap credit to farmers.
Venezuela's Capriles to Challenge Maduro's Win Before IACHR: Former Venezuelan presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles will bring a case challenging Venezuela's April 14 election results before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Monday. Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed in early June that President Nicolás Maduro had won the election by a slim 1.49 percent margin over Capriles, and the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the decision. The IACHR must first decide whether the case is admissible. This comes as Venezuela's withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is to become effective on Tuesday, September 10, a year after the government announced its withdrawal from the human rights body.1
Peña Nieto Champions Tax Reform: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto outlined his plans for tax reform on Sunday in a speech from the presidential residence. The tax plan is intended to generate billions of dollars for social programs by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and create a new universal pension for Mexicans over age 65. Meanwhile, Mexican opposition politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a demonstration of about 30,000 Mexicans on Sunday to protest Peña Nieto's tax, energy and education reforms.
Brazilians Protest on Independence Day: Brazilians in 150 cities took part in protests on September 7 (Brazil's Independence Day), interrupting a military parade in Rio de Janeiro, chanting outside Congress in Brasília as President Dilma Rousseff gave a speech, and clashing outside a soccer match in Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasília. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators in both cities, and at least 50 people in Brasília and 50 people in Rio were arrested. The protesters are continuing to demonstrate against poor public services, political corruption and public spending on the 2014 World Cup.
Colombian Peace Talks Resume in Havana: The fourteenth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) begin in Havana on Monday. The last cycle concluded on August 28, after nearly coming to a halt when the government proposed holding a public referendum on any peace accord. The rebels have said that they would like to incorporate the agreements into Colombia’s constitution, a demand that the government has rejected. However, the FARC confirmed that they are willing to restart the talks this week.
1Editor'sNote: Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. See AQ's Daily Focus on Tuesdsay, September 10 for a complete explanation.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.