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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.
Likely top stories this week: demonstrators protest in Peru; a Chilean lawyer investigates the death of Michelle Bachelet’s father; FARC–Colombian government peace talks resume; a new report faults the UN for Haiti’s cholera outbreak; and assailants kill a Mexican vice-admiral.
Protesters and Police Clash in Peru: Thousands of demonstrators clashed with hundreds of riot police and plainclothes officers in Lima, Peru, on Saturday as protesters marched toward Congress on the eve of Peruvian Independence Day. In the midst of a national doctors' and nurses' strike, the demonstrators are protesting proposed education reforms, the continued poverty of many Peruvians, and the political appointment of 10 public officials (which the government eventually revoked last week following public outcry). Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who completed his second year in office this weekend, is registering a 33 percent approval rating—his lowest since taking office. He addressed Peruvians on Sunday, defending his government’s economic policies and commitment to social programs.
Bachelet and Matthei Face Questions Over Fathers' Pasts: A Chilean lawyer is seeking to charge General Fernando Matthei, presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei’s father, with the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Matthei and Bachelet are both candidates in the November 17 presidential election. Human rights lawyers Eduardo Contreras says that Gen. Matthei knew that Gen. Bachelet was being held at the Air War Academy, where he was tortured in 1974 during Chile's military dictatorship. Gen. Bachelet eventually died in prison of his wounds. Gen. Matthei, who is 88, has not spoken in public about the case, but his daughter claims that the two generals were friends and that the charges against her father are politically motivated. Former President Bachelet said that she has not asked Contreras to represent her in the investigation of her father's death.
FARC and Colombian Government Resume Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reopened peace talks in Havana on Sunday, just over a week after 19 Colombian soldiers were killed in two separate attacks reportedly carried out by FARC guerrillas. Government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that the government would hold the guerrillas accountable for the latest violence, and added that the Colombian government would continue military operations against the FARC until a peace agreement is reached.
Haitian Cholera Victims' Charges Bolstered by Report: A new report released by an international group of scientists found that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are responsible for causing a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed over 8,000 people. Citing new microbiological evidence, the report concludes "that personnel associated with the [...] MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.” The scientists first produced a report in 2011 that found no specific cause for the cholera outbreak, leading the UN to reject a 2011 compensation claim by cholera victims' families. With the new evidence, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is preparing to file more lawsuits against the UN in U.S. and Haitian courts.
Gunmen Murder Mexican Vice-Admiral: Assailants attacked and murdered Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar and Ricardo Fernández Hernández, an officer accompanying the admiral as a bodyguard, on Sunday in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Salazar was one of Mexico's highest-ranking naval officials, and the highest-ranking officer killed by gunmen since Mexico's government offensive against cartels began in 2006. He and Fernández were shot as they took a detour on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio. Worsening drug war violence in Michoacán caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to send thousands of federal troops and police to the area two months ago to improve security.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos denounced the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Tuesday for what he described as a “flagrant violation” of the group’s commitment to end kidnappings prior to its peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana.
Santos’ comments, delivered at the opening of Colombiamoda (Colombian Fashion Week) in Medellín, marks the second time in the span of a week that the Colombian leader has spoken out strongly against the guerilla group. Last weekend, FARC soldiers ambushed and killed 19 Colombian soldiers in separate attacks in Arauca and Caqueta departments, putting increased pressure on those around the negotiating table in Havana. In response, Santos vowed to use decisive military force against the rebel group if necessary.
The president’s most recent statement comes just days after the FARC offered to release former U.S. Marine Kevin Scott Sutay, who was abducted on June 20, as a gesture of goodwill in light of the ongoing peace negotiations. Santos responded to the announcement by saying that the FARC “did not abduct him before [the peace talks], they recently kidnapped him, without any justification,” thereby violating a statute of the negotiations.
As part of the release, the FARC requested that a humanitarian commission composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross, former Senator Piedad Córdoba and a delegate from the community of San Egidio be sent to retrieve Sutay. Santos refused to allow anyone but the Red Cross to be involved in the handover, saying that he would not allow Sutay’s release to become a media circus.
Likely top stories this week: Evelyn Matthei will be the UDI’s new candidate in Chile’s presidential election; Pope Francis I arrives in Brazil; Colombian government sends troops to Arauca; U.S. lawmakers debate the KIDS Act; Venezuela ends its attempt to normalize relations with the U.S.
Chile's New Presidential Candidate: The Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), has chosen Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei to run for president as the candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition after Pablo Longueira unexpectly quit the race on Wednesday. Longueira was running against former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in the lead-up to the country's November 17 election, but he announced last week that he was stepping aside due to depression. So far, Bachelet is expected to win the presidential election. In a March 2013 poll by Adimark, Matthei enjoyed a 56 percent approval rating.
Pope Francis in Brazil: Pope Francis I arrives in Brazil on Monday for a seven-day trip, marking his first international visit since the beginning of his papacy. On Thursday, he is expected to visit Varginha, a favela in Rio that was recently pacified and will travel the beach of Copacabana without the bullet-proof popemobile favored by his predecessors. The Pope's visit comes amid protests that have convulsed Brazil for more than a month, and more protests are expected during the Pope's visit, which is expected to cost Brazil $52 million for security and logistics.
Colombian Government Vows Crackdown after Ambush: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered troops to the eastern Arauca department this weekend after suspected FARC guerrillas killed 15 Colombian soldiers in an ambush on Saturday. Santos told troops "not to stop shooting until the conflict is over," but also said that peace talks between the government and FARC rebels in Havana should proceed normally. The government hopes to sign a peace accord by November, and FARC lead negotiator Ivan Márquez said last week that the half-century long conflict was reaching an end.
Republicans Propose Kids Act: The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing this week on a bill that would address the legal status of undocumented immigrant youth and provide a Republican alternative to comprehensive immigration reform. The sponsors of the bill, Republican congressmen Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte, are calling the proposed bill the KIDS Act. A number of DREAM activists have criticized the bill, which has not yet been introduced: Edgar Morelos of the California Dream Network said that the KIDS Act was an attempt “to pit DREAMers against their families,” because it would not offer all undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
Venezuela Angered By U.S. Diplomat's Comment: Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday that Venezuela has ended its process of normalizing diplomatic relations with the U.S. in light of "disrespectful" comments by the nominee for U.S. envoy to the UN, Samantha Power. In a Senate confirmation hearing last week, Power referred to Venezuela—along with Cuba, Iran, and Russia—as "repressive regimes" and said she would seek to address their "crackdown on civil society." Since the OAS General Assembly in early June, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua had made overtures to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to improve relations between the two countries, which have long been strained.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) concluded their eleventh, and shortest, round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday. This round of talks focused on whether to allow the guerillas to hold political office—one of the most contentious points in the five-point peace agenda.
This round of negotiations lasted only eight days and focused on guaranteeing the right of political opposition, particularly after a peace agreement is ultimately signed. And while the talks, which were launched in Oslo in October 2012, have yet to reach a consensus on the FARC’s participation in the political system, both sides did reach a partial agreement on the critical issue of agrarian reform in May.
President Juan Manuel Santos hopes to wrap up peace talks by November. Negotiators will also tackle the illicit drug trade, demilitarization and reparations for the victims of the nearly half-century armed conflict, which has claimed over 600,000 lives and displaced millions of civilians since the 1960s. The Colombian government and FARC will return to the table for the twelfth round of negotiations on July 22.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) began their tenth round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba on Monday. This round of talks will address the second point in the five-point peace agenda: integration of the rebel group into Colombian politics.
The FARC’s post-conflict participation in Colombian politics is one of the most controversial points in the agenda, and the guerrillas have made a number of demands to ensure their participation. FARC Commander Luciano Marín Arango, known by the nom-de-guerre “Iván Márquez,” asked the government to postpone Colombia’s May 2014 presidential election to allow the talks to continue uninterrupted under the current administration. The group claims that political campaigning could get in the way of the talks, and wants to call a Constitutional Assembly to enact the political and institutional changes now under discussion.
The FARC also claimed that it is pursuing a “unification process” with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN), Colombia’s second-largest rebel group. Though the ELN is not part of the peace talks in Cuba, its leaders have expressed their willingness to participate in the negotiations.
The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de La Calle, has rejected the guerrilla group’s proposal. While he recognized that one of the key objectives of the negotiations is to enable the FARC to become a political party and have broader participation in local and national politics, he refused to consider any proposal that lies outside of the previously agreed-upon peace agenda. “This [agenda] is what the government is ready to discuss and nothing else," he said. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos also rejected the rebel group’s proposal and ruled out the possibility of extending the electoral terms.
Despite these differences, some progress has been made in the negotiations. The parties achieved a partial agreement on land reform in May, which includes a consensus on the use and distribution of the land—a key issue that led to the FARC’s emergence in the 1960s. Other topics on the agenda include the fight against drug trafficking and the compensation of the victims of the armed conflict.
The peace talks began in November 2012, and aim to end half a century of armed conflict that has led to more than 600,000 deaths and millions of displaced people.
Leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) responded on Thursday to a letter signed by members of the U.S. Congress in March in support of the Colombian peace negotiations, which resumed this week in Havana.
In a press conference on Thursday, FARC member Victoria Sandino Palmera read a letter from the FARC, which acknowledged the “altruistic gesture” of the 62 U.S. congressmen who signed the letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Signatories included: James P. McGovern (D – MA), Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Randy K. Weber (R-TX), among others.
The FARC response also asked the legislators for their support in pushing for the release of FARC rebel Simon Trinidad.
Trinidad, whose real name is Ricardo Palmera, is fulfilling a 60-year sentence in the U.S. for kidnapping three Americans in Colombia who were later released. The FARC delegation has requested Trinidad’s presence during the peace negotiations. "We have appointed Trinidad as the FARC’s spokesman and we expect the Colombian government to hold talks with the U.S. government to achieve his incorporation into the peace process," said Ivan Marquez, head of the guerrilla delegation.
In almost half a century, Colombia’s internal conflict has killed at least 600,000 people and displaced another 3 million.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos joined hundreds of thousands of Colombians in a march through Bogotá on Tuesday to support the peace negotiations between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government.
The march drew together an estimated 800,000 people across Colombia and 200,000 in Bogotá alone, making it the largest demonstration to take place in Colombia’s capital city. Similar demonstrations took place in Cali, Barranquilla, and Santander. In an address to the crowd, President Santos urged unity and said that “All conditions are set…[for] an end to the conflict.”
Since peace talks began in Oslo in October, the Colombian government and representatives of the FARC have been negotiating a peace treaty that is expected to address agrarian reform, a top priority for the FARC. The president and his team have also addressed the demilitarization and disarmament of the rebels and explored ways to integrate the FARC’s leadership into the political system. In addition to agrarian reform and demobilization, social development—health, education, housing, and poverty eradication—have been a top priority for both sides.
However, Santos announced last week that the government would not negotiate a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC until the two sides reach a final agreement. Without ceasefire in place, some Colombians fear that there will be no end to the conflict which has killed at least 600,000 people and displaced another three million.
Political opponents of the current administration, including former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, refused to participate in Tuesday’s march. Uribe and other politicians have argued that the march supports the FARC, rather than victims of violence and kidnappings.