The mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, was removed from office Monday and banned from holding public office again for 15 years in a decision handed down by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez. Ordóñez found that Petro “improvised” and mismanaged a garbage collection system implemented last year, replacing private garbage collection companies with city entities that had "no experience, knowledge or capacity" in trash pickup services. An investigation was launched in January after Petro’s system resulted in “a grave emergency” that left tons of garbage unattended for days.
Petro, a leftist politician with former ties to the guerrilla group M-19 that demobilized in 1989, has called for peaceful protest against the decision which he considers a coup and plans to appeal the decision. Thousands of protesters gathered at Bogotá’s Bolivar Square after the decision was announced, claiming that the attorney general should not have the power to remove a democratically-elected official and that the ban is a political tactic against Petro’s progressive government. The mayor’s term is not supposed to end until 2016.
This is not the first time that the attorney general leaves Bogotá without a leader. Petro’s predecessor, Samuel Moreno Rojas, was also sanctioned for lack of public projects oversight in May of 2011, though he wasn’t banned from office. The ruling may threaten Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which promises to integrate demobilized rebels into electoral politics.
Es cierto que Colombia está viviendo lo impensable hace solo una década atrás: un grupo de guerrilleros negociadores sentados con sus pares del gobierno en La Habana, con un grupo de países amigos como garantes, alcanzando acuerdos para la resolución de un conflicto armado que ha durado casi 60 años.
El encuentro de negociaciones más reciente, que se trató de la participación política de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), logró al mismo tiempo que unos estallaran en júbilo, y otros, de la corriente política encabezada por el expresidente Álvaro Uribe, mostraran, como siempre, su férrea indignación. A pocos días del anuncio, el ejército colombiano reveló un supuesto atentado que las FARC planeaban contra el exmandatario en una alianza con narcotraficantes en Cali.
La espectacularidad del hallazgo tapó el debate de días anteriores, en los que la pregunta de millón era el rol electoral que las FARC podrían jugar como posible actor político en las elecciones del 2014. ¿Cómo evitar que corran con la desgraciada suerte de la Unión Patriótica (UP), el partido de guerrilleros desmovilizados que quiso llegar al Congreso por allá en 1985 y cuyos 3.000 militantes fueron asesinados? A pesar de lograr unos sorprendentes resultados electorales—5 senadores, 9 representantes entre los que estuvo el hoy negociador de las FARC, Iván Marquez, 23 alcaldes, 14 diputados y 351 concejales—no pudieron ejercer la política.
¿El Estatuto de Oposición, piedra angular del acuerdo alcanzado, garantizaría sus vidas? ¿Es suficiente la creación de circunscripciones fuera de conflicto para promover esta inclusión democrática? ¿Qué hacer para que la posible carrera de los miembros de las FARC hacia el Congreso se parezca más a la que caminaron los exguerrilleros del M-19 como Gustavo Petro (hoy alcalde de Bogotá) o Antonio Navarro Wolf (ex-alcalde de Pasto y precandidato presidencial), que a la de la UP?
Una gran tarea de comunicación tiene el gobierno para explicarle los alcances de este acuerdo a una sociedad herida por la violencia de las FARC, y a la que le han hecho creer por muchos años que es la única piedra que impide que no seamos un país en paz. A una sociedad conservadora que cada vez que una encuesta le pregunta si quiere la paz, dice que sí, pero no, y mesura con cuidado su tolerancia a los costos para llegar a ella. Una reciente encuesta de la Universidad de los Andes dice que los encuestados reconocen que una desmovilización beneficiaría la economía, la seguridad y la democracia, pero más de un 70 por ciento rechaza que las FARC participen en política, mientras que alrededor del 50 por ciento dice que no aceptaría el resultado de las elecciones locales si las gana un desmovilizado.
The Colombian Government on Tuesday accused the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) of plotting to kill former President Álvaro Uribe. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said he had met with Uribe to inform him of “the detection of a plan by the FARC's Teofilo Forero Mobile Column to make an attempt on his life."
The plot was revealed amid tense peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC that have been taking place in Havana since last November. Uribe, who waged a fierce war against the FARC during his presidency from 2002 to 2010 and reduced the rebel group’s ranks by half, has been an outspoken critic of the talks. Minister Pinzón said that Uribe and his family would receive whatever security they needed in addition to their standard 300-person detail.
The news comes less than a week after the government and the FARC reached a key point in peace negotiations by agreeing on a framework for the creation of new political parties to represent disarmed rebel groups. The other four items to be on the agenda include disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the victims and peace deal implementation. The president of the Colombian Congress, Juan Fernando Cristo, said that if the plot is confirmed, “we have to demand that the [FARC] negotiators in Havana explain it to the country.”
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón announced yesterday that Colombia will expand its support to the Dominican Republic to help combat narcotrafficking, reduce the violence related to the drug trade and to strengthen security. The pledge came in a meeting with Dominican president Danilo Medina Sánchez and Dominican Defense Minister Sigfrido Pared in Santo Domingo.
Colombian assistance will focus on improving the amount of information shared between intelligence organizations in both countries. Later this month, representatives of the Colombian National Police will come to the Caribbean nation to train their Dominican counterparts in anti-narcotrafficking tactics and share best practices from Colombia’s drug war. Minister Pinzón has engaged other countries in the region dealing with drug trafficking threats, including Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Dominican Republic continues to be one of the main traffic points for narcotics distributed through the Caribbean. In the past two years alone, there has been an 800 percent increase in the amount of cocaine exported to the United States and Europe. According to the European Union’s COPOLAD Program, the Dominican Republic’s anti-drug trafficking efforts are hamstrung by lack of state control and technological resources at its Multimodal Caucedo and Haina ports.
Panama and Colombia are expected to sign a bilateral free trade agreement in Panama City today, finalizing a commitment that was reached by the two countries last June. Panamanian Minister of Commerce and Industry Ricardo Quijano and Colombian Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Sergio Díaz-Granados will participate in the official treaty-signing ceremony.
During a television interview yesterday, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli expressed optimism about the agreement, saying that it is pivotal for Panama’s integration into the Pacific Alliance. Panama currently has free trade agreements with Chile and Peru and seeks to establish bilateral trade agreements with other Pacific Alliance member states—including Mexico, Chile and Colombia.
Martinelli also confirmed that the agreement will end what he has deemed an "unfair and detrimental” aspect of Panama’s trade relationship with Colombia. Currently, Colombia imposes a 10 percent “re-exportation” tariff on Panamanian-produced textiles and footwear before they are shipped internationally from Colombia’s free trade zone, Zona Libre de Colón. Last year, Colombian exports to Panama amounted to $2.857 billion, 80 percent of which was accounted for by crude oil. In contrast, Panama only exported $72 million of goods to Colombia, represented mainly by apparel shipments.
Rural Colombians are winding down the national strike that has engulfed the country since August 19. Roadblocks are coming down and laborers are beginning negotiations with the government. But it appears unlikely that an overhaul of the country’s free trade policies—the bitter medicine that many rural Colombians are demanding—will be part of a compromise from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
The strike has mobilized Colombians from numerous sectors. Roadblocks in rural areas included groups like coffee growers—who staged protests earlier this year against the importation of coffee—and truckers, who have been struck by a recent price hike on petroleum. In Bogotá and other cities, health care workers and university students have called for a rollback of privatization in the health care and education industries.
Unifying the strike is dissatisfaction with Colombia’s free trade policies. A lack of investment in infrastructure and the importation of cheap foreign goods, such as coffee and powdered milk, have wreaked havoc upon the earnings of the rural poor. Protesters are also upset with other aspects of Colombian policy, including one law forcing farmers to buy certified seeds, offered exclusively by private corporations such as Monsanto.
Santos has struggled to manage the emerging political crisis as he focuses on beginning peace negotiations with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN), Colombia’s largest guerrilla group after the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). Peace talks with the FARC began in November 2012.
The president ignored the strike during its first week, declaring that the “so-called national strike does not exist,” and blaming roadblocks and demonstrations on “10 or 15” agitators.
The story on the ground is different. On August 29, Neil Martin, director of the civic organization Paso Internacional, observed a large non-violent march in the capital that was met with violence from Colombia’s riot police, the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron—ESMAD).
“What we saw was a relatively peaceful protest which was repressed by the riot police and then turned into a melee,” said Martin. “We witnessed several different instances of the riot police firing tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters. We saw the riot police throwing projectiles like bricks into crowds of mostly non-violent protesters.”
On August 30, Santos ordered the military into Bogotá and other regions affected by the strike. Clashes so far have left at least five dead and hundreds injured, including protesters, police and civilian bystanders. ESMAD officers in padded uniforms and riot shields are now joined on the streets by military personnel armed with assault rifles.
As security forces clear roadblocks and disperse marches, the Santos administration is scrambling to negotiate an end to the strike. Agreements with various industries have coaxed individual sectors to take down roadblocks. A Gran Pacto Nacional (Grand National Pact) is set to be signed on September 12, but numerous groups have stated they have not yet agreed to join the statement.
The Colombian government has been uncompromising on its stance toward free trade policy. Despite Santos’ declarations that poverty alleviation would be a priority, 46.8 percent of rural Colombians are still poor and 22.8 percent remain in extreme poverty, according to a report by the Colombian national development agency, Dirección de Desarrollo Social (Social Development Office—DDS).
Without compromises from the government to protect the livelihood of farmers and other rural workers, the causes at the root of the national strike will not disappear for long.
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.
Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN), released a Canadian engineer on Tuesday after holding him hostage for seven months. Gernot Wober, vice president of exploration for the Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corporation, was turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ELN captured Wober in January along with five other Braeval employees in the Bolivar Department, demanding that mining company abandon its gold and silver mining project in the north of Colombia. In July, Braeval announced it was terminating all mining activity in Colombia due to “unfavorable market conditions,” opening the door for Wober’s release. In a video message posted Tuesday, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez hailed Wober’s release as a humanitarian act, saying that “this outcome proves that conflicts can be solved through negotiation."
After waging a 48-year armed conflict with the Colombian government, the ELN has expressed its willingness to negotiate peace accords, similar to the negotiations taking place with the Fuerzas Amradas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana. However, government authorities insisted that the ELN release all of its hostages before the two parties can begin dialogue.
Likely top stories this week: Six people die in “La Bestia” train accident in Mexico; Colombia-FARC peace talks resume in Havana; Venezuela and Palestine sign energy deal; Roberto Azevêdo will become the new WTO director; and public consultations on energy reform begin in Mexico.
Six Dead and 22 Injured in “La Bestia” Train Accident: On Sunday, at least six people were killed and 22 were injured in the derailment of the cargo train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) in southern Mexico, a train that is notorious for transporting Central American migrants through Mexico and to the U.S. border. According to official sources, at least 16 of the passengers injured in the accident were nationals of Honduras between 20 and 30 years old. Public Security Minister for Tabasco State Audomaro Martinez Zapata said that thieves had stolen the nails and metal plaques from the tracks, which led to the accident. Migrants’ rights activists demanded immediate measures to put an end to the risks that undocumented migrants face when traveling across the country, and criticized the Mexican government for not taking this issue seriously. On Sunday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto lamented the accident via Twitter and expressed his solidarity with the victims’ families.
Colombia-FARC Talks Resume after Crisis: On Saturday, lead Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) would resume in Havana on Monday. This statement put an end to one of the biggest crises to afflict the peace process since it began in November 2012, which was prompted when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal last week that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum. On Friday, the FARC announced that it was putting the peace talks on hold to study the referendum proposal. In response, Santos stated that the FARC is not entitled to “dictate pauses and impose conditions” on the negotiations, and ordered his team of negotiators to return to Bogotá to evaluate the implications of a hiatus in the peace process. So far, the talks are advancing at a slow pace and negotiators have only been able to reach a partial deal on one of five points in the agenda. Still, both sides have remained at the negotiation table, raising hopes for an end to the five-decade-long armed conflict.
Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority Sign Energy Deal: On Saturday, Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority signed an energy agreement that will allow Venezuela to sell oil at a “fair price” with “flexible repayment terms” to Palestinians, as well as provide expert advice and training for the fuel management and handling. The deal was signed during a meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, while al-Maliki is on a tour of Latin America. During his trip to the region, al-Maliki also met Ecuadorian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility Ricardo Patiño and Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar. Venezuela, Ecuador and Guyana are among several countries from Latin America and the Caribbean that recognize Palestine as an independent state.
Roberto Azevêdo to Become New WTO Director: Next Sunday, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo will become the new director general of the World Trade Organization. Azevêdo has served as Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008 and was selected in May to become the first Latin American to lead the WTO. In August, Azevêdo announced the appointment of four deputies, who will assume their posts in October: Yi Xiaozhun of China, Karl-Ernst Brauner of Germany, Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria and David Shark of the United States. One of Azevêdo’s main objectives in his new position is to revive the stalled Doha Round trade talks. In a recent statement, Azevêdo said that regional and bilateral trade accords obstructed efforts to revive global trade talks and “steal the attention a little from the multilateral system.”
Public Consultations on Energy Reform began in Mexico: On Sunday, Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática—PRD) began the first phase of a citizen consultation on the country’s fiscal and energy reforms. The set of energy reforms presented by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on August 13 would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors. The fiscal reform seeks to increase Mexico’s tax take by about 4 percentage points of GDP as a means to channel more resources towards education, health and infrastructure projects at the federal, state and municipal levels. Jesús Zambrano, the president of the PRD, called citizens from all parties to participate in the consultation. Members of the PRD have different positions from President Peña Nieto on both the fiscal and energy reforms and hope the result of the consultations will be taken into account by the central government. The first phase of the consultation took place in almost 3,000 centers installed in parks, plazas and metro stations in Mexico City and in the states of Coahuila, Campeche, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Colima, Nuevo León, Sonora, Nayarit, and Tabasco. A second phase of consultations will begin next Sunday.
On Wednesday, and continuing into Thursday, protestors across Colombia blocked traffic in 16 departments as part of a national protest that began earlier in the week. Tensions were triggered by the new Colombia–EU free-trade agreement (FTA), which went into force on August 1. On Tuesday, truck drivers, union leaders, health employees, and students joined the growing national protest. Protesters are demanding increased land rights, fixed prices and subsidies for agricultural products, and improved access to potable water in agricultural fields, among other things.
The road blockades are in areas of the country with important transit links with Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
In the department of Nariño, in the southeast of Colombia, five strategic points of entry to the Pan-American Highway have been closed off, limiting access into Ecuadorian territory. The centrally located department of Boyacá also has been subject to extensive blockades.
According to Eberto Díaz, spokesperson for the Mesa Nacional de Interlocución Agraria (National Bureau of Agricultural Cooperation), about 200,000 trucks across the country halted operations on Wednesday. Similar demonstrations spread to the cities of Medellín and Cali. The protests damaged government property and 56 police officers have been wounded. Forty-six protesters from the Movimiento por la Defensa y la Dignidad de los Cafeteros Colombianos (Movement for the Defense and Dignity of Colombian Coffee Growers) have been arrested.