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FARC Responds to U.S. Congressional Letter

April 26, 2013

by AQ Online

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.

Tags: FARC, Colombia

Amid Criticism, Santos Withdraws Two-year Re-Election Bid

April 23, 2013

by AQ Online

On Monday, after three days of severe disapproval, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ruled out his proposal to run for re-election in 2014 only to serve for two more years—half the usual term—and amend the constitution to extend the presidential term limit to six years. “Four years are not enough to finish the job, he said.  

The Colombian constitution currently allows incumbents to seek re-election for a consecutive four-year period. The bill submitted on Friday would extend term limits to allow presidents to serve for six years—but with no possibility of re-election—to give leaders more time to accomplish their government plans. The bill also extended the six-year term limits for mayors, governors and legislators to align the ruling terms of all elected officials in Colombia.

Santos, who came to power in August 2010, expressed that under no circumstances he would present a bill to congress that would cause more divisions among the ruling political parties. He also clarified that his proposal has nothing to do with the ongoing peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which began in November 2012.

The president, however, did not rule out the possibility of running for re-election in May 2014, but faces decreasing popularity.  According to a poll released on Monday by Colombian firm Ipsos Napoleón Franco, Santos’s popularity has plummeted to 47 percent and only 39 percent of Colombians favor the president’s re-election.

Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, Colombia 2014 elections

Colombian March Criticized for Exclusion

April 15, 2013

by Annika Dalén

In Colombia, the country’s second edition of the “Slutwalk”—known in Spanish as “La Marcha de las Putas”—took place recently in several cities around the country. The Slutwalk originated in Toronto  in 2011 to protest rape and sexual violence after a Canadian police officer suggested that women should avoid “dressing like sluts” to stay safe. The Slutwalks are public demonstrations where some participants dress provocatively to raise consciousness about sexual violence and respect for women’s right to dress and act as they choose.

The protest in Canada quickly spread around the world and Colombia held its first Marcha de las Putas last year. This year, however, the march stirred controversy from within Colombia’s feminist movement, leading many prominent feminists to refuse to participate.

The dispute started when the leader and spokesperson of Colombia’s Marcha de las Putas, Mar Candela, decided to register the name “Marcha de las Putas” as a nonprofit corporation dedicated to fighting violence against women. The corporation changed the word “putas” (Spanish for “whores”) to an acronym that stands for “for an authentic social transformation” (“por una transformación auténtica y social”—P.U.T.A.S.)

Some feminists have been critical of Candela’s decision, claiming that her action has privatized and monopolized decades of feminist efforts. They are concerned that the new nonprofit has appropriated the social movement that inspired it, turning a political struggle into a registered brand. Furthermore, they contend that Candela’s decision to change the word “putas” to “P.U.T.A.S.” strips the name of its controversial potential, replacing it with an acronym that says absolutely nothing.

Tags: Colombia, Women's rights

Las sorpresivas alianzas por la paz en Colombia

April 12, 2013

by Jenny Manrique

Desde que inició el proceso de paz del gobierno colombiano con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en la Habana, es innegable que el tema de encontrar una salida política al conflicto ha hecho que muchos coincidan o discrepen sobre los posibles escenarios. Como todo en política.  

En la marcha del pasado martes fue inevitable que amigos y enemigos de la paz se sentaran en diversas orillas según sus nuevas apuestas. De un lado, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, el alcalde de Bogotá Gustavo Petro, el movimiento Marcha Patriótica liderado por Piedad Córdoba e Iván Cepeda—quienes recientemente recibieron un reconocimiento en Copenhague—, indígenas, campesinos, afrocolombianos, policías, soldados y las mismas FARC desde la Habana, coincidieron en que es necesario que los colombianos blinden el esfuerzo de los negociadores en Cuba. Durante años, estos personajes tuvieron visiones aparentemente irreconciliables y se denunciaron unos a otros sin tapujos sobre temas de alto calibre, tales como la responsabilidad del Estado en relación a los llamados falsos positivos.  

Del otro lado se encontraron quienes han hecho un ruido permanente en el proceso: los sectores más ultraconservadores encabezados por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe y recientemente por el ex mandatario Andrés Pastrana—quien durante su gobierno no logró alcanzar los acuerdos pretendidos con la guerrilla—acompañados por el Polo Democrático Alternativo, uno de los partidos más antiuribistas de Colombia. A pesar de sus diferentes matices, a todos en este grupo les preocupa que la paz se convierta en una campaña por la reelección—un escenario absolutamente obvio para Santos en el contexto en que se juega todo su capital electoral.

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Tags: Colombia, Colombia Peace Talks

Colombians March to Support Peace Process

April 10, 2013

by AQ Online

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.

Tags: FARC, Colombia, Colombia Peace Talks

The Pacific Pumas

March 11, 2013

by Samuel George

As the world grapples with generating employment, growth and innovation, a new club of countries has emerged as an engine of regional growth. Through improved governance, liberalized trade and stable macroeconomics, the economies of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile have rallied in recent years.

Rather than following the lead of the increasingly protectionist and interventionist Mercosur countries, these Pacific economies have taken their cues from the Asian tigers of the 1980s, quietly becoming economic overachievers. Given the rise of China and the American pivot to the East, the Puma countries are poised to play a significant role in the emerging Pacific century. 

Statistically, the Pumas are growing by leaps and bounds. They have averaged 4.69 percent annual growth since 2005. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian middle classes expanded more than 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, while some estimate that the Mexican middle class already accounts for more than half the population. Inflation, a great scourge of Latin American economies, has been held within central-bank bands across the Puma economies. Puma sovereigns are investment grade, and their issuances are hot.

On paper, the Pumas roar. But what is driving these figures, and are they sustainable?

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Tags: Pacific Pumas, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia

Las huellas de Chávez en Colombia

March 7, 2013

by Jenny Manrique

Una versión de este artículo se publicó originalmente en el portal Infobae América

“Con profundo dolor, la Delegación de Paz de las FARC-EP, se une al duelo de los bolivarianos de Venezuela y del mundo ante la noticia descorazonadora, triste, del fallecimiento del Comandante Presidente, Hugo Chávez.”

Las condolencias de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) fueron enviadas entre el maremágnum de pésames que el mundo entero dio a Venezuela: Sin embargo, no pasaron desapercibidas en el contexto político colombiano ante la innegable influencia que tuvo el fallecido líder bolivariano sobre el conflicto que azota al país hace medio siglo.

El presidente Juan Manuel Santos, quien recompuso las relaciones con Venezuela a su llegada al poder, también reconoció el papel de Hugo Chávez en el proceso de paz. “Si hemos avanzado en un proceso sólido de paz, con procesos claros y concretos, es también gracias a la dedicación y el compromiso sin límites del presidente Chávez”, dijo desde la Casa de Nariño.    

Fruto de una enconada pelea diplomática, Chávez despertó más odios que amores en Colombia durante los ocho años de presidencia de Álvaro Uribe. Venezuela—país que hoy se desempeña como garante de los diálogos—fue acusado de dar albergue a las FARC y patrocinar la lucha armada de la guerrilla. Estas denuncias tuvieron su punto más álgido tras el hallazgo de las computadoras del número dos de las FARC, Raúl Reyes, quien falleció tras un bombardeo del ejército colombiano en Sucumbíos, Ecuador, en 2008.

Los mensajes encriptados de las computadoras de Reyes fueron estudiados por el Instituto Internacional de Estudios Estratégicos (IISS), el cual reveló que Chávez se reunió en el año 2000 al menos dos veces con el líder guerrillero, y que habría prometido $300 millones para ayudar a la subversión colombiana en su lucha armada. Ecuador y Venezuela siempre impugnaron la veracidad de esas pruebas. Estos hechos provocaron la ruptura de las relaciones económicas entre Colombia y Venezuela, mientras Chávez acusó al gobierno colombiano de haber violado la soberanía ecuatoriana. Consecuentemente, el presidente bolivariano ordenó el envío de tanques hacia la frontera con Colombia y solicitó el retiro de todo el personal de la embajada de Venezuela en Bogotá.

La guerra verbal entre los dos países se atizó de tal forma que la mediación que Chávez estaba ejerciendo en la liberación de rehenes fue suspendida por Uribe. Santos, entonces su Ministro de Defensa, había sido el mayor detractor de este protagonismo de Chávez al considerar que el mandatario venezolano había usado las liberaciones como” propaganda política,” aprovechándose “del drama humanitario de los rehenes”.

Durante los ocho años de uribismo Santos fue un acérrimo detractor de Chávez y fue el primero que denunció la existencia de campamentos de las FARC en la frontera venezolana. También fue crítico del fin de la relación de Caracas con la Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) al señalar que “buena parte de la droga colombiana sale por Venezuela”. Como resultado, durante la campaña electoral del 2011 en la cual Santos se fungía como el heredero legítimo de Uribe, Chávez llegó a calificarlo de “mafioso” y sostuvo que su elección significaría más guerra y menos posibilidades de reactivar el comercio bilateral.

Pero fue Santos quien le apostó a mejorar las relaciones con su vecino y le dio un lugar importante en la agenda colombiana. Escándalos como las revelaciones El Nuevo Herald sobre el conocimiento de Chávez de los vínculos su ex ministro de Defensa, Henry Rangel Silva con narcos y las FARC habrían sido un detonante para la diplomacia binacional, pero no en la era Santos: el presidente prefirió guardar silencio ante el caso.

Santos, quien sin duda prefirió la diplomacia a la confrontación, también le concedió a Venezuela la extradición del narcotraficante Walid Makled, capturado en Colombia en 2011, de quien se esperaba que de ir a Estados Unidos hablaría sobre la relación de funcionarios venezolanos con negocios ilegales como lavado de dinero y narcotráfico.

Tras la muerte del mandatario venezolano, figuras como el senador Juan Fernando Cristo, aseguró que “gústele a quien le guste, independientemente de las diferencias que pudimos tener los colombianos con muchas de las actitudes, Chávez fue clave para el proceso de paz”. Piedad Córdoba, ex legisladora cercana al fallecido presidente, lloró ante las cámaras al recordar emotivamente que Chávez fue un hombre “que amó a su gente y buscó la paz para Colombia.”

Chávez fue generoso con los colombianos en Venezuela a quienes ceduló masivamente—con propósitos electorales por supuesto. También fortaleció los programas de refugio y asilo los cuales, a pesar de no ser ideales, permiten proteger a más nacionales huyendo del conflicto.

Es improbable que su muerte desvié el curso de las conversaciones de paz, pero un cambio de timón en la política venezolana podría replantear por lo menos la política de defensa fronteriza. Lo cierto es que el líder bolivariano dejó una profunda huella tanto en Colombia, como en Latinoamérica y en el mundo.

Tags: Colombia, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez

Negotiating Peace for Displaced Persons in Colombia

February 14, 2013

by Stephanie Leutert

Peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government are slowly progressing in Havana, Cuba, despite renewed violence and generally low expectations. Land reform continues to be a contentious area and just last month the FARC unveiled a 10-point communiqué outlining its requests. While the plan failed to explicitly mention the 4 to 5 million citizens currently displaced due to the conflict, successful peace talks could create new opportunities for these Colombians to return to their land.

The multiple perpetrators in Colombia’s armed conflict mean that a peace treaty with only one group (the FARC in this case) will not provide a complete solution. The FARC and the paramilitaries (the largest and most organized adversaries for much of the conflict) each displaced millions of civilians from some 7 million total hectares of land. Although estimates vary, by all counts the paramilitaries displaced as many individuals as the FARC and perhaps even twice the amount. Drug traffickers and organized criminal groups like the new bandas criminales (BACRIM) have also followed suit, ousting a good portion of 2011’s estimated 200,000 displaced persons, according to the Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES).

The first step to reversing the displacement is providing basic security, particularly in the areas most affected by the conflict (Caqueta, Putamayo, Valle del Cauca, among others). Here the FARC peace agreement would begin this process, but comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is critical.

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Tags: Colombia Peace Talks, FARC, Colombia

Negotiations Fail between Cerrejón and its Labor Union

February 8, 2013

by AQ Online

Employees of Colombia’s largest coal mine, Cerrejón, went on strike yesterday after the company and its 4,500 union members failed to reach an agreement on wages and benefits for the first time in 22 years.

Orlando Cuello, manager of the National Union of Coal workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadroes de la Industria del Carbón – Sintracarbón) confirmed that 3:00 pm (COT)  Thursday was the cutoff time for the negotiations. The union’s grievances center on the lack of appropriate compensation for the high-risk nature of the job, with an estimate that miners in other parts of the world earn three times more than Cerrejón employees.  Other factors in the negotiations include recognition of health and occupational hazards, dignity of employees, equity with contract workers, environmental protection of the department of La Guajira where the mine operates, and respect of local communities.

Cerrejón, the subject of a new AQ documentary, is a joint venture between BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata. It produced 34.6 million tons of coal and exported 32.8 million tons globally in 2012. The strike threatens the company’s potential production targets for 2013 and may damage the local and regional economy by up to $5.4 million a day.

Tags: Cerrejón, Colombia, mining

Colombian Rebel Groups Compromise Ongoing Peace Process

February 5, 2013

by AQ Online

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced today that six members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and two policemen were killed in an attack near the Venezuelan border. The announcement comes only days after the president requested that the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN) set free two German citizens who were seized last week in the northern Catatumbo region. These events have raised concern about the viability of the peace talks in Havana, but both the government and the FARC remain optimistic about progress.

Iván Márquez, head of the FARC’s negotiating team, believes there are many reasons for his side to be optimistic about the peace process. “Destroying the road towards peace over claims of armed conflict would be unreasonable,” he stated. But since the group’s two-month ceasefire came to an end on January 20, kidnappings and violence have resumed in the country.

Smaller but more politically motivated than the FARC, the ELN has also expressed its interest in engaging in peace talks with the government, but the group refuses to stop its attacks on civilian and military targets as a precondition to begin the negotiations. The peace-building process held in Cuba recently concluded its third phase, with no major progress made toward ending the longstanding conflict.  Land reform is currently the main focus of the negotiations.

Tags: Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, FARC, ELN, Colombia Peace Talks

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