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.
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.
Yesterday afternoon, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) guerrilla group complained that the Colombian government’s usage of military force during peace talks threatened the harmony of the negotiations. Iván Márquez, chief negotiator for the FARC, stated that “in contrast with our act of humanity, President Santos announces that he will intensify the war on all national territory,” adding it was “nonsense.”
Although the FARC declared a two-month ceasefire last month, the move turned out to be unilateral as Santos made clear that the Colombian government would not reciprocate, and would continue a military offensive until a peace agreement is reached. The Colombian army has been largely successful in its effort, killing 20 FARC fighters earlier this month. In declaring its ceasefire, the FARC has petitioned for a bilateral ceasefire but to no avail. Márquez renewed the call yesterday: “[if the government] continues to be adamant in war, it should at least […] sign a treaty of regularization […] searching always to preserve the lives of the people and respect for their rights.”
The bilateral negotiations began ceremoniously in Oslo, Norway, this past October and intensified the following month in Havana, Cuba, where Cuban- and Norwegian-mediated talks—with Chilean and Venezuelan observation—have been taking place intermittently since the middle of November. The FARC was established in 1966, and its rebellion against the Colombian government marks Latin America’s longest running internal guerrilla conflict.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mercosur convenes; first week of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency; FARC peace negotiations resume; Peru, Chile dispute their border at The Hague; and Rousseff’s oil royalties veto makes waves in Brazil.
Mercosur Considers Ecuador and Bolivia: When Mercosur’s member nations convene on Friday in Brasilia, they will consider upgrading Bolivia and Ecuador—currently associate members—to full membership. Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota cites a desire to deepen South American integration. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes that “with each new addition to Mercosur the original intent of the customs union is becoming diluted. The additions may be economic benefits to Brazil and serve a broader political end, but with Venezuela and now potentially Bolivia and Ecuador the task of coordinating a common external tariff and ensuring that monetary policy doesn't interfere with internal trade is nearly impossible.”
Peña Nieto in the Presidency: After announcing his cabinet on Friday and transitioning into power the following day, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto undergoes his first full week in Mexico’s highest office. Yesterday, the main domestic political parties announced the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) that outlines desired political reforms for Peña Nieto’s term. The reforms center on three areas: strengthening the state; economic and political modernization; and expansion of social rights. As AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes, “the show of unity with the joint signing of the Pacto por México is an important accomplishment for Peña Nieto but the specifics of how to implement these reforms will be the real challenge especially with PRD legislators already threatening to block them.”
Peru, Chile at The Hague: Beginning today, the International Court of Justice will hear a lawsuit by Peru brought against Chile over an unclear maritime border. In the lead-up, however, both Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala have discouraged their respective citizens from being belligerently nationalistic. Piñera wrote against “exacerbated nationalism, which poisons the soul of the people,” while Humala urged for both countries to consider the outcome of the lawsuit as “the end point of a dispute between brother countries.”
Colombia, FARC Continue Talks: Both sides will resume peace negotiations in Havana on Wednesday. The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, has stressed “a stable and enduring peace” as the desired outcome of the talks; President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced that he has designated November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement.
Impact of Dilma’s Partial Veto: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was absent at last Friday’s Unasur meeting in Lima due to “domestic engagements.” The issue in question was whether she would sign into law a controversial law on oil royalties, which would spread the nation’s resource wealth to non-producing states. According to Reuters, Dilma’s veto “changes the bill so that producer states continue to receive royalties on output from existing oil concessions. She signed most of the rest of the bill passed [in early November] by Congress, redistributing royalties from all future oil concessions so that non-producing states get a greater share.” The oil-producing states had threatened to take their case to the Supreme Court, which would have dragged out the case amid Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 and 2016 sporting mega-events. Pay attention this week to see further reactions within Brazil to Dilma’s partial veto.
Just three weeks after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his prostate gland, Vice President Angelino Garzón announced yesterday that he may step down from office in order to undergo radiation therapy for a similar condition. He will receive 39 sessions over eight weeks.
This is the first time that the vice president has insinuated that he would leave his post; his term has been plagued with a myriad of health issues including a heart attack shortly after taking office and a stroke which left him comatose in June. While Garzón said that the cancer is not life threatening, he is “fully aware that [he] must leave up to the constitution and the law everything related to the present and future of the vice presidency of Colombia." It is not clear whether Garzón will renounce his post or whether he will let Congress—which earlier this month demanded he submit to a medical examination to determine his potential fitness to replace President Santos—make the final decision.
According to Colombia’s 1991 Constitution, the vice president is elected by popular vote on the same ticket as the president. If Garzón were to step down, his replacement would be elected by Congress to fulfill the remainder of the term. Despite the restoration in the Constitution, however, some legislators are still discussing eliminating the position if he is not able to fulfill his duties due to his health.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, 61, will undergo surgery in Bogotá today to remove a non-aggressive tumor located in the prostate gland. Details of the condition and the procedure were revealed by the president on Monday, hours after the tumor was discovered and only a week before the awaited peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) begin in Norway.
“There's a 97 percent chance of being totally cured,” assured the president, who joined the list of Latin American past and present leaders such as Presidents Hugo Chávez and Cristina Fernández, and former Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva and Fernando Lugo who have suffered from this condition in the past two years.
Andrés Paris, FARC’s spokesperson in Cuba, assured that the president’s health will not get in the way of the peace talks. According to Colombian affairs specialist Harvey Kline, if Santos is able to broker a peace deal with the FARC in the coming months, it will ensure his re-election in 2014. Experts estimate the FARC has today only one third of the combatants it had 10 years ago. Given the government’s military advantage over the armed group, this time a peace agreement seems increasingly plausible.
All actors, including former President Uribe—who has become the biggest opposition of Santos’ peace process—expressed their support to the president and wished for his short recovery. Santos will be conscious during the surgery and is expected to return to his residency in two or three days.
During a televised speech on Tuesday afternoon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will take place in October. Santos, who has been holding exploratory talks with the FARC since February, said that the talks will take place in Oslo, Norway and Havana, Cuba. Meanwhile, the FARC announced the peace talks in a video message broadcast to international journalists in Havana. The FARC's leader, Rodrigo Londono, or “Timochenko”, urged a "civilized dialogue" to end the fighting.
Both sides have signed a framework for the peace talks, addressing a conflict that has plagued Colombia since the mid-1960s. The plan is to begin formal peace negotiations in Oslo before moving to Havana. Cuba has mediated similar peace processes in the past, and this time Venezuela and Chile will also act as participants in the discussion.
RCN Radio reported that the agenda for discussion will include agrarian reform, political participation, drug trafficking, reparations for victims and the process for ending the conflict and implementing the peace deal.
The announcement has drawn criticism from former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who said that holding peace talks without a ceasefire is impossible.
Last weekend Colombian journal El Espectador revealed that the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armandas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces⎯FARC) have made preliminary moves toward the launch of peace negotiations, initiating a series of opinions and speculation from different sectors of the Colombian government.
According to a report on Monday on Telesur, negotiations between the two parties began in Havana in May, assisted by representatives from Norway, Cuba and Venezuela. The formal opening of the peace negotiations will take place in Oslo on October 5, and will be continued in Cuba. The agenda for the negotiation will include topics such as demobilization, cessation of hostilities and disarmament.
Governmental sources noted that the Executive would not comment "for now" on the report issued by Telesur. However, these sources did confirm a meeting held Monday between President Santos and former OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, a potential negotiator with the FARC.
While journalists and politicians discussed the details of the negotiation, agents of the Fiscalía General de Colombia arrested 22 members of the FARC in the department of Antioquia in northwestern Colombia. The detainees were seized on charges of rebellion, terrorism, and production, trafficking or possession of firearms and narcotics.
Top stories this week are likely to include: impact of the Amuay refinery tragedy in Venezeula; aftermath in the Caribbean of Tropical Storm Isaac; YPF and Chevron move toward an alliance; fallout of a cabinet shift in Colombia; and Canada seeks to strengthen commercial ties with Southeast Asia.
Disaster at Amuay Refinery Continues: After Saturday’s deadly explosion at the Amuay oil refinery in Venezuela’s Falcón state, much remains up in the air. Flames were still burning as of this morning, and President Hugo Chávez has ordered an investigation and declared three days of mourning. However, as the death toll remains unpredictable—it already climbed to 41 from 39 overnight, with 20 of the dead belonging to Venezuela’s National Guard—pay attention to any developments in the aftermath of the worst accident in Venezuela in recent memory.
Isaac Causes Damage: Over the weekend, Tropical Storm Isaac slammed Hispaniola, killing 10 total—eight in Haiti and two in the Dominican Republic—and displacing thousands. Haiti’s Civil Protection Office reported 14,000 had fled their homes and another 13,500 were living in temporary shelters. How will the island rebound? And what lies in store for Isaac? It is picking up speed in the Gulf of Mexico and will likely turn into a hurricane early this week, with projected landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana, on Wednesday—six years to the day after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the coastal city. (Donate to the American Red Cross.)
YPF, Chevron in Advanced Talks for Alliance: YPF, Argentina’s state-controlled energy company, is mulling a strategic accord with Chevron, Latin America’s leading private energy investor. YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio held a meeting on Friday with Ali Moshiri, Chevron’s Latin America chief, and noted that YPF needs more experienced partners to help develop Argentina’s massive shale reserves, which are the world’s third largest. Of particular interest is the Vaca Muerta field in the Nequén province, and Chevron is already involved in three wells in Vaca Muerta. Galuccio will present a five-year plan this Thursday.
Cabinet Shakeup in Colombia: Having recently crossed the halfway threshold into his four-year term, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos decided to reshuffle his cabinet last Thursday when he asked all 16 of his ministers to resign. Some posts have been reassigned; former mines minister Mauricio Cardenas has assumed the finance portfolio. However, Cardenas’ replacement, as well as other vacant posts, has not yet been named. This week will likely see movement in Santos’ cabinet.
Canada Seeks Increased Trade Ties in Asia: Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast begins a trade mission today to Southeast Asia, where he will conduct official visits to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia followed by the first Canada-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting in Cambodia. Fast will then continue to Burma, marking the first time a Canadian trade minister has ever done so. In a statement, Fast said, “This year, as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of relations between Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we are committed to moving our trade and investment relationship with ASEAN forward.”
Es lógico. El único interlocutor válido para resolver el conflicto desatado por la presencia de grupos armados y fuerza pública en territorio Indígena de los Nasa-Páez en el norte del Cauca, es el presidente Juan Manuel Santos. Mesas temáticas, delegados ministeriales, despliegue de fuerza pública, son medidas además de controversiales, inútiles. La presencia de ONGs internacionales y los informes de los relatores de derechos humanos sobre la situación de los pueblos Indígenas, respaldan el proceso y lo blindan pero terminan siendo insuficientes porque el estado colombiano no se anima a reconocer lo que la Constitución del 1991 le dio a estas comunidades: Autonomía.
Ni el estado ni los grupos armados, valga decir. Porque allí donde hay tierra, rica y próspera, desplazar y acabar con las comunidades a quienes les pertenece, es el mejor método para dar paso a los monocultivos o el narcotráfico. Da igual. Aunque en apariencia lo primero es legal y lo segundo no, para las comunidades Indígenas la defensa del territorio pasa por la defensa de la siembra, de la naturaleza, de la madre tierra, de la Pachamama, de esa riqueza autosostenible que no se puede reducir a los biocombustibles o a la coca. Y eso que esa última también es sagrada para ellos aquí como en Bolivia, aunque su producción no está regulada ni mucho menos permitida por el Estado colombiano como en Bolivia. Para los Nasa-Páez, la segunda comunidad Indígena más numerosa del país, unos 130.000 miembros, hay mucho más que defender y aunque no se reduce a una palabra es la que más carga política e histórica tiene: Autonomía.
Esa defensa del territorio ha sido pagada con un precio altísimo. Con ocasión del ”Encuentro Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas por la defensa de la Madre Tierra” que se lleva a cabo en Popayán desde el pasado 10 de agosto, la Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC) reveló unas cifras que parecen números fríos pero que dan cuenta de una realidad que sale a la palestra pública cada vez que en masa los Indígenas protestan, bloquean vías, o como sucedió en julio pasado—origen del conflicto actual—expulsan a los armados (legales o ilegales) de sus tierras.