The Pentagon signed $444 million in non-fuel contracts for purchases and services in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 2012 fiscal year, an overall decrease of nearly 15% from the previous year. But US military spending in the region is still considerably higher than during the George W. Bush administration, when the equivalent Pentagon spending in Latin America averaged $301 million a year.
FOR conducted an analysis of Defense Department contracts listed on usaspending.gov for Fiscal Year 2012, building on the review we did last year.
More than a third of funds for these contracts in the region are being carried out in Cuba, with $158 million for housing upgrades, intelligence analysis, port operations and other services. The United States maintains the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, site of the 11-year-old detention center that holds 171 prisoners without trial, many of whom have been cleared for release.
An additional $130 million in Pentagon contracts was for fuel purchases, including more than $44 million in Brazil, $35 million in Costa Rica, and $24 million in Honduras. Such fuel purchases supply the Fourth Fleet of the Navy, as well as military aircraft and land vehicles used in exercises, operations, and training.
Colombia remained the country with the largest amount of Pentagon contracts in continental Latin America, with $77 million. A multi-year contract shared by Raytheon and Lockheed for training, equipment and other drug war activities accounted for more than a third of Pentagon contract spending in Colombia. Honduras, which has become a hub for Pentagon operations in Central America, is the site for more than $43 million in non-fuel contracts signed last year.
The US Southern Command (SouthCom), responsible for US military activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, is assisting the Panamanian border police, known as SENAFRONT, by upgrading a building in the SENAFRONT compound. The force was implicated in killings of indigenous protesters (PDF) in Bocas del Toro in 2011, and fired indiscriminately with live ammunition (PDF) on Afro-Caribbean protesters last October.
Many countries that host US military activities hope to receive economic benefits and jobs as a result. But more than five of every six Pentagon dollars contracted for services and goods in the region went to US-based companies. Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefitted from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts.
A few corporations dominated Pentagon contracts in the region. CSC Applied Technologies, based in Fort Worth, Texas, received more than $53 million in contracts to operate the Navy’s underwater military testing facility in the Bahamas. Lockheed Martin received more than $40 million in contracts, almost entirely for drug war training, equipment and services in Colombia and Mexico.
Pentagon Focus on Guatemala
Although the Pentagon spent less in most Latin American countries in 2012 than the year before, DOD contracts have more than doubled since 2010 in Guatemala, where there is a ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army. However, the ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance. The contracts for nearly $14 million in 2012 amount to more than seven times what it was in 2009. In addition, the US military spent another $8.1 million on fuel in Guatemala last year, probably for “Beyond the Horizon” military exercises held there and in Honduras from April to July, and perhaps to support the deployment of 200 Marines to Guatemala in August.
The contracts included new assistance to the Guatemalan special forces, known as Kaibiles, former members of which have been implicated in giving training to the Zetas drug cartel, as well as the worst atrocities during the genocide period of the 1980s. Two contracts, funded by SouthCom and signed in September, were for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the Kaibiles training base in Poptun, Petén.
The expenditures included equipment. For the last two years, SouthCom has been providing Boston whaler boats, radios, and tactical vehicles (Jeeps) to Central American militaries. Guatemala is receiving more of the equipment than other countries in the region – 47 Jeeps and 8 Boston whalers, according to a SouthCom document. SouthCom signed a $2.5 million contract in September for Jeeps for Guatemala, and it has purchased more than $2.8 million of Harris military radios for Guatemala since September 2011.
Department of Defense contracts, summaries of which are posted on usaspending.gov, only represent a portion of Pentagon spending. A report to Congress last April (PDF) of Defense Department assistance worldwide showed more than $15 million in military aid to Guatemala in 2010, including $9 million for intelligence analysis, training, boats, trucks, night vision devices, and a “base of operations.” These funds also included more than $6 million of unspecified support for Guatemalan police operations in Cobán, in the Guatemalan highland department of Alta Verapaz. The report didn’t include data after 2010.
On December 7, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency signed a $1.4 million contract with a Guatemalan firm to manage a 10,000-barrel supply of turbine fuel for the next five years in Puerto Quetzal, on Guatemala’s southern coast. This followed a July 2012 solicitation to deliver 63,000 gallons of jet fuel to another southern Guatemalan site, in Retalhuleu.
FOR compiled data on the “country of performance” for contracts. For Guatemala, we also examined data on additional contracts that reference the country, which included a $2.5 million contract signed in late September with a Chrysler distributor to deliver tactical vehicles – some of the Jeeps slated for the country. The US Army also purchased $7.6 million worth of trousers from a producer in Guatemala in 2012.
Some legislation for DOD drug war construction of bases and other infrastructure limits projects to $2 million, and the Southern Command continues to employ this authority frequently to construct a variety of facilities all over the Americas. Here are some of the facilities the US military is constructing around Latin America.
This blog first appeared on the LAWG Blog. To read the original version, click here.
That was the title of the January 30th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider how Congress should move forward to address gun violence. Emotions ran high as the hearing began with a statement from Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who survived a gunshot wound to the head two years ago. She still struggles with speech, but as she faced the Senate members, she spoke with a determination and force belying the gravity and urgency of her message. “Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
President Obama, Democrats, and Republicans alike have expressed the desire to enact “common sense legislation” around guns in the wake of what Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) refers to as the “wake up call,” the horrific shooting of twenty children and six adults in Newtown, CT on December 14th. Although the Senate hearing reflected agreement that such tragedies must be prevented in the future, there is a lack of consensus on what constitutes a “common sense” solution. From our vantage point, five policy proposals withstood questioning in the four-hour hearing and should be key components of upcoming legislation. Here is a snapshot of these measures:
1. Make background checks a universal practice, and close the gun show and private vendor loopholes.
Background checks are required at gun stores but not necessarily at gun shows or in a private sale, which, according to hearing witness James Johnson, Chief of Police in Baltimore County, MD, allows forty percent of guns to be purchased without a background check. When Wayne La Pierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA), argued that universal background checks will not be effective because criminals will not submit to them, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) emphatically exclaimed, “That’s the point!” LaPierre said that improved prosecution of gun-wielding criminals is the solution. Yes, prosecution is important, but Johnson responded, “The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.”
2. Improve the background check system by ensuring relevant (mental health) data is available.
Hearing witness Captain Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords and co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, described how Jared Loughner, his wife’s shooter who was acknowledged to be mentally ill, was able to buy a gun despite having been submitted to a background check because no record of his illness existed in the background check system. His illness was not on any official record, but even if it was, the state of Arizona, as confirmed by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, has over 120,000 disqualifying mental health records that are not accessible in the current background check system. Mr. LaPierre agreed that mental health records must be made accessible in a national background check system.
3. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
LaPierre and the other anti-gun control witnesses, Lawyer Gayle Trotter and Professor David Kopel, argued that banning specific weapons or limiting gun magazines is by definition arbitrary, ineffective, unnecessary, or against the freedoms of the Second Amendment. However, Chief Johnson maintained that high capacity magazines are not necessary for hunting and the law should limit them to provide a “window of escape” while a shooter reloads. The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which he chairs, fully supports the proposed bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
4. Address the “matrix of failure” and adopt a holistic approach to improve our mental health system.
Captain Kelly was the first to acknowledge that “behind every victim lays a matrix of failure and inadequacy.” Everyone agreed upon the need to improve the mental health system. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) announced he will propose the Mental Health in Schools Act, while warning to be “careful here that we don’t stigmatize mental illness.” Kelly agreed with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and President Obama’s stated plan that funding for counselors and psychological providers in schools be increased.
5. Enact a gun trafficking bill.
Senator Leahy has proposed a trafficking bill to cut down on straw purchasing. This measure received the least air time and no one in the hearing discussed trafficking in terms of Mexico. Please see previous LAWG blog on how new legislation could affect the gun flow and violence in Mexico. As Gabby Giffords said, “too many children are dying.” Children are disappearing and dying in Mexico by the thousands. Combating gun trafficking makes sense across international as well as state borders.
Tensions ran high, as usual, over the interpretation of the Second Amendment in terms of gun legislation, but Senator Leahy concluded that in upcoming sessions there should be “some areas of agreement.” Prior to the hearing, Mark and Jackie Barden published the article in the Washington Post “Make the Debate over Guns Worthy of Our Son.” Their son Daniel, a bright and considerate seven-year-old, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Their family member created the Facebook page “What Would Daniel Do?” to celebrate his life and inspire others to act as Daniel did, listening and making room for dialogue. Congress should continue discussion of gun control legislation with that philosophy in mind, remembering the tragedies that have brought it to the table, always keeping in mind that the impact of lax U.S. gun policies reach far beyond the U.S. border.
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
United States: Immigration bill
On Monday, a group of U.S. senators released a proposal for immigration reform. The White House released its proposal on Tuesday. Both said more drones will be needed to secure the border. As Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America noted about each of the proposals, “The Senate barely mentions building capacity at ports of entry, but has a lot to say about Border Patrol and drones. The White House doesn’t mention furthering the buildup of Border Patrol, which has already doubled in size since 2005 and quintupled since 1993, but it does talk about ports of entry. And it mentions ‘the use of technologies’ — most likely drones. Conclusion: there will be drones.”
Also on the issue of the border, the Associated Press obtained Border Patrol data showing that, nationwide, arrests by the Border Patrol increased about 7 percent, from 340,252 in fiscal year 2011 to 364,768 last year. This is the first time this number has increased since 2005.
Last week we highlighted the Washington Office on Latin America’s recent report on the Mexico-Texas border. This week, analysts looked into the report: Joshua Keating on the Foreign Policy blog highlighted four points from are important to keep in mind when considering immigration reform, while Insight Crime's Elyssa Pachico analyzed the report's finding that the Zetas' control of the US-Mexico border is slipping. Pachico concluded, "If the Zetas continue to lose power and influence along the US-Mexico border, it will likely make migrants' journey even more dangerous and unpredictable."
Obama Administration Changeovers
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed President Obama's nomination of Senator John Kerry to be Secretary of State. See previous Just the Facts posts for what Kerry's appointment means for Latin America and what he said with regards to Latin America during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her final speech in the post during a forum at the Council on Foreign Relations. She underscored the need for immigration reform, but also highlighted the "need to do more on border security and internal security in Central America." The Council on Foreign Relation's website has the entire text of the speech.
Colombian Peace Process
Last weekend, the FARC captured two policemen in southwest Colombia. The rebel group declared the officers as "prisoners of war," justifying the action in a statement released Tuesday that read: "We reserve the right to capture, as prisoners, members of the security forces who have surrendered in combat. They are called PRISONERS OF WAR, and this phenomenon occurs in any conflict in the world."
The Colombian Government's lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle reiterated that the government regards the officers’ detention as a kidnapping and questioned the FARC's commitment to the peace process, saying, "We’re going to Havana to end the conflict, which is what we agreed. And if that’s not the case, then they should say so now, so as not to waste the time of the government and the Colombian people."
La Silla Vacia reported on the FARC's continued recruitment of minors, even as the peace talks are underway.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the Colombian Government would want the United States to give more aid money to the country to reintegrate FARC combatants into society in the event of a peace deal.
The Latin American Working Group Education Fund’s Director Lisa Haugaard also published a post on the talks about the involvement of Colombian civil society's involvement in the peace process.
Newspaper El Tiempo reported that 690 Colombians were reported missing in the first 28 days of 2013. In January 2011 there were 746 reported cases.
Guatemala: Rios Montt trial
On Monday, a judge ruled that former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt will stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity for the killing and displacement of thousands of Guatemalans in 1982-1983, the majority of them Maya indigenous. The trial is a landmark for both Guatemala, where impunity for civil war crimes is high, as well as the region, as Rios Montt will be the first former head of state to be tried for genocide by a Latin American court.
An explosion Thursday afternoon at the Pemex oil company headquarters in Mexico City has killed 33 people and wounded more than 120. The cause of the blast is still unknown. The explosion comes as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto attempts to attract outside investment into the company. Peña Nieto has also said reforming the company is one of his top priorities, because, as Reuters notes, "Pemex, a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency as well as a byword in Mexico for security glitches, oil theft and frequent accidents, has been hamstrung by inefficiency, union corruption and a series of safety failures costing hundreds of lives." Mexican news website Animal Politico has a graphic timeline of events and an excellent photo gallery on the aftermath in Mexico City, as does the Guardian.
Venezuelan prison riot
Venezuela has one of the most dangerous and corrupt prison systems in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, "Overcrowding, substandard conditions, a high number of pretrial detainees, and corrupt guards who traffic weapons and drugs to inmates have been persistent problems in Venezuelan prisons for years." As David Smilde from the Washington Office on Latin America notes on his Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog, "prison mafias run lucrative crime networks and stockpile arms."
The failed state of the country's penitentiary system was highlighted this week when the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory released a report revealing that 591 inmates were killed and 1,132 injured in the country's jails in 2012. The report was released nearly a week after a prison riot in western Venezuela left at least 56 dead.Human Rights Watch released a statement February 1 calling for the Venezuelan Government to investigate the deaths. "The casualty figures raise serious concerns that the use of lethal force at Uribana prison was far out of proportion with the need," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
On January 23rd, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for El Salvador. Given the improving security situation in the country due to a government-mediated gang truce in March, the decision to do so was seen by many as an attempt to discredit the agreement. It was met with condemnation from analysts, El Salvadorian government officials, and particularly from the gang leaders themselves.
The main reason for criticism of the travel warning is essentially a question of timing. 2012 was the least violent year for El Salvador since 2003, yet no warning was issued in 2010 or 2011, some of the most violent years for the country. Also, the crime stats that are used in the warning are from before the truce. It cites the 2011 murder rate of 71 per 100,000, even though the homicide rate dropped 40% following the start of the gang truce in March.
The travel warning does note, “In 2012, a truce between El Salvador’s two principal street gangs contributed to a decline in the homicide rate.” However, it questions the truce, noting that the “sustainability of the decline is unclear, and the truce had little impact on robbery, assaults, and other violent crimes.”
In response to the warning, El Salvador's Minister of Security, David Mungía Payés, told El Salvador’s La Prensa Gráfica, that “the United States could have been misinformed.”
The travel warning also elicited a response from El Salvador's most prominent gang leaders. On January 25th, the heads of several gangs, including the two most powerful, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, released a communiqué to the media criticizing U.S. policy and calling the travel warning an "obstruction" to the truce.
The national spokesmen for the gangs MS-X3, Barrio 18, Mao Mao, Máquina, and Mirada Locos to the Salvadoran people and to the world make it known:
1. That, with the date of January 24, a document released by the Department of State of the United States has circulated in our country and throughout the world containing a “travel alert for El Salvador,” the contents of which paints a frightening image of this country, with which it tries to scare and discourage all those who want to visit it whether for business or pleasure. The information utilized that serves as support in the “alert” is outdated, as it cites figures from 2010-2011. We presume that when the document was written, the U.S. diplomatic headquarters in El Salvador did not make an effort to provide updated information to the Department of State about the country’s new reality, that was transformed in 2012. We resist to accept that it could have been an intentional action inspired by the threat of interests of large U.S. companies that profit from the violent situation that overwhelms the countries in the region, in which they find a large market for the sale of weapons, security systems and all types of technology related to the security strategies promoted by the United States.
2. We understand that a few years ago the Government of the United States subscribed to an agreement of “Partnership for Growth” with El Salvador, which is why this type of publication, which does nothing to help growth and development in El Salvador, surprises us, as it profoundly damages the image of our country, hurts our national dignity and disregards all the efforts that Salvadorans have been making since March 9, 2012 to overcome our most serious problem; a process whose results have surprised the world, as the Salvadorans have not only halted the increase in violence, but have also considerably diminished it, and we are on the road to the recovery of social peace, something that has not happened in the rest of the Western world, including in the United States, where terrifying acts are becoming more and more frequent, like the murder of dozens of children in schools and of young people in universities.
3. We understand the reasons for which the United States has maintained an indifferent attitude toward the truce and peace process, which has been underway in our country since March 9, 2012, and of which the Salvadoran gangs are the protagonists, as an integral part of Salvadoran society as a whole. We respect the position of the United States to express doubt as to its sustainability; nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that this process is already ten months underway and, instead of losing strength, it is gaining strength every day and it is spreading into more territories, making the involvement of many local actors a possibility.
4. We accept that the decision to support the truce and peace process or not is the sovereign decision of the Government of the United States, although from our point of view, it is obligated to do so, since it has co-responsibility as the gang phenomenon was imported from the United States to the region and is fed monthly by the enormous quantity of deportations. If the [United States] supports the process, that help would be welcomed and appreciated by all Salvadorans; and, if not, we ask that it at least not obstruct it, because we as Salvadorans have the right to make our best effort to restore peace, as self-determination of the people is also a human right.
5. To the citizens of other countries that want to travel to El Salvador and get to know its people, its landscapes, enjoy our warm climate and experience the new reality that is developing in our country, we advise you to do so without any kind of fear; the Salvadoran gangs have never been interested in affecting tourists and we inform you that from this moment on we are circulating precise instructions so that your integrity is respected even more from the moment of your arrival to El Salvador, so that your visit may be as secure and pleasant as possible.
6. Finally, on our part we reaffirm that our will is not breaking and that we will continue contributing to the solution of the violence problem in El Salvador. We are more and more convinced that this is the right path for us to continue following; in that order, we notify that although the pertinent legal norms are no longer approved, we will put into effect the commitment to a second voluntary turnover of weapons, which we previously offered.
(This statement was translated by CIP intern Marissa Esthimer)
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Recent reports coming out of Honduras show a country in crisis with a failing justice system and an unstable political climate. From the looks of the current state of affairs, Honduras is in for a rocky 2013.
Crime and Security
Crimes increased significantly in Honduras in the second half of 2012, with a sharp increase in the last 45 days of the year.
In the past three years, there have been 20,573 homicides, with 7,172 murders registered in 2012, up 68 from 2011. The murder rate is 85.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, which comes to 19.65 homicides per day. For comparison, the murder rates in neighboring Nicaragua and Costa Rica is 12 per 100,000 inhabitants and 11.5 per 100,000 inhabitants respectively.
Last weekend, 534 police officers tested positive for marijuana and/or cocaine consumption. 73 upper level officials are being investigated for receiving illicit funds and 230 failed polygraph tests. Although the Supreme Court has since declared the tests unconstitutional, there will be investigations into the officers that failed the tests. Polygraph tests are administered to police in Colombia and more recently in Mexico (modeled after the Colombian initiative) where police began to be tested in the beginning of January 2013.
Honduras has one of the most corrupt police forces in the region. Marvin Ponce, vice president of the Honduran Congress, has said 40 percent of the country’s police are involved in organized crime. According to organized crime analysis website InSight Crime, Honduran police officers "have been accused of acting as killers and enforcers for the country's criminal interests."
A large portion of Honduras' problems stems from its inability to pay both its domestic and foreign bills. The government is unable to pay for state services ranging from education to security. Of current concern is how much longer the government will be able to pay its military and police forces.
Currently the country's internal debt is around $3 billion; its budget deficit exceeds $1 billion (6% of its GDP), while its foreign debt lies at around $5 billion, the same amount allocated to last year's entire government budget. However, the ability to tax is Honduras’ main fiscal problem. According to the Associated Press, tax evasion is adding to the country’s financial woes, with an estimated 43 percent of revenue due.
A bill was recently introduced in Congress that would eliminate tax breaks for companies that import goods and create Honduras' first sales tax. Supporters say it will generate an extra $1.2 billion, doubling the government's tax intake.
The surveillance camera system in Honduras' capital city was shut off in early January because the government owes the company running the system over $5 million. According to Insight Crime, power to around 800 cameras monitoring crime hotspots in Tegucigalpa has been suspended until the government can pay its outstanding bill. Reports say the emergency response call system would be the next service to go.
So far Congress has only passed a partial budget and has yet to propose a solution to the deficit. The Associated Press reported public funds were being used election campaigns with the vote set to take place in November. President Porfirio Lobo Sosa is currently under investigation for financial fraud.
In addition to high levels of impunity for crimes, the country is currently in the middle of an institutional crisis.
Current President Lobo encouraged Congress to remove four Supreme Court justices following several decisions that went against his administration. Congress, the majority held by Lobo's National Party, did so without an impeachment trial, however, because the judges have not been replaced, no one can rule on their appeal to be reinstated as the other justices refuse to try the case.
Last week, Congress approved a law that would allow lawmakers to impeach any elected official.
As stated by Southern Pulse, "in 2013, Honduras is headed down the same road that led to the 2009 political crisis." Southern Pulse notes that the difference is that "Lobo has the support of President of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez who is also the National Party presidential candidate. The Supreme Court will not be a factor since the Congress has intimidated the justices. The Armed Forces are led by General Rene Osorio who was previously in charge of Lobo’s Presidential Guard." Orlando is the National Party's candidate for the November 2013 presidential elections, which he is expected to win.
U.S. involvement in counternarcotics operations
There has been growing U.S. military involvement in counternarcotics operations in Central America. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) involvement in three operations in which suspects or innocent civilians were killed in Honduras this year highlighted that involvement and draws a watchful eye for what is coming in 2013.
In August, the U.S. suspended radar intelligence sharing after the Honduran air force shot down two suspected drug plans. The U.S. resumed sharing radar intelligence in November. On January 17, the Associated Press reported that a drug trafficker was killed in the first U.S.-supported anti-narcotics raid in Honduras following the five-month suspension.
Also in August, the U.S. State Department put a temporary hold on about $50 million for antidrug and security efforts. The move to do so was motivated by concerns over the DEA’s role in civilian deaths and unauthorized plane shootdowns, accusations that the police chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla, was involved with death squads, and the government’s sluggish pace to reform a police force mired with corruption. The $50 million amounts to about half of all U.S. aid to Honduras for 2012 (including humanitarian assistance) and includes $8.3 million in counternarcotics aid, and another $38 million under the Central America Regional Security Initiative.
Honduras is currently participating in Operation Martillo, an operation led by U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South that works to increase offshore monitoring along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and coordinates with governments to intercept drug shipments. As of yet, no other multiagency operations have been announced.
As Colombia's peace process advances, here are some words to live by.
“We can't condemn Colombians to another one hundred years of solitude and violence.”
--Enrique Santos Calderón, former editor of El Tiempo, brother of President Juan Manuel Santos
“It's one thing that the victims aren't present at the table in Havana, and it's another thing to ignore their voice, deny their rights. A peace without victims will have neither political nor moral legitimacy.”
--Senator Juan Fernando Cristo
"The dialogue for ending the armed conflict should be a moment in which sectors of Colombian society that have been marginalized, discriminated against and excluded have an opportunity to effectively present their demands, needs and rights that have long been neglected."
--Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos
What has happened so far in the process? The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas opened peace negotiations on October 18th, 2012 in Oslo, Norway, raising some hope of putting an end to the hemisphere's longest-running armed conflict. In August, the two parties had agreed upon a five-point agenda which consists of: rural development, political participation, ending the conflict, solving the problem of illicit drugs, and victims.
With the governments of Norway and Cuba acting as guarantors for the peace process and Venezuela and Chile providing logistical support and accompaniment, the substantive talks started in Havana in November on point number one, rural development. The government and the guerrilla delegations each have 30 members, with five from each team participating at the negotiating table at any one time. The U.S. government has repeatedly indicated its support for the Colombian government's decision to enter into peace talks, although the USG is not playing a direct role in negotiations. Colombia's second principal guerrilla group, the ELN, has offered to join the talks but the Colombian government asserts that it will proceed solely with the FARC at this moment. President Santos has stated his intention to achieve a final accord with the FARC before the end of November of this year.
The talks are closed door, although information does leak. While the FARC floats proposals aimed at more sweeping change, President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly made clear his determination that Colombia's basic economic and political model is not on the table for negotiation. He has stated that fundamental aspects of national life such as the Constitution, the development model, and the concept of private property are not up for discussion.
Bones of contention. A cease-fire has been an important bone of contention. The Colombian government has so far refused to establish a cease-fire until the FARC lays down its weapons, and indeed has escalated military action in a number of areas of the country. The FARC announced a unilateral cease-fire in November, which it then lifted on January 20th, stating it would not continue as the government had not reciprocated. There were accusations that the FARC had violated its own cease-fire. Another area of contention is over keeping the negotiations under wraps; the FARC complained after President Santos's brother, Enrique Santos, gave an all-too frank media interview revealing details of the negotiations.
Progress? Despite these differences, talks do appear to be moving forward. On the first agenda point, for example, both sides have agreed to the need to provide land to the landless and displaced, while the FARC has backed off of its longstanding demand for more sweeping agrarian reform. While some sectors—notably former President Alvaro Uribe and his active twitter account—raise objections to the negotiations, broad sectors of the Colombian public at the start of negotiations appeared to be willing to give the process a chance, even if optimism is greatly tempered by the wreckage of past failed peace efforts that litters the Colombian mental landscape.
Civil society involvement in the peace process. There is no formal civil society involvement at the negotiating table. The Colombian government and the FARC have agreed to several more indirect mechanisms for civil society involvement at this stage. First, they have set up a web page (www.mesadeconversaciones.com.co) where any Colombian citizen or civil society organization can submit a proposal. This very limited mechanism receives “proposals” of up to 500 words, which are provided to negotiating teams but not displayed publicly. Second, the negotiating teams asked the National University and the UN agencies in Colombia to convene working groups on the first agenda item, rural development, and to summarize and synthesize the proposals that emerge for them. Over 1300 people participated from 1200 organizations. Potentially, this kind of effort could continue for other agenda items. Third, Colombia's congressional peace commission is organizing regional forums to collect and debate civil society input.
The negotiating teams have stated that civil society participation can be more substantial in the third phase, which is the discussion of how to implement the agreements. However, this leaves the victims of the violent conflicts – victims of the guerrillas, of government forces, and of paramilitary warlords—on the margins as crucial decisions that affect them are made, including the measure and quality of truth, justice and reparations for victims that these peace accords promise to deliver.
Rural development ideas from civil society. In the public forums on rural development, civil society organizations called for protection for communities returning to their lands; distribution of unproductive state-owned land to small-scale farmers; building of “campesino reserve” areas where small-scale farming will be protected; promotion of opportunities for rural youth; improvement of rural infrastructure; respect for indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories, including use of “prior consultation processes” for development projects; and limits on mining exploration.
Protect the civilian population now, as talks proceed. As peace talks advance, the war is only escalating in certain regions, particularly indigenous and Afro-Colombian areas. Coordinación calls on both the Colombian government and the FARC to respect international humanitarian law, including ending recruitment of minors, sexual violence, aerial bombardments of civilian populations, and military operations in indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories. The coalition called on both parties to agree to a bilateral cease-fire.
Provide more effective inclusion of civil society, particularly victims' organizations, in this current phase of dialogue. “Given that the agenda should address the rights to truth, justice, reparation and the guarantee of non-repetition [that abuses will not continue], how the parties can attempt to reach agreement on these issues without the participation of victims and human rights groups cannot be comprehended”; “this leaves their participation for the implementation phase, when everything has already been decided."
Add to the agenda the topic of justice for grave human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Justice “has been excluded from the agenda.”
Establish a fully independent Truth Commission, as a “crucial and nonnegotiable demand.” The Coordinación calls for a commitment from all actors—whether “state, para-state, and against the state” –to speak the truth about their actions that have violated the human rights of Colombia's citizens. This includes revealing what happened to the kidnapped and the disappeared. Transitional justice measures cannot be applied without truth and reparations to victims.
Ensure a complete and effective demobilization of paramilitary groups and paramilitary successor organizations.
As the peace talks advance, we hope that the voices of victims of the conflict, victims of all armed actors, whether the guerrillas, paramilitaries or state security forces, can be truly heard, and that their demands for truth, justice and meaningful reparations will be reflected in the negotiations and agreements. As Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, who had championed the Victims' Law which President Santos signed into law, cautioned, “A peace without the victims will have no political or moral legitimacy.”
Negotiators from Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas held a third round of talks in Havana, Cuba on January 14-24. The next round is to begin on January 31.
The negotiators are discussing the first of five topics on the talks’ agenda: land and rural development policy. Topics to follow are the guerrillas’ future participation in politics; demobilization and post-conflict; drug policy; and victims’ rights.
We know very few details about what is actually being discussed in Havana. Both sides are respecting the negotiations’ secrecy, avoiding having their content aired before the media. Leaks have been extremely scarce. The dialogues’ disciplined conduct, along with a general atmosphere of seriousness and collegiality, increases confidence that these dialogues may succeed. It also reflects well on the role of diplomats from Norway and Cuba, the two “guarantor” countries the process.
The dialogues’ pace, however, has caused some concern. After the last round of talks ended, FARC negotiator “Jesús Santrich” said that the guerrillas were seeing “concrete results,” and that the talks were advancing at a rapid “mambo rhythm.” Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle acknowledged that there have been “convergences” on some issues, but that “notable differences” remain. Before the last round of talks began, de la Calle had told reporters, “We need a faster pace.” In late December, Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo said that the government expected to be done with the land issue, and to have moved on to the second negotiation topic, by Easter week (late March). De la Calle quickly contradicted him, clarifying that the Santos administration had not set an end date for the negotiating topic. For his part, President Juan Manuel Santos has said that he is unwilling to extend the FARC talks beyond November 2013. A mid-December Gallup poll found 71 percent of Colombians supporting the process, but only 43 percent believing that an accord will actually be reached. 54 percent were “pessimistic.”
January 20 saw the FARC end a two-month unilateral “holiday” cease-fire, with attacks on a pipeline in Putumayo and a police station in Norte de Santander, and the murder of an indigenous leader in Cauca. The FARC have not carried out a large scale offensive, despite Colombian National Police predictions that they were preparing a “terrorist wave” after January 20th. During the two months, the FARC mostly respected the truce. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said that the FARC carried out 57 attacks during the two months. The Bogotá-based Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris think-tank counted 7 to 15 attacks, a nearly 90 percent reduction from the FARC’s usual pace. According to President Santos,
“The truth is that there was an important reduction in this organization’s number of actions, there was a very important reduction in the number of our soldiers and police killed or wounded. With that we can conclude that there was compliance [with the cease-fire]. But a relative compliance, because there were also actions.”
The government did not join in the FARC’s cease-fire. During the two months, Colombia’s armed forces bombed FARC encampments in Nariño and Antioquia, killing dozens of guerrilla fighters. The government continues to reject repeated FARC requests for a bilateral cease-fire. “We want peace, but not at any cost,” said chief government negotiator de la Calle. “Not at the cost of, as a result of the conversations, the guerrillas strengthening themselves to continue the war.”
The current negotiation topic, land and rural development, is difficult and complicated, underlying much of the conflict with a 49-year-old guerrilla group whose base is almost entirely rural. In five recent communiqués (1) (2) (3) (4) (5), the guerrillas laid out ten proposals for land and rural development that, for the most part, cannot be described as radical — in fact, observers note, many of the proposals dovetail with the Santos government’s own positions. While both sides seem to share a concern for Colombia’s remarkably high land concentration (1.15 percent of landholders own 52 percent of agricultural land), they disagree about what to do about it. The FARC would prefer to take unproductive land from cattle ranchers, who own approximately 40 million hectares in Colombia (the country’s total surface area is 113 million hectares; a hectare is 2.5 acres). “From this big balloon of land, at least 20 million hectares could be taken,” chief FARC negotiator Iván Marquez said. The government would prefer to distribute unused land in state hands, or land seized from narcotraffickers, and minimize confrontation with the country’s politically powerful cattle ranchers.
The country’s cattle-rancher federation, FEDEGAN, senses that it has the most to lose from any land redistribution, and has been one of the most vociferous critics of the peace talks so far. FEDEGAN made a point of boycotting a December forum, cosponsored by UNDP and Colombia’s National University, designed to channel civil-society proposals for the negotiators to consider. More than 1,300 participants in that forum produced 546 proposals.
If the talks complete the five points on the agenda, there is a sixth and final issue: how to cement the final accord into Colombian law. The government says it favors a public referendum to approve what was agreed at the negotiating table. The FARC, however, have beencalling for a “constituent assembly,” in which representatives, chosen by voters, rewrite Colombia’s constitution. The government rejects this. It is unclear why the FARC is pushing for this, given the strong showing that Colombia’s right wing has enjoyed in recent elections: the likelihood of a conservative majority rewriting the country’s constitution would be high.
No negotiations are currently occurring with Colombia’s other 49-year-old guerrilla group, the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). In early December, though, maximum ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez acknowledged that the group has engaged in contacts with the Santos government. On January 18, after kidnapping five mining workers in Bolívar, the ELN released a video in which Rodríguez asked, “Why aren’t we at the table? That is a question for President Santos.”
Foreign governments’ statements about the talks have been uniformly supportive. “We support the effort. We are impressed by the way that President Santos and his team have organized the conversations,” said U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough. “We, the United States, are not a part of Colombia’s peace process, although we support President Santos’ efforts because we believe that it is extremely important that the Colombian people can finally live in peace and security,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Mike Hammer. "We support the efforts of President Santos in Colombia and the peace process. We have great confidence in President Santos and we are ready, with other countries in the international community, to help the Colombian government to implement it," said Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. “I’m sure that my government and many of its leaders support the current process,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during a January 12 visit to Bogotá. “We fully support this process, and should Colombia consider it useful, we are willing to contribute,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that the FARC talks are “one of the happiest pieces of news in recent decades for our Americas.” In mid-January, representatives of the two “accompanying” countries in the process, Venezuela and Cuba, met with and received an update from both negotiating teams.
Looking toward later in 2013, the fourth topic on the negotiating agenda, drug policy, could pose challenges for Washington. President Santos has been more critical of the current, U.S.-backed anti-drug approach. For its part, the FARC wants sweeping changes in drug policy; within its ten rural development proposals is a call for the coca leaf to be declared legal for “medical, therapeutic, or cultural purposes. The sides may agree on something — such as limits on forced eradication or aerial herbicide fumigation — that will require some real flexibility from the United States.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next Secretary of State, had his confirmation hearing yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. U.S. policy toward Latin America came up several times.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) — who, if Kerry is approved, will be the new Foreign Relations Committee chair — asked Sen. Kerry about U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere. Menendez mentioned several things that make him hopeful for better relations with Latin America, including a potential transition in Venezuela, a strengthening relationship with Mexico’s new president, negotiations in Colombia with the FARC. He asked for Kerry’s thoughts on the region.
Kerry responded: “it is an opportunity that is staring at us. Hope we can build upon what secretary Clinton and President Obama have already done to augment our efforts in the region, you can add the Merida initiative to that list … the Central American Security Initiative, assistance to Guatemala and Honduras, the energy initiative with Brazil … and increasing economic integration in the region. But as we know there have been outlier states that have not been as cooperative, depending on what happens in Venezuela there could really be an opportunity for a transition there … also hope we could make progress with Bolivia and Ecuador. One of the great stories of Latin America is Colombia … President Uribe stepped up in a critical moment and began the process of rescuing that nation, President Santos is now doing an amazing job, we strengthened the relationship by passing the economic trade agreement. We have to build on that. And that is an example for the rest of Latin America of what awaits them… [Also] hope to bridge the gap with some of the other countries.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) asked about the strengthening of the relationship between Mexico, Central America and the United States, due to “common security goals.” One element of this relationship is judicial reform, but the Senator noted that the federal government and several Mexican states have still lagged behind on this issue – i.e. making the judicial systems in those countries less “inquisitorial.” How, he askd can the United States better work with allies in Mexico to improve the judicial system?
Kerry responded that there are ongoing efforts with respect to the judicial system, with a lot of focus on guns and counternarcotics. He continued “I want to keep the existing efforts going, which could be subject to sequestration. … Mexico has been under siege, everybody know that. It has been very difficult. Lot of courage exhibited by military folk and police and I think there is an effort to move it somewhat away from military and into justice system, which is why we will have to double the efforts here and fund the personnel and program itself.”
Sen. Udall followed up that the new Mexican security strategy is to achieve a “Mexico in Peace,” and said he hoped that the government won’t abandon the fight against crime. How, he asked, can you assure that mutual areas of interest get the attention they deserve, especially cooperation along the border?
“President [Enrique] Peña Nieto is indeed trying to move this in a different direction. This has been a highly militarized and very violent initiative over the last years… one thing I learned [as a prosecutor] is that there is no one approach [to the fight against drugs], you’ve got to be doing everything that you’ve got to do, and that means domestically in the United States you’ve got to do education, and you’ve got to do treatment … we have a revolving circle of demand … we need a more comprehensive and less accusatory approach … I’ve always felt that this label the ‘war on drugs’ is kind of artificial because war implies it’s all-out … we have always failed to do our part when it comes to education and treatment and abstinence.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California): “Under Secretary Clinton’s leadership the State Department has fought to protect the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, to end the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo, to promote women’s economic empowerment in places like Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to ensure that women play a meaningful role as new governments take shape in the Middle East and North Africa. If confirmed, will you ensure that the position of global ambassador at large is retained and that the office is effectively resourced? ”
Kerry: “Yes. … Secretary Clinton has put an emphasis on human trafficking in the State Department, and I intend to continue that. … What you’re talking about with respect to women and girls, in South Africa, in Guatemala, in other parts of the world, women have stepped up as peace makers, women have made the difference in many of these instances as to the security of those communities, the attitude of the state, its willingness to reach out and be inclusive.”
Also mentioning Latin America, but not eliciting a response, were Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who when criticizing U.S. foreign policy asked why did the administration condemn what happened in Honduras [the 2009 coup] while helping to steal an election in Nicaragua; and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) who said he is worried about rising Chinese and Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere (especially Iranian sponsored Spanish-language broadcasts).
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) made a comment on Cuba that did not get a response from Kerry: “I’ve felt differently than perhaps some of my colleagues on this panel and thought that the best way to foster change and progress toward democracy is to allow free travel of Americans, to let them go as they wish. I don’t think that that is a weakness or any capitulation at all. I think it shows strength. In fact I’ve always thought that if we want a real get tough policy with the Castro Brothers, we should force them to deal with Spring Break once or twice. … This president has taken measures to allow more Americans to travel freely: relatives, travel for religious or cultural education purposes and I think that’s a good thing. I hope that you’ll find ways to continue that and continue more innovative approaches to deal with change there.”
Sen. Flake’s comment, however, angered Sen. Menendez, who replied, “To suggest that spring break is a form of — a form of torture to the Castro regime — unfortunately, they are experts about torture, as is evidenced by the increasing brutal crackdown on peaceful democracy advocates on the island just in the last year, over 6,600 peaceful democracy advocates detained or arrested. Just this past Sunday, the Ladies in White, a group of women who dress in white and march every Sunday with a gladiolus to church, tried to come together to go to church this past Sunday. And the result of that, these are individuals who are the relatives of former or current political prisoners in Castro’s jails … is that more than 35 of the Women in White were intercepted, beaten with belts, threatened [with] death by agents aiming guns at them and temporarily arrested.”
(This post was researched by CIP Associate Sarah Kinosian and WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman.)
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)