Ahead of Election, Colombia’s Santos Signals Tough Stance on Mining

World Politics Review

When he took office in 2010, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos trumpeted mining as a “locomotive” that would drive the economy forward.

Recently though, the Santos administration dealt a series of harsh blows to the country’s No. 2 coal exporter, Alabama-based Drummond Co., in response to a series of legal blunders committed in 2013. Coming down this hard on a company like Drummond is an unprecedented move for Colombia’s government, signaling that from here on out, multinationals that come to mine the country’s natural resources could face a new, hard-line stance when they don’t play by the rules. Continue reading on WPR…

Venezuela expats are tweeting the way for embattled protesters

Global Post

BOGOTA, Colombia — As anti-government protesters descended on Caracas’ main plaza this week, marcher Eiker Ramirez called a Venezuelan living in neighboring Colombia and asked her what was happening.

His friend here, 24-year-old university student Yoselie Gonzalez, checked her Twitter feed. Continue reading at Global Post…

Who is Aida Avella?


Aida Avella is not just the woman who will be running for Colombia’s Presidency under the banner of a leftist political party called the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union party). Her candidacy – and in fact her very presence in the country – represents a big test for Colombian politics as an election nears.

Ms. Avella fled Colombia in 1995, when assassins fired a rocket at her car, trying to kill her. It was the third failed attempt on her life. She went into exile in Geneva, Switzerland, where she lived for the next 17 years. Ms. Avella returned just last year.

Ms. Avella told Colombia Reports in an interview that her political work never stopped during her time in exile:

“All of it is political work […] it’s work that comes out of the soul. No one was paying us. We do work to live in the morning…but in the evening, we do work that is very special, very special because we were doing it for the political participation [of] marginalized [Colombians].”

… for years, Avella hosted people in her home or with friends.

“When the political asylum seekers are not here… indigenous people are here, when the indigenous people are not here, the workers are here, when the workers are not here, the women are here, when the women are not here the Afro-descendent Colombians are here, where the Afro-descendants are not here, the artists are here […] There are always lots of people here from Colombia […] it’s extraordinary,” she said.

Why is Ms. Avella’s presence in Colombia a test for Colombian politics?

Ms. Avella’s party was the birth-child of the first attempt of peace talks between Colombia’s government and the marxist rebel group, the FARC.

In an effort to bring communist party members, FARC sympathizers and other rebel groups into a political arena they claimed they had been marginalized from, the Patriotic Union party won 9 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate a minority vote for their Presidential candidate: 4.6%.

But the rocket that nearly killed her was just part of a wave of violence brought against members of the leftist Patriotic Union party from 1987 through the early 2000s. The Patriotic Union party was tolerated in theory, but not in practice.

The question of whether or not leftist rebels should be and can be brought back into politics is a question Colombians are asking themselves as the fourth attempt at peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels drags on in Havana, Cuba.

Tolerating the Patriotic Union party and letting it come back into politics peacefully will likely set some tone toward the peace talks.

The history of violence against her political movement is something Ms. Avella will probably be unable to forget as the campaigning takes off for elections set for May of this year.

But she seems more focused on future plans:

“There are so many things we could do,” she told Colombia Reports. One thing, though, is high on the list: “We’re going to fight corruption.”

Other sources related to Aida Avella & The Patriotic Union Party

Aida Avella Esquivel – La Silla Vacía

Profile of Aida Avella – Colombia Reports

Patriotic Union Party – Colombia Reports
photo credit: Unión Patriótica

John Carlin reaches at reconciliation in Colombia


John Carlin has a big mission in Colombia: he wants to bring reconciliation to the country’s conflict, adding a new dimension to the peace talks that have been going on for over a year now in Havana, Cuba, a negotiations intended to end a half-century of conflict between FARC rebels and the Colombian government.

Carlin’s project, called Reconciliación Colombia, wants to get people from around the country talking about the silent progressive they have made in overcoming the conflict. In a sense it’s a way to cut through the blaring noise over the drama of conflict that continues under the hum of the talks, something that often soaks up the media’s attention.

From the project’s site…

Medios de comunicación y ciudadanos –a través de las redes sociales– decidieron sentar su posición frente a la iniciativa Reconciliación Colombia… una alianza de 35 organizaciones sociales, empresariado y prensa en un intento por resaltar procesos y experiencias que han avanzado en el camino hacia la reconciliación, a pesar de la adversidad.

News outlets and citizens – through social networks – decided to set out their position through the initiative Reconciliación Colombia… an alliance of 35 social, business and press organizations in an attempt to highlight processes and experiences that have advanced in the road toward reconciliation, despite all the adversity.

John Carlin, born to a Scottish father and a Spanish mother, developed chops early on for diplomacy when his father was stationed in Buenos Aires as a diplomat. He worked around Latin America as a reporter in the 1980s before turning his attention to South Africa’s struggle for reconciliation. In South Africa, as a journalist, Carlin studied Nelson Mandela’s tactics for reconciling a nation torn apart by apartheid.

The project Carlin is behind might sound like a big PR event to promote the peace talks – a government policy many on the right in Colombia oppose. But the man behind the project might be worth listening to for getting through a half century of fighting. After all, of this Mandela had to say to him:

“What you wrote and the way in which you carried out your task in this country was absolutely magnificent…it was absolutely inspiring. You have been very courageous, saying things which many journalists would never say.”

More about the project in Colombia media:

Reconciliación Colombia

El proceso de paz, la lucha entre la reconciliación y la venganza: John Carlin

photo: johncarlin.eu

Neo-Pentecostal in Colombia

Wesley Tomaselli 2013

“The devil is afraid of me,” said the woman who has recently found herself in the limelight of Colombian media drama. The drama came after video footage revealing that she condemns disabled persons’ participation in her church hit the screen.

Her name is Maria Luisa Piraquive, a Colombian Neo-Pentecostal leader.

Who Maria Luisa Piraquive really is, is a question with more than one answer though. She is Maria, the brave heir to a church started by her and her husband after he succumbed to a heart attack in 1996. She is also Sister Maria Luisa, the charismatic leader of more than 750 congregations where believers of the evangelical Christian faith she preaches have cropped up across Colombia, Spain, and the US. But she is also Big Mama Piraquive, the head of a family that has ascended from modest beginnings to a wealthy, upper class status, with houses sprinkled around Colombia and Miami. And she is a singer, too.

In response to the release of the footage, which Piraquive’s followers say is private and was never allowed to slip into the hands of Colombian journalists and news agencies, members of Piraquive’s church are protesting what they say is unfair play by the country’s media machines.

They protesters are a minority voice, but theirs is a voice that’s growing louder and louder in Colombia. Neo-Pentecostal Christianity, like other forms of evangelical Protestantism, take scripture seriously, almost literally at times, and preach a direct relationship between worshiper and Holy Spirit through baptism.

As her members defend her, citing constitutional rights to freedom of religious expression in Colombia, Piraquive’s harsh critics in the media keep up the attack, equating her metaphorically (in one instance) to a disease. At this rate, it doesn’t seem like the noisy theater swelling around Ms. Maria Luisa Piraquive is due to die down any time soon.

photo: LatAm FM

Land reform, decreased inequality minimum demands for peace: FARC

January 15th, 2013 MEDELLÍN (Colombia Reports) – Colombia’s largest rebel group, FARC, on Monday set agrarian reform and a decrease in inequality as their minimum demands for reaching a peace agreement with the government.

In an interview sent to Colombia Reports, the guerrilla’s lead negotiator “Ivan Marquez” — whose real name is Luciano Marin — laid out their principal demands in negotiations.

“The minimums? Comprehensive rural reform and the reversal of the Gini coefficient,” said Marquez. The Gini coefficient is the main statistical measure of a country’s inequality. According to the World Bank, Colombia currently has the seventh worst in the world, comparable with Haiti and Angola.

“There’s a common diagnosis on the situation of misery that, like a weed, invaded the Colombian countryside. The Gini coefficient of 0.89 is a mirror that reflects the terrible inequality that is prevalent in this sector. The government doesn’t even have the strength or the arguments to challenge those sad figures of injustice,” explained Marquez.

Though the Colombia government has claimed that its economic model is not up for debate in the peace talks, Marquez insists that omitting it from the talks is “not consistent with the spirit of the General Agreement of Havana.”

“It is impossible for the deepening of neoliberal policy, promoted by [President Juan Manuel] Santos, and the delivery of territory to the multinational extractive industry to escape the discussion about land access and use, and food sovereignty,” said the rebel negotiator.

“Dignified life in the cities depends on rural stability, and vice versa. It should strengthen the symbiotic relationship so that Colombia moves forward. We must democratize national life, beginning with the democratization of land ownership,” Marquez claimed.

Just prior to the restart of negotiations on Monday, the Colombian government and FARC studied more than 500 proposals from citizens, gathered during a forum hosted by the U.N., along with input from university professors, experts, and peace commissions regarding the contentious matter of land reform.

Marquez said that all input from the committees would be given serious consideration by the FARC delegation, declaring that “they contain the hope of solving the problem that many rural people have longed for…this is the key to peace.”

In the interview, the rebel leader showed a willingness to reach a peace agreement before November, the deadline imposed by President Santos, but said he refused to prematurely sign a deal.

“Although we’re in no electoral hurry, we hope to be able to have an integrated agrarian reform before November,” Marquez said.

Both the government and rebels have labeled land reform as crucial for the signing of any treaty that would put an official end to almost 50 years of fighting — the longest-running civil conflict on the continent.

During his Christmas address, Santos spoke of the importance of reaching social justice, signaling a willingness to confront the same issues Marquez speaks of in future rounds of talks. In a speech towards the end of December, the Colombian presidentspoke of “a true peace; a peace that is not just the end of violence but also progress towards a greater social justice.” The FARC, ever since peace talks began, have stressed the necessity for peace “with social justice.”

Nevertheless, according to Marquez peace is not yet within reach.

“We are taking the first steps [that] we all know are complex. We need navigation equipment. To reach our destiny of peace we need GPS and compass, statistics, figures and land registries. But in Colombia this support does not exist or is insufficient. We need to know what is going to be redistributed, returned and formalized. It can’t just be wastelands.”

The sergeant in his labyrinth: José Guarnizo’s story

January 8th, 2013 MEDELLÍN (Colombia Reports) – The Odyssean story of Sergeant Jose Guarnizo, a former hostage now condemned for participation in a massacre, has shed light on the extraordinary complexity of Colombia’s half-century armed conflict.

Guarnizo fell into the hands of the country’s largest guerrilla group, FARC, in July 1997 in the northern Antioquia department. Along with a handful of high-ranking officials, the sergeant was taken captive, and remained a hostage for six years until May 2003 when he was rescued by security forces. The rescue, however, did not run smoothly, and ended in the deaths of other hostages, including former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverry and the then-governor of Antioquia, Guillermo Gaviria.

Then, two years after his release, Guarnizo was convicted for his role in a 1992 massacre of seven farmers in the central Meta Department. The courts sentenced him to over 33 years in prison.

But three years later, in 2008, a local court in the Meta Department acquitted him on the grounds that it was impossible for Guarnizo to have been in the town during the time of the murders.

Liberation was fleeting for the sergeant — just before courts entered recess in December 2011, the sentence was reinstated.

“They have not issued the arrest warrant, but they left me with a sentence of 34 years for the process that I had won in the first instance,” Guarnizo told the Associated Press.

Much like the Sergeant’s story, Colombia’s half century of armed conflict between leftist guerillas, illegal paramilitary groups and the Colombian state is like a labyrinth.

Where it will end is hard to see.

Tanja Nimeijer set to join Peace Talks in Havana

Tanja Nimeijer, a Dutch citizen, is set to join the Peace Talks between the FARC and the Colombian government in Havana as a representative for the Marxist guerrillas, according to the Colombian news magazine Semana.

Nimeijer joined the FARC after working as an English teacher in the city of Pereira. The teacher-turned-guerrilla says that she chose Colombia purely by coincidence because it offered an opportunity to fulfill a university internship requirement.

Nimeijer’s university instructors observed strong left-leaning political inclinations during her studies as a student of Romance literature in the Netherlands.

The message about the Dutch woman’s participation was reportedly not received well by the Colombian government because Nimeijer is not a Colombian citizen.

After concluding a round of press conferences in Oslo, Norway, the Peace Talks will move to Havana, Cuba. The talks between the FARC and the Colombian government began in secrecy in February of this year, and the intention to engage was made public by Juan Manuel Santos in August.

The armed conflict between the FARC and the Colombian state began in 1964.

Student Protests Against Education Policy Turn Ugly in Santiago

In this video, aggressive clashes between Chilean students and police take place along La Alameda, one of Santiago’s major avenues, during part of a widespread protest against recent motions issued by billionaire President, Sebastian Piñera, that regard how to ease the costs for students while keeping intact a privatized system of education put into place during Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 rein.

According to the Santiago Times, “encapuchados” battled with police in a series of violent encounters, calling for an end to what they perceive to be an education system that separates students based on socioeconomic factors. Reuters reports that one student suffered fatal wounds after being shot in the chest by police, and that more than 30 police were left injured. Some 1,300 of an estimated 200,000 protesters have been detained.

The BBC reports that Mr. Piñera recently appeared on national television to outline tax reforms expected to raise around $700m USD, much of which will be funneled to the country’s education system.

A disgruntled posture toward education policy in Chile has been maintained by student activists for more than a year now, but despite Piñera’s reforms, Chilean students are still left unsatisfied, frustrated and increasingly irate. What they fundamentally want is more regulation in the private sector and to put an end to for-profit education organizations.

Student leader Gabriel Boric told Spain’s Efe news agency, “We will carry on making history… We students will not give up the fight to make education a public right.”

Julian Assange Seeks Asylum in Ecuador

According to the BBC, Julian Assange is seeking political asylum in Ecuador. Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino,  says that Assange is being held by the Ecuadorean embassy in London and will remain under protection until a decision is made.

After being arrested in 2010 for disseminating a massive number of US diplomatic cables through a website called Wikileaks, Assange was threatened with extradition claims to Sweden and the US. Now, for fear of facing allegations in Sweden, where he could see a subsequent extradition to the US, Assange has applied for asylum in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorean government says that “the decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.” However, according to a Guardian report, “assessments for asylum requests take priority over extradition claims” under UK law.

Daniel Schmitt, a co-founder of Wikileaks, says that Assange is “one of the few people who really care about positive reform in this world to a level where you’re willing to do something radical to risk making a mistake, just for the sake of working on something they believe in”. The Economist Intelligence Unit gives a democracy rating of 5.72 (89) to Ecuador, the country where Assange seeks asylum. The US (18th), where Assange faces allegations, earns top tier rank – 8.90.

Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister has offered the possibility of asylum in order to show favor for Assange and his intention to present the information he has. However, President Rafael Correa denied that statement. Until the embassy makes a decision, Assange will remain inside the safety of embassy grounds – out of reach of the hands of London police, Sweden and the US.