Monthly Archives: January 2013

Economist – Security in Colombia: Fear of missing out

The second-biggest guerrilla group tries to muscle in on peace talks

WHEN the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s strongest guerrilla group, wanted to convince the government that they were serious about restarting peace talks, they tried to prove their good intentions by formally renouncing their decades-old practice of kidnapping for ransom. They also declared a unilateral two-month ceasefire when the talks began, which expired on January 20th. The country’s second-largest guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has adopted the opposite strategy: disgruntled that it has been excluded from the negotiations, which began in November, it has launched a new campaign of attacks to establish its relevance.

On January 18th the ELN abducted five workers for Canada’s Braeval Mining Corporation near the company’s gold and silver mining project in the department of Bolívar. The captives included a Canadian and two Peruvians. The group has also bombed an oil pipeline twice so far in 2013.

The ELN has left little doubt that the attacks are a cry for attention. “Why aren’t we at the [negotiating] table?,” asked Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, its leader, in a video posted online the day the miners were kidnapped. “That’s a question for President [Juan Manuel] Santos,” he continued.

Since the mid-1960s, the ELN and FARC have fought parallel wars against the Colombian state. Although both groups espouse a Marxist ideology and have financed themselves through kidnappings and the drug trade, they have a long history of mutual mistrust. Whereas the FARC began as a peasant-based organisation and adopted Soviet-style doctrines and a strict military structure, the ELN was founded by university students, oil workers and priests who followed liberation theology and had close ties to Cuba. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Colombian army commanders and ELN leaders actually agreed in 2006 to fight the FARC together in some parts of the country.

Mr Santos has been careful not to give the ELN the public recognition it craves. According to El Colombiano, a newspaper in Medellín, the ELN sent a delegation to the peace talks, but it was turned away because the state’s representatives were not authorised to talk with it. Although the government has not ruled out parallel discussions, it worries that the narrow five-point agenda it has agreed to address with the FARC—aimed mostly at ending the country’s armed conflict—could be diluted by the ELN’s long-standing demand for a broad national convention about all the country’s woes. Moreover, many officials hope they can simply fold the ELN, which has just 2,500 fighters, into any deal with the FARC, which boasts around 9,000.

The government is taking a risk by continuing to sideline the ELN. Felipe Torres, a former member of its national directorate, recently told El Colombiano that the group is far stronger politically than militarily. He said that just one-fifth of its supporters have taken up arms. If true, that should make it easier for the ELN to follow the FARC’s lead by ceasing its campaign of violence and freeing its hostages—steps that the government will surely demand before opening any separate peace process with Colombia’s “other” guerrillas.

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Reuters – Brazil wants Venezuela election if Chavez dies

By Brian Winter and Ana Flor

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA | Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:59pm EST

(Reuters) – Brazil is urging Venezuela’s government to hold elections as quickly as possible if President Hugo Chavez dies, senior officials told Reuters on Monday, a major intervention by Latin America’s regional powerhouse that could help ensure a smoother leadership transition in Caracas.

Brazilian officials have expressed their wishes directly to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the officials said on condition of anonymity. Chavez has designated Maduro as his preferred successor if he loses his battle with cancer.

“We are explicitly saying that if Chavez dies, we would like to see elections as soon as possible,” one official said. “We think that’s the best way to ensure a peaceful democratic transition, which is Brazil’s main desire.”

Chavez is in Cuba receiving cancer treatment and he has not been seen in public for a month, prompting speculation that he is near death.

Venezuela’s constitution says a new election must be held within 30 days if the president dies. Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez urged Venezuelans to back Maduro should the cancer leave him incapacitated, and Chavez’s backers and the opposition appear to be preparing behind the scenes for a possible new vote.

Yet some foreign officials in the region, and some activists in more radical Venezuelan opposition circles, have privately expressed fears that the government could bend the rules if it wants, especially if polls show Maduro might lose.

The Supreme Court’s controversial decision to postpone Chavez’s inauguration last week reinforced concerns that loopholes could be used to keep the current government in power.

Venezuela’s government said Sunday that Chavez’s health has improved somewhat, though his lung infection still requires special care.

Brazil’s stance on Venezuela is critical because it is by far Latin America’s biggest country and it enjoys growing economic and diplomatic clout in the region.

Its president, Dilma Rousseff, is a moderate leftist whose party has strongly supported Chavez over the past decade. Yet she is also perceived as neutral and democratic enough to be a credible broker in helping Venezuela chart a path forward if a political crisis erupts.

The Brazilians have also communicated their desire for quick elections via “emissaries” to main opposition leader Henrique Capriles. By clearly supporting a democratic solution now, they hope to dissuade Capriles and others from inciting civil unrest in the event Chavez dies, the officials said.

“We’re working very hard to ensure there’s peace,” the first official said.

Capriles, whom most assume would run against Maduro in an election, has so far taken a relatively subdued tone despite the political uncertainty. He said last week that Chavez’s supporters would “win” politically if there was a violent confrontation.

BRASILIA WANTS TO TAKE THE LEAD

Brazil is keeping the United States apprised of its efforts, and is hoping to convince Washington to allow it to take the lead in managing a potential leadership transition in Venezuela. Chavez is one of the world’s most vocal anti-U.S. leaders, and the Brazilian officials said they fear that any direct U.S. intervention in Venezuelan affairs could backfire.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding that Chavez step aside and name a caretaker president while he recovers – but those complaints have so far been ignored by governments around the region, including the Rousseff administration.

Brazil’s push for quick elections in a post-Chavez Venezuela marks another important step in its emergence as a diplomatic heavyweight and champion of democracy in Latin America. Rousseff led a strong regional backlash last year when Paraguay’s Congress impeached and removed then-President Fernando Lugo.

Under Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil also took a proactive role in trying to resolve a political crisis in Honduras following the ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

Previously, Brazil had been more shy about taking the lead in regional crises, preferring to emphasize the right of countries to determine their own fates – long the bedrock principle of Brazilian diplomacy.

Lula, who remains an influential power broker in the region, will travel later this month to Cuba, where some speculate he could meet with Chavez, his longtime friend.

(Editing by Todd Benson and David Brunnstrom)

Click here for original article.

BBC – UK prime minister rebuffs Argentina over Falklands

3 January 2013 Last updated at 15:40 GMT
UK prime minister rebuffs Argentina over Falklands
COMMENTS (1593)

David Cameron says the Falkland Islanders should determine their own futureContinue reading the main story
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The future of the Falkland Islands is up to its inhabitants – not Argentina, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

It comes after Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner urged the prime minister to abide by a 1965 UN resolution to “negotiate a solution” to the dispute.

“The future of the Falkland Islands should be determined by the Falkland Islanders themselves – the people who live there,” said Mr Cameron.

A referendum on the islands’ political status is to be held in March.

The prime minister said: “Whenever they have been asked their opinion, they say they want to maintain their current status with the United Kingdom.

“They’re holding a referendum this year and I hope the president of Argentina will listen to that referendum and recognise it is for the Falkland Islanders to choose their future, and as long as they choose to stay with the United Kingdom they have my 100% backing.”

In an open letter to Mr Cameron, published as an advert in the Guardian newspaper and the Independent, President Fernandez repeats calls for the islands – which are known as the Malvinas in Argentina – to come under the sovereignty of her nation.

The Argentine president says the islands were forcibly stripped from Argentina in “a blatant exercise of 19th Century colonialism”.

Earlier, Downing Street said the prime minister would “do everything to protect the interests of the Falklands islanders.”
‘Diplomatic stand off’
And, in a statement issued earlier, a spokesman for the Falklands Islands government said: “We are not a colony – our relationship with the United Kingdom is by choice.

“Unlike the government of Argentina, the United Kingdom respects the right of our people to determine our own affairs, a right that is enshrined in the UN Charter and which is ignored by Argentina.”

Last year marked 30 years since the Falklands War, when the islands were occupied by Argentine forces for 74 days.

The BBC’s Norman Smith says the prime minister had been clear that the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future would not be compromised.

He said Downing Street wants the Argentine government to respect and abide by the outcome of the upcoming referendum.
President Fernandez called for “territorial integrity” to be restored
Our correspondent said there was now a “diplomatic stand off” because Argentina’s view is that the referendum is illegitimate and will have no bearing on their claim because they see the islanders as occupiers, rather than residents.

Ms Fernandez says her letter is published on the same date – 3 January – when, 180 years ago: “Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas Islands, which are situated 14,000 km (8,700 miles) away from London”.

She goes on: “The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule.

“Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.”

In her final paragraph, she ends: “In the name of the Argentine people, I reiterate our invitation for us to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations.”
The Falkland Islands has a population of around 3,000 people
Argentina says it inherited ownership of the islands from Spain, arguing that British colonists occupied the islands by force in 1833 and expelled settlers, violating Argentina’s territorial integrity.

‘Forcibly stripped’
It also bases its claim on the islands’ proximity to the South American mainland. The islands’ capital, Port Stanley, lies about 1,180 miles (1,898km) from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

The historical account provided by Ms Fernandez differs from the one provided by the Foreign Office on its website.

Whereas Argentina’s president says her country was “forcibly stripped” of control in 1833, the Foreign Office site says an interim governor appointed by ministers in Buenos Aires was murdered by his own men and a British warship subsequently “told” his 24-man garrison to leave.

British administration, which dated back to 1765, was then resumed, says the FO.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

There are three parties to this debate, not just two as Argentina likes to pretend – the islanders can’t just be written out of history”

Foreign Office spokeswoman
Its website also refers to the 1965 UN resolution which, it says, “invited the British and Argentine governments to begin negotiations ‘with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem, bearing in mind the provisions and objectives of the UN Charter and… the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).'”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said that the Falkland Islanders “are British and have chosen to be so”.

“They remain free to choose their own futures, both politically and economically, and have a right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter,” she added.

“This is a fundamental human right for all peoples.

“There are three parties to this debate, not just two as Argentina likes to pretend.

“The islanders can’t just be written out of history.”
The Falkland Islands and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are British Overseas Territories
In June, the prime minister confronted President Fernandez about the issue when they came face-to-face at the G20 summit.

During the exchange, the prime minister rejected her demand for negotiations over the sovereignty of the islands and told her that she should respect the result of a referendum .

The Argentine president had earlier raised her demands at the United Nations, appearing at the annual meeting of the UN decolonisation committee on the 30th anniversary of the end of Argentine occupation.

She used the occasion to reiterate Argentina’s opposition to any more wars and to criticise the prime minister’s decision to mark the day by flying the Falklands flag over 10 Downing Street.

In December, Argentina protested at Britain’s decision to name part of Antarctica, Queen Elizabeth Land. A formal protest note was given to the British ambassador, John Freeman, in Buenos Aires.

The area, which makes up around a third of the British Antarctic Territory, is also claimed by the South American country.