Weekly Report - 10 November 2016 (WR-16-44)

COLOMBIA: Santos claims swift progress with Farc

President Juan Manuel Santos maintained that the peace process was back on track this week after government negotiators re-launched talks with their counterparts from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) in Cuba. Santos said 500 proposals from those who campaigned successfully against the peace accord in the national referendum on 2 October had been condensed into “57 thematic sections” and that progress had been made with the Farc in discussing these. Former presidents Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), two of the most prominent critics of the peace accord, insisted this week, however, that “cosmetic” changes to the peace accord would not suffice.

After meeting the bulk of his peace negotiators on 5 November, President Santos ordered them to go into “conclave mode” with their Farc counterparts to reach an agreement over revisions to the peace accord “very rapidly”. He said the proposals from the ‘no’ camp had been grouped into discrete sections to expedite the revision process.

Santos maintained that “difficult points” had already been addressed and “very important advances” made after “working sessions of more than 12 hours a day” this week. He singled out an adjustment to the rural, land and agricultural development section of the accord to ensure respect for private property (one of Uribe’s demands) and to prioritise areas most affected by the armed conflict. Santos also said that changes had been made with regard to “combating drug-trafficking more firmly and to offer real alternatives to campesino communities caught up in it”. He even claimed that progress had been made on “the very difficult issue of justice and victim compensation”.

The ‘no’ camp will want to see substantial compromise from the Farc, however, if it is to accept the revisions without demur. Uribe expressed his concern this week that the government was entitled “juridically and politically to make superficial reforms…to the peace accord” and then push this through congress where it has a majority. Uribe argued, however, that this “would not convince the public”. Pastrana, meanwhile, argued that “peace is not just the preserve of one man or one government; peace is for all Colombians and therein lies the importance of the government calling everyone to participate in a national dialogue”.

Chronicle of a failed department

The north-eastern department of La Guajira, which borders Venezuela, held extraordinary gubernatorial elections on 6 November. Wílmer David González Brito, a former deputy in the lower chamber of congress for the Partido de la U, part of the ruling Unidad Nacional coalition, narrowly defeated Norberto ‘Tico’ Gómez Campo, of the right-wing Opción Ciudadana, to become the fifth governor of the troubled department since 2011.

If a peace accord with the Farc guerrillas is eventually approved, departmental governors will be responsible for implementing it and will receive millions of dollars of post-conflict resources for this purpose, making it important for responsible officials to be elected to office. President Santos had urged voters in La Guajira to turn out and cast their ballots, denouncing any irregularities, but it will need more than that to clean up politics in the department which are a byword for corruption and crime. Despite central government funding, numerous public works projects are never completed, poverty is widespread, and child malnutrition a serious problem.

González replaces Jorge Enrique Vélez, who has been serving as interim governor since June this year. Vélez assumed the post after the election of Oneida Pinto in October 2015 was annulled by the council of state. Pinto broke electoral law which bars someone who has served as mayor from registering as a candidate for another elected post until 12 months after stepping down. Pinto had left her position as mayor of Albania in La Guajira on 21 July 2014 and registered as a gubernatorial candidate on 25 June 2015, winning election four months later.

Pinto’s predecessor, José María ‘Chemita’ Ballesteros Valdivieso, had defeated González in extraordinary elections in June 2014. Ballesteros completed the term of Juan Francisco ‘Kiko’ Gómez Cerchar, who was elected in 2011. Gómez was arrested by the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación (CTI), the investigative division of the attorney general’s office, in October 2013 on charges of corruption, arms-trafficking, murder (see sidebar), and links to the disbanded paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and their neo-paramilitary successors (Bacrim). Ballesteros had been backed by the Gran Alianza, which brought Gómez to power.

With this track record it is little wonder that abstention in elections on 6 November surpassed 60% as many voters in La Guajira, which has a population of some 565,000, had reservations about the candidates standing for election. While González promised to tackle widespread poverty and fight corruption, he is far from squeaky clean.

González was backed by the electoral machinery of Deputy Alfredo Deluque, the son of Hernando Deluque, who served as governor of La Guajira from 2001 to 2003 and was sentenced to nine years in prison for embezzlement and unfulfilled contracts in May this year. González’s second wife, Laura Andrioli, was arrested for suspected embezzlement in 2006 when she was the departmental secretary of indigenous affairs. Meanwhile, González’s brother, José González Brito, a deputy in the lower chamber of congress representing La Guajira, was arrested in November 2011 accused of assisting illegal armed groups in the Alta Guajira.

  • Proposed revisions to peace accord

A group of Colombian think tanks, university professors and jurists published a statement on 6 November containing a series of proposals designed to be acceptable to the Farc while placating the ‘no’ camp opposed to the peace accord. They suggest, for instance, that revisions to the peace accord should include clarifying that Farc commanders and the military hierarchy should be held responsible for the actions of their subordinates; that the conditions of ‘restriction of liberty’ for members of the Farc sentenced by the transitional justice system should be fixed; and, on the vexed issue of political participation of former guerrillas, that those sentenced by the transitional justice system should recover political rights progressively in accordance, inter alia, with their satisfaction of victims’ rights.

  • La Guajira

Juan Francisco ‘Kiko’ Gómez Cerchar was twice mayor of his native town of Barrancas (1995-1997; 2001-2003), before being elected as governor of La Guajira in 2011 for Cambio Radical (CR), part of the Unidad Nacional coalition of President Santos. Gómez stands accused of three murders, including that of a political opponent (Luis López Peralta) in Barrancas in 1997.

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