Western Hemisphere Intelligence Brief

Issue 228: October 6, 2015
Colombia: Could Peace be at Hand?
Cuba: Castro’s Recalcitrance Likely to Slow Normalization

 

Colombia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the commander of the narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (a.k.a., Timochenko), announced a six-month timetable for completing negotiations to end the 50-year guerrilla war. … In a joint appearance from the site of the talks in Havana, Cuba, the two men also announced a breakthrough on a judicial framework for holding FARC combatants (and members of the military) accountable for war crimes, buttressed by a broad amnesty for all but the most heinous violations of human rights. … The parties also announced a March 23, 2016, deadline for signing accords on five overarching issues, including rural development, political participation of the FARC, illicit drugs, justice for victims, and the end of the conflict. … They said guerrilla fighters would begin to surrender their weapons and demobilize within 60 days of any final accord. … Since the talks began in 2012, the government agreed to recognize a FARC-affiliated political party, end extradition of FARC members to face justice in other countries, and consider treating narcotrafficking as a “political” crime eligible for amnesty. … Within days of the Havana announcement, Timochenko contradicted the government’s interpretation of the justice plan, saying that the guerrillas had not agreed to physical restrictions on their liberty if they confess to crimes, will never apologize for their actions, and are not liable to pay reparations. … Notwithstanding the different interpretations, guerrilla leaders rejected the government’s assertion that such ambiguities in the text of the justice plan need to be clarified. …  The FARC leader also backed away from the six-month timetable for reaching a final accord. … Last week, the Colombian Congress began debating the preliminary peace terms, with former president Álvaro Uribe using his Senate seat to criticize the justice plan as conferring impunity on the FARC for acts of narco-trafficking and terrorism. … Santos’s supporters argue that Colombia’s economy will boom once the 50-year-old conflict is ended, the country can improve social equality and productivity, and security forces can focus on other security threats. … The Congress must approve a proposal by Santos to empower a special committee, consisting of members of both chambers of the Colombian Congress, to consider expedited constitutional reforms to implement the peace accord. … Santos also is requesting extraordinary presidential authorities to issue conforming decrees. … The president also has restated his intention to submit the comprehensive agreement to a public referendum. … The two sides resume discussions in Havana this week.

 

  • President Santos scored the most important achievement of his presidency with the reported breakthrough agreement on a justice framework and six-month deadline for completing peace negotiations with the FARC. Although polls in recent years have consistently shown widespread public skepticism about the FARC’s willingness to accept a negotiated settlement to the war, disarm, and demobilize, it is likely that a majority of Colombians will prefer making concessions to the guerrillas rather than giving them a pretext to return to hostilities. Critics of the process will do their best to block concessions to the FARC; however, Santos appears to have the leverage in Congress to secure approval of his peace initiatives. The public back-tracking by FARC commanders in recent days will make the president’s job harder — particularly if the guerrilla leaders test him by scuttling the March deadline. The next six months of negotiating with the FARC in Havana and forging an effective majority in the Congress and among the people will be critical. If Santos can convince all parties that he has the strength to both reach and enforce an accord, he could make irreversible progress toward an end to the violence or put the FARC commanders in the precarious position of rejecting a generous settlement. Much of the work in implementing the accord will fall to Santos’s successor; and the United States will have to deal with the unintended consequences if Colombia fails to crack down effectively on narco-trafficking activities by remnants of the FARC. With Colombia’s strong democratic institutions and abundant natural resources, a true and lasting peace would be a tremendous boon to foreign investor confidence in the country and likely propel economic growth to levels on par with the region’s strongest economies.

 

Cuba

Last week, on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama met with Cuba’s Raul Castro for the second time since last December’s announcement on the resumption of relations. … According to a White House statement, the two discussed “additional stepseach government can take to deepen bilateral cooperation,” with President Obama “underscoring that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes.” … The atmosphere of cooperation and progress, however, was belied by Castro’s subsequent combative speech before the GA, in which he made no mention of the benefits of renewed bilateral relations, and instead lodged a long series of well-known complaints anddemands against the U.S. … These included the unilateral lifting of the U.S. economic embargo, the return of the Guantánamo Bay military base, payment of U.S. reparations to Cuba, and even calling for the independence of Puerto Rico (a proposition the vast majority of Puerto Ricans reject). … Castro’s hoary Cold-War rhetoric comes despite continued moves by the Obama administration to ease economic restrictions against Cuba. … Last month, the administration further reduced limits on US travel and business with Cuba. … Moreover, the administration leaked to the Associated Press that it is considering abstaining from the annual UN vote condemning U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. … However, the one-sidedness of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement is beginning to become an issue for some in the media. … The Washington Post recently quoted an unnamed administration official who revealed that those in Congress who are promoting legislation to lift sanctions “are desperate for gestures” from the Cuban government, “and they aren’t getting those gestures…. There’s been no real give at all.” … And that, despite all the hype, “No new U.S. companies have been allowed to establish a presence in Cuba or to hire Cuban workers.” … A Post editorial noted, “Mr. Castro has in fact appeared to pocket Mr.Obama’s concessions — and raise his demands.” … An editorial in the Wall Street Journal asserted, “The U.S. President has given [Castro] diplomatic recognition, easier travel by Americans to the island, and returned some spies. But Mr. Castro now says he won’t make any concessions until the U.S. lifts the trade embargo and returns Guantánamo Bay to Cuba.” … Adding to the sense that Cuba is merely gaming U.S. overtures is a report in Politico that says, despite the removal of certain export restrictions by the Obama administration, Cuba is actually reducing its agricultural imports from the U.S. as a way to exert pressure on Congress for the unilateral lifting of all U.S. sanctions. 

 

  • Ten months after President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, Raul Castro has remained true to his word that his government is under no obligation to reciprocate U.S. concessions. While unsurprising to many long-time Cuba watchers, it remains to be seen how long it will take before the Obama administration concludes its own series of unilateral actions may be helping to fortify Castro’s obstinacy that is undermining prospects for normalization. It is fair to ask as long as the U.S. keeps making gestures, what incentive is there for Castro to meet half-way with his own reforms or gestures? Such considerations are important because major action on the U.S. economic embargo and the Guantánamo Bay facility require action by the U.S. Congress. But such one-sidedness in the relationship to date only serves to empower skeptics in Congress who can successfully forestall any action on Cuba policy requested by the President. Critics of the embargo who maintain it is only a matter of time before it is lifted are ignoring the cold, hard political reality that as the Castro government continues to snub U.S. overtures, repress dissidents and human rights activists, and exert its control over all sectors of Cuban society, their leverage to seek legislative change on Capitol Hill will diminish accordingly.

 

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