Honduras Election Crisis Is Likely to End in Violence

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

The violent election crisis in Honduras, where both incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández and challenger Salvador Nasralla are claiming victory in the country’s November 29 presidential race, has now entered its second chaotic week.

Official results from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal ultimately gave Hernández a razor-thin 1.9-point victory over his competitor. But supporters of Nasralla —whose Alliance Against the Dictatorship Party had emerged from election night an early five-point lead— cried fraud. After a 30-hour delay in reporting the final tally, they said, the election results seemed suspect.

On December 7, the third-place finisher, Luis Zelaya, gave a press conference stating that his party’s vote tally indicated that Nasralla had won the election.

As a partial recount of several thousand votes gets underway, protesters are clashing across the country, and President Hernández has declared a state of emergency.

I traveled home to Honduras two weeks ago from Colombia, where I am now a professor of political science, to vote in this election. As I write this analysis from the capital of Tegucigalpa, the country still does not have a president.

In a country with among the highest murder rates on the planet, I fear that no matter who is ultimately declared winner, this tumult can only end in more bloodshed.

A supporter of Honduran presidential candidate for the Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship coalition, Salvador Nasralla, stands next to a graffiti reading “Dictator Out” during clashes with the police near the Electoral Supreme Court (TSE) in Tegucigalpa on November 30, 2017. (ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

An Atmosphere of Tensions

There are several reasons why Honduras seems likely erupt into violence.

First, Hondurans came into this election deeply divided on President Hernández’s record and the legality of his reelection bid. In Honduras, as in much of Latin America, presidents are not allowed to run for reelection.

However, during his first term Hernández stacked the Supreme Court in his favor, resulting in a 2015 ruling to lift term limits. His party, the National Party, made him its nominee for 2017, but his candidacy is widely perceived as illegal—an accusation Nasralla focused heavily on during campaigning.

Nasralla also homed in on accusations that the Hernández government is complicit in other illegal activity, including corruption and drug trafficking. In a notorious 2015 incident, for example, some of the US$350 million embezzled from Honduras’s Institute of Social Security allegedly ended up in bank accounts of Hernández’s National Party.

The resulting election between these two top contenders was bound to be a polarizing affair. But the very tense atmosphere surrounding the 2017 election also has its roots in the 2009 coup that unseated the democratically elected President José Manuel Zelaya.

Supporters of opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla argue with supporters of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa on December 7, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA)

In June 2009, Zelaya was overthrown by the military, Honduran political elites and his own political party, the Liberal Party, after he proposed modifying the constitution to remove term limits on elected officials, himself included.

His ouster polarized the country, sparking violence and fracturing the ruling Liberal Party. It also strengthened the National Party, which went on to win the next couple of elections handily, with Hernández at the helm in 2013.

Violence Begets Violence

The country is, at the same time, profoundly on edge after years of unceasing violence.

In 2012, the year before Hernández came into office, Honduras was the world’s most murderous nation, with a homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000. That year a stunning 7,171 people —in a country of 9 million— were killed.

Though murders have dropped significantly in the past two years, the current homicide rate of 59 per 100,000 inhabitants is still fearsome—roughly six times the global average.

Now, though an estimated 14 people have been already killed in demonstrations, police say that they will not enforce Hernández’s mandatory nighttime curfew by arresting protesters. It is the first time in the country’s history that law enforcement has failed to obey the government.

The dismal performance of Honduras’s election tribunal, which is ultimately responsible for declaring the winner, is another reason I fear violence when results are announced.

Irregularities in the vote tallies have discredited the institution and its president, David Matamoros Batson, an Hernández appointee. Matamoros Batson was one of two presidential appointees to the electoral body, and the opposition has impugned his leadership as a strategy to secure Hernández’s victory.

The tribunal’s suspect vote count has been questioned by not only the opposition party but also the European Union and the Organization of American States, which both monitored the Honduran election. Yet holding another presidential election, as the Organization of American States has suggested, is expensive and seems unlikely to happen.

From where I sit in Tegucigalpa, Honduras seems to be spiraling out of control. After two weeks of refusal to negotiate, the National Party and the Alliance Against Democracy may finally be working on a deal.

However, any negotiated settlement seems likely to be rejected by the candidates’ supporters, who continue to protest in the street claiming victory for their man. It’s hard to see how violence can be avoided.

Deep down, what I believe Hondurans want, regardless of whom they voted for, is transparency in elections. They want to hold their electoral tribunal accountable for its mistakes. And no backroom deal will give them that satisfaction.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

The Latino USA Playlist for ‘The Politics of Being White’

If you love the music as much as your love our show, then you’re in luck. At the start of each week, we’ll be sharing some of the songs featured in our latest episode.

This week we feature some of the music highlighted in The Politics of Being White.

Warning: you might become obsessed with an artist or two.

The Playlist

“Cumbia del Olvido (Jiony Remix)” by Nicola Cruz

“Zorzal” by Chancha Via Circuito

“La Valentina” by Centavrvs

“Atras” by El Remolón ft. Lido Pimienta

“Gnosienne No. 1” by Chicha Libre

“Lamento Momposino” by Jungle Fire

“Every Time” by Natalia Clavier

“B-Boy Stance” by DJ Raff

“Right?” by Xenia Rubinos

“Cumbia Bichera” by El Remolón ft. Pablo Lescano

“Kepler” by Frikstailers

“Loa” by El Búho & Barrio Lindo

“El Reino Del Cacao” by Centavrvs

“Salvia” by El Remolón ft. Kumbia Queers

To view the full playlist on Spotify, click here.

FEMA Responds to Reports of High Death Count in Puerto Rico After Hurricane María

In response to a report from Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) of 985 additional deaths the first 40 days after Hurricane María (when compared to the same time period in 2016), a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesperson said Friday that all determinations linking deaths to disasters are “always difficult” and that the “decision ultimately rests with the professional judgment of the attending physician.”

“FEMA nor the federal government are involved in determining deaths after a disaster, whether someone’s death was directly related to a storm is always difficult to do, and the decision ultimately rests with the professional judgment of the attending physician,” the spokesperson said. “The government of Puerto Rico has provided that guidance to hospitals and health care providers on reporting hurricane-related deaths.”

The FEMA response came around 36 hours after requests were made to both the White House and Department of Homeland Security, seeking comment about the CPI story. The White House would not respond directly to the new CPI reporting, instead forwarding the request to FEMA.

When President Trump praised the Puerto Rican and federal governments on October 3 for the low death count of 16 certified deaths (now at 64, according to the Puerto Rican government), a White House spokesperson addressed Trump’s comments, saying: “President Trump asked the Governor if sixteen deaths was correct and Governor [Ricardo] Rosselló confirmed it was which is what they knew at the time. The President acknowledged that all loss of life is tragic and given the enormity of Hurricane Maria, the loss of life could have been worse.”

On September 29, after then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine C. Duke said that the death count from Hurricane María was low, DHS Press Secretary David Lapan explained that “we understand that the death toll in Puerto Rico is likely to rise as local and federal teams make it to outlying towns and areas. There is no effort to underestimate or downplay the deaths, suffering or devastation.”

“As with previous major storms, we rely on information from local authorities and update it as it becomes available,” Lapan continued that day. “Any casualty figure reflects a point in time with the best information available at that time. As has been noted, local government officials in Puerto Rico —and their families— are victims and survivors as well. As government functions return to normal capacity in Puerto Rico, more information on the impacts to life and property will become available and will be shared. The Department of Homeland Security is working hand-in-hand with federal and local partners to address the dire situation in Puerto Rico and as Acting Secretary Duke said today in a press conference in San Juan, we won’t be fully satisfied until the power is back on, clean water is fully available, and schools are back open and the Puerto Rican economy is working.”

According to Thursday’s CPI story, published in conjunction with Latino USA and Latino Rebels, the months of September and October saw a significant increase in the amount of deaths, when compared to the same months in 2015 and 2016. Using data from Puerto Rico’s Demographic Registry first published by the CPI on Thursday, the island saw close to 1,000 additional deaths the first 40 days after Hurricane María hit on September 20. If Hurricane Irma were included, (that storm struck Puerto Rico days before María), the additional deaths were at 1,065.

Requests to comment about the CPI story were sent Friday to Governor Rosselló and the island’s Secretary of Public Secretary of Public Security Héctor Pesquera. As of this publication, they have not responded.

“Death certification is regulated by each state with no uniform control over how it is done,” the FEMA spokesperson added. “[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] issues non-binding guidelines for states on how to report deaths, and states issue guidance for practitioners which allows for a high degree of variation. Even in states with electronic death certificate systems, there is wide variation in the determination of cause of death, manner of death, and contributing factors.”

The death certification process in Puerto Rico since Hurricane María raised several concerns among hospitals, physicians and demographers, according to a November 16 story by the CPI.

On Friday, the New York Times published its own analysis of Puerto Rico’s death count after Hurricane María, using data from the island’s Demographic Registry. The Times’ analysis said that “the 42 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, 1,052 more people than usual died across the island. The analysis compared the number of deaths for each day in 2017 with the average of the number of deaths for the same days in 2015 and 2016.”


This story was made possible by the Futuro Media Group as part of a collaboration supported by the Ford Foundation.

When a Latino Tries to Join the ‘Alt-Right’

Juan Cadavid, aka Johnny Benitez, left Colombia with his parents when he was only two. Growing up in California, Johnny coped with the common identity crisis that many immigrants struggle with—the feeling of not belonging here nor there. And being a fair-skinned Latino didn’t make things any easier.

After becoming politically active in his 20s, Johnny began an even longer journey through the confusing world of political ideology, latching on to whatever made sense at the time.

But after the 2016 presidential election, the white nationalist rhetoric coming out of the so-called “alt-right” began to resonate with him. Today, Johnny has managed to make his way into California’s alt-right circles, working hard to find his place in a far-right, white supremacist movement that, as of now, seems to be spitting him out.

Featured Image: Image of Juan Cadavid, aka Johnny Benitez. (Courtesy of Juan Cadavid)

Will More Latinos Eventually Identify as White?

People of color will likely become a majority of the U.S. by 2055, according to the Pew Research Center. But in recent years, some people have been asking a provocative question: Could many (or even most) Latinos someday be considered white?

Professor Richard Alba, a sociologist at the City University of New York, says yes. He wrote a controversial article in The American Prospect, called “The Likely Persistence of a White Majority.” Alba does offer a disclaimer in the article that his claim does not apply to Afro-Latinos, who are likelier to identify as Black on census forms. But Alba says the data is showing that overall, Latinos are increasingly self-identifying as white.

On the other side of the debate, Professor Cristina Mora, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote an extensive critique of Alba’s piece in the New Labor Forum.

Latino USA spoke with Alba and Mora to wrestle with some tough questions: Will most Latinos continue to see themselves as people of color in the future? As white? Or is it more complicated?

Featured Image: Census workers in New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Rumble in the 9th Ward

In the 9th Ward of Minneapolis, Minnesota, three liberal Democrats face off against each other for a seat on the city council. It’s a neighborhood where the politics of today’s right and President Trump seem far away, and liberal views on most issues are a given.

The candidates are incumbent Alondra Cano, a Mexican-American community organizer; Mohamed Farah, a young Somali-American challenger; and Gary Schiff, a LGBT advocate who formerly held the council seat and is running to reclaim it.

All is going pretty much as expected in the race, until a member of the community writes an open letter to Schiff, questioning his decision as a white man to challenge a woman of color on the ticket during a time of “deep racial pain.”

Latino USA went to Minneapolis to find out what happened next, as well as to explore the politics of identity on the left and how conversations about race and politics have been evolving since President Trump’s win last year.

Featured Image: The skyline of Minneapolis, Minnesota as seen from the west side. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly 1,000 More People Died in Puerto Rico After Hurricane María

By Omaya Sosa Pascual | Center for Investigative Journalism
English Version by Julio Ricardo Varela | Latino USA

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – It’s official. In the 40 days after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico, at least 985 additional people died, when compared to the same period in 2016, new data first obtained by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) shows.

And if the entire months of September and October are included (since Hurricane Irma also passed through the island days before María), the figure rises to 1,065 deaths—despite the fact that Puerto Rico would have lost over 100,000 inhabitants due to migration this year, according to migration estimates from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies of The City University of New York.

Since September 20, the day when the historic Category 4 storm struck the entire island with 155-mile-per-hour winds that left Puerto Rico without power, the average daily death rate increased by 43% with peaks of about 80% on days like September 21 and 25. In October, deaths increased by 23.3%.

The majority of these deaths were men and women over 50 years old who died in hospitals and nursing homes from conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, hypertension, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. When compared to the same time period from 2016, there was a significant increase in deaths, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.

This information —revealed for the first time and made public Thursday by the CPI from data provided by the island’s Demographic Registry— presents an official overview of the magnitude and profile of deaths recorded after Hurricane María.

Although September saw increases in deaths for all groups over 50 years old, in October, increases occurred in all groups over 18 years old.

In September, the highest peak of increase in deaths was seen among people between 70 and 79 years old. In October, that peak pertained to people over 90 years old.

However, the October data also showed significant increases in deaths for people between 30 to 39 years old (36%), and also between 40 to 49 years old (23.3%).

This new data confirms the findings of a September 28 CPI investigation, revealing that at that time there were dozens and possibly hundreds of deaths linked to the hurricane, contrary to the official government death toll, which remained at 16 victims during the first two weeks of the emergency. Today, more than two months after the catastrophe, the official death count stands at 62, due to the poor methodology being used to analyze and account for cases, according to reporting by the CPI.

The revelation of this new data also coincides with accounts from relatives’ reports of victims that point to problems with essential health services such as dialysis, ventilators, oxygen, and other critical circumstances caused by the lack of power in homes and hospitals throughout Puerto Rico.

Demographer José A. López, the only person at the registry in charge of analyzing this data, said in an interview with the CPI that the trend of increase in deaths in the first two post-Maria months is significant. He also said the government’s inability to link more deaths to the hurricane shows that the current process to document causes of death in a disaster is not working and must be reformed. Last week, as part of an investigation of the failures in the process of accounting for deaths linked to María, López and the Department of Health appeared before Puerto Rico’s Senate to request that a dialogue begin about this issue and that they lead the process to change the system.

Demographer José A. López, (Leandro Fabrizzi | Center for Investigative Journalism)

“We have realized with this process [from Hurricane Maria] that there is a need to strengthen the documentation of the causes of death and the circumstances surrounding the causes of death that have caused this issue. That has to be documented,” López said.

“We need to have a serious and honest discussion of all the sectors involved,” he added, noting that there is a lack of understanding of the process and its importance on the island.

According to López, from the point of view of public health, any increase of more than 15% in mortality trends must be studied to find an explanation, because it is indicative that something atypical is happening. In the case of some contagious diseases, for example, when a 3% increase happens, “we have to run,” he added.

“It’s important because once we have a clearer picture of Puerto Rico’s mortality rate, this allows us to plan and carry out work plans to improve public health and prevent deaths, especially when this type of event will continue to occur. According to scientists, global warming is boiling the Caribbean,” López said.

Currently, linking a death to a disaster depends almost exclusively on a physician making an annotation related to the hurricane in the death certificate and listing the clinical cause of death, but both doctors and hospitals maintain that their responsibility and knowledge are strictly tied to the clinical cause of death. Furthermore, in most cases, the doctor who certifies the death may not be the same doctor who was in charge of the patient. Most death certificates, therefore, do not include additional information about the other circumstances that could lead to the medical decompensation and eventual death or acceleration of that person’s death—such as the stress caused by an emergency; lack of power, transportation services or medications; lack of access to health services; changes in diet; and increases in ambient temperatures, among others.

(CBP Photography via Visual Hunt)

Although the data provided on Wednesday by the Demographic Registry is preliminary until the official year ends with a final review, at the time of this publication, the figures for September and October are 98% complete. Data for November, when a good part of the population still lived without electricity, is not yet available. According to this current data, 2,883 deaths were registered in September 2017 and 2,906 in October 2017, compared to 2,367 for September 2016 and 2,357 for October 2016.

Read the Spanish version of this article here.


This story was made possible by the Futuro Media Group as part of a collaboration supported by the Ford Foundation.

Solidarity Abroad, Repression at Home: Demystifying Cuba’s Raceless Utopia (OPINION)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

When Fidel Castro passed away on November 25, 2016, polarized reactions spread all across the globe. Cuban Americans were seen celebrating in the streets of Miami and Union City, New Jersey, while world leaders from dozens of countries flew to Havana to mourn and express gratitude for the 90-year-old revolutionary leader.

Various countries highlighted Fidel’s solidarity with the African Diaspora. The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, gave a memorable speech that emphasized the blood of Cuban soldiers spilled for South Africans against the evil system of apartheid. The Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, reflected on Cuba’s influence on public health in his country. An official U.S. delegation was not sent to Havana—however, Black Americans expressed similar sentiments of indebtedness to “El Comandante,” as referred to by Black Lives Matter in a press release:

“We are feeling many things as we awaken to a world without Fidel Castro. There is an overwhelming sense of loss, complicated by fear and anxiety. Although no leader is without their flaws, we must push back against the rhetoric of the right and come to the defense of El Comandante. And there are lessons that we must revisit and heed as we pick up the mantle in changing our world, as we aspire to build a world rooted in a vision of freedom and the peace that only comes with justice. It is the lessons that we take from Fidel.”

Despite Black Lives Matter’s call for solidarity that transcends borders, there is no mention of solidarity with the millions of Black Cubans who are battling with racial discrimination that the Cuban government refuses to directly address. How has this undying loyalty to the “anti-racist” legacy of Fidel Castro abroad led to the erasure of the repression of Black Cubans at home?

In 2015, President Barack Obama readjusted the 54-year-old United States trade and travel embargo placed on Cuba in 1960. One of the many changes was an ease on travel restrictions. Since then, U.S travel to Cuba has drastically increased, with African Americans representing one of the largest demographics of American tourists.

African American tourists are eager to explore the country that claims to have solved racial discrimination, and has pledged to protect Black radical activists from the 1970’s, such as Assata Shakur and Nehanda Abiodun. Popular travel agencies catered towards African-American tourism, such as Travel Noire and Global Jet Black, have launched week-long trips to Cuba that have helped expand the agencies’ popularity. Nonetheless, many Black Americans leave the island dismayed at the level of racial discrimination they have personally experienced and/or witnessed, challenging the “raceless” rhetoric presented by the Cuban Revolution.

The 1959 Revolution claimed to abolish racial discrimination within its first two years. (Photo by Moriah Ray)

As co-founder of The African Diaspora Alliance —an organization dedicated towards global Black diaspora solidarity through education and travel— I think it is important to examine and critique the contradictions of Black Americans’ romanticization of Castro’s revolution.

My organization facilitates tours to Cuba centered on solidarity with anti-racist activists, artists, and community groups. Having lived and worked in Cuba for over two years, I have witnessed my clients’ shock when they are exposed to the reality of racial discrimination in Havana. On several occasions, our clients have been mistaken as Cuban and therefore have come face-to-face with the anti-Black police practices that mirror New York’s “stop and frisk” and apartheid South Africa’s practice of “carding.”

While facilitating a tour in January of 2015, we took our group to a popular wifi park to let their families know they had arrived safely. One of our clients, a broadly built Black man, started getting aggressively harassed by police. The officer was asking for the man’s identification card, commonly referred to as a “carnet” in Cuba. After realizing that our client did not speak Spanish and was not Cuban, the officer quickly apologized and continued patrolling. I have witnessed this type of behavior multiple times, often carried out by police in plain clothes on the Malecón, and other popular social spaces for tourists and Cubans. The interrogations are often justified by the police insisting that the victim fits the description of someone they are looking for.

Historically, the liberalization of markets has always had an adverse impact on notions of Blackness in Cuba, and have led to the increase of racial discrimination. As the Soviet Union crumbled in the early 1990’s, it caused a major economic crisis that forced Cuba to reshape its nationalized market. As Cuba reopened its tourist industry, a unique paradox resulted—the increased commercialization of Afro-Cuban culture yet the increase of anti-Black racism and erasure.

In 2013, Afro-Cuban scholar Roberto Zurbano published an article in the New York Times, arguing that “in the last twenty years Black Cubans have suffered a reversal or paralysis of the great social mobility that propelled them from 1959 to 1989.” Zurbano’s article highlighted the lack of Black representation in the Cuban government, and the limited opportunities for Black Cubans in the private sector.

When I interviewed 21-year-old Jan Carlos Méndez in 2016, the young man echoed Zurbano’s 2013 concerns.

“Here the craziest are the police who do what they want with people, and no one can do anything,” Méndez shared with me. He argued that Black Cuban men and women are targeted the most, as they are assumed to be prostitutes or not from Havana.

Méndez stated that since relations with the United States have shifted, American tourists have begun flooding Havana Vieja. He says he has noticed an increase of police presence, which he believes is directly related to the increase of tourists. Méndez shared that he is frequently carded and harassed by police. He makes sure to carry his identification card with him at all times.

Other young Black men and women expressed similar experiences. After being questioned, they are taken into the police station and interrogated further, especially if they are caught without their identification card. After being held at the station for hours, they are let go and ticketed for working without an official license or loitering.

A Black Cuban family poses near Hotel Saratoga in Havana. Census data varies when it comes to determining the size of the island’s Black population. However, historians suggest that at least two million enslaved Africans were shipped to the island. (Photo by Moriah Ray)

Living and working in Havana is considered illegal if one does not have a permanent address there. Migrants from the eastern region of Cuba often move to Havana in search of better opportunities. The island’s eastern region is known for having a much larger Black population than Havana, including descendants of Haiti and Jamaica. The criminalization of Black Cubans in Havana is rampant, and the degrading process of being publicly searched and questioned is dehumanizing.

Activist organizations like Black Lives Matter that claim the “global” fight against white supremacy must use their platform to speak out against the prevalence of racism in Cuba, despite the historic relationship Cuba has had with Black activists abroad. In addition to ideological questions, such as whether Marxism and the anti-racist struggle are compatible, Black American activists must examine the contradictions, erasure, and isolation they are contributing to by refusing to openly critique the Cuban Revolution and its leaders. If not, their silence suggests that some Black lives (Assata Shakur) are worth more than others—the six million or more Afro-descendants living in Cuba.

The narrative of Fidel’s role must be recontextualized and reflected upon as an anti-imperialist revolution not an anti-racist one. The difference is important to address in order to properly align the narrative without discrediting the revolution’s contributions to movements throughout the Black Diaspora.


Moriah Ray is a writer, researcher, and transnational organizer with a unique background shaped by academic field research and lived experiences throughout the Black diaspora. She is a graduate student at New York University in the program of Caribbean and Latin American Studies. Ray also is co-founder of The African Diaspora Alliance, an organization that connects Afro-descendants across the globe through education and travel.

The Latest Threat to Peace in Colombia: Congress

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Fabio Andrés Diaz, International Institute of Social Studies

The peace process in Colombia has reached a new landmark.

On November 30, both houses of Congress approved a bill establishing an alternative criminal justice system to judge those accused of war crimes during the country’s 52-year conflict.

But, like every step in this arduous multi-year peace effort, this latest victory was hard-won. For 10 months, congressional representatives who oppose Colombia’s controversial November 2016 peace accord with the FARC guerrillas have used all manner of delays to slow implementation of the complex deal, of which the new criminal justice system is just a small part.

The filibuster is their latest tactic. The strategy of stopping legislation from passing by whatever means necessary occurs in many countries—most famously in the United States, where minority party members can speak for hours nonstop to run down the clock and compel the opposition to amend a bill.

In Colombia, conservative lawmakers have been impeding their country’s peace process by filing nonstop petitions to modify bills while they are being drafted in Congress, and systematically skipping key debates on implementing the Havana accords.

This, to my knowledge as a peace and conflict researcher, is the first time in the world a legislative body has tried to derail its government’s own peace process.

It is a risky move. Numerous international observers, including the United Nations, have warned the government that failure to fulfill its end of the bargain with the FARC could prove a lethal mistake, provoking the former guerrilla group and reigniting war.

Filibustering Justice

Colombia’s peace deal with the FARC has seen powerful opposition since the start. In October 2016, it was narrowly rejected at referendum.

And though in November 2016 President Juan Manuel Santos strong-armed Congress into approving the accords —which had just won him a Nobel Peace Prize—he still needs them to put the deal’s provisions into action.

That’s because while the 2016 peace deal was ambitious in envisioning the goals of Colombia’s transition to peace, the 300-page document —like most peace agreements— did not answer every question that would arise in getting there.

General view inside the Colombian Congress in Bogotá, on November 21, 2017. (RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

For example, it was up to Congress to interpret, design and determine the details of Colombia’s transitional justice system—a special tribunal for trying war criminals and doling out reparations to victims.

Likewise, the accords assert that former combatants may now run for public office, but can they do so before they’ve been tried and before victims have seen their recompense? And if a FARC fighter is elected to Congress but later found to be guilty of war crimes, must he or she resign?

The peace deal offered no guidance on these troubling questions. Hence, in recent months many conservative politicians seemed hesitant – justifiably, perhaps—to allow former combatants to run for elected office when victims had yet to be recompensed. As a result, a substantial number of lawmakers simply failed to show up to votes on the transitional justice system, making a quorum impossible.

Lawmakers from conservative parties also proposed more than 150 changes to the bill, compelling fresh debate and constant redrafting. Some changes may have been proposed in good faith to improve this imperfect deal.

But in general the cascade of demands to change agreed-upon aspects of the peace deal seems designed to provoke the FARC and slow legislative progress. By mid-November, many feared that the transitional justice tribunal —a critical component of building peace— would never even come up for a floor vote.

Election Season

The upcoming presidential campaign in Colombia has likewise turned the peace process into a political bargaining chip.

Just over a year ago, just over half of all Colombians voted against the FARC agreement. As an astonishing 53 presidential candidates now jockey to compete in the May 2018 election, avoiding getting into the nitty-gritty of the peace process is just good politics.

As such, presidential aspirants from conservative parties —including the Democratic Center, Radical Change and Conservative parties— are simply refusing to sign anything or vote for or against a particular provision.

And with the Santos administration well into its lame duck period, politicians feel little pressure to negotiate with the president to get things done.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

That said, congressional opposition to the peace deal has shown some success in clarifying some of its most vexingly vague provisions. On November 15, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued guidance based on the questions raised in these nonstop congressional debates.

Among the court’s most important rulings was the decision that a former combatant who breaks with the accord —by committing a crime in peacetime, say— will lose the right to such benefits as receiving a reduced sentence.

The court likewise asserted that former fighters may in fact run for office while the victims’ rights component of the peace process is still in development as long as they comply with the requirements of the alternative justice court.

But filibustering remains a risky strategy. The victims’ justice framework, which took 10 months to pass, is not the only law needed to enact the peace process.

To date, the government has begun implementation of only 45 percent of the more than 500 provisions it agreed to in the peace agreements with the FARC.

People bang kitchen utensils during the “Cacerolazo” outside the Colombian Congress demanding the congress to approve the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) and other projects regarding the peace agreement, in Bogotá, on November 21, 2017. (RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Next, Congress must figure out how to pass agrarian reform —a longtime goal of the FARC— meet guarantees for political participation and develop a national budget that can actually fund all these peace-building projects.

The FARC’s leadership has so far complied with the agreements, demobilizing its combatants, laying down weapons and joining retraining programs. But the state’s foot-dragging has raised the dangerous specter of recidivism among their ranks. Already, some former FARC combatants have rejoined other armed factions.

Research shows that 60 percent of civil wars relapse within seven years. Historically, those opposed to peace accords have rearmed —as Jonas Savimbi did in the Angolan conflict in 1992— thus re-initiating violence between factions, or used targeted assassinations to upend peace negotiations.

Violence of the latter sort has already derailed more than one attempt to end Colombia’s conflict with the FARC. If Colombia’s Congress keeps up its stall tactics, its country’s peace process may soon become just another statistic.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation