• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Just over one year ago I wrote about the case of Roger Pinto, the Bolivian opposition politician accused of corruption by the government. Pinto had taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz, received asylum from the Brazilian government, but was denied safe passage by President Evo Morales. The case had odd parallels to the Julian Assange case, the founder of Wikileaks who remains in the Ecuador embassy in London, having received asylum from President Correa while wanted for questioning in a sexual assault investigation in Sweden.
After 450 days, Brazilian diplomats used a diplomatic vehicle to help Pinto escape, claiming that his physical and mental health was at risk. President Rousseff apparently did not authorize this action. As a result, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has resigned and been replaced by Brazil's UN Ambassador, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. Patriota will switch places with Figueiredo and go to the UN.
While the Morales administration would have certainly preferred Pinto arrested, having him out of the Brazilian embassy is one less headache for all of UNASUR. Having Pinto stuck in asylum limbo in Bolivia was a hassle for everyone and an embarrassment for a region trying to have a unified position on other international issues, such as the current diplomatic disputes over Assange and Snowden.
It's a mild embarrassment for Patriota, but his resignation gives Brazil an easy way to turn the page on the issue with Bolivia before the controversy even has a chance to heat up. He took one for the team and being Brazil's UN ambassador is not a minor position by any means.
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
Mexico City's government offices, housed in a colonial palace, look onto the sprawling Zocalo plaza – one of the world’s largest public squares. But this week the plaza has all but disappeared under a tent city constructed by a striking teachers' union.
They are protesting a federal education reform that hinges their job security on their performance in evaluations. Thousands have taken over the Zocalo and nearby streets. Elsewhere in the city, teachers blocked first the lower house of congress and then the senate, forcing deputies and senators to meet in a convention center to continue their August special session, according to the El Universal newspaper (link in Spanish). The city estimates there are 19,000 protesters in all.
The teachers – mostly from Mexico’s southern states, and who belong to a wing of the powerful union – are angering city residents with their tactics, which include marches that have worsened already stultifying traffic jams.
On Friday afternoon, another large block of protesting educators swarmed a key access road to the international airport.
Under heavy criticism, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera called for calm in a Thursday press conference.
“We must avoid confrontation,” he said. “We must avoid violent encounters. At all cost we must avoid that this could escalate to other scenarios."
In a television interview Thursday, Senate President Ernesto Cordero said, “Those who should be governing and maintaining the public order are not doing it.”
A patchwork quilt of colorful plastic tarps, strung up every which way across the Zocalo, provides little shelter from the city’s heavy summer rains. Beneath, the teachers gather in groups, snooze on sleeping bags, or otherwise try to pass the time amid the endless rows of tents.
How long will the protest last?
“We don’t know,” says Erendira Mendoza, a preschool teacher from the indigenous Mixteca region of Oaxaca who arrived Tuesday. “We’ll stay until we secure a solution that’s favorable to us.”
Ms. Mendoza says one of the teachers’ primary complaints is that the education reform “doesn’t take into account the context” of their rural indigenous communities. The congress is currently working to pass the secondary laws that will make the reform effective.
Meanwhile, students across Oaxaca and states including Guerrero and Tabasco went without classes during what should have been their first week of school. Mexico’s corrupt education system underperforms across many metrics, and the southern states fall even further behind.
Eduardo Gonzalez, a lawyer, tried to weave his way through the tent city to take care of business at the city government. He was not a fan of the teachers' actions.
“They’re obstructing,” he said. “It makes me angry. Why does the government allow them to do this?”
The return of 26 million children to school today has put the weaknesses of Mexico’s education system on display – errors in new textbooks and teacher strikes have become a national scandal.
Elementary school children across Mexico began their lessons using new government issued textbooks riddled with mistakes in spelling, grammar, and geography. And hundreds of thousands of students were without teachers, as many took to the streets to protest a problematic overhaul of the country’s failing education system.
The Education Department has admitted to 117 errors in spelling and grammar in a Spanish language and a geography textbook for elementary schools – errors that were apparently only caught after the books had been edited and sent to the printer. Some 235 million elementary school textbooks were distributed.
Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet called the errors “unforgivable” in a speech earlier this month and announced that an investigation is underway to determine who is responsible. He said that the respected Mexican Academy of Language would formally review the texts, and teachers will be given a workbook with corrections.
“How can we foment a student’s ability to reason if on the one hand he learns the rules of language and, on the other, he sees that his study materials don’t follow them?” asked Mr. Chuayffet in an Aug. 5 speech.
In more than a few classrooms, teachers won’t be on hand to discuss an answer to that question. A wing of the powerful teachers’ union in Michoacan and Oaxaca has declared a strike of uncertain duration, which the El Universal newspaper estimated could leave more than 2 million students in 24,000 schools without classes.
The teachers are railing against an education reform that will subject them to performance exams and give the government the right to fire new teachers who don’t meet the mark. (Current teachers who under-perform may be removed and placed in another government job.) Observers say it’s a step toward remediating the corruption that lets teachers inherit, or even purchase, their jobs.
Many of Mexico’s teachers lack the education and training they need to teach effectively, according to a recent study.
The El Economista newspaper reported recently that teachers in at least nine states performed so poorly in their 2012 evaluation exam that they require immediate retraining. Five in 10 teachers in the southern states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Tabasco scored low enough to require retraining.
The education system reflects inequalities that persist in Mexican society – in which 53.3 million people, or nearly half the population, remain poor. Students with the resources to attend private schools will have more access to technology, including basics like computers and Internet, than their public school counterparts. They’ll also get more hours in class than public school students, whose classrooms are frequently divided into two shifts to accommodate the large enrollment.
Unequal resources further divide public schools, with urban classrooms being better equipped than schools in rural regions.
An editorial in the La Jornada newspaper lambasting the deterioration of the public education system offered perspective on what’s at stake, saying “it’s particularly grave when considering that one of the principal instruments for escaping economic mediocrity, the decomposition of institutions and the spiral of violence is quality education for the whole populace.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says Bolivia’s coca production dropped by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012. (See full report in PDF) This follows an 11 percent reduction from the year before.
The biggest drop came in the largest coca growing region of the country known as Yungas de la Paz, which went from 18,200 hectares to 16,900 hectares, according to the UNODC.
The agency says that two major factors played a role in the drop: 1) the government’s efforts to “eradicate/rationalize” the size of the fields and 2) the drop in yield due to the long periods in which the fields have been cultivated.
InSight Crime Analysis
The results may surprise some in the US government who say that Bolivia is not complying with their commitments to lower drug production and trafficking. Bolivia has expelled most US anti-narcotics agencies, while the US announced in May it was shutting down its last remaining offices there.
Still, there are some contradictory figures in the report. The price of coca went down five percent, according to the UNODC, a fact that could suggest an increase in supply.
Seizures of cocaine paste and processed cocaine, or cocaine hydrochloride (HCl), also went in opposite directions. Cocaine paste seizures rose significantly, according to the report, suggesting that Bolivia is becoming a more regular supplier of the rising crack cocaine markets in neighboring Argentina and Brazil.
HCl seizures, meanwhile, were down, which may not necessarily mean that cocaine production has dropped. What is not known – and what the UNODC says it is studying – is the current yield of Bolivian coca. In Colombia, yields have risen even while the number of hectares under coca cultivation has dropped, accounting for the steady production of HCl throughout this period when one would expect a drop in cocaine production.
The report also follows the declaration of another major export industry leader, coffee, that its producers were switching to coca. That declaration was, however, more speculative than scientific.
– Steven Dudley is a director at Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.
Nicaragua’s political opposition on Tuesday filed a Supreme Court challenge to the Sandinista government’s hastily approved canal law, arguing that the generous concession granted to an unknown Chinese firm violates 15 articles of the constitution, including national sovereignty.
The opposition claims the concession – which will convert a giant swath of the country into a privatized canal zone, owned and operated for 50 years by Chinese businessman Wang Jing – violates constitutional guarantees to private property, natural resources, and indigenous lands. Liberal Party congressman Luis Callejas says his party fears the canal will carve up Nicaragua and “leave our national sovereignty in pieces.”
Opposition politicos are urging the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court to give their constitutional challenge “the same priority” that the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly gave to approving the concession law last June. The law was rammed through the legislature during a breathless two-day session and passed along party lines, by a vote of 61 to 25. Xochilt Ocampo, the only Sandinista lawmaker who failed to support the law, was removed from office 10 days later, without explanation.
In a country where institutional checks and balances have been virtually replaced by a one-party system, Mr. Callejas, who is spearheading the constitutional challenge, admits the motion before the Supreme Court is mostly symbolic. “There is no separation of powers in this country, but we wanted to go on the record with our disapproval,” he says.
The Supreme Court challenge might be the least of the problems facing the proposed $40 billion canal project. Despite spending big bucks on high-powered consulting firms and public relations efforts, Mr. Wang’s newly formed canal company, HKND Group, still struggles to be taken seriously.
Wang’s first press conference in Hong Kong prompted grunts in Nicaragua when the 41-year-old canal enthusiast presented reporters with a wildly distorted map of Nicaragua, which appeared to trace a canal route passing from Lake Nicaragua into Lake Managua, dead-ending in the capital city – about 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
In a subsequent interview with British daily The Telegraph, Wang tried to calm concerns about his grasp on geography by carefully laying out the route of the canal, starting in the Caribbean port town of Bluefields and winding to a Pacific outlet in Brito. But that too came as a surprise to Nicaraguans, who only two weeks ago were told by President Daniel Ortega that the canal’s route will be determined by the results of a two-year feasibility and environmental-impact study.
Wang also raised eyebrows by telling The Telegraph that he is “100 percent sure” canal construction will start at the end of 2014 and be completed by 2019. That means, by Wang’s calculations, the largest and most expensive infrastructure project in the history of Central America will be built in five years – even faster than Panama’s current $5.3 billion canal expansion, which pales in comparison in scope and cost.
Given the attention this project has garnered and concerns that the canal project will compromise national sovereignty, some Nicaraguans have taken to mockingly calling their country “Chinaragua” (a combination of China and Nicaragua). This is the first – and only – Chinese-backed megaproject in Nicaragua, and the unfamiliar partnership has spawned some racist sentiments – even if expressed in jest. Opposition lawmakers have publicly used derogatory nicknames to refer to Wang. Even Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, whose government is at odds with Nicaragua’s, recently joined in on the wordplay by calling Wang’s canal plans a “cuento chino” or a “Chinese tale,” which in Latin America means a tall tale.
But if Wang can buck the historic odds and the legal challenges piling up against his project, and raise the kind of money this country has never seen before, this tale could have a different ending.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Rebecca Hanson is a contributor. The views expressed are the authors's own.
Last month President Nicolas Maduro signed into law a disarmament bill that has gone under various revisions within the National Assembly since 2010. The law signifies an important attempt by the Venezuelan government and legislature to control the flow of arms in the country. In this post we look at the evolution of the law, the conflicts that the law has produced (both between the opposition and the government and within Chavista ranks), and provide a summary of the law’s main points.
Although there are no reliable figures on the number of guns in circulation in Venezuela (estimates range from 1 million to 6 million) their circulation was for the most part unregulated until last year.
Since 2010, three different commissions have been created to combat the problem. The first commission was organized within the National Assembly in January 2011. It was headed up by Freddy Bernal (PSUV National Assembly member and previous mayor of Caracas) and was dominated by PSUV deputies but also included a few opposition members such as Juan Carlos Caldera. It was referred to as the Mixed Commission (Comisión Mixta) because it had members from two different National Assembly subcommittees (Interior and Defense). The Mixed Commission’s proposal suffered a number of postponements and internal differences between Diosdado Cabello, the president of the Assembly, and Mr. Bernal.
In May 2011, late-President Hugo Chávez decreed the creation of the second commission, the Presidential Disarmament Commission (CPD). The CPD was headed up by human rights activist Pablo Fernández and then Minister of Justice Tareck El Aissami and included 20 members from the government, the academy, and civil society.
Though initially the two groups worked together, there were serious differences: the CPD was dominated by civilians such as Mr. Fernández, while the National Assembly’s Mixed Commission had a strong presence of former military officers, including Assembly members Rafael Gil Barrios and Pedro Carreño.
The CPD backed a number of measures that the National Assembly's Mixed Commission considered too restrictive and did not want included in the bill. Thus, the Mixed Commission eventually cut off communication with the CPD due to disputes over what type of bill would be put in front of the Assembly.
The CPD and Mixed Commission differed mainly over the issue of restricting the sale and carrying of legal arms. According to Fernández, “The illegal market is nourished by legal arms.” In contrast, the military faction argued that the two issues were distinct and that, with the 2012 election year coming up, they could not afford to crack down on legal arms and alienate the middle class or the armed forces.
In June of 2012 the CPD presented its proposal to the Mixed Commission which in turn presented its final version to the National Assembly plenary for discussion. The Mixed Commission’s final version, however, excluded a number of key issues. The CPD’s proposal advocated for a combined arms registry; more restrictive measures on the renewal of licenses (such as a recent psychological examination); extending the regulation of weapons to cover knives and explosives; the elimination of arms carried for personal defense; and stronger control over ammunition production. All of these measures were left out of the Mixed Commission’s proposal.
The CPD, in turn, side-stepped the National Assembly and went directly to President Chávez who put a stop to discussion of the Mixed Commission’s bill in the Assembly. As a result, in July 2012 a third commission was formed to reconcile the differences between the CPD’s proposal and the one supported by the Mixed Commission. This group was headed by Diosdado Cabello and included PSUV parliament members as well as two opposition Assembly members—Eduardo Gómez Sigala and William Ojeda.
The proposal that came out of this third commission kept about 80 percent of the CPD’s version intact. It was approved by the Assembly on June 11 and signed by Maduro on June 15 of this year.
However, it also watered down some key sanctions and regulations. For example, while the final version requires gun licenses to be divided into various categories (sporting, hunting, transportation of goods, etc.) it allows for personal defense licenses, which the CPD wanted to eliminate. The law did create an automated system of registration for arms, parts, and ammunition that will be under the control of the Armed Forces. However, it discarded the shared registry of guns that would have allowed all state organizations to share and access information.
Furthermore, the law includes no controls over CAVIM (the state company which produces arms and ammunition for the Armed Forces), which Fernández considered a fundamental aspect of gun reform. While most guns are imported into the country, the majority of ammunition in Venezuela is produced by CAVIM. And, according to a study by the CICPC and the National Police, 80 percent of the gun shells found in homicide scenes were manufactured in the country by CAVIM.
Though the Ministry of Justice issued a resolution closing all armerías (gun shops) in May of last year and both proposals by the CPD and the Mixed Commission designated the Venezuelan state as the only body legally competent to sell guns, the final law allows for the eventual reopening of gun shops and the future private commercialization of guns (though individuals are prohibited from selling guns to other individuals, and are allowed to sell their guns to the state only). Gun licenses will not be available for another two years, however, meaning that no one will be able to legally buy a gun until 2015.
The legal age for carrying a gun was raised to 25 and stricter sentences for the carrying and possession of illegal guns were established: 4-6 years of jail time for illegal possession of a gun, 4-8 for the carrying of an illegal gun, and 6-10 years for possession and carrying of guns made for war. It also penalizes the alteration of a gun’s serial numbers with 3-5 years of jail time, the introduction of guns into prisons with 8-10 years, and the firing of guns in public places with 1-3 years. Additionally, individuals are not given personal ownership of guns but are allowed conditional possession, meaning that the state can “recuperate” an individual’s gun at any time. The final law also prohibits the fabrication, selling, and carrying of knives that the CPD’s proposal included.
Ammunition is to be marked with the name of the producer, the year of production, as well as where the ammunition is to be sent. Police ammunition is now marked to identify each police body that will be using it. Authorized citizens can only buy 50 cartridges each year. This same amount is to be assigned annually to all police officers, of which more can be requested with proper justification.
Apart from new restrictions, the law also includes measures like a national fund to provide care and attention to victims of gunfire as well as establishing a 5 percent tax on the net earnings of businesses that sell, import, and produce arms, which will be put into this fund.Additionally, it allows for the voluntary and anonymous turning over of weapons to the National Program for the Exchange of Arms and Ammunition in exchange for education opportunities, university scholarships, employment opportunities, construction materials, etc. Both of these measures were integral to the CPD’s campaign the year before.
• A version of this post ran on the Foreign Policy Association blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last week, The Economist in their article “The Great Deceleration” discussed the slowdown in the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa] economies in recent months. The assumption was that countries such as China, India, Russia, and Brazil were to grow indefinitely as a reflection of a new world economy, showing their clout during the 2008 great recession by saving the US and Europe from complete economic collapse. The BRICS were taken as economic champions as their economic models kept the world economy puttering along. The impressive level of growth and rapid influence the BRICS would have in the world economy was something that was predicted to occur within 15-20 years, but with the downward spiraling of the US and Europe after 2008, it was logical for many investors to see the end of the West’s domination of all things money.
The question that must be raised is whether or not emerging economies should always be seen as economic saviors? Many investors saw the BRICS as the next big economic project that would never fall to the same boom and bust cycles that are at the heart of Western economic models. When those BRICS economies came to be injured by slowdowns in the world economy and the loss of investment due to lower prices on their commodities and waning demand on their manufactured goods, the slowdown of the economic champions brought them into the same growth level as their western counterparts. Mega projects such as Brazil’s PAC-2 and the funding of international sporting events showed Brazilians that the government might spend themselves into debt for the sake of a few great parties, mega projects, and corrupt practices. Democracy exploded in Brazil when the growth rate took a dive as many of the most ambitious projects shifted into high gear. The assumption from investors that the money would not stop did not come to pass, and Brazilians took to reminding their government to build Brazil for its citizens, and not anyone else.
Everyone remembers the excitement and paranoia in the 1980s of Japan as the next economic giant, a giant that would usurp the US via research, development, and technology. Japan did build up its economy since the 1960s to a point of being one of the most innovative economies in the world, but the paranoia of indefinite growth coming from Japan did not come to pass. Today, Japanese goods are some of the best in the world and are a benefit to those consumers in the world’s largest markets. Western citizens consume Japanese products while still maintaining their own positions of influence. Was it logical to assume that the BRICS would also dominate the global economy to the detriment of the US and Europe?
The US is slowly regaining its traditional economic position and is displacing the missing investments into those formerly strong BRICS nations. Development in formerly developing countries is a positive outcome for all BRICS nations, and will continue with measured growth on the same level as all Western nations. Growth in China at seven percent, in Brazil at three percent and the US at 3.5 percent is a positive outcome for all economies, moreover a realistic one as citizens in all nations expect rational spending and growth over a long economic period. As with Japan, the development of the BRICS may have slowed, but logically they are exactly where they should be, growing at a normal pace, and hopefully responsibly with accountability to their citizenry.
– Rich Basas is a Latin America blogger and Europe blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read the blogs here for Latin America and here for Europe.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
Dr. Anitza Freitez is Professor of Demography and Director of the Economic and Social Sciences Institute at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. I recently sat down with her to talk about a little discussed aspect of transparency and freedom of information: the access policy researchers have to public information.
There is a lot of discussion these days regarding the importance of freedom of information in a functioning democracy. But that discussion usually focuses on budgets, yearly reports, financial accounts, and who has influence on governmental decisions. What is at issue with respect to policy research?
For us to carry out relevant research we need access to databases. Yet, our National Statistics Institute [INE] has progressively restricted the supply of information. While in other countries their household surveys are available on web pages that anyone can have access to, here that is not the case. The administrative registry where you find the numbers of births and deaths—information that is vital, for example, for understanding reproductive patterns of vulnerable populations and health issues—is not open, or is open only to a minimal degree. Yearly mortality ledgers, information on morbidity, epidemiological alerts—all of that information has been increasingly restricted.
We went for a whole year in which the Ministry of Health decided not to publish the epidemiological alert, which is the compulsory registry of certain diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, dengue that every health center is obliged to report on a weekly basis. It was taken off the Ministry’s web page because they claimed that it was being used for purposes other than research.
On migration issues, the Identification and Immigration Service (SAIME) put a note on its web page that said that entrance and exit numbers from the country were of exclusive access to agencies of public administration. Therefore, since the 1990s we do not know the annual migratory balance of Venezuela. We do not know how many Venezuelans leave and how many foreigners come in, their nationality or whether they stay.
We can look at almost any issue and we will find the same scarcity and lack of access to information: problems with its availability, the timing of its availability, and what is made available. In the year 2010 a national demographic survey was conducted with the support of the United Nations Population Fund, but that survey was kept shelved and still today we do not have access to it. Just yesterday we were handed the 2011 Census, and the data is limited to already calculated indicators and charts. But what we need is access to the raw data so that we can generate the indicators that we need according to the goals of our research and according to the segment of the population we are looking at.
And why is this happening? Why is the government limiting access to this type of information?
This is a government that is very sensitive to criticism. When you do research you don’t do it to sweeten the pill for whoever is in government, but to show what is being done well, to diagnose situations, to identify problems that need interventions. That’s what universities are for. Institutions that do research need freedom of information; they need information without censorship.
And what they want to give you are charts, not the data?
Charts, and there is very little you can do with them. They generally reflect an average of the country that says very little about how to guide interventions. We need to go down to the regional level and distinguish socioeconomic segments. It’s really no use if you give me a chart with only basic cross-tabulations. They come as PDFs or as images, and you end up having to transcribe the information or cracking those files if you can.
But is there not a legal framework for this?
According to the law, the information produced by public institutions is public domain and everyone should have access to it. The restriction of epidemiological alerts gave rise to appeals to international organisms by human rights groups and especially by organizations that work with HIV patients. There was a ruling that forced the Ministry of Health to again publish the alerts on its webpage.
And have they complied?
They have. But the issue is how they have complied. They put up the information for one week—because the information has to updated weekly. But at any given moment I should be able to find there 52 weeks of the epidemiological alert. However they upload some weeks, they take down others. Or when they are there you can’t download the files.
Translated by Hugo Pérez Hernáiz
The slums crawl up the hills here at Lima’s edge, crisscrossed by dirt roads and a trash-strewn tract of land beneath high-tension electricity towers.
No one builds beneath the lines, lest sparks should fall. But in the winter fog hanging over one hill, an oasis blooms under the canopy of wires: a growing urban garden has created food security and extra income for some 40 families.
Peru’s sprawling capital city is home to nearly a third of the country’s population, thanks to mass migration from rural areas over the past 30 years. This poor suburb of Lima represents one successful example of the numerous global cities, including several in Latin America, that have bet on urban agriculture to stave off malnutrition and poverty.
It’s also an example of how public policy can spur private initiative. The municipal government has ceded partial responsibility for maintaining the program it launched in 1999 to private hands six years ago. The owner of the electricity towers, the Red de Energía del Peru (REP), took on the garden as a corporate social responsibility project. Next year, the government will pull its support altogether, leaving REP and the growers to carry on.
“People living in the provinces for one reason or another came to Lima and settled in the periphery,” says Flor Paredes, program coordinator with IPES, a Lima-based nonprofit focused on sustainable development that has guided the program. “But they have agriculture in their veins.”
Gregoria Flores walks through rows of Swiss chard alongside Julio Cortana. Mr. Cortana grows the leafy greens to feed his family – seven children and 12 grandchildren – and earn income at markets in Lima’s nicer neighborhoods. Ms. Flores provides technical assistance as the program’s only paid employee.
She suggests to Cortana which greens to cut and when, and tells him that if he cuts the chard when it’s young, he’ll sell at a better price at the market. Flores gives him advice on how to avoid bugs organically, too: The growers here are working toward an organic certification that would let them sell at one of Lima’s growing bioferias, open-air markets of higher priced organic products.
“This was a dump,” Flores says, pointing to a new garden being cleared of trash lower on the hill. “This was fertile ground for gangs.”
Villa María del Triunfo is the southern part of what has become known as Lima’s conos, or “cones,” the urban sprawl that has pushed the capital’s northern, eastern, and southern limits. The southern cone is one of the metropolitan area’s poorest and most problematic, a place seemingly left behind by Peru’s economic boom of the past decade.
Today, beets, radishes, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, chard, onions, and lettuces freshen the only stretch of available land amid the concrete block houses and shacks roofed with aluminum that crowd the hills of Villa María del Triunfo. Flores says the families who participate increase their average monthly income 50 percent from $143 to $214.
The global nonprofit Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security, which works with IPES on the Peru project, reports similar urban agriculture successes in Cuba, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina over the past decade. In Peru, Ms. Paredes says sustainability is the next major challenge. That means helping the growers learn to produce their own seeds and earn enough to maintain the grounds season after season. Right now, REP supplies seeds three times a year for plantings.
Flores, who has seen how the garden has expanded and how the community has made it their own, puts it another way: “We’re birds of passage, and they’ll have to generate their own seeds. Soon, we have to stop holding their hand.”
Colombia's half-century of conflict has claimed more than 220,000 lives, and while the country tries to negotiate an end to the war, the number of victims continues to climb.
Taking stock of the human costs of the internal war, the independent National Center for Historical Memory presented the findings of a six-year study to President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday in a ceremony witnessed by dozens of survivors of the atrocities that have marked the past 54 years.
"We have to recognize that we've hit bottom, and that the war has become dehumanized and it has dehumanized us," Mr. Santos said. The government is currently engaged in peace talks with the nation's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC,) in what is seen as the best chance yet to bring an end to its 49-year insurgency. But the negotiations are taking place amid continued fighting, and 19 soldiers were killed last weekend in two separate clashes with the rebels.
The study found, however, that it has been civilians – not combatants – who have borne the brunt of the war, accounting for 4 out of 5 conflict-related deaths. The study also said that as many as 5.7 million Colombians were forcibly displaced and more than 25,000 people forcibly disappeared, although some estimates put the latter figure as high as 60,000.
The authors of the study recognize their figures are approximations.
"Despite their chilling magnitude, these figures are estimates that do not account for what really happened because part of the dynamic and the legacy of war is anonymity, invisibility, and the impossibility of recognizing all its victims," the study's coordinator, Marta Nubia Bello, wrote.
The investigators used 1958 as their starting point, the year that marked the end of a period of bipartisan fighting known as La Violencia (the Violence) and the rise of armed resistance movements that would evolve into guerrilla armies. And the study charted the intensity of the conflict, finding that the most brutal period was between 1982 and 2002, when leftist rebel groups strengthened, right-wing paramilitary militias were created and expanded, and the government struggled through repeated crises.
Guerrillas were responsible for the more than 27,000 kidnappings recorded since 1970, while paramilitary groups were blamed for nearly 60 percent of the massacres that took place in the country from 1980 to 2012, in which 11,751 people were killed. Government forces committed 8 percent of the massacres and 42 percent of forced disappearances.
Santos called the information on the involvement of the police and armed forces in such atrocities one of the "uncomfortable truths" in the report, adding that the crimes must be investigated and punished to offer truth and justice to the victims.
But just one day after addressing the victims, Santos today defended a government-sponsored law that, according to Human Rights Watch, could lead to impunity for thousands of crimes by guerrillas, paramilitaries, and government forces alike. The framework for peace, which aims to pave the way for a peace deal with the FARC, stipulates that, in a context of transitional justice, only those with "maximum responsibility" for atrocious crimes would be prosecuted.
The law has already passed in the Congress, but was challenged by human rights organizations before the Constitutional Court, which is hearing arguments today from the president, the attorney general, and rights groups.
"There is no better way to repair victims than peace," Santos said. But observers say Colombia must strike a balance between peace and justice: Too much justice may stifle any chance for peace and too little may spark new conflicts in the future.