Has Colombia's time come?
August 13th, 2014
02:45 PM ET

Has Colombia's time come?

By Virginia M. Bouvier, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Virginia M. Bouvier is senior program officer for Latin America at the U.S. Institute of Peace and editor of Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War. The views expressed are the author’s own. 

With violence exploding in Gaza, airstrikes in Iraq, armed groups terrorizing Nigeria, Syrian extremism spilling into Lebanon, and the return of war in Sudan, the cause of peace can seem daunting. Closer to home, however, there is cause for hope.

Prospects for peace in Colombia are looking better than they have in years. If successful, the current peace process would put an end to an internal armed conflict that has lasted half a century. The conflict has taken the lives of some 200,000 Colombians, forcibly displaced 6 million more (granting Colombia the dubious honor of world record holder for the highest number of displaced), and destroyed countless livelihoods. Peace in Colombia would open a new era for growth and prosperity and contribute to regional stability.

As President Juan Manuel Santos noted in his inaugural speech on August 7, “Colombia’s time has come.”

During his first term in office, Santos opened peace talks with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP), and earlier this year launched exploratory conversations for peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second largest armed insurgent group. His campaign for re-election was widely portrayed as a referendum on the peace process, and his victory in June gives him a mandate to finish what he started.

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Topics: Latin America
What we're getting wrong about the migration debate
August 1st, 2014
06:39 PM ET

What we're getting wrong about the migration debate

By Kevin O’Donnell

GPS intern Kevin O’Donnell speaks with Justin Gest, assistant professor of public policy at the School of Policy, Government and International Affairs at George Mason University and the author of ‘Apart: Alienated and Engaged Muslims in the West’ and the forthcoming ‘Crossroads of Migration: A Global Approach to National Policy Differences’. The views expressed are his own.

When we talk about migration, we often talk about push factors and pull factors – things that drive people from a country, that pull them to another. We’ve seen over the past five years a rapid increase in migration by children. Is this driven more by factors in their home countries, or by a new understanding of opportunities in the United States?

Well I think it’s important off the bat to clarify that the young people who are coming to the United States border right now aren’t coming for economic opportunities, they’re not coming – initially at least – to unify with their families, they’re not coming because of the United States' university system or educational opportunities. They’re coming because they’re desperate. They’re coming because they’re trying to escape dire circumstances in their countries of origin.

So while the pull factors in the United States are important, they’re not a determinant here. One way of actually noticing this is by looking at the net migration from Mexico and Central America over the last five to seven years since the economic decline of the United States. It has declined, at one point to zero. So this is taking place at a time when we haven’t seen a lot of draw by the American economy, which further substantiates the idea that this is truly push-factor oriented. FULL POST

Drug cartels are causing a refugee crisis
July 8th, 2014
11:57 AM ET

Drug cartels are causing a refugee crisis

By Ted Galen Carpenter, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of nine books on international affairs, including The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America. The views expressed are his own.

Officials in the United States might be tempted to view the disturbing surge in young refugees as simply a border security issue. But the problem is far more complex than that – the drug cartels are now major players in Central American countries, driving vulnerable populations northward to the United States to enhance their own profits.

And America’s hardline prohibitionist drug war is only making things worse.

Although the growing power of the cartels is not the only factor accounting for this crisis, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson suggested in congressional testimony that the “push factor” of violence is important.

Drug gangs have gained control of major chunks of Central America, making honest economic activity perilous. Teenagers especially have few options if they are not willing to work for the drug lords. As Caitlin Dickson noted in the Daily Beast, for example, “by making these countries so dangerous and virtually unlivable for its poorest citizens, the cartels have effectively created an incentive for people to flee, thereby providing themselves with more clientele for their human smuggling business.”

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Topics: Drugs • Latin America • United States
April 25th, 2014
09:41 AM ET

Dominican Republic 'committed to inclusive immigration policy'

By Aníbal de Castro, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Aníbal de Castro is ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United States. This article is a response to an opinion piece from Amnesty International published earlier this week. The views expressed are his own.

The Dominican Republic is taking proactive steps to tackle the complex issue of immigration by implementing a policy for registering both national and immigrant citizens, while protecting everyone’s fundamental rights. And the challenges the Dominican Republic is facing to adopt these policies are not much different than those confronting the United States and other nations.

But, as lawmakers around the world have learned – there are no easy solutions.

Last September, the Constitutional Court ruled that the government of the Dominican Republic was required to launch a proactive process to implement a fair and transparent immigration policy, one that respects each person’s contribution to Dominican society and gives clarity to an outdated system. This marks a historic moment in the country’s 170-year history, and will enhance the security and prosperity of the Dominican Republic and island of Hispaniola at large.

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Topics: Immigration • Latin America
April 21st, 2014
11:57 AM ET

Life in limbo for Dominicans of Haitian descent

By Robin Guittard, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robin Guittard is Caribbean team Campaigner at Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.

“I don’t feel free,” Franklin Jaque José told me. “You’re in a circle where they get you trapped.”

Franklin is just one of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who face significant legal barriers that prevent them from going about their day-to-day lives. Over the last decade, Franklin says he has not been able to continue his education, has had to leave school, and is now being denied access to formal jobs.

He is not alone. For years, Dominicans with Haitian parents who were raised in the country had been registered as Dominicans, which gave them the right to bear Dominican identity documents. Indeed, Franklin says that back in 1994, he was registered in the national Civil Registry and given a Dominican birth certificate. But about a decade ago, Franklin and many others of Haitian heritage began having difficulty accessing their official documents, including birth certificates, identity cards and passports.

Franklin says he first went to a civil registry office in Sabana Grande de Boyá, in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. At that time, he was 18 years-old and finishing his secondary education when school officials asked him to present his ID card. But he didn’t have one. After several visits to different civil registry offices, including in the capital, Santo Domingo, the decision came: “We cannot deliver you an ID because your parents are foreigners.”

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Topics: Latin America
After a year without Chávez, is Venezuela unraveling?
March 6th, 2014
03:27 PM ET

After a year without Chávez, is Venezuela unraveling?

By Carl Meacham, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (@CSIS) in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

This week, amidst political turmoil that has gripped the country and left more than a dozen dead and hundreds more injured and detained, Venezuela commemorated the passing of President Hugo Chávez.

Chávez was best known for his “Bolivarian Revolution,” through which he pursued aggressive, state-centered approaches to alleviate the social, political, and economic challenges facing Venezuela. And by some metrics he was successful – between 2004 and 2012, the country’s poverty rate halved, and literacy and access to healthcare increased substantially.

But Chávez also left behind a country deeply divided along political and socioeconomic lines, one suffering from skyrocketing crime and violence and bogged down by economic instability. Is his successor, Nicolás Maduro, now reaping the seeds of discontent sown by Chavismo?

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Topics: Latin America • Venezuela
January 11th, 2014
12:00 AM ET

Is Argentina trying out the 5-point economy wrecking plan?

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

We were struck by a strange proposal this week. A top Argentine leader says his country should move the national capital from Buenos Aires in the east, facing the Atlantic, to a new city up in the north, closer to the Pacific. This would be an immense change – akin to Brazil moving the capital to Brasilia. It would be a shame to see Buenos Aires abandoned. But the idea that Argentina needs some shaking up is exactly right.

A few weeks ago, we ran a report titled “How To Ruin Your Economy.” In five easy steps, it showed how a country could turn itself into a basket case by bad decisions. The segment was about Venezuela…but Argentina is a worthy runner-up.

It starts out much stronger than Venezuela. Remember, Argentina is part of the G-20, the group of 20 big economies. The average Argentine earns more than the average Indian and Chinese combined. But all these facts mask a troubling trend.

Let’s see how it fared on our five-point test.

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Can Colombia build on its democratic opening?
November 19th, 2013
08:34 AM ET

Can Colombia build on its democratic opening?

By Oliver Kaplan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Oliver Kaplan is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.

A year ago today, peace negotiators in Colombia began working with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to end a nearly 50-year bloody conflict, one that by some estimates has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Colombians and forcibly displaced over 4 million more. Although the government and rebels have continued to fight during talks, there is a sense of optimism after progress came on a long-running sticking point: political participation. Indeed, the lead government negotiator, a former vice president, has hailed the breakthrough as a “new democratic opening.”

So what exactly has changed?

True, there were some anxious months after talks stalled following a deal in May on land reform issues. But the latest breakthrough calls for new rights for political opposition movements, in addition to citizen participation and input in policymaking. This progress has sparked optimism as much for the manner in which it has come about as for the shift itself.

This is literally not your grandfather’s peace process. To resolve the grave conflict of the 1950s known as The Violence, which took the lives of an estimated 220,000 Colombians, talks among Colombia’s main political parties occurred far away, in Spain. And although the 1956 Benidorm Pact ended the worst of the partisan killing and was eventually ratified by a plebiscite, it was crafted by elites, without public input.

In contrast, today’s negotiations have been much more participatory than past negotiations. The talks have been held closer to home, in Havana, with negotiators shuttling back and forth to Colombia. There has also been participation and input during the negotiations, not just for a final seal of approval. Public forums were held in Bogotá and regional peace tables were held around the country. Colombians also directly submitted more than 5,000 comments to negotiators through an internet platform, while the final agreement is to be ratified by a public vote. Such a level of public engagement is no surprise given that in 1997, at the height of the conflict, millions of Colombians voted for a “mandate for peace” to push for negotiations.

Still, the government has been performing a balancing act: encouraging enough participation for input through formal channels, but not so much that it derails the talks or advantages the FARC in mobilizing public support. It will therefore be a good omen if the level of encouragement of participation during the negotiations is sustained upon reaching an agreement.

However, there are challenges to doing so.

The first contentious question is how to incorporate FARC and leftist representatives into mainstream politics. The previous attempt to incorporate the FARC into politics in the 1980s resulted in the assassination of members of the Patriotic Union party by paramilitary groups, making the provision of security guarantees a key issue today. Allowing the FARC into politics is also controversial because some members have been accused of war crimes. With this in mind, questions surrounding amnesty are to be discussed under a future agenda item on ending the conflict.

Second, beyond a FARC political movement, a more fundamental question concerns the participation of the historically excluded rural sector, the interests of which the FARC claims to represent. It is said Colombia’s constitution is so liberal and democratic it is comparable to Switzerland’s, but this has at times been more true on paper than in practice. Without expanding and sustaining political participation, a lasting peace will be elusive, as underdevelopment in the countryside will persist and peasants will remain vulnerable to recruitment by criminal bands or other armed groups.

The experience after The Violence is again instructive. The National Front pact called for the two main political parties to alternate in power and also created mechanisms for participation including village-level community action boards (or juntas comunales), the most common form of social organization in Colombia today. Yet the national level political alternation and instability, along with creeping clientelism and corruption, meant the viewpoints of peasants were coopted and marginalized by politicians.

This exclusion became a rallying cry for spoiler insurgent groups, including the FARC (yes, the same FARC with which the government is negotiating today, some 49 years later). Yet despite the exclusion, I found in my research in the Colombian countryside that these resilient village organizations continued to advocate on behalf of communities, implementing public works and even shielding residents from armed group pressure.

Clearly, the breakthrough on participation rescued the peace talks, and it suggests a model for peace processes in other countries. But this democratic opening alone isn’t enough to cement a peace deal.  If Colombia is to achieve peace and also live up to its democratic potential, sustained grassroots participation must remain at the forefront.

Topics: Conflict • Latin America
Can Bachelet lead Chile to change?
November 14th, 2013
10:42 AM ET

Can Bachelet lead Chile to change?

By Matt Browne and Dan Restrepo, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dan Restrepo is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former advisor to President Barack Obama on Latin America. Matt Browne heads American Progress’s Global Progress project and is a former advisor to Tony Blair. The views expressed are their own.

Four decades since the military coup that brought Chile a dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, Chile stands poised to enter a new chapter in its history. But obstacles from its past still stand in the way.

On Sunday, the daughters of two generals, friends who found themselves on opposing sides of the coup, will compete for the presidency. Michelle Bachelet, a former president and the daughter of General Alberto Bachelet, who opposed the coup, is running against Evelyn Matthei, the daughter of General Fernando Matthei, who supported the coup and presided over the prison that tortured and killed Bachelet’s father.

Is the scene set for a dramatic show down?

Actually, not really. When Bachelet left office five years ago, she did so with the highest approval ratings of any Chilean politician in history, above 85 percent. Only the Chilean constitution, which prevents sitting presidents from standing for re-election for a consecutive term, removed her from office. Today, polls suggest that almost half the population will vote for Bachelet in the first round. Matthei garners a mere 14 percent of the vote with the remainder being split by smaller independent candidates.

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Topics: Latin America
Can pope bridge gap between America and Rome?
March 15th, 2013
05:09 PM ET

Can pope bridge gap between America and Rome?

By Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Kathleen Sprows Cummings is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. The views expressed are her own.

Conventional wisdom was that a short papal conclave would result in the election of a front runner. So when I heard that there was white smoke after just five ballots, I prepared for a TV interview by reviewing notes about Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. Not visible on camera was a thick packet on my lap containing profiles of other candidates, just in case. Luckily, I had it arranged in alphabetical order, and quickly laid my hands on the rather slender file of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

In Catholic circles, it is relatively rare to witness events without precedent. And yet we have seen so many of them in the space of a month. Close on the heels of Benedict's resignation came the election of an unexpected successor, who, it turns out, had a few more surprises in store for the faithful. In his first public moments as pope, Bergoglio engaged in a little self-deprecating humor, led the people in three of the most unifying prayers of the church, requested a blessing and humbly bowed before them. The most astonishing thing of all was his new name. Bergoglio became the first pontiff in history to adopt as his patron a beloved saint who may be best remembered for his love of animals and the simple life, but who was above all a reformer who called on a flawed institution to repair itself.

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Topics: Latin America • Religion
Chavez myth will outlive his achievements
March 5th, 2013
10:54 PM ET

Chavez myth will outlive his achievements

By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.

It’s difficult to remember a time when Hugo Chávez didn’t dominate the headlines, just as it is difficult to believe that, with his death, there will come a time when he no longer does. Elected as Venezuelan president in 1998 and sworn in in 1999, Chávez became the voice of a new group of leaders across South America that came to power with the collapse of traditional, elite-dominated party systems. He was the bête noir of the United States, a hero to the anti-globalization left and to the poor in his own country, a savior to the Castro regime in Cuba, and the clown prince of the regional summit circuit. For all this, though, Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela and in the region will be one of institutional debasement and polarization.

The one-time lieutenant colonel rose to prominence in 1992, when he and a group of mid-level officers attempted a coup against the country’s then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. In a brief statement to the media, Chávez promised that while he may have failed, that he would return to correct the social injustices that led to his putsch. After serving time in prison he did, winning the 1998 presidential elections, overturning a two-party system that had governed Venezuela since 1958 through an increasingly closed, corrupt system held together by the country’s oil riches and patronage.

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Topics: Latin America • Venezuela
U.S. can’t stay quiet over Chavez absence
January 11th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

U.S. can’t stay quiet over Chavez absence

By Eric Farnsworth, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. The views expressed are his own.

Remember the climactic scene in The Sound of Music when the von Trapp family fails to appear on stage to receive the top prize even as the band repeatedly introduces their entrance? It’s a little like the spectacle awaiting Venezuelans now that Hugo Chavez has missed his own presidential inauguration under the terms of the recent constitution that he himself instituted.

If he is unable to carry out his duties, Venezuela’s constitution requires another election within 30 days. Recovering from cancer – or not – in Havana, a number of alternatives have been floated by Chavez allies that would allow him to remain as president until such time or scenario as he could be physically sworn-in. Better not cue the band just yet.

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Topics: Latin America • Venezuela
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