Colombia keen to boost economic, trade ties with Cuba, says president

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday kicked off a two-day state visit to Cuba, where he hopes to expand economic and trade ties with the island country.

"My official visit has two goals: to thank the island's people and government (for their role) in the Colombian peace process, and to increase economic and trade ties," Santos said.

Cuba hosted the talks that led to a definitive peace deal between Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels.

In Havana, Santos met with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro and also took part in a bilateral business forum, where he said Colombia was in a process of greater economic opening that included boosting investment in Central America and the Caribbean.

The peace agreement has spurred the national economy and tourism, which grew nearly 40 percent in the first half of 2017, Cuba's state daily Granma said.

Some 20 Colombian business leaders attended the forum, representing a variety of sectors, from construction to energy, chemicals and food.

Santos arrived in Cuba late Sunday accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, and trade, industry and tourism, as well as the head of Colombia's trade promotion agency ProColombia.

Santos was last in Cuba in June 2016, for the signing of the peace agreement.

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits Cuba

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Search of Missing Persons among Debris in Mocoa, Colombia, Continues

Bogotá, April 4 (Prensa Latina) Survivors of one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in Colombia, Mocoa residents woke up again today in the mud and debris left by the avalanches, where they are still searching for missing relatives.

And although President Juan Manuel Santos ruled out the possibility of another devastating mudslide, the villagers look with suspicion on the surrounding rivers whose overflow left at least 273 dead and 262 injured persons.

According to the Red Cross, the villagers are trying to find around 300 people who have been missing since last Saturday.

The avalanches of mud and stone dragged trees, houses, bridges and everything they found in their path.

After a review carried out by the Air Force in all the rivers and streams near Mocoa, it was possible to conclude that there is no danger of another avalanche at this moment, the governor insisted.

A total of 70 injured persons were transferred to health centers outside the municipality and 27 are in the local hospital, while Legal Medicine handed the bodies of 100 victims to their relatives, said the president in a message to citizens.

'Now -he added- comes the prevention phase in order to avoid epidemics in shelters where part of the victims are refugees and in the city, capital of the southern department of Putumayo.'

Yesterday, Santos appointed the defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, as manager for the reconstruction of Mocoa, a hot territory of 50 thousand inhabitants located in the foothills of the Amazon.

In May 2015 a similar event struck the settlement of Salgar Antioquia; then the floods caused the death of more than a hundred people.

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Colombian Congress to Discuss Amnesty Law, Key for FARC-EP

Bogota, Dec 19 (Prensa Latina) The Colombian Congress will today discuss the amnesty law linked with the peace process between the Government and FARC-EP insurgents.

The discussions will be shorter than usual after the Constitutional Court authorized the use of a fast track mechanism.

The amnesty law will give a legal pardon to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People's Army (FARC-EP), who did not commit serious crimes in the context of the internal conflict.

According to analysts, its approval would be a stimulus for other core processes such as the disarmament of members of the guerrilla group, the largest in the country.

On November 24th, President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of FARC-EP, Timoleón Jiménez, signed a conclusive peace agreement after nearly four years of talks in Cuba.

In the coming days, the Colombian parliament will examine other initiatives such as one aimed at facilitating the creation of a political party, once the disarmament is over.

The interior minister, Juan Fernando Cristo, has announced that a law will be proposed to ensure the participation of the FARC-EP in the debates planned within the Senate and the House of Representatives with the objective of implementing the consensus signed by Santos and Jiménez.

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Pope Francis Meets President Santos and Uribe in the Vatican

Bogota, Dec 16 (Prensa Latina) Pope Francis met Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former president Alvaro Uribe today, who have been distanced due to their disagreement over the peace process with the FARC-EP, according to Colombian news reports.

Although there have been no details of the meeting, the main Colombian newspapers and radio stations have published images of the moment.

In successive messages His Holiness called on Colombians to persevere in the search for peace and national reconciliation.

Uribe, who heads the right-wing Democratic Center Party (CD), is one of the most vocal critics of Santos' administration and an outspoken opponent of negotiations with the FARC-EP.

Along with other spokespersons of the CD, he led the campaign for the negative vote in the October referendum, when most voters rejected the first peace agreement between the government and the rebel group.

Negotiators returned to the table and finalized a conclusive treaty, which was signed on November 24th and ratified by the Congress of the Republic; the ex-president also opposes this agreement.

On Monday parliamentarians will discuss the draft amnesty law, considered key to the members of this insurgent group, the largest in the nation.

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FARC and Santos Disagree over When Peace Actually Begins

The FARC is ready and willing to demobilize its fighters but the leadership wants guarantees they won't be arrested or killed first.

The Colombian Congress has ratified the peace agreement between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, but demobilization of rebels has yet to begin over an ongoing disagreement over what the accord calls “D-Day,” which is when the combatants are to formally begin gathering in demobilization zones.

RELATED: Colombia Congress Ratifies FARC Peace Deal

Colombian President Santos remarked that Thursday marked “the first day of peace” and his government expected demobilization to begin soon. The accord specifies that five days after “D-Day” the rebel combatants are expected to begin reporting to the “concentration zones” where the demobilization process will take place.

However, FARC leader and peace negotiator Pastor Alape said “D-Day” has not yet been determined and rebels won't moving to the concentration zones until security can be guaranteed. Colombia has been recently experiencing a spike in killings of leftist activists and the FARC leadership is concerned that their members will be assassinated.

The FARC is also concerned that they will face arrest for their rebellion as an amnesty law has not yet been passed by Congress. The Congress must also approve a series of other laws that would allow for the concrete implementation of the historic peace agreement.

The rebels want these laws to be approved quickly through a “fast track” mechanism before they begin moving to the concentration zones.

Colombia's Constitutional Court is expected to rule Friday regarding the legality of the fast track process. This process, which would allowed for fewer rounds of voting, was originally tied to a successful plebiscite result but Colombian narrowly rejected the peace agreement in a vote. The updated peace agreement was not put to vote and was approved directly by Congress.

RELATED: What's New About Colombia's 2nd FARC-Govt Peace Deal?

If the Constitutional Court says the fast track is not valid, then the series of laws that will allow for the implementation must go through the regular legislative process, which could take many months, further delaying the demobilization of combatants.

The urgency for demobilization stems from the fact that the bilateral cease-fire is fragile, as two FARC rebels were recently gunned-down by state security forces.

According to a report by the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, there is also concern that too much idle time may lead to desertions by FARC rebels. The FARC also controls or holds influence over many areas, and the cease-fire has meant a reduced presence by rebels creating a vacuum that may be filled by other armed actors.

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Colombia Congress Ratifies FARC Peace Deal, Triggers Next Steps

Colombia's largest rebel group, the FARC, will now begin the process of laying down its arms as the peace deal takes effect.

The Colombian House of Representatives unanimously ratified the historic peace deal between the government and the FARC rebel group on Wednesday after the Senate did the same Tuesday, triggering the implementation of the agreement that brings an end to over half a century of civil war in the South American country.

RELATED: Key to Peace Now Lies in Hands of Colombia's Polarized Congress

The agreement was approved in the 166-seat lower house of Congress by 130 votes in favor and zero against. Votes were cast after a lengthy day-long session that saw both supporters and detractors of the breakthrough peace deal, updated after a defeat at the polls in an Oct. 2 plebiscite, make their case for a "Yes" or "No" vote. The decision came a day after the Senate also passed the deal 75-0.

Both the Senate and the lower house approved the plan despite the vocal protests from Senator and former far-right President Alvaro Uribe, who led the "No" forces during the plebiscite, and who had called his supporters to take to the streets in opposition to the latest deal, despite the fact that negotiators made changes changes to 56 of the 57 points the "No" side contested.

While Uribe and his fellow Center Democratic Party senators did not boycott the debate in either House as they had earlier threatened, they boycotted the vote itself in both cases, walking out just minutes before voting took place. During the sessions they also displayed signs reading "No Al Conejo," meaning "No to the Rabbit." In Colombia, the term "rabbit-making" means cheating and is often used to refer to people who leave a restaurant without paying. Uribe has staunchly maintained that the peace deal is too lenient on the FARC.

Both the Senate and lower house votes easily passed the vote thresholds needed to approve the deal, and the margin bestows greater legitimacy on the deal, analysts have argued. The ratification allows the peace deal to enter in force and triggers a 180-period — monitored by the United Nations — for FARC rebels to move to transition camps and begin the process of laying down their arms and preparing to reintegrate into Colombian society.

RELATED: Colombian Women Fight Gender Violence, Celebrate Peace With Art

The approval comes less than a week after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko, formally signed the deal in Bogota last Thursday.

A previous peace agreement was narrowly defeated by less than half a percentage point in a national plebiscite on Oct. 2. Within weeks of the plebiscite, the government of Colombia and FARC leaders revised the original plan, making 50 changes while keeping foundational cornerstones of the deal intact.

During the debate in the Senate, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo likened the peace deal to a miracle. “To achieve an agreement with the FARC after 50 years of war in an agreement which really gets to the roots of the violence, the conditions that have provoked the violence, this guarantees an end to that violence, and it’s nothing less than a miracle,” said Jaramillo during the opening of Tuesday’s debate.

The peace deal, negotiated over the past four years in Havana, Cuba, brings to an end the longest and bloodiest civil war in Latin America, which has left some 7 million people displaced, more than 260,000 dead, at least 79,000 disappeared and 30,000 kidnapped since 1958.

On Dec.10, Santos will accept the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. FARC leader Timochenko was notably left out of any formal recognition for his role in the bilateral agreement.

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Colombia's Santos: No 2nd Vote to Pass Revised FARC Peace Deal

The chief proponent of the "No" campaign has been gunning for an overhaul of the peace deal, but it remains unclear what changes will be made.

As the breakthrough peace deal between the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla army, the FARC, remains in limbo after an extremely narrow defeat at the ballot box, President Juan Manuel Santos hinted Wednesday that the revised agreement will not be ratified by popular vote, but sent straight to Congress.

RELATED: Despite Cease-Fire, We Keep Dying: Afro-Colombian Activist

Speaking from the British parliament during a state visit to the United Kingdom exactly one month after the Oct. 2 plebiscite that voted down the historic peace accords by less than half a percentage point, Santos said that Congress will implement the deal, implying that it would skip over the step of a popular vote.

“We have managed to advance and in the very near future we will have an agreement,” said Santos. “I will have the power to implement it through Congress.”

Colombian Senate President Mauricio Lizcano, accompanying Santos on his U.K. visit, confirmed that the plan of not having a second plebiscite has already been under discussion, and celebrated the president’s “wise decision.”

“That’s what we proposed two weeks ago in Bogota,” he said, according to Colombia’s El Espectador. “Congress keeps its faculties in tact and if it decides to implement the agreements then it would be endorsing it … and Congress is willing to assume that responsibility.”

Lizcano added that holding another plebiscite would be draining and “would take more time that is needed to implement the agreements.”

The Oct. 2 plebiscite was aimed at ratifying the peace deal — finalized after nearly four years of talks between the government and the FARC in Havana, Cuba — with Colombian society, but in a shock result the “No” camp eked out a win by a razor-thin margin. The upset result hurled Colombia’s burgeoning peace into uncertainty, as the legal consequences of the vote — binding on the president but not the Congress — had been ambiguous.

OPINION: Colombia’s Failed Peace Throws Prisoners' Rights Into Question

Since the blow to the much-anticipated end to over 50 years of armed conflict, FARC and government delegations have returned to the negotiating table in Havana. Both sides have also held consultations with diverse sectors of society — including victims and movements for peace, as well as representatives of the “No” camp, led by former far-right president and current Senator Alvaro Uribe — to discuss proposed revisions of the peace deal.

Uribe has been vehemently opposed to foundational aspects of the agreement, namely the transitional justice mechanisms that offer reduced sentences for those who voluntarily own up to their crimes in the name of truth and the guaranteed seats in Congress for two election cycles for the soon-to-be-formed FARC political party. The deal’s “gender focus” promoting the rights of the LGBTI community and women, considered one of the groups most victimized by the conflict, has also sparked backlash from conservative religious groups.

The kind of overhaul to the agreement demanded by Uribe has been largely deemed untenable, as his proposals call for the 7,000 rebel-strong FARC accepting much harsher conditions. Uribe argues that Santos has been too lenient with the 52-year-old guerrilla force and awarded its war against the government with impunity. Victims of the conflict, however, overwhelmingly supported the peace deal in the plebiscite, and support measures to prioritize ending the war and uncovering truth over criminal prosecutions for demobilized rebels.  

Meanwhile, the other branch of Colombia’s peace process, talks with the second largest guerrilla army, the ELN, was also dealt a blow last week when Santos called off the launch of negotiations over a dispute about the release of a key hostage.

Colombia’s more than half century-long civil war has claimed some 260,000 lives and uprooted nearly 7 million people.

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