October 15 - 28
Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for October 15-28!
Officials representing the Colombian Government and FARC, the leftist rebel group, announced peace talks in Havana in November aimed at ending the nearly half-century of armed conflict in the country. While several previous attempts at talks have been unsuccessful, this new attempt, which has been promoted in part by Cuba and Venezuela, is being met with optimism due to both sides’ perceived willingness to come to the table without preconditions.
These negotiations are the result of a concerted effort by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to resolve the conflict through two paths: while the Colombian military continues to press the group, which is at its weakest in nearly 50 years, Santos has also tried to pave the road to reconciliation, passing a land reform law and declaring the fight an ‘armed conflict,’ which imposes certain international obligations on both sides. For their part, the FARC has agreed to stop kidnapping, and seems genuinely interested in these negotiations (for starters, the group’s leader showed up — unlike the last attempt in 1999).
The list of challenges to reconciliation are immense. First, it’s not clear what the scope of these talks will actually be. The Colombian government has so far insisted it will not discuss matters of land reform, while FARC says there cannot be any peace process that doesn’t deal with the issue. It’s not clear whether there will be an amnesty for FARC soldiers, who have been accused of brutality, kidnapping, and war crimes, which may be critical to reaching peace — the Colombian government has been mum on the issue so far, but the notion is understandably unpopular among those caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Even if the group does agree to disband, several challenges will need to be addressed: it’s not clear how the Colombian economy will absorb thousands of poorly educated former guerrillas; the current Colombian reintegration program, while well-intentioned, is severely flawed; FARC’s long guerrilla war has spawned several offshoot groups and rightwing militant opponents which would need to be dealt with; and finally, several factions in FARC have moved from politics into the drug trade, which means the formal end of FARC may surface the existence of groups akin to the narco-cartels in the rest of the region. These are daunting challenges, but after almost 50 years of conflict, they’d be a welcome change for the country.
The Emir of Qatar visited the Gaza Strip, the first foreign dignitary to do so since Hamas gained control of the region in 2007. The Emir pledged $400M in aid, upping a prior offer of $250M from earlier this year.
David Roberts writes for Foreign Policy that this move seems more aimed at Iran than Israel, and I generally agree - Hamas split from Syria and Iran back in February as the Syrian conflict started to heat up, and since then the group has been mending ties with other Arab groups in the region. Both Egypt and Qatar have been supporting Hamas, but both have been pushing for peace in the area - Egypt has been heavily involved in negotiating cease fires after recent exchanges with Israel, and Qatar has been pushing for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. For all Israel’s hand-wringing, a Hamas backed by Egypt and Qatar, both of whom seem genuinely interested in peace, is a whole lot better than a Hamas backed by Iran.
Widespread labor unrest continues in South Africa, where more than 80,000 striking workers have brought platinum and gold mining operations nearly to a halt. The strikes began in early August and quickly escalated when police shot and killed 34 striking miners. The strikes spread quickly, in part due to the killings and in part the government’s response — more than 270 striking workers were arrested and charged under a “common cause” law with the murder of the miners shot by the police. The mine owners initially responded forcefully, with one main platinum producer firing nearly 12,000 workers, but have begun backing down as financial losses from the closed mines mount. The strikers are demanding a raise from $550 to around $1500 per month — roughly the median income in the country.
The mine workers have accused the main national union, the NUM or National Union of Mineworkers, of being too close to both the ruling African National Congress and the mining companies themselves, and most of the strikes have been “wildcat” strikes, or strikes not approved of by the union leadership. Some of the tension has been driven by the rise of the AMCU, a new union formed to combat the perceived collusion between the NUM and the mining companies.
The African National Congress, or ANC, has run South Africa for its entire post-apartheid history, nearly 18 years now. The group was the primary opposition to the apartheid regime, and naturally became the party in power after apartheid’s fall. Both the previous and current presidents have faced corruption cases, but with no real opposition, the ANC’s rule continues. Their response to the strikes so far has been police action and tough talk against the workers, which has bolstered the workers’ claims that the government is too close to the mining companies.
The South African government has generally had wide support among the wider world for two reasons: The first is that they were the party of Nelson Mandela and the group that shepherded South Africa through the post-apartheid era; the second is that, by the standards of most of their neighbors, the country was a paragon of good governance. One party rule, though, is never good for governance, no matter what guise it takes — the lack of legitimate opposition leaves the door open for graft and corruption. The sentiment among South Africans now seems to be turning — after 18 years, the scars of apartheid are starting to fade and the glow is wearing off the ANC. South African politics sound due for an opposition party.
As for the mining companies - One of the companies, AngloGold, stated the shutdown of its operations (with more than 24,000 of its 35,000 staff on strike) is costing it around 30,000oz of gold in lost production per week. 30,000 oz of gold, at $1700/oz (the average price this year), is $51M per week, or about $1450 per worker. The workers are currently getting paid around $125 per week, and are striking for a raise to about $375/week.
Astute readers will note I haven’t written about the US Presidential election since I threw my hands up over the whole matter earlier this year. I intend to break that embargo early this week, as it looks like I won’t have the opportunity for much longer.
Thanks for joining me, and my best for the week ahead!