Protest against the FARC
Protest against the FARC
María del Rosario Arrázola, Hugo García Segura

BOGOTA - Negotiators for rebel group FARC -- engaged now in historic peace talks with the Colombian government — received an interesting visit in Havana last month. During a pause in negotiations with Bogota officials in the Cuban capital, FARC loyalists met with a group of former members of the IRA.

Indeed, the veterans of Northern Ireland's Irish Republican Army would have worthwhile experiences to share with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerrilla "people's army" in search of a peace deal after a decades-long war with the Colombian government.

Putting emphasis on their disarmament strategy implemented in the early 2000s, which eventually led to the success of the Northern Irish peace process, IRA members shared their experience.

Of course, the transition to a post-conflict Northern Ireland was by no means easy. In his paper The IRA disarmament process in Northern Ireland: lessons for Colombia, Vicença Fisas, director of the School for the Culture of Peace at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, warns that the Good Friday Agreement — signed in 1998 and marking the official start of the Irish peace process — did not explain in detail how to proceed with regard to disarmament. Instead, the agreement limited itself to expressing the advisability of disarmament, and inviting the parties to collaborate with the International Independent Committee for Disarmament (IICD).

There was much skepticism, Fisas recounts, even though it was clear that resolving the problems surrounding disarmament was essential to the negotiations. The IICD was led by Canadian General Jon de Chastelain, who was responsible for overseeing the gradual disarmament process and the destruction of collected weapons. In total, the IICD supervised four IRA disarmament acts between October 2001 and September 2005.

Guerillas weigh in

But it is not just former IRA members who have been in discussions with the FARC negotiators. There has also been talk about the continued presence of former Central-American guerrillas — from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front in El Salvador, now one of the country’s two main political parties following the 1992 peace process, and from the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, also now a main political party — as well as others from South Africa.

To advance discussions about demobilization and disarmament, the FARC has also made enquiries about another sensitive topic: pardons and reparations to victims. “The simple fact that we are discussing these topics already enables us to move negotiations forward and, for this reason, there are some who dare to say that the final agreement could be very close,” says a source close to the negotiating process.

Regarding the thorny issue of disarmament, one proposal purportedly gaining favor is the possibility of surrendering weapons to the custody of an international or humanitarian organization. The FARC may have warmed to this idea after their meeting with the IRA, particularly if they have taken into account the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signalled that he won't allow the group to enter politics while they are still armed. The government has viewed very positively the fact that the guerrilla group is taking an interest in successful peace processes from around the world.

The FARC aims to re-enter politics

Whatever route the negotiations may take, everything is pointing toward a single overarching objective: establishing political participation. This would be the logical next step following disarmament and the signing of an agreement to end the conflict. And the government’s recent decision to return legal status to the Patriotic Union (UP), the FARC's political wing, is intricately linked to what is happening in Havana. In fact, according to sources consulted by El Espectador, the FARC has apparently started to solidify plans to fully re-enter the political arena, focusing on the local and regional elections in 2015.

This is why many people have not been surprised that the discussion about peasant reserve zones — one of the points still waiting to be discussed, now that the first topic on the agenda, namely agricultural policy, has been closed — has migrated from Cuba to Catatumbo in the blink of an eye, becoming one of the most important issues for protest leaders in that region. Next week Catatumbo protestors will be joined by more striking miners, and it is believed that other agricultural sectors will also go on strike. These sectors are key for the guerrillas, who are trying to establish new topics for discussion to help guide their position at the negotiating table in Havana.

The aim is for these protests to mark the beginning of the FARC’s agenda for the elections to Congress next year — if negotiations reach a final agreement in time — or the local and regional elections in 2015. That said, the FARC must convince the other side to allow different conditions for its political wing, given that the law currently requires any movement or party to collect almost 450,000 votes in order to maintain its legal status. This figure is almost certainly unattainable for the FARC, but there is talk of creating a “special peace circumscription” that would aim to guarantee its political survival at a national level.

Regardless of how the situation is resolved, both the government and the FARC are well aware that the decision from the Council of State (which advises the Colombia government on administrative matters) to legalize UP has enabled the talks in Cuba to take several gigantic steps forward. And although nobody will admit it, discussions about the international “blind eye” — which needs to be turned to crimes against humanity, drug trafficking and money laundering for the sake of the peace process — have been underway for a little while.

U.S. looks to be on board

Peace is the ultimate goal, and it is believed that the United States would be willing to respect the compromises made to end the conflict in Colombia. For the time being, it is understood that the negotiations in Havana must cover many points and pass through many sets of hands, but the FARC wants to enter politics, and legally.

Speaking to El Espectador from Havana, leader of the FARC Jorge Torres Victoria -- better known by his alias Pablo Catatumbo -- declined to comment on any progress that may have been made on the topics of demobilization, disarmament or legal immunity for the guerrilla leaders. “Those issues will be discussed in depth in the future,” he says. “What we have said is that we will talk about them very seriously -- but when the moment to do so arrives, according to the timetable established for the talks. For now, those topics aren’t on the table.”

But the FARC negotiator did mention the current crisis caused by the peasant strikes in Catatumbo in the north of Colombia: “We are concerned by the way the government has handled the protests, because it openly contradicts the message about laying down our weapons in order to defend our ideas in the public space. But when the peasants protest, they are stigmatized and repressed.”

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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