Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos met at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two of course congratulated each other on the success of the program, which has delivered some $10 billion to Colombia in mostly military aid since 2001. They also discussed a proposed new aid program that Santos is calling the "second phase" of Plan Colombia and Obama proposed actually be called "Peace Colombia." Obama broached a package of $450 million annually to support the peace process in Colombia—an incease over leat year's $300 million. This would go towards implementing the reforms to be instated following a peace deal with the FARC guerillas—with a conitnued focus on drug enforcement. Obama said the US "will keep working to protect our people as well as the Colombian people from the ravages of illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers." (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Espectador, Feb. 3)
The Independent on Feb. 3 reports on a very encouraging project organized by a group calling itself I Am Your Protector—"a community of people who speak up and stand up for each other across religion, race, gender and beliefs"—to highlight the often forgotten stories of Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust. With interfaith ceremonies in several European and American cities on Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan. 27, IAYP celebrated the lives of such figures as Abdol Hossein Sardari, the "Iranian Schindler" who as a diplomat helped Persian Jews escape from wartime France by issuing passports and letters of transit. He was able to convince Nazi and Vichy authorities that Jugutis (Persian Muslims descended from Jews) should not be considered "racial" Jews—and was then able to secure travel documents for actual Jews under cover of being Jugutis. A similar personage is Selahattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Greece, who interceded with the Germans to allow Jews of Turkish origin escape to neutral Turkey.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)
A "peace summit" was held in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena last week, as last year at this time, bringing together international experts and civil society representatives to discuss the ongoing process to end the country's multi-generational civil war. The conference came as the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution in support of Colombia's peace process, empowering a "special political mission" to the country to oversee implementation of pending accords with the FARC guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 20; El Espectador, Jan. 7) According to Colombia's Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), political violence registered over the past six months is at its lowest level since the FARC first took up arms in 1964. CERAC cited the FARC's unilateral ceasefire that came into force in July, and the government's suspension of air-strikes. The report found that both the FARC ceasefire and government air-strike halt had been broken, but registered only 16 clashes between guerillas and government troops over the past six months, resulting in the deaths of 17 guerilla fighters and three members of the security forces. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22)
On the evening of Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, activists gathered at New York City's Columbus Circle, overlooked by the Trump International Hotel, for a rally in solidarity with Iraqi and Syrian refugees—under the slogan "Human Rights TRUMP Oppression." Favored chants included "Say it loud, say it clear; Refugees are welcome here!" and "Dump Trump!"—an exhortation aimed at the GOP over the candidate's call for banning all Muslims from entering the US, but the latest in his relentless barrage of xenophobic bluster. Featured speakers included representatives of the Arab American Association of New York, MENA Solidarity Network, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Black Lives Matter—and a group of Syrian Americans, accompanied by a refugee recently arrived from war-torn Homs, whose comments in Arabic were translated. This group spoke against a backdrop of Syria's rebel flag and led chants of "Assad, ISIS, they're the same; Only difference is the name!"
Colombia's House of Representatives on Dec. 3 agreed to hold a plebiscite to seek popular approval of a peace deal with the FARC. The House vote is not the final decision; a reconciliation commission comprised of member of both the Senate and the House will have to approve the final version. According to the bill as it is sent to the commission, the plebiscite will be held three weeks after publication of the full peace agreement with the FARC. For the peace deal to be approved, more than 50% of 13% of the eligible population must vote in the plebiscite. Concretely, President Juan Manuel Santos will need the approval of 4.4 million Colombians, less than 10% of the population, to validate the eventual peace deal. The peace process cxontinues in spite of vociferous opposition by conservatives who fruitlessly lobbied for a higher threshold. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 4)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in early November announced a March 23, 2016 deadline for a peace accord with the FARC rebels, and broached a bilerateral ceasefire that he said could take effect next month and should be monitored by the United Nations. The FARC is currently maintaining a unilateral ceasefire while the military has drastically reduced its offensives against the guerillas. But FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" expressed skepticism about the deadline, instead calling in his Twitter account on Santos to concentrate on an actual end to hostilities. The exchange came as the peace talks, being held in Havana, approached their third anniversary. (Colombia Reports, Nov. 16; El Tiempo, Nov. 13; El Tiempo, Nov. 11; El Tiempo, Nov. 8)
Dr. Hashem al-Azzeh, who died on Oct. 21 after suffering excessive tear-gas inhalation in Hebron's Old City, was the latest victim of the Israeli settlement policies he spent most of his life struggling against. The 54-year-old activist and medical doctor was one of a few Palestinians who chose to remain with his family in Tel Rumeida, a neighborhood in central Hebron that over the course of decades has seen most of its Palestinian residents pushed out by aggressive Israeli settlers. After experiencing chest pains in his home, he found himself trapped. His family called an ambulance, but it was unable to reach him due to a series of Israeli army checkpoints along the nearby Shuhada Street, his niece Sundus al-Azzeh told Ma’an News Agency. Hashem began to walk toward the checkpoint at Bab al-Zawiya, where fierce clashes were underway as Palestinians protested the shooting of a Palestinian teen-ager [near Nablus] the night before. Once there, however, Sundus said that Israeli soldiers stopped him from moving on, and he soon found himself engulfed by tear gas. Unable to breath, he collapsed. He was rushed to Hebron's governmental hospital, but doctors were unable to save him. A doctor told Ma'an that Hashem had a history of cardiovascular disease, but it was tear-gas inhalation that killed him. Sundus said she was at his side when he passed away—it was the first time she had seen someone die.