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.”
The Irish Government has received a request from the US authorities to arrest fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden. The provisional arrest warrant received by the Irish Government from the US authorities is now being handled by the extradition Unit in the Garda’s crime and security branch based in Garda headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin. The warrant has been issued as a pre-emptive strike against any effort by Mr Snowden to evade the US authorities by flying from Moscow to Havana on a commercial flight that stops off at Shannon for refuelling. The warrant would enable the Garda to arrest Mr Snowden under the Extradition Act 1965.
He could be brought before a District Court where a judge could detain him in custody for up to 18 days during which time the Americans could execute a full extradition process to bring him back to America to stand trial.
He is wanted for questioning in the US following his releasing information outlining how the US government was engaged in the wholesale interception of email and telephone messages.
He is believed to be in the transit lounge of Moscow airport.
While the receipt of the provisional arrest documentation by the Department of Justice yesterday appears based on the possibility he may try to travel to Havana on the regular Aeroflot flight via Shannon, security sources in Dublin believe this is unlikely.
“We would think he’ll stay in Russia for at least a while but the papers are with us now so the option of using Shannon to get to Cuba is probably out for him,” one source said.
Mr Snowden (30) has already made efforts to seek political asylum in a large number of countries including Ireland. He could not make such an application unless he was physically in Ireland.
However, if he travelled via Shannon as part of his efforts to get to Cuba and was arrested under the provisional arrest warrant pending an extradition process by the American authorities in the Irish courts, he could apply for asylum while being held in prison here.
The plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales was denied permission to fly over some European countries on Wednesday after leaving Moscow when it was suspected Mr Snowden could be on board.
He worked for the National Security Agency as a contractor in Hawaii, has been trying since June 23rd to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in theUnited States on espionage charges.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is unwilling to sendMr Snowden to the United States, with which Russia has no extradition treaty.
HAVANA — We’re waiting for you in Havana, Snowden. Are you on your way?
It’s still unclear what happened on Monday, June 24, the day after leaker Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong. That day, Snowden was supposed to board a plane to Havana to then transfer to Ecuador, one of the very few places willing to shield him from the American officials who regard him as a traitor. He even had a boarding pass for the window seat in row F, in economy class. But he never showed up, and his seat stayed empty.
Was Snowden trapped in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport against his will by the Russian security service, curious to see the data he had in his computers? Or was he afraid of flying in a plane that could be grounded while passing over the United States, where American courts were waiting to lock him up in jail for over 30 years? Until the very moment the Aeroflot crew closed the plane’s door, it looked like he was coming: Russian police surrounded Gate 28, patrolling outside and inside the airplane. The crew members on the plane looked tense and upset, as if they were facing a horrible trial. We still don’t know what happened at the last moment, but in the end Snowden stayed in Moscow.
I was on that plane, waiting for him along with several dozen other journalists from international news agencies and TV channels, all of us eager to quiz him about his claims. I wanted to ask Snowden about the evidence he had to prove his claims that the U.S. and British intelligence agencies, despite their governments’ public advocacy for freedom of the Internet, had been spying and stealing tons of personal data from people in their home countries.
For a long time, after we took off, we still could not believe that Snowden was not among us: After all, who knew what disguise he might be using? (This might seem a bit less crazy when you consider that we just saw an American spy wearing a wig last month.) Trapped on the flight for 12 hours, journalists walked around the plane looking into every passenger’s face. Other reporters were already waiting to greet Snowden in Cuba. They looked for him inside and outside Havana’s airport, asking every young blond male if he was Snowden. I’m still hoping to meet up with Snowden here in Havana, though Ecuadorean diplomats now say it may take months to issue him political asylum.
There’s one very specific reason Snowden may be having trouble finding a way out of the Moscow airport’s transit lounge, where he apparently is right now: his papers. Right now the only travel document he has is one of dubious status issued by the Ecuadoreans. After the American authorities canceled his U.S. passport on Monday, no airline wants to sell him another plane ticket. (He apparently managed to buy his ticket for Havana while his passport was still valid.)
There are other theories. “He got frightened that Americans would bring him down on that plane,” says Igor Bunin, a Moscow political analyst. “He’s a huge pain for the Kremlin, a Catch-22. Now that he’s turned into an anti-American government star, Russia can’t kick him out, but keeping him means even a bigger international scandal.” I’d love to ask Snowden about his days and nights in Russia if I ever get the chance to meet him.
My friend Olga Bychkova, a host from radio Echo of Moscow, described a scene she witnessed in the airport’s transit zone on the day of Snowden’s arrival on Sunday. “I saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB [security service] agents in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport,” Bychkova told me. “The Kremlin pretends they have nothing to do with him being stuck in Moscow, but in reality they’re all over him.”
What’s up Mr. Snowden? Do you really hate reporters? If you’re “a free man,” as President Vladimir Putin says, why hide from crowds of journalists waiting to talk to you in Sheremetyevo airport for three days? WikiLeaks claims that you — the biggest leaker in the history of the National Security Agency — are “in a safe place.” If you’re safe and free, why didn’t you use your ticket last Monday? You would have had a great chance to explain the reasons for renouncing your wealthy life with a beautiful girlfriend. Just imagine: 12 hours in front of the world’s major networks on the flight to Cuba! Russian commentators think that you’re not as free as the Russian leader claims, that somebody did not allow you to fly Monday. “Snowden will fly out of Russia when the Kremlin decides he can go,” says Moscow political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. “He might not even be in the airport. The safest place would be a GRU [Russian military intelligence] apartment.” That would also explain why no one has seen your face in Moscow yet.
BY Granma/Jorge Luis González“I urge people to publicize our cause in the U.S.,” said René González, above with wife Olga Salanueva at May 6 press conference in Havana. “We will continue the battle until the other four are returned.”
In a victory for the international campaign to free five Cuban revolutionaries jailed in the U.S. since 1998, René González returned to Cuba. Since González was paroled in October 2011, he had been forced to remain in the U.S. to serve a three-year term of supervised release.
González traveled to Havana April 22 under a two-week court-ordered release to attend a memorial for his father Cándido González, who died April 1. On May 3 U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard ruled he could serve the remaining half of his supervised release in Cuba on condition he renounce his U.S. citizenship and never return to the United States.
“Fighting to free Fernando [González], Antonio [Guerrero], Gerardo [Hernández] and Ramón [Labañino] will be the priority of my life,” González said May 6 at a press conference in Havana. “There can be no justice. We endured a long trial plagued with irregularities and absurd sentences. But we will continue the battle until they are returned to Cuba.”
González holds dual U.S. and Cuban citizenship, having been born in Chicago before moving to Cuba with his parents when he was five.
His first motion to serve supervised release in Cuba, filed while still in prison, was rejected by Judge Lenard on the basis of his dual citizenship, in spite of the fact that released prisoners with dual citizenship are normally allowed to serve parole in the other country.
The U.S. government urged rejection of his second motion filed last June, despite a long-standing offer by González to renounce his U.S. citizenship. Lenard granted the motion May 3 after the U.S. Justice Department reversed its position and said it would accept the offer.
“The Justice Department explained its turnabout,” an Associated Press dispatch reported May 3, “by saying that since González was already in Cuba, there was no longer concern that he would use a promise of citizenship renunciation to improperly return to the island.”
On May 6 González went to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to begin the paperwork for renouncing his U.S. citizenship “as bystanders in the streets and on apartment balconies above applauded and called his name,” Reuters reported. Known internationally as the Cuban Five, they are called the Five Heroes in Cuba, deeply respected by millions there for their example of determination and steadfastness in defense of the Cuban Revolution.
The Five were living and working in southern Florida where, at the request of Cuban security services, they monitored and kept Havana informed of activities by armed Cuban-American counterrevolutionary groups with a long record of violent attacks on Cuba and supporters of the Cuban Revolution.
After “stealing” a crop-duster plane in Cuba and ostensibly defecting to the U.S. in December 1990, González was welcomed into counterrevolutionary circles and integrated into paramilitary groups dedicated to the overthrow of the Cuban Revolution, a goal shared by Washington.
González became a pilot in Brothers to the Rescue, an organization established in 1991 by CIA-trained operative José Basulto. In the mid-1990s the group began organizing flights penetrating Cuban airspace designed to provoke a confrontation with Washington.
Despite repeated warnings from Havana that the incursions would not continue with impunity, the U.S. government did not stop them. In January 1996 a Brothers to the Rescue operation dropped counterrevolutionary propaganda on the island. The following month, after repeated warnings to turn back, Cuban fighter jets shot down two of the group’s planes that had once again entered Cuban airspace.
The Five were arrested in FBI raids in September 1998 and framed up on various conspiracy charges. René González received the shortest sentence — 15 years on charges of failure to register as a foreign agent and conspiracy to act as the unregistered agent of a foreign government.
“I did it as a Cuban patriot and I have no regrets,” González is quoted as telling Associated Press in a recent interview. “I’ve never doubted myself for a second.”
González has family in Cuba, including his wife Olga Salanueva, two daughters Irma and Ivette and his mother Irma Sehwerert. Salanueva had been barred entry into the U.S. to visit González while he was in prison, as is Adriana Pérez, the wife of Gerardo Hernández who was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years.
In mid-April Pérez spoke at meetings in Canada organized by the United Steelworkers, one of the largest unions in the country. An example of growing support for the Five, the 650 delegates attending the Steelworkers national convention unanimously adopted a resolution pledging to campaign for the Five’s release.
The coming “5 Days for the Cuban 5,” which will take place May 30-June 5 in Washington, D.C., are being built as an opportunity to broaden the campaign to free the remaining four revolutionaries. The series of events includes an international rally June 1 in front of the White House.
“The only thing lacking is for people in the U.S. to know the case well,” González said at the Havana press conference. “That’s why I urge those here to help publicize our cause in the United States.”