Colombia’s civil war has been raging for more than fifty years. Beginning in 1964 as a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the civil war pit the government of Colombia, allied with right-wing militias, against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), two left-wing paramilitary groups backed by communist governments. Throughout the conflict, all sides have been accused of drug trafficking and terrorism, and the death toll has exceeded 220,000 people, the vast majority of which were civilians.
Recent advances in the peace talks have given Colombians hope, and negotiations between FARC, the ELN, and Colombia’s government appear to be making headway. One of the most symbolically important tasks has been to excavate the many mass graves that dot the countryside.
What do you think? Will Colombia’s civil war finally be brought to an end? What will peace in Colombia look like after more than fifty years of civil war? And how can that peace be made to last?
The shipment raises concerns about the viability of intervention in the Syrian crisis. The Yakhont system has advanced radar guidance systems that would enable the missile to evade ship defenses. The United States argues that the missile system would force any potential naval operations further off Syria’s coasts.
First, by following through on the sale agreed to in 2007, Russia demonstrates its ongoing support for and commitment to the Syrian regime. The sale highlights Russia’s desire to prevent possible Western intervention. It also suggests that Russia would likely oppose efforts to secure approval for such intervention through the United Nations Security Council.
Second, the sale may also raise concerns on the part of Israel about the potential transfer of weapons from Syria to its Hezbollah allies in Syria. Israel has already warned Syria that such a transfer would cross red line that could prompt a new wave of Israeli airstrikes against Syrian forces.
What do you think? Could Russia’s weapon sales to Syria undermine potential resolution of the Syrian crisis? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Medellín, Colombia, City of the Year (Photo Credit: Camilo Sanchez/Wikimedia)
An annual competition by the Urban Land Institute, the Wall Street Journal, and CitiGroup yesterday named Medellín, Colombia, as the “City of the Year.” Selected from a list of 200 contenders, Medellín beat out a wide range of cities, including the other two finalists, Tel Aviv and New York, to claim the title. According to the Urban Land Institute,
Originally distinguished for its progress and potential, the winning city found new solutions to classic problems of mobility and environmental sustainability. Today, gondolas and a giant escalator shuttle citizens from steep mountainside homes to jobs and schools in the valley below. As a result, travel time for the majority of its citizens has been cut from more than 2 hours to just a few minutes. In this city, a modern underground metro system has eased pollution and crowding in the city’s main arteries above, and glistening new museums, cultural centers, libraries and schools enrich the community. Connections create innovation, and it is no wonder that our winning City of the Year has achieved great success in bringing its residents together to assure opportunities for all. That city is the traditional cultural capital of Colombia: Medellín.
The award is certainly a shot in the arm for a city that throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s was most well known as the most violent city in the world, scarred by an urban war that pitted drug cartels (the most well-known of which was the Medellín Cartel under Pablo Escobar, which controlled up to 80 percent of the global cocaine trade during the 1980s), and the police and military.
How did Medellín transition from the most violent city in the world to the world’s city of the year? Violence in the city gradually declined following the death of Escobar and the breakup of the Medellín Cartel in 1993. As the city became more stable, the local government was able to invest heavily in local infrastructure and development. As Medellín’s current mayor, Aníbal Gaviria noted upon receipt of the award,
Medellín stands today as an example for many cities around the world, because despite having lived very dark and difficult times 20 years ago, we have been undergoing a true metamorphosis. Going from pain and fear to hope, and now from hope to be a place filled with life, the city has known how to innovate in every step, both in social programs, urban developments, or the combination of both, and this has been key in the success of this process.
What do you think? Does Medellín deserve to be City of the Year? What lessons can we draw for countries and regions currently plagued by violence from Medellín’s success? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think?
Open Pit Mine Workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
A 2012 column by New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof drew national attention to the problem of conflict resources. We had long been familiar with blood diamonds—diamonds mined from conflict zones and sold to finance civil wars and militias—in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. Indeed, in response to popular outcry, the diamond industry in 2003 agreed to establish the Kimberley Process, which was intended to prevent conflict diamonds from entering global diamond markets, thereby depriving them of their value.
Although certainly far from perfect, the Kimberley Process illustrates the possibility of pressure by nongovernmental organizations in affecting the development of international regimes. In the case of the Kimberley Process, consumer groups and various human rights NGOs were able to convince diamond retailers that the value of their product would be negatively affected by its association with violence and civil war (hence term “blood diamond”). This led to the creation of a voluntary certification scheme instituted by diamond traders.
More recently, other conflict resources have garnered increased attention. Last year, Oxfam used the term “blood chocolate” to draw attention to human rights violations by cocoa producers in the Ivory Coast. And several groups have called used the term “blood phones” and “conflict minerals” to highlight the human rights violations and the sale of resources mined by militia groups to finance conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 5.4 million people have died as a result of war-related causes, including disease and malnutrition, since 1998.
Much like the agreement with the Kimberley Process, though, some progress is being made. The Enough Project on Thursday released a report congratulating several electronics manufacturers, including Intel, HP, Dell, Microsoft, and Apple, on progress made in their efforts to trace the source of metals used in their products, but noting that much work remained to be done.
This process would allow them to certify resources sourced from countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo as “conflict free.” The DR Congo is the world’s primary producer of tantalum, a key component in the production of microprocessors, and is also a major world supplier for tungsten, tin and other important mineral resources. And rules included in financial reform legislation passed by the US Congress in 2010 would require companies to disclose whether they source minerals from conflict zones. Interestingly, students have been at the heart of the movement to require certification of minerals sourced from conflict zones.
What do you think? Should companies be required to certify their goods are not produced from resources sourced from conflict zones? Would you be willing to pay more for cell phones and other consumer electronics that were certified conflict free? Should the market decide? Or should government regulation mandate conflict-free production?
4. A national referendum on a new constitution in Bolivia is currently underway. The constitution, promoted by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is widely expected to pass given Morales’ popularity. However, several groups are campaigning against the constitution, including the Christian groups and the country’s relatively wealthy. If passed, the new constitution would introduce “community justice,” provide for the election of judges, remove Catholicism as the official state religion, and cap landholdings at 5,000 hectares.
Hopes for peace in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were boosted on Friday. In a surprising shift in policy, the government of Rwanda arrested Laurent Nkunda, the leader of rebel forces in the North Kivu region. Nkunda’s forces, believed to be supported by the government of Rwanda, had been engaged in a guerrilla war against both the government of the DRC and Hutu militants who fled into the Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. According to the New York Times, the government of Rwanda had come under increasing pressure to move against Nkunda, who has been accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the war in the Congo. The government of the DRC has requested Nkunda be extradited to the Congo to face trial there, but the Rwandan government has not yet confirmed whether or not they will hand their former ally over to stand trial.
The extent to which this may represent a real shift in the Congo remains unclear. The government of the Congo is still fragile, and its ability to effectively govern is weak, particularly in the eastern Congo near the Rwandan border. The arrest of Nkunda nevertheless represents an important—and hopeful—development in the region. Perhaps the long period of instability in the Great Lakes region is finally drawing to a close.