Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tricky negotiations in the wake of the Cuba thaw

Tricky negotiations in the wake of the Cuba thaw
By Editorial Board July 26

AS THE Obama administration has pursued normalization with Cuba, it has
been drawn into lower-profile but thorny dialogues with two of Havana's
long-standing clients: the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro and
Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). The diplomacy has
reinforced President Obama's doctrine of engagement with U.S.
adversaries; the Maduro government has repeatedly claimed that the
United States is plotting its overthrow, while the FARC has been
designated a terrorist organization by the State Department. As in the
case of Cuba, however, the results of the dialogues so far have been meager.

In both instances, U.S. officials say, the initiative did not originate
in Washington. Mr. Maduro, facing an economic catastrophe, reached out
to what he usually calls "the imperium," while Colombian President Juan
Manuel Santos, a close U.S. ally, asked that an American envoy join his
government's ongoing peace talks with the FARC. The administration
responded by naming a veteran former diplomat, Bernard Aronson, to
attend the Colombian negotiations, which are held being in Havana. Mr.
Aronson and a senior State Department counselor, Thomas Shannon,
separately visited Caracas to meet Mr. Maduro. Last month, Mr. Shannon
went a step further, sitting down with Venezuela's national assembly
president, Diosdado Cabello, even though he is the target of a U.S.
criminal investigation into drug trafficking by senior Venezuelan officials.

Such contacts can be useful, if they do not lead to one-sided and
unwarranted U.S. concessions — the result, in our view, of the
administration's diplomacy with Cuba. The administration's aims with
respect to the FARC and the Maduro regime are the right ones: to push
the militants in Colombia to accept the steps needed to complete a peace
deal that has been under negotiation for two-and-a-half years, and to
induce Caracas to release political prisoners and hold fair elections to
its national assembly later this year.

After Mr. Shannon's meeting with Mr. Cabello, the Maduro government
announced a date for elections and released a couple of prisoners —
enough for jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López to end a hunger
strike that had endangered his life. But the regime still holds Mr.
López and scores of other prisoners and has not accepted the
international monitoring needed to ensure a fair vote. It appears to
hope its half-measures will induce Mr. Obama to name a new ambassador to
Venezuela and lift sanctions recently imposed on senior officials.

Mr. Santos's negotiations with the FARC, meanwhile, have gone backward.
The insurgents broke a unilateral cease-fire in April and have since
carried out a host of attacks that have infuriated Colombians; 9 out of
10 say in polls that FARC leaders should be tried for their crimes. This
month it announced a new cease-fire, Yet, rather than agree on a plan
for transitional justice, the main sticking point in the talks, the FARC
is demanding that the United States release a top leader serving a
sentence in a U.S. prison. Mr. Obama's agreement to free Cuban spies
held in the United States probably encouraged that bid.

Therein lies the problem: With one eye on Havana, the FARC and the
Maduro regime appear to regard the Obama administration as a potential
source of easy favors. Unless they are disabused, U.S. diplomacy is
unlikely to do much good.

Source: Tricky negotiations in the wake of the Cuba thaw - The
Washington Post -

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