Peru’s Acting President, Named By Dissolved Congress, Resigns

PERU: For a short time yesterday Peru had two presidents, deepening the country’s ongoing political crisis. Congress continued to meet despite President Martín Vizcarra’s dissolution of the legislative body on Monday, dismissing Vizcarra and swearing in Mercedes Aráoz as acting president. Aráoz, Vizcarra’s vice president, resigned from both roles shortly after the Organization of American States said Peru’s constitutional court should decide whether the dissolution of congress was legal in the first place.

For now Vizcarra remains in charge, with the support of the armed forces. Peruvians largely support the move to dissolve a congress they perceive as corrupt, in part due to the Odebrecht scandal.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

PARAGUAY: Justice was served for Paraguay’s trans community yesterday, for the first time in the country’s history. Blas Enrique Amarilla was given a 25-year sentence for the murder of Romina Vargas. Vargas, a transgender woman, was stabbed to death by Amarilla in 2017. Amarilla recognized his crime at the end of the trial and asked his victim’s family for forgiveness. Sixty-one trans people have been killed in Paraguay since 1989. Vargas’ case was the first to be investigated and achieve a conviction.

BRAZIL: Police are investigating 57 auditors for alleged corruption at the hands of global meat-packing giant BRF. The “Operation Weak Flesh” investigation revealed that BRF supposedly paid $4.5 million in bribes to fast-track permits and avoid inspections of processing plants.

THE ANDES

COLOMBIA: The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) of Colombia identified 152 municipalities, or 14% of the country, as at risk of electoral fraud and violence, according to a report released yesterday. The number is lower than it was during the local elections in 2015, before the signing of the peace agreement with FARC rebels, when 204 municipalities were identified as at risk. On Oct. 27, Colombians will vote for governors, mayors and assembly members, despite the murder of seven candidates this election cycle.

THE CARIBBEAN

CUBA: Cuba’s parliament will hold a special election next Thursday, October 10, to elect its new president and vice president. The legislative body, known as the National Assembly of People’s Power, will also select the president and vice president of the Council of State, which is responsible for calling parliament to session and running the legislature in between sessions.

CUBA: Cuba is facing an invasion of the giant African snail. The gastropods, which can grow up to eight inches in length, have no predators in Cuba and are believed to cause disease and kill agriculture. The government has asked that people collect them and kill them (without making skin-to-shell contact). The raccoon-like creatures are known to eat everything from produce to trash. It is unclear how the snails were introduced to the local ecosystem.

CENTRAL AMERICA

EL SALVADOR: Salvadoran authorities announced Monday that they broke up a network of criminal law enforcement agents, who are accused of committing at least 20 contracted killings. Eleven suspects were charged with illicit association and aggravated homicide, related to killings and kidnappings in 2016-2017.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: General Motors halted production at a plant in Mexico yesterday, leaving 6,000 workers temporarily unemployed. The pause in production at the Silao plant in central Mexico resulted from a United Automobile Workers strike in the United States. The union is now in its 76th day of the strike. Last week, GM confirmed it temporarily laid off 450 workers after ceasing engine production at the Silao facility.

MEXICO: On Saturday, International Safe Abortion Day, Mexican activists protested for safe and legal abortions. Hundreds of people flooded the streets of Mexico City, many of them wearing green bandanas to symbolize the abortion rights movement in Latin America. The Mexican state of Oaxaca approved a bill to legalize abortion last Wednesday. The topic continues to be controversial in the largely Catholic country.

MEXICO: Migrants from Africa are stranded in Mexico after U.S. President Donald Trump pressured the country to hold migrants while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed. “We have been taken hostage. We want our freedom,” José Pelé Messa, one of the travelers stuck in Tapachula, told The Guardian.

GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to [email protected].
Subscribe to Today in Latin America by Email

Live From Latino USA: Flor De Toloache

Flor de Toloache is an all-women’s Latin Grammy award-winning mariachi band. They’ve captivated audiences with their voices, elaborate instrumentation and fresh take on the classic genre. Late this summer, members of the band stopped by Latino USA’s office for a live session where they performed “Quisiera” and “Hay Tiempos.”

The two singles are part of their latest bilingual album Indestructible, which was just nominated for this year’s Latin Grammys. The projects features singers like John Legend, Alex Cuba and Miguel, and reimagines popular rock and pop songs.

The band recently announced the first U.S.-based dates of their world tour. A new “How I Made It” segment with the band will be also available soon.

Peru’s President Vizcarra Dissolves Congress After Controversial Vote

PERU: President Martín Vizcarra dissolved Peru’s opposition-led Congress last night after lawmakers pushed through a controversial vote. Members of Congress then moved to suspend Vizcarra, though it’s unclear if their actions have any meaning now. Earlier that day, lawmakers elected Gonzalo Ortiz de Zevallos to the Constitutional Tribunal, which Vizcarra opposed, prompting him to order the dissolution. Ortiz de Zevallos is related to the president of Congress and has no judicial experience.

Vizcarra’s move is part of his anti-corruption agenda, which has pitted him against the majority of lawmakers, who are led by Keiko Fujimori, a jailed former presidential candidate and the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori. Though the dissolution of Congress casts a shadow of uncertainty on the country’s politics and leadership, Peruvians are likely to support Vizcarra’s decision as Peru grapples with fallout from the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: At the gates of Brasilia’s presidential palace yesterday, President Jair Bolsonaro encouraged teenage students to read a book by infamous torturer Brilhante Ustra. Ustra has been accused of directing interrogations, tortures and kidnappings during Brazil’s dictatorship. Bolsonaro has previously praised the dictatorship and Ustra, speaking in support of the 1964-1985 military regime and referencing the author during his speeches to congress in 2016.

URUGUAY: Senior government officials met with customs agents and exporters to determine what is making the smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America an international drug trafficking hub. According to Attorney General Jorge Díaz, “certain controls have been weakened or are not at the level they should be.” Uruguay’s controls focus on imports rather than exports, since exports represent 12.6% of the country’s gross domestic product and are crucial to the economy. As a result, less than 3% of containers leaving the port of Montevideo are inspected.

THE ANDES

BOLIVIA: Approximately 200 Bolivians from an Indigenous group in the Chiquitanía region protested yesterday to urge President Evo Morales to take action on fires that have destroyed 2.9 million hectares in the region. Morales has yet to declare the fires a national emergency and has been criticized for passing a decree in July that allows farmers to perform “controlled burning” so they can plant more. The fires have shifted the historical support the president has enjoyed from Indigenous groups.

CENTRAL AMERICA

PANAMA: Panama’s decision whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage is stuck in the country’s Supreme Court. The firm Morgan & Morgan filed a lawsuit in 2016 claiming that Article 26 of the Family Code is unconstitutional because it stipulates that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” Magistrate Luis Ramón Fábrega has since written two decisions, while other attorneys suggest a national referendum to let the people decide.

THE CARIBBEAN

REGION: Latin America and the Caribbean are close to eradicating rabies deaths in the region, according to an announcement that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) made in Brazil over the weekend. Reporting by Caribbean360 shows only five cases of the disease were reported last year in the region, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic are the only countries where rabies-related deaths occurred. PAHO has been working on eliminating rabies in the region since 1982 and aims to eradicate it by 2022.

JAMAICA: Yesterday, the Jamaican Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries announced a new partnership with Harvard University’s International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute to work on initiatives to strengthen Jamaica’s role in the cannabis industry. Representatives from Harvard will tour the island’s key facilities through Wednesday as part of the agreement.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Topo Chico Prison, one of Mexico’s oldest and most notorious prisons, has officially been shut down. In 2016, Topo Chico Prison was the site of a violent prison riot that left 49 inmates dead. At the time, there were only 100 guards for an inmate population of 3,800 people. Current Nuevo León Gov. Jaime Rodríguez stated that previous administrations knew the prison was overpopulated and out of control, yet failed to act. Rodríguez said that in the prison’s place the government will construct a park and state archives.

MEXICO: In Guanajuato, police officers are leaving the state police force to join higher paying municipal forces. Gov. Diego Sinhue Rodríguez Vallejo had aimed to reach a state police force of over 14,000, but he says the goal is unattainable with police changing forces. However, he has also said he believes security is built from the local level and is content with police joining municipal forces instead. Salaries for new recruits in Irapuato, Guanajauato, León, Pénjamo and San Miguel de Allende are around $910 a month. In places like Celaya, where extortion for business owners is a serious problem, the salaries are only $660.

UNITED STATES: A federal judge has rejected a bid made by Pedro Flores, a key witness in the case against Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, for a lesser prison sentence. Court filings released yesterday reveal that Flores asked for a reduction to his 14-year sentence in July. He claimed that he was risking his life by testifying against El Chapo last year. Flores claims that in his testimonies in New York against El Chapo, he went beyond the cooperation agreement made by prosecutors. However, the federal judge said he made considerations for Flores’ assistance, reducing Flores’s sentence to 14 years from life.

GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to [email protected].
Subscribe to Today in Latin America by Email

Portrait Of: Isabel Allende

Author Isabel Allende began her writing career as a journalist in Chile. Born in Peru, Allende grew up in Chile until 1973, when her uncle, former Chilean President Salvador Allende, was overthrown in a coup and died. She fled the country along with her family, and lived many years in Venezuela as a political refugee. That’s where she wrote her break-out novel, “La Casa de Los Espíritus” or “The House of the Spirits.” Over her long career, Allende would go on to write 22 more novels, often infused with her specific blend of magical realism and myth.

Now, she is one of the most influential authors of our time. She has sold over 73 million copies of her novels and was the first-ever Spanish Language writer to receive an honorary National Book Award, which is one of American Literature’s most prestigious honors. Former President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

In this “Portrait Of” segment, Latino USA sits down with Isabel Allende to talk about her journey to becoming a renowned author and why she has recently been writing about immigrant and refugee experiences across the globe.

Featured photo by Lori Barra.

US Citizenship Applications Are Backlogged, Prolonging The Wait For Civil And Voting Rights

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA

By Ming Hsu Chen, University of Colorado Boulder

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people apply for citizenship in the United States, and America celebrates them with pageantry at citizenship ceremonies across the country. There’s even an annual Citizenship Day in mid-September.

But, as a researcher who studies citizenship, I think that Americans should know that there are also long bureaucratic delays that keep people from becoming citizens.

In a study published on September 12, the Colorado Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, of which I am a member, found the backlog in naturalization applications has ballooned and wait times have doubled in the last three years.

Path To Citizenship

Before someone can become a citizen, the person must spend at least a decade legally inside the U.S. After obtaining a visa to enter the U.S., the person will spend five years or more waiting to become eligible for a green card that establishes legal permanent residence. Then there is another five-year wait to become eligible for naturalized citizenship.

The next steps in the application process take time: a 20-page form called the N-400, a US$725 filing fee, a biometric screening to authenticate identity and an interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. civics and proficiency in English, plus possible requests for more evidence.

Federal law considers 180 days a reasonable time for the agency to process applications. Agency guidelines further define a backlog as “the number of applications that exceed acceptable or target pending levels,” a definition that has been interpreted by Congress to mean six months.

Our new report shows that, as of September 17, there is a national backlog of more than 700,000 applications. Wait times across the agency field offices ranged from an average of 10 to 18 months, which is in excess of the six months as required by statute.

The report relied on government data on patterns of naturalization backlogs and public testimony from numerous experts about the consequences of the recent backlog. It was supplemented by independent research into the causes of the backlog and remedies that have helped to reduce backlogs in the past, as well as analysis specific to Colorado.

The precise wait time and pending caseload varies across regional field offices. Noncitizens in the military have not only longer wait times, but higher denial rates. Applications flagged for national security sometimes never emerge from the queue. Immigrants and their attorneys often have scant information about what is happening with their application while they wait.

Getting Back On Track

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service says that interest in naturalizing is high, and it is processing applications as quickly as it can. It feels that to adjudicate cases more quickly would compromise accuracy.

An agency spokeswoman, Jessica Collins, told the Denver Post that the agency “continues to adjudicate the naturalization that skyrocketed under the Obama administration” and that the agency plans to add new offices and increase staff.

I do not doubt the agency is working hard, and there are some signs that its numbers are improving with new hiring. But in places like Colorado, the backlog persists despite the number of applications received returning to pre-election levels. The approaching election cycle means interest in naturalizing will rise again.

Also, I think that there’s another factor at play. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is now vetting individual applications more intensely than it did in previous years.

For example, it is now issuing more requests for evidence. It has added additional requirements, such as interviews for employer-sponsored immigrants and relatives of refugees living inside the U.S. or original signatures from high-level officers for noncitizens in the military. It reviews prior determinations more stringently than in the past.

The negative effects carry over to delays in other types of immigration petitions, too. Applications for DACA, Temporary Protected Status and asylum are all processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, for example.

Harm To Rights

The substantial delay to naturalization created by the backlog harms voting rights and civil rights.

The impediment on voting rights is straightforward: The right to vote depends on becoming a citizen. Based on the current wait times, those who apply now will not be processed in time to participate in the 2020 elections in many parts of the country.

Keeping people who are eligible for citizenship from participation in choosing their president and voting on high-stakes policies is a problem. This is true no matter how the participation of newly naturalized voters affects elections, because voting is an individual right.

In addition, immigrants’ eligibility for employment and public benefits hinges on citizenship. Workers need citizenship for federal jobs, and university researchers need citizenship to apply for federal grants. Students need citizenship for federal financial aid. Health insurance, welfare and other public benefits vary for citizens versus noncitizens as well.

Ultimately, naturalization is about more than material rights and benefits. In my forthcoming book, “Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era,” I find that immigrants in varying legal statuses feel insecure about their position in society. Even white high-tech workers from Canada, typically a subset of green card holders who feel secure in their belonging, feel worried about lacking citizenship in volatile times.

Government backlogs are not new, and they have been eliminated before. In 2006, Congress addressed a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service backlog by requiring regular reports and performance plans and by providing funding specifically for backlog elimination. It reset the clock.

However, so far, Congress has held only one hearing on the current backlog and has not taken any follow-up action. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service may be hamstrung by certain White House policies, but there is some evidence that it is choosing to divert funds to fraud detection and other enforcement operations, rather than staying focused on processing the backlog of naturalization applications.

In my view, it will take a combination of political accountability, administrative commitment and legal action to push the agency to get back on track or ideally ahead of the next election cycle.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US Judge Blocks Child Detention Policy

UNITED STATES: On Friday, a judge blocked new Trump administration policies that allow children to be held indefinitely in immigration detention if they are with their parents. U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles determined that the administration’s rules violate the 1997 Flores Agreement, which stipulates that the government must maintain minimum standards for children in detention and release them within 20 days in most cases. “The agreement has been necessary, relevant, and critical to the public interest in maintaining standards for the detention and release of minors,” Gee wrote in her decision.

The Trump administration has sought to undermine this precedent, arguing that it has incentivized families to cross the border and is the product of “activist judges.” In a statement issued after the ruling, the White House said, “The Flores 20-day Loophole violates Congressional removal and detention mandates, creating a new system out of judicial whole cloth.” Gee’s ruling argued that Congress, not the executive branch, would have to strike down the Flores agreement. It will most likely be appealed.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: Former Chief Public Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot, who led corruption investigations against three of Brazil’s former presidents, has been barred from coming within 200 meters of Brazilian judges or entering any tribunal building. The restraining order was issued against Janot after the prosecutor admitted to entering the federal Supreme Court building with a gun in 2017. Janot explained in an interview with O Estado de São Paulo that he planned to murder a judge who had spread a false allegation about his daughter.

THE ANDES

COLOMBIA: President Iván Duque announced on Friday that national police killed the leader and founder of the crime gang Los Pelusos, Luis Antonio Quintero. Quintero, more commonly known as Pacora, led 440 members of Los Pelusos and was wanted on charges of terrorism and murder. The Colombian government captured a second leader of Los Pelusos during the operation, but has not released details on his identity.

PERU: On Friday, President Martín Vizcarra said he supports a vote of confidence in his administration. If the Peruvian congress refuses to hold such a vote, Vizcarra would be allowed to dissolve the opposition-controlled body and hold new elections. This news comes amid strong disagreements between the president and current legislators over anti-corruption policies.

CENTRAL AMERICA

NICARAGUA: After 39 years, Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario newspaper announced Friday that it will stop its print edition “due to economic, technical and logistical difficulties that make it impossible to function.” The closure will leave 100 journalists and other staff out of work and also affects its free publication, Metro. In recent years, the publication has been critical of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s administration, particularly its crackdown on protests and withholding of resources from publications.

THE CARIBBEAN

HAITI: Thousands of protesters have again taken to the streets to demand Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s resignation. A presidential address appealing for calm on Wednesday has failed to end the violence. Four people have died in recent days. During the last week a police station was looted and shops and banks were attacked in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Shortages of oil, power and food and allegations of corruption linked to the president have fuelled the unrest.

PUERTO RICO: The Financial Oversight & Management Board for Puerto Rico filed a plan Friday that intends to reduce the island’s debt by more than 60 percent. The plan would reduce $35 billion in liabilities to $12 billion and involves the largest debt modification in the history of the United States municipal market. The document comes three years after U.S. Congress created the board and, if approved, establishes the new terms for the repayment of the obligations of a bankrupt entity, in this case, the Puerto Rican government. Gov. Wanda Vázquez endorsed the board’s plan and said the process could protect essential services.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Mexican officials announced on Saturday that they have arrested two members of a migrant smuggling ring based out of Mexico City that was earning $40,000 per week. According to the press release, the criminal network received approximately 25 people a week, mostly from Ecuador, Peru and India, and guided them north to the U.S.-Mexico border. After arriving at the Cancún or Mexico City airports, the migrants would travel by bus to the northern border city of Mexicali. Each migrant paid between $1,500 and $2,500 to enter the country and reach the border. While Mexico has long been a country of transit for Central Americans, in recent years there has been an increase in people from South America, Africa and Asia crossing the territory.

GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to [email protected].
Subscribe to Today in Latin America by Email

Brazil Investigates Over 100 Oil Spills In Northeast

BRAZIL: Yesterday, Brazil’s Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources announced that it has identified 105 oil spills off the coast, with no source yet determined. Oil slicks have begun to appear near coastal Brazilian cities, and at least 46 cities have been affected by the spills along with popular beach destinations including Jericoacoara. The environmental institute along with state oil company Petrobras and the fire department in Brasilia are investigating the source of the spills.

In a securities filing Wednesday, Petrobras said it had tested oil from each spill and has found that the oil does not match that produced in Brazil. Around 100 Petrobras employees are assisting in clean-up of the beaches in the northeast region.

HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE

SOUTHERN CONE

ARGENTINA: The International Monetary Fund will not confirm the timing of Argentina’s next loan disbursement. Argentina was due to receive $5.4 billion of the country’s $57 billion IMF loan in mid-September. However, at a press conference yesterday, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said he could not share specific timing information when reporters asked whether the IMF would wait to disburse the loan until the winner of Argentina’s October elections takes office.

THE ANDES

VENEZUELA: The Trump administration has barred top officials from President Nicolás Maduro’s government from entering the United States. On Wednesday, Trump ordered a travel suspension against those “responsible for policies or actions that threaten Venezuela’s democratic institutions.” The travel ban comes as the United States has sanctioned many of the same high-ranking officials in the Maduro regime.

CENTRAL AMERICA

EL SALVADOR: Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele began a speech to the United Nations’s General Assembly yesterday by taking a selfie. Bukele explained that the photo was a test: “Believe me, many more people will see that selfie, once I share it, than will hear this speech.” Bukele proceeded to urge the United Nations to adopt new technology and adapt to changing trends, like using video conferencing instead of hosting in-person assemblies.

COSTA RICA: Costa Rica is on track to generate over 99 percent of its energy from renewable resources this year. The country’s government reports that the state has produced 98.84 percent of its energy from renewable resources so far this year, and expects to increase that number to over 99 percent by the end of the year. If it does so, Costa Rica will have run on over 98 percent clean energy for the fifth year in a row. This year, the majority of Costa Rica’s energy has come from hydropower, with smaller amounts from wind, geothermal, biomass and solar sources.

THE CARIBBEAN

PUERTO RICO: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved $950 million to harden, improve and expand broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands yesterday. Of that $950 million, $750 million will go towards fixed broadband and mobile data in Puerto Rico, while $184 will go to the Virgin Islands. The FCC expects that the investment will improve high-speed Internet access across the region.

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: The State Legislature of Oaxaca voted on Wednesday to decriminalize abortion in the state up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Legislator and president of the Commission of Justice Pursuit and Administration Elisa Zepeda Laguna emphasized the legislation’s importance to “hinder violence against women” in the state where abortion is the third leading cause of maternal death.

MEXICO: The government is offering a reward of $1.5 million pesos to anyone who has factual and reliable information about the 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero, who went missing five years ago. It would offer an additional $10 million pesos to anyone with information that could help track down Alejandro Tenescalco, a suspect in the case. “In the case of Ayotzinapa, the only truth is that until now there is no truth,” Undersecretary of Human Rights Alejandro Encinas said yesterday.

UNITED STATES: Yesterday, the Trump administration issued a travel ban against former Cuban president Raúl Castro and his four children. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the ban is in response to “human rights abuses” and the head of the Communist Party of Cuba’s support of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

GOT NEWS? Send the editors tips, articles and other items for inclusion in Today in Latin America to [email protected].
Subscribe to Today in Latin America by Email

Lou Diamond Phillips Reflects On ‘La Bamba’ 30 Years Later

It’s been over three decades since actor Lou Diamond Phillips portrayed Chicano rock ‘n’ roll legend Ritchie Valens on the silver screen.

Little did he know, his role in the 1987 film, “La Bamba,” would catapult him into the limelight and into the hearts of the Mexican American community around the country. A year after “La Bamba,” he starred in another prominent Chicano film from the late 80s, “Stand and Deliver.” Since then, Phillips —who is the son of a white American father and a Filipina mother— has portrayed Latino and indigenous characters in film and television shows.

“It’s always been important to me to do that with respect and to do that with intelligence,” said Phillips. “Now you take these roles, stereotypical roles, and you do something that is respectful and that brings pride…just not play the surface.”

In this conversation, Lou Diamond Phillips shares how his upbringing molded his experiences as an actor and how he continues to play an array of roles with an open mind and willingness to learn.

Featured photo by Manfred Bauman.

Amid Call To Rearm, Ex-FARC Combatants Hesitate To Give Up On Peace

This article was originally published in Latin America News Dispatch. View the original story here.

By Christina Noriega

ICONONZO, Colombia — Like millions of other Colombians, Gonzalo Beltrán woke up on August 27 to the news that a group of former commanders of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was resuming their armed struggle against the state. Two years after disarming and moving into a rural camp in the central Tólima province where he transitioned to civilian life, Beltrán, a 43-year-old ex-combatant, found himself fielding questions about his commitment to the peace deal.

Many wondered whether the 11,000 former rebels would heed the senior leaders’ call to arms and return to combat. But in Antonio Nariño, one of the 24 reintegration camps spread across the country where Beltrán lives, life carried on as usual that Thursday morning. When journalists called to ask him what this decision meant for him and thousands of other ex-combatants, Beltrán said he would remain on the side of peace.

“We continue in the struggle, we continue to work,” he said he told reporters.

Approximately 1,800 ex-combatants had already rearmed since the government and the FARC signed a peace deal in 2016, but the news that former top commanders would launch a new guerrilla insurgency represented a significant blow to the peace process. Among the leaders who called for rearmament was Iván Márquez, FARC’s second-in-command and a key peace negotiator. The announcement leaves former FARC members in a tough spot. Should they rearm and risk escalating the conflict or stay the course with a failing peace deal? Beltrán, who helps manage a clothing-manufacturing project in Antonio Nariño, said most people in the camp are still committed to peace.

“I can only speak for the members of the cooperative, who are the people that I’ve spoken to, but I see everyone very motivated, very committed,” Beltrán said. “We haven’t said that because of the announcement our clothing-manufacturing project is over. On the contrary, we’re working to see how we can make our project a success.”

In the reintegration camp of Antonio Nariño, ex-combatants left the Eastern Bloc of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to transition to civilian life with their families. Some 300 people currently live there. (Photo by Christina Noriega)

The former FARC commanders announced their call to arms in a 32-minute video. The men, dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles, blamed their decision on President Iván Duque’s failure to properly implement the peace deal and to prevent a wave of violence that has cost the lives of at least 137 ex-combatants and 738 social leaders. But the announcement was not met with immediate support. Rodrigo Londoño, head of the FARC political party, rejected his former comrades’ decision and reminded the country that this group represented only a tiny sliver of the 13,000 ex-combatants. The majority —about 90%, according to a government poll published earlier this year— remained committed to peace.

“We’re here and we will continue to be here, defending the peace accord and fighting peacefully, with an increasingly large sector of compatriots, for its comprehensive implementation,” Londoño told Semana magazine.

Ariel Ávila, deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, said that the rearmament didn’t mean the end of the peace deal nor signal that the rest of the demobilized guerrilla would abandon the peace process. That approximately 1,800 out of 13,000 ex-combatants rearmed is relatively normal for a peace process, but he warned that Márquez’s announcement could lure ex-combatants to join his group. The new group led by Márquez could expand by drawing manpower from 16 of the 23 dissident FARC groups that already exist and potentially sway other ex-combatants to abandon the peace process. This is more likely to happen in volatile areas where illegal armed groups have moved following the demobilization of the FARC, Avila said.

Threats of violence against ex-combatants could provoke some to flee for the jungles and rearm. But there are other factors that could make ex-combatants lose faith in the peace process and rearm. The government has been slow to implement important aspects of the reintegration process, including effective security measures for ex-combatants. Former rebels also need government support for economic projects and guarantees for legal security to successfully transition into civilian life.

“If ex-combatants are being killed, they’re in jail, they don’t have economic projects, an announcement like that of Iván Márquez causes people to think, ‘As a lawful citizen, I don’t have anything, so I prefer to rearm,’” Ávila said, adding that progress on this issue depends on how the government decides to move forward.

Ex-combatants rent lands next to the reintegration camp to grow crops, such as peas and beans. (Photo by Christina Noriega)

In response to Márquez’s announcement, Duque offered a 3-billion-peso reward (approximately $888,000) for information on any of the rebels who appeared in the video and ordered the creation of a special unit for their search and capture. He also affirmed his administration’s commitment to the reintegration of ex-combatants.

But Beltrán, who is struggling to keep afloat his clothing-manufacturing cooperative, insisted that the government is failing to fulfill its pledge to support their reintegration. Instead of designating billions of pesos to capture those who already left the peace process, he suggested that these public resources be spent to buy lands for ex-combatants and to help fund their business projects that would afford them economic stability.

At the reintegration camp, about 300 ex-combatants and their families strive to make a better life for themselves. Most families have recently decided to have children now that they’re not at war, including Beltrán, whose partner is six months pregnant with their first child. Ex-combatants have also founded a craft brewery, launched a clothing line, rented lands to farm crops and opened local businesses, such as a hotel and a restaurant. But public underfunding for ex-combatants has made it difficult for them to improve their living conditions. The government has financed around 30 economic projects that serve approximately 2,000 people. Other ex-combatants, such as those who live in Antonio Nariño, have had to pool resources from their monthly stipends to jumpstart their projects.

There are also issues with public utilities and infrastructure at Antonio Nariño. A gas generator powers the camp of 300, but it’s not enough to keep electricity running at all times. This presents a problem for those at the clothing cooperative who wish to use heavy machinery to expand their production. Meanwhile, water is scant, particularly as the dry season settles in, and the sewage system is in desperate need of repair.

Most importantly, even while living in this region of relative tranquility, some ex-combatants fear that the violence that haunts residents of other reintegration camps could rear its head in Antonio Nariño. Beltrán said that he’s often afraid of leaving the camp, located 40 minutes along a winding dirt road from the nearest town of Icononzo.

“It’s sad that if I went to town and an armed person forced me to get out of the car, as has happened in other camps, I wouldn’t be able to defend myself,” Beltrán said. “It’s worrying that the government hasn’t done enough to protect ex-combatants.”

Ex-combatants pooled money from their monthly stipends to purchase equipment to start a clothing-manufacturing business at the reintegration camp. (Photo by Christina Noriega)

What the government can do to prevent more ex-combatants from leaving the peace process is to guarantee a successful reintegration process, Ávila said. For the analyst, this means financing and buying lands for economic projects that benefit another 9,000 ex-combatants, resolving the legal situation of some 200 ex-combatants who remain in jail, securing their political participation and implementing protection measures, especially in five key regions where the assassinations are concentrated.

It’s too early to tell whether the Duque administration will take the opportunity to double down on the implementation of the peace deal, but Carlos Alberto, an ex-combatant who lives in the Antonio Nariño camp, suggested that the rearmament could have the unexpected effect of pressuring the government to take action, given that it provoked a wave of public support for the peace deal.

“A lot of people have come out to support the peace deal, to say that we need to mobilize and that they acknowledge that the government hasn’t followed through with its promises to ex-combatants and that most of the accord has yet to be implemented,” Alberto said.

From his tin-roofed home where he lives with his partner and 4-year-old daughter, Alberto, who is a coordinator for the FARC political party, expressed his doubts that many ex-combatants will rearm. Instead, he believes the new guerrilla group will draw force from new recruits beleaguered by violence and inequality in remote regions, the same conditions that caused the FARC rebel group to arm in the first place. Those who know war and have started a new life have too much to lose, he said.

“A lot of people here have passed days without eating, months eating roots, drinking water from plants. They’ve sacrificed a lot more than you can imagine,” he said. “Today, they have a different life. It may not be the most luxurious nor the grand life that others hope for, but it’s peaceful. Many say they won’t leave this behind to go back to war.”