Top Story — Colombia’s ELN, the country’s second-largest guerrilla group after the FARC, proclaimed its willingness to engage in peace talks with the government on Wednesday. The announcement follows President Juan Manuel Santos’ Monday statement that ongoing peace talks with the FARC are progressing favorably, and that the ELN should follow suit.
Wednesday’s announcement by the ELN was delivered via video link to rebels currently assembled in the jungle by the ELN’s founder and top commander, Nicolás Rodríguez, best known under the alias Gabino. It has been interpreted as a direct response to the president’s words on Monday, when he declared, “We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative of the unilateral ceasefire, as the FARC did, and also to come to an agreement as soon as possible about the points of the agenda that we’ve been discussing for some time.”
While the FARC has engaged in formal peace talks with the government over the last two years, the ELN has for months held only exploratory talks about the possibility of formal negotiations.
Speaking with regard to ongoing peace talks with the FARC, Santos praised the rebel group’s compliance with an open-ended, unilateral ceasefire that the group initiated on Dec. 20. The honoring of the ceasefire, according to the president, will allow for the acceleration of the peace talk process, and a possible bilateral ceasefire. Santos had previously rejected the idea of a bilateral ceasefire, citing the fact that the FARC used a ceasefire during peace talks from 1999 to 2002 to rearm and increase the size of its army.
Headlines from the Western Hemisphere
- Famed Mexican journalist Julio Scherer García, known for challenging government officials and exposing scandals, died on Wednesday at age 88.
- Mexican authorities are investigating 10 bodies and 11 heads discovered in clandestine graves in Guerrero state on Tuesday, with many of the bodies showing signs of torture.
- Despite a recent spate of attacks by criminals against crusading priests in Mexico, including the murder of a priest days before Christmas, members of the clergy have not sought federal protection.
- All 53 prisoners listed for release as part of resumed U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations are expected to be freed, a White House official said Wednesday, despite previous reports that the Cuban government was planning to hold several of the political prisoners.
- As a sign that it is fulfilling its promise to release the prisoners, the Cuban government reportedly released three imprisoned members of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba on Wednesday, according to a prominent Cuban dissident.
- The Washington Nationals’ improved baseball academy in the Dominican Republic symbolizes the progress the MLB team has made since a 2009 scandal, reports the Washington Post, with better conditions and training of players.
- The winner of the biggest lottery prize in Puerto Rico’s history had until Wednesday evening to claim their money — $32 million that will now go to the government.
- A prominent teenage HIV/AIDS activist has been released eight hours after her disappearance, reportedly at the hands of kidnappers who later freed her when her family assured them they had no money for a ransom.
- The Mexican Sinaloa Cartel’s top lieutenant in Central America, possibly the largest drug trafficker in the region, has likely been identified by a recent U.S. Treasury Department designation, according to Steven Dudley at InSight Crime.
- Following reports Tuesday of a french fry shortage at Venezuelan McDonald’s restaurants, the government and pro-administration media have launched an apparent PR blitz against the chain, accusing it variously of “economic warfare” and poor sanitation, among other offenses.
- Following outrage over a Greenpeace publicity stunt involving the Nazca lines, Peru’s government has announced it will prosecute the archaeologist who gave a Japanese film crew access to the site.
- Brazil’s health minister announced he will roll out new rules to curb the widespread practice of births by cesarean section, accounting for nearly eight in ten births involving private health care providers, a figure the minister called a “public health problem.”
- A leader in Paraguay’s Armed Peasants Group, a breakaway faction of the EPP guerrilla group, was killed Tuesday by military troops, a development InSight Crime notes may cripple the group as its predecessor the EPP continues to elude the authorities.
- Chilean authorities on Wednesday announced the arrest of four men they accuse of robbing more than $10 million from an armored car in August in the cargo area of Santiago’s international airport.
Image: ELN, screenshot