Trump asks Colombia’s help to end Venezuela political crisis

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he intends to work closely with his Colombian counterpart to find a solution to spiraling violence in Venezuela.

Sitting side by side with President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office, Trump said he will seek Colombia’s help in pressuring neighboring Venezuela to address the near-daily protests and violence that have shaken President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power.

At least 40 people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests that erupted after Venezuela’s supreme court issued a ruling in late March stripping the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its last remaining powers. The ruling was later partially reversed amid a storm of international criticism.

The meeting came as the Trump administration rolled out new sanctions Thursday on members of Venezuela’s supreme court for alleged human rights violations.

“A stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of the entire hemisphere,” Trump said at a joint news conference. “We will be working with Colombia and other countries on the Venezuela problem. It is a very, very horrible problem.”

Driving the latest outrage is a decree by Maduro to begin the process of rewriting Venezuela’s constitution. The opposition rejects that plan as another attempt by the president to tighten his grip on power, and opposition leaders are calling on Venezuelans to continue to take to the streets in protest.

Santos is the third Latin American leader to meet with Trump since he took office, after the leaders of Peru and Argentina. The president’s bullish policies toward illegal immigration and his proposed border wall with Mexico have incensed many across Latin America who say they are being unfairly targeted. The dispute led Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto to cancel his trip to Washington weeks after Trump took office.

Santos has been among the critics of Trump’s proposed wall, though he avoided outwardly criticizing the plan during their joint remarks.

Trump defended his proposed border wall Thursday, saying, “Walls work, just ask Israel.”

Santos is looking for Trump’s support on a number of domestic issues. His government signed a peace accord last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, ending one of the world’s bloodiest and longest-running armed conflicts. The rebel group agreed to turn over 30 percent of its arsenal of assault rifles, machine guns and explosives.


The Trump administration is also looking to work with Colombia to stem the flow of drugs into the U.S. from Latin America. “We have a problem with drugs, and you have a very big problem with drugs,” Trump said to Santos at the start of their meeting.

Santos said he is committed to working with the United States and other countries in Latin America “to fight the other links in the chain,” saying they will join forces to “seize cocaine in transit.”

Santos is a graduate of the University of Kansas and holds a master’s degree from Harvard University.


Colombia mudslides kill 206, sweep away homes

MOCOA, Colombia (AFP) — Mudslides killed at least 206 people and left hundreds injured or missing after destroying homes in southern Colombia, officials said Saturday.

They were the latest victims of floods that have struck the Pacific side of South America over recent months, also killing scores of people in Peru and Ecuador.

In the southwestern Colombian town of Mocoa, the surge swept away houses, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber and brown mud, army images from the area showed.

The mudslides struck late Friday after days of torrential rain in the Amazon basin area town of 40,000.

“The latest information we have is that there are 206 people confirmed dead, 202 injured, 220 missing, 17 neighborhoods hit hard,” Colombian Red Cross chief Cesar Uruena told AFP.

President Juan Manuel Santos visited Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo department, on Saturday to supervise rescue efforts in the heavily forested region.

He declared a public health and safety emergency to speed up rescue and aid operations. He also expressed his condolences to victims’ families.

Nation in mourning

Putumayo Governor Sorrel Aroca called the development “an unprecedented tragedy” for the area.

There are “hundreds of families we have not yet found and whole neighborhoods have disappeared,” he told W Radio.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, told AFP the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and tributaries.

The rivers flooded causing a “big avalanche,” the army said in a statement.

Some 130 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell Friday night, Santos said. “That means 30 percent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers,” he said.

He promised earlier on Twitter to “guarantee assistance to the victims of this tragedy, which has Colombians in mourning.”

“Our prayers are with the victims and those affected,” he added.

Rescue efforts

The authorities activated a crisis group including local officials, military personnel, police and rescuers to search for missing people and begin removing mountains of debris, Marquez said.

A thousand emergency personnel were helping the rescue effort. Mocoa was left without power or running water; there were reports of some looting in efforts to get water.

“There are lots of people in the streets, lots of people displaced and many houses have collapsed,” retired Mocoa resident Hernando Rodriguez, 69, said by telephone.

“People do not know what to do… there were no preparations” for such a disaster, he said.

“We are just starting to realize what has hit us.”

Several deadly landslides have struck Colombia in recent months.

A landslide in November killed nine people in the rural southwestern town of El Tambo, officials said at the time.

A landslide the month before killed 10 people in the north of the country.

Climate change can play a big role in the scale of natural disasters, such as this one, a senior UN official said.

“Climate change is generating dynamics and we see the tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects, as we have just seen in Mocoa,” said Martin Santiago, UN chief for Colombia.

Colombia’s Congress Approves Peace Accord With FARC

Colombia’s Congress approved a revised peace accord with the country’s largest rebel group on Wednesday night, a vote that was most likely the final hurdle in ratifying the troubled agreement whose earlier version had been rejected in a referendum this fall.

By pushing the new deal through Congress, the government bypassed voters this time, who had turned down the accord by a narrow margin on Oct. 2.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives, controlled by President Juan Manuel Santos’s governing coalition, voted overwhelmingly for the agreement. But congressional opponents of the deal had walked out of the chamber in protest before the vote took place.

On Twitter, Mr. Santos expressed “gratitude to Congress for approving the new accords.” His chief rival and predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, in an earlier Twitter post, said the congressional action was an attempt to replace a popular mandate.

Mr. Santos’s opponents in the Congress were furious the new accord had been pushed through with what they said was too little time to either comment or review the changes. The president, who has staked his legacy on ending the long conflict with the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, consulted his opponents shortly after the referendum was defeated, but he has largely kept them in the dark since, they said.

The Congress’s vote brings to a close what had become one of the country’s biggest political dramas in decades.

After years of tense talks in Havana, rebel and government negotiators announced in August they had reached a deal to end a half century of war which left more than 200,000 people dead. The next month, the rebels arrived to the port city of Cartagena, where a celebratory signing was held before world leaders and televised to the nation.

Though most voters supported peace with the rebels, many, noting the FARC’s long history of kidnappings and killings, felt the deal offered too much leniency, including reduced sentences in exchange for confessions. Yet Mr. Santos also faced a challenge in renegotiating new terms with the rebels, who had been promised new lives as civilians and a clean slate.

Analysts say the new deal took some steps to address some of the objections.

The agreement now offers some clarity over what to expect as rebels accused of various offenses, including war crimes and drug trafficking, go before a special court. That was one of the opposition’s demands, but the new accord still does not allow for prison sentences for those who confessed to war crimes, which the government said would have caused FARC to leave the negotiating table.

The agreement also guarantees former rebels representation in Congress, but it bans them from running in newly created districts in former conflict zones.

Mr. Santos’s office said the president would give a speech on Thursday outlining the next steps to demobilize the FARC now that the agreement had been ratified.

The two sides have said in coming weeks the rebels will leave their camps, relocating to a set number of sites throughout the country. From there, the groups will disarm under the watch of United Nations inspectors and then begin a new life as civilians.

Plane Carrying Brazil’s Chapecoense Soccer Team Crashes in Colombia (VERY VERY GOOD!!!)

The fairy tale season of the professional Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense ended in tragedy when their plane crashed in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 people aboard.

As Colombian investigators tried Tuesday to pin down the cause and retrieve the bodies, Brazilian President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning and his countrymen braced for a series of wrenching funerals.

Image: The plane which crashed near Medellin, Colombia
The plane operated by LaMia which crashed on approach to Medellin, Colombia, on Monday night. MATT VARLEY / Reuters, file

Meanwhile, in a show of sportsmanship, the Colombian club Atlético Nacional that the Brazilians were flying down to play in South America’s second biggest soccer tournament asked organizers to award the doomed team the title.

Founded in 1973 and based in the city of Chapeco (pop. 210,000), Chapecoense was little known outside of Brazil until Monday, when their chartered plane crashed around 10 p.m. ET while on its way from Santa Cruz in Bolivia to Medellin’s international airport.

Operated by LaMia, the plane was about 18 miles from its destination when for reasons still unclear it went down in a mountainous jungle area, killing 71 of the people on board, said Gen. Jose Acevedo, who heads the local police force.

Image: Wreckage of the LaMia jet
Wreckage of the LaMia jet on Tuesday. Luis Benavides / AP

Colombian officials initially reported 75 fatalities but four of the passengers first believed to be dead had not boarded the flight.

Foul weather conditions were reported at the time of the crash and rescue operations were suspended overnight due to heavy rain.

“We are working fast, in part to relieve the pain of the families of these victims who came to play a sport, but found death here in Colombia,” a spokesman for Colombia’s national Risk Management and Disaster Unit said after removing 50 of the bodies.

Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia’s civil aviation agency, said that communication with Bolivian officials suggested the plane was experiencing electrical problems.

Investigators were also checking reported claims by a cabin crew member who said the plane had run out of fuel. And they were seeking Portuguese translators so they could communicate with the families of the victims.

Image: Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel
Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel, right, fights for the ball with Palmeiras player Moises during a match on Sunday. Ruschel survived a plane crash the following night. Friedemann Vogel / Getty Images

The six survivors were identified as soccer players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Ragnar Follmann and Hélio Hermito Zampier, flight attendant Ximena Suarez, aircraft mechanic Erwin Tumiri, and journalist Rafael Henzel Valmorbida.

A doctor told Colombian TV that Ruschel was being operated on after suffering multiple injuries to his limbs and a lumbar spine fracture. The 27-year-old defender was later confirmed to be in an intensive care unit.

Related: He Survived a Plane Crash. Here’s How You Might Be Able To

Suarez was listed in stable condition while Tumiri suffered non-life threatening injuries, hospital officials said. The other survivors’ conditions were unclear.

Marcos Danilo Padilha, a 31-year-old goalkeeper with the club, was pulled from the wreckage alive but later died of his injuries.

Image: Danilo
Marcos Danilo Padilha, a goalkeeper with Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team, celebrates a penalty shoot-out win on Sept. 28. He was confirmed dead in the plane crash on Tuesday. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP – Getty Images

Officials initially put the number of survivors at five — but police told NBC News that Zampier was found alive some time following the other group.

“What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy,” Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command center.

Related: Doomed Plane Crashed 18 Miles From Airport

Once all the bodies are collected, Brazilian officials plan to fly them back to Chapeco for a collective funeral at the team’s stadium Arena Condá, Chapecoense board member Gelson Dalla told NBC News.

“I woke at 4 a.m. with the news and cried a lot today,” Dalla said. “We are a different club. A very small club in Brazil with a close relationship with players and his parents, wives and kids.”

In addition to players and coaches, the plane was carrying several journalists and nine crew members.

Image: Brazilian soccer player Alan Ruschel following plane crash in Colombia
Chapecoense player Alan Ruschel receives medical attention after surviving Monday night’s plane crash. Guillermo Ossa / Reuters

Local radio said the same British Aerospace Avro RJ85 had transported Argentina’s national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and had previously had also flown Venezuela’s national team to competitions.

Chapecoense had played for years in Brazil’s lower leagues before breaking out in 2014 and making it into the soccer-mad country’s top Serie A league.

Last week, the team qualified for the Copa Sudamericana finals — the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament — after defeating Argentina’s San Lorenzo squad. And their first opponent Wednesday was supposed to be the Medellin-based Atlético Nacional.

Image: Chapecoense soccer team on Nov. 23
Members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team before their semifinal match of the South American Cup on Wednesday. MARCIO CUNHA / EPA

They were considered the underdogs.

“The Brazilian soccer family is mourning,” Brazilian soccer legend Pele said in a statement. “This is a tragedy.”

Chapecoense’ s best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Athletico Madrid and Mallorca.

The team’s coach, Caio Junior, had previously managed some of Brazil’s biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them.

Related: Other Sports Teams Devastated by Plane Crashes

In terms of revenue, Chapecoense is just the 21st biggest club in Brazil, bringing in $13.5 million in 2015, according to an annual list compiled by the Itau BBA bank.

The crash evoked memories of the Munich air disaster in 1958, which killed 23 people including eight Manchester United players, journalists and traveling officials.

Mosquito army released in Zika fight in Brazil & Colombia

Scientists are planning to release an army of millions of modified mosquitoes in areas of Brazil and Colombia.

They say the unusual approach is an attempt to provide “revolutionary protection” against mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and chikungunya.

The mosquitoes are infected with a bug called Wolbachia which reduces their ability to spread viruses to people.

The $18m dollar project is funded by an international team of donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Vaccinating mosquitoes”

The scheme – which aims to start in early 2017 – is also financed by local governments in Latin America, the US and the UK.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium that infects 60% of insect species worldwide, but scientists say it does not harm humans.

The bug does not usually infect the Aedes aegypti mosquito – the species mostly responsible for spreading a host of diseases such as Zika, dengue fever and cikungunya.

But over the last decade researchers working for the Eliminate Dengue Program have found a way to inject the bug into Aedes mosquitoes.

And researchers say small-scale observational trials in Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam have shown that once released, the modified mosquitoes can cut the spread of dengue to humans.

It has been shown to do the same for Zika and chikungunya in laboratory-based tests.

Dr Trevor Mundel, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Wolbachia could be a revolutionary protection against mosquito-borne disease.

“It’s affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue and a host of other viruses.

“We are eager to study its impact and how it can help countries.”

Media captionBig funding for radical anti-Zika programme

Researchers now plan to expand the trials to large urban areas in Bello in Colombia, other parts of Antioquia, and the greater Rio de Janeiro area in partnership with local governments.

Scientists say once released, the infected mosquitoes breed with uninfected ones, passing on the bug to future generations.

They will monitor the programme closely for the next three years, checking to see if cases of dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya fall.

Prof Scott O’Neill, of the Eliminate Dengue Program, told the BBC: “In the communities we have already worked with there have initially been two concerns.

“One was that the mosquitoes might harm them in some way or that there might be some unintended consequences.

“It is testament to our community engagement teams working really closely with communities to answer questions that all the communities we work with are fully supportive.

“We explained Wolbachia bugs are present in so many insects worldwide that millions of humans come into contact with them everyday with no problems.

“And in the six years we have been doing these trials there have been no problems.”

‘Resource competition’

Researchers say it is likely that the Wolbachia approach works in two ways.

According to Prof O’Neill, Wolbachia appears to boost the immune system of mosquitoes, making them resistant to viruses like dengue.

And Wolbachia may compete with dengue and Zika for resources essential to replication. The viruses lose out and do not replicate as successfully, making it harder for them to be passed on when a mosquito bites a human.

Colombia President Extends Truce in Hope of Reviving Peace Deal

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia on Thursday extended a cease-fire with the country’s largest rebel group through the end of the year as he seeks to revive a peace accord to end five decades of war after voters rejected the deal in a referendum.

The original cease-fire, which was put in place in August, was nullified when the peace agreement was rejected this month. He had already extended it to Oct. 31.

Mr. Santos and his team are considering proposals from representatives of those who opposed the accord — which was rejected by a margin of less than half a percentage point — as too lenient on the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

He will take the proposals to the FARC’s leaders in Havana, who have said they are willing to discuss new ideas.

Mr. Santos said he decided to extend the cease-fire after meeting with student leaders who had organized two huge marches through Bogotá, the capital, to show support for a peace deal.

“One of the students reminded me, that in the army and in the guerrilla ranks, there are young people waiting to see what happens, hoping that they don’t need to fire another shot,” Mr. Santos said in a televised address.

“For that reason, and at the request of the students, I have taken the decision to extend the cease-fire until Dec. 31,” he said

The cease-fire can be extended further, but Mr. Santos said he hoped that a new deal would be approved before then. He was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end the war.

Led by former President Álvaro Uribe, the side opposed to the peace deal wants rebels who have committed war crimes to be confined for five to eight years — possibly on farms — and barred from elected office.

The opponents were outraged that the accord offered the rebels 10 congressional seats and nontraditional sentences like clearing land mines instead of serving prison terms in return for ending a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people.

Although the FARC’s leaders have said they are willing to hear new ideas, Mr. Uribe’s proposals may be difficult to accept, given that they have repeatedly refused to consider jail time and want to form a political party.

The Latest: Obama Personally Congratulates Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Over Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, Norway — The latest on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (all times local):

1 a.m.

The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to congratulate him on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work seeking to end the longest conflict in the Western Hemisphere.

Spokesman Eric Schultz says that in the conversation Friday evening, Obama also reiterated U.S. government support for the peace process as Santos pursues a national dialogue on the way forward for peace negotiations.

Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal in a referendum Sunday. Obama said earlier in the day that the vote shows there is more work to be done.

The U.S. strongly supported Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC rebels.


11:15 p.m.

U.S. President Barack Obama says the Nobel committee “made the right decision” by awarding its peace prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to end a civil war that killed more than 200,000 Colombians.

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story

Obama says Friday’s award sends the message that peace must be supported and encouraged in a world of conflict. He says the award also is a testament to Santos’ “unwavering and courageous” leadership through years of difficult negotiations with Colombian rebels seeking to produce an accord aimed at ending five decades of armed conflict.

Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal in a referendum last week. Obama says that vote shows there is more work to be done. He says Santos and the Colombian people can continue to count on the United States as a partner in that process.

The U.S. strongly supported Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC rebels.


6 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says in a message of congratulations to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that the peace process he initiated “gives many people, not just in Colombia, great hope for a better future.”

Merkel said Friday that the Nobel prize was “a very appropriate appreciation” of his efforts to overcome divisions.

She added: “I wish you and the Colombian people great strength, stamina and success in the future in taking the next steps on the way to lasting peace.”


4:55 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is hailing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, named winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, “for his courageous efforts to try to bring peace to Colombia.”

He said from Washington that he hopes that in the wake of the prize “this can still work out and get over the hurdles that remain,” referring to efforts to reach a peace deal acceptable to all sides.

Kerry added that he would speak to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe later Friday.


4:30 p.m.

Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt says the Colombian rebel group that kept her captive for six years deserves to be included in the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Juan Manuel Santos.

Ingrid Betancourt told The Associated Press during an interview in Paris that “it’s hard for me to say it but I have to be just and, even though they were my captors. She says “I think that it’s true that they transformed themselves.”

Betancourt is a dual French-Colombian citizen. She was campaigning for Colombia’s presidency when she was kidnapped in 2002.

She was released in 2008 after six years as a hostage of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.


3:45 p.m.

Negotiators for Colombia’s government and largest rebel movement say they’re taking steps to guarantee a cease-fire doesn’t unravel while the two sides work together to save a peace accord defeated in a referendum.

At a joint press conference in Havana the two sides read a joint statement in which they pledged to listen to those who voted against the peace deal to “define quickly” a solution to the impasse in accordance with a recent constitutional court ruling.

The statement says: “The proposed adjustments and precisions that come about from this process will be discussed between the government and the FARC to provide guarantees to everyone.”

The two sides invited the United Nations to begin monitoring a cease-fire already in place along the terms established in the accord so that rebel fighters aren’t at risk.


3:30 p.m.

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairwoman Kaci Kullman Five says the peace prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shouldn’t be seen as a rebuke of the referendum in which voters rejected his peace deal with left-wing rebels.

“It is really not meant as a rebuke,” Five told The Associated Press. “We strongly underline the respect we have for the voice of the Colombian people.”

She said many Colombians who voted against the deal weren’t against the peace process, just “this specific agreement.”

Even though Santos won the prize alone, she said the award was also meant as “encouragement” to the FARC rebels.

“Giving the prize to Santos is not a belittlement to any of the other parties,” she said. “The FARC is obviously a very important part of this process.”

She noted that the FARC has made “important concessions and that (rebel leader Rodrigo) Londono stated after the referendum that the FARC reiterates this position, that it will use only words as weapons to build towards the future.”


3:10 p.m.

The top leader of Colombia’s largest rebel group is congratulating President Juan Manuel Santos for the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the other participants in talks to end the country’s long-running conflict.

The FARC leader known as Timoleon Jimenez says on his Twitter account that “peace would be impossible” without the efforts of Santos and the guarantors from Cuba and Norway, as well as participants from Venezuela and Chile.


2:30 p.m.

European Union policy chief Federica Mogherini says she is deeply moved that Colombian President Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Let me say how happy I am personally and all the European Union is for this prize that recognizes the determination, the vision of the great man of peace,” she said Friday during a visit to the Romanian capital, Bucharest.

She said she hoped it would lead to greater peace in Colombia, noting that the EU “has played an important role and continues to play an important role” in the peace process.

“I feel deep emotion … and I wanted this share this publicly,” she said, adding that the EU would continue support the peace process.


2:20 p.m.

President Juan Manuel Santos says the Nobel Peace Prize should serve as an incentive for all Colombians to rally behind a stalled peace accord with leftist rebels.

Santos said he was notified of the Nobel committee’s decision by his son, Martin, who woke him up before dawn Friday.

He dedicated the prize to his fellow Colombians, especially the victims of the long conflict, and called on his detractors who defeated the peace deal in a referendum Sunday to join him in securing an end to hostilities.

“I invite everyone to join our strength, our minds and our hearts in this great national endeavor so that we can win the most important prize of all: peace in Colombia,” Santos said alongside his wife during his first public appearance since winning the Nobel.


2:15 p.m.

Nobel laureate Juan Manuel Santos’ arch rival and predecessor is swallowing his pride and congratulating the president.

Colombians widely credit conservative hardliner Alvaro Uribe for forcing the FARC rebels to the negotiating table by leading a U.S.-backed military offensive that pushed them to the edges of the jungle during his 2002-2010 presidency.

Santos was Uribe’s defense minister most of those years but the two later angrily split and Uribe led the “no” campaign against the peace deal in Sunday’s referendum.

“I congratulate President Santos for the Nobel,” Uribe said on Twitter. “I hope it leads to a chance in the accords that are damaging for our democracy.”


2:10 p.m.

The previous Nobel Peace Prize winner from Latin America has some advice for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: don’t lose hope.

Guatemalan indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu won the Nobel in 1992, but it wasn’t until 1996 that her Central American nation put an end to the three-decade civil war.

Speaking to Bogota’s Blu Radio, Menchu said that with the peace prize Santos will now be able to count on broad international support to see the peace process through after the deal he struck with the FARC rebels was narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum Sunday.

“This is an extraordinary stage for Colombia in its intense search for peace,” Menchu said. “Santos now has a lot to do to take Colombians down the path of peace.”


2:05 p.m.

Never mind about the Nobel Peace Prize, the head of the FARC says the only reward he wants is an end to Colombia’s entrenched conflict.

Rodrigo Londono, who was overlooked by the Nobel committee, reacted to the news of the prize for Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos with a mercurial message on Twitter that’s bound to lend itself to multiple interpretations.

He said that the only prize the rebels want is peace with social justice and “Colombia without paramilitaries, without retaliations and without lies.”


2 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the choice of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for the Nobel Peace Prize is a “timely message” to all people working toward national reconciliation.

Ban said the awarding of the prize “tells them to keep working until they have brought the peace process to a successful conclusion.”

In a statement from Hamburg, Germany, Ban said Friday that the failure of Sunday’s referendum in Colombia on the peace plan “should not divide the millions of Colombians who strive to build a peaceful country.”

He added: “This award says to them: you have come too far to turn back now. The peace process should inspire our world.”


1:15 p.m.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says he’s deeply honored by the Nobel Peace Prize, which he dedicated to the people of his country.

“I receive this with great emotion,” Santos told the Nobel Foundation in an audio interview posted on its Facebook account.

“This is a great, great recognition for my country,” he said. “I am eternally grateful.”

“I receive this award in their name: the Colombian people who have suffered so much in this war,” he said. “Especially the millions of victims that have suffered in this war that we are on the verge of ending.”


12:50 p.m.

The Nobel Peace Prize is providing a much-needed boost to some 20 activists camping out for the past two nights in front of Colombia’s congress to demand the peace deal not be scuttled after its shock defeat in a referendum.

As media began to arrive at the Plaza Bolivar in the frigid, pre-dawn hours, the small group shouted “Peace Deal Now” and “Colombia Wants Peace.”

“This is a big help but we’re not leaving until there’s peace,” Juliana Bohorquez, a 31-year-old artist, said with a broken voice from having just woken up.

The group of activists settled in Bogota’s main Plaza Bolivar on Wednesday after thousands of Colombians marched in the streets to demand the government, FARC and opposition find common ground to save the accord.

Prize recipient President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to give a statement from the presidential palace on the far end of the plaza at 7 a.m. (1200 GMT).


12:45 p.m.

The head of the U.N. refugee agency says the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recognizes “political courage.”

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, who recently returned from Colombia, said he noticed an “extraordinary commitment” by Santos’ government, FARC rebels and civil society to make a peace plan in the country work.

Grandi noted the relevance to his agency’s work: Colombia has over 7 million internally displaced people, the “largest internal displacement situation” in the world.

Several U.N. officials in Geneva offered congratulations as word landed Friday of the choice of Santos during a regular U.N. briefing.

Spokesman Rupert Colville of the U.N. human rights office said the award recognition of the importance of the peace process, and hopes it will give a “boost” to it.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Santos, calling him a “man with a vision for his country,” spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.


12:15 p.m.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded by the all-Norwegian committee is in part a self-recognition of that country’s pivotal role in the Colombian peace talks.

Norway along with Cuba has been a sponsor of the peace process since the outset. The public phase of talks began in Oslo in 2012 and the Norwegian government’s representative to the talks, Dag Nylander, has become a minor celebrity among Colombians who’ve followed every announcement from Havana on TV.

Norway’s’ role as a peace facilitator around the world isn’t new. It helped broker the historic Oslo accord between the Palestinians and Israelis in 1993 and is currently facilitating talks bringing an end to a half-century-old communist insurgency in the Philippines.

“To succeed in being a facilitator you have to be a very honest broker and you can’t take sides,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende told The Associated Press in an interview last month while attending the peace deal’s signing ceremony. “You have to try to find common ground and be very, very patient.”

“It has been a bumpy road, there have been setbacks for sure,” he said. “For us we had to believe that a deal was possible and we had to believe it was a question of time.”


11:50 a.m.

Colombians are notorious among Latin Americans as being early risers, but the decision to award President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace prize even caught them sleeping.

Early morning radio programs are abuzz with the news but so far there’s been no reaction from President Santos.

Many Colombians thought that Santos was a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace prize after he signed a peace accord with the FARC on Sept. 26 in front of many world leaders and the U.N. Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon. But they assumed his chances faded after the deal fell apart in a referendum a week later.


11:40 a.m.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos comes just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace deal that Santos helped bring about.

The award conspicuously left out Santos’ counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Santos and Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the peace deal last month, ending a half-century of hostilities, only to see a major setback in the shock vote against the agreement in a referendum six days later.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that rejection doesn’t mean the peace process is dead.

“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” it said. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, “despite the ‘No’ majority vote in the referendum, has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution.”


11:30 a.m.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago he was responsible for some of the FARC rebels’ biggest military setbacks, including a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive for more than five years.

Under the peace deal he negotiated, rebels who turn over their weapons and confess to war crimes will be spared time in jail and the FARC will be reserved 10 seats in congress through 2026 to smooth their transition into a political movement.


11 a.m.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for his efforts to end a civil war that killed more than 200,000 Colombians.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the award should also be seen “as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.

It did not cite his counterpart in peace negotiations, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Santos and Londono signed a peace deal last month ending a half-century of hostilities only to see their efforts collapse following a shock vote against the agreement in a referendum six days later.

Colombia conflict victim urges ‘no’ voters to forgive Farc


Man with two daughters
Image captionEdgar Bermudez was blinded after stepping on a landmine

If anyone has the right to feel angry and not to forgive, it is Edgar Bermudez.

At the height of the conflict between the Colombian government and left-wing Farc guerrillas, Mr Bermudez – then a 26-year-old policeman – was on patrol in a rural area in the south of the country when he stepped on a land mine.

The explosion left him completely blind and with terrible facial injuries.

Eleven years and dozens of medical procedures later, Mr Bermudez is no longer angry with the guerrillas who probably laid the mine that maimed him but he is frustrated with a deeply divided society, which he says has missed a chance to move on and pursue a lasting peace.

“If I and all the other victims of violence can find the strength to forgive and to compromise then those people, sitting behind their desks in the cities, who have not suffered in the same way can surely do the same,” Mr Bermudez tells me in his modest Bogota home.

He lives here with his wife and two young daughters, children he has never seen because of his blindness and whom he dotes on.

Scrapping by on a police pension and as a part-time musician, Mr Bermudez worries about what kind of country his girls will grow up in now that a peace deal between the government and the Farc guerrillas hangs in the balance after Colombians’ surprise rejection of the deal in a referendum on Sunday.

Fundamental flaw’

Other Colombians are more optimistic, even interpreting the “no” vote as a positive development.

Jaime Castro sitting in his office
Image captionFormer Bogota Mayor Jaime Castro said peace deal was a single party approach and fundamentally flawed

Jaime Castro is a former mayor of Bogota and was a prominent campaigner against accepting the agreement that had taken four years to negotiate.

“The fundamental flaw with President [Juan Manuel] Santos’ strategy was that it was a single-party, political approach rather than a national policy,” says Mr Castro.

“If what we now end up with is a multi-party solution, acceptable to everyone, it could strengthen the process.”

Earlier this week I took a short stroll through La Candelaria, the old colonial quarter of Bogota.

People and birds stroll in Bogota, Colombia
Image captionNo one wants a return to the violence that ravaged Colombia and its institutions for decades

There is plenty of poverty, misery and crime in Bogota – like any other Latin American metropolis – but the Colombian capital is a much safer and more tranquil place than I remember when I first started reporting from here in the 1990s.

Indeed no one wants a return to the violence that ravaged the country and its institutions for decades.

Juana Acosta was an adviser to the peace talks, which were held in the Cuban capital, Havana.

Juana Acosta sitting at a cafe
Image captionAdviser Juana Acosta hopes to return to the table for fresh peace talks in Havana

She worked specifically on the issue of justice and political participation.

It is one of the most contentious parts of the existing agreement and Ms Acosta admits that it is probably one of the main reasons why it was narrowly defeated in the referendum.

“Which former guerrillas, who are accused of abuses and violations, will be allowed to take part in the political process and what punishment they must serve for their crimes is one key area that Farc negotiators are going to have to look at again,” Ms Acosta tells me.

The adviser, who hopes to be returning to Havana for fresh talks, added: “Colombian society cannot allow again the presence of child soldiers. We cannot allow again atrocities against the civilian population. We are not prepared again to live through such violence so we’re going to have to find a way through this and to sign a new peace agreement.”

Increasing risk

Those close to the talks, like Ms Acosta, realise that time is now a crucial factor.

This file photo taken on September 26, 2016 shows Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L at centre) and the head of the FARC guerrilla Timoleon Jimenez, aka Timochenko, during the signing of the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in Cartagena.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe deal was signed before it was put to a popular vote

In recent weeks and months, thousands of Farc guerrilla fighters have been gathering in jungle camps, preparing to hand over their weapons and uniforms.

The plan was for them to rejoin society after demobilising, receiving guaranteed monthly payments from the state and limited immunity from prosecution.

But after the result of the plebiscite, no one is really sure what will happen next.

The longer the hiatus remains, the greater the risk that the Farc members will sink back into the jungle, re-arm, perhaps join other smaller left-wing organisations or criminal gangs making money from the drugs trade.

For now all sides say they are committed to peace but in his latest pronouncement, President Santos warned that a mutually agreed ceasefire between his government and the Farc would expire at the end of October.

While Colombia’s ministry of defence has since said that the ceasefire can be extended again beyond that date, Mr Santos’ statement was interpreted as a thinly veiled warning to negotiators that they would have only weeks to put their heads together and resubmit a modified agreement.

The president’s words also elicited an ominous response from the Farc leadership, with the question; “What happens when the ceasefire expires? Does the fighting start all over again?”

It is a thought most Colombians, especially people like Edgar Bermudez, who have suffered so much already, dare not contemplate.

With Colombia off the menu, will Iran nuke deal negotiators scoop peace Nobel?

Oslo, Norway (AFP) — A veteran Russian rights activist, or the architects of the Iranian nuclear accord? The field of contenders for Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize was suddenly thrown wide open after the Colombian people’s shock rejection of a peace deal put its negotiators out of the running.

For once, the Nobel experts thought they were on to a sure thing.
But just days before the award, they were forced to rethink after voters in Colombia said ‘No’ to a peace deal between their government and the communist FARC rebels in a weekend referendum.

Until now, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC chief Rodrigo London, alias Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez, had been tipped as favorites to win the prestigious award after signing a deal on September 26 to end 52 years of civil war.

In the event that the Nobel committee had decided on Colombia, then it would likely have had a plan B in place, given the unpredictable nature of referendums, experts said.

But it remains to be seen who that might be.

For some, the prestigious award could go to the negotiators behind the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord which effectively curbed Tehran’s nuclear drive, putting an atomic bomb out of reach, in exchange for a gradual lifting of the crippling sanctions imposed on its economy since 2006.

“As the agreement now has demonstrated that it works, this might now be a strong contender,” said Peter Wallensteen, a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University.

That could see the prize going to Washington’s top diplomat John Kerry, his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, as well as to nuclear experts Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary, and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

In line with the wishes of prize creator Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor who wanted to reward disarmament efforts, such a prize could serve to consolidate the nuclear deal ahead of the possible arrival of a new US president who may be less well-disposed towards Iran, said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of Oslo’s Peace Research Institute (PRIO).

Record number of candidates
Harpviken believes the top contender is Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina for her decades-long work with migrants and refugees, an issue which has shot to prominence in Europe since the start of the migrant crisis last year.

“Since the decline of open democracy in Russia started, particularly with the re-entry of President (Vladimir) Putin into the presidency, there has been no Nobel Peace Prize casting a light on developments in Russia,” Harpviken said, suggesting that such an omission could one day reflect badly on the Norwegian institution.

Among others listed as possible contenders are Syria’s White Helmets volunteer rescue force, Greek islanders for their efforts to help desperate migrants landing on their shores, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege for his work with thousands of rape victims, and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi who was abducted by IS fighters and held for months as a sex slave.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed the scope of US surveillance, has also been touted as a possible winner, as has France’s former foreign minister Laurent Fabius for his role as head of COP21 Paris climate accord.

Trump in the running?
This year, the Norwegian Nobel Institute has received a whopping 376 nominations for the peace prize, a huge increase from the previous record of 278 in 2014 — meaning the number of choices facing the Nobel committee is vast.

But if they’re struggling to agree on who might be the winner, experts say there is one name who they all agree won’t be getting it — US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who was nominated for his “vigorous peace-through-strength ideology”.

In an illustration of just how difficult it is to call, last year’s prize went to four Tunisian groups who were instrumental in the country’s transition to democracy. They had not been mentioned in any of the pre-announcement speculation.

“Perhaps they will have a new rabbit to pull out of their hat again on Friday,” remarked Nobel Peace Prize historian Asle Sveen.

The mystery will only be solved on Friday at 0900 GMT when the prize is announced at the Nobel Institute in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

Colombia Peace Deal Headed to Defeat, Causing Shock and Uncertainty

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — In a move that sent a wave of shock through Latin America, Colombian voters on Sunday appeared headed to reject a peace deal that had been signed by their president and the largest rebel group, leaving the fate of a 52-year war suddenly uncertain.

Though the vote had not been called officially by the government, the “no” vote for the referendum was ahead by a half percentage point with 99 percent of the ballots counted, the government said Sunday.

The result was a deep embarrassment for President Juan Manuel Santos, who only last week had joined arms with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, who apologized on national television during a signing ceremony. The surprise surge by the “no” vote — nearly all major polls had shown the referendum winning by a resounding margin — left the country in a dazed uncertainty not seen since Britain voted to leave the European Union by referendum.

And it left the future of rebels who had planned to rejoin Colombia as civilians — indeed, the future of the war itself, which both sides had declared ended — unknown to all.

The question voters were asked was simple: “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and construct a stable and enduring peace?” But it was one that had divided this country for generations, as successive governments fought what seemed a war without end and Marxist rebels dug into the forest for what amounted to a hopeless insurgency.

In the capital, Bogotá, voters turned out on a rainy day for a vote that had even divided households. Carlos Gallon, a 42-year-old engineer, said he would be voting for the deal, despite the objections of his wife, María Fernanda González.

“I understand why she is voting no,” he said. “But we have to try something other than 50 years of war.”

Ms. González, 39, an administrator at a telecommunications company, said she wanted peace, but thought the FARC could not be trusted.

“Why didn’t they turn in their arms and tell the world what happened to the people they kidnapped, as a gesture during the talks?” she asked.

The failure of the agreement, if confirmed by the government, would overturn a timetable meant to bring an end to the FARC insurgency within months. The rebels had agreed to immediately abandon their battle camps for 28 “concentration zones” throughout the country, where over the next six months they would hand over their weapons to United Nations teams.

Under the agreement, rank-and-file fighters were expected to be granted amnesty and begin life as civilians. Those involved in war crimes would be judged in special tribunals with reduced sentences, many expected to involve years of community service work, such as removing land mines the FARC once planted to snare its enemies.