Canadian Council for the Americas September 11 Update

Dear friends of the CCA

Our Annual Gala is September 20, only a week away and preparations are going extremely well. We had the opportunity to speak last week in Washington with President Leonel Fernandez, our Statesman of the Year Award recipient this year, and he is very motivated. We watched him make the keynote address to the Annual Inter-American Dialogue/CAF Conference. President Fernandez is a very charismatic speaker and showed deep regional knowledge. His name is often heard as the next Secretary General of the OAS, or President of the IADB, or maybe once again President of the Dominican Republic. What is clear is that he is not leaving public life!

Sponsorship opportunities are still available. If you are interested in sponsorship or tickets please write at or call 416-367-4313.

Recent CCA Activities

The IAD/CAF Conference brought together a very impressive group of regional experts. Highlights from my perspective were the Fernandez keynote address and the presentation by former President Carter, who made a compelling case for ending the US embargo on Cuba as a contribution to democracy in that country. This debate is quite foreign to Canadians but is a central element of US-Latin American relations, especially during the electoral period.


The other highlight for me was the panel on regional elections, which featured a masterful presentation by Venezuelan public opinion analyst Luis Vicente Leon. Elections in Venezuela will be October 7, and President Chavez yesterday not so helpfully referred to the possibility of a “civil war” should he lose.


Speaking of elections, on September 10 several CCA Board Members met with Colombian “pre-candidate” Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. Mr. Zuluaga is a former Finance Minister, close to former President Uribe, and obviously highly qualified. Elections are two years away so predictions are very theoretical. What is clear is that the new peace process is a huge development. I wrote an article on this that was published last week in Embassy  and which I reproduce here.

Article in Embassy on the Colombian Peace Process

Colombians have received word of a new peace process with the guerrillas with a mixture of hope and skepticism. This is equally true for foreigners like me, who had the privilege as a Canadian diplomat to witness the unsuccessful peace process of 1998 to 2002 and to come to know government and insurgent negotiators.


We hope, because most of us believe that only negotiation can bring a definitive end to an armed conflict that has caused so much suffering for more than 50 years. We are skeptical, because we have been disappointed before. Might the guerrillas once again use peace talks just to regroup, the better to attack later?


The reality is that Colombia is on the verge of a new peace process because the country has in large part been pacified already. Conflict tragically continues, but no longer dominates the daily life of the vast majority of Colombians as it did in the late 1990s and at the turn of the millenium. Despite a lingering international reputation, violence is ironically now lower in Colombia than in neighbouring Venezuela, a country technically at peace, yet much more dangerous for its citizens, in particular the urban poor.


Colombia has reached a new and more positive phase in its history thanks to great effort to extend state authority over previously lawless regions. Air mobility, intelligence and citizenry support for the state have taken the initiative away from illegal armed groups who grew in strength in the 90s thanks to the riches of cocaine trafficking, kidnapping and extortion. Guerrillas who a decade ago attacked army bases in groups of hundreds are on the run, reduced to planting improvised explosive devices and using snipers. They can no longer kidnap strategic and economically lucrative targets, leaving their finances and morale in tatters.


Events far from Colombia also play a major role in the reduction of conflict. The growth of China has created a resource boom that has helped improve life for Colombia’s poor, making armed conflict more anachronistic.


The Colombian state now has the upper hand, which is why the guerrillas are interested in peace. The government needs to take advantage of this initiative, but not risk it. Backing off militarily during negotiations is unfortunately not an option, as doing so would increase the risk of a new resurgence of violence.


What can be negotiated? I would argue with a heavy heart that a great deal of flexibility must to be shown on the question of justice. Though guerrilla leaders deserve jail, and their victims deserve to see them there, I think it ultimately better to engage in a process of transitional justice that allows radically reduced sentences in exchange for an end to hostilities. Remembering the guerrilla’s crimes is salutary, but seeking appropriate sentences would unfortunately prolong the conflict and lead to greater suffering. The recent demobilization of paramilitary or self-defence groups was far from perfect but led to radically reduced levels of violence. It is unlikely that guerrilla leaders will pay a similar legal price to that paid by paramilitary leaders. They are unlikely to negotiate their way straight into a jail cell.


What role can Canada play? I would argue that we should be strongly supportive of the efforts of the Colombian government. President Santos will undoubtedly face considerable internal opposition to negotiating with terrorists. Support from outsiders can modestly help.  President Santos has initiated processes that help victims of conflict get on with their lives after receiving compensation that is insufficient but at least recognizes their suffering. Canada can and should support these efforts, which are an important part of the search for peace. We also should continue to seek opportunities to invest in Colombia’s resource industries and the improvement of its infrastructure. Improving opportunities for Colombia’s poor to join the middle classes is the greatest contribution we can make to breaking the


Other Events Which Have Caught our Eye

The International Economic Forum of the Americas presents the 6th annual Toronto Global Forum. The next edition of the Forum will take place on October 2nd and 3rd, 2012 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre under the general theme of “Leading Economic Change”. Former US Secretary of State,


As a Knowledge Partner for the event, the Canadian Council for the Americas is proud to offer its members a 25% discount on registration costs, when using the “CCA2012” promo code during registration.

Please register here to apply your 25% discount and ensure your participation at the 6th Annual Toronto Global Forum.

For more information please consult the Toronto Global Forum website at or contact Mr. Neal Poku at 1 416 607-5422 ext. 207.


The Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce will host October 2  “The Evolution and Perspective on the Brazilian Economy.”


The Peru-Canada Chamber of Commerce has an event September 19 on “Mining in Peru – Opportunities and Challenges.” Info


Saludos a todos!


Michael Harvey


Canadian Council for the Americas