An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)
Village leaders report that a total of 18 indigenous campesinos in the north of Colombia's Cauca department have been killed this year, in a presumed paramilitary campaign of intimidation. In one case last month, a pregnant woman was among three slain when they were stopped on the road between the towns of Caloto and Santander de Quilichao. She was headed with her family on motorbikes to a local hospital when they were ambushed by gunmen and left dead on the road. Paramilitaries have left pamphlets in local villages warning them to drop their campaigns for restitution of usurped lands. (RCN, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, July 22; Extra, Cauca, July 15))
Colombia's government on Aug. 22 sent a delegation to the Pacific coastal department of Chocó, six days into a massive civil strike (paro) that has paralyzed the marginal region, with roads blocked and businesses shuttered. Aug. 18 saw street clashes in regional capital Quibdó as the feared ESMAD anti-riot force was unleashed on protesters. Demands had been bulding for weeks over potable water, electricity and other basic infrastructure for poor peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. On July 20, social leaders announced their refusal to celebrate Colombia's Indpendence Day, instead holding a 40,000-strong protest march in Quibdó under the slogan: "We change the cry of independence into a cry of protest for our abandonment by the state." (NTN24, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, El Colombiano, Bogotá, Aug. 22; Prensa Rural, Aug. 20; El Espectador, Bogotá, July 20)
Bolivian President Evo Morales on Aug. 17 dedicated a new international military academy, which will seek to counter the influence of the US and Pentagon in the developing world. The new academy is based in the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia's east, and named after the country's former president Juan José Torres. Courses are to include "Theory of Imperialism," "Geopolitics of Natural Resources," and "Bolivian Social Structures." Said Morales at the inauguration of the new base: "If the empire teaches domination of the world from its military schools, we will learn from this school to free ourselves from imperial oppression. We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements, and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies."
In the wake of US declassification of new documents related to Argentina's "dirty war," President Mauricio Macri is facing angry protests over dismissive comments on the bloody era. On Aug. 1, the White House released some 1,000 newly declassified documents on US relations with Argentina's military dictatorship in the 1970s and early '80s. Many indicate US accommodation of the regime during the period of extreme repression. In one passage highlighted by the Washington Post, national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in a March 1979 memo to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance: "When we take actions toward Argentina, which are interpreted as punitive, we not only enrage the right-wing ideologues, we also arouse the business sector and the media in the US."
Authorities in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, last week began demolishing a notorious district near the city center locally known as "the Bronx"—but seemingly no plans were made for the displaced residents. The "urban renewal project" was announced in May, following a series of drug raids on the district, which Mayor Enrique Peñalosa characterized an "independent republic of crime"—rife with gangs, prostitution and addiction. Peñalosa was personally on hand as the clearance commenced Aug. 10, and 66 dwelling demolished by heavy machinery. Since then, however, downtown merchants have been protesting that the evicted Bronx inhabitants have been camping on the streets of the central business district. Some 400 began camping in a drainage canal along downtown's 6th Street, but were forced to flee Aug. 17 when the canal was suddenly flooded by heavy rain. At least one woman was injured by a car as she fled the inundation. Colombia's rights ombudsman, the Defensor del Pueblo, criticized the lack of planning in the clearance operation. (ColPrensa, El Espectador, Aug. 18; Colombia.com, Aug. 17; UPI, Aug. 11; BBC News, Aug. 10; Miami Herald, May 31)
Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.
More than 20 land rights activists have been killed in Brazil so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness—ongoing terror amid the Olympics spectacle. According to data from Brazil's Pastoral Land Commision (CPT), 23 activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. Released as the Olympic Games opened in Rio de Janeiro, the figures indicate a crackdown on land rights campaigners in South America's biggest country, with indigenous people particularly affected. "For many visitors to the Rio Olympics, Brazil is synonymous with its vast, plentiful rainforests and traditional ways of life," said Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte in a statement. "Yet the people who are trying to protect those things are being killed off at an unprecedented rate."