Colombia's Constitutional Court on June 11 overturned a government decree from 2012 that would allow mining in nine areas of the country, together making up 20% of the national territory—a collective area approximately the size of Minnesota. The designated "Strategic Mining Areas" were decalred by the National Mining Agency in decrees 180241 and 0045 of February and June 2012, respectively, affecting lands in some 20 departments, from the Pacific coast to the interior Amazon. The challenge was brought by the NGO Tierra Digna on behalf of several indigenous and campesino groups within these areas, who said to the decrees violated their right to prior consultation. The ruling virtually ends the government's declared ambition to make mining the “motor” of the Colombian economy. (El Tiempo, June 13; Colombia Reports, June 12; El Espectador, June 11)
The Colombian government announced June 22 that it has agreed to a bilateral ceasefire with the FARC guerillas—hailed as an historic step toward a deal to end the long civil war. Negotiators on both sides issued a communique in the Cuban capital, Havana, seat of the peace dialogue that was launched in September 2012. FARC commander Carlos Lozada tweeted: "On Thursday, June 23, we will announce the last day of the war." President Juan Manuel Santos will fly to Havana for the ceremony, which will be overseen by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Addressing skepticism on the right, Santos asserted that "FARC will turn over the last pistol." But leftist lawmaker Iván Cepeda, who served as a facilitator in the talks with the FARC, hailed the ceasefire agreement as "historic for Colombia." The FARC has for months maintained a unilateral ceasefire, that the government has until now failed to answer. (El Espectador, Al Jazeera, Radio Australia, June 22; El Espectador, CM&, June 21)
Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed June 20 to peacefully resolve a border dispute after clashes and a tense stand-off over Islamabad's plan to build a barbed-wire separation barrier at its Torkham border crossing. Fighting broke out on June 12, leading to fatalities on both sides—including two children on the Afghan side of the line. The crossing, in Pakistan's Khyber Agency, was re-opened afrter both sides agreed to de-escalate following a high-level meeting in Islamabad. Tensions began in April, when Pakistani authorities demolished the homes of some 300 Afghan families living in Torkham to clear way for the "gate," as the barrier is being called. The houses were bulldozed after a number of Afghan nationals refused to comply with a four-day deadline to vacate the area and cross into Afghanistan. The families protested that they had legal residency, and that the expulsions were being carried out improperly.
Federal police opened fire on striking teachers blocking a road through Mexico's southern Oaxaca state, leaving six dead—a significant escalation in the battle over the government's proposed education reform. Some 50 civilians and a similar number of federal and state police officers were also reported injured in the May 20 clash at Nochixtlán. Striking teachers and their left-wing supporters set vehicles on fire at the roadblock. Followers of the dissident CNTE teacher's union have been blocking roads across Mexico's south to oppose the reform program. The state-owned oil company, Pemex, has warned that it may be forced to close a refinery in the area if the highway linking Oaxaca to Mexico City remains blocked. The clash comes two days after the leader of the Oaxaca section of the CNTE, Rubén Núñez, was ordered imprisoned by federal authorities on corruption charges that are rejected as political by the union. (Animal Politico, The Guardian, June 20; El Universal, PubliMetro, June 18)
Peru's president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has unveiled a platform that calls for privatizing and "individualizing" communal lands to facilitate mineral and agribusiness development. On June 10, PPK's "virtual" minister for Economy and Finance, Alfredo Thorne, told Lima's Radio Capital: "A big part of the properties where the mines are located are today communal property. These properties must be individualized, to give the individual the power to use his land, or to sell it to a mining company or sell it for agriculture." He said he is already working on a map of Peru's properties, to begin "interchanging communal titles to individual titles."
An indigenous Mexican ecological defender is now in his seventh month behind bars, despite calls for his relase from Amnesty International, Greenpeace and other human rights and environmental groups. Ildefonso Zamora was arrested by México state police last November, in connection with a 2012 robbery. But Amnesty finds "the charge is unsubstantiated and seems to be politically motivated." A leader of the Tlahuica indigenous people, Zamora served as president of the communal lands committee at his pueblo of San Juan Atzingo. In this capacity, he had long protested illegal logging on usurped communal lands in México state's Gran Bosque de Agua—which protects the watershed that supplies Mexico City. Amnesty notes that the prosecution's witnesses described the events "using the exact same words, as if reading them from a script." The rights group says this points to fabricated testimony, and demands that he be immediately and unconditionally released.
Venezuelan police on June 10 raided the offices of the Trotskyist left-opposition organization Marea Socialista in Caracas on the orders of a local court. The raid was carried out by agents of the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigative Corps (CICPC), with a warrant to search the premises for "objects of criminal interest," including "counterfeit foreign currency," "firearms," "information storage units," and "documentation related to financial transactions." According to a press statement issued by Marea Socialista, the agents arrived at the offices heavily armed, offered no explanation for the search, and promptly departed a half-hour later after failing to find what they were looking for. The party's founder Nicmer Evans confirmed that following the raid the organization received two calls from the CICPC director, who "tried to justify that the cause for the raid was not related to MS." The statement called the incident a "grave violation of political liberties," and the latest in a series of "retaliations, threats, violations of privacy, firings, and limitations of social and political rights" that the party's members have suffered in the "last three years" and especially in the "last six months."
The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are blaming each other in the weekend's deadly border skirmish that threatens a return to open war between the regional rivals. Ethiopia's Information Minister Getachew Reda described the clashes as "an Eritrean initiative." In a short statement, the Eritrean regime said Ethiopia had "unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose and ramifications of this attack are not clear." (BBC News) The independent exile-based Gedab News, which covers Eritrea, says it has received "credible information" that the battle was triggered when a group of Eritrean conscripted soldiers crossed the border to Ethiopia in an attempt to desert, and were shot at by Eritrean troops. Members of an armed Eritrean opposition group hosted by Ethiopia returned fire before Ethiopian soldiers then entered the fray. (Awate.com)