Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 28 ruled that "prior consultation" with local Afro-descendent and indigenous communities must be carried out before an open-pit gold mine project can move ahead at Villonza, Marmato municipality, Caldas department. The ruling made reference to the indigenous community of Cartama and the Afro-Colombian community of Asojomar, both of which are largely sustained by small-scale artisanal mininng. Under a 2007 concession, Canada-based Gran Colombia Gold Corporation was to acquire these informal claims. In 2011, Father José Reinel Restrepo, the local parish priest, was murdered after returning from Bogotá, where he had registered his objection to the project with officials. Gran Colombia Gold is meanwhile is demanding Colombia pay $700 million under terms of the Canadian free trade agreement for failure to evict the artisanal miners. (TeleSur, Radio Caracol, March 2; El Tiempo, Feb. 28; Radio Caracol, Feb. 25)
The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
Home demolitions in East Jerusalem have risen dramatically since the election of US President Donald Trump, according to a report in Haaretz. A source in the Jerusalem municipal government confirmed to the newspaper that since the change of administration in the US, restrictions have been lifted and the city government has been allowed to demolish many more structures than during the term of former President Barack Obama. Since the start of 2017, the municipality has demolished over 40 housing units in East Jerusalem, according to data collated by the Ir Amim organization, which studies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the city. In 2016, a total of 203 structures, including 123 housing units, were demolished in the predominantly Arab part of the city. A total of 22 structures were demolished by their owners in order to avoid the fine imposed by the municipality for the demolition.
The Uighur people of China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region are coming under unprecedented surveillance and militarization amid official fears of terrorism in the far-western territory. In the latest draconian measure, residents of one prefecture are being ordered to install a government-developed GPS tracking system in their vehicles. By June 30, all motorists in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must have the BeiDou navigation satellite system installed in their vehicles, under an order aimed at "ensur[ing] stability and social harmony." Gas stations will only be permitted to serve cars that have the system. Installation is free, but vehicle owners will be charged 90 yuan a year for the Internet fees.
The Trump administration has seriously turned up the heat on Venezuela, slapping sanctions on the country's vice president as a drug "kingpin." The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Feb. 13 officially named Tareck Zaidan El Aissami as a "Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker" under terms of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) of 1999. The order charges that El Aissami received pay-offs from a trafficking network linked to Mexico's Zetas narco-gang. Under the order, US nationals and corporations are barred from doing business with El Aissami, and all his assets within the country are frozen.
A film celebrating the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, won an Oscar for best short documentary. The eponymously titled White Helmets, a 40-minute Netflix film, provides a window into the lives of the volunteers as they scramble to pull survivors from the rubble of buildings flattened in air-strikes. (Al Jazeera) But a Syrian cinematographer who worked on the documentary was barred from entering the US to attend the Academy Awards ceremony. Despite being granted a visa, Khaled Khatib, was held up at the Istanbul airport, with US officials reportedly uncovering "derogatory information" about him. Homeland Security at the last minute blocked Khatib from traveling to Los Angeles, saying he now needed a new passport waiver (Raw Story)
A militant said to be al-Qaeda's second-in-command was killed by a US drone strike in Syria's Idlib governorate, rebel leaders said Feb. 27. Egypt-born Abu al-Khayr al-Masri (formerly Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdel Rahman), the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was reportedly a close aide to al-Qaeda's current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The drone attack on his vehicle was reported by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Levant Liberation Body, HTS), a newly formed alliance led by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former Nusra Front. (MEE, BBC News, Feb. 27) Two days earlier, HTS claimed responsibility for a suicide blast in Homs that killed a Syrian senior military intelligence official who was reportedly close to dictator Bashar Assad. The official, Gen. Hassan Daabul, was slain along with several others when a suicide bomber penetrated a security complex in the city. An HTS statement said its "inghimasi fighters" were responsible for the raid, and claimed that some 40 personnel were killed. (LWJ, Feb. 25)
Ecuador's presidential election is now set for a second round in early April, after days of delay in counting the totals from the Feb. 19 vote. Lenín Moreno of the ruling left-populist PAIS party, former vice president under the incumbent Rafel Correa, will face Guayquil banker Guillermo Lasso of the conservative CREO. (BBC News, Feb. 23) Ecuador's once-powerful but increasingly fractured indigenous movement was divided on who to support in the first round, and its main organizations are now attempting to arrive at a position on the second round. The major umbrella group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has broken with the ruling PAIS, accusing Correa of authoritarianism and being coopted by the extractive industries. CONAIE adopted ¡Fuera Correa, fuera! (Out Correa, out!) as a slogan, rejecting Moreno as Correa's chosen successor—but must now decide whether to take a stance on the run-off. (El Universo, Guayaquil, Feb. 23)