Bolivia's President Evo Morales signed into a law March 8 a bill passed by the country's congress that nearly doubles the area of national territory open to coca leaf cultivation. Law 906, or the General Law of Coca Leaf, envisions new legal commerical and industrial uses for the leaf. It replaces the far more restrictive Law 1008, passed during the Reagan-led drug war militarization of the Andes in 1988—when Bolivia's democratic transition after years of military rule was still new. "The hour has arrived to bury Law 1008, which sought to bury coca leaf in Bolivia," the presidency said in a statement. "This is an historic day." The signing ceremony at the presidential palace was witnessesed by a delegation of coca-growers.
Argentina's new restrictive immigration policy is drawing protests from neighboring Bolivia—and accusations that President Mauricio Macri is emulating Donald Trump. Macri's Decree 70/2017, issued late last month, modifies Argentina's Immigration Law, barring entry to those who fail to report criminal records to immigration authorities where offenses concerning drugs, arms trafficking or terrorism are involved. In issuing the decree, Macri claimed that a third of inmates in Agrnetina's federal prison system are foreginers, and said the country faces "a critical situation that warrants urgent measures." Bolivia's President Evo Morales noted that Macri's decree immediately followed Trump's executive order barring entry to the US for nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Morales sent a delegation to Argentina led by José Alberto Gonzáles, president of the Bolivian Senate, to meet with Argentine officials on the question.
Indigenous communities in the Bolivian Amazon are joining with ecologists to oppose a "mega-dam" complex the government has announced for the Río Beni. Reviving a long-dormant scheme to turn the Bolvian Amazon into a regional energy hub, the plan calls for construction of two large hydroelectric dams and infrastructure to export the power to neighboring countries. President Evo Morales estimates the project would cost around $6 billion and, once operational, would bring in more than $1 billion a year. According to a leaked environmental impact assessment, the two dams will flood an area larger the city of La Paz, affecting around 4,000 people in 17 communities within and near the flood zone. Indigenous T'simanes, Tacanas, Mosetenes and Uchupiamonas communities reject the project, saying it never went through the consultation process required by Bolivia's constitution.
Bolivian President Evo Morales on Christmas Eve pardoned 1,800 prisoners held in facilities across the country—part of his ongoing effort to curtail overcrowding in the Andean nation's penal system. "The present decree's aim is to give amnesty and total or partial pardons to people who have been deprived of their liberty," Morales told a news conference in the central region of Cochabamba. Those pardoned include inmates with sentences of less than five years, one-time offenders, prisoners under the age of 28, single mothers with children (generally incarcerated along with them), prisoners with terminal illnesses, and some with disabilities. Since those convicted of violent crimes and trafficking were excluded, the majority were almost certainly low-level drug offenders. This is the fourth time Morales has decreed such mass pardons. It is estimated that 15,000 individuals remain incarcerated in Bolivia, with a population of 10 million. A third of these have not actually been sentenced.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (PDF) Dec. 21 to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes in Syria. The resolution, approved by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions, will establish an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011." The mechanism will work closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The resolution:
Expressing "outrage" at the escalation of violence in Syria, and particularly Aleppo, the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9 adopted a resolution demanding an immediate and complete end to all attacks on civilians, as well as a lifting of all sieges on cities and towns. The Canada-sponsored resolution was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor, 13 against and 36 abstentions. The text also expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and demanded "rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN...and all humanitarian actors."
The Central of Indigenous Communities of Tacana II Rio Madre de Dios (CITRMD), representing the Tacana people of Pando department in the Bolivian Amazon has issued a letter to the ministries of Justice and Environment requesting urgent government intervention to protect "uncontacted" indigenous peoples threatened by oil operations. The CITRMD said "footprints and broken branches" among other evidence were found within the operations area of BGP, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). September letters by BGP to Bolivia's state oil company YPFB, to which it is contracted, noting this evidence, as well as one physical encounters with "originarios." CITRMD is urging BGP and the government to respect "their wish not to be contacted." (The Guardian, Oct. 27)
Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) is investigating the death of some 10,000 frogs whose bodies have been found in the Río Coata, which flows into Lake Titicaca. The alert was sounded by the local Committee Against the Pollution of the Río Coata, which accused the authorities of ignoring the river's severe pollution. Activists brought 100 of the dead frogs to the central square in the regional capital, Puno. Said protest leader Maruja Inquilla: "I've had to bring them the dead frogs. The authorities don't realize how we're living. They have no idea how major the pollution is. The situation is maddening." The committee has long been petitioning for construction of a sewage treatment plant for the river, and also for bringing informal minig camps up the river under control. Last year, arsenic, presumably from unregulated gold-mining in the area, was found to have contaminated several wells in the Coata watershed. The Puno regional health department conducted the study following a campaign by local campesino communities.