Andean Theater

Frog die-off ominous sign for Lake Titicaca

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. 

Peru expels guerilla leader to Chile

Chilean national Jaime Castillo Petruzzi, imprisoned for 23 years in Peru for his participation in the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), was immediately deported upon his release Oct. 14. Elite National Police troops escorted him to Lima's airport, where he was put on a commerical flight. Arriving in Santiago, he was greeted by a crowd of supporters waving banners of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), which carried out an armed resistance under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Castillo's first political involvement was as a MIR militant in the 1970s. He later fled Pinochet's repression of the MIR, seeking exile in France—where he met MRTA founder Víctor Polay, and decided to join the struggle in Peru. He was captured in 1993 and charged in the kidnapping of 12 businessmen and the deaths of nine police and army troops. At the Santiago airport he addressed supporters: "We are free today, but we are not completely free. We are happy, but not completely happy. Many of our political compañeros remain [imprisoned] in Peru." (Biobio, Chile, Oct. 15; Ojo, Peru, Oct. 14)

Peru: one dead in clash over Chinese mine project

The first death due to a social conflict in Peru under new President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski came Oct. 14 as campesinos clashed with National Police over the contested mine at Las Bambas. Quintino Cereceda Huiza, 28, of Choqeqa community, was killed and 34 others wounded as police troops opened fire to clear some 200 protesters blocking a newly built access road to the mine in Challhuahuacho district of the Cotabambas province, Apurímac region. Las Bambas, Peru's largest copper mine, was brought online this year by Chinese company MMG Ltd—over the protests of local campesino communities in Challhuahuacho and Tambobamba districts. "The community has never disagreed with the project. They are not anti-mining," protest leader Rodny Cabrera told RPP Noticias. "The issue is that they cheated us, they lied to us. The mining company changed the environmental impact plan. The ore was going to go through a pipeline, not trucks that are polluting the fields. How will people live?" (OCMAL, Peru Reports, Oct. 15, La Mula, Reuters, Oct. 14; La Mula, Sept. 30)

Colombia: peace talks with ELN rebels announced

At a meeting hailed as historic in Caracas, Venezuela, representatives of Colombia's government and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) announced Oct. 10 that they will open peace negotiations. The talks are to convene Oct. 27 in Quito, Ecuador. This talks are being called the "public phase" of dialogue, as discussions had been taking place for aboutr two years through back channels. The Quito talks will be led by government delegate Mauricio Rodríguez and  the ELN commander known as "Pablo Beltran." The day of the announcement, as an "act of good will," the ELN released an abducted hostage to the International Committee of the Red Cross—the third prisoner release in the two weeks. Two other high-profile hostages are expected to be released shortly. There are former congress member Odín Sánchez Montes de Oca, who in April switched places with his kidnapped brother, former Chocó Gov. Patrocinio Sánchez; and Octavio Figueroa, a businessman kidnapped in La Guajira in March. (BBC News, InSight CrimeCity Paper, Bogotá, Oct. 11; Colombia Reports, Oct. 10)

Colombians re-mobilize for peace

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Oct. 9 that he will donate the money from his Nobel Peace prize to assist the victims of the 52-year civil war in his country. He was awarded the prize for reaching a peace agreement with the FARC rebels, despite the accord being rejected by Colombian voters in a plebiscite last week. Some 260,000 have been killed and more than six million internally displaced in Colombia. (BBC News, Oct. 9) Medellin, which voted "No" to the peace accord only five days earlier, saw a massive march to demand peace on Oct. 7, the day the peace prize was announced. Several such marches were held around the country, but the one in Medellín was especially significant; the city is one of the main electoral bastions of former president Alvaro Uribe, who led the "No" campaign. Marchers chanted "Antioquia is not Uribe." (Colombia Reports, Oct. 8)

Bolivia tilting back to prohibitionist stance?

President Barack Obama once again singled out Washington's biggest political adversaries in Latin America for censure in this year's White House report on global anti-drug efforts. The annual memorandum to the State Department, "Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries," released Sept. 12, lists 17 Latin American countries out of a total of 22 around the world. As has now become routine, Bolivia, Venezuela and Burma are blacklisted as countries that have "failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to the obligations under international counternarcotic agreements." (InSight Crime, Sept. 13)

Colombia: voters reject FARC peace accord

In Colombia's historic plebiscite Oct. 2, voters narrowly rejected the peace pact with the FARC rebels—a major surprise, as all polls had predicted a landslide victory for the "Yes" option. With 99.08% of the votes counted, the "No" option has received 50.24% of the votes against 49.75% for "Yes." The referendum obtained the necessary votes for it to be valid, despite heavy rainfall across much of the country. The result is a setback for President Juan Manuel Santos, and a victory for ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign for a "No" vote. Addressing the nation, President Santos accepted the result but said he would continue working to achieve peace. He stressed that the ceasefire remained in place, and said his negotiators have been ordered to travel to Cuba to consult FARC leaders on the next move. (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, BBC News, Oct. 2)

Colombia: FARC peace deal signed in Cartagena

Colombia's long civil war came to an official end Sept. 26 as President Juan Manuel Santos met with FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko"  to sign a formal peace pact at Cartagena's convention center. The ceremony, with dignitaries and attendees all clad in white, was witnessed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 15 Latin American heads of state. A place of honor was held by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, whose country has hosted the peace dialogue with the FARC over the past two years. On Oct. 2, the deal will go before Colombia's voters in a national plebiscite. but Timochenko has publicly stated that even if the accord is not ratified by voters, there will be no return to war. Santos is more equivocal, telling reporters in the prelude to the ceremony: "If 'No' wins, we will return to what we had at the start of this government six years ago. We return to armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe for the country."