Colombia's Constitutional Court announced a decision Feb. 16 upholding the power of municipalities and "territorial entities" to block mining on their lands. The decision cited Law 685, which modified the Mining Code in 2001, bringing it into conformity with constitutional provisions on regional autonomy. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 16) The ruling clears the way for Ibagué, capital of Tolima department, to hold its planned consulta or popular vote on mining operations within the municipality, seen as model for similar votes around the country.
The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)
An international arbitration body, having ruled for Peru in a case brought by a US mineral interest under terms of the Free Trade Agreement, is now denying Lima recovery of its legal costs. New York-based Renco Group Inc brought the case before the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2011, charging Lima with violating investment protection provisions of the FTA, formally known as the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. At issue was Lima's demand that Renco's affiliate Doe Run Peru clean up decades of toxic pollution linked to lead and zinc smelting at its facilty in La Oroya, which Renco said forced the subsidiary into bankruptcy. Renco sought $800 million in compensation. UNCITRAL turned down Renco's claim on jurisdictional grounds in July 2016, but subsequently decided to waive its usual "loser pays" principle, forcing Peru to pay half the legal costs in the case, some $3.8 million. UNCITRAL cited Peru's delay in raising its objections to the tribunal's jurisdiction. Renco says it will file the case again "in a manner that cures the technical legal defect that was the basis for the dismissal." Peru's new President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has pledged to re-open the idled Oroya complex, and says its auction to new owners willing to address its financial and environmental problems will take place in March. (Lexology, Jan. 24; Gestión, Jan. 12; Law360, Nov. 14; Bloomberg, July 18; VOA, July 6)
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 historic peace process in Colombia is finally resulting in demobilization of the country's FARC guerilla fighters, who are now gathering at designated points in the countryside to turn over their arms. The effort has won President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize. But FARC leaders admit that five regional commanders—said to be those most co-opted by the narco trade—are refusing to lay down arms, and have been officially expelled by the guerilla army's high command. According to a FARC communique extensively quoted in Bogotá daily El Tiempo Dec. 13, one of the renegade guerilla leaders is "Gentil Duarte," who before his expulsion was a member of the FARC high command. Also named is "Jhon 40," the notorious commander of a jungle zone along the Venezuelan border, a key transfer point for cocaine and other contraband. He is also believed to profit off of illegal mining operations in the zone.
Ecuador's government on Dec. 19 issued an order for the dissolution of the Quito-based organization Acción Ecológica, for 30 years a voice for the country's indigenous peoples in their struggles against oil and mineral development. The Interior Ministry issued the order, accusing the group of complicity in "violent acts" carried out by anti-mining protesters in the Amazon region. A group of experts from the UN Human Rights Council issued a statement Dec. 30 protesting the order, and calling on Ecuador's government to halt "repressive measures that seek to asfixiate civil society." The statement said: "The government of Ecuador seems to be systematically dissolving organizations when they become too vocal or challenge government orthodoxy."
In his Christmas message to the Colombian people, President Juan Manuel Santos said that the country was experiencing "at last a true night of peace." But deadly violence against social leaders, especially in the countryside, continues in spite of the peace accords with the FARC guerillas. According to a count by El Espectador newspaper, at least 115 social leaders were assassinated nationwide in 2016, with 40,000 seeking protection form the authorities in response to threats—double the figure for 2015. (El Espectador, Dec. 27) The most recent slaying came Christmas Day, when Anuar José Álvarez Armero, a campesino leader and local organizer for the Marcha Patriotica movement, was gunned down in a roadisde ambush in Argelia municipality, Cauca. (Contagio Radio, Dec. 25)
Colombian authorities are blaming ELN guerillas in a wave of armed attacks on security forces in Arauca department—including the Dec. 18 ambush of an army patrol that left two soliders dead at Saravena. The ELN is also suspected in a spate of other recent attacks around the country—including a Dec. 29 blast at a power station at Torca, north of Bogotá, that left one National Police officer dead. (El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Radio Caracol, Dec. 29; El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 19) The attacks come days after Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas warned that the window for initiating peace talks with the ELN "will not be open forever." (El Espectador, Dec. 23) In a year-end communique, the ELN blamed the government for the "difficult and anti-peace climate," especially in its refusal to accept a bilateral ceasefire. But it said the ELN remains committed to opening peace talks, and will meet again with a government delegation Jan. 10 in Quito. (El Tiempo, Dec. 26)