Andean Theater

Colombia: cocaleros resist forced eradication

Colombia's government—under pressure from Washington—is pushing ahead with plans to forcibly eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca leaf this year, despite mounting resistance from the peasant growers. In several incidents over the past weeks, forced eradication sparked violent confrontations between cocaleros and security forces. Even so-called "voluntary eradication" is now meeting with protest, as campesinos say their communities are being flooded with National Police troops, in violation of their pacts with the government.

Peru: pending law threatens indigenous lands

Indigenous rights advocates in Peru are protesting a law being prepared by the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) that would allow the government to abrogate the land titles of indigenous and peasant communities for development projects that are deemed "high-priority." This power, long sought by the oil and resource industries, was announced as a goal by the PPK administration shortly after taking office last year. The measure was first promulgated in January as Legislative Decree 1333, during a 90-day "honeymoon" period when Peru's Congress granted PPK special powers to enact laws by fiat, with only after-the-fact review by legislators. One of 112 decrees issued during this period, DL 1333 instituted a process entitled Access to Predios for Prioritized Investment Projects (APIP), allowing the government to "sanear" (literally, cleanse) titles to rural lands. Critics assailed this as a euphemism for arbitrary expropriation, and in May lawmakers  voted to overturn the decree. But on July 28, PPK submitted Law 1718 to Congress, essentially recapitulating the text of DL 1333—only this time, legislators will have to vote to approve it. The responsible agency for overseeing the saneamiento process—ProInversión, a division of the Ministry of Economy and Finance—says it has identified 33 projects around the country that could fall under the rubric of APIP. A watchdog on indigenous land rights, the Secure Territories for the Communities of Peru Collective, has joined with Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, in dubbing Law 1718 the "Law of Dispossession," and calling on Congress to reject it. (AIDESEP, Sept. 12; Servindi, Sept. 3; El Comercio, Aug. 17; La Mula, Aug. 16; El Comercio, May 26; Bonds & Loans, May 22; Instituto del Bien Común)

Colombia: government seeks to restrict 'consultas'

Community leaders throughout Colombia have spoken out against a proposal by the central government to limit the power of consultas populares, or popular referenda, to bar oil and mineral projects at the municipal level. Some are questioning the constitutionality of the government's plan to "fast track" a sweeping reform of the Organic Law of Territorial Ordering (LOOT) that would strip municipalities of the ability to restrict subsoil exploitation. Jaime Tocora of Comité por la Defensa de la Vida accused the government of "going over the heads of the communities and territories," and added: "The public good is with a clean environment, not the multinationals." (Contagio Radio, July 25)

Colombia: still no peace for social leaders

Colmbia's highest judicial body, the Fiscalía General, has opened investigations into the slaying six demobilized FARC fighters and nine family members of demobilized guerillas in apparent reprisal attacks since the peace accord took effect late last year. The attacks took place in the departments of Caquetá, Antioquia, Putumayo, Tolima, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. (El Espectador, July 27) But the wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia has also persisted, in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22. (El Colombiano, July 19)

Colombia: FARC becomes legal political party

Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)

Colombia: historic ceasefire with ELN guerillas

The Colombian government signed a ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN) after a third round of peace talks in Ecuador's capital Quito Sept. 4. The first-ever bilateral ceasefire in the 53-year history of the guerilla organization came two days before Pope Francis is to arrive in Colombia. The ceasefire is to formally take effect Oct. 1, to be renewed in January if peace talks continue to progress. As part of the deal, Colombia's government pledged to suspend military operations against the group, improve conditions for imprisoned ELN members, and protect human rights defenders. (El Espectador, Las 2 Orillas, Jurist)

Venezuela massacre latest sign of prison crisis

At least 37 were killed as a prison in southern Venezuela exploded into rebellion, authorities said Aug. 16. The death toll at the facility in the jungle town of Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas state, was first reported by the advocacy group Venezuelan Prison Observatory and later confirmed by the Interior Ministy. The violence began when inmates seized the facility and security forces were sent in to retake it. Guards were met with gunfire and explosions when they tried to restore order. The Interior Ministry said 14 security officers were among the wounded, although none were killed.

Ecuador: protests grip Galápagos

Protests were held outside China's embassy in Quito Aug. 24 following the interception of a Chinese cargo ship with an illegal catch of endangered fish and shark species in Ecuador's Galápagos Marine Reserve. The vessel's crew of 20 went on trial the following day, and could face up to three years in prison as well as monetary penalties ranging in the millions of dollars. The controversy comes as the Galápagos Islands have seen weeks of protest over a newly instated Organic Law of Special Regime for the Province of Galapagos. The new law gives Ecuador's national government greater control over land use and wages on the popular tourist destination. It also gives the Environment Ministry the power to change the borders of Galápagos National Park. Locals say the law opens the way for foreign investment and private encroachment on the National Park, undermining local businesses and potentially devastating unique wildlife. (LAHT, Aug. 25; TeleSur, Aug. 24; Vice, June 28, Galapagos Digital, June 18)

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