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)
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.
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)
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.