Andean Theater

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)

China enters Peru hydro-electric sector

A consortium led by China Three Gorges Corp has agreed to buy a giant hydro-electric plant under construction in Peru from scandal-mired Brazilian company Odebrecht. The Chinese consortium, also including Hubei Energy Group, is reported to be paying $1.39 billion for the Chaglla power plant, which is located on the Río Huallaga in Chaglla and Chinchao districts of Huánuco region. The Chaglla complex has recieved  $150 million in funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. When completed, it will be Peru's third largest hydro-electric facility.

Trump finally meets a 'dictator' he doesn't like

Well, this is cute. The Trump White House condemned Venezuela as a "dictatorship" in the wake of the contested Constituent Assembly vote, and imposed sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro. The immediate pretext is the detention of opposition figures Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who were transferred from house arrest to military prison, accused of leading protests in defiance of a nationwide ban. Trump said in a statement that the United States "condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship," and holds Maduro "personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr. López, Mr. Ledezma, and any others seized."

Venezuela: is the problem really 'socialism'?

There is an unseemly tone of gloating to conservative commentary on the crisis in Venezuela, with pundits calling out their opposite numbers on the left for their cheerleading for the regime and pointing to the current chaos as evidence that "socialism" doesn't work. Indeed, many left-wing commentators deserve to be called out for their uncritical attitude toward the late Hugo Chávez and his mediocre successor Nicolás Maduro. But a case can be made that, contrary to conservative and mainstream assumptions, the problem is precisely that the Bolivarian Revolution has been insufficiently revolutionary and socialist.

Colombian coca production in record jump

In unsettling news for the country's peace process with the FARC guerillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50% increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures, released by UNODC's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI) and reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo July 14, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52% jump.

Venezuela: independent left rejects both sides

The vote for Venezuela's Constituent Assembly opened July 30 amid ongoing and widespread angry street protests, in defiance of a nationwide ban on demonstrations. Violence broke out as protesters attempted to block access to polling stations, resulting in at least 14 deaths. Those killed include two prominent leaders—one from each side. Ricardo Campos, a youth secretary with the opposition Acción Democrática party, was shot dead during a protest in the northeastern town of Cumana. José Félix Pineda Marcano, a chavista leader and Constituent Assembly candidate, was killed in an invasion of his home in Ciudad Bolívar. Two youths, aged 17 and 13, and a solider were killed in street-fighting in Táchira. Violence in the days leading up to the vote drove the death toll over four months of unrest above 100. (BBC News, RCN Radio, KaosEnLaRed, Clarín, July 30; AP, NPR, July 27)

Peru: Cuzco unrest over airport plan

Protesters blocked the train line to the Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu, stranding thousands of tourists during a 48-hour paro (civil strike) by residents of Peru's Cuzco region. British-owned PeruRail company announced that service was suspended July 13-4 because of the blockades. At issue is a planned new airport for the Cuzco area, that was suspended in March due to controversies surrounding the construction contract. The airport—slated for Chinchero Valley, to the north of Cuzco's capital in neighboring Urubamba province—has now been pushed back until 2020. Local residents were eager for the region's first intercontinental airport to boost tourism revenues, and as a symbol of autonomy from Lima. Constantino Sallo, president of the Defense Front for the Interests of Chinchero District, demanded the government set a timetable of between 90 and 120 days to break ground on the project.

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