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)
Colombia's Congress on Dec. 28 approved the Amnesty Law as part of the peace process between the government and the FARC rebel army, protecting guerilla fighters from prosecution over most crimes related to the conflict. The bill passed the lower house with 117 votes in favor and three against, while the Senate approved it with a unanimous 69 votes. Lawmakers aligned with far-right former president, Sen. Alvaro Uribe refused to participate in the vote. Human rights absues and "grave" war crimes recognized by the Rome Statute are excluded from the amnesty. The measure creates a special "transitional justice" system for combatants accused of such offenses. (Jurist, Dec. 29; TeleSur, EFE, Dec. 28)
Despite advances for the peace process with the FARC rebels, the wave of assassinations of social leaders across Colombia by presumed paramilitary hitmen remains unabated. On Dec. 12, a team of two hitmen mounted on a motorcycle gunned down Guillermo Veldaño, president Communal Action Junta in the vereda (hamlet) of Buenos Aires, Puerto Asís municipality, Putumayo department. Veldaño was a local leader of the leftist Marcha Patriótica movement, which has been especially targeted for terror. (El Espectador, Dec. 12) That same day, campesino leader Eder Magones was slain when the moto-taxi he was riding in was ambushed by sicarios in Tiquisio, Bolívar department. (El Espectador, Dec. 12)
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Dec. 13 approved the government's plan for "fast track" authority to expedite congressional approval of terms for a peace deal with the FARC rebels. The 8-1 ruling is a victory for President Juan Manuel Santos, who argued that the deal could collapse if delayed by debates during the traditional legislative process. The "fast track" process eliminates certain legislative sessions and limits changes lawmakers can make to the package. (Jurist, Dec. 14) On the eve of the ruling, Santos said that the rejection of the original peace pact in a national plebiscite was a "blessing in disguise," as it gave both sides the impetus to return to the table and negotiate a "better accord." (El Tiempo, Dec. 12)
Peru's newly appointed defense minister, Jorge Nieto Montesinos, announced that he will focus on wiping out remnant Shining Path guerilla rebels who continue to operate in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro Valley (VRAEM), the country's main coca-producing region. Nieto, formerly culture minister, was named defense minister in a reshuffling of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski‘s four-month-old cabinet. The VREAM is considered by the UN to be the world's most prolific coca cultivation zone, accounting for a third of Peru's annual production. It is also the country's last significant guerilla stronghold. The integrated counter-narcotics and counterinsurgency effort in the VREAM was dealt a setback in October, when Lt. Wilmer Delgado, commander of an army outpost in the valley, was arrested on charges of collaborating with traffickers and receiving payments of allowing drug flights to operate in the area. (Peru Reports, Dec. 7; La República, Dec. 5; La República, Oct. 23)
A federal judge in Florida ruled Nov. 29 that victims of right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia may sue banana giant Chiquita Brands under US jurisdiction. Judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita's argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States, clearing the way for the ground-breaking suit to advance toward trial. The company no longer has assets in Colombia, so any damages awarded by that country's courts would be unenforceable. "Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay," said attorney Marco Simons of Earth Rights International (ERI).