Andean Theater


from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Sept. 29, at least 5,000 Bolivian teachers staged a national strike and marched in La Paz to protest what they call a "virtual privatization" of education in Bolivia: the handing over of public school administration--with all its costs--to the country's municipalities. The education system change was part of an accord negotiated with Bolivian municipalities on the use of proceeds from a new 32% gas tax, the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons (IDH), which is expected to bring $417 million into government coffers in 2005. Under a hydrocarbons law passed last May by Congress, the municipal governments of Bolivia's 10 main cities will each receive about $26 million from the IDH. Following tense negotiations in early September, an agreement was reached to assign the funds, but only on the condition that the municipalities take over the cost and administration of public education in their areas. (Diario El Popular, Canada, Sept. 30)


from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Sept. 15, a group of 15 heavily armed men in olive green military uniforms arrived in two pickup trucks at the Yukpa and Wayuu indigenous campesino community of Guaicaipuro in the El Tokuko sector of Machiques de Perija municipality in Venezuela's Zulia state. The men entered the residents' homes and beat a number of residents before setting everything on fire. Residents say they saw Noe Machado, former owner of the Ceilan estate on which the Guaicaipuro community settled, arrive in another pickup truck with the gasoline used to set the fires. Several community members were injured, and the attackers burned down 38 houses, leaving 376 people without homes. Furniture, livestock and other belongings were also burned and destroyed.


from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Oct. 10, tens of thousands of Colombian indigenous people began marching to various regional capitals in a coordinated Minga (community mobilization) to demand indigenous rights, protest the government's economic and social policies--especially a planned "free trade treaty" (TLC) with the US, Peru and Ecuador--and protest President Alvaro Uribe Velez's attempts to lift a ban on presidential reelection. The Minga--initiated by the Embera people but with the active participation and support of indigenous groups throughout Colombia--was organized to culminate on Oct. 12 in coordination with a national general strike called by labor unions, campesinos, students, leftist activists and others. Oct. 12 was chosen because it marks the arrival in the Americas of a group of European "explorers" headed by Christopher Columbus; for indigenous people, the day commemorates their centuries of resistance against the European invasion.


from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Sept. 30, residents of the districts of Atalaya, Sepahua and Tahuania in the Peruvian Amazon held a 24-hour strike protesting the contamination of the region's rivers by the Camisea natural gas project. The same day, thousands of Ashaninka, Yine Yame and Shipibo indigenous people, armed with spears and arrows, set up a river blockade in the districts of Tahuania and Sepahua, preventing ships serving the Camisea project from passing through the zone. The indigenous people, backed by Atalaya mayor Dante Navarro and the regional government of Ucayali, are demanding that the government allot 12.5% of the Camisea royalties to Ucayali to compensate for the damages the gas project causes. "We have waited eight months and we have received no response, so the dialogue has run out," said Edwin Vasquez, president of Ucayali region.

Colombia: paras, guerillas battle for control of Chocó

Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary fighters engaged in a bloody gun battle over control of the cocaine trade in western Chocó department, leaving at least 75 fighters dead, the Bogota daily El Tiempo reported. Victor Mosquera, a regional human rights observer, said corpses littered the site of the fighting and that many people were missing. Government troops have been rushed to Chocó.

Para collaboration scandal shakes Colombian secret police

Jorge Noguera, the head of Colombia's Administrative Security Department (DAS) announced his resignation Oct. 25, inviting authorities to investigate accusations against him in the national press that he had cololaborated with illegal paramilitary groups. Noguera told reporters he was innocent of accusations made by DAS employees he had met with paramilitary leaders and oversaw a department in which charges against accused drug smugglers were mysteriously erased. "I ask the authorities to investigate these accusations. My conscience is clean," Noguera said. Also Oct. 254, Uribe fired DAS subdirector José Miguel Narvaez. (Reuters, Oct. 25)

Paras kill Afro-Colombian leader

On the morning of Oct. 27, authorities certified that the body of an Afro-Colombian found washed up on the banks of the Rio Leon at Bocas de Zabalo, Chocó department, dead of gunshot wounds, was that of Orlando Valencia, a peasant leader from Curvaradó who was abducted by paramilitaries Oct. 16. Valencia's wife and seven children, accompanied by rights observers, are now travelling to Chigorodó municipality, to demand his remains from the local morgue. The local Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, an independent human rights association, is demanding that the Colombian government take measures to guarantee the safety of Valencia's family and the community of Curvaradó, charging that paramilitaries have effective control of the region in collaboration with the National Police and the army's 17th Brigade. New verbal threats from local paras against Curvaradó community leaders have been reported in recent days.

Plan Colombia "ineffective": Venezuelan drug czar

"Plan Colombia," Bogotá's US— backed program to reduce drug production in that Andean nation, "isn't working," charges Luis Correa, leader of Venezuela's National Commission Against Illicit Drug Use (Conacuid). Luis Correa said there had been "a huge increase" in illegal crop production in areas of Colombia near the Venezuelan border. "In July, we were able to prove it through satellite photos provided by the OAS, which even revealed new landing strips," the Conacuid chief told reporters. "In my opinion, this shows that Plan Colombia isn't working, because — according to what they said — the purpose was to eliminate the crops and reduce drug production."

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