Andean Theater

Peru: coca eradication met with guerilla attack

Announcement of an aggressive new coca-eradication campaign in Peru was met with a deadly attack on security forces in the targeted production zone. Authorities said "narco-terrorists" attacked a National Police patrol in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), leaving two troops dead. The VRAEM, a pocket of jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is said to produce 75% of Peru's coca leaf, but the government has until now resisted US pressure to launch an eradication program there, for fear of enflaming the tense situation in the valley. A surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency remains active in the VRAEM, offering cocaleros protection from security forces in exchange for their loyalty.

Colombia: more 'consultas' reject extractivism

The latest in a series of popular consultas (consultations, or referenda) on local extractive projects took place June 4 in the municipality of Cumaral, Meta department, with residents voting overwhelmingly (7,475-183) to reject oil exploitation within their territory. The Chinese-owned company that hopes to drill in Cumaral, Mansarovar Energy, immediately challenged the legitimacy of the consulta before Colombia's Council of State, the supreme tribunal with jurisdiction over administrative issues. In a surprise ruling just two days after the vote, the Council of State found that the results must be binding. The ruling is still subject to review by Colombia's Constitutional Court. (El Espectador, June 6; Semana, June 5)

Colombia: Pacific coast strike ends in victory

After an all-night negotiating session with protest leaders in Colombia's Pacific port of Buenaventura June 5, government representatives pledged to invest $517 million in local infrastructure in return for a lifting of the civic strike that has rocked the region for weeks. Despite a curfew, confrontations had continued in the port city between residents and the feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD. On the night of May 31, clashes with ESMAD troops again filled the streets with tear-gas. Protesters continued to call on President Juan Manuel Santos to follow through on his promises of new schools, housing, hospitals and potable water for the long-neglected Pacific coast region. The strike primarilly impacted the adjacent departments of Valle del Cauca, where Buenaventura is located, and Chocó to the north. (TeleSur, Colombia Reports, June 6; El Espectador, May 31)

Colombia: race to salvage peace process

After a near-breakdown in Colombia's peace process last month, Colombia's government is scrambling to revive the disarmament and demobilization of the FARC guerillas—under pressure from a citizen mobilization. The popular networks Marcha Patriótica and Congreso de los Pueblos joined on June 1 for a youth demonstration in support of the peace process, with some 600 holding vigil in downtown Bogotá. (El Espectador June 1; Contagio Radio, May 31) A new deadline of June 20 has now been set for FARC fighters to turn over all their weapons. UN monitors and the FARC say that 30% of the arms have now been handed over to the UN team overseeing the disarmament. (BBC News, June 8; El Espectador, May 30)

Colombia: protests rock Pacific coast

Following days of protests and strikes, Colombia's largest port city of Buenaventura exploded into violence May 19 as police opened fire on demonstrators, leaving one dead and many wounded. Marches have since continued in the city in defiance of a curfew, and scores have been detained. The protests are part of a regional campaign over harsh conditions on Colombia's Pacific coast. Buenaventura is one of South America's most important ports, yet half the city's 400,000 residents have no access to potable water. The protests began in Chocó department, up the coast from Buenaventura, under the slogan "Down with Colombia's corrupt oligarchy!" Strike leaders charge that millions of dollars in infrastructure investment for the region have disappeared. (Colombia Reports, May 21; Colombia Reports, RCN Noticias, May 20; El Espectador, El Tiempo, May 10)

Colombia: high court deals blow to peace process

The FARC rebels are on "high alert" following a May 17 ruling by Colombia's Constitutional Court, striking down congressional "fast track" authority for legislation related to the country's peace process. Under "fast track" rules, Colombia's Congress could only vote to approve or deny reforms related to implementing the peace process, rather than debating and voting on each point individually. The ruling comes less than two weeks before "D+180," the date marking 180 days from the start of the FARC demobilization process, by which time it was slated to be complete. (InSight Crime, May 19; TeleSur, May 18, Semana, May 17)

Colombia: popular power defeats mega-mining

Mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti announced April 27 that it will abandon its planned mega-project at La Colosa, in Colombia's central department of Tolima, following a popular vote by local residents to reject the project last month. Members of Cajamarca municipality held the vote or consulta March 26. Leader of the "No" campaign, Renzo García of the local Environmental Committee for Defense of Water and Life, called the company's decision to abide by the vote "a good sign for democracy." (El Espectador, April 27)

Venezuelan oil goad in US-Russia game

Amid a new eruption of massive protests and deadly street clashes in Venezuela comes word that General Motors says it will immediately halt operations in the country after its plant in the industrial hub of Valencia was unexpectedly seized by authorities. GM described the takeover as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets," and pledged to "vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela" to challenge the expropriation. (CNN, NBC, April 20) But the news comes along with even more unexpected indications of quiet overtures between the governments of Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump...