An official bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas took effect Aug. 29, five days after a formal peace deal was signed in Havana. But the Organization of American States (OAS) delegation to the peace talks issued a statement protesting that on the very day the ceasefire too force, four indigenous campesinos and three social leaders were killed in Colombia—by presumed paramilitaries. The slaying of three members of the Awá people in Nariño department was reported by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). The slaying of the three campesino leaders in Almaguer, Cauca department, was reported by the Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif (CIMA). (AFP, ONIC, Aug. 30; Colombia Informa, Aug. 29; El Tiempo, Aug 25)
Venezuela's opposition Table for Democratic Unity (MUD) claimed success in its massive Sept. 1 mobilization dubbed the "Toma de Caracas" (Taking of Caracas) to demand the recall of President Nicolás Maduro—despite pre-emptive arrests of leaders. Protest organzers put the total of marchers at up to 2 million, while government estimates were as low as 30,000. Official media and protest leaders are at odds as to whether there was violence at the march, with the MUD denying charges that protesters attacked police. Rights group Foro Penal reported 119 people were detained nationwide in a bid to head off the mobilization. Arrests have continiued since the march, and three local mayors are among those detained by the Bolivarian National Intellgence Service (SEBIN). An arrest order has been issued for opposition leader Lester Toledo of the Popular Will (VP) party in Zulia state for allegedly "financing terrorism." Maduro announced that he will consider stripping all Venezuelan politicians of immunity in order to permit prosecutions of suspected coup-plotters.
A deputy interior minister in Bolivia's government was abducted and killed by striking miners Aug. 25 in a conflict over formalization of mineral claims on the Altiplano. Rodolfo Illanes had gone to Panduro , a town some 80 miles south of La Paz, to open a dialogue with the miners, who had been blockading a highway for the past three days. The protest had turned violent, with two miners killed by riot police. Interior Minister Carlos Romero said "all indications" were that Illanes had been murdered in a "cowardly and brutal" attack. Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira broke down on television as he described how Illanes, appointed to his post in March, had apparently been "beaten and tortured to death." The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives (FENCOMIN), which called the strike, has not yet issued a statement.
Thousands of government opponents marched peacefully in Quito Aug. 25 to oppose the "totalitarianism and repression" of President Rafael Correa—whose supporters held counter-demonstrations. The opposition march was called by the National Union of Educators (UNE), after the government's decision to order the body disbanded. The call was taken up by the newly formed Unitary National Collective of Worker, Indigenous and Social Organizations, including indigenous alliance CONAIE, drawing many peasants from the countrywide. However, the Unitary Workers' Central (CUT), the country's main labor federation, joined the pro-government demonstration. The opposition and government supporters both also held large marched in Guayaquil. (El Diario, Manabi, El Universo, Guayaquil, AFP, InfoBae, EFE)
FARC rebels on Aug. 22 announced formation of a Monitoring and Verification Team to oversee demobilization of their fighters under Colombia's peace process. With an office in Bogotá, it is to be administrated by a tri-partite commission formed by the FARC, the Colombian government and the United Nations. (TeleSur, Aug. 22) But former president Alvaro Uribe, now leader of the right-wing opposition, continues to harshly criticize the peace process. In an Aug. 18 address at Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, he noted the chaos in neighboring Venezuela and warned that the FARC would bring "castro-chavismso" to Colombia if allowed to participate in the political process. (PanAm Post, Aug. 23)
An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)
Village leaders report that a total of 18 indigenous campesinos in the north of Colombia's Cauca department have been killed this year, in a presumed paramilitary campaign of intimidation. In one case last month, a pregnant woman was among three slain when they were stopped on the road between the towns of Caloto and Santander de Quilichao. She was headed with her family on motorbikes to a local hospital when they were ambushed by gunmen and left dead on the road. Paramilitaries have left pamphlets in local villages warning them to drop their campaigns for restitution of usurped lands. (RCN, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, July 22; Extra, Cauca, July 15))
Colombia's government on Aug. 22 sent a delegation to the Pacific coastal department of Chocó, six days into a massive civil strike (paro) that has paralyzed the marginal region, with roads blocked and businesses shuttered. Aug. 18 saw street clashes in regional capital Quibdó as the feared ESMAD anti-riot force was unleashed on protesters. Demands had been bulding for weeks over potable water, electricity and other basic infrastructure for poor peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. On July 20, social leaders announced their refusal to celebrate Colombia's Indpendence Day, instead holding a 40,000-strong protest march in Quibdó under the slogan: "We change the cry of independence into a cry of protest for our abandonment by the state." (NTN24, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, El Colombiano, Bogotá, Aug. 22; Prensa Rural, Aug. 20; El Espectador, Bogotá, July 20)