Andean Theater

Indigenous role seen in FARC demobilization

Amid controversial proposals for a "demobilization zone" where FARC fighters could gather before laying down arms under a pending peace accord, leaders of Colombia's indigenous peoples have volunteered to have their autonomous authorities oversee the process. Legislative deputy Germán Bernardo Carlosama López, representing the indigenous district of Gran Mallama, Nariño department, last week sent a letter to Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo posing indigenous authorities as a neutral force that could secure the demobilization zones. He stated: "The FARC have made clear that it is not prudent that members of the Public Force be resposible for guaranteeing the security of these possible zones; therefore, the experience and wisdom that characterizes the Indigenous Guard, with its example of dignified defense of human rights and model of peaceful resistance, could open and pave the way for this momentous process." A contingent of indigenous leaders has traveled to Havana, Cuba, to discuss the idea with negotiators. (El Espectador, Feb. 25)

Peru: anti-TPP protests rock Lima

Protesters opposed to the Trans-Pacific Parternship marched through downtown Lima Feb. 25 and engaged in clashes with police, as a break-away group vandalized the headquarters of the APRA party. Lima has seen at least four protests against the TPP since Peru signed the agreement in New Zealand on Feb. 4, but these were the first to end in violence. Police used tear-gas after protesters threw rocks and set fires. "The TPP is the most dangerous trade agreement signed in history because it threatens national sovereignty, access to medicine and the Internet, healthy eating and a clean environment," read flyers passed out by the protesters. Protest organizers Dignity Collective denied having vandalized the APRA building in a statement the following morning, while also condemning "excessive repression" by the police and demanding that the 20 arrested protesters be freed. Former Cabinet chief Jorge del Castillo responded in comments to the media that the protesters were sympathizers of the Shining Path. (Peru Reports, Feb. 26; Prensa Latina, Feb. 25)

Bolivia: violence precedes vote on term limits

Exit polls suggest Bolivia's President Evo Morales has narrowly lost a referendum to amend the constitution and allow him to run for a fourth consecutive term. The constitution change would let Morales remain in power until 2025. Opposition supporters are already celebrating the referendum result in parts of La Paz.  However, Vice President Alvaro García Linera said the results so far are a "technical tie." The vote takes place amid controversy over who is responsible for a deadly incident of political violence four days earlier in El Alto, the sprawling working-class suburb of La Paz that is a traditional stronghold of Morales' ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). (BBC News, Feb. 22; La Razón, Feb. 18)

Drought brings hunger to Colombia's Guajira

Struck hard by a drought related to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon, Colombia's northern region of La Guajira is suffering from a crisis of malnutrition. Tania Galván, a leader of the region's Wayúu indigenous group, told local media that her people's children are dying each week from malnutrition. According to the National Health Institute, 897 children currently suffer severe malnutrition in La Guajira. Indigenous leaders charge the government is ignoring an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take urgent action against extreme poverty in the region, where more than 4,000 indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the past eight years. The December ruling came in a case brought by Javier Rojas Uriana, leader of the Shipia Wayúu Association. Indigenous leaders say drought conditions are compounded by local corruption, economic slowdown, and massive use of water by the Cerrejon coal mine in Albania municipality. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 20; El Espectador, Feb. 16; Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; Al Jazeera, Feb. 3)

Plan Colombia to become 'Peace Colombia'?

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos met at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two of course congratulated each other on the success of the program, which has delivered some $10 billion to Colombia in mostly military aid since 2001. They also discussed a proposed new aid program that Santos is calling the "second phase" of Plan Colombia and Obama proposed actually be called "Peace Colombia." Obama broached a package of $450 million annually to support the peace process in Colombia—an incease over leat year's $300 million. This would go towards implementing the reforms to be instated following a peace deal with the FARC guerillas—with a conitnued focus on drug enforcement. Obama said the US "will keep working to protect our people as well as the Colombian people from the ravages of illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers." (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Espectador, Feb. 3)

Peru: populist pursues presidency from prison

Left-populist presidential candidate Gregorio Santos Guerrero insists he will run in Peru's April election—despite remaining behind bars at Ancón I prison outside Lima. Santos, affectionately known as "Goyo," was already re-elected to the presidency of the northern region of Cajamarca from prison in 2014, and officially remains the region's executive. He says his "preventative detention" under pending corruption charges is political retaliation for his advocacy for the peasants and poor of Cajamarca—especially his support of the region's popular struggle against the US-backed Conga gold mine mega-project, now stalled due to widespread protests. In a statement this month, he said he would not be detained "if the law were applied equally," and scoffed at the notion that he was a flight risk while officially serving as a regional president. While Santos has been imprisoned, Cajamarca's acting executive has been his vice president, Porfirio Medina. (, Feb. 12; Andina, Feb. 10; La Republica, Feb. 1)

Colombia: court protects highlands from mining

Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 7 revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on páramos, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The ruling overturns Article 173 of the government's new National Development Plan (PND), which allowed 347 existing licenses in the alpine zones to move ahead, although barring the issuing of new ones. The ruling also struck down provisions of the PND that barred victims of the country's armed conflict from reclaiming usurped lands that had been converted into so-called "Projects of Strategic National Interest" (PINE). Additionally, the court overturned a third article that allowed the government to forcibly expropriate privately-owned land for mega-projects. The decision is seen as a blow to the ambitions of Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, mastermind of the PND. The case was brought by the left-opposition Polo Democrática. (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, Equilibrio Informativo, El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Feb. 9; El Espectador, RCN Radio, Feb. 8; Silla Vacía, Feb. 7)

Colombia: war crimes at issue in FARC talks

Amid concerns over impunity for past atrocities in Colombia's peace process, a court in Villaviencio last week sentenced ex-FARC commander Gildardo Forero García, AKA"'Arley" to 40 years in prison for his role in the guerillas' August 1998 siege of the town of Miraflores, Guaviare, department. Three civilians were killed and many wounded in the siege as the guerillas used improvised "cylinder-bombs" indiscriminately. Sixteen members of the security forces were also killed in the siege, and many taken captive by the guerillas. (El Espectador, Feb. 5) The previous week, former army sergeant Iván Mauricio Ochoa Yepes was sentenced to 43 years by a court in Medellín for the "false positive" killings of two civilians, including a minor, at Concepción, Antioquia, in April 2006. The human rights division of Colombia's Fiscalía said that it is investigating 2,308 "false positive" cases. (El Colombiano, Feb. 7;, Jan. 29; Radio Caracol, Jan. 24)

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