Ecuador will make a $1 billion payment to US oil giant Occidental Petroleum following a settlement on terms of a World Bank arbitration panel, President Rafael Correa announced Jan. 9. The International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) initially ordered Ecuador to pay the company $1.77 billion plus interest in the 2012 ruling. Correa in his weekly media address said that his government had succeeded in negotiating the sum down significantly. In his radio address, Correa said that in "a good faith gesture" Ecuador made an initial payment last month of 100 million dollars, and set up a schedule to complete payment of the balance by April. "We signed an agreement with Oxy yesterday and we have settled the matter in an amiable way," he said.
Colombian prosecutors will seek to charge some 1,500 civilians with conflict-related crimes allegedly committed by guerilla groups like the FARC, which is currently negotiating peace with the government. The civilians are all suspected of having either ordered or taken part in crimes like homicide, kidnapping, extortion and forced displacement carried out by leftist guerilla groups during Colombia’s more than 50-year-long armed conflict. Vice-Prosecutor General Jorge Fernando Perdomo said the civilians were incriminated by demobilized guerrillas of the FARC, ELN, EPL, ERG and ERP. In total, the transitional justice tribunal that will be put in place if peace is reached between the FARC and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos will prosecute tens of thousands of people allegedly involved in war crimes or crimes related to the conflict.
An opponent of the planned Chadín II hydro-electric complex on the Río Marañon in northern Peru was assassinated Dec. 28, gunned down in a hail of five bullets at his home in a rural district of Cajamarca region. Hitler Ananías Rojas Gonzales, 34, was president of the local Ronda Campesina (peasant self-defense patrol), and had recently been elected mayor of the pueblo of Yagen in Cortegana district of Celendín province. Also the vice-president of the Yagen Defense Front, formed to protect the area's natural resources from development interests, he had received numerous death threats for his opposition to the hydro project, as well as legal charges of "kidnapping" (often employed against activists who block traffic during protests). He leaves behind five children. (Servindi, Dec. 28)
For the first time in Bolivia's history, a woman assumed the post of chief of the Armed Forces High Command as Gen. Gina Reque Terán was sworn in Dec. 30. In her inaugural speech she vowed: "We will work ardently in the struggle against the narco-traffic and contraband, for the protection of natural resources... We will be forever alert to respond to any natural disaster... We will be prepared for any contingency." President Evo Morales in his own comments noted the military's role in the 2006 nationalization of Bolivia's hydrocarbons, which allowed the country to "liberate" itself economically. He also thanked the armed forces for their support in confronting the secessionist movement in Bolivia's east.
Members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which lost legislative seats in elections earlier this month, filed challenges on Dec. 29 disputing the victory of eight opposition candidates. The opposition, Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), won 99 legislative seats on Dec. 6, giving the party legislative power for the first time in 16 years. The win for the opposition party will give them a super majority in the legislature, allowing them to challenge President Nicolas Maduro. If one challenge is upheld, however, the opposition party will lose its status as a super-majority and the powers that come along with it. Critics of the challenges, such as Jesús Torrealba, secretary-general of the opposition party, describe them as a "legal tricks to steal something the voters didn't want to give...." President Maduro, in turn, said that the opposition "played dirty" in order to "purchase" their wins.
In a public ceremony held in the central plaza of Segovia, Antioquia department, representatives of the Colombian government on Dec. 20 formally acknowledged the state's responsibility in the Nov. 11, 1988 massacre, in which 43 residents were slain by paramilitary troops who fired indiscriminately as they swept through the town's streets. The ceremony, preceded by a march from the town's cemetery to the central plaza, was overseen by Guillermo Rivera, presidential advisor in human rights, and members of the government's Unit for Victim Reparations. Rivera admitted the massacre had been ordered by local politicians in response to the victory of the leftist Patriotic Union in the town's municipal elections. (El Espectador, Bogotá, Dec.. 20)
Human Rights Watch on Dec. 22 rejected a recently signed transitional justice deal between Colombia's government and FARC rebels, claiming it "sacrifices victims' right to justice" in efforts to make peace. According to the global rights organization, "the agreement sets out a regime of sanctions to be used by the tribunal that do not reflect accepted standards of appropriate punishment for grave violations." Consequently, the deal makes it "virtually impossible that Colombia will meet its binding obligations under international law to ensure accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes."
Colombia's Supreme Court exonerated a retired army colonel on Dec. 16 who had been found guilty of the forced disappearances of two people he escorted away from the 1985 Palace of Justice siege, ordering the colonel's immediate release. Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega was detained after a prosecutor re-opened investigations into disappearances related to the siege in 2006 and has spent the last eight years in custody. Originally charged with forcibly disappearing 11 people, he was convicted by Bogotá's Superior Court for two of the alleged disappearances and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Supreme Court reversed that conviction with a 5-3 vote, finding there was not enough evidence to convict Plazas Vega and stating they did not find witnesses credible. The court assured that the decision came after prolonged deliberating and analyzing all of the evidence, and that this decision does not bar future investigations into disappearances after the siege.