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.
Venezuela appears headed for a showdown in the wake of this month's electoral reversal for President Nicolás Maduro. "We're facing a large-scale crisis that is going to generate a power struggle between two poles: the patriots and the anti-patriots," Maduro said in a speech to the military Dec. 12. "A conflict which is going to create big tensions... It's a counter-revolutionary crisis." The new legislature begins on Jan. 5, and the opposition has said its priority is an amnesty law for imprisoned activists—which Maduro insists he will refuse to sign. Opposition leader Leopoldo López is among those whose release is also being demanded by Amnesty International. (Reuters, Dec. 12; Informador.mx, Dec. 9)
Colombia is seeking the extradition of an alleged former FARC medic who was arrested in Spain on Dec. 11 and is accused of having carried out hundreds of forced abortions on female guerilla fighters. The man, Héctor Albeidis Arboleda, has been working as a nurse in Madrid for the past three years, and is a graduate of Cuba's Inter-American University of Health. He is wanted by Colombia authorities for carrying out forced abortions on FARC fighters in Chocó and Antioquia regions. Colombia's Fiscal General Eduardo Montealegre, in announcing the extradition request, said, "We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the FARC...based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war." A Fiscalía spokesperson told news-magazine Semana, "Several women died in these abortion practices, others were injured. Others referred to this as torture."
Colombia's House of Representatives on Dec. 3 agreed to hold a plebiscite to seek popular approval of a peace deal with the FARC. The House vote is not the final decision; a reconciliation commission comprised of member of both the Senate and the House will have to approve the final version. According to the bill as it is sent to the commission, the plebiscite will be held three weeks after publication of the full peace agreement with the FARC. For the peace deal to be approved, more than 50% of 13% of the eligible population must vote in the plebiscite. Concretely, President Juan Manuel Santos will need the approval of 4.4 million Colombians, less than 10% of the population, to validate the eventual peace deal. The peace process cxontinues in spite of vociferous opposition by conservatives who fruitlessly lobbied for a higher threshold. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 4)
Ecuador's National Assembly on Dec. 3 passed a constitutional amendment lifting presidential term limits, beginning in 2021. The 16 constitutional amendments were approved in a vote of 100-8 in a legislature where sitting President Rafael Correa's political party, Alianza Pais, has a two-thirds majority. Though Correa, who has been president since 2007 and will finish his second term in 2017, has said that he will not participate in the next election in 2017, he will be eligible to run again in 2021 under the new amendment. The vote has caused protests, some violent, against the amendments by demonstrators who believe that the vote represents a power-grab by Correa. They wanted the National Assembly to either not vote on the proposal or to put it to a popular vote, as was done in Bolivia earlier this year. While congressman Luis Fernando Torres called the vote constitutional fraud, Correa tweeted on the matter to contend that he will continue to govern with "total democratic legitimacy."
After 50 years of internal war, Colombia finally seems to be approaching a peace accord with leftist guerillas. But the US Senate is considering legislation that could throw a big obstacle on Colombia's path to peace. The Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, sponsored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), aims to target every link in the chain of narco-trafficking—right down the impoverished peasants who grow the coca. The bill has unanimously passed the Senate twice before, but never cleared the House. On Oct. 7, it passed the Senate a third time, and a big push is on to make it law. "Since drug cartels are continually evolving, this legislation ensures that our criminal laws keep pace," said Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
Two nephews of the wife of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro were arrested in Haiti, turned over to DEA agents and flown to the United States to face drug trafficking charges, the New York Times reported Nov. 11. The two men, Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, are nephews of Cilia Flores—called by the populist Maduro the "First Combatant" rather than first lady. Flores is a powerful political figure in her own right, and is currently running for Venezuela's congress with the ruling party. The nephews were expected to appear in Federal District Court in Manhattan. They were charged in a sealed indictment accusing them of conspiring to ship 800 kilograms of cocaine to the United States, to be sold in New York City, according to a "person with knowledge of the matter."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Nov. 27 called for the protection of political groups associated with the assassinated Venezuelan opposition leader Luis Diaz. Diaz was shot while on stage with jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori. Zeid stated that it was unclear whether the shot was meant for Diaz or Tinter, but that all those associated with the opposition leader should be adequately protected. He further urged, "the authorities to ensure that the investigation into Luis Diaz's murder is independent and impartial and brings to justice the perpetrators, as well as the masterminds behind the assassination... All sides must refrain from violence and violent rhetoric in the run up to the elections."