Bolivian President Evo Morales announced March 26 that his government will bring suit against Chile before the International Court of Justice seeking compensation for using the waters of the disputed Río Silala. Two days later, he made a visit to the river in Potosí department, where he declared, "Silala is not an international river." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet promptly responded that Bolivia has recognized the Silala as an international river for more than 100 years and said she would counter-sue before the World Court if Bolivia in fact brought a case. Originating in the high desert plateau of Bolivia's remote southeast, the Silala flows into Chile through a canal built for mining operations over a century ago. In 2009 Chile and Bolivia announced an accord to resolve the conflict, which would cut Chile's use of the Silala's water by 50%. But the pact was never formalized, and local communities in impoversihed Potosí demanded retroactive payment for Chile's past use of the waters.
International environmentalists are condemning Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals' announcement that it will initiate arbitration against Colombia over its new policy to protect sensitive highland ecosystems. Eco Oro has stated its intention to sue Colombia under the investment chapter of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement over suspension of its proposed Angostura gold mine in Santurbán, Santander department, seeking "monetary compensation for the damages suffered." The case concerns a ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last month that revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on páramos, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The company maintains the Colombian government did not adequately demarcate the Santurbán paramó before giving a license for the project, which has received backing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.
Colombia's government and FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. The date was set when President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader "Timochenko" met in Havana in September. But significant steps toward peace have been taken over the past six months. In what Timochenko called an "historic, unprecedented" meeting until recently "unthinkable," he shook hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during President Obama's trip to Cuba this week. "We received from him in person the support for the peace process in Colombia," said Timochenko. (Colombia Reports, March 23; Colombia Reports, March 22) The FARC quickly followed up with a statement calling on the State Department to remove the guerilla army from its list of "foreign terrorist organizations." (AFP, March 23)
Peruvian journalist Walter Chávez, widely named in the press as a key campaign advisor to Bolivian president Evo Morales, was arrested in Argentina March 16, and may face extradition to Peru, where he faces charges of having served as an operative of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a now-defunct guerilla group. Chávez was granted political asylum in Bolivia in 1992, and worked on Morales' campaigns between his election in 2005 and his most recent re-election in 2014. Bolivia refused a Peruvian extradition request in 2007. Chávez was arrested in Argentina's northern city of Salta, apparently having crossed the border some three weeks earlier. (Peru.com, March 17; InfoBae, Argentina, Eju!, Bolivia, March 16) In response to the controversy, Bolivia's cabinet chief Carlos Romero denied that Walter Chávez had ever been an official advisor, saying he did not work out of the presidential palace but "particiapted voluntarily" in Morales' campaigns. (Terra, March 17)
Hundreds of taxi drivers from across Colombia converged on Bogotá March 14, clogging the streets and blocking intersections to demand the government ban Uber. Streams of slow-moving yellow cabs, many sporting with the Colombian tri-color flag finally joined in a caravan that ended in a mass rally at the Plaza de Bolívar. A handful of taxi drivers were arrested for forcing passengers out of cabs and other infractions, and a dozen vehicles impounded. At least one Uber driver's vehicle was reportedly damaged. The mobilization, dubbed "M-14," was joined by labor unions, students, miners, truckers and campesinos both in the capital and in solidarity protests around the country. Opposition to President Juan Manuel Santos' austerity program was also a part of the mobilization's demands.
Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro on March 9 ordered creation of a "Special Military Zone" in the so-called Orinoco Mineral Arc following reports of a massacre of at least 28 at a mining camp in the region. The order came after survivors and kin of the disappeared miners blocked roads connecting the remote region with the city of Tumeremo to demand action. Witnesses said the camp, in Sifontes municipality, was seized by armed men who gunned down the workers, dismembered their bodies with a buzz-saw, then forced survivors to load the remains in a truck which drove off into the jungle. "We won't rest until we find those responsible for these acts, which in the eyes of all Venezuelans are abominable," said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. But Bolívar state Gov. Francisco Rangel of the ruling PSUV was assailed by miners and the opposition for denying that any massacre had taken place. "So far there's not any indication of any person killed or missing," he said March 7, three days after the reports first broke. "What happened there, according to the security forces, was another clash between armed gangs that are trying to control mining activities in the area." (InfoBae, March 9; BBC News, March 8; InfoBae, March 7)
Despite the peace process in Colombia, assassinations continue against leaders of the country's campesino and indigenous communities who stand up to landed interests. On Feb. 28, Maricela Tombé, a leader of Playa Rica community, in El Tambo municipality of Cauca department, was killed by unknown gunmen in the village center. The mother of two children, Tombé was the former president of the Environmental Campesino Association of Playa Rica, and had led efforts at community land recovery. Leaflets threatening the community and signed by a local paramilitary group had recently been left in El Tambo. (El Tiempo, March 1) Late January saw the disappearance of Henry Pérez, a community leader at La Gabarra, Tibú, Norte de Santander, after menacing leaflets had similarly been left in local villages. Pérez had also been involved in land recovery efforts. The community continues to organize search parties for the missing leader. (El Tiempo, Feb. 27)
The city council of Ibagué, capital of Colombia's Tolima department, voted Feb. 29 to a approve a popular "consulta" on a proposed mineral project for the municipality—two months after Mayor Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo proposed the ground-breaking move. AngloGold Ashanti hopes to develop an open-pit gold mine at La Colosa in neighboring Cajamaraca municipality, which could impact the Río Coello that flows into Ibagué and provides much of its water supply. Another downstream municipality that depends on the river, Piedras, declared against the project following a similar popular consultation in 2013. But the upcoming Ibagué vote marks the first time a departmental capital will hold such a process on a development project. Jaramillo cites Law 136 of 1994, which gives municipalities the right to determine the development of subsoil resources within their territories. (El Espectador, El Espectador, El Tiempo, Feb. 29; El Tiempo, Feb. 25)