Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet 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 are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Israel is set to declare 1,500 dunams (370 acres) of land in the occupied West Bank district of Jericho as "state land," Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced Jan. 20. The plans were revealed earlier in the day by Israeli Army Radio, which said the land was located north of the illegal Israeli settlement of Almog and had been used by settlers over the past 20 years. COGAT confirmed the plans were in their "final stages," and said they were in accordance with a political ratification. Israeli Army Radio reportedly said: "This is a very sensitive issue which will likely garner harsh critique from Europe and the United States, and of course from the Palestinian Authority." The move is the largest declaration of "state land" since August 2014, when Israel claimed 4,000 dunams (988 acres) of land near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, sparking international outcry.
Ecuador's National Assembly on Jan. 7 approved a new Law on Rural Lands and Ancestral Territories by a vote of 98 in favor, three against and 23 abstentions. Celebrating the law's passage, National Assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira said, "The land must belong to those who work it." The law instates incentives for land to be used productively, and allows for the expropriation of idle estates. It creates a National Land Authority to redistribute plots among rural families and small and medium producers, provide credit and technical assistance, build irrigation infrastructure, and oversee conflict resolution. Carlos Viteri, president of the National Assembly's Specialized Permanent Committee for Biodiversity and member of the ruling PAIS Alliance, hailed the law as "a symbol of the transformation of the country." Viteri, an indigenous Kichwa leader from the Amazon region, added that the reform will eliminate the legacy of previous land laws, which allowed a few families to concentrate ownership at the expense of campesinos and small farmers.
A group of self-styled "militiamen" made headlines over the weekend when they took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building in eastern Oregon's Harney Basin. They are evidently led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher known for his 2014 standoff with the federal government (over unpaid grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management). They say they are acting on behalf of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son of a local ranching family, who were sentenced to five years in prison for setting a fire on BLM land after the Ninth Circuit upheld the mandatory minimum for arson on federal lands. By various accounts, the fire was ostensibly set to clear invasive plants, or as a "backfire" (or "controlled burn") to keep a brush-fire from spreading to their property. But the Justice Department press release on the sentencing portrays a reckless act intentionally designed as a provocation to the feds. In any case, the Hammonds don't seem too enthusiastic about the action taken on their behalf. The right-wing militant Idaho 3 Percent was instrumental in the take-over, according to an early account on Central Oregon's KTVZ.
The Colombian government must prioritize the right of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to decide how their land is developed above companies' desire to exploit those territories for profit, said Amnesty International in a new report issued Nov. 5, entitled "Restoring the Land, Securing Peace: Indigenous and Afro-descendant Terrirotial Rights." Control of Colombia's resource-rich land is one of the most critical issues in the peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerillas, according to the report. Said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty: "The ownership and occupation of land has been at the heart of Colombia's brutal war, with around six million forced off their homes since 1985 because of the violence. Any peace deal will be meaningless unless the rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to return to their lands and decide how they are used are prioritized above companies' desire to exploit those lands for their own profit."
In the latest of a wave of deadly attacks on indigenous peoples in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, a community leader was gunned down by armed men on a motorcycle in Agusan del Sur province on Sept. 28. Lito Abion, 44, a leader of the indigenous organization Tagdumahan, was slain in Doña Flavia village, San Luis municipality, where he long been an advocate for land rights and local autonomy—especially opposing large-scale gold-mining operations in the area. This year has seen several killings and violent attacks on Lumads, as the indigenous peoples of the region are collectively known. Following a call from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, the central government has formed a commission to investigate the attacks, led by Edmundo Arugay, director of the National Bureau of Investigation. But local rights advocates see the government's hand in the violence, pointing to a paramilitary group called the Magahat Bagani Force, said to be linked to the Philippine army. Some 3,000 Lumad residents of the municipalities of Lianga, Marihatag, San Agustin, San Miguel and Tago have been displaced by fighting in their villages and are currently taking shelter at a sports complex in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur province. The abuses have escalated along with a new counter-insurgency offensive against guerillas of the New People's Army (NPA) in recent weeks. (Rappler.com, Oct. 1; PIPLinks, Sept. 30 Inquirer, Sept. 6)
At least nine people have been killed and 20 more wounded in an escalating land conflict on Nicaragua's Miskito Coast over the past month. Hundreds of indigenous Miskito residents have fled their ancestral lands, in some cases seeking refuge across the border in Honduras. The crisis in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) pits indigenous Miskito and Mayangna communities against mestizo peasant colonists from Nicaragua's more densely populated west. Miskito political party YATAMA claims the peasants are illegally invading titled indigenous lands, sometimes after plots have been fraudulently sold by corrupt officials. Among the most impacted communities is Tasba Raya Indigenous Territory, where the communal president Constantino Romel was shot and wounded by National Police troops Sept. 16, allegedly after attempting to run a checkpoint. Community leaders deny police claims that officers were fired upon fmor the pick-up truck. Elvin Castro, traditional judge in the indigenous community of Francia Sirpi, has issued an ultimatum giving the colonists one month to to quit the community's territory. "If within one month they do not comply with this, then they will die," he announced. "The colonizers come to destroy the forests that we have cared for such a long time, destroying the watersheds, the plants and the animals... The government has supported the colonizers with firearms so that they can make problems."
Palestinian Christians clashed with Israeli forces following Sunday mass on Aug. 30 when demonstrators, including priests, marched to protest renewed work on Israel's controversial separation wall in the Christian-majority town of Beit Jala in the occupied West Bank. The march, the latest in a string of protests, moved through neighborhoods in the Bethlehem-district town where Israeli forces are extending the separation wall, which is considered illegal under international law. Israeli forces shot tear-gas at protesters and physical altercations broke out when troops attempted to suppress the protest. Two protesters were arrested for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers guarding the construction zone, police said.