Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)
Genaro Ledesma Izquieta, a campesino leader and later congressmember who was one of the most respected figures on Peru's political left, died April 1 at the age of 86. Born in Cajabamba, Cajamarca region, he moved in his youth to the mining town of Cerro de Pasco in the Central Andes, where he founded the Popular Worker-Student-Peasant Front (FOCEP), uniting campesinos and mine workers to fight for land and labor rights. In 1960, he was elected mayor of Cerro de Pasco province. But he was imprisoned later that year in connection with a May Day campesino mobilization at the hamlet of San Antonio de Rancas. Three were killed when police fired on the protest, but Ledesma was charged with provoking the violence. With the military coup of Gen. Ricardo Pérez Godoy in 1963, Ledesma was imprisoned a second time—now in the notoriously harsh island prison of El Frontón. But the workers and peasants of Cerro de Pasco launched a sucessful campaign to have him elected to Peru's Congress, and authorities were forced to free him to allow him to take his seat.
Potato farmers across Peru's sierras blocked roads with their tractors and trucks for weeks starting in mid-January, demanding a subsidized distribution system for the staple crop in the face of plummeting prices. The National Commission of Potato Producers (Conapropa) struck a deal with the government Jan. 10, but wildcat protests continued in Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín, Ayacucho and Arequipa regions. Finally, farmers advanced on Lima in a cross-country motorcade. This forced Conapropa leader Fernando Gutiérrez back to the table, meeting with Agriculture Minister José Arista in early February to strike a better deal. Huancavelica regional governor Glodoaldo Álvarez denied government claims of over-production by farmers, and pointed to massive imports since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement with the US. Farmers at the roadblocks carried banners with slogans such as "¡Abajo el TLC!" (Down with the FTA!). (Peru21, La República, Feb. 2; TeleSur, Feb. 1; El Comercio, Jan. 12)
On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)
Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. In the first week of 2017, peasants, local transport operators and small merchants blocked roads in the northern Urabá region to protest the imposition of new highway tolls. Although the strike called by the Urabá Citizen Initiative was avowedly nonviolent, some protesters apparently set the new toll-booths on fire. Two were killed when the riot police intervened. The municipalities of Chigorodó, Turbo, Carepa and Apartadó were affetced by the civil strike, called to oppose the decision by the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) to install three new toll-booths in the region. (TeleSur, Jan. 6; El Colombiano, Jan. 3)
Palestinian Christians from around the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel came out in harsh opposition on Jan. 6 to a visit by Greek Orthodox Church Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, to the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem. Theophilos III, along with several other religious and political figures, were visiting Bethlehem as part of celebrations for Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve. Despite an intense presence of Palestinian security forces who attempted to open roads near Bethlehem's Manger Square for the patriarch's car, angry citizens swarmed around his procession, holding signs, Palestinian flags, and chanting slogans against Theophilus III. People threw stones and smashed windows of the car the patriarch was riding in as they demanded he be stripped of his titles and be removed from the church.
The latest stats from the UN's annual Afghanistan Opium Survey are in, and the news is grim. Opium production in the war-torn country jumped nearly 87% in 2017, to record levels—an estimated 9,000 metric tons (9,921 US tons). Areas under poppy cultivation rose by 63%, reaching a record 328,000 hectares (810,488 acres), according to the joint survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry. The survey also found that the number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10, with Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan provinces joining the list of poppy-growing regions. This boosts the number of Afghanistan's 34 provinces now cultivating opium from 21 to 24.