The US scored a propaganda coup against besieged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro last week, sending planeloads of "humanitarian aid" to Colombia, where it was dispatched in a "caravan" toward the border. The aid was welcomed by the US-backed pretender to the presidency, Juan Guaidó, but rejected by Maduro, who thundered that Venezuelans are "not beggars." Maduro was put in the no-win situation of either having to turn away aid at a time of deprivation or accept assistance sent by a government that does not recognize him but recognizes his opposition. He opted for the prior, mobilizing troops to the border and blocking the three lanes of the international bridge between the two countries with a fuel tanker and shipping containers. The caravan is currently stalled at Cúcuta, the nearest city on the Colombia side. (The Guardian, AP) While the affair has occasioned much media bloviation either against Maduro for blocking the caravan or against Trump for politicizing aid, there has been an alarming paucity of information about who actually organized the caravan...
Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)
US senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bob Menéndez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced a resolution calling on Bolivia's President Evo Morales not to stand for re-election this October. Cruz said Bolivia is going in a "very dangerous direction, aligning itself with illegal and illegitimate regimes, including that of [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela. It is important that all parties respect the constitution of Bolivia, which includes term limits." (Peru21, Feb. 1) Bolivia saw a wave of strikes and protests after a December ruling by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election.
Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to help back up the besieged government of President Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 military contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times quotes Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that the mercenaries were flown to Havana on two chartered aircraft, where they were transfered to commerical flights to Caracas. Shabayev said Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. The Russian news site Lenta.ru cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people."
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Mission in Colombia, warned President Iván Duque about the human rights situation in the country when they met at the Casa de Nariño presidential palace in Bogotá last week. Ruiz said he especially expressed convern about "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 15) Duque had days earlier announced a new plan of action to address the ongoing targeted assassinations, pledging: "We are going to strengthen all the instruments that the Public Force has at its disposition so that the leaders of armed groups, which are behind a large part of these homicides, are brought to justice." He spoke at Riohacha, La Guajira department, one of the areas hard hit by the ongoing killings. (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 10)
Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.
In a Dec. 21 ruling that was formally announced last week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) found the Colombian state responsible for several extrajudicial executions carried out under the practice of "false positives"—random civilians claimed as guerillas killed in action. The six cases examined took place in the departments of Arauca, Santander and Casanare between 1992 and 1997. Although individual soldiers had been sentenced by the Colombian courts in some of these cases, the Costa Rica-based IACHR ordered the Colombian government to carry out further investigations and prosecutions, provide reparations to the families of the victims, and commit to a "public act of acknowledgement" of responsibility. The Colectivo José Alvear Restrepo, which brought the case, hailed the ruling as a "very important precedent" to bring accountability in thousands of cases of "false positives." (Proclama del Cauca, Jan. 19; El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Jan. 17; Contagio Radio, Jan. 16)
Colombia's President Iván Duque declared the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) indefinitely suspended following a bomb blast at a National Police academy in Bogotá Jan. 17 that left more than 20 dead and some 70 wounded. An explosives-laden vehicle invaded the grounds of the academy before it detonated. The driver, who was killed, was identified by authorities as an ELN explosives expert. Calling the ELN a "criminal machine of kidnapping and assassination," Duque said that arrest orders against the group's top leaders, which had been suspended for the peace talks, would now be carried out. He also called on Cuba, where members of the ELN command are now based, to have them arrested and extradited. The ELN one day later took responsibility for the attack in a communique, calling it an act of "legitimate defense" that was "legal under the laws of war." The statement asserted: "The National Police School of Cadets is a military installation; there officials receive instruction and training later put to use in combat, conducting military operations, actively participating in the counter-insurgency war and bringing methods of war for use against social protest."