Following days of protests and strikes, Colombia's largest port city of Buenaventura exploded into violence May 19 as police opened fire on demonstrators, leaving one dead and many wounded. Marches have since continued in the city in defiance of a curfew, and scores have been detained. The protests are part of a regional campaign over harsh conditions on Colombia's Pacific coast. Buenaventura is one of South America's most important ports, yet half the city's 400,000 residents have no access to potable water. The protests began in Chocó department, up the coast from Buenaventura, under the slogan "Down with Colombia's corrupt oligarchy!" Strike leaders charge that millions of dollars in infrastructure investment for the region have disappeared. (Colombia Reports, May 21; Colombia Reports, RCN Noticias, May 20; El Espectador, El Tiempo, May 10)
The FARC rebels are on "high alert" following a May 17 ruling by Colombia's Constitutional Court, striking down congressional "fast track" authority for legislation related to the country's peace process. Under "fast track" rules, Colombia's Congress could only vote to approve or deny reforms related to implementing the peace process, rather than debating and voting on each point individually. The ruling comes less than two weeks before "D+180," the date marking 180 days from the start of the FARC demobilization process, by which time it was slated to be complete. (InSight Crime, May 19; TeleSur, May 18, Semana, May 17)
Mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti announced April 27 that it will abandon its planned mega-project at La Colosa, in Colombia's central department of Tolima, following a popular vote by local residents to reject the project last month. Members of Cajamarca municipality held the vote or consulta March 26. Leader of the "No" campaign, Renzo García of the local Environmental Committee for Defense of Water and Life, called the company's decision to abide by the vote "a good sign for democracy." (El Espectador, April 27)
Amid a new eruption of massive protests and deadly street clashes in Venezuela comes word that General Motors says it will immediately halt operations in the country after its plant in the industrial hub of Valencia was unexpectedly seized by authorities. GM described the takeover as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets," and pledged to "vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela" to challenge the expropriation. (CNN, NBC, April 20) But the news comes along with even more unexpected indications of quiet overtures between the governments of Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump...
Agents from Peru's National Superintendency of State Property (SBN), backed up by police troops, carried out an operation in the hills overlooking Lima over the past two weeks, seizing more than 36,000 square meters of land in the Lomas de Primavera green belt. This stretch of public land in the city's outlying Carabayllo district has been heavily subject to illegal appropriation and sale of plots in recent years—known locally as "land-trafficking." The land-traffickers exploit rural migrants seeking to start a life in Peru's capital, illegally "selling" plots they actually have no title to. Local media reports said the traffickers sold plots to some hundred families, but failed to say what provisions were made for the families settled on the plots. (Peru This Week, April 19; La República, April 9)
Colombia is mourning after the tragic landslide that took place in Mocoa, capital of Putumayo department, during the night of March 31, when 17 neighborhoods were flooded with mud and rocks, and five were completely buried. The disaster resulted as the Mocoa, Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers burst their banks amid torrential rains. At least 238 people are reported dead, with rescue teams still digging through rubble. With no electricity in the stricken city, hospitals running short on blood and medicines to attend to the hundreds of injured survivors. President Juan Manuel Santos has activated the National Risk Management System, and authorized the "declaration of calamity" issued by Putumayo department.
Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice reversed a prior ruling to shut down the National Assembly on April 2. The court effectively dissolved the legislature in its decision just four days earlier. The Supreme Court and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro both support the Socialist Party, while the opposition party leads the legislature. Protests broke out after the original decision last week, with protesters accusing the Socialist Party of creating a "dictatorship." The international community also voiced opposition. A special state security committee persuaded the court to reverse their decision.
Conservative enemies of Colombia's peace process are dealt some handsome propaganda assistance by the fact that as the long civil war with the FARC guerillas has wound down, coca leaf production in the country has been soaring. Fears were enflamed by a March 12 Wall Street Journal report quoting US State Department officials to the effect that Colombia now has an unprecedented 180,000 hectares under coca cultivation, with the supposed potential to produce an annual 700 tons cocaine. The figures, soon to be officially released by the State Department, are double those for 2013. (El Tiempo, March 13; Semana, March 4)