Bolivia's President Evo Morales signed into a law March 8 a bill passed by the country's congress that nearly doubles the area of national territory open to coca leaf cultivation. Law 906, or the General Law of Coca Leaf, envisions new legal commerical and industrial uses for the leaf. It replaces the far more restrictive Law 1008, passed during the Reagan-led drug war militarization of the Andes in 1988—when Bolivia's democratic transition after years of military rule was still new. "The hour has arrived to bury Law 1008, which sought to bury coca leaf in Bolivia," the presidency said in a statement. "This is an historic day." The signing ceremony at the presidential palace was witnessesed by a delegation of coca-growers.
Some 70,000 are displaced and at least 70 dead as Peru's heaviest rains in two decades have unleashed flash-floods and landslides across the country. The National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) is stretched to limit, with several communities left isolated by washed-out roads and bridges. The north coast has been hit the hardest, with the worst impacts in Lambayeque region, where some 40,000 are displaced. But the situation is grim both up and down the coast from there. INDECI is coordinating with the Defense Ministry to establish an "air bridge," bringing aid by helicopter to the stricken coastal cities of Ácash region. At least 15 pueblos outside Chimbote are cut off after the bridge over the Río Lacramarca was wiped out by a huayco (mudslide). Residents are also trapped in Huarmey district, and the town's hospital was destroyed. In all, 20 of Peru's 25 administrative regions are impacted.
Campesinos and environmentalists held a national mobilization March 11 demanding that Colombia establish a Truth Commission for environmental crimes as part of the peace process. The Day in Defense of Territories, Water and Life was organized by the Movimiento Ríos Vivos (Living Rivers Movement), in cooperation with the National Center for Historical Memory, the primary group that pushed for creation of the new Truth Commission on crimes related to the armed conflict. Mobilizations were held in the departments of Santander, Antioquia, Cauca, Córdoba and Huila as well as in Bogotá. Isabel Cristina Zuleta of Movimiento Ríos Vivos said, "The majority of the rivers have served as a dumping ground for the bodies of the assassinated." She called for justice in the degradation of rivers by mining, hydro-electic projects and extractive activity. (Contagio Radio, March 11)
The Colombian Senate on March 13 approved a transitional justice structure that will attempt to bring reparations to the more than 8 million victims of the decades-long conflict between the Colombia government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The new system will include a Transitional Justice Tribunal, a Truth Commission and a Missing Persons section, all aimed at punishing war crimes and gaining reparations for victims. The vote was 60-2 in the Senate, with all 40 members of the Democratic Center party boycotting the vote. The bill must now be approved by Colombia's Constitutional Court before it can take effect.
For 48 hours Feb. 21-2, hundreds of peasant coca-growers shut down the main highway between the southern Colombian cities of Tumaco and Pasto. The feared anti-riot force, the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), was finally called in to clear the roadway, using tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up the estimated 1,200 cocaleros. But the highway was repeatedly re-taken by the protesters. The action was called by the newly-formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) to oppose the government's renewed "forced eradication" of coca crops in Tumaco municipality. COCCAM called the resumption of forced eradication in the area a betrayal of government commitments under the recent peace accords with the FARC guerilla movement. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 23)
Even as the FARC guerillas begin the disarmament process under Colombia's peace plan, the ongoing wave of deadly violence against social leaders remains unrelenting. On March 5, a brother and sister who were both local leaders in the Independent Agrarian Workers Syndicate of Meta (SINTRAGRIM), José Antonio and Luz Ángela Anzola Tejedor, were slain in attacks two hours apart by unknown gunmen in their village of Mesetas, Meta department. (Contagio Radio, March 6) Both were also followers of the Colombian Communist Party, which issued a statement calling the double murder part of a "counterinsurgency" plan being carried out against social movements in Meta by right-wing paramilitaries with the complicity of authorities. The statement said the terror campaign is aimed at destroying organizations seeking a just social order after implementation of the peace plan. (Prensa Rural, March 8)
A trial opened in Peru's Cajamarca region March 6 against 16 community leaders facing charges for their participation in a 2012 protest against the Conga mining project. According an indictment filed by the 2nd Provincial Criminal Prosecutor's Office of Celendín, the defendants—all local social leaders, including five women—may face up to 36 years in prison if convicted. The case stems from the July 2012 violence in the provinces of Celendín and Bambamarca, in which five protesters were killed by National Police troops. Among the accused is Milton Sánchez Cubas, secretary-general of the Inter-Institutional Platform of Celendín, for whom the Inter-American Court on Human Rights had recently issued "precuationary measures" due to threats on his life.
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 28 ruled that "prior consultation" with local Afro-descendent and indigenous communities must be carried out before an open-pit gold mine project can move ahead at Villonza, Marmato municipality, Caldas department. The ruling made reference to the indigenous community of Cartama and the Afro-Colombian community of Asojomar, both of which are largely sustained by small-scale artisanal mininng. Under a 2007 concession, Canada-based Gran Colombia Gold Corporation was to acquire these informal claims. In 2011, Father José Reinel Restrepo, the local parish priest, was murdered after returning from Bogotá, where he had registered his objection to the project with officials. Gran Colombia Gold is meanwhile is demanding Colombia pay $700 million under terms of the Canadian free trade agreement for failure to evict the artisanal miners. (TeleSur, Radio Caracol, March 2; El Tiempo, Feb. 28; Radio Caracol, Feb. 25)