Andean Theater

Rural unrest in Colombia, despite peace process

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)

Colombia: demobilized guerillas targeted for terror

The United Nations on Jan. 17 condemned the assassination of two demobilized FARC members at an election campaign rally the previous day in the central plaza of Peque, a town in Colombia's Antioquia department. The UN Verification Mission noted that this was the first deadly attack related to the 2018 electoral process, in which the FARC is participating as a newly formed political party. The two FARC members were campaigning for one of the new party's candidates for the Chamber of Representatives ahead of the March elections. FARC presidential candidate and former military commander Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" said that members of the organization "have been the target of constant persecution by armed actors that seek to destabilize the implementation of the peace accords."

Colombia: popular pressure to save ELN talks

Colombia's government is under pressure from both the United Nations and impacted communities in the conflict zones to rebuild a ceasefire with the ELN guerillas and return to the dialogue table. A 100-day ceasefire that began in October ran out Jan. 10, and ELN fighters within hours attacked the Caño Limón oil pipeline in Casanare department, forcing a suspension of pumping operations. The guerillas also attacked a military base in Arauca department. President Juan Manuel Santos immediately responded by recalling his peace negotiator Gustavo Bell, who had been in Quito to begin the fifth round of talks with the ELN delegation. Santos said Bell was recalled to Bogotá "to evaluate the future of the process." ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán reacted in an official statement, pledging: "We maintain our determination, previously expressed, to agree on a new bilateral ceasefire." (El Colombiano, Jan. 11; Al Jazeera, El Tiempo, Reuters, BBC News, Jan. 10; El Teimpo, Dec. 1)

Bolivia's African king speaks for coca growers

Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.

Survivors of the 'disappeared' protest in Lima

Thousands have taken to the streets of Lima every night since the Christmas Eve pardon of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, to be repeatedly dispersed by the riot police with tear-gas. One TV journalist was injured when he was hit by a fired tear-gas cannister in Lima's downtown Plaza San Martín on Christmas Day. The lead contingent in the marches has often been relatives of those assassinated and "disappeared" under Fujimori's rule, especially victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres—carried out in 1991 and 1992, respectively, by regime-linked death squads against suspected sympathizers of the Shining Path guerilla movement. Marchers hold placards with the faces and names of "disappeared" students, workers and activists from the Fujimori era. (RPP, Dec. 29; Diario Uno, Dec. 26)

Fujimori walks: soft coup in Peru?

Protests are breaking out in Lima following the Christmas eve "humanitarian pardon" of Peru's imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori by President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK). The supposedly ailing Fujimori has been transferred from prison to a private clinic in Lima's Pueblo Libre district, where protesters are gathering, to be dispersed by police tear-gas. Demonstrators have also filled central Lima's Plaza San Martín. Angry protests have lkewise broken out in Cuzco, Arequipa, Chiclayo and other cities. The pardon came three days after PPK survived a congressional vote on removing him from office over his embroilment in the Odebrecht scandal. A right-wing bloc led by the dictator's son Kenji Fujimori abstained from the vote rather than following the majority of his own Fuerza Popular opposition party, led by his older sister Keiko Fujimori, in voting to remove PPK. Kenji's defection was critical in Congress failing to win the 87 votes necessary to sack PPK.

Ecuador: indigenous march yields key victories

After marching two weeks from the eastern rainforest to Quito, thousands of indigenous Ecuadorans claimed a victory Dec. 11 as their leaders met with President Lenin Moreno, winning pledges to respect their demands on cultural and territorial rights. Among key victories, the government agreed to suspend new mining concessions in indigenous territories pending a review to assure that they are in compliance with constitutional provisions. This includes Article 57, guaranteeing indigenous groups the right to prior consultation on extractive projects impacting their lands. The government also agreed to the reinstatement of a bilingual education program in indigenous languages.

Bolivia hosts 'Gas OPEC' summit —amid dissension

The four-day summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) opened Nov. 21 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—central hub of the country's hydrocarbon-rich eastern lowlands. President Evo Morales took the opportunity to boast of his "nationalization" of Bolivia's hydrocarbon resources. But the summit comes as member nations are bitterly divided by diplomatic tensions. Established in Iran in 2001, the GECF consists of 12 members: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. An additional seven observer nations are Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru. The UAE and other Gulf States are currently at odds with Qatar, with diplomatic relations suspended since June.

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