Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact Nov. 10 that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Danang, Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) announced the deal on Twitter, boasting that the agreement will boost employment and attract investment. Speaking at the APEC summit, PPK reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism.
Venezuelan Supreme Court justices currently in exile have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing President Nicolas Maduro of crimes against humanity. The complaint was initially filed with Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) by Hebert Garcia Plaza, a former member of the Maduro cabinet. However, the STJ stated that many of the actions alleged in the complaint could potentially qualify as crimes under the Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the Rome Statute (PDF) and that, under Venezuelan law, it did not have jurisdiction to consider the matter. Accordingly, the complaint was filed with the ICC.
Some 15 civilians were killed and more than 50 were injured when Colombian security forces opened fire during coca eradication operations in a hotly contested incident Oct. 5. Local cocaleros say a mixed force of army and National Police troops fired "indiscriminately" into a crowd of peaceful protesters, in what they are calling a "massacre." Police and military officials claim they fired in response to an attack by remnant FARC guerillas under a renegade commander who goes by the alias "Guacho."
Francisco Javier Ricaurte Gómez, one of the most powerful men in Colombia's justice system for the past 15 years, on Sept. 20 became the first former chief magistrate of the country's Supreme Court to go to prison. Bogotá daily El Tiempo reports that Ricuarte faces four charges related to the corruption scandal now unfolding in Colombia's highest judicial body. The Fiscalía, the country's top prosecutor, says he is one of the brains behind a ring that took in millions of pesos to pervert criminal cases.
Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), having just concluded a ceasefire with the government, has passed on a letter from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) to President Juan Manuel Santos, proposing a similar peace dialogue. The letter states that the EPL, Colombia's third guerilla group after the ELN and now-disarmed FARC, "recongizes that peace...is the living aspiration of the majority of Colombians" and seeks to explore "possible paths to the termination of the war and conquest of a true peace with social justice." Among conditions for peace, the letter lists an internationally monitored ceasefire, an end to government bombardment of guerilla zones, demilitarization of the countryside, and dismantling of the National Police anti-riot squad ESMAD. The letter also broaches a constitutional convention with "broader participation and representation of the people" to draft a new national charter. (El Colombiano, Oct. 5; El Espectador, Oct. 4)
The process of restitution of usurped lands and implementing the agrarian deal with the disarmed FARC rebels is shaping up as a sticking point in Colombia's peace process. The Agriculture Ministry has proposed a reform of Decreed Law 902, issued earlier this year to facilitate redistribution of lands. Currently, DL 902 reserves Colombia's unused lands (tierras baldías) for distribution to landless campesinos under a National Land Fund established for this purpose. Under the proposed reform, large landowners will be able to apply to the National Land Agency to receive these lands under a certain financial forumla. Landowners would have to pay the equivalent of 700 times the monthly minimum wage to acquire one Family Agricultural Unit (UAF). The UAF was established by Law 160 of 1994 as a unit of land sufficient to sustain a family, taking into consideration soil fertility and other variables. But opponents point out that Law 160 explicitly states that tierras baldías are reserved for distribution to campesinos. (Verdad Abierta, Oct. 2; El Espectador, Sept. 21)
In ominous news for environmental defenders in Peru, the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) is planning to revise mining regulations to enable the Andean country to overtake its southern neighbor Chile in copper production. Despite higher-grade ores and lower mining costs than Chile, Peru's government says its potential in copper exploitation is being restricted by too much bureaucracy. "We need to create the necessary conditions for mining to grow in our country so the government can invest in basic services, healthcare, education and infrastructure," said Mines and Energy Minister Cayetana Aljovin.
Peruvian campesina Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family are suing Newmont Mining in US federal court, claiming the company used violence and threats to try to evict them from their home to make way for the controversial Conga open-pit gold project. The case, filed Sept. 14 in Delaware where Newmont is incorporated, aims to "stop a pattern of harassment" by Newmont and its security personnel, said environmental group EarthRights International, which is representing the Acuña family. The suit is seeking damages of at least $75,000 for each affected member of the family.