Two imprisoned leaders of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement were released from military prison to house arrest by authorities in Peru, sparking outrage and debate in the country's media. Osmán Morote, once considered the number-two man in the organization, was arrested by anti-terrorist police in Lima in 1988. He completed his 25-year term in 2013, but remained in detention as new charges were brought against him. He was now accused of having directed from prison the 1992 car-bomb attack on Tarata Street in Lima that left 23 dead. This year, additional charges were brought against him, concerning the 1984 massacre of 120 peasants at the village of Soras, Ayacucho. Also ordered released was Margot Liendo, who was arrested in 1988 along with Morote, and also faces outstanding charges in the Tarata Street attack. The transfers from the detention facility at Callao Naval Base were ordered by the National Penal Chamber of Peru. Both Morote and Liendo were required to pay a bond of 10,000 soles ($3,100), and will be guarded at their homes in the Lima area by National Police agents. Morote and Liendo have both declared a hunger strike in protest of the police presence and house arrest order, saying they should have absolute freedom after serving their 25-year terms. But President Martín Vizcarra called upon the judges to reverse their decision, and keep Morote and Liendo behind bars while the new charges are pending against them. (El País, Peru21, April 20; InfoBae, April 27)
All economic activities were suspended for several days in Peru's southern city of Moquegua as residents launched a civil strike to protest a planned large hike in water prices. The protests were relaxed April 19, when the central government sent a representative to meet with local and community leaders. The government initially proposed that the National Superintendancy of Sanitation Services (SURNASS) suspend for a year implementation of its March decree hiking water prices by 20% in arid Moquegua region. But protesters demanded that the decree be overturned entirely. Finally, the Technical Organism for Administration of Sanitation Services (OTASS), agreed to invest more money in Moquegua's infrastructure, heading off the need for the price hike. Authorities warned that the region's water system is at the brink of "collapse." (El Comercio, April 20; La República, Andina, April 19)
A state of emergency has been declared in Barrancabermeja, the oil hub on Colombia's Río Magdalena, following a rupture on a pipeline delivering crude to the city's refinery from wells in the municipality's rural area. The March 2 spill at the Lizama 158 well, run by parastatal Ecopetrol, contaminated local waterways that flow into the Magdalena, and which local campesino communities depend on. The affected area includes habitat for jaguars (listed as "near threatened" by the International Union for the Conservation of Natuire) and manatees ("vulnerable"). March 26 saw a protest outside the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Bogotá, demanding acountability in the disaster. Óscar Sampayo, Barrancabermeja organizer for the Fracking-Free Colombia Alliance, called it a "catastrophe of unequaled magnitude" in a long history of oil spills in the area, and said the impacts could last 30 years. The Fiscalía General, Colombia's attorney general, has opened an investigation to determine if there is criminal liability in the spill.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 27 issued a statement calling on the government of Colombia to "take urgent measures" to protect social leaders and human rights defenders in response to the wave of assassinations over recent months. The statement asserted that 22 rights defenders had been killed in Colombia in the first two months of the year, and over 100 more threatened with death. The assassinations come in an atmosphere of violence across much of the country's rural areas, with some 2,500 displaced in recent months. Just three days after the IACHR statement, on Good Friday, community leader and local rights advocate Belisario Benavides Ordóñez was slain by unknown gunmen on motorcycles as she was leaving her home accompanied by her two young children in the town of Rosas, Cauca department. Benavides was a leader of the Rosas Victims' Table, made up of local residents displaced by political violence over the past generation and now demanding restitution for lost lands and property. In a second case that same day, a community leader in Cauca's village of Corinto, Héctor Janer Latín, was slain in a road ambush while riding his motorcycle to an outlying hamlet. These attacks spurred renewed calls from the National Confederation of Communal Action (CNAC) for a response from the government and IACHR. (El Tiempo, April 2; El Colombiano, March 27)
Colombia's two guerilla groups that remain in arms pledged this week to open a dialogue with each other to bring their internecine conflict to an end. Fighting broke out weeks ago between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and its smaller rival, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) in the northeastern Catatumbo region. William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander department, has declared a state of emergency over the violence, which he said has displaced some 1,000 families. The fighting is said to have begun as the two groups vied to take control of coca-growing lands vacated by the demobilized FARC guerillas. (Colombia Reports, April 24; BBC News, April 17; El Colombiano, April 9; El Tiempo, April 4)
Genaro Ledesma Izquieta, a campesino leader and later congressmember who was one of the most respected figures on Peru's political left, died April 1 at the age of 86. Born in Cajabamba, Cajamarca region, he moved in his youth to the mining town of Cerro de Pasco in the Central Andes, where he founded the Popular Worker-Student-Peasant Front (FOCEP), uniting campesinos and mine workers to fight for land and labor rights. In 1960, he was elected mayor of Cerro de Pasco province. But he was imprisoned later that year in connection with a May Day campesino mobilization at the hamlet of San Antonio de Rancas. Three were killed when police fired on the protest, but Ledesma was charged with provoking the violence. With the military coup of Gen. Ricardo Pérez Godoy in 1963, Ledesma was imprisoned a second time—now in the notoriously harsh island prison of El Frontón. But the workers and peasants of Cerro de Pasco launched a sucessful campaign to have him elected to Peru's Congress, and authorities were forced to free him to allow him to take his seat.
Seemingly irregular oil contracts have emerged as a factor in the ongoing political scandal that last week brought down Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Following accusations from left-opposition congressmember Manuel Dammert (Nuevo Perú), state agency PeruPetro admitted that hours before leaving office on March 21, Kuczynski had issued a Supreme Decree initiating the process of approving five offshore oil concessions with a private company—but without the involvement of PeruPetro in vetting the contracts, as required by law. Calling the deals "lobista," Dammert is demanding that new President Martín Vizcarra declare the contracts void. The exploration contracts for blocs off the coast of Tmubes region are with Irish company Tullow Oil, They still must be approved by the ministries of Energy & Mines and Economy & Finance. (Gestión, March 29; TeleSur, March 26; Gestión, March 24)
Potato farmers across Peru's sierras blocked roads with their tractors and trucks for weeks starting in mid-January, demanding a subsidized distribution system for the staple crop in the face of plummeting prices. The National Commission of Potato Producers (Conapropa) struck a deal with the government Jan. 10, but wildcat protests continued in Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín, Ayacucho and Arequipa regions. Finally, farmers advanced on Lima in a cross-country motorcade. This forced Conapropa leader Fernando Gutiérrez back to the table, meeting with Agriculture Minister José Arista in early February to strike a better deal. Huancavelica regional governor Glodoaldo Álvarez denied government claims of over-production by farmers, and pointed to massive imports since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement with the US. Farmers at the roadblocks carried banners with slogans such as "¡Abajo el TLC!" (Down with the FTA!). (Peru21, La República, Feb. 2; TeleSur, Feb. 1; El Comercio, Jan. 12)