Andean Theater

Plunging potato prices provoke protests in Peru

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)

Peru: mass protest against political class

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lima on March 22, the day after Peru's scandal-embattled president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his resignation. Clashes were reported in the city's downtown Plaza San Martín, with tear-gas used and several injured. The resignation came after months of political machinations in Peru's congress had put off Kuczynski's ouster, and the ire of the demonstrators was directed not just at the disgraced "PPK," but Peru's entire political class. Gerónimo López Sevillano, secretary general of the CGTP union federation, called for a constituent assembly to forge a "new social pact" after new elections are held, while echoing the popular slogan "que se vayan todos los corruptos" (throw out all the corrupt ones). The left-opposition party Nuevo Perú (which has two congressional seats) also called for a new constitution to "refound the country and devolve power to the people." (La República, InfoBae, March 23)

US approves new Colombia aid —amid para terror

The US Congress this week finalized a 2018 budget that maintains aid to Colombia at its 2017 level, $391 million—despite efforts by President Donald Trump to slash the amount. The package includes large sums for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. Continuance of this level of aid is "a huge support to peace accord implementation," according to Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The budget passed both House and Senate this week. Despite a previous veto threat, Trump signed the budget bill March 23, just in time to avoid yet another government shutdown. There have already been two brief shutdowns during the protracted fight over the budget. This budget authorizes spending through September. The Republican-controlled Congress firmly rejected not only Trump’s proposal to slash aid to Colombia, but his overall foreign policy goal of dramatically reducing aid throughout Latin America and the world, and significantly cutting the international diplomacy budget of the State Department.

Colombia: will 'peace' escalate resource wars?

Colombian authorities are clearly hoping that a return to stability following the peace pact with the FARC rebels will mean more international investment, and especially for the resource sector. But hydro-electric, fracking and mineral projects across the country are already meeting with peasant resistance—prompting state security forces to respond with repression. In the Rio Cauca Canyon of Antioquia department, the feared National Police militarized anti-riot force ESMAD has initiated the forcible eviction of campesinos who have refused relocation to make way for the floodplain of the massive Hidroituango dam project. Ironically, commuity leaders opposed to relocation in the municipalities of Sabanalarga and Ituango have reportedly been threatened by personnel in the employ of Refocosta, the firm contracted by the Medellín Public Utility to oversee environmental mitigation in the project. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 12) Ituango municipality has especially been the scene of a recent resurgence of paramilitary violence that has left hundreds of residents displaced.

Colombia: rural violence persists despite 'peace'

Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)

FARC renegades in slaying of indigenous activist

In the early hours of March 5, a group of four armed men attacked the cabildo (town hall) in the indigenous resguardo (reserve) of Pioyá in Caldono municipality of Colombia's Cauca department. Slain in the attack was an indigenous youth named Eider Campo Hurtado, who was an activist with the local media collective Pelsxhab Stéreo. Pioyá's Indigenous Guard mobilized in response to the attack, and that night apprehended four men said to be members of a renegade FARC faction that has refused to lay down arms and abide by the peace accords. The four are being held by Pioyá indigenous authorities, and it is unclear if they will be turned over to state security forces. (W Radio, Canal 1, Contagio Radio)

Colombia: ELN 'armed strike' as talks break down

Colombia's ELN guerillas carried out a string of attacks in a new offensive aimed at shutting down the South American country, mostly targeting transportation infrastructure. According to authorities, roads were bombed in Norte de Santander and Cesar departments, and a bus and a truck were incinerated in Antioquia. Vehicles were also set on fire in Arauca, and two trucks torched in Cauca, although authorities could not immediately confirm that these attack was carried out by the ELN. The four-day "armed strike" was called Feb. 10, weeks after a ceasefire broke down and days after the government suspended peace talks with the ELN. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; EuroNews, Feb. 10)

FARC suspends political campaign in face of terror

Colombia's former FARC rebels, now organized as a political party, announced Feb. 9 that they will suspend their campaign for the first elections since their demobilization last year. The FARC—their acronym now standing for the Alternative Revolutionary Force of the People—cited a lack of security for their candidates, campaign workers and followers. Campaign workers in several cities have received death threats, according to the FARC statement. Campaign rallies throughout Colombia were canceled after angry mobs threw bottles and rocks at former guerilla leaders and their supporters.

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