The vote for Venezuela's Constituent Assembly opened July 30 amid ongoing and widespread angry street protests, in defiance of a nationwide ban on demonstrations. Violence broke out as protesters attempted to block access to polling stations, resulting in at least 14 deaths. Those killed include two prominent leaders—one from each side. Ricardo Campos, a youth secretary with the opposition Acción Democrática party, was shot dead during a protest in the northeastern town of Cumana. José Félix Pineda Marcano, a chavista leader and Constituent Assembly candidate, was killed in an invasion of his home in Ciudad Bolívar. Two youths, aged 17 and 13, and a solider were killed in street-fighting in Táchira. Violence in the days leading up to the vote drove the death toll over four months of unrest above 100. (BBC News, RCN Radio, KaosEnLaRed, Clarín, July 30; AP, NPR, July 27)
Protesters blocked the train line to the Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu, stranding thousands of tourists during a 48-hour paro (civil strike) by residents of Peru's Cuzco region. British-owned PeruRail company announced that service was suspended July 13-4 because of the blockades. At issue is a planned new airport for the Cuzco area, that was suspended in March due to controversies surrounding the construction contract. The airport—slated for Chinchero Valley, to the north of Cuzco's capital in neighboring Urubamba province—has now been pushed back until 2020. Local residents were eager for the region's first intercontinental airport to boost tourism revenues, and as a symbol of autonomy from Lima. Constantino Sallo, president of the Defense Front for the Interests of Chinchero District, demanded the government set a timetable of between 90 and 120 days to break ground on the project.
Millions of Venezuelans voted on July 16 to reject President Nicolás Maduro's plan to rewrite the nation's constitution. The non-binding referendum was organized by the country's political opposition. More than 7 million, roughly one-third of Venezuela's registered voters, took part, with over 98% rejecting Maduro's plan. Opponents charge that the plan to rewrite the 1999 constitution represents an effort to consolidate Maduro's hold on power. Maduro states that the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), consisting of 527 elected members, is the only solution to bring an end to the anti-government protests that have brought significant violence to the country. The non-binding was met with sporadic violence; several men on motorbikes opened fire on a polling station in Caracas, injuring three and killing a 61-year-old nurse. The government has refused to recognize the vote as legal and will go forward with plans to hold an election for the ANC on July 30 to select delegates for a special assembly that will be responsible for rewriting the 18-year-old constitution.
More localities in Colombia are formally rejecting mineral and oil exploitation within their territories through popular consultas (consultations, or referenda). Two victories were reported July 9, as "no" votes prevailed overwhelmingly in the municipalities of Arbeláez, Cundinamarca department, and Pijao, Quindío. Celebrations broke out in the streets of Pijao as the results were announced. Mónica Flórez of the local Comité Ecológico said, "We went through the entire municipality, vereda by vereda, so that everyone could understand the importance of going out to vote in this consultation."
The United Nations on July 14 charged that Colombia's government is undermining the country's peace process by failing to release imprisoned FARC members and protect disarmed guerillas. In an unusually harsh statement, the UN Mission in Colombia said the government should “act responsibly and swiftly to put an end to a situation that weakens peace building." More than 3,400 FARC members remain in prison six months after the congressional approval of the Amnesty Law and two weeks after the completion of the guerilla army's disarmament. More than 1,400 imprisoned FARC members have gone on hunger strike, demanding the government release them as promised in the peace deal signed on Nov. 24 last year and ratified by Congress shortly after. Only 837 imprisoned FARC members have been released.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro jacked up tensions with neighboring Colombia, telling his counterpart Juan Manuel Santos, "Bow down to me, I am your father" (Inclínate e híncate ante tu padre, soy tu padre). The nationally broadcast statement came after Santos had offered to mediate a resolution to the crisis in Venezuela, where clashes between security forces and opposition protesters have killed more than 70 this year. The violence has also spurred an increase in cross-border migration, mainly from Colombian residents of Venezuela. In rejecting the offer July 6, Maduro insinuated Venezuelan supremacy over its neighbor: "We were a single republic, Colombia was founded here in Orinoco. The people of Guayana are the fathers of Colombia, our grandparents founded Colombia." (Éramos una sola unión de República, Colombia se fundó aquí en el Orinoco, ustedes guayaneses son los padres de Colombia, nuestros abuelos fundaron Colombia.) He then went on to demand obeisance.
Thousands marched in Lima on July 7 to demand that Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski not pardon the country’s former strongman Alberto Fujimori, now serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights violations. Kuczynski pledged on the campaign trail last year that there would be no pardon, helping him win a narrow victory against the ex-dictator's daughter, Keiko Fujimori. But last month Kuczynski broached a potential pardon for Fujimori, now 78, for ostensible health reasons. Interestingly, the move came as his finance minister Alfredo Thorne was ousted by Congress, dominated by Fujimori supporters.
Colombia's official Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology & Environmental Studies (IDEAM) on June 20 released an "Analysis of Vulnerability and Risk" to the country from climate change. The study predicts a 2.4 C increase in average temperatures over the coming century, from the current 22.2 C to 24.6 C, resulting in more "extreme weather events," especially in the Amazon region, where the disappearing Andean glaciers could mean devastating flooding followed by extended drought. Additionally, the country could lose 50,000 hectares to sea level rise. The island department of San Andres off the Caribbean coast was named as at greatest risk. IDEAM director Omar Franco said climate change "would ravage" (desabastecería) the country. (El Tiempo, June 20)