In his final address to the UN General Assembly as president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos delivered a message of peace, highlighting the agreement reached between his government and the FARC guerillas, and describing it as a model for the rest of the world. "If we were able to put an end to an armed conflict in Colombia that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of victims and displaced persons, there is hope for other ongoing conflicts in the world," Santos stated. (UN News Centre, Sept. 19)
The government of Venezuela, under growing pressure from US sanctions, is telling oil traders that it will no longer receive or send payments in dollars, Dow Jones reported Sept. 13. Oil traders who export Venezuelan crude or import oil products into the country have begun converting their invoices to euros. The state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PdVSA), has instructed its private joint venture partners to convert existing cash holdings into euros. Plugging the switch, Venezuela-based state media outlet TeleSur writes: "The petrodollar is more important for US global domination than either arms exports or Hollywood culture, because it allows the US to be the biggest exporter of the dollar bills the rest of the world needs to be able to buy oil. Venezuela has decided to start de-dollarizing its economy."
Indigenous protesters at the Bolivian Altiplano pueblo of Achacachi lifted their blockade of the main highway to the Peruvian border on Sept. 20, after a full month of paralyzing traffic on the artery. Following a clash with National Police troops three days earlier, villagers agreed to dialogue on their grievances, to be mediated by the Catholic church and Bolivia's human rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo. A new "mixed" municipal government was declared, with participation from both sides in the factional split at the pueblo. But the town's mayor, Edgar Ramos, who has taken refuge in La Paz, says he will not step down. And residents are still demanding the release of 47 protesters detained in the police operation. (Eju!, Santa Cruz, Sept. 21; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, La Razón, La Paz, Sept. 20)
Colombia's government—under pressure from Washington—is pushing ahead with plans to forcibly eradicate 50,000 hectares of coca leaf this year, despite mounting resistance from the peasant growers. In several incidents over the past weeks, forced eradication sparked violent confrontations between cocaleros and security forces. Even so-called "voluntary eradication" is now meeting with protest, as campesinos say their communities are being flooded with National Police troops, in violation of their pacts with the government.
Indigenous rights advocates in Peru are protesting a law being prepared by the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) that would allow the government to abrogate the land titles of indigenous and peasant communities for development projects that are deemed "high-priority." This power, long sought by the oil and resource industries, was announced as a goal by the PPK administration shortly after taking office last year. The measure was first promulgated in January as Legislative Decree 1333, during a 90-day "honeymoon" period when Peru's Congress granted PPK special powers to enact laws by fiat, with only after-the-fact review by legislators. One of 112 decrees issued during this period, DL 1333 instituted a process entitled Access to Predios for Prioritized Investment Projects (APIP), allowing the government to "sanear" (literally, cleanse) titles to rural lands. Critics assailed this as a euphemism for arbitrary expropriation, and in May lawmakers voted to overturn the decree. But on July 28, PPK submitted Law 1718 to Congress, essentially recapitulating the text of DL 1333—only this time, legislators will have to vote to approve it. The responsible agency for overseeing the saneamiento process—ProInversión, a division of the Ministry of Economy and Finance—says it has identified 33 projects around the country that could fall under the rubric of APIP. A watchdog on indigenous land rights, the Secure Territories for the Communities of Peru Collective, has joined with Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, in dubbing Law 1718 the "Law of Dispossession," and calling on Congress to reject it. (AIDESEP, Sept. 12; Servindi, Sept. 3; El Comercio, Aug. 17; La Mula, Aug. 16; El Comercio, May 26; Bonds & Loans, May 22; Instituto del Bien Común)
Community leaders throughout Colombia have spoken out against a proposal by the central government to limit the power of consultas populares, or popular referenda, to bar oil and mineral projects at the municipal level. Some are questioning the constitutionality of the government's plan to "fast track" a sweeping reform of the Organic Law of Territorial Ordering (LOOT) that would strip municipalities of the ability to restrict subsoil exploitation. Jaime Tocora of Comité por la Defensa de la Vida accused the government of "going over the heads of the communities and territories," and added: "The public good is with a clean environment, not the multinationals." (Contagio Radio, July 25)
Colmbia's highest judicial body, the Fiscalía General, has opened investigations into the slaying six demobilized FARC fighters and nine family members of demobilized guerillas in apparent reprisal attacks since the peace accord took effect late last year. The attacks took place in the departments of Caquetá, Antioquia, Putumayo, Tolima, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. (El Espectador, July 27) But the wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia has also persisted, in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22. (El Colombiano, July 19)
Pope Francis urged Colombians Sept. 7 to move beyond what he called the "corrupting darkness" of the country's 50 years of internal conflict, saying they live in a land of "unimaginable fertility" that can meet the needs of all. His homily and Mass drew an estimated million people to Bogotá's Simon Bolívar Park. (NCR, Sept. 7) Exactly six days earlier, a rally of some 10,000 was held in the city's central Plaza Bolívar to hear leaders of the FARC formally announce their transformation from a guerilla army to a political party. Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC secretariat, pledged: "We have entered legal political life because we want to be the government, or take part in it." (Prensa Rural, Sept. 3)