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)
The Colombian government signed a ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN) after a third round of peace talks in Ecuador's capital Quito Sept. 4. The first-ever bilateral ceasefire in the 53-year history of the guerilla organization came two days before Pope Francis is to arrive in Colombia. The ceasefire is to formally take effect Oct. 1, to be renewed in January if peace talks continue to progress. As part of the deal, Colombia's government pledged to suspend military operations against the group, improve conditions for imprisoned ELN members, and protect human rights defenders. (El Espectador, Las 2 Orillas, Jurist)
At least 37 were killed as a prison in southern Venezuela exploded into rebellion, authorities said Aug. 16. The death toll at the facility in the jungle town of Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas state, was first reported by the advocacy group Venezuelan Prison Observatory and later confirmed by the Interior Ministy. The violence began when inmates seized the facility and security forces were sent in to retake it. Guards were met with gunfire and explosions when they tried to restore order. The Interior Ministry said 14 security officers were among the wounded, although none were killed.
Protests were held outside China's embassy in Quito Aug. 24 following the interception of a Chinese cargo ship with an illegal catch of endangered fish and shark species in Ecuador's Galápagos Marine Reserve. The vessel's crew of 20 went on trial the following day, and could face up to three years in prison as well as monetary penalties ranging in the millions of dollars. The controversy comes as the Galápagos Islands have seen weeks of protest over a newly instated Organic Law of Special Regime for the Province of Galapagos. The new law gives Ecuador's national government greater control over land use and wages on the popular tourist destination. It also gives the Environment Ministry the power to change the borders of Galápagos National Park. Locals say the law opens the way for foreign investment and private encroachment on the National Park, undermining local businesses and potentially devastating unique wildlife. (LAHT, Aug. 25; TeleSur, Aug. 24; Vice, June 28, Galapagos Digital, June 18)
A consortium led by China Three Gorges Corp has agreed to buy a giant hydro-electric plant under construction in Peru from scandal-mired Brazilian company Odebrecht. The Chinese consortium, also including Hubei Energy Group, is reported to be paying $1.39 billion for the Chaglla power plant, which is located on the Río Huallaga in Chaglla and Chinchao districts of Huánuco region. The Chaglla complex has recieved $150 million in funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. When completed, it will be Peru's third largest hydro-electric facility.
Well, this is cute. The Trump White House condemned Venezuela as a "dictatorship" in the wake of the contested Constituent Assembly vote, and imposed sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro. The immediate pretext is the detention of opposition figures Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who were transferred from house arrest to military prison, accused of leading protests in defiance of a nationwide ban. Trump said in a statement that the United States "condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship," and holds Maduro "personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr. López, Mr. Ledezma, and any others seized."
There is an unseemly tone of gloating to conservative commentary on the crisis in Venezuela, with pundits calling out their opposite numbers on the left for their cheerleading for the regime and pointing to the current chaos as evidence that "socialism" doesn't work. Indeed, many left-wing commentators deserve to be called out for their uncritical attitude toward the late Hugo Chávez and his mediocre successor Nicolás Maduro. But a case can be made that, contrary to conservative and mainstream assumptions, the problem is precisely that the Bolivarian Revolution has been insufficiently revolutionary and socialist.
In unsettling news for the country's peace process with the FARC guerillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50% increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures, released by UNODC's Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI) and reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo July 14, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52% jump.