Colombia's newly-elected right-wing President Iván Duque took office on Aug. 7, pledging to unite the country. As he was sworn in, thousands marched in Bogotá to demand that Duque respect the peace pact with the FARC, and address the ongoing assassination of social leaders—now thought to number some 400 since the peace deal was signed in November 2016. (BBC News, TeleSur, Aug. 8) Exemplifying the depth of the crisis facing Duque, on July 30, a group of 10 armed men opened fire in broad daylight at a pool hall in the town of El Tarra, in Norte de Santander department near the Colombia-Venezuela border. Among the eight slain were at least two demobilized FARC fighters and a local community leader. (InSIght Crime, Aug. 2) Demobilized guerillas have been repeatedly targeted for attack since the FARC laid down arms. Before leaving office, outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos promised to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. (El Espectador, Aug. 1)
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for a law approved in Nicaragua July 16, ostensibly aimed at money-laundering, arms-trafficking and terrorism. The statement warned that the definition of "terrorism" under the law is dangerously "vague," and that it could be used to suppress opposition. Speaking in Geneva, OHCHR representative Rupert Colville said the law was passed by a National Assembly "almost completely controlled" by the ruling Sandinista party. The law defines as "terrorism" any damage to public or private property, or the killing or injury of anyone not directly participating in a "situation of armed conflict," punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly financing or aiding so-called "terrorist operations" can also face up to 20 years in prison. The law was introduced in April, just as Nicaragua's political crisis was breaking out. On July 5, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that the "violence and repression seen in Nicaragua since the protests began in April are the product of a systematic erosion of human rights over the past years..." (InSight Crime, July 25; Noticiias ONU, July 17; OHCHR, July 5)
In a joint anti-drug operation code-named "Armagedon," Peruvian military and National Police troops carried out a series of raids in the remote Putumayo river valley along the Colombian border this week, arresting some 40, destroying four cocaine laboratories, and seizing large quantities of cocaine sulfate and harvested cannabis. The raids took place in the locality of Güeppí, near Laguna Pacora, Putumayo province, Loreto region. The majority of those detained were Colombian nationals, and authorities said they suspect the presence of "dissident" FARC units, who are trying to establish the zone as a staging ground to keep alive their insurgency. More than 350 troops have been deployed in the operation, with five helicopters and three planes as well as boats. The operation is being coordinated with Colombian security forces, who are carrying out similar missions on their side of the Río Putumayo. (BBC News, July 18; El Comercio, July 16)
In Episode 13 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg deconstructs Trump's executive order ostensibly ending the policy of family separation on the southern border, and demonstrates how it actually lays the groundwork for indefinite detention of migrants on military bases. The Central American peasantry, expropriated of its lands by state terror, CAFTA and narco-violence, is forced to flee north—now into the arms of Trump's new gulag. The judiciary may yet pose an obstacle to enforcement of Trump's order, but this brings us to the Supreme Court's upholding of Trump's Muslim travel ban and the grim implications of Justices Anthony Kennedy's imminent resignation. With Congressional calls mounting for putting off confirmation of Kennedy's replacement while Trump remains under investigation over the 2016 electoral irregularities, a constitutional crisis is imminent.
Colombia has taken significant steps back in a hardline pro-Washington direction since the election of the right-wing Iván Duque as the country's new president last month. Shortly after Duque's victory, the government announced that it will resume aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops—this time using drones rather than planes, to supposedly target the planted areas with greater precision. The move comes in response to a new report from the White House finding that Colombian coca cultivation has reached a new record. Data for 2017 indicates coca cultivation rose 11% to 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres), a level not seen in more than two decades of record-keeping. Estimated cocaine production increased 19 percent to 921 metric tons. "President Trump's message to Colombia is clear: The record growth in cocaine production must be reversed," said Jim Carroll, acting director for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. (El Colombiano, June 26; AP, June 25)
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known by his initials AMLO—will be Mexico's next president, following his victory in the July 1 election. By any measure, this is historic—it is the first time a candidate of the left has had his victory honored, after three tries. In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) almost certainly had his victory stolen by fraud. Then, in 2006, AMLO himself, then running with the PRD, claimed his victory was similalry stolen. His supporters launched a protest occupation of Mexico City's central plaza, the Zocalo, and there was talk of forming a "parallel government." Now AMLO, running with his new vehicle, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), has made it. There is a sense of a real break with Mexico's traditional political parties, The once-hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is again discredited, as narco-violence only escalated under the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO's old vehicle the PRD meanwhile formed an unlikely coalition with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).
Colombia’s voters on June 17 elected conservative Iván Duque as the country's president, handing a decisive defeat to leftist candidate Gustavo Petro in a run-off vote. Duque is political protege of ex-president Alvaro Urbe, a bitter opponent of the peace process with the former FARC guerillas, and campaigned on a pledge to revise the peace deal. A popular referendum on overturning the legislation that was passed to implement the peace deal has been broached. (Colombia Reports, Bogotá CIty Paper, Global Observatory, June 17)