Residents of the town of San Martín in Colombia's northern Cesar department held protests this week over government moves to open the country to fracking. The National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) in December approved exploration licenses in San Martín and several other municipalities of the Magdalena Medio region for ConocoPhillips and CNE Oil & Gas. Under a neoliberal reform of Colombia's hydrocarbons sector, the state is only a 2% partner in the projects. "We want to say to the national government that we will defend our water, our territory; we are going to defend life and we will not permit fracking to be realized in San Martín or any part of the country," declared San Martín community leader Carlos Andrés Santiago. (ContagioRadio, April 13)
Havana peace talks between Colombia's government and the FARC are said to be stalled as the government refuses to acknowledge the existence of far-right paramilitaries, while the rebel movement demands their dismantling. The Colombian and US governments both maintain that paramilitary groups ceased to exist in 2006 when the last unit of AUC formally demobilized. The paramilitary forces that resisted demobilization are dubbed "Bacrim," for "criminal bands." But Los Urabeños, one of the AUC's successor organizations, shut down much of the country's north with an "armed strike" for several days early this month. The strike was called to proest government opperations against the Urabeños—refered to officially by the name of their ruling family, the "Clan Úsuga." In Havana, the FARC's Pastor Alape asserted that "the attention of the country cannot center on the so-called Clan Úsuga" because "the problem of paramilitarism is much more profound." (El Tiempo, April 9; Colombia Reports, April 8; El Colombiano, March 29)
A magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador on April 16, leaving at least 270 dead and over 1,000 injured. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble. The two towns most affected are Portoviejo and Pedernales, in Manabí province, where water and communications infrastructure were destroyed. Emergency response efforts have been hindered by damaged roads. Manabí had been hit just days earlier by flooding, leaving roads in the province impassable even before the quake. The province was also hit by flooding in February, with rivers bursting their banks and inundating roadways. Homes and fields were destroyed in some villages. The repeated floods are belived linked to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon. (AFP, April 18; CNN, El Pais, Spain, Noticias Cuatro, Noticias Cuatro, Spain, Ecuador Times, April 17; El Universo, Guayaquil, April 16; El Universo, Feb. 18)
At least 18 soldiers and five militants were killed in a fierce 10-hour fire-fight between Philippine government forces and the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan province, on the southern island of Mindanao April 10. More than 50 soldiers were wounded in the clash at the barangay (village) of Baguindan, Tipo Tipo municipality. Local media report that an entire platoon was "wiped out," and that four of the soldiers were beheaded. The fighting began when an army patrol found a camp of some 100 Abu Sayyaf fighters. Patrols had been hunting Abu Sayyaf across across Basilan and the nearby Joso islands for weeks, hoping to free at least 18 foreigners being held by the group. Abu Sayyaf has recently joined the ISIS franchise, with leader Isnilon Hapilon pledging to make Southeast Asia a "wilayat" or province of the Islamic State. (Straits Times, Singapore, April 10)
Intensified fighting since January has resulted in a rapidly worsening security situation and large-scale displacement in Sudan’s Darfur region, the top United Nations peacekeeping official warned April 6. UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous said that since his last briefing to the Security Council on Jan. 25, the security situation in Darfur has been characterized by fighting between government forces and militants of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) in the Jebel Marra region. "The escalation of fighting in Jebel Marra had led to large-scale displacement, especially from mid-January to late March, and humanitarian organizations estimated that at least 138,000 people from that region were newly displaced as of 31 March," Ladsous stated. (UN News Centre, April 6)
Police opened fire on peasant protestors at the site of a coal-fired power plant project in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh April 4, killing at least four. Thousands of people were charged with assault and vandalism in connection with the demonstration against the Chinese-financed project near the village of Gandamara "We demand an immediate, full and independent inquiry into yesterday’s events to hold those responsible to account for the unnecessary murder of at least four people," two Bangladeshi groups, the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said in a joint statement the following day. According to the groups, 15,000 peacefully marched on the site to protest land-grabs by the plants' developer when police opened fire. Police said one officer was shot in the protest and another 10 injured—a claim denied by the villagers, who also said the death toll on their side could be higher, with several still missing.
Human Rights group Global Witness last month released figures naming Honduras as the most dangerous country for environmental defenders, based on a finding of at least 109 killed there between 2010 and 2015 "for taking a stand against destructive dam, mining, logging and agriculture projects." The report of course noted the March 3 slaying of Berta Cáceres, a leader of indigenous environmental group COPINH. But this was only the latest in a string of such slayings. Another COPINH member, Moisés Durón Sánchez, was murdered in May 2015 after receiving death threats for defending his community's land rights. COPINH leader Tomás García was shot dead by a military officer in a protest in 2013.
Some 50,000 Peruvians filled Lima's Plaza San Martín to recall the April 5, 1992 "autogolpe" (suspension of civil government) by then-president Alberto Fujimori—and to repudiate the presidential ambitions of his daughter Keiko Fujimori, front-runner with the election just five days away. (La República) The mobilization came just as candidate Fujimori (of the right-wing Fuerza Popular party) and three of her rivals have been implicated in the "Panama Papers" revelations. Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano announced via Twitter that the revelations must be investigated promptly. The 11 million documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca name political figures from around the world as hiding assets in offshore accounts. Peruvian public-interest media outlet Ojo Publico was a key conduit for the leak. (PeruThisWeek, Andina)