Peruvian journalist Walter Chávez, widely named in the press as a key campaign advisor to Bolivian president Evo Morales, was arrested in Argentina March 16, and may face extradition to Peru, where he faces charges of having served as an operative of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a now-defunct guerilla group. Chávez was granted political asylum in Bolivia in 1992, and worked on Morales' campaigns between his election in 2005 and his most recent re-election in 2014. Bolivia refused a Peruvian extradition request in 2007. Chávez was arrested in Argentina's northern city of Salta, apparently having crossed the border some three weeks earlier. (Peru.com, March 17; InfoBae, Argentina, Eju!, Bolivia, March 16) In response to the controversy, Bolivia's cabinet chief Carlos Romero denied that Walter Chávez had ever been an official advisor, saying he did not work out of the presidential palace but "particiapted voluntarily" in Morales' campaigns. (Terra, March 17)
In Brazil's biggest protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, thousands have poured into the streets in cities cities across the country to denounce President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, as chief of staff. Days of nationwide demonstrations reached a climax as Lula was sworn in on March 17. In Brasilia, riot police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters who massed outside the presidential palace, chanting "Dilma out!" Demonstrators say Rousseff transparently appointed Lula in order to give him immunity as he comes under investigation in a corruption scandal at the state oil company Petrobras.
A Guatemalan court convened March 16 for a fourth attempt to try former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the bloodiest period of the nation's long civil war. Attorneys for the ex-dictator immediately filed motions to delay the trial yet again. Attorneys with the Actin Center for Human Rights (CALDH), representing victims, in turn argued that Ríos Montt and his co-defendant, former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez, should be tried separately. Judge Maria Eugenia Castellanos admonished attorneys on both sides over their "resorting to formalities." The co-defendants are charged with the killings of nearly 2,000 indigenous Quiché Maya peasants under a 1982-3 counter-insurgency operation in the Ixil highland region known as "Plan Sofía."
Thirteen Maya villagers are to stand trial in Belize over their expulsion of a settler they said had illegally encroached upon the grounds of an archeological site. A trial date of March 30 has been set in the case of the "Santa Cruz 13," who were arrested in a police raid of their village in June—days after expelling Rupert Myles from the Uxbenká site in southern Toledo district. Among the 13 charged with "unlawful imprisonment" is Q'eqchi Maya community leader Cristina Coc. Villagers say Myles illegally built a house on the grounds of the site against the wishes of the community, and Belizean authorities failed to respond to their call to have him removed. Villagers admit they restrained Myles when he became unruly at a community meeting that had been called to work out the matter, but deny his claims that they assaulted him. They also deny his charge that they are discriminating against him because he is Creole. Myles, who has a common-law wife in the Maya village, built his house on the Uxbenká site after being denied a request to do so on village lands. Village authorities say the decision was made based only a shortage of available land.
Honduran activist Nelson Noe García Lainez was murdered March 15, becoming the second member of the indigenous environmental group COPINH to be shot to death in the country over the last two weeks. He was gunned down at his home in the Rio Lindo community, Francisco de Yojoa municipality, Cortés department—12 days after the shooting death of COPINH co-founder Berta Cáceres. COPINH said that García was shot upon arriving home after a violent eviction by Military Police of a peasant community on disputed lands at Río Chiquito, in nearby Omoa municipality. A statement by the National Police said the slaying was unrelated to the eviction and the matter is under investigation. The community at Río Chiquito was established two years ago to reclaim lands that local peasants say were fraudulently taken by landlords with the complicty of corrupt officials. Human rights groups in Honduras and around the world have demanded the protection of COPINH members since the assassination of Cáceres. (COHA, March 16; TeleSur, El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, March 15)
Hundreds of taxi drivers from across Colombia converged on Bogotá March 14, clogging the streets and blocking intersections to demand the government ban Uber. Streams of slow-moving yellow cabs, many sporting with the Colombian tri-color flag finally joined in a caravan that ended in a mass rally at the Plaza de Bolívar. A handful of taxi drivers were arrested for forcing passengers out of cabs and other infractions, and a dozen vehicles impounded. At least one Uber driver's vehicle was reportedly damaged. The mobilization, dubbed "M-14," was joined by labor unions, students, miners, truckers and campesinos both in the capital and in solidarity protests around the country. Opposition to President Juan Manuel Santos' austerity program was also a part of the mobilization's demands.
The Mohawk nation is threatening to do everything legally in its power to block TransCanada's Energy East pipeline project, calling it a threat to their way of life. Mohawk Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge "Otsi" Simon warned in a March 9 letter to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard that the project to move 1.1 million barrels of crude and shale oil a day from Alberta to refineries in Canada's east is "risky and dangerous" for First Nations and a threat to their lands, waters and very survival. "Indeed an alliance of indigenous nations, from coast to coast, is being formed against all the pipeline, rail and tanker projects that would make possible the continued expansion of tar sands," Simon wrote. "One thing for sure, we the Mohawks of Kanesatake will not be brushed aside any longer and we wish to press upon you that we reserve the right to take legal action if necessary to prevent the abuse of our inherent rights."
Gunmen from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targeted a popular beach resort in southern Ivory Coast on March 13, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. The resort, in the city of Grand Bassam, is located only 25 miles east of Ivory Coast's largest city of Abidjan. According to the AFP, the gunmen "roamed the beach firing shots" before targeting the L'Etoile du Sud and two other nearby hotels. Ivorian security forces quickly "neutralized" the gunmen. The government's statement says that "six terrorists" were killed; however, AQIM's short claim of responsibility released online, states only three of its fighters were involved in the assault. “Three heroes from the knights of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were able to break into the tourist resort city of Grand Bassam," the jihadists said, indicating a larger statement will be released soon. Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar reports that sources within AQIM said that its "Sahara Emirate" and Katibat al-Murabitoon, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, were behind the attack. (Long War Journal, March 13)