Years of violence have driven more than 5 million Colombians from their homes, generating the second largest population of internally displaced people in the world. Nowhere in Colombia is the problem of forced displacement worse today than in Buenaventura, a largely Afro-Colombian port on the country's Pacific coast. For each of the past three years, Buenaventura has led all Colombian municipalities in the numbers of newly displaced persons, according to government figures. In 2013, more than 13,000 Buenaventura residents fled their homes. Left-wing guerrillas operate in Buenaventura's rural areas and have historically been a major cause of displacement in the area. Currently, however, the violence and displacement in Buenaventura is concentrated in its urban center, where guerrillas have virtually no presence, and 90 percent of the municipality's population lives. Human Rights Watch visited Buenaventura’s urban center in November 2013 to investigate what was causing massive displacement there, and found a city where entire neighborhoods were dominated by powerful paramilitary "successor groups"—known as the Urabeños and the Empresa—who restrict residents' movements, recruit their children, extort their businesses, and routinely engage in horrific acts of violence against anyone who defies their will.
Chevron Corporation on March 18 filed (PDF) for reimbursement of attorneys' fees against attorney Steven Donziger and others in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Chevron prevailed earlier this month in its lawsuit against Donziger for fraud and racketeering and demands compensation for over $32 million the company allegedly spent in attorneys' fees associated with the trial. The racketeering trial was brought by Chevron in retaliation for a 2011 lawsuit between the same parties in which Donziger prevailed. That lawsuit, brought by Donziger and litigated in Ecuador, found Chevron liable for 8.6 billion for polluting large areas of the Ecuadorian rain forest. Chevron subsequently brought and prevailed on charges that the Ecuadorian lawsuit was a "multinational criminal enterprise" intended to defraud and extort "one of the best-known companies in the world."
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced on March 20 that his country has agreed with US President Barack Obama to take five inmates at Guantánamo Bay, reportedly stating that they would be "welcome to work and stay with their families in Uruguay." Obama is attempting to live up to his promise to release the remaining prisoners at the camp and to close the facility, but there are still 154 remaining detainees. The five prisoners will be granted refugee status in Uruguay, and though Mujica reportedly agreed to the proposal for humanitarian reasons, he has also acknowledged the possibility of some reciprocal action from the United States, reportedly stating, "I don't do favors for free." Mujica has some personal connection to the prisoners' scenario, having been detained for fourteen years as a guerrilla fighter by the 1973-1985 Uruguayan dictatorship.
Clashes broke out March 20 between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli forces in the al-Aqsa compound following a visit by a right-wing Israeli MK, locals said. Witnesses told Ma'an news Agency that Likud MK Moshe Feiglin and a number of other right-wing politicians entered the mosque compound via the Moroccan Gate and toured the courtyards. Worshipers shouted "Allah Akbar" at the group before Israeli forces raided the compound and began assaulting them with clubs. In response, young Palestinians began throwing stones at the Knesset members, forcing them to leave the compound. Several worshipers and Shariah law students sustained bruises and one of them was treated at a clinic in the Aqsa compound. An Israeli police spokesperson said two Palestinians were detained for throwing stones at Feiglin.
Leaders of the peasant protest encampment at the planned Conga mine project in Cajamarca, Peru, report a new attack by the National Police detachment assigned to protect the site. Protest leader Marco Arana said that as a procession of protesters marched to the threatened Laguna Cocodrilo on March 18, police agents and security personnel of the Yanacocha mining company closely followed it, taunting the marchers with insults and provoking a fracas. Police reportedly used tear-gas and fired shotguns, and detained several protesters. Protest leaders issued an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for action in the case. (La Republica, March 19; CNDH, March 18)
Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo pleaded guilty before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York March 18 to taking $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for continued diplomatic recognition of the nation. Portillo read a statement before the court admitting to taking the bribes as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. As part of the plea deal Portillo will face 46 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines with sentencing scheduled for June 23. Portillo was extradited to the US after the Guatemala Constitutional Court last May ruled in favor of his extradition. The $2.5 million Portillo received from Taiwan is only a small fraction of the tens of millions of dollars US prosecutors have alleged Portillo embezzled from the Guatemalan government and laundered through US banks.
Hundreds of students remain barricaded in Taiwan's Legislature in protest of the ruling party's push for a Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement with the People's Republic of China. Protesters, most of them college students, stormed into the assembly hall of the Legislative Yuan, breaking the glass doors and blocking the entrances by piling up lawmakers' chairs to prevent police from entering. The protesters also took over the podium and rostrum in the chamber. The action was prompted March 18 when the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) cut short review of the trade agreement and sent the pact directly to the plenary session for its second reading. In response, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) boycotted the plenary session. Student leader Fei-fan Lin, speaking at a press conference, said: "We want the agreement to be recinded—not just back to the committee, but we want it thrown out, and tell China we are not signing this." (China Post, March 20; Taipei Times, CNN, VOA, March 19; Ketagalan Media, March 18)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and representatives of Crimea's government signed a treaty March 18 incorporating the territory, including the autonomous city of Sevastopol, into the Russian Federation. The agreement follows a referendum two days earlier in which more than 95% of Crimean voters, largely ethnic Russians, elected to secede from Ukraine and request to join Russia. The US, EU and Ukraine all challenge the legitimacy of the referendum and refuse to recognize Crimea as either an independent nation or as a part of Russia. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the annexation "a robbery on an international scale." Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers reamin in Crimea, and are now facing off with Russian troops and pro-Russian paramilitary forces. At least one Ukrainian solider was reported killed in a clash at a base near Simferopol as Crimea's annexation was announced. Yatsenyuk said the base had been attacked, calling it a "war crime." Russian media said that a "self-defense member"—persumably, a pro-Russian paramilitary—was also killed. The slaying was blamed on a "sniper," who was reported to have been detained.