Brazilian police have closed down a notorious security firm accused of killing at least two Guarani leaders, and brutally attacking hundreds more. Gaspem was described as a ‘private militia’ by public prosecutors who had called for the closure last year. Ranchers reportedly paid Gaspem 30,000 reais (US$ 13,400) each time it evicted Guarani Indians from their lands, which are now occupied by sugar cane and soya plantations, and cattle ranches. The company's owner, Aurelino Arce, was arrested in 2012 in connection with the murder of Guarani leader Nísio Gomes. For years, the Guarani have been appealing for the company to be shut down. A judge's decision to force the company to close marks a huge victory for Guarani communities across the central state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
A Colombian activist for restitution of usurped lands who was supposedly under special government protection was killed April 9. Colombia's official human rights ombudsman said Jesús Adán Quinto—who had previously reported that agents assigned to protect him had failed to show up—was killed by sicarios (hitmen) as he stepped outisde his home at Turbo in Urabá region of Antioquia department. Quinto was a leader of the displaced population from Cacarica (Riosucio muncipality, Chocó department), a self-declared "peace community" where the Afro-Colombian campesinos have been massively targetted by paramilitary forces since announcing their non-cooperation with all armed actors in 1999. Quinto's fellow activist Carmen Palencia told AFP news service that the people now occupying the lands of the displaced are hiring assassins to terrorize those those who demand return of usurped properties. She said there have been 70 people associated the peace community killed in similar circumstances since 2005. The violence-torn region of Urabá straddles the north of Antioquia and Chocó departments. (AFP, El Espectador, Justicia y Paz Colombia, April 9)
Just weeks after the Mexican government signed an accord with the "community police" vigilante network in Michoacán, ostensibly bringing the anti-narco militias under control of the armed forces, it is looking more and more like they have been transformed into a lawless paramilitary force—even acting against Mexico''s federal authorities. On March 19, "community police" forces at La Placita, on Michoacán's Pacific coast, launched a blockade of the entrance of a Mexican naval outpost, apparently in protest of the disarming of 14 of their gunmen by Mexican marines stationed there. The blockade escalated in the following days, with hundreds of armed vigilantes from neighboring towns converging at the base. (El Sol de Leon, March 21)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on April 4 told onlookers in the Pacific port of Buenaventura that 136 members of dangerous criminal gangs had been captured by security forces over the last month and a half, contributing to a recent drop in violence. Santos also told the crowd that the city had not seen a homicide for the last 19 days. Additionally, he said that 32 of the last 48 days had passed without a murder in Buenaventura. Santos also boasted of $100 million worth of investment in social programs for the city. This government has "decided to change the situation in Buenaventura and we are doing it with actions, not words," he said. But he added that the response to recent horrific violence in the city is not necessarily to "look for those responsible" but to find "solutions" to social problems.
Hipolito Mora, a top leader of the "community police" self-defense network in Michoacán, was detained by state police March 10 as a suspect in the slaying of two members of the movement. The detention comes amid an armed stand-off between rival factions of the self-defense network in the town of Buenavista Tomatlán. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been sent to the town as factions have seized turf and drawn lines across the municipality. Mora was helicoptered from Los Palmares ranch, in an outlying area of Buenavista, where he and his armed followers were holed up against rivals. The rival outfit, based in Buenavista's hamlet of La Ruana, is said to be led by Luís Antonio Torres González, who goes by the nom de guerre "Simón El Americano," because he grew up in the US. Torres González told local media that the two dead men were part of his defense group. Their bodies were found inside a pick-up truck that had been set on fire.
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.
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.
Hillel Cohen, Ukraine director of the Jewish ambulance corps Hatzalah, was stabbed the night of March 14 in Kiev by a group of men who reportedly hurled anti-Semitic slurs during the attack—making him the third Jew to be assaulted, and the second to be stabbed, in the city since January. These attacks are certainly convenient to the relentless Russian propaganda that portrays Ukraine's new leaders as fascists. At a recent press conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin warned against the "rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev." But some Ukrainian Jewish leaders think the attacks are a little too convenient. Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) of Ukraine and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post the assault on Cohen was a provocation, intended as a "justification for the continuation of Russian aggression" in Crimea and to "discredit the new government of Ukraine."