Left-populist presidential candidate Gregorio Santos Guerrero insists he will run in Peru's April election—despite remaining behind bars at Ancón I prison outside Lima. In 2014, Santos, affectionately known as "Goyo," was already re-elected to the presidency of the northern region of Cajamarca from prison in 2014, and officially remains the region's executive. He says his "preventative detention" under pending corruption charges are political retaliation for his advocacy for the peasants and poor of Cajamarca—especially his support of the region's popular struggle against the US-backed Conga gold mine mega-project, now stalled due to widespread protests. In a statement this month, he said he would not be detained "if the law were applied equally," and scoffed at the notion that he was a flight risk while officially serving as a regional president. While Santos has been imprisoned, Cajamarca's acting executive has been his vice president, Porfirio Medina. (Peru.com, Feb. 12; Andina, Feb. 10; La Republica, Feb. 1)
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 7 revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on paramós, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The ruling overturns Article 173 of the government's new National Development Plan (PND), which allowed 347 existing licenses in the alpine zones to move ahead, although barring the issuing of new ones. The ruling also struck down provisions of the PND that barred victims of the country's armed conflict from reclaiming usurped lands that had been converted into so-called "Projects of Strategic National Interest" (PINE). Additionally, the court overturned a third article that allowed the government to forcibly expropriate privately-owned land for mega-projects. The decision is seen as a blow to the ambitions of Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, mastermind of the PND. The case was brought by the left-opposition Polo Democrática. (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, Equilibrio Informativo, El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Feb. 9; El Espectador, RCN Radio, Feb. 8; Silla Vacía, Feb. 7)
Amid concerns over impunity for past atrocities in Colombia's peace process, a court in Villaviencio last week sentenced ex-FARC commander Gildardo Forero García, AKA"'Arley" to 40 years in prison for his role in the guerillas' August 1998 siege of the town of Miraflores, Guaviare, department. Three civilians were killed and many wounded in the siege as the guerillas used improvised "cylinder-bombs" indiscriminately. Sixteen members of the security forces were also killed in the siege, and many taken captive by the guerillas. (El Espectador, Feb. 5) The previous week, former army sergeant Iván Mauricio Ochoa Yepes was sentenced to 43 years by a court in Medellín for the "false positive" killings of two civilians, including a minor, at Concepción, Antioquia, in April 2006. The human rights division of Colombia's Fiscalía said that it is investigating 2,308 "false positive" cases. (El Colombiano, Feb. 7; Colombia.com, Jan. 29; Radio Caracol, Jan. 24)
Just as hopes had risen for a peace dialogue with Colombia's second guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) carried out an attack with improvised mortars (tatucos) on the barracks of the army's 18th Brigade in the city of Arauca on the Eastern Plains. There were no casualties in the Feb. 8 attack, but the compound was left without electricity. President Manuel Santos convened an emergency meeting of his National Security Council, and pledged to respond harshly. Since then, the ELN has carried out numerous atacks in the region—including a blast on the Caño-Limón pipeline that caused a leak of crude oil.
Indigenous and Black communities in Colombia's Chocó department filed a lawsuit this week, claiming 37 of their children died after drinking water contaminated with mercury by nearby mining operations over the past three years. The suit was brought before Colombia's Constitutional Court, which has ordered a thorough test of the water quality in the Riosucio and Andagueda rivers, which merge to form the Río Atrato. The affected Embera Katío and Afro-Colombian communities depend on these rivers for fishing and agriculture as well as direct consumption of water. The plaintiffs, represented by the Greater Community Council of the Popular Campesino Organization of the Upper Atrato (COCOMOPOCA), charge that unchecked gold mining in the zone has caused an "environmental crisis, which has had a devastating effect and cost the lives of the indigenous and Afro-descendant children." The Constitutional Court, in addition to asking the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for assistance in the water quality tests, also called on the University of Cartagena to prepare a report on the health impacts of mercury and cyanide contamination. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Tiempo, El Espectador, El Colombiano, Feb. 3)
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is to meet at the White House with Barack Obama Feb. 4 to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package, amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down. The two are expected to discuss what the Colombian press is calling a new "Plan Colombia" for the post-conflict era, with aid focused on rebuilding, removing landmines and implementing the peace accords—drawing parallels with the post-war Marshall Plan in Europe. "I think there's a real prospect for success and signing of a peace accord this year, hopefully within the first half of this year," said Bernard Aronson, the US envoy to the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. But Colombia's Defense Ministry also issued a statement calling for new military aid—this time to combat the outlaw right-wing paramilitary groups, known in official parlance as "Bacrim" for "criminal bands." (Reuters, Feb. 3; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 31; El Tiempo, El Espectador, Jan. 30)