Andean Theater

Peru: mine project suspended after deadly protests

Grupo Mexico's Southern Copper Corp on May 15 announced a 60-day halt in its huge Tia Maria project in southern Peru's Arequipa region following seven weeks of escalating protests in which three people have been killed and more than 200 injured. Company president Oscar Gonzalez said in a statement that the "pause" would let all sides air concerns and "identify solutions." Protesters in Cocachacra, the center of the conflict in Islay province, say they have no intention of backing down from their demand that the $1.4 billion project be canceled. Peru's President Ollanta Humala said canceling the project would expose the country to lawsuits and make it less attractive to investors.

Colombia: DEA agents in new prostitution scandal

DEA agents in Colombia held sex parties with prostitutes hired by narco-traffickers, according to an investigation by the US Justice Department released March 26. In a series of interviews with DoJ's Office of the Inspector General, former Colombian police officers said that they arranged the parties at government-leased quarters between 2005 and 2008, and also provided protection for the agents' weapons and property during the affairs. The report goes on to detail how several DEA agents were provided money, gifts, and weapons by local drug cartel operatives.

Colombia: manhunt for paramilitary warlord

Authorities in Colombia are carrying out their biggest manhunt since the campaign that brought down the legendary Pablo Escobar in 1993. Dario Antonio Usuga AKA "Otoniel" is leader of the Urabeños, a blood-drenched paramilitary network which is said to control much of the cocaine trade in Colombia's northern region of Urabá. The hunt, dubbed the "Siege of Urabá," has mobilized over 2,000 soldiers and National Police troops to the jungles and peasant villages of the northern region. Under a new reward just announced by President Juan Manuel Santos, Otoniel now has a $580,000 price on his head, while his associates "El Galivan," "Nicolas" and "Guagua" each have a price of nearly $200,000.

Chemical in Colombia spraying called carcinogen

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), on March 24 officially reclassified the herbicide glyphosate as a cancer threat—citing what it called convincing evidence the chemical produces cancer in lab animals and more limited findings that it may cause a form of lymphoma in humans. Monsanto markets glyphosate as Roundup for use in agriculture worldwide, but the reclassification is especially big news in Colombia—where the government has sprayed more than 4 million acres of land in the past two decades to eradicate coca plantations.

Colombia: peace efforts bear (tentative) fruit

Colombians made history March 8, as tens of thousands took to the streets in cities and towns nationwide—joined by Colombian ex-pats and immigrants in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere—to show their support for peace talks between the government and FARC guerillas. The "March for Life" was organized by Bogotá’s ex-mayor Antanas Mockus and was embraced by President Juan Manuel Santos, who joined the march in the capital. Since then, there have been some encouraging signs that the country’s multi-decade armed conflict is really coming to an end. (EuroNews, March 9;AP, Colombia Reports, March 8)

Colombia: peasants detain troops... again

In another case of Colombian villagers staging a local uprising in response to militarization of their communities, on March 24 a detachment of some 20 special anti-narcotics agents of the National Police were detained by indigenous peasants at the hamlet of Alto Naya, in the southern region of Cauca. Villagers apparently accused the troops, who were on a coca eradication mission, of entering indigenous lands without community consent. But the local National Police commander said consent had been secured at a meeting with village leaders held in the nearby town of Santander de Quilichao. In any event, police seemingly agreed to call off the eradication mission in order to win the release of the detained troops.

US troops to Peru's coca zone

It has been making practically no headlines outside Peru, and hardly any within, but a force of US Marines has apparently been mobilized to the Andean country—specifically to the conflicted coca-growing jungle region known as the VRAE, or Valley of the Apurímac and Ene Rivers. Peru's Congress quietly approved the deployment in a resolution Jan. 29. The first contingent of 58 soldiers arrived on Feb. 1, and a second of 67 troops on Feb. 15. They are to stay for a year on what is being called a "training" mission. A much larger contingent is to arrive in September, a total to 3,200 Marines, for a six-day joint exercise with Peruvian forces. (Defensa.com, Feb. 19)

Caracazo recalled in polarized Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro led a mass rally in Caracas Feb. 28 marking the anniversary of the "Caracazo," the 1989 popular rebellion against an IMF structural adjustment package imposed by then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. Over the course of 72 hours, perhaps 3,000 were killed or "disappeared" in a wave of repression, although the actual figure remains unknown. Maduro announced that 75 more victims and survivors of the repression would receive indemnification from the state. Since 2002, some 600 victims and survivors have received restitution. Maduro of course also linked the commemoration to the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, pledging to defend "the anti-imperialist charatcer of the Bolivarian Revolution" despite designs by "the oligarchy" for a "coup d'etat." (Diario BAE, Argentina, Noticías24, Venezuela, Feb. 28; VenezuelAnalysis, Feb. 27)

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