Public sector workers in Cuzco, Peru, held a rally in the historic city Sept. 30 to protest plans by the national government to allow private administration of cultural and archaeological sites. The Cuzco regional government, whose territory includes such famous sites as Machu Picchu, Saqsaywaman and Ollantaytambo, has already announced its refusal to comply with the new policy. The national Culture Minister Diana Álvarez-Calderón says President Ollanta Humala's new Legislative Decree 1198 does not affect the fundamental nature of state properties but would help attract capital "in order to transform them into a point of development in its area of influence." She emphasized that many archaeological sites are currently unprotected and vulnerable to artifact thieves and traffickers, and environmental erosion. But Wilfredo Álvarez, leader of the Cuzco Departamental Workers Federation (FDTC), warned, "If the private sector administrates the archaeological centers, it will bring income for millionaries" rather than the Peruvian people. He said the FDTC would give President Humala a "prudent" amount of time to revoke the decree before undertaking an "indefinite" strike. (La Republica, Oct. 1; Peru This Week, El Comercio, Sept. 29; Andina, Sept. 28; La Republica, Sept. 27)
At least four are dead and several more injured following clashes between police and residents at Challhuahuacho in Peru's Apurímac region, amid protests over Las Bambas copper mine project, now nearing completion. Several hundred residents attacked the installation, and police responded with tear-gas. Authorities have mobilized army troops to the area and imposed a 30-day state of emergency. Residents in the local province of Cotabambas and neighboring Grau launched an ongoing civil strike last week to demand that the owner of project, Hong Kong-based MinMetals Resources (MMG Ltd), make changes to its environmental management plan. Protesters oppose the company's plan to process concentrates of copper and molybdenum in the town, threatening local waters. They also object to plans for processed ore to be shipped to the Pacific coast by train and truck rather than pipeline, posing greater risk of spill. The plan was recently revised by the company to allow these practices, sparking the protests. The mine is scheduled to begin production in 2016 and is exepected to produce 400,000 metric tons of copper the following year. (Channel News Asia, NYT, BNAmerica, Sept. 29; AP, Sept. 28; Diario Correo, Sept. 27)
Ecuador's Communications Secretariat (Secom) on Sept. 25 officially halted proceedings to shut down the free-speech advocacy organization Fundamedios. Secretary Fernando Alvarado said he was complying with a recommendation from Ecudaor's official rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo, whose chief Ramiro Rivadeneira had four days earlier called on the government to drop the proceedings. But the move follows revelations that Ecuador's National Intelliegnce Secretariat (SENAIN) spent $47 million in public funds to contract the firm Emerging MC to purge YouTube and other social media of material critical of President Rafael Correa. (AP, The Verge, Sept. 25; BuzzFeed, ElSalvador.com, Sept. 24; EFE, Sept. 21; )
Residents in of Simón Bolívar, in Peru's Pasco region, clashed with National Police in a highway confrontation Sept. 23, as they were returning from a cross-country march to La Oroya metal-smelting complex in neighboring Junín region. One protester was injured with a blow to the head in the fracas, which apparently began when an officer made a death threat to the passing demonstrators. The marchers intend to continue to Lima, and an officer reportedly told them that if they attempted to advance towards the capital they would "die like dogs." The protesters are demanding health and environmental remediation measures to address contamination of the area's waters with heavy metals from the Oroya complex. (RPP)
A Bolivian legislative committee approved a bill on Sept. 22 to amend the constitution to extend presidential terms, allowing current President Evo Morales and his vice president to run for a fourth consecutive term in office. The president's party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), has a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Assembly, where the bill will be sent next for approval. If the bill passes the Legislative Assembly, then it will face a national referendum in February. Critics call the bill a move by the party to undermine democracy, but supporters say it will free the people to decide the issue.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled (PDF) 14-2 Sept. 24 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case between Bolivia and Chile regarding land-locked Bolivia's access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued to the ICJ that Chile failed in its obligation to negotiate in good faith to grant Bolivia "fully sovereign access" to the Pacific, but Chile filed a preliminary objection that the ICJ had no authority to judge the dispute. The court reached its decision by relying on the Pact of Bogotá, in which Bolivia and Chile both agreed that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over matters regarding breach of an international obligation between American states. The court disagreed with Chile's argument that the dispute was one of territorial sovereignty and held that the subject matter of the dispute was a question of Chile's obligation to negotiate in good faith regarding access to the Pacific, granting the court the possibility of jurisdiction. Since the issue was not already decided by prior arrangement by the parties or by treaty in force at the time of the Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ ruled that it ultimately can hear the case.
Colombia is suffering the worst drought and forest fires in the country's history, partially due to weather phenomenon El Niño. According to meteorologists, the situation is likely to get worse. El Niño is the warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean which occurs every few years, causing heavier than usual rainfall in some areas such as Peru and Ecuador but unusually hot and dry weather in Colombia. Luis Felipe Henao, Colombia's Housing Minister, said the last three years have been the driest that the country has ever suffered. The Río Magdalena is at its lowest level on record, at less than half its average flow of 7,200 cubic meters per second. The Río Cauca is also dangerously low, and the Río Pance almost entirely dry. So far this year 3,421 forest fires have been reported, affecting 77,300 hectares of woodland. Water restrictions have been put in place in 130 municipalities acrss the country, and rationing could also be imposed in hundreds more towns. The effects of the drought are not expected to improve until March 2016, according to the Colombian meteorological institute IDEAM. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 22)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader leader "Timochenko" announced in Havana Sept. 24 that they have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal, which will include establishment of a special justice system to try human rights abusers. "We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said. "On March 23, 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas." Timochenko later posted on the rebels Twitter feed: "Let's join efforts to achieve peace." But terms of the proposed justice process are meeting controvery, within Colombia and internationally.