More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)
Maxima Acuña, a campesina grandmother from Peru's northern Cajamarca region, has been named the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for South and Central America for her struggle to defend her family's lands from Newmont Mining. "A subsistence farmer in Peru's northern highlands, Maxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a property sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine," the prize's official webpage indicates. At the award ceremony in San Francisco April 18, Acuña denied being a social leader, saying: "I only want them to leave me in peace on my land and that they do not contaminate my water." Considered the "Green Nobel," the Goldman Prize honors grassroots activists for significant achievements in protecting the environment worldwide.
Residents of the town of San Martín in Colombia's northern Cesar department held protests this week over government moves to open the country to fracking. The National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) in December approved exploration licenses in San Martín and several other municipalities of the Magdalena Medio region for ConocoPhillips and CNE Oil & Gas. Under a neoliberal reform of Colombia's hydrocarbons sector, the state is only a 2% partner in the projects. "We want to say to the national government that we will defend our water, our territory; we are going to defend life and we will not permit fracking to be realized in San Martín or any part of the country," declared San Martín community leader Carlos Andrés Santiago. (ContagioRadio, April 13)
Havana peace talks between Colombia's government and the FARC are said to be stalled as the government refuses to acknowledge the existence of far-right paramilitaries, while the rebel movement demands their dismantling. The Colombian and US governments both maintain that paramilitary groups ceased to exist in 2006 when the last unit of AUC formally demobilized. The paramilitary forces that resisted demobilization are dubbed "Bacrim," for "criminal bands." But Los Urabeños, one of the AUC's successor organizations, shut down much of the country's north with an "armed strike" for several days early this month. The strike was called to proest government opperations against the Urabeños—refered to officially by the name of their ruling family, the "Clan Úsuga." In Havana, the FARC's Pastor Alape asserted that "the attention of the country cannot center on the so-called Clan Úsuga" because "the problem of paramilitarism is much more profound." (El Tiempo, April 9; Colombia Reports, April 8; El Colombiano, March 29)
A magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador on April 16, leaving at least 270 dead and over 1,000 injured. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble. The two towns most affected are Portoviejo and Pedernales, in Manabí province, where water and communications infrastructure were destroyed. Emergency response efforts have been hindered by damaged roads. Manabí had been hit just days earlier by flooding, leaving roads in the province impassable even before the quake. The province was also hit by flooding in February, with rivers bursting their banks and inundating roadways. Homes and fields were destroyed in some villages. The repeated floods are belived linked to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon. (AFP, April 18; CNN, El Pais, Spain, Noticias Cuatro, Noticias Cuatro, Spain, Ecuador Times, April 17; El Universo, Guayaquil, April 16; El Universo, Feb. 18)
Reuters takes relief that Peruvian markets jumped on April 11 as results showed two "free-market candidates" emerging victorious from the previous day's first-round presidential race. "Conservative" Keiko Fujimori, with an estimated 40% of the vote, will now face "centrist" Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, with some 22%, in a June run-off. Markets evidently reacted favorably to the failure of "nationalist" Veronika Mendoza to make the second round, winning only some 18%. As the headline put it: "Two pro-business candidates make Peru runoff, markets rise." The BBC News calls Fujimori "centre-right." New York Times also calls Kuczynski "centrist" and (more accurately) Keiko "right-wing." These labels reveal illusions, and the degree to which what used to be the right is now considered the "center." Kuczynski (known by his initials PPK) is a former World Bank economist and veteran cabinet minister under the presidency of Alejandro Toledo. He is the one who is actually the "conservative" of the "center-right"—a standard neoliberal technocrat. Fujimori's intransigent and unapologetic defense of her father Alberto Fujimori—who ruled as a dictator in the '90s and is now imprisoned for assassinations and human rights abuses—clearly places her on the far right.
Some 50,000 Peruvians filled Lima's Plaza San Martín to recall the April 5, 1992 "autogolpe" (suspension of civil government) by then-president Alberto Fujimori—and to repudiate the presidential ambitions of his daughter Keiko Fujimori, front-runner with the election just five days away. (La República) The mobilization came just as candidate Fujimori (of the right-wing Fuerza Popular party) and three of her rivals have been implicated in the "Panama Papers" revelations. Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano announced via Twitter that the revelations must be investigated promptly. The 11 million documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca name political figures from around the world as hiding assets in offshore accounts. Peruvian public-interest media outlet Ojo Publico was a key conduit for the leak. (PeruThisWeek, Andina)
Venezuela's National Assembly on March 29 approved an amnesty law that would free 77 individuals allegedly imprisoned for political reasons under a number of crimes such as instigation of violence or commission of treason. President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to veto the law by any means. Roughly half of the prisoners were jailed by Maduro during anti-government protests in 2014 in which 43 individuals were killed. One of the most well-known opposition prisoners, Leopoldo López, was sentenced to over 13 years in 2015 for inciting violence a year earlier. A former prosecutor from Caracas released a video in October, stating that he was pressured into presenting false evidence to condemn López. The opposition-led assembly maintains that the imprisoned dissidents were not present at the anti-government protests in 2014 and they are being held for illegitimate reasons. Maduro's office stated that the law will be sent to the country's Supreme Court, whose composition is loyal to Maduro. During the vote in the national assembly, Maduro denounced the bill, stating that the law would benefit criminals and terrorists. The court has blocked every measure passed by the national assembly since the opposition-led bloc took control in January.