An estimated 5,000 Tzotzil Maya peasants have been forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán, in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, facing threats by armed men in a land dispute with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó. The displaced, living in improvised camps since their homes were attacked in October, only started to receieve aid this week, as Chenalhó residents blocked all three roads to the community. Army vehicles started delivering aid Dec. 12 after one blockade was relaxed, but on condition that only humanitarian aid be allowed through. The army and state and federal police have established a Mixed Operations Base in the area. The local Catholic diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas said that an "atmosphere of terror" prevails in the area, and warned of a repeat of the 1997 Acteal massacre, when 45 were killed by paramilitary gunmen in a hamlet of Chenalhó.
Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.
The process of restitution of usurped lands and implementing the agrarian deal with the disarmed FARC rebels is shaping up as a sticking point in Colombia's peace process. The Agriculture Ministry has proposed a reform of Decreed Law 902, issued earlier this year to facilitate redistribution of lands. Currently, DL 902 reserves Colombia's unused lands (tierras baldías) for distribution to landless campesinos under a National Land Fund established for this purpose. Under the proposed reform, large landowners will be able to apply to the National Land Agency to receive these lands under a certain financial forumla. Landowners would have to pay the equivalent of 700 times the monthly minimum wage to acquire one Family Agricultural Unit (UAF). The UAF was established by Law 160 of 1994 as a unit of land sufficient to sustain a family, taking into consideration soil fertility and other variables. But opponents point out that Law 160 explicitly states that tierras baldías are reserved for distribution to campesinos. (Verdad Abierta, Oct. 2; El Espectador, Sept. 21)
Indigenous rights advocates in Peru are protesting a law being prepared by the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) that would allow the government to abrogate the land titles of indigenous and peasant communities for development projects that are deemed "high-priority." This power, long sought by the oil and resource industries, was announced as a goal by the PPK administration shortly after taking office last year. The measure was first promulgated in January as Legislative Decree 1333, during a 90-day "honeymoon" period when Peru's Congress granted PPK special powers to enact laws by fiat, with only after-the-fact review by legislators. One of 112 decrees issued during this period, DL 1333 instituted a process entitled Access to Predios for Prioritized Investment Projects (APIP), allowing the government to "sanear" (literally, cleanse) titles to rural lands. Critics assailed this as a euphemism for arbitrary expropriation, and in May lawmakers voted to overturn the decree. But on July 28, PPK submitted Law 1718 to Congress, essentially recapitulating the text of DL 1333—only this time, legislators will have to vote to approve it. The responsible agency for overseeing the saneamiento process—ProInversión, a division of the Ministry of Economy and Finance—says it has identified 33 projects around the country that could fall under the rubric of APIP. A watchdog on indigenous land rights, the Secure Territories for the Communities of Peru Collective, has joined with Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, in dubbing Law 1718 the "Law of Dispossession," and calling on Congress to reject it. (AIDESEP, Sept. 12; Servindi, Sept. 3; El Comercio, Aug. 17; La Mula, Aug. 16; El Comercio, May 26; Bonds & Loans, May 22; Instituto del Bien Común)
Prosecutors in Brazil have opened an investigation after reports that illegal gold-miners on a remote Amazon river massacred at least 10 members of an "uncontacted" indigenous band. If confirmed, this means up to a fifth of the entire band have been wiped out. Two gold-miners have been arrested in the case. The killings allegedly took place last month along the Rio Jandiatuba in the Vale do Javari Indigenous Territory, a huge area in Amazonas state bordering Peru. The region is known as the "Uncontacted Frontier," as it shelters more isolated peoples than anywhere else on Earth. Reports of the massacre only emerged after the miners started boasting about the killings, showing off "trophies" in the nearest town.
Colmbia's highest judicial body, the Fiscalía General, has opened investigations into the slaying six demobilized FARC fighters and nine family members of demobilized guerillas in apparent reprisal attacks since the peace accord took effect late last year. The attacks took place in the departments of Caquetá, Antioquia, Putumayo, Tolima, Cauca and Valle del Cauca. (El Espectador, July 27) But the wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia has also persisted, in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22. (El Colombiano, July 19)
Tens of thousands of Argentines held protests across the country Sept. 1, demanding answers one month after the disappearance of an indigenous rights activist. Demonstrators held photos of Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen when border police evicted a group of indigenous Mapuche from lands in the southern Patagonia region owned by Italian clothing company Benetton. In Buenos Aires, protesters converged on the Plaza de Mayo, iconic for its role in the struggle to demand justice for the "disappeared" under the military dictatorship. The Buenos Aires march ended in running street battles with the riot police.
Cambodia's National Assembly on July 10 passed a bill which prohibits political parties from being affiliated with convicted criminals. Commentators believe the law is aimed at weakening the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP's former leader, Sam Rainsy, recently resigned from the party after he was sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges. As a result of the new law, Rainsy will no longer be able to be affiliated with the CNRP in any manner. The CNRP gained significant political strength in the 2013 Cambodian elections when the party took a total of 55 seats in the National Assembly, leading many to believe the defamation charges against Rainsy were politically motivated.