A growing wave of paramilitary terror is reported from the remote and rugged Sierra Tarahumara in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state—the country's prime opium and cannabis cultivation zone. Local residents at the hamlet of El Largo Maderal, in the backwoods of Madera municipality, on Oct. 14 issued an urgent alert to the authorities and media over ongoing attacks by narco-gunmen, leaving at least two campesinos dead over the past weeks. The Chihuahua state prosecutor, or Fiscalía General, meanwhile reported a highway attack at nearby Rancho Las Pomas, where a local narco-jefe identified only as "El Nacho" was killed along with two henchmen—their car shot up and then set aflame.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a "state of lawlessness" after a Sept. 2 bomb blast at a night market in the southern city of Davao, where he had long served as mayor. Duterte was unclear on what exactly his declaration means, and denied that he is instating martial law. But he stated ominously that he will "invite uniformed personnel to run the country." The blast, which killed at least 14 people and injured some 70, was claimed by the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). ASG spokesperson Abu Rami said the attack is a "call for unity to all mujahedeen in the country" amid the government's new offensive against the group in its strionghold islands of Sulu and Basilan. Duterte had days earlier ordered intensified operations to finish off the 400-strong militant group, following the death of 15 soldiers in a clash in Patikul, Sulu province.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this week released its latest figures on coca cultivation in the Andean nations—to the pride of Peru but chagrin of Colombia. Most dramatic was the bad news from Bogotá. The new Colombia Coca Survey (PDF), jointly produced by UNODC and the country's government, shows a nearly 40% increase in coca crop area—from 69,000 hectares in 2014 to 96,000 in 2015. This is twice the 48,000 figure for 2013. Coca leaf reached its highest price in Colombia in 10 years, shooting up 39.5% to $1.02 per kilogram (3,000 pesos). Bo Mathiasen, the UNODC representative in Colombia, told reporters the country is now cultivating more coca than Peru and Bolivia combined. (InfoBae, July 9; UNODC, July 8)
Several hundred people marched July 6 in Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, to demand the acquittal of 11 landless peasants charged in deadly violence almost exactly four years ago in the rural community of Curuguaty. Verdicts are expected this coming week in the bloody incident, which supporters of the defendants call a "massacre." The violence erupted when police moved to evict the peasants from private lands they were occupying. Of the 17 killed, 11 were peasants. In the aftermath, Paraguay's left-populist president Fernando Lugo was removed from power in what his supporters called a "coup." Prosecutors are calling for prison terms of up to 30 years for the defendants, while their supporters say they only acted in self-defense when set upon by police. Alicia Amarilla of the National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women (CONAMURI) called the proceedings a show trial in which "not a shred of evidence" has been presented against the defendants. She said they have been accused "because of their ideology, for having fought for land." (Ultima Hora, July 9; EFE, July 6)
Security forces in Honduras on May 4 carried out raids on suspected narco-gang safe-houses at various locations, bringing out helicopters and heavy weaponry, and placing residential neighborhoods under siege. Code-named "Tornado," the operation coordinated troops from the National Police, Military Police, the elite Inter-institutional National Security Force (FUSINA), and the Technical Criminal Invesitgation Agency (ATIC). Locations were raided in the capital Tegucigalpa as well as the crime-stricken second city of San Pedro Sula, the Caribbean port of La Ceiba, and elsewhere. In Valle de Amarateca in the central department of Francisco Morazán, security forces seized at least two assualt rifles, fragmentation grenades, police unfiorms, and unspecified quanitities of cocaine, cannabis and cash. At least 12 people were arrested in the raids, including minors. The raids were officially called to apprehend gang members wanted for assassination and extortion. (La Prensa, May 4)
Electoral authorities in Sudan say the results are in from the April 11-13 referendum on the administrative boundaries of strife-torn Darfur, with 97% voting to maintain its current five-state status. But the vote was boycotted by the civil and armed opposition alike in Darfur. Students at El-Fasher University in North Darfur protested the vote, and similar rallies were held in at least three IDP camps in Central Darfur. The US State Department issued a statement saying the referendum was unlikely to be fair, asserting that "insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation." The statement drew diplomatic protests from Sudan's regime, which supported maintaining the five-state status quo and posed the referendum as fulfilling terms of the 2011 Darfur peace agreement signed with some rebel groups, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. But rebel factions that did not sign on remain in arms, and even as the vote was prepared violence has again escalated in Darfur.
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.
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)