Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.
On his first day in office Jan. 2, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (Medida Provisório 870) taking away responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, and handing it over to the Agriculture Ministry. In the same decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over regularization of quilombos (lands titled to runaway slave descendants) from the agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the Agriculture Ministry. The measure greatly weakens FUNAI, taking away its most important function. In practice, key areas of indigenous and quilombo policy will now be in the hands of agribusiness advocates—a long-time demand of the Bancada Ruralista (agribusiness bloc) in Congress.
Brazil's far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on a plan to privatize vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he seeks to expand hydro-power and other energy mega-projects the region. Since his election in an Oct. 28 run-off vote, Bolsonaro's team has announced that his administration will merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment into a new "super ministry" to oversee the plan. Brazil now has some 720 indigenous reserves, ranging in size from a single hectare to nearly ten million hectares. Bolsonaro has said he wants to put all of those lands—13% of Brazil's territory—on the auction block. "Minorities have to adapt to the majority, or simply disappear," he said on the campaign trail, adding that under his administration, "not one square centimeter" of Brazil will be reserved for the country's indigenous peoples.
Aymara leader Walter Aduviri was elected governor of Peru's Puno region Oct. 7—just two days after the country's Supreme Court declared void a seven-year prison term against him for "disturbing public order" during a 2011 protest wave in which he was the principal leader. Aduviri had carried out his campaign from hiding, and only emerged from clandestinity with announcement of the high court ruling. He will now face a new trial on the charges related to the so-called "Aymarazo"—an Aymara uprising against an unpopular mineral development project, which was ultimately suspended. His Mi Casita Movement for Regional Integration and Development won 48% of the vote in the race, ahead of the other candidates. It also took several municipal races in Puno region. (El Comercio, Oct. 12)
Social leader Milton Sánchez Cubas in Peru's northern Cajamarca region was acquitted July 16 of all criminal charges brought by the local subsidiary of US-based Newmont Mining. Prosecutors accused Sánchez of being "author" of the crime of "disturbance" in a protest concerning a land conflict between the company and a campesino family at the community of Tragadero Grande. Sánchez was represented by EarthRights International, which said in a statement, "[T]his case shows how the government uses legal tools to penalize freedom of expression, the right to information, freedom of assembly, and the right to protest." (ERI, July 16) Campesina Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, whose family lands were at issue in the dispute, was cleared of "land usurpation" by Peru's Supreme Court last May. (La República)
Chinese police used tear-gas and baton charges to disperse Tibetan villagers protesting a mine project in Qinghai's Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on July 7, following two months of demonstrations at the site. Rsidents said the project at a site called Upper Dechung was undertaken without informing the local inhabitants. Several were hospitalized following the police assault, including a 70-year-old man. There are also concerns for the whereabouts of a delegation of some 50 villagers who went to complain to provincial authorities about the mine, and have not been heard from since. The mine was seemingly initiated by private interests with little or no government oversight. "Local people suspect corruption is involved in connection with this joint venture," a source told Radio Free Asia.
Two opponents of a controversial hydro-electric project on Colombia's Río Cauca were slain by unknown assailants while they were working their fields in the riverside community pf El Pescadero, Puerto Valdivia municipality, Antioquia department, on May 8. Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and his brother Duvián Andrés Correa Sánchez were members of the Association of Artisanal Miners and Fishermen of Puerto Valdivia. Six days earlier, unidentified assailants killed Hugo Albeiro George Pérez, another community leader in Puerto Valdivia. All three were part of the Antioquia Ríos Vivos Movement that has publicly opposed construction of the Hidroituango project due to the environmental damage it has caused in the area, and had sought compensation for local families whose lands have been adversely impacted by the project. (Amnesty International, May 11; ¡Pacifista!, May 3)
All economic activities were suspended for several days in Peru's southern city of Moquegua as residents launched a civil strike to protest a planned large hike in water prices. The protests were relaxed April 19, when the central government sent a representative to meet with local and community leaders. The government initially proposed that the National Superintendancy of Sanitation Services (SURNASS) suspend for a year implementation of its March decree hiking water prices by 20% in arid Moquegua region. But protesters demanded that the decree be overturned entirely. Finally, the Technical Organism for Administration of Sanitation Services (OTASS), agreed to invest more money in Moquegua's infrastructure, heading off the need for the price hike. Authorities warned that the region's water system is at the brink of "collapse." (El Comercio, April 20; La República, Andina, April 19)