La Guajira

Venezuela: indigenous lawmakers in critical role

Venezuela appears headed for a showdown in the wake of this month's electoral reversal for President Nicolás Maduro. "We're facing a large-scale crisis that is going to generate a power struggle between two poles: the patriots and the anti-patriots," Maduro said in a speech to the military Dec. 12. "A conflict which is going to create big tensions... It's a counter-revolutionary crisis." The new legislature begins on Jan. 5, and the opposition has said its priority is an amnesty law for imprisoned activists—which Maduro insists he will refuse to sign. Opposition leader Leopoldo López is among those whose release is also being demanded by Amnesty International. (Reuters, Dec. 12;, Dec. 9)

Colombia: worst drought in recorded history

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)

Colombia: crime lord falls, para links revealed

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Oct. 22 announced the capture of one of the country's top fugitive crime lords—Marcos de Jesús Figueroa AKA "Marquitos"—in the Brazilian jungle city of Boa Vista. The extraordinary operation was coordinated by police forces in both Colombia and Brazil. "Marquitos" was considered the reigning boss of the lucrative narco trade in Colombia's northern region of La Guajira, with access to both the Caribbean Sea and the porous Venezuelan border. He is held responsible for a long reign of terror by criminal gangs and their paramilitary allies in the region—personally culpable in at least 100 deaths, according to authorities. Santos took the apprehension of Marquitos as an opportunity to crow: "With this, we say to criminals that it makes no difference where you are, we are going to catch you." (El Tiempo, Oct. 23; El Espectador, El Tiempo, Oct. 22)

Colombia: security workers blockade coal mine

Workers from the Sepecol private security firm blocked the rail line leading from the mammoth Cerrejón coal mine in northeastern Colombia's La Guajira region for seven days over a contract dispute, before the company agreed to enter a dialogue over their demands June 26. The workers, who are mainly from the indigenous Wayuu group, launched their protest after the termination of the contract between Sepecol and Colombia's largest coal mining company. According to a company statement, the blockade of the rail line linking the mine to Puerto Bolívar was putting export obligations at risk. In announcing the dialogue, the company agreed to maintain 80% of its 770-strong security force from Sepecol and local firm Vigilancia Guajira. (El Heraldo, Barranquilla, June 28; Colombia Reports, EFE, June 26)

Colombia: agrarian strike re-mobilizes

Colombia campesinos launched a new national strike on April 28, blocking roads through the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Tolima and Risaralda. Cesar Pachón, spokesman for campesinos in the central department of Boyacá, said the strike will continue indefinitely until the government of President Juan Manuel Santos helps resolve problems, include small farmers' debts of more than $1 billion. Pachón estimates that 100,000 have joined the strike so far. The decision to strike if the government did not respond by the end of April was taken during the Campesino, Ethnic, and Popular Agrarian Summit, held from March 15-17 in Bogotá. (AP, EFE, El Tiempo, April 28; MR Zine, April 17)

Venezuela: Wayúu protest militarization

Leaders of the Wayúu indigenous people in Venezuela's La Guajira region, along the Colombian border, are protesting ongoing army exercises taking place in their traditional territory. Yamileth Palmar of the indigenous organization Wainjirawa told an audience at the University of Zulia last week that the augmented military presence has resulted in several deaths of indigenous residents, none of which have been adequately investigated. Palmar said 29 Wayúu people have been killed since La Guajira was declared a special military district. The militarization was launched in part to combat the illegal smuggling of subsidized Venezuelan foodstuffs across the border into Colombia for resale, a practice known locally as bachaqueo. But Palmar charged that the smuggling has not been affected by the troop presence in the zone. (Ultimas Noticias, Carcas, March 21)

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