Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, back in his country from exile in Argentina after October's elections returned his Movement to Socialism (MAS) to power, warned Dec. 27 of the ongoing danger of a new coup d'etat and asked his followers to debate how to best defend new President Luis Arce and the "process of change." The comments came at a meeting in Chapare region of the MAS and affiliated Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the campesino alliance that Morales once led. Recalling his own ouster in November 2019, Morales said: "The issue of the coup is still compelling; it is an ideological, programmatic struggle; it is a cultural, social, communal and, of course, an electoral struggle." Invoking divided loyalties in the military, he added: "I am also convinced that in the Armed Forces there are not only those who respect and admire the MAS, but there are also anti-imperialist soldiers." However, he added that "they are not many," and others have "submitted to the North American empire." (Prensa Latina, Prensa Latina)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged state authorities in Colombia on Dec. 15 to respond to heightened violence with concrete action and stronger protection. According to the UN Human Rights Office, 375 killings have been recorded in Colombia thus far in 2020. Of these killings, 255 people were slain in 66 massacres, and 120 human rights defenders have also been killed. What is more, since Colombia's peace agreement was signed in November 2016, a total of 244 demobilized FARC fighters have been slain. The killings continue to be committed "by non-state armed groups, criminal groups and other armed elements," in mostly in remote areas of Colombia, and particularly targeting "peasants, indigenous and Afro-Colombian people."
Javier Francisco Parra Cubillos, environmental director of Cormacarena, the government body responsible for managing Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park on the eastern slopes of the Colombian Andes, died in a local hospital Dec. 3 after receiving multiple gunshot wounds from a pair of presumed sicarios (hired assassins) who fired on him from a motorbike. The area of fragile cloud-forest, in a remote part of Meta department, has long been the scene of armed conflict and coca cultivation, and has recently seen a surge in illegal logging. Parra Cubillos won brief national attention in 2017, when he accompanied Colombia's then-president Juan Manuel Santos on a visit to a scenic site within the park, Caño Cristales (Cyrstal Canyon), to raise awareness about the need to preserve the zone. The government has offered a reward of 40 million pesos (about $11,500) for information leading to the apprehension of the assailants.
Hundreds of striking farmworkers are blocking the Panamerican highway through southern Peru, demanding revocation of a decree extending an anti-labor agricultural reform law that was supposed to sunset this year. The protests, launched Nov. 30, have prompted the central government to send a dialogue team from Lima to Ica region, but the farmworkers have refused dismantle the roadblocks, insisting on a face-to-face meeting with Agriculture Minister Federico Tenorio. At issue is Law No. 27360, or the Law for Agrarian Promotion—dubbed the Chlimper Law for its author, José Chlimper, who served as agriculture minister under the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s.
Following an outburst of angry protest across the country, Peru's third president in less than a week was sworn in Nov. 16, with a coalition cabinet aimed at bringing the country back from the brink of chaos. The crisis was set off by the Nov. 9 impeachment of President Martín Vizcarra, who had been investigating corruption by the hard-right Fujimorista bloc in Congress—and whose removal was assailed as a "legislative coup." The new interim president, former Congressional leader Manuel Merino, was from the centrist Popular Action party, but perceived as a pawn of the hard right; demonstrators flooded the streets of Lima and other cities after his inauguration. In two days of repression by the National Police Nov. 12-14, two young protesters were killed, more than 200 injured, and two more listed as "disappeared." Merino and his cabinet stepped down Nov. 15, leaving the country without a president for nearly 24 hours before Congress finally agreed to approve a replacement.
Some 10,000 participated in a cross-country march and motorcade through Colombia's southern Andes, dubbed the "Minga for Life, Territory, Democracy and Peace," culminating in a mass demonstration in Bogotá on Oct. 21. The Bogotá rally was swelled by thousands of students, teachers and labor unionists who walked out of classes and off their jobs. Called by Nasa and Guambiano indigenous leaders in the southern department of Cauca, the Minga (a traditional Andean word for "collective labor") was joined by Afro-Colombian and mestizo campesino communities in its 10-day trek to the capital. Chief among the marchers' grievances is the ongoing wave of assassinations of social leaders by illegal armed groups operating on indigenous lands. They charge that their communities have been betrayed by President Iván Duque's failure to fully implement terms of the peace accords with the demobilized FARC guerillas.
Luis Arce, candidate of the party of ousted president Evo Morales, has seemingly swept to victory in Bolivia's Oct. 18 presidential elections. While the official count is technically still pending, results place him with more than 50% of the vote—well above the second-place center-right contender Carlos Mesa and with far more than the required majority to avoid a runoff. This represents a significant recoup of losses for the Movement Toward Socialism-Political Instrument for the Peoples' Sovereignty (MAS-IPSP), which Morales nominally still leads from exile in Argentina. As news of the victory broke, supporters gathered outside Arce's campaign office to chant "The pollera will be respected!"—a reference to the traditional skirt that has become a symbol of the MAS-IPSP indigenous base. But Arce is insisting there will be "no role" in his government for Morales, who has been barred by the courts from holding public office and faces criminal charges in Bolivia.
Rodrigo Tovar AKA "Jorge 40," one of Colombia's most wanted paramilitary leaders, was flown back to his home country Sept. 28 after spending 12 years in US prisons for drug trafficking. Once a local official in his hometown of Valledupar, Tovar became commander of the feared "Bloque Norte" of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary network in the first decade of this century. Revelations upon his demobilization in 2006 triggered the so-called "parapolitics" scandal, with his testimony implicating top government figures in the officially illegal armed networks. But Tovar stopped cooperating with Colombian justice after his brother was assassinated in 2009, a year after his extradition to the US. He now faces multiple charges of war crimes and human rights violations in Colombia, most notoriously the February 2000 massacre of 60 civilians at the village of El Saldado, in the Medio Magdalena region. His one-time mentor in the paramilitary movement, Salvatore Mancuso, is currently fighting deportation to Colombia after also serving a drug trafficking sentence in the US.