Andean Theater

Peru: after deadly repression, protesters win a round

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.

Colombia: indigenous 'minga' marches on Bogotá

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.

Bolivia: back to 'socialism,' or meet the new boss?

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.

Colombia: paramilitary boss returns to face justice

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.

Bolivia: street confrontations in prelude to elections

Tensions are escalating in Bolivia ahead of the first post-coup elections, which after numerous postponements are now slated for Oct. 18. On Sept. 21, a youth meeting of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) in the Manufacturing Complex of the working-class city of El Alto was attacked with tear-gas bombs by unknown assailants, causing an exodus from the cavernous space. (Nodal, Argentina, Sept. 21) Three days earlier, MAS supporters in the mining hub of Oruro hurled stones at a vehicle caravan of the right-wing Creemos (We Believe) coalition, forcing it to retreat from their barrio, known as the Mining Helmet for the strength of organized labor there. The protesters shouted "Out, out, out! Oruro must be respected!" (¡Fuera, fuera, fuera, Oruro se respeta!) (Bolivia Prensa, Sept. 18)

Monumental controversy hits Colombia

Local indigenous people on Sept. 16 toppled the statue of the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar in Popayán, capital of Colombia's southwestern Cauca department. The statue came down 84 years after local authorities had erected it atop of Morro de Tulcán, a hill that had been a sacred site for the Misak indigenous people. The Movement of Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest (MAIS) issued a statement saying the move to overturn the monument was taken following a decision by traditional elders of the Misak community. The monument to Belalcázar, who founded Popayán in 1537, had long been viewed as an insult to the native population of Cauca, Colombia's most heavily indigenous region. Maria Violet Medina, a leader from the local Nasa indigenous people, said: "The conquistadors brought disease, both physical and spiritual, to indigenous people. It was a genocide. That history isn't told. The statue of Belalcázar represents pain, revictimization, and causes resentment."

UN report: 'crimes against humanity' in Venezuela

A UN report published Sept. 16 accused Venezuelan state authorities, including the president, of being complicit in human rights violations and abuses "amounting to crimes against humanity." An Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela found cases of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture committed by the government or its agents. The Mission investigated 223 cases and reviewed an additional 2,891 cases to compile a pattern of violations. High-level authorities, including the ministers of the Interior and Defense, as well as President Nicolás Maduro himself, were not only aware of the violations but gave the orders and provided the resources to carry them out. "Far from being isolated acts," said Marta Valiñas, chairperson of the Mission, "these crimes were coordinated and committed pursuant to State policies, with the knowledge or direct support of commanding officers and senior government officials."

Rights group sees 'political persecution' in Bolivia

Human Rights Watch released a report on Sept. 11, asserting that Bolivia's interim government, led by President Jeanine Añez, uses the judiciary to attack former President Evo Morales, his supporters, and former members of his administration. The report claims Añez's government "has publicly pressured prosecutors and judges to act to further its interests, leading to criminal investigations of more than 100 people linked to Morales government and Morales supporters for sedition and/or terrorism." The report states that many of these investigations "appear to be politically motivated." Among those charged is Morales himself, who was accused of terrorism after he fled the country last November.

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