Ten days into a national "quarantine" declared in Bolivia, protesters are taking to the streets to demand food in working-class districts of cities across the country—in defiance of lockdown orders. Residents are calling for either greater flexibility in the lockdown, which has paralyzed the economy, or food distribution in their barrios. Street protests have been reported in El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Trinidad and Riberalta. The government of interim leader Jeanine Áñez has pledged one-time payments of $60 for elders, the disabled, pregnant women and others with special needs. Her supporters on social media are portraying the protests as fomented by the ousted Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
Inmates' fears that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside Colombia's notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic prisons exploded into violence on March 21, with uprisings reported at facilities across the country. The Justice Ministry acknowledged "revolts at different penitentiary centers in the country," including the prisons in Ibague, Jamundi and Combita, two prisons in Medellín and another two in the capital Bogotá. Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said 23 had been killed in suppressing a "massive and criminal escape attempt" at Bogotá's La Modelo prison, one of the country's largest and most overpopulated. Local residents reported on social media hearing gunfire and explosions at the facility. (Colombia Reports, El Espectador, CNN, AP)
In a rare move, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on March 26. Maduro and 14 current and former Venezuelan officials have been charged with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes. The DoJ alleges that Maduro conspired with the FARC, Colombia's guerrilla army, prior to becoming the president, and continued to do after assuming power. The indictment charges that this nexus has congealed under the name "Cartel of the Suns," and that Maduro continues to collude with dissident factions of the FARC that remain in arms despite the Colombian peace accords. Attorney General William Barr said the aim of the conspiracy is "to flood the United States with cocaine."
Bolivia's National Council to Combat Illicit Drug Trafficking (CONALTID) has issued a new strategy paper calling for changes to the country's General Coca Law that would allow eradication operations throughout the Chapare region in the eastern lowlands. The change would overturn a reform of the law made under Evo Morales that permitted coca cultivation for the legal domestic market throughout most of Chapare. The CONALTID strategy asserts that 91% of Chapare coca production is being diverted to the illicit market. (Página Siete, March 10) In announcing the policy change, Defense Minister Fernando López issued a stern warning to the inhabitants of the Chapare: "We are not playing, we are ready for anything." (Página Siete, Feb. 14) Chapare, a heartland of support for the ousted Morales, has been a de facto autonomous zone outside the control of La Paz since last year's coup d'etat.
Following a trial lasting years, a criminal court in Peru's Cuzco region on Jan. 30 finally absolved 10 campesinos from Chumbivilcas province of charges related to a 2011 protest against the ANABI mineral project, which they say threatens the headwaters of the Rio Yahuarmayo (also known as the Molino). The defendants—nine men and one woman—are followers of the Tupac Amaru Agrarian Federation of Cuzco (FARTAC). They had been charged with "disturbance," "deprivation of liberty," "aggravated property damage," and other offenses typically used against protesters in Peru. If convicted, they could have faced up to 30 years in prison. The ANABI gold and copper mine is in neighboring Apurímac region, but the minerals are transported through Chumbivilcas on unimproved roads, raising dust that contaminates local lands and waters. (Diario Uno, Jan. 30; Wayka, Jan. 20)
The protest wave in Colombia was revived with a national mobilization Jan. 21, to be again met with repression from the security forces. Protest organizers explicitly rejected violence, but police and gangs of masked men sabotaged efforts by municipal authorities to maintain the peace in the country's two biggest cities. In both Bogotá and Medellín, the progressive mayors who defeated President Ivan Duque's far-right Democratic Center party in local elections last year had adopted protocols to prevent police attacks on peaceful protesters. Human rights defenders in Bogota said that the feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, ignored protocols put in place by Mayor Claudia Lopez and attacked protesters without first attempting mediation. Some 90 were arrested and several injured in the capital, including at the central Bolivar Square, where ESMAD troops attempted to block marchers from entering. Presumed provocateurs also sparked clashes elsewhere in the city.
The former commander of Colombia's armed forces, retired general Mario Montoya, was summoned late last month to appear before a trial to take place under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) concerning the grisly practice of "false positives"—the killing of non-combatants in the guise of military operations against the guerillas. Montoya has been called to testify in Case 03, officially dubbed "muertes ilegítimamente presentadas como bajas en combate por agentes de Estado" (deaths illegitimately presented as fallen in combat by agents of the State). The testimony is scheduled for Feb. 12.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern in a Jan. 14 statement over the killings of human rights defenders in Colombia last year. The statement said the commission is "deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019." The commission asserted that there were between 107 and 120 killings of rights activists in Colombia over the course of the year. It called on the "Colombian Government to make a strenuous effort to prevent attacks on people defending fundamental rights, to investigate each and every case and to prosecute those responsible for these violations, including instigating or aiding and abetting violations."