In Episode 128 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg provides an in-depth analysis of the under-reported multi-sided armed conflict and deepening human rights crisis in Colombia on the eve of an historic run-off election that poses two populist "outsider" candidates for the presidency: Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla leader and Colombia’s first leftist presidential contender, versus Rodolfo Hernández, a right-wing construction magnate whose pugnacious swagger inevitably invites comparison to Donald Trump. This turning point comes as Colombia has established a new "partnership" with NATO, obviously in response to Venezuela's deepening ties with Russia. Yet Colombia's armed forces continue to collaborate with the outlaw paramilitary groups that terrorize campesino and indigenous communities. If elected, Petro will face the challenge of breaking the state-paramilitary nexus, and charting a course independent of the Great Powers. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Ecuador's national indigenous alliance CONAIE announced an "indefinite" paro (general strike) June 13, in response to a sudden jump in petrol prices. Things escalated the following day, when prominent CONAIE leader Leonidas Iza was arrested at Pastocalle, Cotopaxi province, where he was apparently participating in a blockade of the Panamerican highway. He was held at a military base at Latacunga, but released the next day following angry protests over his detention and a CONAIE call for "radicalization" of the campaign. Roadblocks are reported in at least 14 of the country's 24 provinces, including Pichincha, where the capital Quito is located. CONAIE has presented the government of President Guillermo Lasso with a list of 10 demands. These include, in addition to a drop in fuel prices, a moratorium on new oil and mineral leases, and reparations to communities impacted by extractive projects. (Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, EFE, El Comercio, Quito; El Universo, Guayaquil)
Despite a peace process that has faltered under President Ivan Duque, the internal war in Colombia continues nearly across the country—now involving multiple armed actors: remnant guerilla groups, resurgent paramilitary forces, regional cartels, and the official security forces. Thousands have been displaced in recent months, as campesino and indigenous communities are either caught in the crossfire or explicitly targeted.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on June 2 released its 2021 Annual Report, revealing that Colombia only partially adopted necessary measures to prevent human rights violations both by its security forces and unofficial paramilitary groups. The report called on Colombia to: "Adopt the appropriate measures for the members of the security forces who are allegedly involved in cases of violations of human rights or IHL [international humanitarian law] to be suspended from active duty until a final decision is issued in the disciplinary or criminal proceedings in such cases." Noting "the reorganization and persistence of illegal armed groups on its territory," the report also called on Colombia to "dismantle the armed groups that emerged after the demobilization of the paramilitary organizations or that continue to pursue the same objectives." (Jurist, June 5)
US President Joe Biden issued an executive order May 23 that designates Colombia as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) of the United States, under terms of the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act. The designation will facilitate further weapons transfers from the US to Colombia, and increased military cooperation between the two countries. Colombia is now the third MNNA in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina. Other MNNAs include Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. On May 2-6, a delegation of NATO staff visited Colombia to discuss the South American country's participation in the alliance's Defense Education Enhancement Program (DEEP). Colombia became NATO's newest "global partner" in 2018, but this relationship was reinforced last December, when it became a member of the NATO Individually Tailored Partnership Program (ITPP). (More at El Espectador)
Following a first round of presidential elections May 29, "between two populisms" is the catchphrase being used by Colombia's media for an unprecedented moment. A pair of political "outsiders" are to face each other in the June 19 run-off: Gustavo Petro, a former guerilla leader and Colombia's first leftist presidential contender, versus Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate whose pugnacious swagger inevitably invites comparison to Donald Trump. Hernández, an independent candidate and the former mayor of Bucaramanga, rose precipitously in an ostensibly anti-establishment campaign driven by social media, winning him the epithet "King of TikTok." But Colombia's political establishment is now lining up behind him to defeat Petro. The former mayor of Bogotá and a veteran of the demobilized M-19 guerillas, Petro is the candidate of a new progressive coalition, Colombia Humana, emphasizing multiculturalism and ecology as well as more traditional social justice demands.
Protests broke out in Lima, Cuzco and other cities in Peru after the country's Constitutional Tribunal on March 17 overruled a lower court annulment of a pardon for former dictator Alberto Fujimori. Further protests were ignited on March 28, when the Tribunal ordered his release from prison. On March 31, however, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the Peruvian state must refrain from executing the release order while the IACHR weighs provisional measures requested by representatives of the victims of the 1991 Barrios Altos and 1992 Cantuta massacres, for which Fujimori was convicted and sentenced in 2009. Fujimori has also been facing a judicial process over accusations of mass forced sterilizations under his government. (Jurist)
Chinese-owned MMG Ltd on March 24 announced that it has secured approval from Peru's Ministry of Energy & Mines (MINEM) to expand its copper mine at Las Bambas, despite ongoing outrage from local campesino communities. The country's fourth-largest copper mine and the world's ninth-largest, Las Bambas has been repeatedly shut down by peasant protests since it opened in 2016. The most recent blockades were launched in February by residents of Chumbivilcas, Paruro and Espinar provinces, Cuzco region, to oppose excavation of a second open pit at the facility, at a locale called Chalcobamba. Ahead of approval of the expansion, MINEM secured a pledge by some 20 communities to lift their blockades and refrain from further protest actions in exchange for agricultural aid, including two new tractors for pueblos in Coporaque district, Espinar province. However, the pueblo closest to the Chalcobamba pit rejected the deal. Huancuire pueblo, in the district of Cuyllurqui, Cotabambas province, Apurímac region, said the community had agreed to take all necessary "legal and social" measures to prevent excavation of the Chalcobamba pit. (Reuters, EFE, Gestión, El Comercio, Mining.com)