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."
The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo is threatening a military invasion of the eastern lowland region of Chapare, heartland of support for ousted president Evo Morales, which has become a de facto autonomous zone outside the control of La Paz. Murillo implied to reporters earlier this month that planned new elections for Bolivia will not be able to proceed until control over Chapare has been re-established. "We cannot permit a part of Bolivian territory without presence of the state, without presence of police... If there is no respect for the rule of law, this complicates the question of elections." He warned the region's residents: "Be careful of being too tough, or there won't be elections." (Cuidado que por ponerse duros no tengan elecciones.) He said that "narco-terrorists" are among the cocalero syndicates that have effectively seized power in the region, and that Chapare had become a "lawless territory." (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Dec. 11)
The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo has announced creation of a special "Anti-Terrorist Group" (GAT), drawn from elite units of the National Police force, to "completely disarticulate all the terrorist cells" operating in the country. Murillo made the announcement at a Dec. 2 meeting of the National Police Special Anti-Crime Struggle Force (FELCC) in Santa Cruz, where he charged that recent political violence in the country had been instrumented by foreign "terrorist" operatives financed by Venezuela as part of a plan to "destabilize" the countries of South America. He particularly mentioned Martín Serna Ponce, a supposed operative of Peru's defunct Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and Facundo Morales Schoenfeld, a veteran of Colombia's FARC. (Aristegui Noticias, Mexico, Dec. 3; La Razón, La Paz, Dec. 2)
Weeks after a nationwide uprising in Chile was sparked by protests over transit fare hikes in the capital, politicians in neighboring Peru are issuing nervous warnings in the wake of days of street demonstrations in Lima. On Nov. 29, students occupied Central Station on Lima's Metro to demand subsidized transit fares, "adjusted to the real incomes of Peruvians." The riot police were mobilized to clear the station, and a tense stand-off with protesters ensued. (EuroNews, Peru21, Nov. 29) Nov. 28 saw an angry march throughout downtown Lima by municipal water-workers and their trade-union allies, to oppose the privatization of the city's water system. The march was called by the water-workers union SUTESAL after President Martín Vizcarra signed Supreme Decree 214, calling for the sale of shares in the Lima Potable Water & Sewage Service (SEDAPAL), initiating longstanding plans to privatize the state company. (Diario Uno, Nov. 29; Gestión, Nov. 15)
Bolivia's Plurinational Legislative Assembly on Nov. 23 passed an "Exceptional & Transitional Regime Law" that annus last month's contested elections and calls for new elections to be held within 120 days—without Evo Morales as a candidate. The date for the new polls is to be set once new members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal are appointed. The pact follows talks mediated by the Catholic Church and the European Union between the new government of interim president Jeanine Añez and leaders of the ousted Morales' party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which continues to hold a majority in both houses of the Assembly. (EuroNews, Nov. 25; PaginaSiete, La Paz, AP, Nov. 24; Reuters, Nov. 23)