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)
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."
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."
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.
Colombia's capital Bogotá has seen nightly protests since the Sept. 9 slaying of a law student at the hands of the police. Video footage taken by a friend showed Javier Ordoñez, an attorney and father of two, being repeatedly shocked with a stun-gun before being taken to a police station, after he was stopped for public drinking in violation of COVID-19 containment measures. He died in a hospital later that night. Protests erupted after his death, with hundreds gathering outside the station where he had been held in Villa Luz district, and police responded with tear-gas and flash-bang grenades. At least seven people have been killed and 80 arrested since then, as protests have spread throughout the city, and into neighboring Soacha. The Defense Ministry says that 53 police stations and posts have been attacked, with 17 incinerated. The military as well as elite National Police anti-riot force ESMAD have been mobilized to put down the protests.
In a decision made very timely amid new mobilizations against oil and mineral operations on peasant and indigenous lands, Peru's high court last month struck down a provision of the country's penal code that rights advocates said criminalized the right to "social protest." The July 6 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal voided an amendment to Article 200 of the Penal Code that had been instated under Legislative Decree 1237, issued by then-president Ollanta Humala in September 2015. The decree expanded the definition of "extortion" to apply not only to use of force to gain "economic advantage" but also "advantage of any other nature." This expanded definition has been used to bring criminal charges against protesters who have blocked roads or occupied oil-fields or mining installations. The legal challenge to the decree was brought by an alliance of regional human rights organizations led by the Legal Defense Institute (IDL). (IDL, Servindi, July 7)
Amid the relentless and escalating wave of massacres and assassinations of social leaders in Colombia, President Iván Duque is adopting openly euphemistic terminology in an attempt to downplay the crisis. On Aug. 22, he acknowledged that massacres at various points around the country over the past days had left more than 30 dead—but refused to call them "massacres." Visiting Pasto, capital of Nariño department which has been the scene of several recent attacks, he said: "Many people have said, 'the massacres are returning, the massacres are returning'; first we have to use the precise name—collective homicides."
Eight young people at a social gathering were killed in Colombia's southern Nariño department when unknown gunmen barged in and opened fire Aug. 15. The victims, between the ages of 17 and 25, were university students who had returned to the village of Samaniego due to the pandemic. They were enjoying a small party at a family farm on the edge of the village when the attack took place. One woman and one minor were among the dead. Nariño Gov. Jhon Rojas said the massacre was probably related to a struggle for control of narcotrafficking networks in the region. He did not name any group as responsible for the attack, but noted the presence in the area of ELN guerillas, "dissident" FARC factions that have remained in arms despite the peace accord, and the Clan del Golfo drug cartel.