The ongoing political crisis in Peru reached a grisly climax April 17 with the suicide of two-time former president Alan García as he was being arrested, over his suspected involvement in corruption surrounding troubled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. The ex-president shot himself in the head after asking for a moment to be alone to call his lawyer when National Police agents showed up to detain him at his home in Lima. He died in the city's Casimiro Ulloa Hospital—apparently after suffering three heart attacks. The remains were turned over the Casa del Pueblo, headquarters of his APRA party, after his supporters took to the streets to demand the body be transfered there. Outside the Casa del Pueblo, party followers have gathered to chant "Alan no está muerto, vive con su pueblo" (Alan is not dead, he lives on wth his people). (RPP, RPP, Clarín, Jurist)
The Superior Court of Justice for Peru's rainforest region of Madre de Dios on March 12 upheld a lower court ruling that nullified mining concessions as well as the titling of agricultural properties and granting of water rights to third parties on the territory of the indigenous community of Tres Islas, without prior consultation with that community. The Regional Government of Madre de Dios (GOREMAD) is ordered to comply with the ruling, as is the National Water Authority (ANA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MINAGRI). The National Police are called upon to enforce the ruling if necessary. The decision confirms a Dec. 29 ruling by Tambopata Superior Court.
The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia on March 20 revived the case by Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe and her family against the US-based Newmont Mining Company. The family of subsistence farmers from Peru's Cajamarca region sued Newmont in the United States for abuse at the hands of the company's security forces. A lower court had dismissed the case, saying it should be heard in Peru. The Appeals Court reversed that decision. "Because of this decision, we are excited and full of hope. We have faith that sooner or later, there is going to be justice for us. We have always said we would knock on all the courthouse doors necessary in order to get justice; this brings us one step closer to the day when justice is finally done," said plaintiff Ysidora Chaupe-Acuña, who is represented in the case by EarthRights International.
Peru's central government is pouring troops into the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in an all-out effort against thousands of illegal gold-miners operating in remote areas. Under "Operation Mercury"—named for the mercury poisoning caused to local waters by the mining—three High-Mobility Temporary Mixed Bases, manned by military and National Police personnel, are to be established in the area of La Pampa, within the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Cabinet officials were flown into the remote area March 5 to inaugurate the first base, dubbed "Alpha." On hand were Defense Minister José Huerta, Interior Minister Carlos Morán and Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz. Each base is to have 100 soldiers, 50 police agents and a public prosecutor. In the first phase of the operation, launched last month, authoritiies "rescued" 51 people from the mining camps, detained 80, and confiscated millions of dollars in prperty.
Lizardo Cauper, president of Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, has issued an urgent call for authorities to open dialogue with indigenous communities in the northern region of Loreto rather than militarizing the area in response to mounting social conflicts and attacks on the North Peruvian Pipeline. Noting that the aging pipeline is in chronic disrepair, with repeated spills contaminating the rainforest waterways, Cauper said: "We have made a call that, in place of militarization, they put in place a new pipeline. But it is not enough to have a new pipeline, but to respond to the demands of the people who are living around these oil activities." On Feb. 7, just a week after Cauper's comments, Loreto regional authorities called upon Lima to declare a state of emergency in response to paralysis of the pipeline, which delivers crude from rainforest oilfields over the Andes to the coast.
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.
The White House is accusing Peru of violating its commitment to protect the Amazon rainforest from deforestation, threatening to hold Lima in violation of the 2007 US-Peru Free Trade Agreement (formally the Peru Trade Promotion Agreement or PTPA). On Jan. 4, Robert Lighthizer, President Trump's top trade negotiator, announced that he is seeking formal consultations with Lima to address concerns about its recent move to curtail the authority of Peru's auditor for timber exports, the Organism for the Supervision of Forestry Resources (OSINFOR), which was established as a provision of the trade agreement. "By taking this unprecedented step, the Trump administration is making clear that it takes monitoring and enforcement of US trade agreements seriously, including obligations to strengthen forest sector governance," Lighthizer said in a statement.