coca leaf

Ecologist assassinated in Colombian national park

Javier Francisco Parra Cubillos, environmental director of Cormacarena, the government body responsible for managing Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park on the eastern slopes of the Colombian Andes, died in a local hospital Dec. 3 after receiving multiple gunshot wounds from a pair of presumed sicarios (hired assassins) who fired on him from a motorbike. The area of fragile cloud-forest, in a remote part of Meta department, has long been the scene of armed conflict and coca cultivation, and has recently seen a surge in illegal logging. Parra Cubillos won brief national attention in 2017, when he accompanied Colombia's then-president Juan Manuel Santos on a visit to a scenic site within the park, Caño Cristales (Cyrstal Canyon), to raise awareness about the need to preserve the zone. The government has offered a reward of 40 million pesos (about $11,500) for information leading to the apprehension of the assailants.

Bolivia: regime targets Chapare for eradication

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.

Bolivia: regime threatens autonomous Chapare

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)

Bolivia: signs of de-escalation following dialogue

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)

Massacre of indigenous protesters in Bolivia

Several are reported dead after National Police and army troops opened fire on indigenous demonstrators marching on the Bolivian city of Cochabamba Nov. 15. A march demanding the reinstatement of ousted president Evo Morales started that morning from the town of Sacaba, gateway to the Chapare region where Morales began his career as a campesino leader in the 1990s and still the heartland of his support base. When it arrived at the pueblo of Huayllani, on the edge of Sacaba municipality, security forces attempted to block their way over a bridge, and a clash ensued. The Defensoría del Pueblo, Bolivia's official human rights office, has confirmed the death of five, with 29 injured, but local media put the death toll at nine. Some 200 were also detained. The National Police claimed on Twitter that protesters attacked troops with "improvised firearms." No casualties among the security forces were reported.

'Genocide' charges follow Colombia massacre

Indigenous leaders in Colombia are raising accusations of "genocide" following the latest massacre, in which five members of the Nasa people were killed in southwestern Cauca department. Cristina Bautista, a Nasa traditional authority, or neehwesx, was killed along with four members of the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed community self-defense patrol, on Oct. 29. The incident took place at the community of La Luz on the Nasa resguardo of Tacueyó, Toribio municipality. The Indigenous Guard tried to stop a car at a checkpoint maintained in the community. The driver refused to cooperate and a stand-off ensued, bringing Bautista and others to the scene. Eventually, the occupants of the car opened fire. In addition to five slain, several were wounded in the attack, and the assailants escaped. They are believed to be members of a "dissident" band of the FARC guerillas, which has refused to honor Colombia's peace accords. The Indigenous Guard carry traditional staffs, but not firearms.

Internecine cocalero violence in Bolivia

Violent tensions are flaring in Bolivia's capital between rival factions of one of the country's coca-grower unions, which oversee sales to the legal market. Clashes broke out in early August between two factions of the Departmental Association of Coca Producers of La Paz (ADEPCOCA)—one loyal to President Evo Morales and his ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the other to imprisoned union leader Franklin Gutiérrez. The former group staged "parallel" elections for new union leaders in late July, but the latter refuses to recognize the poll, and continues to demand the release of Gutiérrez and other imprisoned unionists. The first clashes on Aug. 2 came as MAS supporters besieged the ADEPCOCA headquarters in the Villa Fátima district of La Paz, demanding that the Gutiérrez supporters surrender the offices.

Colombia sliding deeper into internal war

Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)

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