Riot police clashed with protesting laid-off workers in Bolivia's capital May 17, during a march against the government's decision to close the country's largest state-run textile company, ENATEX. Three people were hurt, including a protester who lost his hand while preparing to hurl a stick of dynamite. At least 20 were arrested after some 5,000 workers marched on the ENATEX factory in the Villa Fatima district of La Paz. Protesters took over the ENATEX offices, and police used tear-gas to prevent workers from occupying the factory itself. More than 800 people were laid off when President Evo Morales liquidated the foundering parastatal this week. Morales' administration bought the company in 2011 to save it from bankruptcy. The march was organized by COB, Bolivia's general labor federation, which threaetened solidarity actions in other sectors and cities if the arrested workers were not released. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, May 18; AP, TeleSur, May 18)
Bolivian President Evo Morales announced March 26 that his government will bring suit against Chile before the International Court of Justice seeking compensation for using the waters of the disputed Río Silala. Two days later, he made a visit to the river in Potosí department, where he declared, "Silala is not an international river." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet promptly responded that Bolivia has recognized the Silala as an international river for more than 100 years and said she would counter-sue before the World Court if Bolivia in fact brought a case. Originating in the high desert plateau of Bolivia's remote southeast, the Silala flows into Chile through a canal built for mining operations over a century ago. In 2009 Chile and Bolivia announced an accord to resolve the conflict, which would cut Chile's use of the Silala's water by 50%. But the pact was never formalized, and local communities in impoversihed Potosí demanded retroactive payment for Chile's past use of the waters.
Peruvian journalist Walter Chávez, widely named in the press as a key campaign advisor to Bolivian president Evo Morales, was arrested in Argentina March 16, and may face extradition to Peru, where he faces charges of having served as an operative of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a now-defunct guerilla group. Chávez was granted political asylum in Bolivia in 1992, and worked on Morales' campaigns between his election in 2005 and his most recent re-election in 2014. Bolivia refused a Peruvian extradition request in 2007. Chávez was arrested in Argentina's northern city of Salta, apparently having crossed the border some three weeks earlier. (Peru.com, March 17; InfoBae, Argentina, Eju!, Bolivia, March 16) In response to the controversy, Bolivia's cabinet chief Carlos Romero denied that Walter Chávez had ever been an official advisor, saying he did not work out of the presidential palace but "particiapted voluntarily" in Morales' campaigns. (Terra, March 17)
Exit polls suggest Bolivia's President Evo Morales has narrowly lost a referendum to amend the constitution and allow him to run for a fourth consecutive term. The constitution change would let Morales remain in power until 2025. Opposition supporters are already celebrating the referendum result in parts of La Paz. However, Vice President Alvaro García Linera said the results so far are a "technical tie." The vote takes place amid controversy over who is responsible for a deadly incident of political violence four days earlier in El Alto, the sprawling working-class suburb of La Paz that is a traditional stronghold of Morales' ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). (BBC News, Feb. 22; La Razón, Feb. 18)
Authorities in Bolivia announced the arrest Feb. 1 of Felipe Froilán Molina Bustamente AKA "El Killer"—long wanted in the "disappearance" and probable assassination of socialist leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz during the period of military rule. Some 80 police agents were involved in the raid of a private house in the upscale Cota Cota suburb of La Paz, where Molina was found hiding behind a false wall. He had been convicted in absentia in 2007 of organizing a semi-official paramilitary death squad that carried out the disappearance of Quiroga and other leftist dissidents, and sentenced to 30 years. Quiroga, leader of Bolivia's Socialist Party One (PS-1), was abducted July 17, 1980 at the offices of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), where he was overseeing a meeting of the National Council for Defense of Democracy, a civil society group dedicated to resisting the military regime of Gen. Luis García Meza Tejada, who had just seized power in a coup d'etat. There whereabouts of his remains are still unknown, and President Evo Morales expressed hope that Molina will cooperate in recovering them. (ABI, Opinión, Cochabamba, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Feb. 1)
Colombia is suffering especially grave effects from this year's off-the-scale El Niño phenomenon. The national disaster response agency UNGRD is struggling to respond to a devastating drought, dispatching tanker-trucks of water to communities across the country where taps have gone dry. Juan Manuel Santos said this month that this is the second worst El Niño in the history of the country, and the worst impacts "are still to come." A few days of rain at the start of the year gave some residents hope, but Santos warned it would have "minimal effect, practically none," given the gravity of the situation. (El Espectador, Jan. 10; El Tiempo, Jan. 6; El Espectador, Jan. 4) The country's principal river, the Magdalena, is now so low that it is no longer navigable at several points, virtually shutting down Puertos Wilches and other cities that rely on the riverine trade. (El Espectador, Jan. 3) Most hard-hit is the north of the country, entire harvests could be lost. But the south is affected too, with huge forest fires threatening the city of Cali. Wildfires have engulfed more than 100,000 hectares of land nationwide. This is usually the rainy season in Colombia, but rains are 65% lower than usual, and temperatures 2.3 degrees Centrigrade higher. (El Tiempo, Jan. 21; El Tiempo, El Tiempo, Jan. 17; Xinhua, Dec. 30)
For the first time in Bolivia's history, a woman assumed the post of chief of the Armed Forces High Command as Gen. Gina Reque Terán was sworn in Dec. 30. In her inaugural speech she vowed: "We will work ardently in the struggle against the narco-traffic and contraband, for the protection of natural resources... We will be forever alert to respond to any natural disaster... We will be prepared for any contingency." President Evo Morales in his own comments noted the military's role in the 2006 nationalization of Bolivia's hydrocarbons, which allowed the country to "liberate" itself economically. He also thanked the armed forces for their support in confronting the secessionist movement in Bolivia's east.
The Guaraní People's Assembly (APG) local chapter at Itika Guasu Original Communal Territory (TCO) in Bolivia's Tarija department on Oct. 4 issued a statement protesting the eviction of their leaders from the organization's offices by a new "parallel" leadership they say has been imposed by the national government and ruling party. APG spokesman Henry Guardia said the move was instrumented "in an illegal manner" by administrative authorities of the local O'Connor province, with the complicity of the National Police detachment in the area. He said some 40 followers of the "parallel" faction seized the offices and blocked the entrance. Under Bolivian law, the APG local is the political authority over the TCO, which has been the scene of conflicts over hydrocarbon exploitation in recent years. The Itika Guasu APG is the first indigenous governance structure in South America to establish an investment fund for community development from oil and gas revenues within the territory, which covers some 200,000 hectares. The fund now stands at nearly $15 million, and control of the revenues was cited as a factor in the factional split. (ANF, Oct. 5; ANF, Oct. 4)