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)
A Bolivian legislative committee approved a bill on Sept. 22 to amend the constitution to extend presidential terms, allowing current President Evo Morales and his vice president to run for a fourth consecutive term in office. The president's party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), has a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Assembly, where the bill will be sent next for approval. If the bill passes the Legislative Assembly, then it will face a national referendum in February. Critics call the bill a move by the party to undermine democracy, but supporters say it will free the people to decide the issue.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled (PDF) 14-2 Sept. 24 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case between Bolivia and Chile regarding land-locked Bolivia's access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued to the ICJ that Chile failed in its obligation to negotiate in good faith to grant Bolivia "fully sovereign access" to the Pacific, but Chile filed a preliminary objection that the ICJ had no authority to judge the dispute. The court reached its decision by relying on the Pact of Bogotá, in which Bolivia and Chile both agreed that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over matters regarding breach of an international obligation between American states. The court disagreed with Chile's argument that the dispute was one of territorial sovereignty and held that the subject matter of the dispute was a question of Chile's obligation to negotiate in good faith regarding access to the Pacific, granting the court the possibility of jurisdiction. Since the issue was not already decided by prior arrangement by the parties or by treaty in force at the time of the Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ ruled that it ultimately can hear the case.
Protesters cut off access to the Bolivian mining city of Potosí for most of last month in a dispute with the central government over infrastructure investment. Access to the city of more than 130,000 was blocked by thousands of protesters as part of a civil strike called by the Comité Cívico Potosinista (COMCIPO). The strike was "suspended" after 27 days on Aug. 2, when the city had almost run out of petrol, food and money. But organizers declared President Evo Morales and his cabinet members "enemies of Potosí" and "persona non grata" throughout the department. They also called for the resignation of the city's mayor, William Fernández, and the departmental prefect, Juan Carlos Cejas, both from Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
Bolivian National Police on Aug. 18 used batons and tear-gas to break up a road blockade launched a week earlier by Guaraní indigenous residents—and then raided the homes of several people thought to be organizers of the action. At least 10 people were detained on the highway and in the subsequent raids at Yateirenda community, Cabezas municipality, Santa Cruz department.Community leaders accused the police of "disproportionate" force in the raids, terrorizing women, children and elders. and filed a complaint with the Bolivian Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB). Local Guaraní from Takovo Mora Original Communitarian Territory (TCO) began blocking the Santa Cruz-Camiri highway to demand the right to "prior consultation" on the development of wells at the Chaco gas-fields, run by the parastatal YPFB. The company maintains that the four wells in question are all on private lands and therefore not subject to prior consultation with the TCO. The TCO, in turn, maintains that the wells are within its traditional territory and will impact their lands. (Eju!, Aug. 18; FM Bolivia, Aug. 14; Entorno Inteligente, Aug. 11)