As Venezuela lurches deeper into political crisis, President Nicolas Maduro has announced a new phase in the government's controversial "Operation Liberate the People" security program, pledging to cleanse the country of gang-related crime. Thousands of elite military troops have been deployed across Caracas, with five new "permanent" bases and over 130 checkpoints established in the city. Perhaps not coincidentally, this comes as Maduro has declared a "state of emergency" throughout the country in response to a supposed US-backed conspiracy against him by the political opposition, earning rebukes from Amnesty International, which called the declaration "alarming."
Lima was treated to the spectacle of topless women being tear-gassed by police at a protest outside the Congress building against a new law to toughen strictures on abortion. Riot police broke up the semi-nude sit-in organized by feminist groups to oppose the pending legislation, which would impose penalties of 50 days community service on women who seek an abortion. Many of the women wrote "KEIKO NO VA" (Stop Keiko) on their torsos—a reference to right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who has recently taken a hard line on abortion, now opposing it even in cases of rape. Protesters also recalled her intransigent support for her father, imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, who carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. (Now This, StarMedia, May 20; El Comercio, May 19; La República, May 3)
Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) on May 19 ruled that a state of emergency declared by President Nicolas Maduro is constitutional. The declaration, issued May 13, gives the president special reach in matters pertaining to the state of the economy for 60 days. The Venezuelan population is currently suffering from the highest inflation rate in the world. The court declared Maduro's response to the situation to be appropriate "given the extraordinary circumstances of social, economic, political, natural and ecological that seriously affect the national economy." Maduro will be able to take such measures as ordering a decrease the work week for private businesses to cut back on electricity use. He has already implemented changes allowing the Venezuelan armed forces to control food disbursal. The decision of the court upholding the decree conflicts with its rejection by congress earlier this week.
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)
The contentious presidential race in Peru is being shaken by accusations implicating far-right front-runner Keiko Fujimori in a massive money laundering operation. On May 15, Univision reported that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is investigating Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra, a congress member and chairman of Fujimori's Popular Force party, for allegedly laundering $15 million for the campaign. Peruvian pilot and DEA informant Jesús Vásquez claimed that he secretly recorded Ramírez boasting that he had laundered the money for Fujimori via a chain of gas stations. Vásquez said he had turned the recordings over to the DEA, but quoted from them in the broadcast. DEA spokeswoman Anne Judith Lambert confirmed to Univision on camera that there was an open investigation, although the agency released a brief statement after the broadcast saying: "Keiko Fujimori is not currently, nor has been previously, under investigation by DEA." Fujimori also denied the claim, and suggested it was part of a "dirty war" led by her opponent, Pedro Pablo Kuczynksi. Ramírez, who is being investigated by Peruvian athorities for money-laundering, issued his own denial, and said that he would press charges against Vásquez for extortion. (InSight Crime, Peru Reports, La República, May 17; Publimetro Peru, May 16)
Gerson Adair Gálvez Calle AKA "Caracol" (The Snail), Peru's most wanted fugitive drug lord, was arrested by Colombian National Police at a shopping center in Medellín and promptly deported on May 1. National Police director Gen. Jorge Hernando Nieto called the apprehension "a powerful shot against transnational crime." Peruvian authorities had offered a reward of $150,000 for information leading to the arrest of El Caracol, who is considered Peru's biggest exporter of cocaine.
Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.
Afro-Colombian protesters who were demonstrating on the Pan-American Highway in southern Cauca department to oppose illegal mining on their lands were violently dispersed by riot police April 27. The feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, used tear-gas and rubber bullets to clear the roadway, leaving several injured, including women, children and elders. Some 2,000 people from over 40 communities in north Cauca took part in the action to protest that "Afro-descendant territories continue to be under threat from multinational mineral companies and illegal mining." (Las 2 Orillas, ¡Pacifista!, April 27)