Andean Theater

Ecuador: mobilizations for and against Correa

Supporters and opponents of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa took to the streets of Quito by the thousands Sept. 17—at one point clashing with each other, resulting in eight arrests. Authorities claimed several police officers were injured. Correa, who addressed his supporters at Plaza de la Independencia, boasted that the pro-government march was "bigger, much, much bigger." This was contested by organizers of the opposition march, who claimed to have mobilized some 5,000. The opposition rally was called by the Unitary Workers' Front (FUT), the country's principal trade union federation, in alliance with the indigenous organizations CONAIE and Ecuarunari. FUT called the march to oppose Correa's reform of the labor code, which union leaders denounced as a "neoliberal" roll-back of workers' rights. The indigenous groups joined to protest ongoing oil and mineral development.

Colombia: Chocó indigenous leaders assassinated

The president of the Indigenous Organization of Chocó (OICH), Ernelio Pacheco Tunay, was assassinated Sept. 12 at the Embera Dobida indigenous pueblo of Bacal, Alto Baudó municipality, in Colombia's Pacific coastal department of Chocó. Pacheco was detained by armed men while traveling in a boat along the Río Nauca; his body was found nearby several hours later. The following day, Miguel Becheche Zarco, president of the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Alto Baudo (ACIAB), was similarly taken by armed men while traveling along the same river; his body was found near the community of La Playita. Local indigenous leaders are pressing authorities for action, and protest that no investigators from the Fiscalía, Colombia's attorney general, have yet arrived in Alto Baudó. The municipality is the scene of ongoing conflict between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Urabeños paramilitary group. Both groups have threatened indigenous leaders for demanding their right to non-involvement in the conflict. On Sept. 16, an ELN communique said the two indigenous leaders had been detained by their fighters under "due process" (sic) and confessed under "interrogation" to being government informants, an implicit admission of responsibility in their deaths. (Radio Caracol, RCN Radio, Sept. 16; communique from indigenous organizations, online at Choco.org, Sept. 15; El Colombiano, El Espectador, Sept. 14)

Anti-Semitic attacks in Bolivia: usual confusion

It has received shamefully little international coverage—or even internal coverage within Bolivia—but has of course been jumped on by the right-wing Jewish press, e.g. Arutz Sheva, Algemeiner‎, Times of Israel. And what little coverage it has received is pretty garbled—both factually and politically. On Sept. 13, a dynamite attack damaged the main Jewish cemetery in La Paz, according to the aforementioned sources—although the Agencia Judía de Noticias places the attack in Cochabamba, probably erroneously. It does appear that Cochabamba's synagogue was attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails in April and July. The American Jewish Committee weighed in on the attacks in the usual problematic terms, emphasizing President Evo Morales' protests of the Gaza bombardment—and compouding this condescension with the insult of getting his name wrong! Wrote Dina Siegel Vann, AJC's director of Latin American affairs: "President Eva [sic!] Morales' hostility towards Israel has encouraged regular attacks against the country's Jewish population in the media and violent attacks on Jewish institutions. This is a very dangerous trend that only the government can and should vigorously turn back and end."

Peru: guards union leader brutally beaten

Luis Cárdenas Velásquez, the secretary general of a union representing Peruvian employees of the Spanish security firm Prosegur Compañía de Seguridad, was assaulted near his home early on the morning of Aug. 22 as he was on his way to work. The assailant beat Cárdenas' head with a rock and then fled in a car which had been kept waiting a block away with the motor running. Nothing was stolen. Cárdenas reported the attack to the authorities and received four stitches at a hospital. A month earlier pamphlets were circulated among Prosegur staff accusing Cárdenas of stealing union funds. Management denied responsibility for the pamphlets and for similar anti-union pamphlets that have been reported at Prosegur sites in Colombia. The company has subsidiaries in a total of eight Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Colombia: freed cartel hitman demands protection

Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vasquez AKA "Popeye" is notorious in Colombia as former personal enforcer for late drug lord Pablo Escobar—and is now a free man after 22 years behind bars, two-thirds of his original sentence. But he seems to be more troubled than relieved about his release on parole—just before getting popped from the top-security Cómbita prison in Boyacá, Popeye asked Colombia's official human rights office, the Defensoría del Pueblo, for protection. "Please grant me police security from the moment I leave the prison gate," he wrote. We can imagine that Popeye has made a few enemies over the years. In jailhouse interviews with journalists, he boasted that he personally killed around 300 people and helped arrange for the murder of 10 times that many. A judge granted nonetheless his parole application, and he was sprung on a bond of 9 million pesos ($4,700) Aug. 27. "In his own hand he asked [authorities] to protect his right to life," the Defensoría said of the request, adding that the office has contacted the appropriate authorities to arrange security measures.

Colombia: FARC meet army brass, coke flows on

Colombian military brass held their first meeting with FARC guerilla leaders at peace talks in Havana Aug. 22. The meeting focused on the specifics of implementing a ceasefire and the eventual demobilization of the guerillas. Earlier in the week the guerilla leaders met, also for the first time, a group of war victims to discuss formation of a truth commission for the conflict. But Colombia's Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordoñez sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos criticizing creation of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, fearing an outcome favoring the FARC’s version of events. (BBC News, Aug. 22; Colombia Reports, Aug. 21)

Sixth teacher assassinated this year in Colombia

A sixth teacher has been reported murdered in Colombia this year on Sept. 2, highlighting continuing challenges for President Juan Manuel Santos’s promise to make Colombians "the most educated in Latin America." Joaquin Gómez Muñoz was murdered by a masked assassin at his home in the southern department of Cauca. He was the sixth teacher to be killed this year, according to FECODE, Colombia's teachers union. Gómez, 54, was born and raised in Cauca. He worked as a math teacher at the school of the Huella indigenous reserve, and was also a community leader a member of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC). This was the second murder of a teacher at Huella in less than six months. Epifanio Latin Ñuscue was tortured to death on March 3. Ñuscue had been previously threatened by FARC guerillas that operate in the region for "defending the autonomy [of] the indigenous government," the community said in a statement. Physical security for educators was one of the main issues in last month's country-wide teachers' strike last month. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 2)

Peru: deadly repression of pipeline protests

The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sept. 2 issued a statement expressing "concern" about the "disproportionate use of force" against indigenous protesters in Peru. (Celendin Libre, AIDESEP, Sept. 2) The statement came the same day that a 16-year-old protester, Jhapet Claysont Huilca Pereira, was shot dead by National Police troops at Santa Teresa village in the Valley of La Convención, Cuzco region, during a protest against construction of the Gasoducto Sur Peruano through local lands. Protesters were blocking to road leading to the tourist attraction of Machu Picchu, charging corruption in the process by which the new gas duct gained a right-of-way through their lands. The parents of the fallen youth are demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Daniel Urresti Elera. Lawmaker Verónika Mendoza has also called on Urresti to give a full accounting of the incident, saying, "It is unacceptable that firearms are used in dealing with social conflicts." (La República, Sept. 4 La RepúblicaCelendin LibreCelendin Libre, Sept. 3)

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