Andean Theater

Colombia: pressure grows to expand drug decrim

An official from the capital district government of Bogotá on March 28 called upon Colombia’s national government to open debate on broadening the policy of cannabis decriminalization. "We really need leadership from the Congress and the government to regulate the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana," said the general secretary of the Bogotá's mayor's office, Susana Muhamad. Despite efforts by the previous government of President Alvaro Uribe to roll back the policy, since 1994 cannabis has been decriminalized in small quantitites—recently established by the judiciary as up to 22 grams. However, sale and cultivation remain illegal. Muhamad appealed to current President Manuel Santos to examine lifting these limitations.

Bolivia: cocaleros clash with eradication force

Coca-growers in Bolivia's lowland jungle town of Yapacaní on March 27 clashed with police in a protest against the construction of a new base of the Mobile Rural Patrol Unit (UMOPAR), the hated coca-eradication force. Protesters set up roadblocks in an effort to prevent construction crews from breaking ground on the new base. When National Police troops used tear-gas to break up the blockades, protesters replied by hurling rocks. Regional police commander Johnny Requena blamed drug gangs for the opposition to the base, which is being financed by the European Union to the tune of $1.3 million.

Peru: Cajamarca repression sparks protests

Spontaneous protests broke out in the town of Celendín, in the highlands of Peru's Cajamarca region, after the April 8 arrest at a National Police road checkpoint of six members of the "Guardians of the Lagunas," the campesino vigilance committee that has established an encampement to protect lakes threatened by the Conga gold mine project. The six, stopped on their way to the encampement, were charged with "crimes against the public peace" and illegal bearing of arms. They were removed from the region to the coastal city of Chiclayo, where they continue to be held. Among the detained is Fredy García Becerra, mayoral candidate for the local municipal district of Huasmín with the Frente Amplio party. (Celendin Libre, April 11; La Republica, April 10; Celendin Libre, April 9; Celendin Libre, April 8)

Colombia: land rights activist assassinated

A Colombian activist for restitution of usurped lands who was supposedly under special government protection was killed April 9. Colombia's official human rights ombudsman said Jesús Adán Quinto—who had previously reported that agents assigned to protect him had failed to show up—was killed by sicarios (hitmen) as he stepped outisde his home at Turbo in Urabá region of Antioquia department. Quinto was a leader of the displaced population from Cacarica (Riosucio muncipality, Chocó department), a self-declared "peace community" where the Afro-Colombian campesinos have been massively targetted by paramilitary forces since announcing their non-cooperation with all armed actors in 1999. Quinto's fellow activist Carmen Palencia told AFP news service that the people now occupying the lands of the displaced are hiring assassins to terrorize those those who demand return of usurped properties. She said there have been 70 people associated the peace community killed in similar circumstances since 2005. The violence-torn region of Urabá straddles the north of Antioquia and Chocó departments. (AFP, El Espectador, Justicia y Paz Colombia, April 9)

Peru: 24 arrested on Shining Path links

Peru's President Ollanta Humala on April 10 announced that a special police operation has resulted in the arrest of 24 operatives of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement. Speaking from Canada, where he was on an official visit, Humala said the detained were leaders of the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF), which advocates for prisoners held in connection with the guerilla movement. The operation, dubbed Perseo 2014, coordinated armed forces and National Police units, netting arrests in Lima and five other regions of the country. Among the detained are MOVADEF co-founders Alfredo Crespo and Manuel Fajardo, both attorneys who defended imprisoned Sendero leader Abimael Guzmán. Local media in Peru reported that also among the detained was Walter Humala, a popular folksinger and cousin of the president, who has declared himself an admirer of Guzmán. Authorities said they had proof that MOVADEF is an organ of the guerilla movement, with a police source saying that Crespo went by the code-name "Lucas" in his dealings with Sendero leaders, and Fajardo by the nom de guerre "Bartolo." (EFE, Perú21, April 10)

Colombia: gains against Buenaventura butchers?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on April 4 told onlookers in the Pacific port of Buenaventura that 136 members of dangerous criminal gangs had been captured by security forces over the last month and a half, contributing to a recent drop in violence. Santos also told the crowd that the city had not seen a homicide for the last 19 days. Additionally, he said that 32 of the last 48 days had passed without a murder in Buenaventura. Santos also boasted of $100 million worth of investment in social programs for the city. This government has "decided to change the situation in Buenaventura and we are doing it with actions, not words," he said. But he added that the response to recent horrific violence in the city is not necessarily to "look for those responsible" but to find "solutions" to social problems.

Bolivia: three dead in miners' protests

Thousands of miners blocked highways in five departments of Bolivia for five days starting March 31 to protest a pending new mining law. Members of mining cooperatives installed at least 10 roablocks in the departments of  La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Potosí and Oruro. At least three were killed in clashes with the National Police. The protests were called off after the government agreed to suspend the legislation, which had already cleared the lower-house Chamber of Deputies. The bill sought to bar the cooperatives from seeking private investment, restricting them to contracts with the Bolivian state. In response to the protests, President Evo Morales is drafting a new bill that would allow private contracts while restricting investment by foreign companies. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, April 5; EFE, AFPEl Universal, Venezuela, April 4; EFE, April 3; El Deber, Santa Cruz, Reuters, April 1)

Venezuela: Wayúu protest militarization

Leaders of the Wayúu indigenous people in Venezuela's La Guajira region, along the Colombian border, are protesting ongoing army exercises taking place in their traditional territory. Yamileth Palmar of the indigenous organization Wainjirawa told an audience at the University of Zulia last week that the augmented military presence has resulted in several deaths of indigenous residents, none of which have been adequately investigated. Palmar said 29 Wayúu people have been killed since La Guajira was declared a special military district. The militarization was launched in part to combat the illegal smuggling of subsidized Venezuelan foodstuffs across the border into Colombia for resale, a practice known locally as bachaqueo. But Palmar charged that the smuggling has not been affected by the troop presence in the zone. (Ultimas Noticias, Carcas, March 21)

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