Tens of thousands took to the streets across Colombia last week, as workers and students joined the strike launched by campesinos in the north of the country. Violent clashes were reported Aug. 29, primarily from Bogotá, where police fired tear gas into a crowd of some 10,000 assembled in the city's main square, Plaza Bolívar. Witnesses report that despite a strong police presence, the demonstrators remained calm for several hours, with speakers encouraging peaceful protest—until a group arrived (possibly agents provocateurs) who began throwing firecrackers and debris at the police line, sparking the melee. Within 15 minutes, the square had been cleared, though clashes with the ESMAD riot squad continued in the streets surrounding the plaza. Some 20 were injured in the street fighting. Riots were also reported in Soacha, a working-class city on the outskirts of Bogotá, where dozens of masked men clashed with riot police, prompting local authorities to order a curfew.
Less than a year before Colombia's 2014 elections, the country's Supreme Court ordered the arrest Aug. 29 of a presidential primary candidate for former President Alvaro Uribe's Democratic Center party. Luis Alfredo Ramos, former senator and governor of Antioquia, is under investigation for suspected ties to paramilitary groups—the latest elite figure to be linked to the "para-politics" scandal. Judicial authorities are probing Ramos' purported collaboration with Freddy Rendón AKA "El Aleman"—a now "demobilized" commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Ramos is also suspected of links to Juan Carlos Sierra AKA "El Tuso"—another AUC commander now imprisoned in the US on drug trafficking charges. "El Tuso" is reported have made major contributions to Ramos' political campaigns. Ramos is expected to be arrested imminently.
Family members of inmates are keeping vigil outside Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with signs demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones, after an explosion of violence at the facility left at least 30 dead Aug. 24. Authorities have still not released the names of the dead and wounded in the conflagration that began as a fight between rival gangs. Most of the victims burned to death after inmates blew up two propane tanks and fashioned others into improvised flamethrowers. Some prisoners jumped from the roof to escape the flames. Among those killed was an 18-month-old infant, one of some 250 children living in the prison with their incarcerated parents. Inmates at two other Bolivian prisons—San Pedro in La Paz, and San Sebatián in Cochabamba—have declared their own "state of emergency" in solidarity with the Palmasola prisoners, and to demand a solution to the grave problems in the country's penal institutions.
Campesinos occupying the contested Conga mine site in Peru's Cajamarca region on Aug. 20 tore down a gate they said had been illegally erected by the Yanacocha mining company across a trail used by locals as a traditional right-of-way. Video footage shows protesters using shovels and farm implements to tear up and drag away the metal gate across the pathway near Laguna Namocoha, one of the highland lakes that will be impacted by the mining project. National Police troops on hand apparently did not interfere. Idelso Hernández, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, challenged police and prosecutors to attend a campesino assembly to answer for allowing construction of the gates. Protesters said that if their demand for a meeting on the matter was not met, they would similarly take down two other gates built by the company blocking access to lagunas Azul and Cortada. (Celendin Libre, Aug. 20; video footage at Celendin Libre, Aug. 20)
Using a subterfuge to remove its direct employees from the plant, on July 27 the Coca-Cola bottling company in Medellín in Colombia's northwestern Antioquia department laid off 132 workers contracted through the EFICACIA outsourcing company, according to the National Union of Food Industry Workers (Sinaltrainal), which represents bottling workers, including 18 of the laid-off employees. Management had notified the regular employees the day before that they would be going to another location for training on safety. Once the direct workers were out of the way, EFICACIA's director told the contracted workers that the plant was switching to another contractor, SEDIAL, and that they were all laid off. Sinaltrainal said the Coca-Cola bottlers had used a similar trick to fire a group of contract workers in 2001. (Sinaltrainal, July 28; Adital, Brazil, Aug. 9)
Peru's Supreme Court ruled Aug. 16 that decrees on application of the Prior Consultation Law recently issued by the Energy and Mines Ministry are unconstitutional. The legal challenge was brought by the nongovernmental Legal Defense Institute (IDL), which argued that the Ministry's guidelines called for "informational workshops" rather than a decision-making process. The high court agreed that the guidelines failed to conform with the International Labor Organization's Convention 169, which outlines standards for the rights of indigenous peoples. Peru ratified Convention 169 in 1994. The guidelines, principally concerning oil and mineral development, are voided by the ruling. (Gestión via No a la Mina, Aug. 17; La Republica, Aug. 16)
Colombia's campesinos, miners, truckers and other sectors launched a nationwide strike Aug. 19, with clashes reported as strikers launched roadblocks and President Juan Manuel Santos deployed elite National Police units. Central arteries were blocked in Boyacá, Nariño and Putumayo departments. In the town of Segovia, Antioquia, hundreds of protesters reportedly threw firebombs and tried to burn the police station, leaving six officers injured. Authorities say the strike has affected 12 of Colombia's 32 departments, but press accounts have put the number as high as 28.
An activist tribunal dubbed the Ethical Trial against Plunder (Juicio Ético contra el Despojo) was held in Bogotá over the weekend to air testimony against the practices of multinational gold firm Anglo Ahshanti (AGA) and oil giant Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE). More than 500 representatives from across Colombia convened in the capital's central folk-crafts market, the Plaza de los Artesanos, to present evidence that the multinational corporations were involved in the murder of union leaders, displacement of indigenous communities, and grave environmental damage. The objective was to gather enough evidence to be able to put forward an real legal case.