Andean Theater

Venezuela: protest crackdown on rights activists

Amnesty International on Oct. 16 called on Venezuela to halt an "escalating campaign of attacks and harassment against human rights activists," noting that President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly criticized the work of rights organizations and workers in recent weeks. In a televised speech Aug. 21, he attacked Marino Alvarado of local human rights group PROVEA, portraying the organization as in league with the right-wing Opposition. A few weeks later, on Oct. 1, armed men attacked Alvarado in his doorway as he arrived home with his nine-year-old son. An investigation has been launched and the Public Ministry has requested protection measures for him and his family. (AI, Oct. 16)

Colombia: U'wa Nation land rights case advances

The U'wa Nation claimed a victory Oct. 15 as it received an admissibility report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) allowing its case against Colombia to move forward, recognizing that the indigenous group can seek the Commission's help in defending its traditional territory. Although the U'wa have successfully defeated multiple oil and gas projects in the nearly two decades since they first filed their complaint with the Commission, the report recognizes that winning these battles does not end the overall complaint with the Colombian government, which does not fully recognize the U'wa people's rights to their territory. In a statement released after the decision, the U'wa organization Asou'wa said: "Our U'wa Nation has been heard by the natural law, our ancestors and gods that guide and govern our thinking to safeguard, protect and care for our mother earth; while there are U'wa people, we will continue resisting in defense of our ancient rights."

Peru: privatization of archaeological sites seen

Public sector workers in Cuzco, Peru, held a rally in the historic city Sept. 30 to protest plans by the national government to allow private administration of cultural and archaeological sites. The Cuzco regional government, whose territory includes such famous sites as Machu Picchu, Saqsaywaman and Ollantaytambo, has already announced its refusal to comply with the new policy. The national Culture Minister Diana Álvarez-Calderón says President Ollanta Humala's new Legislative Decree 1198 does not affect the fundamental nature of state properties but would help attract capital "in order to transform them into a point of development in its area of influence." She emphasized that many sites are currently unprotected and vulnerable to artifact thieves and traffickers, and environmental erosion. But Wilfredo Álvarez, leader of the Cuzco Departamental Workers Federation (FDTC), warned, "If the private sector administrates the archaeological centers, it will bring income for millionaries" rather than Peru's people. He said the FDTC would give Humala a "prudent" period to revoke the decree before undertaking an "indefinite" strike. (La Republica, Oct. 1; Peru This Week, El Comercio, Sept. 29; Andina, Sept. 28; La Republica, Sept. 27)

Peru: four dead in clash over Chinese mine project

At least four are dead and several more injured following clashes between police and residents at Challhuahuacho in Peru's Apurímac region, amid protests over Las Bambas copper mine project, now nearing completion. Several hundred residents attacked the installation, and police responded with tear-gas. Authorities have mobilized army troops to the area and imposed a 30-day state of emergency. Residents in the local province of Cotabambas and neighboring Grau launched an ongoing civil strike last week to demand that the owner of project, Hong Kong-based MinMetals Resources (MMG Ltd), make changes to its environmental management plan. Protesters oppose the company's plan to process concentrates of copper and molybdenum in the town, threatening local waters. They also object to plans for processed ore to be shipped to the Pacific coast by train and truck rather than pipeline, posing greater risk of spill. The plan was recently revised by the company to allow these practices, sparking the protests. The mine is scheduled to begin production in 2016 and is exepected to produce 400,000 metric tons of copper the following year. (Channel News Asia, NYT, BNAmerica, Sept. 29; AP, Sept. 28; Diario Correo, Sept. 27)

Ecuador: gov retreats on closure of press watchdog

Ecuador's Communications Secretariat (Secom) on Sept. 25 officially halted proceedings to shut down the free-speech advocacy organization Fundamedios. Secretary Fernando Alvarado said he was complying with a recommendation from Ecudaor's official rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo, whose chief Ramiro Rivadeneira had four days earlier called on the government to drop the proceedings. But the move follows revelations that Ecuador's National Intelliegnce Secretariat (SENAIN) spent $47 million in public funds to contract the firm Emerging MC to purge YouTube and other social media of material critical of President Rafael Correa. (APThe Verge, Sept. 25; BuzzFeed, ElSalvador.com, Sept. 24;  EFE, Sept. 21)

Peru: new violence over La Oroya metal complex

Residents in of Simón Bolívar, in Peru's Pasco region, clashed with National Police in a highway confrontation Sept. 23, as they were returning from a cross-country march to La Oroya ​metal-smelting complex in neighboring Junín region. One protester was injured with a blow to the head in the fracas, which apparently began when an officer made a death threat to the passing demonstrators. The marchers intend to continue to Lima, and an officer reportedly told them that if they attempted to advance towards the capital they would "die like dogs." The protesters are demanding health and environmental remediation measures to address contamination of the area's waters with heavy metals from the Oroya complex. (RPP)

Bolivia: amendment on term limits advances

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.

World Court may hear Bolivia case on ocean access

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.