Andean Theater

Colombia: US embassy staff beat GM protesters

Colombian national police and several employees of the US embassy in Bogotá kicked and beat injured former employees of GM Colmotores, Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), during a protest in front of the embassy Nov. 18, according to the workers and a report by local TV station Canal Capital. Members of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol) have been encamped outside the embassy since August 2011 as part of a campaign to get GM to reinstate them and compensate them for the injuries they received while working at the plant. The attack came on a day when the workers' supporters in the US filed a complaint with the US Justice Department and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charging GM with bribing Colombian officials in violation of a US law, the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Colombian general captured by FARC resigns

Colombian Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate resigned on Dec. 1, one day after his release by FARC guerillas who had captured the top official unarmed in rebel-controlled territory. Alzate appeared on national television to give his first public statement after the kidnapping of Nov. 16 and subsequent 14 days of captivity. The general, whose capture had puzzled the military and President Juan Manuel Santos, said his decision to enter known rebel territory, ignoring all security protocol, had been his own decision and that he would resign. "For my military honor, and love and respect for the institution, I have requested my retirement from active duty,” said Alzate, who had had several meetings with Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and the military high command since arriving from the jungle the pervious afternoon. The peace talks with the FARC were resumed in Cuba on Dec. 1 after negotiators agreed to find ways to "de-escalate" the armed conflict before resuming the original agenda. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 1)

Amnesty: concern over Colombia land restitution

Amnesty International on Nov. 27 released a report detailing its concern that people hoping to gain their land back under the Victims Land and Restitution Law (Law 1448) in Colombia face problems ranging from bureaucratic obstacles to intimidation. The report, entitled "A land title is not enough: Ensuring sustainable land restitution in Colombia" (PDF), describes the violent struggle to control territory during the 50-year-old armed conflict. This report examines whether authorities can guarantee landholders' rights by addressing weaknesses in the law, ongoing threats against land claimants, and impunity for those suspected of responsibility in forced displacements. The report finds that almost six million people have been displaced from their homes since 1985—mostly as result of conflict.

Colombia: peace talks off as FARC capture general

Colombia's government Nov. 17 suspended peace talks with the FARC after the apparent capture of an army general by the guerillas. President‎ Juan Manuel Santos demanded the return of Brig Gen Ruben Dario Alzate Mora "safe and sound." The president told Reuters: "Tomorrow negotiators were to travel to another round of talks in Havana. I will tell them not to go and that the talks are suspended until these people are released." (BBC News, Nov. 17)

Colombia: crime lord falls, para links revealed

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Oct. 22 announced the capture of one of the country's top fugitive crime lords—Marcos de Jesús Figueroa AKA "Marquitos"—in the Brazilian jungle city of Boa Vista. The extraordinary operation was coordinated by police forces in both Colombia and Brazil. "Marquitos" was considered the reigning boss of the lucrative narco trade in Colombia's northern region of La Guajira, with access to both the Caribbean Sea and the porous Venezuelan border. He is held responsible for a long reign of terror by criminal gangs and their paramilitary allies in the region—personally culpable in at least 100 deaths, according to authorities. Santos took the apprehension of Marquitos as an opportunity to crow: "With this, we say to criminals that it makes no difference where you are, we are going to catch you." (El Tiempo, Oct. 23; El Espectador, El Tiempo, Oct. 22)

FARC fighters face indigenous justice

A Nasa indigenous court in Toribio, in Colombia's Cauca department, on Nov. 8 convicted seven FARC guerillas in the murder of two village leaders and related violence three days earlier. The two victims were members of the Indigenous Guard who had been removing FARC propaganda posters from walls in San Francisco corregimiento (hamlet) when they were killed. Five guerillas were sentenced to between 40 and 60 years in prison. The 60-year term was for the guerilla convicted in the slayings. Four receiving 40-year terms were found to have "fired indiscriminately" on villagers who confronted the guerillas in the incident, armed only with sticks. The men are to serve their time at the prison in Popayan, Cauca's capital. Two others—both minors—are to receive 20 lashes, and be held a rehabilitation center until they are 18. The verdict and sentences were decided after several hours of debate by an assembly of some 3,000 community members. Indigenous authorities in Colombia have jurisdiction in their own territories unless this contravenes national law. Gabriel Pavi, leader of the Northern Cauca Indigenous Councils Association (ACIN), said the guerillas were captured "in uniform and with rifles," and that "all are indigenous." 

Peru: unrest mounts in Cajamarca

A mass mobilization was held in Peru's northern city of Cajamarca Nov. 4 to protest the police slaying of local mechanic Fidel Flores in an eviction five days earlier. National Police troops used tear-gas to break up the protest amid street clashes in which a local police post was besieged and two police motorcycles were doused with petrol and burned. Students occupied the National University of Cajamarca as part of the protest mobilization, and the city's intermediary school San Ramón was also shut down by students who walked out of class to join the campaign. Protest organizers resolved not to permit any visible presence at the demonstrations by Cajamarca's ruling left-populist Social Affirmation Movement (MAS), saying that the death of Fidel Flores should not be exploited by political parties.

Ecuador court approves vote on term limits

The Constitutional Court of Ecuador on Oct. 31 ruled (PDF) that congress may vote on a proposal to allow unlimited re-election terms. The case was brought to the court by the ruling Alianza Pais, which proposed indefinite re-election for elected officials in June. It is anticipated that lawmakers will vote in favor of the proposal since Alianza Pais controls 100 of 137 seats in the National Assembly. If the law is enacted, Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa will be able to run for a third term. In its decision, the court also approved several amendments that had been voted for by lawmakers, including making communication a "public service," authorizing the army to help police with security in the interior of the country, and reducing to minimum age to be elected president from 35 to 30.

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