On Dec. 10 the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), notified the Colombian government that the court held it responsible for serious human rights violations in its handling of the seizure of the Palace of Justice by the April 19 Movement (M-19) rebel group on Nov. 6, 1985. The violations included 11 forced disappearances, four cases of torture, one extrajudicial execution and negligence in the investigation of the security forces' retaking of the building one day later, on Nov. 7, an operation in which more than 100 people died, mostly hostages and rebels. The court ordered the Colombian government to pay compensation to the victims, offer a formal and public apology, and produce a documentary explaining what happened.
On Dec. 15 the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation by family members of three union leaders that the 18th Brigade of the Colombian National Army killed in 2004. In the suit, Saldana v. Occidental Petroleum Corp, the family members argued that under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute the US company shared responsibility for the killings by the Colombian military, which originally claimed that the three unionists were guerrilla fighters. Occidental's Colombian subsidiary and the Colombian state-owned oil company Ecopetrol together gave $6.3 million in assistance to the brigade; the companies said the aid was intended to help the brigade protect a pipeline near the border with Venezuela that rebel groups were attacking.
According to a secret study released by the WikiLeaks group on Dec. 18, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) considers the killing of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) second-in-command Raúl Reyes by Colombian forces in Ecuadorian territory on Mar. 1, 2008 an example of ways that assassinations of rebel leaders "can play a useful role." In addition to the Reyes case, the paper reviews the use of "high-value targeting (HVT)"—the killing or capture of top leaders—in fighting rebels in Afghanistan, Algeria, Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Peru, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka. HTV can have "negative effects," the study concludes, but the practice can "contribute to successful counterinsurgency outcomes" if used strategically. The July 9, 2009 study, marked "secret" and "NOFORN" ("no foreign nationals"), is entitled "Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool"; it apparently forms part of a "Best Practices in Counterinsurgency" series.
On Dec. 18 President Barack Obama signed a bill into law to impose sanctions on Venezuela officials that the US government decides were involved in repressing demonstrators during right-wing protests last spring. The measure, which Congress passed the week before, would deny visas to the officials and freeze any assets they hold in the US. Diplomats in Venezuela said dozens of officials could be affected, although the US is not expected to publish their names. A total of 43 people were reportedly killed in the three months of demonstrations, including government supporters, government opponents and security agents.
In a reversal for Peru's Yanacocha mining company, campesina Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family, convicted of land usurpation against the company by a local court, had their sentence overturned by the Cajamarca Supreme Court of Justice on Dec. 18. Acuña de Chaupe and three family members faced two years and eight months in prison and a $2,000 fine. The regional high court also ruled that no move should be made by Yanacocha on the disputed plot, although it stopped short of actually overturning the charge against the Chaupe family. The plot, long part of a predio (collective holding) called Tragadero Grande, is coveted by Yanacocha for infrastructure related to the controversial Conga open-pit project. Máxima Acuña de Chaupe became a symbol of the struggle against the Conga project, hailed as the "Lady of the Lagunas." (La Republica, Dec. 18)
Ecuador's government announced Dec. 11 that the country's leading indigenous organization had two weeks to abandon the headquarters it has held for almost a quarter of a century. The announcement came in a letter from the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion (MIES) to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) stating that it needs the building on the northern outskirts of Quito as a shelter for street children. CONAIE president Jorge Herrera responded that the building "has been a symbol of the construction of a relationship between the state and indigenous peoples," and denounced the impending eviction as a "persecution of the indigenous movement." With the deadline approaching, CONAIE leader Floresmilo Simbaña pledged to resist removal. "We want to avoid confrontations and acts of violence," he said. But he added: "We are going to defend this place." The offices are currently occupied around-the-clock by CONAIE supporters, with banners and flags draped from the balconies.
Colombia's army accused the FARC on Dec. 19 of killing five soldiers only hours before confirming a unilateral and indefinite rebel ceasefire to start the next day. The combat took place in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, where a local army patrol was ambushed by members of the FARC’s 6th Front and its Teofilo Forero elite unit. One more soldier is missing in action and may have been taken prisoner by the guerrillas. The same FARC unit had earlier that day blown up the Panamerican highway at Caldono, leaving a lane-wide crater. Additionally, presumed FARC guerillas left Valle del Cauca's Pacific port city of Buenaventura without electricity after blowing up a key transmission tower on Dec. 18.
Nineteen officers of Colombia's National Police force have been arrested this week in Medellín, the latest busts in an ongoing sweep of corrupt officers. Another 27 were arrested along with the officers, accused of being their handlers for criminal bosses. The targetted officers, associated with the downtown Candelaria police station, are accused of collaborating with Los Urabeños narco-paramilitary gang. Prosecutors say the officers were paid to turn a blind eye to criminal activity in the plazas of downtown Medellín, and to provide tip-offs on planned raids. The arrests come under the National Police force's new "Transparency Plan." National Police commander Rodolfo Palomino tweeted: "They deserve to be treated like Judas, public officials of any institution that are thrown into the maw of corruption." Last month, 25 National Police agents were arrested in the crackdown nationwide. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 4; Colombia Reports, Nov. 20)