Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vasquez AKA "Popeye" is notorious in Colombia as former personal enforcer for late drug lord Pablo Escobar—and is now a free man after 22 years behind bars, two-thirds of his original sentence. But he seems to be more troubled than relieved about his release on parole—just before getting popped from the top-security Cómbita prison in Boyacá, Popeye asked Colombia's official human rights office, the Defensoría del Pueblo, for protection. "Please grant me police security from the moment I leave the prison gate," he wrote. We can imagine that Popeye has made a few enemies over the years. In jailhouse interviews with journalists, he boasted that he personally killed around 300 people and helped arrange for the murder of 10 times that many. A judge granted nonetheless his parole application, and he was sprung on a bond of 9 million pesos ($4,700) Aug. 27. "In his own hand he asked [authorities] to protect his right to life," the Defensoría said of the request, adding that the office has contacted the appropriate authorities to arrange security measures.
Colombian military brass held their first meeting with FARC guerilla leaders at peace talks in Havana Aug. 22. The meeting focused on the specifics of implementing a ceasefire and the eventual demobilization of the guerillas. Earlier in the week the guerilla leaders met, also for the first time, a group of war victims to discuss formation of a truth commission for the conflict. But Colombia's Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordoñez sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos criticizing creation of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, fearing an outcome favoring the FARC’s version of events. (BBC News, Aug. 22; Colombia Reports, Aug. 21)
A sixth teacher has been reported murdered in Colombia this year on Sept. 2, highlighting continuing challenges for President Juan Manuel Santos’s promise to make Colombians "the most educated in Latin America." Joaquin Gómez Muñoz was murdered by a masked assassin at his home in the southern department of Cauca. He was the sixth teacher to be killed this year, according to FECODE, Colombia's teachers union. Gómez, 54, was born and raised in Cauca. He worked as a math teacher at the school of the Huella indigenous reserve, and was also a community leader a member of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC). This was the second murder of a teacher at Huella in less than six months. Epifanio Latin Ñuscue was tortured to death on March 3. Ñuscue had been previously threatened by FARC guerillas that operate in the region for "defending the autonomy [of] the indigenous government," the community said in a statement. Physical security for educators was one of the main issues in last month's country-wide teachers' strike last month. (Colombia Reports, Sept. 2)
The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sept. 2 issued a statement expressing "concern" about the "disproportionate use of force" against indigenous protesters in Peru. (Celendin Libre, AIDESEP, Sept. 2) The statement came the same day that a 16-year-old protester, Jhapet Claysont Huilca Pereira, was shot dead by National Police troops at Santa Teresa village in the Valley of La Convención, Cuzco region, during a protest against construction of the Gasoducto Sur Peruano through local lands. Protesters were blocking to road leading to the tourist attraction of Machu Picchu, charging corruption in the process by which the new gas duct gained a right-of-way through their lands. The parents of the fallen youth are demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Daniel Urresti Elera. Lawmaker Verónika Mendoza has also called on Urresti to give a full accounting of the incident, saying, "It is unacceptable that firearms are used in dealing with social conflicts." (La República, Sept. 4 La República, Celendin Libre, Celendin Libre, Sept. 3)
Leaked e-mails between the leaders of Peru's Energy & Mines Ministry (MEM) and Environment Ministry (MINAM) reveal that Australia's Karoon Energy International provided "technical support" in the proposed reform of the Hydrocarbon Regulation that would eliminate requirement for an environmental impact study before oil exploration. In one e-mail. MEM chief Eleodoro Mayorga was directly reproached by MINAM head Manuel Pulgar Vidal for bringing Karoon into the process. This was among some 3,500 messages hacked by Anonymous Perú from the account of ex-prime minister René Cornejo, dubbed by the press "Cornejoleaks." Karoon has operations at Bloc 238 in the northern coastal department of Tumbes. (La Republica, Panorama via Celendin Libre, Aug. 12; Peru21, Aug. 11)
The Penal Court of Celendín, in Peru's Cajamarca region, sentenced three members of the Chaupe family—Jaime Chaupe, Máxima Acuña, Elías Chávez and Isidora Chaupe—to two years and eight months in prison for the crime of land usurpation against the Yanacocha mineral company. The contested land, in Sorochuco district, Celendín province, is located in the influence zone of the contested Conga mega-mine project. The sentence may be suspended, but the defendants were also fined 5,000 soles, approximately $2,000. Yanacocha's lawyers argued that the presence of a company road through the disputed 30-hectare plot indicated the company's prior ownership of it. Mirtha Vásquez, counsel for the Chaupe family, countered that the company had never legally registered its ownership of the plot since purportedly purchasing it in 1996.
Peru's National Police force has stepped up operations against what the press in the South American nation calls narco-senderistas—surviving remnants of the Shining Path guerilla movement that control cocaine production in two remote pockets of jungle. On July 19, the special Anti-Terrorist Directorate (DIRCOTE) announced the arrest of four members of Shining Path's Huallaga Regional Committee, the command body for the guerilla column in the coca-producing Upper Huallaga Valley. They were arrested at a market stall in the town of Ventanilla (Huánuco region), operated by one of the four, María Bautista Rojas, but DIRCOTE said they were part of the "platoon" led by the guerilla commander Juan Laguna Domínguez AKA "Comrade Piero," with responsibility for several caseríos (hamlets) in the nearby jungle. (El Comercio, July 19)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales will run for re-election in October, the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) announced July 14. But the opposition accuses Morales of defying the constitution, which allows a president two consecutive terms in office. Morales was first elected in 2006 and then again in 2009. The term limit was adopted in 2009, with the constitutional reform overseen by Morales himself. In 2013 the Plurinational Constitutional Trbunal (TCP) ruled that his first term should not be counted as it preceded the new constitution. Morales is the clear frontrunner, polling at about 44%. His nearest rival, cement tycoon Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (UD), trails by almost 30 points. Morales, anticipating a contentious campaign, appealed to MAS supporters for restraint, saying "I ask you all not to enter into a dirty war." (La Razón, La Paz, July 17; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, July 16; EFE, July 15; The Guardian, July 14)