Thursday, October 19, 2017

Community leader killed in Tumaco - WOLA denounces threats to human rights activists (Oct. 19, 2017)

On Tuesday a prominent Afro-Colombian community group leader was killed by unidentified perpetrators. José Jairo Cortés was one of the leaders of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera, and also helped support work that the Colombian Catholic Church’s social welfare program conducted in Tumaco, Nariño department, one of Colombia’s most conflict-ridden areas. 

WOLA denounces that "reports from the ground indicate that the leadership of this community council has come under threat after they denounced multiple human rights abuses taking place in Tumaco, including the October 5 massacre of civilian protesters.

In addition to the six protesters killed by security forces, and Cortés, two members of the awá indigenous group were assassinated this week, notes Semana.

La Silla Vacía says it was "literally a death foretold" and says the area has become an epicenter of violence in the wake of the FARC demobilization. At the heart of the conflict are issues of land, coca and territorial control, reports El Espectador. Armed groups in the area include a dissident FARC command, a Gulf Clan structure, and a Sinaloa Cartel associate. The government is unable to control the former FARC territories, which are disputed by the various illegal groups, according to Semana.

Semana says the government is advancing with a strategy of forced coca eradication, with less emphasis on the crop-substitution demanded by local producers.

The challenge is trying to reconcile two key points of the FARC peace deal "comprehensive land reform and rural development on the one hand, and crop eradication and substitution on the other — in a way that is economically and socially sustainable and will not be too disruptive for the vast majority of the poor peasant farmers in just about every region of Colombia," according to NACLA.

WOLA calls on Colombian authorities to "guarantee the security of the remaining 14 members of the Community Council board and their families. This means strengthening security measures for those who are already receiving some form of protection and immediately grant measures for those who are not. The killing of Cortes increases the risk that the entire community of Alto Mira and Frontera will flee the area due to safety concerns, and thus become internally displaced."

News Briefs
  • Six former FARC fighters who were reintegrating into civilian life as part of the group's peace deal with the government, have been killed in an ambush in Isupi, in the southwestern department of Nariño, reports TeleSUR.
  • The five newly elected opposition governors in Venezuela boycotted a swearing in ceremony before the pro-government supra-parliamentary Constituent Assembly. They refused to "submit" to the ANC, considered illegitimate by many in the international community, reports the Associated Press. President Nicolás Maduro said failure to attend the ceremony would preclude them from office. Nonetheless the real showdown appears to be within the potentially unravelling opposition coalition, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some members of the MUD alliance have denounced electoral fraud to explain the opposition rout, while others argued that the fault lies in opposition calls for abstention, or that the opposition shouldn't have participated at all. Leading opposition figures have recognized that actual manipulation of the vote is unlikely, and are instead pointing to electoral council maneuvers to suppress the opposition vote, reports the Associated Press. And observation group pointed to irregularities that include vote buying, violent threats against voters, and early start to voting in half the voting tables, reports Efecto Cocuyo. "... The opposition won neither a real victory nor a clear-cut moral one. It had a hard time rallying its supporters," according to the Economist, also noting the growing schism in the opposition. The results of this week's election could encourage Maduro to move forward with next year's presidential elections, but could also mean he will run unopposed: the MUD has said it will not participate in another election unless the electoral commission is made independent.
  • The Justice Commission of the Brazilian House of Deputies voted against making President Michel Temer stand trial on corruption charges. Though the vote isn't binding, it gives Temer political momentum ahead of the full chamber's vote, reports AFP. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb explosion. She participated in the Panama Papers investigation linking Maltese government officials to offshore accounts. Her son accused Maltese authorities of complicity in her death, reports El Faro.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno is breaking with his predecessor Rafael Correa. While many have lauded his more conciliatory approach in a polarized political scene, the "political turnaround is complicating Ecuador’s democratic transition and unraveling his party," argues Soledad Stoessel in the Conversation. She notes that Moreno has engaged with every political and social group considered the opposition by Correa, including media conglomerates, the financial sector and indigenous groups. But she criticizes policy moves such as permitting private banks to work with digital cash, and reforms to the polemic Communications Act, in keeping with anti-Correa media company demands. (See yesterday's briefing an opposing vision of Moreno's political break.)
  • Moreno's political stance has made him wildly popular, says an approving Economist piece. "Ecuador shows that transitions from populist rule can potentially be constructive and consensual. In that, it is a counterpoint to Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro took Hugo Chávez’s populist caudillo socialism and turned it into dictatorship."
  • Members of an Ecuadorean indigenous community evicted in order to make room for a mine are suffering from psychological damage, reports the Guardian. Children of the indigenous Shuar people of Tsuntsuim village  were particularly traumatized by the noise of the helicopters and drones that had circled overhead during the eviction, according to medical researchers.
  • Mexico’s independent National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said police used excessive force in confrontations with protesters in Oaxaca last year that left seven dead. Both federal and state officers committed "grave violations" of human rights, said CNDH chairman Luis Raul Gonzalez in a press conference, according to EFE. Four of the deaths were caused by bullets used by security forces, according to the report. The commission found discrepancies in initial official reports that police deployed in the protests had not carried weapons and weapons registries, reports Animal Político. (See post for June 20, 2016.)
  • Guatemala's Constitutional Court ordered the Foreign Ministry to withdraw an admonition warning CICIG head Iván Velásquez against interfering in the country's internal affairs. The ministry made the warning against the U.N. anti-corruption commission head in a visa renewal letter this week. (See yesterday's briefs.) But the court said a diplomatic note could not restrict the commission’s work, reports the Associated Press.
  • Clarification: U.S. Congressmen Edward Royce and Eliot Engel, the top-ranking officials of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are seeking to block the entry of Guatemalan officials aiding corruption using the "Global Magnitsky Act." Yesterday's briefing referred to the Magnitsky Act, which only deals with to Russia. InSight Crime says it's unclear what effect the sanctions will have in creating pressure against anti-CICIG elements in the Guatemalan government, "given the widely-reported disarray in the State Department."
  • A "mind-boggling" 85 independent candidates are running for presidency in Mexico. Many, however, are not expected to meet the requirement to gather signatures from 1 percent of the electorate in order to get on the ballot. Next year's election will be the first time independent candidates are allowed to run. The political splintering could affect the next president's political legitimacy, however, reports the Washington Post.
  • A journalist investigation found that Salvadoran businessman Enrique Rais, a fugitive from corruption charges at home and potentially the subject of a U.S. investigation as well, has been living in a luxurious hideout in Switzerland. The case "how Salvadoran elites are able to use their influence to evade justice," reports InSight Crime.
  • U.S. debate on Latin American migrants is mostly centered on domestic impact -- electoral and economic. "Lost in these US-centric arguments is the role of our foreign policy in creating the conditions that push people in Central America and Mexico to make the long, arduous, and frequently fatal trek north," argues Jeff Faux in The Nation. Relevant policies include neoliberal economic measures imposed by Washington and the War on Drugs, he writes.
  • The U.S. government is preparing to announce aggressive anti-dumping duties on biodiesel imports, a measure that will disproportionately affect Argentina, reports McClatchy DC. The trade penalties could be announced tomorrow, a tough move two days ahead of a critical midterm election seen as a referendum on President Mauricio Macri's government. Experts are surprised at the timing considering Macri is seen as a U.S. ally in the region. Trump called Macri this week and the two had a cordial conversation about trade and shared concerns over Venezuela, reports La Nación.
  • Brazilian federal prosecutors the former head of the country’s Olympic committee, Carlos Nuzman, with involvement in a vote-buying ring meant to secure Rio de Janeiro’s bid to host the 2016 Games, reports the Wall Street Journal. Sérgio Cabral, the former governor of Rio de Janeiro, was also charged with  corruption, conspiracy, money laundering and capital evasion. In the same case, businessman Arthur César de Menezes Soares Filho, a Brazilian partner in the former Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro , was charged with paying bribes to help secure Rio's bid, reports the New York Times.
  • The Brazilian government claims Amazon deforestation is down by 16% in the year to July 2017 compared to the previous 12 months, reports the BBC.
  • A judge in Chile has sentenced 35 former secret police agents of for the kidnapping, detention and forced disappearance of a pregnant woman in 1976, during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, reports the Associated Press.
  • New York Times photoessay features the work of Max Cabello Orcasitas, a Peruvian photojournalist, looking at the exhumations of the massacres carried out by both the Shining Path guerrillas and the military and police forces that hunted them.

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