Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Jesús Santrich killed in Venezuela (May 19, 2021)

FARC dissident leader Seuxis Hernández -- better known as Jesús Santrich -- was killed in Venezuela yesterday. The Segunda Marquetalia, a dissident FARC group, said the attack was carried out a Colombian commando unit that illegally entered Venezuelan territory. Yesterday Colombia's Defense Minister Diego Molano said the government was working to confirm if Santrich had been killed in Venezuela, and that, "if confirmed, it proves Venezuela harbors narco-criminals."

(Associated Press, Reuters)

Other versions of the attack, published by Colombian media, say mercenaries were behind the attack on Santrich. The U.S. State Department put a $10 million bounty on Santrich last year. Other reports say the Venezuelan government is behind the attack, or ascribes it to fighting among guerrilla groups. (InSight Crime)

The Segunda Marquetalia said Santrich was riding in a vehicle in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia when he was attacked with grenades and gunfire by Colombian soldiers. The troops cut off Santrich's pinky finger before returning to Colombia in a yellow helicopter, according to the group. They provided no evidence for their claims, which, if true, would constitute a major breach of Venezuela's sovereignty and heighten tensions between Venezuela and Colombia, notes the AP.

The death has the "potential to destabilize underworld dynamics in both countries, fueling an already raging conflict along their shared border," warns InSight Crime.

Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert for the Washington Office on Latin America, said that the death of Mr. Hernández was a “symbolic blow” to the Segunda Marquetalia — and that the rebel leader’s presence in Venezuela shows how deeply the dissidents had penetrated the country. (See April 26's post.)

The Venezuelan military has been fighting a separate FARC dissident group, the 10th Front, in the border state of Apure. The 10th Front’s leaders and their allies have accused the Segunda Marquetalia of being behind the conflict, claiming they have been coordinating the attacks against the group with corrupt Venezuelan officials.

Santrich was one of the negotiators of the landmark 2016 peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government, but later took up arms again. He "was, in many ways, a symbol of the difficult balance Colombia has had to strike as it works to leave behind the bloody conflict that displaced millions, killed at least 220,000 and defined the nation for generations," according to the New York Times. Peace deal critics saw Santrich as proof the FARC would never give up fighting, while supporters said he was a sign of the government's failure to hold up its end of the deal.

Santrich's group was widely rejected by former FARC leaders who stuck with the peace deal and have now formed a political party that has 10 seats in Colombia’s congress.

News Briefs

  • Fighting between Indigenous protesters and armed civilians in Cali show that Colombia’s social classes are as bitterly divided as they ever were, reports the Guardian. Colombia's right wing politician insist ongoing protests are spurred by dissident leftist groups, a stance that ignores how persistent inequality is fueling broad calls for change in society, say experts. (See May 10's post.)
  • There have been hundreds of reports of "disappearances" during the weeks of protests in Colombia. The term is used, in this case, generally for people who have been detained arbitrarily, maintained without communication by police, and often suffered torture and sexual abuse by security forces, reports El Armadillo. (Cosecha Roja)
  • Brazil's Federal Police carried out searches to investigate whether key figures within the Environment Ministry, including Minister Ricardo Salles, facilitated illegal timber exports to the U.S. and Europe, reports the Associated Press. The operation stems from a decision of Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who ordered the investigation of 10 officials at the ministry and the regulatory agency, the Environment and Natural Resources Institute.
  • Three of the world’s biggest food businesses bought soya from a farmer linked to illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to a new investigation by Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Unearthed and Repórter Brasil. Cargill, Bunge and Cofco sourced beans from companies allegedly supplied by a farmer fined for destroying swathes of rainforest, reports the Guardian.
  • A severe drought in Brazil could affect food production, a time when agricultural crops are rallying to multiyear highs, which has fanned fears of food inflation. (Al Jazeera)
  • Brazilian senators accused former foreign minister Ernesto Araujo of undermining efforts to obtain Covid-19 vaccines after he used anti-China rhetoric during the pandemic. In a parliamentary inquiry into President Jair Bolsonaro’s pandemic policies, senators blamed the president and his inner circle for delays in deliveries from China of active ingredients to make Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine in Brazil. (Reuters)
  • Senator Katia Abreu, a farmer and former agriculture minister, said Araujo’s views and those of the Bolsonaro government had hurt exports to China, where the approval of dozens of Brazilian meatpacking plants had been held up in Beijing. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Honduras, of Taiwan’s few remaining allies has warned it may be forced to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing to gain access to Chinese coronavirus vaccines. (Financial Times)
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández said that Venezuela's human rights problems have been disappearing, and defended dialogue solutions to the country's crisis. (Infobae)

  • Argentina reported a record one-day coronavirus death toll of 745 yesterday. According to data compiled by Reuters, the daily average of infections and deaths reported by Argentina places the country among the worst five countries in the world.
  • The U.S. vaccination campaign could be a major factor in Mexico's declining Covid-19 cases, along with high rate of Mexicans with antibodies after wide coronavirus circulation in the country over the past year, reports the Washington Post.

  • The U.S. shelter system for migrant children has wildly varying conditions, some of which are far below the standard that the U.S. Biden administration has promised, reports the New York Times.
  • Independent, left and center-left candidates secured a combined 101 seats, more than two-thirds of the Chile' new Constitutional Convention. (See yesterday's post.) They will have enough power to propose broad economic reforms to land and water rights, the pensions system and the exploitation of natural resources. "All signs indicate that the foundational document they will draft will enshrine principles of civic participation, justice, gender equality and Indigenous rights that have long eluded this South American nation," writes Ariel Dorfman in the New York Times.
  • Constitutional reform will be on Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo's agenda if he win's next month's runoff election, according to the Latin America Risk Report. Both candidates, Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, have shifted towards the center since the first round. The move is partially about the election and voters, but also looks ahead at the reality that passing legislation through the Congress will require moderation and compromise as well.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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