Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice (STJ) on May 19 ruled that a state of emergency declared by President Nicolas Maduro is constitutional. The declaration, issued May 13, gives the president special reach in matters pertaining to the state of the economy for 60 days. The Venezuelan population is currently suffering from the highest inflation rate in the world. The court declared Maduro's response to the situation to be appropriate "given the extraordinary circumstances of social, economic, political, natural and ecological that seriously affect the national economy." Maduro will be able to take such measures as ordering a decrease the work week for private businesses to cut back on electricity use. He has already implemented changes allowing the Venezuelan armed forces to control food disbursal. The decision of the court upholding the decree conflicts with its rejection by congress earlier this week.
Riot police clashed with protesting laid-off workers in Bolivia's capital May 17, during a march against the government's decision to close the country's largest state-run textile company, ENATEX. Three people were hurt, including a protester who lost his hand while preparing to hurl a stick of dynamite. At least 20 were arrested after some 5,000 workers marched on the ENATEX factory in the Villa Fatima district of La Paz. Protesters took over the ENATEX offices, and police used tear-gas to prevent workers from occupying the factory itself. More than 800 people were laid off when President Evo Morales liquidated the foundering parastatal this week. Morales' administration bought the company in 2011 to save it from bankruptcy. The march was organized by COB, Bolivia's general labor federation, which threaetened solidarity actions in other sectors and cities if the arrested workers were not released. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, May 18; AP, TeleSur, May 18)
The contentious presidential race in Peru is being shaken by accusations implicating far-right front-runner Keiko Fujimori in a massive money laundering operation. On May 15, Univision reported that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is investigating Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra, a congress member and chairman of Fujimori's Popular Force party, for allegedly laundering $15 million for the campaign. Peruvian pilot and DEA informant Jesús Vásquez claimed that he secretly recorded Ramírez boasting that he had laundered the money for Fujimori via a chain of gas stations. Vásquez said he had turned the recordings over to the DEA, but quoted from them in the broadcast. DEA spokeswoman Anne Judith Lambert confirmed to Univision on camera that there was an open investigation, although the agency released a brief statement after the broadcast saying: "Keiko Fujimori is not currently, nor has been previously, under investigation by DEA." Fujimori also denied the claim, and suggested it was part of a "dirty war" led by her opponent, Pedro Pablo Kuczynksi. Ramírez, who is being investigated by Peruvian athorities for money-laundering, issued his own denial, and said that he would press charges against Vásquez for extortion. (InSight Crime, Peru Reports, La República, May 17; Publimetro Peru, May 16)
Gerson Adair Gálvez Calle AKA "Caracol" (The Snail), Peru's most wanted fugitive drug lord, was arrested by Colombian National Police at a shopping center in Medellín and promptly deported on May 1. National Police director Gen. Jorge Hernando Nieto called the apprehension "a powerful shot against transnational crime." Peruvian authorities had offered a reward of $150,000 for information leading to the arrest of El Caracol, who is considered Peru's biggest exporter of cocaine.
Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.
Afro-Colombian protesters who were demonstrating on the Pan-American Highway in southern Cauca department to oppose illegal mining on their lands were violently dispersed by riot police April 27. The feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, used tear-gas and rubber bullets to clear the roadway, leaving several injured, including women, children and elders. Some 2,000 people from over 40 communities in north Cauca took part in the action to protest that "Afro-descendant territories continue to be under threat from multinational mineral companies and illegal mining." (Las 2 Orillas, ¡Pacifista!, April 27)
Colombia's Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas announced this week that his forces will resume use of glyphosate to eradicate coca crops—less than a year after suspending the spray program on cancer concerns. This time, he said, the chemical will be applied manually by ground crews rather than being sprayed from the air. He asserted it will be used in a "manner that does not contaminate," as in "normal agriculture." He failed to say what prompted the resumption of chemical eradication, but emphasized that Colombia's swelling coca production would have an impact on the global cocaine supply.
More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)