Andean Theater

Colombia: M-19 rebels investigated for war crimes

Colombia's Fiscal General Eduardo Montealegre on Nov. 9 announced an investigation into possible war crimes by surviving commanders of the M-19 guerilla group that demobilized in 1991. The M-19, a mainly urban guerilla group founded in the 1970, was responsible for storming and occupying Colombia's Palace of Justice in 1985. The initial siege and the subsequent counter-attack by the military left more than a 100 people dead, including half the Supreme Court justices. When the group disarmed, its members were pardoned by then-president Virgilio Barco and allowed to found the M-19 Democratic Alliance political party. A number of its followers, including Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and former Nariño governor Antonio Navarro, have since become prominent leftist politicians. Now, nearly 25 years after its demobilization, Montealegre wants to investigate the group's armed actions and revise the pardon. "If actions constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the prosecution's office can begin investigations against members of the M-19 leadership," Montealegre said. His announcement came only days after the Inter-American Court for Human Rights ordered President Juan Manuel Santos to publicly apologize on behalf of the Colombian state for the disappearance of 11 civilians and guerillas during the Palace of Justice siege.

Colombia: March 2016 deadline for peace?

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in early November announced a March 23, 2016 deadline for a peace accord with the FARC rebels, and broached a bilerateral ceasefire that he said could take effect next month and should be monitored by the United Nations. The FARC is currently maintaining a unilateral ceasefire while the military has drastically reduced its offensives against the guerillas. But FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" expressed skepticism about the deadline, instead calling in his Twitter account on Santos to concentrate on an actual end to hostilities. The exchange came as the peace talks, being held in Havana, approached their third anniversary. (Colombia Reports, Nov. 16; El Tiempo, Nov. 13; El Tiempo, Nov. 11; El Tiempo, Nov. 8)

Peru: justice at last in sterilization abuse?

Peru's government on Nov. 6 issued a decree calling for an investigation into the forced sterilization of poor and peasant women under the regime of now-imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. "Never again in Peru can we implement a policy of fighting poverty by violating the reproductive rights of poor families," President Ollanta Humala said in a televsised address announcing the move. Justice Ministry Decree 006-2015 orders formation of a National Registry of Forced Sterilization Victims and establishment of a "legal framework to implement" restitution, including legal assistance, psychological treatment and healthcare. Some 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilized as part of the mid-1990s program, although it is unclear how many of these were coercive. Government health workers went door-to-door to coax, cajole and bully women into submitting to sterilization, according to accounts from poor rural communities. Many survivors say they were threatened with a fine or prison if they refused to be sterilized. Advocates who have been pressing for an official investigation view the campaign as one of Peru's biggest human rights scandals. (Jezebel, Nov. 9; Peru This Week, Nov. 6; Reuters, June 7)

Crimes against humanity on trial in Ecuador

Ecuador's National Court of Justice will this week open the country's first trial for crimes against humanity, with four former army generals and colonels and a police general facing charges in the disappearance and torture of three members of the Alfaro Vive Carajo guerilla group. The case was brought by veteran guerillas Luis Vaca, Susana Cajas and Javier Jarrín, who the Fiscal General of the State now admits were "forcibly disappeared" in 1985 during the government of President León Febres-Cordero. "After weeks of torture and sexual violence, Susana Cajas and Javier Jarrín were left in a field with their hands tied," according to the statement. Vaca was illegally held for another three years. He was released "almost by coinicidence," after his brother then serving in the armed forces was able to determine his whereabouts. Although Ecuador returned to civilian rule after years of military dictatorship in 1979, rights abuses remained widespread for another decade. Retired military officers continiue to protest the trial, with one ex-general issuing a statement asserting that the AVC were "delinquents, criminals and terrorists." On Nov. 2, some 300 uniformed soldiers and officers demonstrated outside the National Court of Justice to demand "due process" in the case. (La Hora, Ecuador, Nov. 7; La República, Ecuador, TeleSur, Nov. 6)

Colombia: official apology for 1985 high court raid

President Juan Manuel Santos apologized Nov. 6 for the Colombian government's actions during a 1985 army raid on the Supreme Court in which nearly 100 people were killed after the building was taken hostage by guerillas. Santos spoke at the rebuilt Palace of Justice during a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the deadly siege, one of the darkest chapters in Colombia's recent history. He was complying with a ruling last year by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemning the state for the disappearance of 12 people, most of them cafeteria workers, who were taken alive from the building during the 48-hour standoff. The president apologized by name to each of their families and vowed to spare no effort to locate the remains of those whose whereabouts are still unknown. He also used the occasion to promote a deal to end Colombia's decades-old conflict, echoing the Supreme Court president's plea to armed rebels and government forces 30 years ago: "Stop the gunfire," Santos said. "Stop the gunfire in Colombia forever."

Amnesty presses Colombia on indigenous rights

The Colombian government must prioritize the right of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to decide how their land is developed above companies' desire to exploit those territories for profit, said Amnesty International in a new report issued Nov. 5, entitled "Restoring the Land, Securing Peace: Indigenous and Afro-descendant Terrirotial Rights." Control of Colombia's resource-rich land is one of the most critical issues in the peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerillas, according to the report. Said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty: "The ownership and occupation of land has been at the heart of Colombia's brutal war, with around six million forced off their homes since 1985 because of the violence. Any peace deal will be meaningless unless the rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to return to their lands and decide how they are used are prioritized above companies' desire to exploit those lands for their own profit."

Ecuador: victory for Kichwa sovereignty

On Oct. 12, proclaimed as the Day of Indigenous Resistance, the Kichwa organization ECUARUNARI announced that its president Carlos Pérez Guartambel succeeded in entering Ecuador with a passport issued by the Kichwa Nation. Border authorities initially held Pérez, saying the document was "illegal," but ultimately let him pass. ECUARUNARI said the passage "marks an historic precedent at the juridical level for all Abya Yala," using the pan-indigenous name for the Americas (adopted from the Kuna people of Panama). The statement also hailed the passage as another "stept towards a pluri-national" state in Ecuador. (Pueblos en Camino) The report does not state what country Pérez entered from, but it was presumably Peru. The Peru-Ecuador border divides the territory of the Kichwa and several other indigenous peoples.

Venezuela: protest crackdown on rights activists

Amnesty International on Oct. 16 called on Venezuela to halt an "escalating campaign of attacks and harassment against human rights activists," noting that President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly criticized the work of rights organizations and workers in recent weeks. In a televised speech Aug. 21, he attacked Marino Alvarado of local human rights group PROVEA, portraying the organization as in league with the right-wing Opposition. A few weeks later, on Oct. 1, armed men attacked Alvarado in his doorway as he arrived home with his nine-year-old son. An investigation has been launched and the Public Ministry has requested protection measures for him and his family. (AI, Oct. 16)

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