The government of Peru on May 23 declared a two-month period of martial law in the southern region of Arequipa where residents are protesting the construction of a copper mine. Martial law allows police to enter homes without search warrants, as well as to break up protests and meetings. Southern Copper Corporation plans to build a copper mine known as Tia Maria for $1.4 billion, which residents strongly feel will contaminate the water and air in the region, and will be detrimental to the local farming economy. Protests have continued for over two months and often turn violent, even after the government approved the company's environmental study last year that claimed the company could operate a clean mine. The government had already sent in over 4,000 police officers and 1,000 soldiers to the area to control the protests, which have resulted in the deaths one police officer and three protesters. José Ramos Carrera, mayor of Punta de Bombon, stated that the martial law declaration "shows is that the government wants the mine to go ahead at all costs."
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on May 9 called upon his National Drug Council to halt the spraying of glyphosate on suspected coca fields following its recent reclassification as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. The decision to put an end to 20 years of the US-backed aerial spraying was applauded by leaders of the FARC guerillas. The spraying has long been opposed by the FARC as well as by Colombia's peasant communities. Santos' announcement came one week after government representatives and FARC leaders met in Havana for the 35th round of ongoing peace talks—this time to focus on justice and restitution for victims of Colombia's long civil war. (Colombia Reports, May 10; Prensa Latina, May 3)
Grupo Mexico's Southern Copper Corp on May 15 announced a 60-day halt in its huge Tia Maria project in southern Peru's Arequipa region following seven weeks of escalating protests in which three people have been killed and more than 200 injured. Company president Oscar Gonzalez said in a statement that the "pause" would let all sides air concerns and "identify solutions." Protesters in Cocachacra, the center of the conflict in Islay province, say they have no intention of backing down from their demand that the $1.4 billion project be canceled. Peru's President Ollanta Humala said canceling the project would expose the country to lawsuits and make it less attractive to investors.
DEA agents in Colombia held sex parties with prostitutes hired by narco-traffickers, according to an investigation by the US Justice Department released March 26. In a series of interviews with DoJ's Office of the Inspector General, former Colombian police officers said that they arranged the parties at government-leased quarters between 2005 and 2008, and also provided protection for the agents' weapons and property during the affairs. The report goes on to detail how several DEA agents were provided money, gifts, and weapons by local drug cartel operatives.
Authorities in Colombia are carrying out their biggest manhunt since the campaign that brought down the legendary Pablo Escobar in 1993. Dario Antonio Usuga AKA "Otoniel" is leader of the Urabeños, a blood-drenched paramilitary network which is said to control much of the cocaine trade in Colombia's northern region of Urabá. The hunt, dubbed the "Siege of Urabá," has mobilized over 2,000 soldiers and National Police troops to the jungles and peasant villages of the northern region. Under a new reward just announced by President Juan Manuel Santos, Otoniel now has a $580,000 price on his head, while his associates "El Galivan," "Nicolas" and "Guagua" each have a price of nearly $200,000.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), on March 24 officially reclassified the herbicide glyphosate as a cancer threat—citing what it called convincing evidence the chemical produces cancer in lab animals and more limited findings that it may cause a form of lymphoma in humans. Monsanto markets glyphosate as Roundup for use in agriculture worldwide, but the reclassification is especially big news in Colombia—where the government has sprayed more than 4 million acres of land in the past two decades to eradicate coca plantations.
Colombians made history March 8, as tens of thousands took to the streets in cities and towns nationwide—joined by Colombian ex-pats and immigrants in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere—to show their support for peace talks between the government and FARC guerillas. The "March for Life" was organized by Bogotá’s ex-mayor Antanas Mockus and was embraced by President Juan Manuel Santos, who joined the march in the capital. Since then, there have been some encouraging signs that the country’s multi-decade armed conflict is really coming to an end. (EuroNews, March 9;AP, Colombia Reports, March 8)
In another case of Colombian villagers staging a local uprising in response to militarization of their communities, on March 24 a detachment of some 20 special anti-narcotics agents of the National Police were detained by indigenous peasants at the hamlet of Alto Naya, in the southern region of Cauca. Villagers apparently accused the troops, who were on a coca eradication mission, of entering indigenous lands without community consent. But the local National Police commander said consent had been secured at a meeting with village leaders held in the nearby town of Santander de Quilichao. In any event, police seemingly agreed to call off the eradication mission in order to win the release of the detained troops.