Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Colombian Indigenous Group Expels Soldiers from Military Base

Indigenous groups in Cauca province on Colombia’s Pacific have driven soldiers away from a military base, after demanding that the armed forces and FARC rebels both withdraw from their land.

Hundreds of members of the Nasa tribe, which numbers over 100,000, attacked soldiers guarding Berlin hill, where telecommunications towers are situated. The Nasa began climbing the hill at 6 a.m., reports Vanguardia, in a group including including women, children, and elderly people. Their leader read an announcement saying that the military should leave, and the indigenous began taking the army’s supplies. One soldier was carried down the hill by the group. The army said it had temporarily withdrawn to avoid further clashes.

The Associated Press reports that six soldiers were removed, while the BBC says the Nasa reported the the number at around 100, and Vanguardia puts the number at 30.

The region has seen some of the worst combat between guerrillas and government forces in the last few years. At least three civilians have died in clashes in recent weeks, and thousands have been displaced. Cauca is a crucial strategic location for the rebels, as it is part of a corridor connecting their land in the interior of the country to the Pacific coast, from which drug shipments are launched. As well as the FARC, it is home to the ELN rebel group and the Rastrojos drug gang, who have formed a loose alliance.

The government’s response has been measured so far. The troops are under orders not to respond with force, and dramatic images in El Espectador show a uniformed soldier being lifted in the air and dragged from his post by a group armed with sticks. Another is seen packing up his belongings, including a mattress, as the indigenous guard look on, while one image shows a soldier breaking down in tears. The AP says that one soldier fired shots into the air in frustration, but that there were no serious injuries in the clashes.

However, the government has not held back from linking the protests with the FARC. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the indigenous groups had been infiltrated by the rebels, saying “we know that this is what the FARC want, to generate a confrontation, but our army is very professional,” reports El Espectador.

Sargent Rodrigo Garcia told Vanguardia that “the dignity of my men has been mocked, and that of the army too.”

The WSJ calls the protests “one of the biggest challenges yet” to the authority of President Juan Manuel Santos, who has come under criticism for recent deteriorations in security in the country. Today, Santos announced that he was changing his planned schedule to go to Cauca and deal with the situation first hand, saying on his Twitter account “I don’t want to see a single indigenous person on an army base,” El Espectador reports.

The government is trying to hold a meeting with indigenous leaders to reach an agreement.

News Briefs

  • The WSJ reports on a “new gold rush” that is currently underway in Mexico. The country recently joined the top 10 producers in the world, thanks to new finds of massive gold deposits and high prices which have made previously unprofitable areas worth mining. It says that international mining companies are attracted by Mexico’s stability, though organized crime does present security challenges -- “Authorities have accused crime groups of stealing municipal electricity lines to melt down and sell as copper prices have risen,” while the Zetas are accused of stealing petrol. InSight Crime has a piece saying that Mexico’s criminal groups are increasingly getting involved in mining operations themselves, with gangs operating their own illicit coal mines in Coahuila. It also notes that some $3 million worth of gold was stolen in the country between 2008 and 2012.
  • The New York Times reports that increasing abuse of prescription painkillers in the US is casting doubt the war on drugs, showing that stopping illegal drugs from entering the country cannot solve the drug problem. The newspaper ties it in with Mexico’s recent election of Enrique Peña Nieto as president, noting that he has said he will focus more on cutting violence in the country than on intercepting drug shipments.
  • Search engine giant Google has set its sights on tackling organized crime, holding a two-day summit in Los Angeles called “Illicit Networks: Forces in Opposition,” to discuss with experts how technology can be used to fight criminal networks, the LA Times reports. Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas head Jared Cohen have a piece in the Washington Post explaining the idea. They talk about a trip to Ciudad Juarez, where “we saw fearful human beings — sources — who need to get their information into the right hands.” They propose that technology could help by setting up a system working on the principal of crowdsourcing, allowing citizens can report crimes and be secure in their anonymity.
  • Human Rights Watch has released its latest report on Venezuela (pdf), which says that “the risks for judges, journalists, and rights defenders are greater than they’ve ever been under Chavez.” At the WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady says that President Hugo Chavez’s attacks on freedom of the press will make it difficult for Venezuela’s presidential election in October to be fair.
  • A prosecutor has testified that 67 journalists have been killed in Mexico and 14 have disappeared since 2006, reports the AP.
  • The US Senate has urged the Obama administration to take action against the Salvadoran government if the ruling FMLN party moves to override the Supreme Court over the appointment of judges. In a joint statement, the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate's western hemisphere panel said the dispute was a “serious constitutional crisis,” and said the US should threaten to suspend aid if it was not resolved, reports The Hill.
  • In Chile, two former military officials have been charged over the 1974 death of the father of former President Michelle Bachelet, the BBC reports. General Alberto Bachelet was a supporter of President Salvador Allende, and after the 1973 coup he was arrested and tortured at a military base for six months, before dying of heart failure. His wife and daughter were also subjected to torture, and later emigrated to Australia. Angela Jeria, the widow, was asked by La Tercera newspaper if she could understand the reasons behind the torture, and said “I think that they were very peculiar moments in Chile’s history, and they felt that they were in a war."
  • IDL-Reporteros has a report on the Shining Path rebel group’s involvement in Peru’s drug trade, based on information given to the police by a captured leader of the group known as “Roberto.” He said that from 2003-2006 the main source of funding was timber, but from 2006 onwards it had been the drug trade.
  • The Miami Herald reports on new government-imposed import fees in Cuba, which it says will hit the country’s small businesses.
  • The NYT has a piece on the use of bottled water in Mexico, which is the world’s biggest consumer, at 127 gallons per person per year, four times that of the US. It points to concerns about the safety of using tap water, as well as the interests of the companies that sell bottled water.

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