Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Indigenous Villagers in Venezuela Release 43 Soldiers Held Captive Over the Weekend

On Sunday, members of Venezuela’s indigenous Pemon tribe released 43 soldiers who had been disarmed and held captive since Thursday in the remote southeastern Gran Sabana region.  Pemon spokesman Levi Gonzalez told reporters that the soldiers were taken by Pemones in the village of Uriman in response to recent abuses, as well as in protest against military operations aimed at taking apart small-scale mining projects there.  "Mining has always been part of our way of life. We are not getting rich, just surviving," Gonzalez said.

Globovision reports that the locals also complain that soldiers in the area are extorting them, demanding kickbacks from their mining profits. Zoraida de Galletti, the wife of local Pemon leader Jose Luis Galletti, said the soldiers were detained because locals were tired of mistreatment at the hands of officials, and that they would be held “until they take us into account.”

La Patilla has striking photos of the incident, which show soldiers being surrounded and tied up by dozens of villagers of varying ages.

According to El Nacional, the soldiers were released after government negotiators reached an accord with the community ensuring that all restrictions on their mining would cease, promising that the abuses would be investigated and none of those who took the soldiers hostage would be prosecuted.

The AP reported yesterday that no military or government officials had yet  commented on the incident. Considering the number of military personnel who were disarmed and held captive by apparently unarmed villagers, this might be due more to embarrassment than protocol.


News Briefs
  • As mentioned in yesterday’s post, amid news that Pope Benedict XVI will step down this month, the region is holding its breath for a Latin American pope. Spain’s El Pais has a rundown of the top ten cardinals likely being considered to replace Benedict, with three Latin Americans among them. According to the paper this includes Brazil’s João Braz de Avis, whose open support for liberation theology would make him an unusual successor to Benedict, who famously called liberation theology a “singular heresy” in 1984. The top Latin American contender is another Brazilian, Odilo Scherer, and O Globo notes that he is conservative by Brazilian standards, but still more moderate than Benedict.
  • Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde of Venezuela Politics and Analysis have posted the third in a series of posts (see the first and second posts here) analyzing the Chavez government’s efforts at improving citizen security in recent years. The latest piece highlights the tension in the country’s police force between the traditional, more militarized conception of police work there and a newer, more “humanist” notion of the use of force as a secondary tactic. While the National Bolivarian Police (PNB) is attempting to institute the latter, policy inertia and a lack of funding are major obstacles to reform.
  • Chile’s investigative police, the PDI, have former president Michelle Bachelet of wrongdoing after an investigation into her government’s response to the February 2010 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which killed more than 300 people in the country. Bachelet, whose term in office ended just days after the earthquake, had been accused of not ordering evacuations of coastal areas hit by the tsunami until it was too late. La Tercera reports that while PDI investigators found that Bachelet was responsible for the “political command” over disaster relief efforts, they faulted her interior minister, Edmundo Perez Yoma, for the delayed response. The investigation has political undertones, however, as it was ordered by current president Sebastian Piñera in a likely attempt to damage Bachelet’s prospects in 2014 presidential elections, in which she is expected to be a top contender.
  • Peru’s IDL-Reporteros has more on the ongoing investigation into the Peruvian military, which is accused of having corrupt dealings with an Israeli contractor in 2009. The current leadership of Peru’s armed forces has links to the scandal, as well as a number of high-level figures in the Defense Ministry.
  • The International Crisis Group has released a report on the Guatemalan army’s killing of six indigenous protestors in the central province of Totonicapan in October, finding that the shooting was a direct result of involving the military in law enforcement duties. The ICG calls on Guatemala to recognize the political demands of impoverished indigenous communities, as well as to expedite police reform in the country, “establishing clear benchmarks for the military’s withdrawal from law enforcement.”
  • After Uruguayan President Jose Mujica called on lawmakers in his party to slow the push for marijuana decriminalization in the country last December, the president has confirmed in an interview with La Tercera that the Uruguayan Congress will resume the debate when it returns from recess next month.
  • The latest round of talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government ended yesterday, and the negotiating teams will once again take a week-long break before returning to the table. In contrast to previous rounds, the latest series of talks seems to have made little progress. Semana magazine reports that on Monday, top government negotiator Humberto De la Calle accused the FARC of presenting new proposals outside of the initially agreed-upon themes, and said the government would not broaden the agenda beyond these parameters. “Some of the proposals from the guerrillas, like for example, the mining theme or the idea of halting the construction of major projects for electric power generation, are simply not part of the talks,” De la Calle said.
  • Although Colombia’s official homicide rate dropped by 7 percent in 2012, the country’s official forensics agency (Institute of Legal Medicine - IML) released an official report on Monday which found that 7,500 Colombians were reported missing in 2012, a 76 percent increase from the year before, when the IML registered 4,278 disappearances. Colombia Reports’ Adriaan Alselma offers some analysis of the figure, as well as a map showing the provinces where most disappearances took place.
  • Ahead of his likely victory in Sunday’s election, Reuters offers an in-depth profile of Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa. In addition to providing an overview of his rise to power, the news agency suggests he may replace the ailing Hugo Chavez as “the region's agent provocateur,” noting his repeated clashes with the U.S. in recent years.
  • Following the controversy generated by Mexico’s Federal Elections Commission(IFE) deciding to investigate the leftist PRD party for alleged campaign finance irregularities in the last election, the head of the PRD in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, Silvano Aureoles, has proposed a change in the way the members of IFE’s General Council are appointed. El Universal reports that instead of being elected by two-thirds majority in the lower house, Aureoles argued that they should be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, like Supreme Court judges.
  • While Mexican authorities have detained six people suspected of assaulting and raping a group of Spanish tourists earlier this month in Acapulco, El Pais reports that their relatives say they were falsely accused and are being used as scapegoats by the government.
  • Writing for the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog, Suzy Khimm profiles Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban-American business magnate behind the Republicans for Immigration Reform super PAC. Gutierrez is the vice chairman at Citigroup, and is described as “Bush’s right-hand man in the immigration fight” in 2007. His new super PAC, which is aimed at raising funds for GOP candidates who support overhauling immigration, is yet another sign of a growing consensus in Washington that the issue needs to be addressed.