Venezuelan migrants desperate for cash

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CUCUTA, Colombia – The deepening crisis in Venezuela has triggered a mass migration into Colombia. Desperate migrants are forced to do whatever they can to make money and survive.

Man looking to buy locks of hair for hair extensions in Colombia. Image Courtesy of John Otis.

Under socialist President Maduro, Venezuelans suffer from widespread food shortages, medicine shortages, and hyperinflation. As of December, the Colombian immigration department reports that more than half a million migrants have crossed into Colombia in the last two years. This exodus rivals the Syrian refugee crisis and has been labeled the world’s “least-talked-about” immigration crisis.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that they would take measures to tighten the border. Venezuelans responded by rushing to cross the border before the new rules took hold. The Tachira River bridge is one of the busiest crossing points and is clogged with people. Many carry boxes of possessions and suitcases with them, but still are in desperate need of money. For most, the first opportunity comes right when they arrive. Dealers of precious metals wait for migrants to unload their jewelry. People hand over their rings, brooches, and necklaces. The dealers check the purity of the metal and then offer cash.

One shop owner, Jose Alvarado, negotiates prices around $7 for a woman’s silver bracelet and $275 for a man’s gold ring. Alvarado expresses compassion and recalls a heartbreaking case of a couple who sold their wedding rings after 40 years of marriage. He says, “People cry a lot when they sell their jewelry. But they have no choice.”

Venezuelans have found that selling their hair is another way to make money. Several wigmakers now walk around Cucuta with advertisements that they give cash for hair. The going rate in the border town for women’s hair is about $10, less than one third of the price in the nation’s capital. One woman, Ms. Hernandez, said “I sold my hair to feed my girl.”

Some other ways to survive include selling street food, performing street music, and working construction. However, others resort to prostitution or street crime. The massive number of migrants has made it impossible for all those who want to work to find a job. Most of their daily earnings are immediately spent on food, water, and paying to use bathrooms in cafes.

The situation has put a huge strain on locals. In an effort to reduce the tension, President Santos remarked, “I would like to ask all Colombians to steer clear of xenophobia and hostilities toward Venezuelans.” Despite this, migrants report being robbed at knifepoint and practically run down by cars. One young man from Caracas explained how unwelcome he felt and commented, “We are rats to them.”

President Santos has adopted several measures to counter the crisis. There will be programs to help legal immigrants gain access to residency and there will be task forces to control the homeless population.

For more information, please see:

Herald Tribune – Santos Urges Colombians to Reject Xenophobia toward Venezuelan Migrants – 21 February 2018

Colombia Reports – Curfews in central Colombia after looting and violence – 21 February 2018

NPR – Venezuela’s Deepening Crisis Triggers Mass Migration Into Colombia – 20 February 2018

NY Times – In Colombia Border Town, Desperate Venezuelans Sell Hair to Survive – 17 February 2018

Colombian students wear miniskirts in protest against sexism

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MEDELLIN, Colombia – A university in Colombia is facing backlash after advising its female students not to wear miniskirts or “tight-fitting clothes.” Students on campus wore short skirts in protest of the university’s sexist advice.

Students put on miniskirts and shorts in protest. Image Courtesy of Mariana Duque Diez.

Pontifical Bolivarian University, known as UPB, is located in Medellin, Colombia. On the university website, campus authorities instructed that female students refrain from wearing miniskirts to avoid “distracting classmates and teachers.” It warned that “tight-fitting clothes” could disrupt their peer’s educational experience.

The original post appeared on January 30th and was circulated by many students’ social media. It was under a heading, “How should you dress to go to university?” Some of the recommendations were unisex, but the majority were aimed at women. The advice read, “There is nothing more uncomfortable than distracting your classmates or teachers. For this reason, we suggest you don’t wear low necklines, short skirts or tight-fitting clothes.”

Students reacted strongly against the advice. They said the sexist advice was not helpful to Colombia, a country that already struggles with an overtly “machismo” culture.  Male and female students joined in a campaign to wear short skirts to campus. They shared a rallying call online so that people would not be scared. The call said, “Whether or not you are distracted does not depend on my skirt. Tomorrow, everyone wears skirts.” The next day, students shared pictures of themselves and classmates in shorts and skirts around the university.

UPB has since deleted the post. In defense, it says the tips were only meant as general suggestions and the article was mostly aimed at new students. The university released a statement that said, “The UPB respects the right to express personalities, and has never imposed a dress code on students.” The following day, the university acknowledged that the matter was under investigation.

One student, Helena Munera, shared her view of the campaign, “Those who think that we are fighting for our right to wear short skirts or low necklines are very wrong. What we are asking for is an end to messages that encourage disrespect of women.” Others shared her message and promoted the idea that short skirts are not a green light for cat calls or harassment. One student said that the event made her feel underrepresented by the old-fashioned institutional position.

This is not the first time the university has been accused of sexism. In 2015, UPB started summer classes for girls aged 5-10. The focus of the course was good manners and the title was “Girls’ things.”

For more information, please see:

Times Higher Education – Colombian students stage miniskirt protest over ‘sexist’ advice – 14 February 2018

Colombia Focus – Skirting the issue – 10 February 2018

BBC News – Colombian students in miniskirt protest against sexism – 9 February 2018

International Business Times – Colombian University Students Wear Miniskirts To Protest Against Sexism – 9 February 2018

Brazil’s military takes control of security in response to gang violence

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The Brazilian military has taken full control over security in its crime-plagued capital. Organized crime has taken control of the state and this increased security is meant to restore order.

Brazilian soldiers search a resident of a favela. Image Courtesy of Mauro Pimentel.

Rio’s governor, Luiz Fernando Pezao, issued an appeal for help after chaos during the famous Rio Carnival. Several celebrations were spoiled by violence from gun fights and looting. Three police officers were killed in these violent clashes. The governor asked the national government to use military intervention because he saw it as the only way to tackle the heavily armed gangs. He apologized to the citizens affected saying, “We were not ready. There were mistakes in the first days and we reinforced the patrols.”

Due to the economic crisis, Rio’s police budget has been slashed in recent years. Critics say that police do not even have enough money to pay for the petrol in their patrol cars. The financial problems have also emboldened criminal gangs. The national recession, slump in oil prices, and high levels of corruption has given organized crime an opportunity to gain power.

President Michel Temer said organized criminals have all but seized control of the state and compares the growing gang violence to “a cancer.” He has appointed General Walter Souza Braga Netto to oversee security in the capital. This army general was widely praised for his part in coordinating security for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Residents of Rio try to go about their daily lives, but often find that violence gets in the way. Stray bullets have killed children in favelas, shoot-outs have closed down major highways, and mass robberies have ruined Carnival celebrations. Many criticize the fact that the state governor willingly gave up his power to the President. Even though most are happy that something is being done, many are skeptical of big political gestures like this when a presidential election is coming up.

For now, the army will regularly patrol some of the city’s most dangerous areas. It will be the first time the army has had such a high profile since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. Brazil’s National Congress still needs to approve the move.

President Temer explained, “Organized crime has almost taken over the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is a cancer that spreads throughout the country and threatens the tranquility of our people, so we have now enacted the federal intervention of the public security area of ​​Rio de Janeiro.”

For more information, please see:

Digital Journal – Brazil’s Temer announces new security ministry to combat violence – 18 February 2018

Euro News – Brazil’s military takes charge of Rio as gang violence spirals upwards – 18 February 2018

DW – Brazil to create new ministry for public security – 18 February 2018

BBC News – Rio de Janeiro violence: Brazil army to take control of security – 16 February 2018

NY Times – Brazil’s Military is Put in Charge of Security in Rio de Janeiro – 16 February 2018

Women launch anti-harassment campaign during Brazil’s Carnival

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – This year, women are launching an anti-harassment campaign during Brazil’s famous Carnival. They are using street parties as a forum to speak out against sexual harassment and assaults.

Brazilian women hold an all-female block party. Image Courtesy of Silvia Izquierdo.

Sexual assaults have been especially problematic during the five-day long festival in Brazil. The Secretariat of Policies for Women reported that last year, the number of sexual assault complaints during Carnival increased by 90% compared to the number in 2016.  The secretariat explained this jump as the result of government campaigns to stop this type of violence. Victims are instructed to report crimes to a number which will register their complaint.

In total, the feminist group Think Olga reports that 99.6% of women in Brazil have been catcalled. Another private group on public security reports that one woman in South America is raped every 11 minutes, but only 10% report their assaults. One 29-year-old artist commented on the issue saying, “Some men have this feeling that they can do whatever to your body, it’s time for women to take advantage of this moment to push back.”

Thousands of women have responded during the Carnival celebrations. They organize block parties of all-female musicians, shirts, necklaces and crowns. They use messages such as “my breasts, my rules” and promote campaigns that report and crackdown on harassment. One woman, Debora Thome, organized a block party in 2015 called “Mulheres Rodadas,” or “Women Who Get Around.” She has been vocal in the movement and sees Carnival as a good opportunity to fight harassment because it forces the question of respect amid scantily dressed partygoers. She says, “A woman can be naked in the street and nobody should be allowed to touch her.”

Since then, several other feminist-themed block parties have been formed for the festival. One recent party included hundreds of women dressed up as animals they said they had been called on the streets. Costumes included animals such as cows, piranhas, hens, and cobras.  One of the few dozen men at the party, Anderson Semme, said, “Men’s role is to recognize we were wrong for a long time and now do the right thing.”

The campaign has picked up the slogan of “No Means No.” Hundreds of women are planning to get the words temporarily tattooed for their Carnival costumes. While the campaign encourages the support of men, it stresses that it is something created by women and for women. The founders’ goal is to create a sense of security for women who want to attend block parties. Aisha Jacob, who was assaulted during Carnival last year, has been heavily involved in the campaign.  She says the tattoos are a symbol of solidarity and support for women. “If they need to ask for help, they know who they can reach out to. They know they’re not alone.”

During last year’s Carnival, Brazil’s military police received 2,154 calls about violence against women. That figure means that one woman was assaulted every few minutes. Security officials and several non-governmental groups have begun their own campaigns against harassment.

For more information, please see:

NY Times – Rio Carnival Kicks Off With Samba, Blocos and Not to #MeToo – 10 February 2018

The Guardian – Brazilians turn to carnival as an escape from crime and corruption – 10 February 2018

Herald Tribune – No Means No: Women Say Enough to Sexual Harassment at Brazil’s Carnival – 10 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Women in Brazil launch ‘No Means No’ anti-harassment Campaign during Carnival – 9 February 2018

Washington Post – Women at Brazil Carnival push back against harassment – 7 February 2018

Colombia opens first border shelter

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CUCUTA, Colombia – Colombia’s government has opened its first shelter for Venezuelan refugees. As the economic crisis in Venezuela continues to spiral out of control, refugees pour across the border in search of help.

A group of Venezuelan refugees occupy a sports center in Cucuta. Image courtesy of Schneyder Mendoza.

Colombia built this shelter to curb the growing number of homeless Venezuelans. The facility, administered by the Red Cross, opened on Saturday, February 3, near the border city of Cucuta. It is expected to provide up to 48 hours of shelter for 120 people each day. It is designated as a temporary shelter meant for refugees who have a destination elsewhere, but need a place to stay while traveling. Priority will be given to pregnant mothers, the elderly, and minors who entered the country legally.

Local authorities stress that the shelter is only meant for those who entered the country legally and will be moving on to other locations. Mayor Pepe Ruiz said, “This is not going to be a shelter where we are going to house all the people that are in the street.” He added, “This a center of attention for people who are en route, who rest there while they get transport. I don’t agree that they should stick around there, or this will become a big mess.”

As one of the main crossing points for Venezuelans, the city of Cucuta has been under severe stress. The mass migration comes in such large waves that many are left sleeping on the streets. Hundreds of people are stranded and starving, and crime has increased as gangs recruit and take advantage of the migrants’ desperation.

Approximately 35,000 Venezuelans cross into Colombia each day. Many of them settle with relatives while others come to acquire the food or medicine they lack back home. In an effort to regulate the flow of migrants, immigration authorities have begun arresting and deporting those that entered illegally. Just last week, 130 Venezuelans who were sleeping on outdoor basketball courts were deported. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin told reporters, “We are being as generous as possible with the Venezuelans’ situation, but there must be order.”

The United Nations has offered to assist local authorities with the overwhelming amounts of refugees. However, some worry that the creation of UN camps would encourage even more people to flee. Colombia’s inspector general, General Fernando Carrillo, admitted that they had been negligent in their emergency preparation. He explained, “We haven’t been strategic. We have been negligent in the control of the border because there have been many isolated efforts, but no integrated approach to the problem.”

While the number of migrants continues to grow, other countries such as the United States and Brazil are considering sending aid to Colombia.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – How Venezuela’s crisis became another humanitarian emergency in Colombia – 7 February 2018

Bloomberg – As Venezuelans Flee, Refugee Camp Springs Up Across Border – 5 February 2018

Latina – Colombia Opens First Shelter for Venezuela Refugees – 5 February 2018

Colombia Opens Border Shelter for Venezuelans Fleeing Crisis – 3 February 2018

Ecuador votes on re-election limits

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuadoreans are voting in a referendum that has become a test of popularity between their current president and his predecessor. Voters are choosing whether or not to get rid of unlimited presidential terms.

President Moreno holds up his ballot voting in favor of a constitutional referendum. Image Courtesy of Dolores Ochoa.

The referendum was created by the current president, Lenin Moreno, to implement a two-term presidential limit. President Moreno was once the protégé and deputy to former President Rafael Correa. However, President Moreno and Correa have entered a bitter feud since President Moreno took office last year. Correa does not approve of President Moreno’s initiatives to work with business leaders who were at odds with his previous government. Although they won office under the same party, the two went through a very public separation.

This referendum is aimed at preventing Correa, who already served two terms, from ever returning to power. It has been seen as a popularity test between the two leaders. Ecuadorean news reported the vote as a way for President Moreno to “distance himself from his predecessor and consolidate his political process.” President Moreno hopes that the vote will close the door to Correa’s candidacy in the 2021 election. He explained, “corruption sets in when you have only one government that thinks it will stay on forever.”

There have been protests throughout the week against Correa as he campaigns against the referendum. In one instance, trash was hurled onto his vehicles. His silver SUV was covered in plastic and mud on Wednesday which resulted in him being trapped in the radio station where he had been giving an interview. Correa wrote on Twitter that the it was “a shame for the country!”

The referendum includes seven questions. One would give President Moreno the authority to decide who can lead some of the nation’s most important institutions. Another would restrict mining. In addition, one would bar officials convicted of corruption from seeking office. This may also impede Correa’s run at presidency because he is under allegations of corruption. Although he has not yet been convicted, he is being investigated for irregularities in oil sales to China and Thailand during his time in office. His vice-president at the time, Jorge Glas, was sentenced to six years in jail in December 2017 for his involvement in a Brazilian corruption scandal.

Correa commented on this measure saying that “the right wants to invent a crime against me to disable me.” He refers to President Moreno as a traitor and the referendum a “coup d’état”.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Ecuador votes on election term limit as Correa looks on – 4 February 2018

Washington Post – Current, former presidents at odds in Ecuador referendum – 4 February 2018

Reuters – Ecuador votes on re-election limits, likely dashing Correa comeback – 4 February 2018

NPR – Ecuador Votes on Presidential Term Limits – 3 February 2018

New Jersey Herald – Protesters hurl trash on Ecuador president’s vehicle – 31 January 2018

Colombia suspends peace talks with ELN rebels

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) were suspended on Monday in response to a series of bomb attacks over the weekend. The leftist rebel group killed several police officers and wounded many more.

Members of the ELN in Colombia. Image Courtesy of Luis Robayo.

The homemade bombs were placed in a police station during a shift change in Barranquila, a northern Colombian town. As a result, five police officers died and more than 40 were wounded. Two more died from another bomb attack just four hours later.

This occurred in the wake of peace talks which began in February 2017 and ended the five-decade war. The bombing is the second time this month that negotiations between the government and the rebel group have been paused. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said, “My patience and the patience of the Colombian people has its limits, so I have taken the decision to suspend the start of the fifth cycle of negotiations, which was scheduled for the coming days, until we see coherence between the ELN’s words and its actions.”

The ELN is a guerrilla organization and faction of the National Liberation Army. Even though the other rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have signed a peace deal with the government, guerrillas of the ELN  seem determined to continue their long battle against the state. It opposes the presence of foreign companies in Colombia and regularly bombs pipelines and other oil infrastructures.

In contrast, members of FARC have embraced peace and moved into politics. The large rebel group has launched its campaign for the presidency under the leadership of its former commander, Rodrigo Londono. However, his opening campaign speech was largely overshadowed by the rebel attacks. Other presidential candidates denounce him for being too soft on both FARC and ELN guerillas.

Few politicians support this peace deal. It remains an issue among Colombians and was rejected in a 2016 referendum. President Santos has only months left in his term and it is unlikely that he will succeed in ending the conflict with the ELN. The deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, Ariel Avila, remarked, “The ELN know that this government only has five months left — there’s nothing for them to negotiate with this government, so they say why bother?”

On Monday, the ELN issued a statement expressing support for the peace talks and a cease-fire. However, it says that “military actions will continue taking place on each side” in the absence of any agreement.

For more information, please see:

Telesur – Colombian Rebels Call for New Ceasefire, Renewed Peace Talks – 31 January 2018

Colombia Reports – Santos suspends talks with ELN after deadly attacks in northern Colombia – 29 January 2018

NPR – Colombian President Pauses Peace Talks With Rebel Group, ELN – 29 January 2018

NYT – In Colombia, Two Rebel Groups Take Different Paths – 29 January 2018

Voice of America – Colombia Suspends Peace Talks With ELN Rebels After Bomb Attacks – 29 January 2018

Uruguay farmers hold mass protest over excessive costs

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

DURAZNO, Uruguay – Tens of thousands of farmers gathered in Uruguay to protest the government’s excessive spending. Their main demand was tax cuts for the agricultural sector.

Uruguayan farmers gather in protest. Image Courtesy of AFP.

Uruguay is one of the world’s largest cattle exporters and agriculture is key to its economy. Protestors claim that the government is spending excessively for itself and then handing the cost down to farmers. They reference spending on things such as office rents and the government’s fleet of vehicles, and ask that the Uruguayan government review its fiscal and government companies’ policies. The goal is to decrease the costs of fuel and power, as well as municipal level taxes on land.

The demonstration occurred in the city of Durazno under a massive display of unity. Farmers and their families waved Uruguayan flags as they gathered in tractors, vans, trucks, harvesters, and on horseback. This mass gathering is the first major protest the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition government has ever experienced. The coalition came to power almost thirteen years ago.

Federico Hozman, the organizer of the protest, explained, “We’re sick of our voices being ignored, but when it comes to collecting taxes, we’re not ignored.” The movement began with several farmers who were disappointed by President Vazquez’s decision to repeatedly postpone their meeting request. Soon after, the protest expanded to other groupings and lobbies such as industry, exporters, manufacturers, and tourism. It became known as the “One Uruguay” movement.

In response to the massive demonstration, the government media tried to downplay the event by saying that attendance was lacking. Even radical groups tried to label it as a political play by the opposition. Nevertheless, the farmers have strong numbers to argue. The costs of the Uruguayan government have increased from $3.3 billion in 2004 to $17 billion today. The payroll has added a huge amount of new staff and green energy promises have fallen through. Additionally, money exchange rate is an issue. A recent report from the IMF announced that the US dollar in Uruguay was undervalued and should be at least 15% more expensive.

The protest ended peacefully as the farmers were promised the opportunity to present their proposals to President Vazquez.  They handed over a list from independent farmers and are told they will be brought into talks with leaders of the country’s agricultural associations. The list includes fixing conditions of highways and roads, cutting gas costs, correcting currency issues, and dropping electricity costs. The protestors hope that these changes will limit competition conditions for the farming industry.

For more information, please see:

Herald Tribune – Uruguay President to Study Demands of Small Farmers – 27 January 2018

Kaplan Herald – Uruguay farmers maintain mass protest over excessive prices – 27 January 2018

MercoPress – “Enough is enough,” thousands of Uruguayan farmers tell the government – 24 January 2018

BBC News – Uruguay farmers hold mass protest over high costs – 24 January 2018

Pope defends Peru’s Amazon and its indigenous groups

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru – Pope Francis traveled to a distant corner of the Amazon on Friday, January 19. In Peru’s jungle, he met with indigenous people to discuss the deforestation and illegal mining that wreak havoc on their livelihood.

Pope Francis delivers speech to representatives of indigenous groups. Image Courtesy of Vincenzo Pinto.

The Pope arrived at his first official event in Puerto Maldonado aboard his popemobile. He was greeted by thousands of indigenous people decked out in traditional dress. Men in loincloths and colorful costumes surrounded him and chanted, “Francis, Francis, you are now Amazonian.”

Puerto Maldonado is the capital of one of the Peruvian Amazon’s most threatened regions, Madre de Dios. Deforestation has escalated to the point that scientists at the Mapping of the Andean Amazon consider it a “deforestation crisis.” Calculations have tracked an increasing trend of annual forest loss since 2001 that peaked in 2017. In 2017 alone, 208 square kilometers (80 square miles) of forest were lost. Gold miners and farmers are taking down trees with little regard to the effects of their operations. Logging and mining devastates the forest and contaminates the air, water, and soil with toxins. As a result, indigenous people who rely on those resources are suffering.

Pope Francis arrived with a plan to highlight environmental issues and human rights violations. During a 20-minute speech, the pontiff said, “We have to break with the historical paradigm that views the Amazon as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries, without concern for its inhabitants. Defense of the Earth has no other purpose than the defense of life.” He regarded the Amazon as a source of biological riches as well as a “culture reserve.” He recognized that it was under threat by new forms of colonialism, and suggested that limits be set to help preserve the habitat from massive destruction.

The visit was meant to build on his treatise on the environment, the 2015 Laudato Si encyclical, which is a plan for a council of Amazon Basin bishops. The message guides the clergy and their followers on key environmental issues. The crowd applauded this message, but some express concern that it does not go far enough to protect the rights of inhabitants. The pope did not specifically reference some of the controversial issues faced by indigenous peoples such as territorial demarcation, property titles and consent, and the right to veto extractive or infrastructure projects.

However, the pope did dedicate part of his address to people living in isolation. Many leaders and representatives of indigenous groups were in attendance to present their case to the pope. Pope Francis said that they were the “most vulnerable of the vulnerable” and should not be considered a “kind of museum of a bygone way of life.”  He did not go after illegal mining directly, but did not completely avoid it. He said, “There exists another devastating assault on life linked to this environmental contamination favored by illegal mining. I am speaking of human trafficking: slave labor and sexual abuse.”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Pope brings environmental crusade to Peru’s Amazon, citing ‘defense of the earth’ – 19 January 2018

Los Angeles Times – Pope Francis, in Peru, speaks of threats to native Amazonian people and the rainforest – 19 January 2018

Straits Times – Pope to meet indigenous people in Peruvian Amazon – 19 January 2018

Mongabay – Pope set to visit site of deforestation, indigenous struggle in Peru – 19 January 2018

Voice of America – Pope Heads to Chile, Peru to Focus on Indigenous People – 14 January 2018

Colombia swarmed with Venezuelan refugees

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CUCUTA, Colombia – Colombia reports that 550,000 Venezuelans have entered the country. Frustrated citizens in border towns protest and demand that the refugees be removed.

People trying to cross into Colombia from Venezuela through Simon Bolivar international bridge. Image Courtesy of Luis Parada.

On Monday, January 22, a protest in Cucuta between Colombians turned into a shoving match. The group was protesting the approximately 615 Venezuelans living in their area. They referred to the refugee’s shelters as “Hotel Caracas” and demanded that they be removed.

The Mayor, Cesar Omar Rojas, tried to reason with the crowd and asked for two days to implement a “progressive dislocation” for Venezuelans without the proper paperwork. He stated, “Whoever is undocumented has to leave the country. Whoever is here legally, with a passport, we will all look for a way for them to be transferred to another part of the country.”

Migration officials report that most of the Venezuelans in the country are there illegally. The government is under extreme pressure to care for this large number of migrants, and the number is only growing. One million Venezuelans have registered for a migration card which allows them to cross the border to purchase food, shelter, and medical care that they cannot get at home. In 2017, an average of 30,000 people used the card each day to find scarce goods.

Still, Colombia has given 126,000 refugees legal permission to stay. This includes the group of 69,000 who took advantage of humanitarian visas in July. Local Colombians say they are not against all Venezuelans, just the ones that come to the country to do harm. The border between Colombia and Venezuela has had troubles with smuggling and tension due to the price differentials.

Colombia’s finance minister, Mauricio Cardenas, confirmed that he would make an “urgent call” for aid at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos. Also, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the UN will send more aid to Colombia to help with the increasing number of refugees. Migration flows out of Venezuela are reaching historic proportions as thousands of people cross the western border each day. Colombia has prepared for these waves with plans for refugee camps similar to those that house Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon.

Cardenas remarked, “Colombia has adopted a policy of open arms to these migration flows to show solidarity. We have offered urgent medical attention and school places to all Venezuelans. This all comes at a cost, and Colombia has assumed that cost.”

For more information, please see:

UNTV – Uproar over uptick of Venezuelans at Colombian border – 23 January 2018

Breitbart – Over half a million Venezuelans migrate to Colombia amid humanitarian crisis – 23 January 2018

BBC News – Colombia says 550,000 Venezuelans have fled to the country – 19 January 2018

Curacao Chronicle – Exact Numbers Venezuelan Refugees According to the UNHCR – 21 December 2017

Hunger drives Venezuelans to desperation

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – As the economic crisis in Venezuela deepens, the hunger crisis grows. Impoverished citizens begin riots and fight through mobs to feed their starving families.

Venezuelans scavenge the polluted river for pieces of valuable metal. Image Courtesy of Ariana Cubillos.

To put the crisis in perspective, the opposition-controlled legislature reported that inflation rates topped 2,600 percent in 2017. Now, 81.8 percent of Venezuelan households are in poverty. Venezuelans suffer personal insecurity, food scarcity, medicine shortages, and money insufficiency which has driven 1.2 million people to leave the country. Pope Francis labelled this a humanitarian crisis.

Many struggling citizens have started to accept groceries in exchange for their services. To avoid spiraling prices, people are choosing to receive food for their work. One plumber explained, “I have to adjust to the situation. I ask my customers ‘What do you have in your pantry?’ when we are discussing my fees.

Additionally, looting has become a common practice throughout the country. The Venezuelan Conflict Observatory reported that 400 small protests and 100 instances of looting have taken place across 19 states. In a supermarket in Maracaibo, residents waited in line for hours to buy corn. When they were told that only members of pro-government community councils could make purchases, the line turned into a mob. Angry residents forced their way into the store to grab food before police arrived. Similar situations of mass looting occur all over the country. Trucks, food collection centers, and state-run supermarkets have all been victims.

The Bolivarian National Guard tries to keep order with gunshots and tear gas, but is having a difficult time. The situation is only getting worse as the minimum monthly salary is at US $5, barely enough for a kilogram of meat and a carton of 30 eggs. The government has subsidized a food program to send food to the poorest areas of the country and millions of families depend on them.

On January 11, hunger-driven Venezuelans turned their attention to farms. Groups of desperate citizens broke into a farm in Merida and dismembered about 40 cows for their meat. Videos on social media show men running around a pasture in pursuit of a cow and beating it to death. Ranchers have resorted to paying armed groups to secure their properties.

The coordinator of the Venezuelan Conflict Observatory states, “The desperation, impunity and serious humanitarian crisis that we are experiencing in Venezuela continues to deepen and is leading people to commit this type of crime.”

Correspondingly, poor Venezuelans have turned to the Guaire River in Caracas. Young men and boys search the polluted water for small pieces of metal which may earn them food for their families. The water acts as a sewer for the city’s waste and is known to be filthy. Desperate citizens are ignoring the health risks associated with the water. One native remarked, “As long as I can remember, the Guaire was this open sewage. It certainly seems to reflect the depth and extent of the desperation that this particular crisis has spawned.”

For more information, please see:

PanAm Post – Recent Wave of Looting Shows Extent of Hunger in Venezuela – 15 January 2018

Oil Price – Is Venezuela’s Oil Industry Bouncing Back? – 15 January 2018

Voice of America – Venezuelans Seek Treasure in Polluted River – 14 January 2018

Miami Herald – Hungry Venezuelans rely on work-for-food barter as economy spirals – 12 January 2018

Reuters – Food riots grip western Venezuela, mob reportedly slaughters cattle in field – 11 January 2018

Medical strike ends in Bolivia

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia — A nation-wide medical strike has come to an end in Bolivia after 47 days. The country’s doctors had ceased work in protest of the government’s new criminal code.

Bolivian President Evo Morales. Image Courtesy of Getty Images.

Bolivian doctors went on strike in protest of the government’s Presidential Decree 3385 which created the Supervision Authority for the National Health System, and Article 205 of the new penal code which would sanction professional negligence and medical malpractice. Protestors demanded that this new law be repealed because it would penalize medical professionals who cause health or bodily harm through negligence or malpractice.

Essentially, doctors who are found guilty of physically harming their patients will face heavier sanctions. Also, an entity would be created to control and monitor their work. The new punishments include five to nine years in prison, the suspension of a professional title, and the seizure of assets.

At the beginning, doctors, medical professionals, and medical students all refused to work and most local hospitals were shut down. Only emergency rooms remained functioning. Protestors took to the streets and clashed with police. In La Paz, the police resorted to firing tear gas into the crowd because rocks and small explosives were thrown at them. In a different form of protest, nine doctors at the Greater University of San Andres began a hunger strike. Protests and riots continued through Christmas.

On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales welcomed the end of the political strike by the doctors. The President remarked, “We salute the doctors and workers who never went on strike – they have the vocation of service – and those who allowed the political strike that caused so much harm to thousands of sick people to be lifted.” He emphasized the willingness of his government to work for “a sensible, solid, universal and free health care service.”

Bolivia’s physicians report that the strike ended after reaching an agreement with the government that it would prepare new legislation and shelve the bill that had already been drafted. However, others note that the end is a response to the President’s threat to take legal action. Just days earlier, Morales announced legal actions to restore health services and made claims of conspiracy.

The government denounces the strike and claims that it was staged by opposing political forces who favor private health care. The result was the postponement of more than 800,000 medical appointments and 10,000 surgeries.

The country will use a national health care conference in early March to move forward and develop a universal and free health care system for the entire population.

For more information, please see:

Telesur – Bolivia: Medical Strike Ends as Gov’t, Doctors Ratify Deal – 10 January 2018

Herald Tribune – Morales Welcomes End of Bolivian Doctor’s Strike – 10 January 2018

Euronews – Bolivian health professionals continue to protest against new criminal code – 23 December 2017

TVC News – Bolivian Health professionals protest against new criminal code – 22 December 2017

UN reports more than 100 activists murdered in Colombia in 2017

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Columbia – The United Nations reports that more than 100 human rights activists have been killed in Colombia in 2017, denouncing the government’s inactions.

Colombia’s government and rebels signed peace accords and ended their civil war this year. Image Courtesy of Anadolu Agency.

The UN urges the Colombian government to be more accountable and provide better protections for its activists. The peace accord, which ended a 50-year civil war, was signed by the Colombian government and FARC rebels last year. Since it was signed, activists have been particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by rebel fighters. These zones are often rural and now have a power vacuum because of the withdrawal of rebels.

The UN report shows that more than half of the 105 human rights activists and community leaders murdered this year were killed by gunmen. At least eleven other cases are still under investigation. This count does not yet include the events that transpired in December, when a community leader in Puerto Colombia, Putumayo was murdered along with his eight-year-old daughter. The activist, Pablo Oviedo, was walking with his daughter when they were ambushed by multiple gunmen and shot several times. They were declared dead at a hospital in Puerto de Asis. Oviedo’s two brothers are both human rights activists and have been declared missing.

Even more tragically, these murders occurred hours after the Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas participated in a security council meeting to address the city’s increased violence. Social leaders that attended this meeting wore masks to avoid being victims of the violence.

The UN human rights office states, “We note with deep concern the persistence of cases of killings of human rights defenders in the country. Cases of killings of male and female leaders and [rights] defenders have occurred in areas from which the FARC has left, and which has created a vacuum of power by the state.”

To put this in perspective, UN reports show that 45 rights defenders were killed in 2014, 59 in 2015, and 127 in 2016. Local groups explain that leaders who speak out against rights abuses and activists campaigning for land rights are targeted because they threaten the economic interests of organized crime groups. Most victims belong to Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups.

In December, Defense Minister Villegas stated that authorities are working to bring those responsible for the murders to justice. The UN human rights office maintains that “the prevention of attacks and aggressions against human rights defenders involves investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible.”

Out of all recorded murders of human rights defenders last year, three out of four took place in the Americas.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – More than 100 human rights activists killed in Colombia in 2017, UN says – 21 December 2017

Telesur – Murder of Colombian Social Leader Highlights UN Condemnation – 21 December 2017

Business Standard – More than 100 rights and labour activists killed in Colombia – 21 December 2017

Democracy Now – Colombia: 100 Human Rights Activists Killed in 2017, According to U.N. – 21 December 2017

Thomson Reuters – Colombia rights activists facing danger, U.N. says – 20 December 2017

Former Peruvian president granted divisive pardon

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – Alberto Fujimori ruled Peru in the 1990s and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses and corruption. On Sunday, Peru’s current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, granted him a medical pardon.

Protestors gather outside of the hospital where Fujimori is being treated. Image Courtesy of Guadalupe Pardo.

Fujimori expressed his gratitude to President Kuczynski in a video from his hospital bed. He explains that the pardon had a strong impact on him, creating “a mix of extreme happiness as well as sorrow.” He stated, “I’m aware that the results produced by my government were well received by some, but I recognize that I have let down others. Those I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

Fujimori suspended civil liberties and oversaw a violent crackdown on the opposition during his presidency from 1990 to 2000. In 2007, he was extradited from Chile and sentenced to jail for six years on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Two years later, he was sentenced to another 25 years for human rights abuses from his rule. Fujimori was convicted of authorizing military death squads.

Critics denounce the pardon and claim it was motivated by a desire to reward Fujimori’s son, Kenji. The congressman helped the president survive a crucial impeachment vote last week when the conservative Popular Force party, who controls Congress, tried to impeach him over a corruption scandal. However, they failed because Kenji split the party’s vote, thus allowing the president to stay in power.

President Kuczynski’s office states that he granted a “humanitarian pardon” to Fujimori and seven other people in similar condition. Doctors have declared that he has a progressive, degenerative, and incurable illness.

However, protestors rallied as soon as the pardon came to light and claim that the pardon was carried out in an illegal manner. They say the president was trying to save his own skin and the pardon was treason. One protestor stated, “The reality is that this sadly was a political agreement between the Fujimorists and the current government.”

Activists and protestors gathered by the thousands in Lima, the capital, in late December. Human rights experts and political analysts join in the criticism. President Kuczynski pardoned one of the few Latin American strongmen who has been held accountable in judicial proceedings for abuses committed during his reign. The South American representative for the UN High Commission for Human Rights claims that “not putting victims at the center of this decision derails the progress the Peruvian state has made on truth, justice, memory, and reparations.”

The pardon has already cost the president the support of three allies in Congress. They resigned in protest and leave him with only 15 allies left in the lawmaking body.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Peru’s Alberto Fujimori speaks after divisive pardon – 26 December 2017

NY Times – From a Hospital Bed, Alberto Fujimori Asks Peru to ‘Forgive Me’ – 26 December 2017

Latina – Thousands of Peruvians Protest the Pardon of Former President Fujimori – 26 December 2017

Bloomberg – Peru’s President Back Under Fire for Freeing Leader – 26 December 2017

CNN – Peru’s ex-leader Fujimori asks for forgiveness amid heated protests – 26 December 2017

Argentina passes controversial pension reform amid protests

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s government passed a controversial reform of the country’s pension system on Tuesday, December 19. The bill has prompted violent protests in the city’s capital.

A demonstrator waves an Argentine flag outside of Congress. Image Courtesy of Victor R. Caivano.

After 12 hours of debate and several demonstrations outside of the chamber, the reform passed the lower house by a 128-116 vote. The legislation had already cleared the Senate and would essentially change the formula by which pension benefits are calculated. It bases them largely on inflation instead of wage growth and tax contributions, which economists expect to lower the amounts paid. Another controversial change in the new law is the increase in retirement age from 65 to 70 for men and from 60 to 63 for women. Protestors have communicated their fear that the changes will have a heavy impact on the poor.

This legislation is a key element of the economic changes being implemented by President Mauricio Macri’s government. The goal is to reduce Argentina’s high deficit and attract investments. At a press conference at the presidential palace, the president said, “We’ve created a formula that defends (retirees) from inflation and guarantees that they will be better. Our priority is to take care of the retirees.”

However, opposition law makers, union leaders, and other critics attack the bill. They claim it will cut pension and retirement payments. Also, it could take away aid for some poor families because consumer prices are expected to decrease. Opposition lawmaker Agustin Rossi states, “We tried to impede it from passing, but we couldn’t get the numbers. This harms retirees.”

The vote was originally scheduled for a week earlier, but civil unrest delayed it. In response, President Macri promised an additional payment to existing pensioners as a concession. However, demonstrations continued. The day before the vote, protestors threw stones, fireworks, and improvised explosive devices at police. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in turn. Protests continued into the night. Almost 150 people were injured in these riots and about 60 were arrested.

Regardless of the protestors’ violent clashes with police, Congress approved the measures the next morning. The opposition called for peaceful protests to continue. Argentines have had a tradition of marching while banging pots and pans since the 2001-2002 economic collapse. Demonstrators have continued this peaceful form of protest. Argentina’s largest union contributed by calling a 24-hour strike which grounded hundreds of flights.

President Macri acknowledged that there will undoubtedly be people who disagree with the reforms. He said, “It would be illogical to have unanimity. But I’m asking them not to doubt the intention because I’m convinced that it will help them.”

For more information, please see:

Times of Malta – Violent clashes erupt in Buenos Aires as Congress tries at pension reform – 19 December 2017

Fox News – Argentina’s Congress approves pension reform amid strikes – 19 December 2017

BBC News – Argentina passes pension reform despite violent protests – 19 December 2017

Reuters – Argentina Congress passes pension reform after protests, clashes – 19 December 2017

Miami Herald – Argentina leader defends pension reforms approved in Congress – 19 December 2017