Last month in South America, demonstrations over coronavirus-related issues continued across the region. Meanwhile, political killings in Colombia significantly increased, as did political unrest in Chile, Venezuela, and Guyana. In Brazil, armed clashes continued to take place between criminal groups and state forces.
The number of pandemic-related demonstrations significantly increased across the region in the first weeks of August, followed by a slight decrease by the end of the month and the beginning of September. The demonstrations are mainly related to the economic impact of the health pandemic, as South American countries face a long and slow economic recovery (CNN, 20 August 2020). In Ecuador, several protests took place, led by public servants and workers from the transportation and tourism sectors. The fiscal deficit has forced authorities to delay budget allocations to municipal and provincial governments. In Peru, public health workers led a nationwide protest on 26 August to call for additional medical supplies and the payment of a bonus for workers treating coronavirus patients. Health workers also protested and blocked roads in Paraguay, demanding the resignation of the Public Health Minister. They claim that his mishandling of the pandemic has led to the collapse of the public health system.
The political effects of the pandemic have also led to demonstrations in several countries across the region. In Bolivia, supporters of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), the political party of former President Evo Morales, called for demonstrations and blocked roads across the country after the Supreme Electoral Court decided to again postpone the presidential elections. With the polls now expected to take place on 18 October, MAS supporters claim the current president, Jeanine Áñez, is using the pandemic as an excuse to hold onto power (Al Jazeera, 17 August 2020). In Argentina, anti-government groups called for nationwide protests on 17 August to reject the government’s decision to extend quarantine measures in the country following an increase in the number of infections. The demonstrators also repudiated the judicial reform bill, claiming it would protect the Vice President, Cristina Kirchner, from corruption and criminal charges.
In Colombia, political killings have increased remarkably during August and the beginning of September, with more than 45 fatalities reported. Social leaders and members of vulnerable communities, such as farmers and indigenous groups, continue to be targeted by armed groups in ongoing disputes over territories for smuggling and drug trafficking routes. The majority of these killings happened in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Narino, accounting for at least 30 fatalities. Authorities identified different dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Fronts as responsible for some of the attacks, including the Oliver Sinisterra Front and the Nueva Marquetalia Front. However, most of the perpetrators remain unknown. Several armed groups have an active presence in these departments.
In Chile, demonstrations substantially increased in August, with demonstrators occupying government buildings and demanding the release of arrested Mapuche individuals. Tensions escalated after the Supreme Court denied a request to place Mapuche activist Celestino Córdova under house arrest. Córdova is accused of killing two farmers in 2013 (Biobio Chile, 13 August 2020), and has been on hunger strike for more than 100 days. The activities of indigenous militias also increased in the south of the country last month. A child was injured by stray bullets during a clash between militias and state forces in the rural area of Collipulli, Araucanía region. The event triggered nationwide demonstrations led by truck driver unions, who demanded more security on national roads. Truck drivers from logging companies are often the targets of attacks led by indigenous militias as local groups demand the return of their ancestral lands from forestry companies.
In Venezuela, workers and pensioners from the state oil company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA) led several protests across the country to demand better salaries and benefits, including medical assistance. These protests come at a time when the company’s production has significantly declined, showing signs of collapse (Venezuelanalysis, 28 August 2020). Similarly, demonstrators continue to protest to demand access to basic services, including potable water and food, but also fuel as the pandemic has worsened the shortage of this commodity. Most service stations in Venezuela are closed due to the lack of fuel (Cronica Uno, 10 August 2020; Efecto Cocuyo, 8 August 2020).
In Guyana, the uncertainty surrounding the election results came to an end on 2 August with the inauguration of new President Irfaan Ali. Later in August, the Demerara-Mahaica Returning Officer, responsible for the arrangements of regional polling stations, was arrested, which led to a number of protests in the streets of this region. The Demerara-Mahaica was the region in which electoral fraud was recorded during the polls.
In Brazil, labor groups continued to stage protests to demand the return of normal operations in business, such as restaurants, gyms, tourism agencies, beach selling points, and entertainment activities. Teachers and students also protested, specifically against in-person classes, as many teachers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. With more than 120,000 recorded deaths, Brazil has the world’s second-highest COVID-19 death toll, second only to the United States (Xinhua, 8 September 2020). In Campo do Meio city, Minas Gerais state, the enforcement of a repossession of ownership order led to a three-day protest by Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) members who claimed they should not be evicted during the pandemic. On the third day, military police forces used tear gas to disperse the residents and four protesters were arrested (G1, 14 August 2020).
Clashes between criminal groups and state forces continued in Brazil, while organized criminal groups clashed amongst themselves in territories across the country. In Nova Olinda do Norte, Amazonas state, two military officers were killed during an operation to fight drug trafficking. The city residents, however, reported cases of police brutality and even torture, with houses being invaded without a warrant and threats made against indigenous and Quilombo community members (Portal do Holanda, 6 August 2020). After at least three weeks of tensions and clashes between criminal groups and state forces, at least eight deaths were reported (G1, 28 August 2020).
In the state of Rio de Janeiro, shoot-outs between several armed groups, including state forces, slightly decreased in August, following a small decline in July. However, tensions between rival groups Red Command (CV) and Third Pure Command (TCP) reached a peak in August. In the Central Zone of Rio de Janeiro city, intense shoot-outs took place between 26 and 28 August when CV members tried invading the Sao Carlos Complex, an area controlled by the TCP. Two kidnappings and a total of six killings were reported. The effects of the intense dispute spilled over to other areas of the city, with shoot-outs between suspects and the military police reported in the South Zone, in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas neighborhood.
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