Last week in South America, demonstrations slightly decreased across the region. In contrast, the number of armed clashes has significantly increased. In Peru, farmers blocked highways as labor protests spread. In Colombia, violent attacks against civilians rose in comparison to the previous week. In Venezuela, the political opposition split over whether or not to boycott the parliamentary elections. Lastly, in Brazil, last week was marked by violent attacks perpetrated by armed groups, as well as long-lasting disputes over territorial control among armed groups.
In Peru, farmers from Ica and La Libertad provinces held demonstrations demanding higher wages and full labor rights, and therefore the annulment of the Agrarian Promotion Law, a regulation that should have expired at the end of 2020, but was extended until 2031. Farmers claim the legislation is unjust, as it exempts them from benefits, such as annual bonuses and vacation time. The south Pan-American highway was blocked by demonstrators in several cities with burning tires (Diario Correo, 2 December 2020). Later during the week, mine workers and farmers from La Libertad province joined the demonstrations and blocked the north Pan-American highway. Hundreds of union members from the Doe Run metallurgical plant in La Oroya blockaded one of the main highways to Lima, thus affecting the supply of food to the capital (Al Jazeera, 4 December 2020). In Chao district, police forces clashed with the demonstrators who were blocking the highway. During the clash, one farmer was killed and five police officers were injured (Diario Correo, 3 December 2020). In the aftermath of the demonstrations, the government announced its plans to submit a bill that would update the existing law without replacing it altogether (La Republica, 4 December 2020).
Meanwhile, in Colombia, violent attacks against civilians remain high. At least 14 fatalities were reported from attacks carried out by armed groups against indigenous peoples and social activists. Among the victims, eight were indigenous people and six were social leaders. Seven of these indigenous victims were members of the Awá group. The Awá people live in the Nariño department, an area with a heavy presence of several armed groups and military forces. For decades, the group has been harassed, displaced, and killed by armed groups and state forces (European Commission, 4 January 2017). Meanwhile, in the department of Chocó, unidentified armed men killed an Embera indigenous leader, leading to the displacement of approximately 600 members of nearby communities (El Colombiano, 5 December 2020). The Embera people have been forced to flee many times since the 1970s due to ongoing conflict between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gulf Clan over control of strategic locations for coca cultivation, processing, and commercialization. Similarly, there is dispute over small-scale gold mining in areas abandoned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (ABColombia, 27 April 2017).
In Venezuela, protests were held to boycott the parliamentary elections, which were held on 6 December. Protesters also called on citizens to participate in a national referendum led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó (Diálogo Américas, 29 November 2020) (for more on this, see ACLED’s recent infographic Social Unrest in the Lead-up to Parliamentary Elections in Venezuela). Since 2018, Guaidó and Nicolás Maduro have been in a power struggle over Venezuela’s presidency. Guaidó and some of the main opposition parties have alleged that the elections this year were rigged. They maintain that the bodies that run the elections are made up of people appointed by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court. Hence, the opposition called on people to boycott the election. In the meantime, they are holding their own referendum, between 7 to 12 December, to ask the people whether they approve of what Maduro is doing and if they still want him in office. Maduro’s alliance swept to victory in the boycotted legislative elections, securing 67% of seats in the National Assembly, thus gaining control of the last major branch of government outside his grasp (BBC, 7 December 2020).
Finally, in Brazil, last week was marked by violent bank robberies in the modus operandi known as ’new cangaço.’ The ’new cangaço’ name comes from the ‘old cangaço’, which took place in the Northeast of Brazil between 1870 to 1930. This modality of crime includes the actions of heavily organized armed groups that besiege small- and medium-sized cities and intimidate local populations. Their practices consist of blowing up bank agencies, post offices, ATMs, and lottery houses. This phenomenon is the backbone of other types of actions carried out by organized criminal organizations. The stolen money from these financial institutions is used for the groups’ acquisition of new technologies and weapons, hence bolstering organized crime in the country (Revista Jus Navigandi, September 2018). These events are increasing in the country, with 126 attacks recorded in 2018 and 195 recorded between 2019 and 2020.
In the city of Criciúma, Santa Catarina state, a group of at least 30 armed individuals blasted explosives at a bank and fired high-caliber weapons against the police in the midst of a heist. The group used at least 200kg of explosive material. Moreover, they took civilians hostage and used them as human shields, setting up barricades strategically to hinder state forces from reaching the area. A shoot-out took place against the military police and one officer was injured. Twelve people have already been arrested for the attack, among them members of the First Capital Command (PCC) (Zero Hora, 5 December 2020). Similarly, another attack took place in the city of Cametá, Pará state. A group of 10 armed individuals with high-caliber weapons blew up a bank and took civilians hostage, using them as human shields. One civilian was killed during the attack. The group then clashed with the military police (O Liberal, 2 December 2020). On a smaller scale, similar events happened in other states, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Maranhão.
Elsewhere last week in Brazil, at least 54 people were killed in armed clashes between organized armed groups and the police. As well, at least 39 civilians were killed in violent attacks perpetrated by criminal organizations. An armed clash between the Third Pure Command (TCP) and the Red Command (CV) was also reported, lasting for four days in a row in the city of São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro state, over the territorial control of the Alma Complex.
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