South America Newsletter February 2017

The latest newsletter from the South America Team at AIUK . In this month’s newsletter, they encourage us to write to the authorities in Brazil urging them to tackle the rising tide of killings in the country’s prisons.  There is some good news from Colombia but trade union leaders and human rights defenders remain under threat.  In Argentina, security forces have again attacked a Mapuche indigenous community.  Amnesty has expressed concern about the continued crackdowns against the opposition in Venezuela.


We urgently need you to take action for recent killings in Brazil’s prisons. Since January 1st over 120 inmates have died during riots and disturbances in north and north-eastern states. In January’s first week over 90 men were killed in prisons in the states of Amazonas and Roraima – some were beheaded and others were dismembered. A week later, 26 men were killed and another nine severely injured during a riot between criminal gangs in Alcaçuz prison in Nisia Floresta. The deaths of these men were equally grisly with reports of some being burned to death.

The details of these deaths are shocking but they were preventable. Last year the National Council of Justice and the National Mechanism on the Prevention of Torture denounced the degrading and inhumane conditions in prisons and called on the authorities to take urgent action, but nothing has been done to date. Human Rights Watch have a particularly good article on the subject. For those of you interested, there is also a video showing the harrowing realities of life inside Brazil’s prisons.
Furthermore, the authorities’ reaction to these killings has been unacceptable. Several members of the Brazilian Government have issued inappropriate statements, such as the National Secretary for Youth Bruno Julio who stated that

“They should have killed more. There should be one massacre every week.”

We urgently need you to write to the Brazilian authorities to let them know that human rights are universal and that prisoners have a right to life too. Sample letter Brazil Prisons and Targets Brazil Prisons to

In other worrying news, Amazon Watch are reporting that Brazil has stopped demarcating land for indigenous peoples. This information apparently comes from a Government official working for FUNAI, the Brazilian environmental agency, who also states that conservative politicians are proposing constitutional amendments to weaken the territorial rights of indigenous peoples further.


Good news! After three and a half years in preventative detention, Huber Ballesteros, leader of the field-workers’ union FENSUAGRO, has been released. Thanks to all of you who wrote to the Colombian authorities on his behalf.

However, the pressure against trade union leaders and human rights defenders continues. Front Line Defenders reports that 85 human rights defenders were killed in 2016 in Colombia, more than any other country on the globe. And the rate of killings continues in January, mainly in rural areas.

Human Rights Watch inform that former paramilitaries  continue to displace people from their homes,  with nearly 2,000 people fleeing their homes just in Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port, in the first 10 months of 2016. In October, the former President’s brother, Santiago Uribe, was charged with murder and association with one of the paramilitary groups.

The ELN (National Liberation Army) continues to commit serious abuses against civilians including kidnappings, killings, forced displacement, and child recruitment in the province of Chocó, notes Human Rights Watch. The ELN continued in 2016 to use antipersonnel landmines. Peace negotiations between the ELN and the government are due to begin in February. Ideas for Action Columbia

Amnesty’s Colombia team at the International Secretariat, already reduced to one person, will shortly be replaced by a newly recruited team in Lima.


There is an increasing environment of stigmatization and persecution of the indigenous Mapuche peoples in Argentina. National authorities have labelled communities as “threats to social security”. The existence of the Mapuche peoples predates the establishment of the Argentine state and this is recognized in the Argentine Constitution. However,in practice, Indigenous people continue to face obstacles when claiming their rights, particularly in relation to control of their territories and natural resources.

On 10 and 11 January security forces violently repressed members of the Mapuche community of Cushamen in southern Argentina. Over 200 Gendarme guards carried out a lockdown operation, closing off all the access points to the Indigenous land inhabited by the community. The community were subjected to beatings, use of batons, women having their hair pulled, and harassment of children. At least 10 members of the community and their allies were arrested. You can appeal to the Argentine authorities here.


The Venezuelan Government is continuing to crack down on anyone who dares to voice an opinion contrary to its policies, using charges of conspiracy to try to justify irregular detentions. The latest wave of arrests targeted leaders and members of Leopoldo Lopez’s opposition party Voluntad Popular, who have been accused of “terrorist activities”.  Amnesty issued a press release calling on the Venezuelan authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and public and peaceful assembly, without discrimination of any kind.”