South America Newsletter February 2019

In this month’s newsletter, we report on the deteriorating human rights situation in Venezuela, growing concerns about human rights in Brazil and continuing threats faced by Human Rights Defenders in Colombia.  There are also updates on Ecuador (which has imposed unfair restrictions for Venezuelans), Peru (where Fujimori has been sent back to prison), Ecuador and Paraguay


Following the inauguration of President Maduro for a second term, and amid anti-government protests Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition and head of the National Assembly, has challenged the president’s legitimacy and declared himself interim president.  Many nations, including the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain and most of Latin America have officially recognized Guaidó’s presidency.  Others, including China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia still support Maduro.

The US has announced sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company.  Venezuela’s military attaché in Washington has defected, saying he stands with Guaidó in the power struggle.  US national security adviser John Bolton has warned the Maduro government that violence against the political opposition, including Guaidó, would be met with stern reprisals.  Maduro has accused the US of orchestrating a coup to remove him from the presidency.

Venezuela’s top military brass have shown unflinching loyalty to Maduro, with their declarations in support of his regime airing in a loop on state television.  Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has said Venezuelan soldiers would die for their government.

According to the UN Human Rights Office, at least 40 Venezuelans have died in the recent protests. According to the UN Human Rights Council, 850 people have been detained since January 23. 

Amnesty have called on Maduro and his colleagues to stop the repression and guarantee the life and physical integrity of those who demonstrate against them andto release the at least 11 journalists detained while covering the crisis.  


A Guardian article dated 4 January reveals that the newly-elected governor of Rio de Janeiro confirmed plans to implement shoot-to-kill policing tactics in the city.  Wilson Witzel, a former federal judge who unexpectedly won the governorship in October, said in a radio interview that Rio security forces were authorised to use lethal force against suspects.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern about acts of violence against rural workers that occurred on 5 January at a rural estate in the State of Mato Grosso.  The IACHR has urged the Brazilian State to investigate these reports with due diligence and address the structural causes of these acts of violence, linked to access to land.

According to public information, on 5 January, members of the security forces of the Bauru Agricultural Treasury shot rural workers on their way to the Traíra River to get water.  One person, identified as Eliseo Queres, was killed and nine others were reportedly injured, three of whom were in a serious state.

According to Reuters, Brazil’s leading prosecutor has called on the government to respect the land rights of 900,000 indigenous citizens amid threats of land invasions since Bolsonaro took office in Janaury.  Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge said indigenous land rights were protected and guaranteed in Brazil’s constitution.  Dodge said Bolsonaro’s government needed to explain its intentions in the face of growing international community concern for Brazil’s indigenous population.

Amnesty has called on the State and federal authorities to act promptly and make available all available resources to ensure the rescue of the 200 people missing after the dam disruption in Minas Gerais and to ensure immediate access to housing, drinking water, food, health care and subsistence for all those who have been impacted.  Amnesty has also called for an immediate, impartial, independent and detailed investigation into the rupture of the dam and the possible responsibilities of individuals, companies and institutions. 


Alfamir Castillo

Amnesty has issued an Urgent Action: On 11 January, two unidentified men in a motorbike shot three times at the car of Alfamir Castillo (picture below) in a rural area of Valle del Cauca Department, southern Colombia. Alfamir Castillo was with her husband and two bodyguards granted by the National Protection Unit. They were not injured. Alfamir Castillo has faced several threats and attacks for years as she is seeking justice for the unlawful killing of her son by members of the Colombian armed forces. She was in Amnesty Spain’s human rights defender protection programme in 2015-2016 and then decided to return to Colombia. Please write to the authorities in the terms recommended in the action.

The UN Human Rights Office issued a statement by its Special Rapporteur on HRDs (Forst) on the alarming increase in killings of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia. “Human rights defenders in Colombia are operating in a coercive and unsafe environment,” Forst said at the end of a 14-day visit to Colombia. “Not only that, they are also depicted by different sectors of society as guerrillas, ‘the internal enemy’, ‘informants’, or as being ‘anti-development’. In rural areas, where the State absence is coupled with a heavy presence of organised and illegal armed groups, defenders are an easy target for those who see them and their human rights agenda as an obstacle to their interests,” warned the expert. “I was stunned to learn that for US$100 anyone could ‘get away with murder’, or at least hire a hit-man (sicario).” For the full statement, click here.

Colombia Peace Monitoring reviews the first year of work by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). So far, 800,000 victims of the civil war have registered with the JEP while nearly 12,000 participants, including nearly 10,000 former FARC rebels and 2,000 members of the Colombian Armed Forces have offered to testify. The review outlines the main challenges facing the JEP, including political opposition from elements of the FARC and the right-wing Uribe faction in Congress.

The London Mining Network reports ‘On 16 January 2019, 50 people from the community of Roche staged a non-violent occupation of part of the vast Cerrejon coal mine – owned by London-listed multinationals Anglo American, BHP and Glencore – to demand respect for their rights as people of African descent and to pressure the Cerrejon Coal company into good-faith negotiations over a range of issues.’ ‘After tense negotiations at the mine, community members and Cerrejón agreed to continue negotiations to address concerns and accepted the mediation offered by the La Guajira Governor.’ The displacement of Afro-descendant communities by the mine owners goes back to 2001.

In another resource extraction controversy, Amazon Frontlines reports on the indigenous Siona people’s opposition to the British oil company Amersur’s plans to extract oil in their home in the Amazon rain forest. They fear that were this project to go ahead, they would face ‘physical and cultural extinction’.


The Ecuadorian Government have imposed entry restrictions for Venezuelan people which is effectively preventing Venezuelans from entering the country, for example by demanding a criminal record certificate.  Amnesty have called on the government to stop imposing unfair restrictions that foment xenophobia and stop people in need of international protection, highlighting the government’s responsibility to protect people’s rights to seek asylum and international protection.   


Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori has returned to prison to finish the remaining 13 years of his 25-year sentence for human rights crimes and corruption.  A court-appointed medical panel concluded last week that Fujimori, 80, was healthy enough to be forced to leave the local hospital where he was rushed for treatment in October, immediately after a judge annulled a pardon granted to him in 2017.


In the UN’s Periodic Review of Uruguay’s human rights performance, the UK welcomed the country’s positive record in promoting freedom of expression and independent media, as well as its progressive legislation particularly in promoting gender equality and LGBTI rights.

However, the UK remained concerned that men still held the vast majority of leadership positions in government, business and politics; and was also concerned by the growing levels of domestic violence committed against women.


Bruno Almada Comas, a young queer artist, was accused of “acts of exhibitionism” and risked prison, based on a performance denouncing violence and discrimination against LGBTI people in Paraguay. He has now accepted an agreement for a conditional suspension of the criminal procedure. If he complies with the conditions imposed, the case will be closed.  No further action is requested.  Many thanks to those who sent appeals.

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia), David Palmer (Brazil) and Graham Minter (rest of South America).