South America Newsletter June 2018

We report on the further deterioration in the livelihood of Venezuelans and continued violence in Colombia, where we ask you to respond to 2 urgent actions. If you haven’t done so yet, please sign the petition on environmental defenders in Peru and Paraguay. There is also a new petition asking for justice for 10 Brazilian field workers murdered by the police last year. Graham and Richard report on visits to the FCO and Colombian embassy. And we have good news from Venezuela.


Last month, we sent you a link to a new Amnesty report A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay and encouraged you to share it on social media.  Please also sign the petition here

On 11 May Graham called on the FCO desk officers for Peru and Paraguay and handed over a request that the British Embassies in those two countries urge their host governments to adopt a policy of protection towards land and environmental defenders and implement the recommendations in the report.

Separately, Amnesty has called on the Peruvian authorities to stop misusing the criminal justice system to harass human rights defenders, following the decision of a regional High Court of Justice to overturn a judgement of acquittal and initiate new proceedings against three environmental defenders from the southern province of Espinar.  Oscar Mollohuanca Cruz, Herbert Huamán and Sergio Huamaní are accused of endangering public safety, obstructing public services and causing civil unrest.  The charges are based solely on their role as community leaders, thus automatically considering them the organizers of the protests and responsible for all criminal activity or damage caused. The three defenders were acquitted last year due to lack of evidence but the Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed the decision.  More information here:


Venezuela held Presidential elections on 20 May. As expected, President Maduro was re-elected for a second six-year term. Most of the opposition parties and their senior figures called for a boycott of the election as they, along with many outside observers, considered that they would not be free or fair.  The election had the lowest voter turnout in Venezuela’s democratic history.  Here is an interesting House of Commons briefing paper on the subject, written before the elections.

Last month, we lobbied the British Government requesting that its representatives on the Executive Board of the Global Fund to Combat HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis support a proposal to adopt different criteria to assist countries in crisis. This issue has potentially important implications for Venezuela in light of the current health crisis in the country.  Amnesty is calling for joint action by the Venezuelan Government and the international community to guarantee the rights to health and food in Venezuela.  We are pleased to report the good news that the Global Fund board decided by consensus to move ahead on the new criteria to assist countries with sudden health crisis situations like Venezuela.

As an illustration of the gravity of the crisis, here is an interesting article about a young Venezuelan woman who is one of thousands who have left Venezuela for Colombia to give birth as she was concerned at the risk of having her baby in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government has not published public health data for years.  However, a health bulletin accidentally published last year (and quickly removed) revealed that maternal mortality increased by 65% between 2015 and 2016. wiping out recent advances and returning to the situation that prevailed 25 years ago.

Early last month, we circulated an Urgent Action, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of two prisoners of conscience, Gregory Hinds and Geraldine Chacón, who were arbitrarily detained in the custody of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, which had refused to comply with a warrant for their release.  There have since been reports of a riot in the prison where they are being held.  We understand that prisoners were demanding the release of every person with a release order in their name.  Stop Press and Good News: Gregory and Geraldine were finally released on 1 June.


A Human Rights Watch (HRW) delegation met President Lenín Moreno in Quito on 29 May to discuss the status of human rights in the country and the government’s foreign policy.  HRW noted that the Moreno administration had taken positive steps during its first year, including ending the previous government’s practice of publicly threatening and harassing independent journalists, human rights defenders and critics.  It had also allowed public media outlets to have an independent editorial line and had proposed a reform to the laws introduced by the previous government to regulate the work of non-governmental organisations, which had been used to punish critics.  They noted that measures were still needed to change the legal provisions that gave the government excessive power to restrict fundamental human rights.  Details here.


The future of the Peace Accord with the FARC has been thrown into doubt after the first round of the Presidential elections.  Ivan Duque, protégé of the former President Alvaro Uribe,  won the first round with 39% of the vote, while the left wing Mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, came in second with 24%. The runoff election between Duque and Petro takes place on 17 June. The Guardian report is here. Duque has said he would ‘modify’ the terms of the Peace Accord, not tear it apart.

In an action promoted by Amnesty International, all 5 presidential candidates affirmed their support for human rights.

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action on behalf of  the binational Indigenous Yukpa people living in Cúcuta  in the east of Colombia. A hostel where more than 300 Indigenous Yukpa people from Venezuela were living, was attacked by an unidentified armed group, presumably paramilitaries. Community representatives report receiving direct threats to their life and integrity and that the Colombian authorities have remained silent in the face of these events. Please write, copying His Excellency  Nestor Osorio, Embassy of Colombia, 3 Hans Crescent, London SW1X 0LN, Tel 0207 5899777,

Early last month we sent you an Urgent Action on Yet Another Environmental Defender Killed, of the Living Rivers Movement. In less than a week, a second member of the Movement was killed.  The lives of other Ríos Vivos members are at risk as they continue demonstrating against the Hidroituango hydroelectric project. Please write to the authorities in the UA. In relation to the Hidroituango hydroelectric project, Amnesty has signed a public statement by 23 NGOs calling on the Colombian authorities to  protect the Living Rivers Movement and investigate the murders of the Movement’s members.

Further, Amnesty calls on “The Colombian state to take urgent action to provide assistance to all those affected by the predictable flooding caused by the Hidroituango hydroelectric project. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and must be provided with assistance without delay.”

Richard met the head of AUGURA, the banana growers association at the Colombian embassy. Many growers are located in Urabá, near to the Peace Community of San Jose Apartadó and to the Chocó, where so much violence is continuing.  AUGURA refuses to pay protection money and supports the activity of HRDs in the area. The financial benefits of Fair Trade (and the UK is their biggest market) have revolutionised the standard of living of the coops, small growers and their employees. AUGURA is also promoting avocado growing and other tropical crops in the region.


Marielle Franco

murdered activist Marielle Franco

Amnesty Brazil reports that after 10 rural workers were killed in a joint action by the civilian and military police at the Santa Lúcia farm (Pará), which resulted in the murder of 10 rural landless workers, no-one has been charged. In the last year, the number of people murdered in field conflicts documented by the Pastoral Land Commission has reached 70 – the highest number since 2003. To sign the petition demanding investigation and justice, sign here.

On the Army’s intervention in the truckers strike, Amnesty Brazil issued a press release 25 May stating that ‘the authorization of the use of the Armed Forces, throughout the national territory, to control the highways obstructed by truck drivers on strike is extremely worrying. The role of the Armed Forces is not to act in protests, demonstrations and strikes.’ For more (in Portuguese) read here

In a further statement (in Portuguese) on the assassination in Rio of the politician and HRD Marielle Franco, AI Brazil has asked for an impartial investigation following the claim that the Police weapons used in the attack were stolen from the Post Office.

All the best,

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia and Brazil) and Graham Minter (Rest of South America).