South America Newsletter October 2023

Dear Friends,

This month we bring you news that:

  • Region – Amnesty denounces the failure of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile to protect Venezuelan refugees.
  • Colombia – We are calling for a fundamental reform of the National Police in a petition you can sign.
  • Brazil – Ana Marian Santos Cruz, who is seeking justice for the police killing of her son, is our new Write For Rights case in 2023.
  • Brazil – Good news from the Supreme Court on Indigenous land rights and thanks for taking action.
  • Venezuela – We have added John Álvarez, a student and keen musician, to our ongoing campaign for the release of nine victims of detention.
  • Chile – We have a new solidarity action for the Women’s Water Defenders.
  • Argentina – there are fears that the leader in the polls for this month’s Presidential elections will reverse the newly won right to abortion.
  • Paraguay – Amnesty has expressed its concerns on a new law which would ban mentioning gender identity in schools. 


Picture on cover of new Amnesty report

In a new report, Regularize and Protect: International obligations for the protection of Venezuelan nationals, Amnesty has revealed that Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile are failing to comply with their obligations under international law to protect those fleeing Venezuela in order to safeguard their lives, integrity and human rights.   Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile are home to 70% of the 7.71 million Venezuelans who have fled Venezuela due to the complex humanitarian emergency and massive human rights violations in that country.


Pedro Juan Acosta Zabaleta, environmental defender killed  at home in Sucre Department 17 September 2023

Following on from the excessive use of force during the 2021 National Strike, Amnesty International is calling on the Government to reform the National Police, bringing the force under civilian control and making fundamental changes in the way it recruits, trains and operates. In this context, at least 84 people lost their lives, thousands were arbitrarily detained and more than 100 people sustained eye trauma.  You can still sign the petition, which is directed at President Petro and Ivan Velasquez, Defence Minister, who is responsible for the police.

The Colombian NGO Indepaz has updated its count of human rights defenders and social leaders killed up to 28 September this year. In this period, 129 have been killed with indigenous and field-worker community leaders particularly at risk. In the same period, 31 ex-combatants of the FARC, who had laid down their weapons complying with the 2016 Peace Accord, have also been killed.

Just in the month of September, The UN’s Office of Human Rights reports that 35,000 people were either forcibly displaced or suffered other restrictions due to the violence in rural areas of Colombia. 45% were indigenous and 55% Afro-Colombian. The majority were children.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence calls on Colombia’s response to the ongoing violence “must include strategies for an effective State presence in areas most affected by the conflict, comprehensive reparations for victims – including land restitution – and sustainable conditions for the return of victims, the reintegration of ex-combatants and the work of human rights defenders, including social leaders.”

Further to the Government’s recent negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army) which led to a 12-month ceasefire starting in July, it has now reached an agreement with the EMC-FARC, formed of FARC dissidents, to begin a 12-month ceasefire. Peace negotiations begin on 8 October. The EMC (Central General Staff) has a force of around 3,000. The Petro government hopes that successive ceasefires with the main armed groups will bring an end to the war in the country, and that unlike the 2016 Accord with the FARC, will not lead to other factions fighting to take over their territory.

WOLA carries an article titled ‘Reverse Land Reform’ which explains the background manoeuvring that has complicated land reform in Colombia. It asks, ‘Can companies who bought that land just a few years later really claim to have done so “in good faith?”’ This case study of land in Sucre, which had once been owned by mestizos, indigenous and Afro-Colombians, ended up being sold to Grupo Argos one of Colombia’s largest companies forty years later. In the intervening years, the paramilitary AUC and FARC guerrillas battled over the land, killing small land owners and forcing them off their land. Subsequent Administrations sought to intervene, using the Armed Forces and enacting policies which meant ‘The massive purchase of land was done at a surprising speed and with all kinds of trickery.’


Ana Maria Santos Cruz and her son Pedro Henrique

Amnesty International has included Ana Maria Cruz Santos in this year’s Write For Rights campaign. Ana Maria Santos Cruz, a mother who is seeking justice for the unlawful killing by the police of her son Pedro Henrique, a young Brazilian activist who advocated for racial justice and human rights. Despite ongoing threats and the grief of losing her child, Ana Maria has bravely sought the truth about his death, calling on the authorities for a thorough investigation and trial. Please write letters to the Brazilian authorities to demand justice and to show solidarity with Ana Maria.

Good news! 27 September the Supreme Court reaffirmed the original right of Indigenous Peoples to the exclusive use of their ancestral territories. This annuls a law which would have deprived indigenous groups from claiming land that they could not prove they had occupied before 1988. Thanks to all of you who responded to the two Urgent Actions.

Amnesty International is calling on Brazil to legalise abortion. In Brazil, the coming days could be decisive in advancing the decriminalization of abortion until 12 weeks of gestation through a vote reopened in the Supreme Federal Court by the minister and president, Rosa Weber, who, before retiring, voted in favour of reproductive rights for women, girls, and all people seeking access to abortion. In Brazil, according to official figures, one in 28 people trying to abort die from doing so in unsafe conditions. In this context, racial inequalities are evident: Black women are two times more likely to die during an unsafe abortion since they are 46% more likely to have one in the first place.

Amnesty International is demanding that three policemen, who have been charged with the killing of a 14-year old boy in May 2020, be tried by jury now.  João Pedro was at home in the favela Complexo de Salguero, in Rio State, when the National Police entered the favela. The house where João Pedro was staying was hit by more than 70 shots. Wounded in the stomach, he was taken from the scene by agents from the Special Resources Coordination (CORE), of the Civil Police. João remained missing for around 17 hours without his family having any clue as to his whereabouts. He was found three days later, dead, at the São Gonçalo IML (Legal Medical Institute). Three years have passed and there has been no progress in his case. Between 2014 and 2022, 767 children and adolescents were killed by police intervention in the State of Rio de Janeiro.

The Organisation of American States’ International Commission of Human Rights has expressed its concern at the excessive use of force and condemns the killing and wounding of children during police operations in Brazil. Since January, 19 children were wounded and 12 killed by police in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro. Six of the victims were under six years of age. More than 70% were Afro-Descendants.


This month, Amnesty International has presented its concerns regarding the worsening human rights crisis in Venezuela to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee, underlining the state’s concerted effort to silence dissent through arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and cruel treatment.

We also have added John Álvarez to our ongoing campaign for the release of nine victims of detention. John, a 24-year-old university student and keen musician, has been arbitrarily detained, temporarily disappeared, and reportedly been subject to severe acts of torture. We would ask all members to sign the petition linked, or to contact James Baird ( to talk about any other actions individuals might wish to take.

More widely, organisations such as Foro Penal and Justicia, Encuentro, y Pedron estimate that there are currently between 286 and 319 people who have been deprived of their liberty for political reasons in Venezuela, with Foro Penal stating that there have been around 15,700 politically motivated arbitrary arrests in Venezuela between 2014 and 2023. Violence against women continues to be prevalent, with a woman being a murdered every 24 hours according to the Observatorio Digital de Femicidios del Centro de Justicia y Paz.

Amnesty’s work coincides with a fourth report by the International Fact-Finding Mission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, highlighting widespread human rights violations including false imprisonment and torture. Amongst areas of focus was the Arco Minero gold mining region, an area that has been heavily militiarized and seen an increase in organized criminal gangs since being declared a National Strategic Development Zone, with local indigenous groups often victims of murder, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence.

The report noted that selective repression had been applied against political and social leaders in anticipation of the 2024 presidential elections, including the banning of potential presidential candidates such as Maria Corina Machado, who was regarding as the likely favourite by the polls. In response to the report, 45 countries, including the UK, have responded by demanding for the release of the political prisoners, free elections, and an end to repression, whilst countries such as Zimbabwe, China, and Russia spoke in favour of the Venezuelan government. The Maduro regime itself has dismissed members of the UN mission as “paid mercenaries”.

Earlier this month, the Venezuelan police raided and temporarily closed a gay club in Valencia, arresting 33 men on alleged charges of indecent outrage, noise pollution, and criminal association, prompting fears of a new government drive to criminalize homosexuality. Venezuela is one of the only countries in South America that does not recognize same-sex marriage; until 2023, being gay in the military was a crime punishable by prison. In the first quarter of this year, the Venezuelan Observatory on LGBTIQ+ Violence recorded at least 60 attacks against the gay committee, thirty percent of which were committed by a state agency.


A new Urgent Action for Chile has just been published; it’s not yet on the AIUK website. October 18th marks 4 years since peaceful protests started throughout Chile. These were heavily repressed by the Carabineros, in a way never seen since the Pinochet government. There have been several Amnesty International actions since relating to human rights violations that took place, including the ongoing case of Gustavo Gatica.

There have been 10,568 complaints of human rights violations during the period of social unrest, resulting in just 27 convictions. This action demands an end to impunity, particularly for the Carabineros’ commanders. You can find it here:-

We sent letters at our meeting on 5th October. This is a the letter we used.

It appears the Chilean ambassador in London, Susana Herrera-Quezada, has resigned (although she is still listed on the UK Government list). But please send a copy any letters/emails to
Ambassador of Chile,
Chilean Embassy in London,
37-41 Old Queen Street
London SW1H 9JA

We have been asked to do solidarity actions, rather than specific advocacy, for the Woman’s Water Defenders. Since 2010 in Petorca province there has been a battle against the industrial use of water at the expense of local communities. Those who campaign against become targets and subject to intimidation. The women who currently drive this campaign have received several death threats and other forms of intimidation. One had her house burnt down.

One of the Woman’s Water Defenders, Lorena Donaire, has her birthday on 23rd October. Please send a birthday message via AI Chile (, with a clear header (Lorena’s birthday) and message in Spanish or English. A suggested message is:-

Happy Birthday Lorena. I wish you a very special day. I admire you very much for your work as water defender. With you in solidarity. Best wishes.

 Feliz cumpleaños Lorena. Tedeseo un día muy especial. Te admiro mucho por tu trabajo como defensor del agua. Contigo en solidaridad. Mucha suerte.

 If you prefer to send a letter or a postcard please send it to Amnistía Internacional Chile, Almirante Riveros 043, Providencia, Santiago, Chile. They will collect all your messages and share them with Lorena on her birthday.

Chile 6 May 2023. Relatives of the disappeared planting the first trees in Chile.

Ecomemoria was launched in 2002 by Chilean exiles, with the planting of a tree (in Oxford) for Diana Frida Arón Svigilisky, a 24-year-old journalist who disappeared on 18 November 1974. After this, groups of Chileans around the world planted trees to embody the life, hopes and aspirations of each of the victims of the military dictatorship. The latest phase of this project was the purchase of land with the aim of planting more than 3,000 native trees at this site in Curacautín, in the south of Chile. To date they have planted 1300 trees, and hope to reach 3000 by this time next year. You can adopt a tree or donate, but Ecomemoria are keen for any promotion of the project on social media networks; you can follow them on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

Last month we mentioned that a National Plan for the Search for the Disappeared had just been launched by the government. This is the first coordinated attempt by the Chilean state to establish the conditions and circumstances in which each was forcibly disappeared. Two mothers recently recounted their own 50 year searches for their sons, who were both arrested but never seen again. In another story, a 22 year old describes how the coup scarred her family forever.

As well as the National Plan, President Boric marked the commemoration of the coup d’état with a “commitment for democracy”. This was jointly signed by his four living predecessors – Eduardo Frei, Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet, and Sebastián Piñera. The document hinges around four axes: “To care for and defend democracy,” “to face the challenges of democracy with more democracy,” “the defence and promotion of human rights,” and “to strengthen collaboration between States.”

ceremony on 11th September was attended by the Presidents of Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay. This was at the La Moneda palace, bombed during the coup that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende exactly 50 years previously.


ESMA, now renamed Museum and Site of Memory

On the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, September 28, human rights organisations and other activists marched in Buenos Aires and across Latin America. In Argentina they were highlighting their concerns that a change in government in this month’s elections will lead to losing the gains made. Current poll leader Javier Milei has made clear his opposition to abortion.   After a long struggle and massive rallies, Argentina became in 2020 one of the 50 countries that decriminalized abortion in the last three decades. But despite the change in law, access to abortion remains problematic and oppositionremains deep seated in parts of the country.

Argentina’s former Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA)– a military school turned secret detention centre, and now a Museum and Site of Memory – has been named a United Nations World Heritage Site. President Alberto Fernández thanked the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):- “The Navy School of Mechanics conveyed the absolute worst aspects of state-sponsored terrorism, memory must be kept alive”. Almost 5,000 people were abducted and held in the ESMA in its active participation in the Dirty War between 1976-1983; all except 150 were killed during or after interrogation and torture. As we mentioned in the April Newsletter, the last remaining aircraft used to facilitate “death flights” is now on display at this Museum and Site of of Memory.


Amnesty has presented a document to the Paraguayan Senate expressing its concerns about a bill “prohibiting the promotion, encouragement or teaching of gender ideology in the country’s educational institutions,” introduced to the Senate on 6 July.  The bill further states that non-compliance would result in “criminal and/or administrative sanctions,” but does not establish the state body responsible for its enforcement nor specify what sanctions would be imposed in the case of non-compliance.

All the best,

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia and Brazil), David Rogers (Argentina and Chile), James Baird (Venezuela) and Graham Minter (rest of South America). And please don’t forget that you can follow us on our Facebook page and Twitter.