Latin America: Week in Review

Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán dead at 86

September 13, 2021 By Staff


PERU: Abimael Guzmán, the guerrilla leader who led a rebel group in a bloody protracted war against the Peruvian state died in prison on Saturday at the age of 86. Guzmán, also known as Chairman Gonzalo, was the founder of the Maoist guerrilla organization the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path.

A former university professor, Guzmán led Shining path to take up arms against the government in 1980, leading to what would become.the deadliest civil conflict in Peru’s history as an independent country.

 Shining Path championed the cause of dispossessed campesinos and indigenous people, and won the support of many across rural Peru. But the group was also known for indiscriminate violence against civilians, notably in a 1983 massacre of 69 peasants in Lucanamarca, Ayacucho, and a 1992 car bombing on Tarata street in the Miraflores district of Lima. In total, around 70,000 people were killed in the conflict, which began to wind down after Guzmán was arrested in 1992 and told his followers to lay down their arms a year later. Since then, smaller armed groups associated with Shining Path have continued to operate in the country.

Politicians from across the political spectrum reacted to Guzmán’s death with statements condemning his legacy, including President Pedro Castillo, who blamed Guzmán for “the loss of countless lives.”


BRAZIL: President Jair Bolosonaro issued a provisional measure effectively banning social media platforms from censoring posts or accounts that spread false information last week. 

The measure prohibits social media companies from removing or suspending posts or user accounts except for certain violations. Misinformation and disinformation are not among the causes provided for in the order, which include nudity, pedophilia, terrorism, and encouragement of drug use.

The measure was published amidst tension between Bolsonaro and Brazil’s courts concerning the President’s repeated claims at rallies and on social media that the country’s voting system is vulnerable to fraud. Polling low in popularity ahead of next year’s Presidential elections in Brazil, commentators have suggested that Bolsonaro is attempting to discredit the election result should he lose.

CHILE: Declassified documents published last week by the National Security Archive (NSA) show that Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) helped destabilize the Socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Memoranda and reports reveal that then-Australian Foreign Minister William McMahon approved installation of a clandestine office in Santiago in December 1970. ASIS agents arrived in the Chilean capital in mid-1971 and worked with local informants to feed intelligence to the CIA.

A Labor government replaced the Liberal administration in Australia at the end of 1972 and the new prime minister, Gough Whitlam, ordered ASIS to cease operations in Chile. The Santiago base was shut down in July 1973 but it is believed that an agent remained behind even after the coup on September 11.


VENEZUELA: Fugitive former Venezuelan intelligence officer Hugo Carvajal was arrested by Spanish police in Madrid last week on the request of United States prosecutors. U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York say that Carvajal was involved in a conspiracy to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States and that he gave support to the Colombian rebel group FARC when he was military intelligence chief from 2004 to 2011.

 In 2019, Carvajal broke with Maduro and threw his support behind opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Later that year, he fled to Spain, where he was briefly detained by Spanish authorities before becoming a fugitive.

 Carvajal’s lawyer says that the drug charges are false and that she will oppose the extradition request.


REGION: The first-ever summit between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union was convened last week. The meeting explored ways to foster greater integration of peoples, trade and investment and discussed solidarity in addressing global issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The heads of state and government also acknowledged the historic and cultural ties connecting the regions.

The summit was part of a renewed push from regional leaders to stimulate relations between the Caribbean and Africa. Between 2018 and 2020, there were several cross-Atlantic visits and plans are in place for the establishment of a CARICOM diplomatic mission in Nairobi, Kenya. In mid-2020, at the invitation of the African Union, CARICOM member states joined the African Medical Supplies Platform to facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines.

HAITI: The government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and opposition parties reached an agreement on Saturday to avoid further civil conflict. 

The agreement mandates that elections be held by the end of 2022 and sets a three-month timeline for the drafting of a new constitution. A revised constitution had been the major project of President Jovenel Moïse before his assassination on July 7. A new 33-member National Constituent Assembly will be charged with carrying out this task.

In the interim, the parties have agreed that Prime Minister Henry will govern the country with the support of a non-partisan Council of Ministers. The provisional cabinet must be assigned before Monday, September 20.


EL SALVADOR: El Salvador officially adopted Bitcoin as its national currency on Tuesday, becoming the first country to do so. The law to make the cryptocurrency legal tender was passed in June of this year, but experts have warned that it could cause problems in the future and add risks to the country’s already fragile economy.

On Tuesday, hundreds of protestors marched in the capital, San Salvador, to oppose the adoption of Bitcoin as an official currency. The new currency had a rocky start, with a government-made digital wallet called Chivo going offline, and the price of the cryptocurrency plunging 9%.

The administration of President Nayib Bukele says that using Bitcoin as an official currency will expand access to financial products and make it easier for Salvadorans to send and receive remittances.

NICARAGUA: The latest casualty in Nicaragua’s crackdown on opposition figures is writer and politician Sergio Ramírez, a prominent novelist and onetime ally of President Daniel Ortega. Prosecutors ordered the arrest of the 79-year-old writer last week for “inciting hate and violence.” Ramírez was out of the country when the warrant was issued, and says that he will not return. 

Ramírez was a supporter of the Sandinista revolution that toppled the dictatorship of the Somoza family in 1979, and served as vice president under President Daniel Ortega from 1985 to 1990. Ramírez broke with Ortega in 1995 and founded a rival political party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).


MEXICO: Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that criminal penalties for people who receive abortions violate the country’s constitution. The ruling opens the way for people facing prosecution across the country for receiving abortions to have the charges dropped. Almost all Mexican states have laws on the books that mandate jail time for people who receive abortions. The only states that do not are Hidalgo, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Mexico City. 

The court ruling only invalidated a law criminalizing abortion in the border state of Coahuila. But it also means that abortion bans in 27 other states can also be invalidated if they are challenged.  

MEXICO: A 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the southwestern state of Guerrero on Tuesday, leaving at least three people dead and damaging almost 8,000 homes. The earthquake’s epicenter was 14 kilometers from the city of Acapulco, and it caused damage in 40 of the 81 municipalities of the state of Guerrero. It was also felt in Mexico City. Over a million people in Guerrero were left without electricity. On Sunday, Governor Hector Astudillo said that electricity had been restored to almost all of the localities which had lost service. The quake also covered roads with debris, leaving them unpassable. Army teams are working to clear roads, including the Tlapa-Marquelia highway and the Acapulco-Chilpancingo highway.