News Timeline: Latin America 2017


January 28 – Colombia
The Colombian government and the FARC rebels agree to a joint program to eradicate cocaine production by offering coca farmers incentives to grow other crops. Farmers will receive monthly payments, if they grow other produce such as fruit trees or cacao. FARC relied on coca production and dominated cocaine trafficking to fund its insurgency.

March 7 – Brazil
Brazil has been in recession for the last two years. Its economy has shrunk by 3.6 percent, while unemployment has risen to over 11 percent.[1] The country’s economy has been disrupted by falling demand for its products, as well as corruption at the highest levels of government and big companies.

May 15 – Mexico
A well-known Mexican journalist, Javier Valdez Cárdenas, is murdered in broad daylight in Culiacan city, Sinaloa, just blocks away from the Ríodoce newspaper offices where he worked.  Mexico’s northwestern state of Sinaloa is known for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s powerful drug cartel. Valdez Cárdenas was a recipient of several international awards for his writings on drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. He had written several books, the latest of which, was “Narcoperiodismo” (Narco-Journalism) published last year. He often spoke of the risks facing reporters in Mexico. Mexico is one of the deadliest countries for the media, with journalists threatened and often executed when they cover organized crime or political corruption. The broadcast media in Mexico is highly concentrated, with two media groups owning almost all the TV channels.[2] Mexico is ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. It measures the media freedom based on pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework, and safety of journalists in each country.[3]
Check freedom of press in other countries.

May 22 – Venezuela
Venezuela enters an eight week of mass anti-government, often violent, demonstrations. Within that time, 48 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.[4] These include pro- and anti-government protesters, as well as bystanders. Protesters demand President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation and new elections. The opposition blames the government for a severe economic crisis with shortages of food, basic goods and medicine. The country remains in recession with its economic growth at negative 7.4 and unemployment at over 25 percent. Inflation jumped from 255 percent in 2016 to 720 percent in 2017.[5]

June 13 – Panama 
Panama cuts diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establishes diplomatic recognition with China. Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee accuses the Panamanian government of ignoring decades of Taiwan’s assistance to Panama and giving in to economic interests by People’s Republic of China.[6] The situation is caused by China’s “One-China policy”, the view that there is only one “China”. In practice this means that countries seeking diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China must break official relations with Taiwan, officially the Republic of China. There are only 20 countries that still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.[7]

July 14 – Colombia
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that area of land being used to cultivate coca leaf in Colombia has increased by 52 percent in one year to overall 146,000 hectares in 2016, and the production of cocaine by 34 percent to overall 866 metric tons in 2016.[8] However, the seizure of cocaine has also increased to 378 tons in 2016. One reason contributing to this expansion in coca growing is the decision by Colombia’s government to stop the eradication of coca crops by spraying them with herbicides due to health concerns.[9] Another reason is the peace agreement with the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which controlled much of the drug-producing areas. The deal lays grounds for the eradication of coca crops by giving farmers incentives to grow substitute crops. Some farmers, however, have taken advantage of the delays in shaping the crop substitution policy and started growing coca counting on receiving subsidies later to eradicate the crops.[10]

July 28 – Brazil
Brazil begins to deploy 10,000 soldiers to the state of Rio de Janeiro to help police fight surging crime. Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, signed an executive order allowing the troops to stay in Rio until the end of the year.[11] Police are lacking resources and equipment, and dozens of police officers have been killed in Rio this year alone. Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute (ISP) raises the alarm that crime in Brazil, but especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro has been on the rise. Its data shows that February 2017 was one of the most violent months in the state’s history. In relation to February 2016, violent death rates increased by 28.1 percent (616 victims) and vehicle thefts by 40.3 percent (4,287 stolen vehicles). At the same time, the number of homicides resulting from police action in Rio has also increased by 71 percent in February 2017 compared to February of last year, with a total of 84 recorded deaths.[12] Amnesty International expresses its concerns about growing police homicide rates and other human rights violations in Brazil.[13] ISP also points out that while thefts and violent deaths increased the number of arrests and the number of guns apprehended by police decreased by 25 percent.[14]
More interactive statistics about homicide rates around the world from the Agarapé Institute.

July 30 – Venezuela
Venezuelans vote in a controversial election for 545 members for a constituent assembly. The election was organized by President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the existing constitution drafted and passed in 1999 when President Hugo Chavez was in office. The opposition denounced the election as Maduro’s attempt to grab more power and prolong his presidential term and boycotted it. It also organized its own unofficial referendum two weeks earlier and claims that more than seven million people rejected the idea of the constituent assembly. The opposition leaders reject the official numbers of 41 percent of voter turnout (more than 8 million voters) and accuse the government of inflating the number of voters, fraud, and voter intimidation. The election did not have independent observers. Since the opposition coalition boycotted the vote and did not field any candidates, the assembly will be staffed with Maduro’s supporters, including his wife and close allies. The day of the election is marred by widespread violent protests in which several people are killed. The opposition calls for more protests.[15]

September 1 – Brazil
According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Brazil’s Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development, explorers find new species of plants or animals in the Brazilian Amazon every day. Between 2014 and 2015, the team collected credible reports of 381 newly described species, including 216 plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals, 19 reptiles, and one bird. The most surprising finds include a new monkey named the fire-tailed zogue-zogue and a new river dolphin.[16] However, all the newly discovered animals and plants are in areas of the Amazon at risk from human activity, such as farming and logging. Some of the new species have been already labeled as endangered.
Report on New Species of Vertebrates and Plants in the Amazon

September 1 – Colombia
As it is transitioning into a new civilian political party, Colombia’s former armed rebel group FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – changes its name to the Alternative Revolutionary Force for the Common People, retaining the same acronym. As part of the peace process, the group finished disarming, ending the 50-year armed conflict with the government. In 2018, FARC will run in the country’s general elections. These elections are important in making sure that the terms of the settlement between the group and the government are upheld over time, which will build a long-lasting peace.[17]

September 7 – The Caribbean 
The highest level category-five Hurricane Irma, with sustained wind speeds of 180 miles/h, roars through Caribbean countries and territories, hits the U.S. state of Florida, then weakens to a tropical storm as it moves through the state of Georgia and South Carolina. The hurricane cuts off power to large areas and causes massive destruction and flooding, especially in the Caribbean and Florida Keys, leaving millions without power. The storm will have a huge long-term economic impact on these areas. Estimates for the costs of Hurricane Irma range between $50 billion to $100 billion, just a few weeks after disastrous Hurricane Harvey estimated to be the costliest in US history with economic impact of $190 billion.[18] According to FEMA, Hurricane Irma destroyed a quarter of the homes in the Florida Keys and badly damaged many more.[19]
Hurricane Irma: Damage mapped

September 18 – The Caribbean Islands / Puerto Rico
Another category-five storm, Hurricane Maria, with sustaining winds of up to 175 m/h, roars through the Caribbean, hitting a small island of Dominica and then the US Virgin Islands. It causes widespread destruction and kills 34 people.[20] (September 20): With winds as strong as 140 m/h, Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico, unleashing torrential rains, catastrophic flooding, and killing a dozen people. It causes widespread structural damage and knocks out power and telephone services across the entire island. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello described the hurricane as “the most devastating storm in a century” and said that Maria had hit the island’s electricity grid so badly that it could take months to restore power.[21] Puerto Rico is the U.S. island territory with more than 3.3 million people who are U.S. citizens.[22] The hurricane devastation makes Puerto Rico’s economic situation even harder. Approximately $123 billion in debt that has accumulated since the territory’s 2006 recession, Puerto Rico sought bankruptcy relief in federal court in May of this year.[23]
In pictures: Dominica’s desolation ‘beyond imagination’
Puerto Rico profile

November 8 – Colombia
Colombian police seize 12 tons of cocaine in the largest single drug seizure in the country’s history.[24] Worth $360 million, the drugs were buried in four banana plantations and belonged to Dairo Úsuga, aka Otoniel, the leader of a criminal gang, the Gulf’s Clan. The Gulf’s Clan is Colombia’s most powerful paramilitary group. Its main source of income comes from drug trafficking and other organized crime rackets.[25] Potential cocaine production in Colombia in 2016 was 866 tons with a total value of $560 million.[26]

December 13 – Colombia
One of Colombia’s largest and strongest paramilitary organizations and drug trafficking-gangs, the Gulf Clan, also known as Los Urabeños, declares a unilateral ceasefire to help bring about peace.[27] Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos described the Gulf Clan as one of the biggest threats to security since a peace was signed last year with Marxist-led Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.[28] In 2014, the gang had 3,400 members, but because it contracts its operations to smaller criminal gangs, the group’s total manpower and network is much larger.[29] It controls many of the routes used to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the United States, and as far away as Russia. In recent months, however, key figures of the group have been either killed or arrested in joint police and military operations.[30]


[1] The International Monetary Fund. World Economic Outlook Database. 16 January 2017. Web. Accessed 12 April 2017.
[2] Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “Mexico: Constant violence and fear.” 2017. Accessed 24 May 2017.
[3] Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “2017 World Press Freedom Index.” 2017. Accessed 24 May 2017.
[4] “Venezuela protests: Man set alight as death toll rises.” BBC News. 22 May 2017. Accessed 30 May 2017.
[5] International Monetary Fund. World Economic Outlook Database. “Venezuela.” March 2017. Accessed 30 May 2017
[6] “Taiwan severs official ties with Panama.” Taipei Times. 14 June 2017. Accessed 15 June 2017.
[7] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan). Diplomatic Allies. Accessed 14 June 2017.
[8] “New UNODC report: Coca crops in Colombia increase over 50 per cent in one year.” The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 14 July 2017. Web. Accessed 15 August 2017.
[9] Goodman, Joshua. “UN: Production of Coca Leaf Surges in Colombia.” UN News and World Report. 14 July 2017. Web. Accessed 15 August 2017.
[10] Ibid 9.
[11] “Rio de Janeiro begins deploying 10,000 troops to fight crime surge.” BBC News. 28 July 2017. Accessed 1 August 2017.
[12] Alves, Lise. “Rio de Janeiro Registers Spike in Violence in February 2017.” The Rio Times. 29 March 2017. Accessed 1 August 2017
[13] Amnesty International. “Brazil: Spike in killings by Rio police as country faces UN review.” 4 May 2017. Accessed 1 August 2017.
[14] Ibid 13.
[15] “What did Venezuelans vote for and why was it so divisive?” BBC News. 31 July 2017. Accessed 31 July 2017.
[16] Gibbens Sarah. “New Amazon Species Discovered Every Other Day.” The National Geographic. 1 September 2017. Web. Accessed 5 September 2017.
[17] Matanock, Aila. “The FARC just became a Colombian political party. Here’s why elections are critical to a lasting peace.” The Washington post. 30 August 2017. Web. Accessed 4 October 2017 from political-party-heres-why-elections-are-critical-to-a-lasting-peace/?utm_term=.e7d25588676c
[18] Irfan, Umair. “The stunning price tags for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, explained.” Vox. 18 September 2017. Web. 26 September 2017.
[19] Bauerlein, Valerie and Jon Kamp. “Hurricane Irma Destroyed 25% of Homes in Florida Keys, FEMA Estimates.” The Wall Street Journal. 12 September 2017. Web. Accessed 27 September 2017.
[20] Burnett, John. “112 Degrees With No Water: Puerto Rican Hospitals Battle Life And Death Daily.” NPR. Morning Edition. 5 October 2017. Web. Accessed 5 October 2017.
[21] Hart, Sam. “In Photos: Total Devastation in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria.” NBC New York. 26 September 2017. Web. Accessed 27 September 2017 from  Maria-447992853.html
[22] “Puerto Rico.” The World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency. 8 September 2017. Web. Accessed 27 September 2017.
[23] Williams Walshmay, Mary. “Puerto Rico Declares a Form of Bankruptcy.” The New York Times. 3 May 2017. Web. Accessed 27 September 2017.
[24] “Colombia seizes largest stash of cocaine ever.” BBC News. 8 November 2017. Web. Accessed 5 December 2017.
[25] Alsema, Adriaan. “Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) / Clan del Golfo.” Colombia reports. 12 February 2017. Web. Accessed 5 December 2017 from
[26] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “Colombia: Survey of Territories Affected by Illicit Crops, 2016.” Summary Fact Sheet. Web. August 2017. Accessed 5 December 2017 from
[27] “Colombia’s main gang declares unilateral ceasefire.” BBC News. 14 December 2017. Web. Accessed 20 December 2017.
[28] “Colombia seizes 12 tons of cocaine, its biggest ever haul.” Reuters. 8 November 2017. Web. Accessed 3 January 2018.
[29] Stanford University. “Bandas Criminales.” Mapping Militant Organizations. 28 August 2015. Web. Accessed 4 January 2018 from
[30] “Colombia’s biggest criminal gang has declared a unilateral ceasefire to help “bring about peace”. BBC News. 14 December 2017. Web. Accessed 4 January 2018.