Indigenous communities in the Bolivian Amazon are joining with ecologists to oppose a "mega-dam" complex the government has announced for the Río Beni. Reviving a long-dormant scheme to turn the Bolvian Amazon into a regional energy hub, the plan calls for construction of two large hydroelectric dams and infrastructure to export the power to neighboring countries. President Evo Morales estimates the project would cost around $6 billion and, once operational, would bring in more than $1 billion a year. According to a leaked environmental impact assessment, the two dams will flood an area larger the city of La Paz, affecting around 4,000 people in 17 communities within and near the flood zone. Indigenous T'simanes, Tacanas, Mosetenes and Uchupiamonas communities reject the project, saying it never went through the consultation process required by Bolivia's constitution.
The case of 43 college students from the Mexican village of Ayotzinapa who disappeared in September 2014—and were allegedly murdered by a local narco-gang—continues to elicit outrage. Now, the parents of the missing students held a cross-country mobilization for justice in the case, arriving in Mexico City on Christmas Day. The "Caravan for Memory and Hope" departed from southern Guerrero state five days earlier. On Dec. 26, a special mass was held at the city's historic Basilica de Guadalupe in honor of the missing students, overseen by the Bishop of Saltillo, Raúl Vera, and the Archbishop of Morelia, Carlos Garfias—both well-known for their advocacy for Mexico's poor and oppressed.
Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
Ahead of the 15th anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantánamo Bay iJan. 11, Amnesty International issued a "final plea" to President Obama to close the facility. The open letter (PDF) especially warned that the fate of the remaining detainees must not be left in the hands of the incoming Donald Trump. There are 55 people still held at Guantánamo, 45 of them detained without charge or trial. The 10 others have faced or are facing military commission proceedings that "fail to meet international fair trial standards." Six are currently facing the possibility of the death penalty after such unlawful trials. While the Obama administration has blamed the US Congress for blocking the closure of Guantánamo, Amnesty asserted that under international law domestic legislation or politics are not legitimate excuses for a country's failure to meet its treaty obligations.
Bolivian President Evo Morales on Christmas Eve pardoned 1,800 prisoners held in facilities across the country—part of his ongoing effort to curtail overcrowding in the Andean nation's penal system. "The present decree's aim is to give amnesty and total or partial pardons to people who have been deprived of their liberty," Morales told a news conference in the central region of Cochabamba. Those pardoned include inmates with sentences of less than five years, one-time offenders, prisoners under the age of 28, single mothers with children (generally incarcerated along with them), prisoners with terminal illnesses, and some with disabilities. Since those convicted of violent crimes and trafficking were excluded, the majority were almost certainly low-level drug offenders. This is the fourth time Morales has decreed such mass pardons. It is estimated that 15,000 individuals remain incarcerated in Bolivia, with a population of 10 million. A third of these have not actually been sentenced.
The Ramapough Lunaape tribe in the township of Mahwah, NJ, is protesting the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline that would carry fracked Bakken shale oil from Albany, NY, to the Bayway Refinery in Linden. The planned route crosses the New York-New Jersey Highlands region, which is the source of water for more than 4.5 million people in both states, according to the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline. The pipeline would also cut through a portion of the Ramapo Valley Reservation, a Bergen County park that protects much of the Highlands watershed. As with the Standing Rock Sioux struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Lunaape fear that a potential leak would pollute critical waters and impact sacred sites.
Baluchi militants on Jan. 6 carried out an armed operation against Iranian security forces on the outskirts of the city of Sarbaz in Baluchistan province, claiming dozens of casualties, including senior Revolutionary Guards officers. The Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) group said the operation was carried out by its Abdulmalik Mollazadeh Brigade. A press release said their forces ambushed two military vehicles carrying a large number of Revolutionary Guards personnel in the Jekigvar area, with the drivers and nearly all passengers killed or injured. A terse report from the regime’s official Fars News Agency acknowledged only that one border guard had been killed and others wounded in an ambush by "terrorists."
Member organizations of Mexico's National Indigenous Congress (CNI), meeting in the Chiapas village of Oventic Jan. 1 for celebration of the 23rd anniversary of the Zapatista rebellion, announced formation of a new Indigenous Government Council (CIG) "to govern the country." The CNI said it had carried out a "consulta" with over 500 indigenous communities across the country, and that a "constituent assembly" will meet in May to formalize the CIG's governance structure. The statement said an indigeous woman will be chosen as candidate for Mexico's 2018 presidential race, but that parallel structures of autonomous self-government would be built simultaneously. The meeting was overseen by Comandante Insurgente David and Subcomandante Moisés of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), which has run its own autonomous government in the highlands and rainforest of Chiapas since the 1994 New Year uprising. (Colectivo Pozol, Jan. 1)