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 ten 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.
A UN human rights expert expressed concern Jan. 9 for nine human rights activists imprisoned in Iran. Among those activists, eight are believed to be on life-threatening hunger strikes, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Asma Jahangir. A ninth activist, Arash Saghedi, ended his hunger strike after his wife was released from prison on bail, although there is concern that he is in critical condition and being denied medical attention. Jahangir urged Iranian officials to release the activists, claiming they were arrested for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression." The statement comes just a few weeks after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled the Citizens' Rights Charter, which he says will "promote and strengthen citizens' rights," including the freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.
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.