In Other News

Iraq: mass exodus from embattled Mosul

Three thousands internally displaced persons (IDPs) are fleeing the embattled city of Mosul on a daily basis since the second phase of military operations to liberate the ISIS stronghold began in late December, according to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “As the war intensifies inside Mosul city and civilians run out of food, medicine, water and power, the number of refugees taking shelter in the Kurdistan Region has doubled over the past 10 days,” Hoshang Mohammed, director of the Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC) announced on Jan. 15, “Three thousand have been displaced on a daily basis, 70 percent of whom have come to the Kurdistan Region.”

Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence

US President Barack Obama granted 64 pardons and 209 commutations Jan. 17, including commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning. Manning worked as a low-level intelligence analyst where she leaked documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2010 to WikiLeaks which exposed abuses of detainees and civilian deaths. The commutation will release Chelsea Manning on May 17. Several Republican leaders have criticized the commutation, including Rep. Mac Thornberry, Sen. John McCain, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, stating that Manning's actions risked national security. Manning's lawyers stated that "Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we're delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation." A White House Petition received more than 100,000 signatures in December to commute Manning's sentence.

Mexico: Tarahumara forest defender assassinated

Isidro Baldenegro López, a Tarahumara indigenous activist in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state who fought for the preservation of forest lands, was assasinated last week, in an attack near the home of a family member in the pueblo of Coloradas de la Virgen, Guadalupe y Calvo municipality. Although the Chihuahua state prosecutor has not officially registered a homicide, Baldenegro's relatives confirmed that he had been slain and buried in the village. The assailants have not been identified, but his relatives say they believe the gunmen were part of the same network that has threaetned and slain other local residents for defending the pueblo's forest lands and opposing illegal timber felling.

Clemency for Oscar López Rivera

Oscar López Rivera, the longest-held Puerto Rican political prisoner in the US, was among 209 federal inmates granted clemency by President Barack Obama on Jan. 17. His sentence commuted, López Rivera is now set to be released in May from the federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), in announcing the commutation, said: "Thank you, President Obama, thank you on behalf of millions of Puerto Ricans on the island and around the world." Arrested by the FBI in Chicago in 1981, López Rivera was convicted of "seditious conspiracy" as an adherent of the pro-independence Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). Other charges included armed robbery, although he was never accused of any actual act of violence. If Obama had not intervened, he would have remained in captivity until June 26, 2023, five months after his 80th birthday.

Brazil: 60 dead in narco-fueled prison massacre

A New Year's Day prison riot in Brazil's Amazon riverport city of Manaus left up to 60 dead before aithorities re-established control the following morning—with many of the bodies decapitated, mutilated and burned. The uprising at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (COMPAJ) is the bloodiest of several such episodes in recent years, pointing to extreme overcrowding in Brazil's prison system and effective control of many facilities by drug gangs. Authorities in Amazonas state say the COMPAJ rebellion was sparked by a fight between rival gangs. Local media reported that several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall. Twelve guards were taken hostage, and a still undetermined number of inmates escaped.

Human Rights Watch: Trump portends 'tyranny'

In its yearly report, Human Rights Watch warns that the rise of populist leaders "poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections"—particularly naming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. On releasing its "World Report 2017," the organization stated: "Donald Trump's election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk." It added that "strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality."

Russia's next intervention: Libya?

Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who is the de facto strongman of Libya's east, was invited aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Jan 11, days after the carrier was re-deployed from off Syria. Haftar met with Russian officers on the ship and  spoke via video-link with Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. "They discussed pressing issues in the fight against international terrorist groups in the Middle East," Russian media repoted the ministry saying. A Russian embrace of Haftar, who is waging his own war against Islamist militias in the east, would be complicated by the fact that he opposes the UN-backed "official" Libyan government based in Tripoli. (Reuters, Jan. 11)

Russia 'withdraws' from Syria —not

Remember the reports of a Russian "withdrawl" from Syria over the summer? They were immediately followed, of course, by a massive escalation of Russia's military intervention, with the destruction of Aleppo by Moscow's warplanes. Let's hope we are not in for a replay. With the departure of most of Russian's war fleet from Syria's coast—most prominently, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov—CNN last week reported: "Russia 'starts to withdraw' forces from Syria." The Interpreter, a neo-Kremlinologist website, flatly contradicts this. It finds that most Russian combat operations have been flown out of ground bases in Syria, not the carrier. At Hmeymim air base (also rendered Khmeimim and Hemeimeem) in Latakia governorate, Russia has now deployed Iskander ballistic missiles, capable of hitting anywhere in Syria and even beyond its borders. Far from withdrawing, The Interpreter says that Russia is "just getting started" with a military build-up in Syria.

Argentina: Mapuche land struggle terrorist-baited

Authorities in Argentina's Chubut province accused Mapuche indigenous activists of being "terrorists" after a clash with police at a protest encampment on usurped lands. Two Mapuche activists were wounded—one by a bullet—when provincial police and the Gendarmería were sent in to clear the camp, which had been dubbed "Pu Lof en Resistencia," on traditional Mapuche lands now held by the Italian company Benetton in Cushamen municipality. In the aftermath, Chubut Gov. Mario Das Neves called the organizers "a group of violent ones who do not respect the law, nor the Fatherland, nor the flag, and constantly attack anyone." His government minister, Pablo Durán, accused the organizers, known as Mapuche Ancestral Resistance (RAM), of being "terrorists," saying that the situation "has surpassed the limits of what we can tolerate." Local press ran speculation of RAM links to Colombia's FARC guerillas. (Perfil, Pagina12, Cronica, Jan. 12; Perfil, Jan. 8)

Turkey: life term for Kurdish opposition leader?

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of terrorism for her alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). A court accepted an indictment prepared by the Van province Chief Public Prosecutor's office calling for a life sentence. Yüksekdağ has been charged with disrupting the unity of the state, supporting "self-rule" in Van, and spreading terrorist propaganda. Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, co-leaders of the mostly Kurdish-led HDP, were arrested in early November. The Turkish parliament voted earlier in the year to lift parliamentary immunity from a select group of MPs who the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan allege have ties with the banned PKK.

Bolivia plans Amazon 'mega-dams' amid opposition

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.

Mexico: protest caravan for missing students

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.

Obama's final year: a CounterVortex scorecard

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."

Amnesty: 'final plea' to Obama to close Gitmo

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.

Mass prisoner pardon in Bolivia

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.