For 48 hours Feb. 21-2, hundreds of peasant coca-growers shut down the main highway between the southern Colombian cities of Tumaco and Pasto. The feared anti-riot force, the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), was finally called in to clear the roadway, using tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up the estimated 1,200 cocaleros. But the highway was repeatedly re-taken by the protesters. The action was called by the newly-formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) to oppose the government's renewed "forced eradication" of coca crops in Tumaco municipality. COCCAM called the resumption of forced eradication in the area a betrayal of government commitments under the recent peace accords with the FARC guerilla movement. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 23)
There was recently a sign that the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte was going to rein in his murderous police in the face of mounting international criticism of their harsh anti-drug crackdown. It took the police killing of a foreign business executive, but Duterte finally pledged that he would disband and reorganize the National Police narco units. But human rights observers may have rejoined too soon. On Jan. 31—just one day after his announcement of the police overhaul—Duterte made a speech to army generals, telling them that while the police were off the drug war beat the armed forces would have to step in to replace them. Rather than taking a step back from the brink, it looks like the Philippines could be following the grim examples of Mexico and Colombia of turning the drug war into a real war, run by the military.
Already accused of carrying out 3,000 extrajudicial executions in his anti-drug crackdown since taking office in June, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte has now threatened to kill human rights activists who have the temerity to complain about it. In a speech at Manila's Malacañang Palace on Nov. 28, Duterte said those who accuse him of ordering the summary execution of drug users and low-level dealers should be blamed if the country's drug problem worsened—and suffer the same fate. Here's the quote, translated from Filipino: “The human rights [activists] said I ordered the killings. I told them 'OK. Let's stop. We'll let them [drug users] multiply so that when it's harvest time, more people will die. I will include you because you are the reason why their numbers swell."
The New York Times on Nov. 21 released Donald Trump's "short list" for cabinet appointments—compiled based on "information from the Trump transition team, lawmakers, lobbyists and Washington experts." The picks for Homeland Security are particularly notable. Joe Arpaio, his long reign of terror as Maricopa County sheriff finally ended by federal indictment and getting booted by the voters this year, is now being considered to oversee the Border Patrol and entire federal immigration apparatus. From his election in the early '90s, Arpaio ran a "Tent City" detainment camp for undocumented immigrants and others caught up in his sweeps. In an unsubtle moment in 2010, caught on film and reported by Pheonix New Times (despite his transparent later denials), he actually responded to a question at a public meeting about whether he would start using "concentration camps" by boasting: "I already have a concentration camp... It's called Tent City."
Bill Weinberg makes the case that Donald Trump is a fascist, going down the checklist of essential ingredients: ugly ultra-nationalism that seeks to correct perceived humiliation, xenophobia and demonization of the Other, exaltation of the great leader, fetishization of violence, contempt for democracy, enthusiasm for military aggression, populism tinged with anti-Semitism, and rank anti-intellectualism. Weinberg repeats his call for urgent pressure on the electors to refuse to seat Donald Trump as president. The petition calling for the electors to respect the popular vote and seat Clinton has now won nearly 4.5 million signatures.
A growing wave of paramilitary terror is reported from the remote and rugged Sierra Tarahumara in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state—the country's prime opium and cannabis cultivation zone. Local residents at the hamlet of El Largo Maderal, in the backwoods of Madera municipality, on Oct. 14 issued an urgent alert to the authorities and media over ongoing attacks by narco-gunmen, leaving at least two campesinos dead over the past weeks. The Chihuahua state prosecutor, or Fiscalía General, meanwhile reported a highway attack at nearby Rancho Las Pomas, where a local narco-jefe identified only as "El Nacho" was killed along with two henchmen—their car shot up and then set aflame.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a "state of lawlessness" after a Sept. 2 bomb blast at a night market in the southern city of Davao, where he had long served as mayor. Duterte was unclear on what exactly his declaration means, and denied that he is instating martial law. But he stated ominously that he will "invite uniformed personnel to run the country." The blast, which killed at least 14 people and injured some 70, was claimed by the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). ASG spokesperson Abu Rami said the attack is a "call for unity to all mujahedeen in the country" amid the government's new offensive against the group in its strionghold islands of Sulu and Basilan. Duterte had days earlier ordered intensified operations to finish off the 400-strong militant group, following the death of 15 soldiers in a clash in Patikul, Sulu province.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this week released its latest figures on coca cultivation in the Andean nations—to the pride of Peru but chagrin of Colombia. Most dramatic was the bad news from Bogotá. The new Colombia Coca Survey (PDF), jointly produced by UNODC and the country's government, shows a nearly 40% increase in coca crop area—from 69,000 hectares in 2014 to 96,000 in 2015. This is twice the 48,000 figure for 2013. Coca leaf reached its highest price in Colombia in 10 years, shooting up 39.5% to $1.02 per kilogram (3,000 pesos). Bo Mathiasen, the UNODC representative in Colombia, told reporters the country is now cultivating more coca than Peru and Bolivia combined. (InfoBae, July 9; UNODC, July 8)