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Palestinians protest Greek Orthodox patriarch

Palestinian Christians from around the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel came out in harsh opposition on Jan. 6 to a visit by Greek Orthodox Church Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, to the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem. Theophilos III, along with several other religious and political figures, were visiting Bethlehem as part of celebrations for Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve. Despite an intense presence of Palestinian security forces who attempted to open roads near Bethlehem's Manger Square for the patriarch's car, angry citizens swarmed around his procession, holding signs, Palestinian flags, and chanting slogans against Theophilus III. People threw stones and smashed windows of the car the patriarch was riding in as they demanded he be stripped of his titles and be removed from the church.

Afghanistan opium production hits new record

The latest stats from the UN's annual Afghanistan Opium Survey are in, and the news is grim. Opium production in the war-torn country jumped nearly 87% in 2017, to record levels—an estimated 9,000 metric tons (9,921 US tons). Areas under poppy cultivation rose by 63%, reaching a record 328,000 hectares (810,488 acres), according to the joint survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry. The survey also found that the number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10, with Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan provinces joining the list of poppy-growing regions. This boosts the number of Afghanistan's 34 provinces now cultivating opium from 21 to 24.

Arctic oil scramble in offing after GOP tax bill

As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."

Beijing squatter protest —and human rights dilemma

A rare protest is reported from Beijing Dec. 10, following the mass eviction of a squatter camp for migrant workers in the city's northeastern fringe. The incident, in Feijia village of Chaoyang district, near Beijing's airport, saw protesters hanging a hand-painted banner reading "Violation of Human Rights" across the front gate of the village committee office, while hundreds chanted "Forced eviction violates human rights." Clearing of the makeshift camp was seemingly part of a crackdown on informal dwellings following a fire in a tenement in nearby Daxing district last month in which 19 were killed. Tens of thousands have been left homeless in the clearances. Footage of the protest was captured on smart phones, resulting in coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Chiapas: thousands flee new paramilitary violence

An estimated 5,000 Tzotzil Maya peasants have been forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán, in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, facing threats by armed men in a land dispute with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó. The displaced, living in improvised camps since their homes were attacked in October, only started to receieve aid this week, as Chenalhó residents blocked all three roads to the community. Army vehicles started delivering aid Dec. 12 after one blockade was relaxed, but on condition that only humanitarian aid be allowed through. The army and state and federal police have established a Mixed Operations Base in the area. The local Catholic diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas said that an "atmosphere of terror" prevails in the area, and warned of a repeat of the 1997 Acteal massacre, when 45 were killed by paramilitary gunmen in a hamlet of Chenalhó.

Brazil: Amazon road blocked to press demarcation

Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.

Colombia: attack on agrarian accord —already

The process of restitution of usurped lands and implementing the agrarian deal with the disarmed FARC rebels is shaping up as a sticking point in Colombia's peace process. The Agriculture Ministry has proposed a reform of Decreed Law 902, issued earlier this year to facilitate redistribution of lands. Currently, DL 902 reserves Colombia's unused lands (tierras baldías) for distribution to landless campesinos under a National Land Fund established for this purpose. Under the proposed reform, large landowners will be able to apply to the National Land Agency to receive these lands under a certain financial forumla. Landowners would have to pay the equivalent of 700 times the monthly minimum wage to acquire one Family Agricultural Unit (UAF). The UAF was established by Law 160 of 1994 as a unit of land sufficient to sustain a family, taking into consideration soil fertility and other variables. But opponents point out that Law 160 explicitly states that tierras baldías are reserved for distribution to campesinos.  (Verdad Abierta, Oct. 2; El Espectador, Sept. 21)

China's rise threatened by 'de-globalization'?

The China Institute in New York City on Oct. 5 featured a discussion with Harvard scholar William C. Kirby, author of Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth, on the question: "Can China Lead in the Age of De-Globalization?" Although he didn't state it explicitly, his answer appeared to be "no." Kirby began by echoing the prediction that as the 19th century saw Great Britain as the dominant world power, and the 20th saw the United States of America, the 21st could belong to China. But Kirby sees this succession as now threatened by the "destabilization of global norms" and the rise of "anti-globalist neo-authoritarian movements everywhere." He invoked the Brexit, the rise of Le Pen in France—and finally Donald Trump, who, Kirby noted, is rather obsessed with China.

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