President Trump on Jan. 24 signed orders giving the go-ahead for construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which had been halted by the Obama administration. Obama's State Department rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Army Corps of Engineers had ordered work halted on the Dakota pipeline after weeks of protests by Native American groups and their activist allies. In a signing statement, Trump said the Keystone XL project will mean "a lot of jobs, 28,000 construction jobs, great construction jobs." In its own statement, TransCanada, the company seeking to build Keystone XL, said it "appreciate[s] the President of the United States inviting us to re-apply for KXL. We are currently preparing the application and intend to do so."
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."
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."
The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz took responsibility for the bombing of two pipelines Jan. 3 in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province. The cell that carried out the attacks near the villages of Omidiyeh and in Deylam was identified as the Brigades of the Martyrs al-Nasser Mohiuddin. (Asharq al-Awsat, Jan. 4) The attack follows growing repression against Ahwazi Arab activists and leaders in Khuzestan. On Dec. 8, environmental activist Roqaya Jafari and journalist Rahil Mosavi were arrested after participating in a demonstration against the government's planned diversion of the Karoon River. The water diversion scheme was revealed in a leak to Iran's media, and has sparked local outrage amid fears it could leave already aridifying Khuzestan completely dry. The redirection is regarded as a "death sentence to the ecosystem of the whole southwest region of Iran." (UNPO, Dec. 12)
The US Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 4 issued a statement saying that Dakota Access LLC will not be granted the last remaining easement it needs to drill under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe and complete construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The statement considers the possibility that the Army Corps will conduct a limited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the river crossing and explore possibilities for alternative routes. The decision comes as after weeks of protests at the crossing site, and as thousands of veterans are arriving from across the country to stand with the self-declared "water protectors" who face escalating repression at the hands of law enforcement.
For a second time in the space of a month, planned peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN guerillas in Quito broke down on the very eve of convening Nov. 22. An initial round of talks was suspended in late October, with Bogotá claiming the ELN did not meet the condition to release ex-congressman Odín Sánchez, being held by the guerillas in his native Chocó region. The Quito talks were set to open a second time when the ELN released a statement accusing the army of putting Sánchez's life at risk by increasing operations in Chocó. Government negotiators did travel to Quito for the talks, to be brokered by Monseñor Darío de Jesús Monsalve, the archbishop of Cali. With the dialogue stalled, fighting continues on the ground. On Nov. 13, presumed ELN fighters blew up a section of the Trans-Andean Pipeline in Nariño region, spilling oil into the Río Guiza. (AFP, Nov. 26; El Tiempo, Nov. 25; El Espectador, Nov. 21; Contagio Radio, Nov. 17; Colombia Reports, Nov. 14; Colombia Reports, Nov. 3)
US authorities are using excessive force against protesters in North Dakota who are trying to halt a proposed oil pipeline project, according to a UN human rights expert on Nov. 15. According to Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, about 400 people have been detained in "inhuman and degrading conditions." Protesters are have reportedly been confronted with rubber bullets, tear-gas, mace, compression grenades and bean-bag rounds. If detained, they are reportedly marked with a number and held in overcrowded cages lined with concrete flooring. Kiai labeled these responses by local security forces as "militarized." Kiai said, "This is a troubling response to people who are taking action to protect natural resources and ancestral territory in the face of profit-seeking activity. The excessive use of State security apparatus to suppress protest against corporate activities that are alleged to violate human rights is wrong and contrary to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights."