In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known by his initials AMLO—will be Mexico's next president, following his victory in the July 1 election. By any measure, this is historic—it is the first time a candidate of the left has had his victory honored, after three tries. In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) almost certainly had his victory stolen by fraud. Then, in 2006, AMLO himself, then running with the PRD, claimed his victory was similalry stolen. His supporters launched a protest occupation of Mexico City's central plaza, the Zocalo, and there was talk of forming a "parallel government." Now AMLO, running with his new vehicle, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), has made it. There is a sense of a real break with Mexico's traditional political parties, The once-hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is again discredited, as narco-violence only escalated under the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO's old vehicle the PRD meanwhile formed an unlikely coalition with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).
In a perfectly predictable response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of fomenting the latest irruption in the wave of popular protests that has swept the country since the start of the year. While failing to explicitly name Saudi Arabia, he accused other regional powers of joining with the US to fuel dissension in Iran to "separate the nation from the system." He said: "If the US was able to overpower the Islamic system, it would not have needed to form a coalition with notorious countries of the region to create chaos, unrest and insecurity in Iran." Last week, online videos showed police firing tear-gas at protesters angered over economic austerity. Vendors in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, a traditional area of support for Iran's leadership, went on strike over the collapse of the rial on foreign exchange markets. (The New Arab) Despite not having a union, Iran's truck drivers also staged a nationwide strike for almost two weeks in late May and early June. (Al-Monitor)
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, "[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us." This despite Washington's earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called "de-escalation zones" would have "serious repercussions," including "firm and appropriate measures." (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)
Trump's executive order officially calling for an end to separating migrant families on the border actually contains provisions laying the groundwork for the indefinite detention of intercepted migrants. Entitled "Temporary Detention Policy for Families Entering this Country Illegally," it instructs the Secretary of Defense to provide "any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families" to the Department of Homeland Security—a clear reference to placing detained migrants in military bases. It also charges the Defense Department with responsibility to "construct such facilities if necessary..."
The European Parliament on June 14 overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russian authorities to release Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and all the other "illegally detained Ukrainian citizens" in Russia and Russia-annexed Crimea "immediately and unconditionally." Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region since May 14. He is demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. Sentsov was arrested in Crimea in 2014, after Russia seized the Ukrainian region. A Russian court in 2015 convicted him of planning to commit terrorist acts and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He denies the accusations.
In the prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Robert Park, himself a survivor of Kim Jong-un's prisons, called in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post for an amnesty for North Korea's tens of thousands of political prisoners to be a condition of any peace deal. He recalled a 2014 UN report (PDF) finding that up to 120,000 were being held in camps in North Korea, and subjected to "unspeakable atrocities and hardships." Most are held in life-imprisonment slave labor complexes called "absolute control zones" (wanjeontongjekyooyeok or kwanliso). The report found that these prisoners "have no prospect of securing release [and] are subject to gradual extermination through starvation and slave labour…with the apparent intent to extract a maximum of economic benefit at a minimum of cost." Park quoted Thomas Buergenthal, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who served as a judge at the International Court of Justice, who said: "I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps..."
A new Amnesty International report accuses the US of "war crimes" in the bombardment of Raqqa, and the virtual "annihilation" of the city. The fact that the US-led bombardment was in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their campaign to take the city from ISIS has contributed to pitting Kurd against Arab and brought northern Syria closer to ethnic war. Ironically (if predictably), now that the Syrian Kurds have served their purpose in defeating ISIS, Washington is about to kick them overboard—just as Assad and Erdogan alike are preparing offensives against them.