Bill Weinberg

Bolivia's African king speaks for coca growers

Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.

Haiti: army to be unleashed on drug gangs

After 13 years of occupying the country—during which they fired on protesters and accidentally introduced cholera to the island, setting off an epidemic—UN "peacekeepers" were finally withdrawn from Haiti in October. To take up the slack in figting drug gangs in the capital Port-au-Prince, the United Nations has called for increased international support for the 15,000-strong Haitian National Police.

Duterte fudges police death toll to justify drug war

The Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte—trying to justify sending the National Police back into drug enforcement after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of innocent civilians—seems to have just been caught in a lie. He stated Dec. 7 that 242 police officers have been killed in anti-drug operations since he took office on June 30, 2016—this by way of providing a rationale for the police killing thousands of Filipinos in this same period. He said, in his typically crude syntax: "[W]hy is it, if it is not that dangerous and violent, why is it that to date, I have lost 242 policemen in drug-related raids and arrest?"

US anti-tank missiles to Ukraine: why now?

The US approved the sale of  $47 million worth of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) to Ukraine Dec. 22, with the State Department issuing an export license for 210 of the Javelin ATGMs and 35 command launcher units (CLUs) to fire them. Responses from Kiev and Moscow were predictable. "I am grateful for the leadership of President Donald Trump, clear position of all our American friends, and for strong bipartisan support of Ukraine," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Facebook in English. Countered Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: "Today the United States is clearly pushing [Ukrainian authorities] towards new bloodshed. American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighbor." He added that Washington had "crossed a line." (Popular MechanicsRFE/RL, TASS)

Counterpunch justifies Kremlin propaganda

Note just how far things have deteriorated. The Washington Post on Dec. 25 ran a piece, "Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options," citing FBI sources to the effect that one "Alice Donovan," who wrote several pieces for Counterpunch over the past year, was actually a  "probable Russian troll." Although her initial e-mail to Counterpunch said "I'm a beginner freelance journalist," the implication is "she" (who knows?) was really part of a Kremlin-directed propaganda campaign. In a retort, "Go Ask Alice: the Curious Case of 'Alice Donovan'," Counterpunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair responds with one of the most refreshingly blatant displays of cynicism we've seen in a while:

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.

Assad bashes Rojava Kurds as 'traitors'

Well, this is a telling irony. The Rojava Kurds, who have been repeatedly accused of collaborating with Bashar Assad, have now just been dissed by the dictator as "traitors." Assad told his official news agency SANA Dec. 18: "All those who work under the command of any foreign country in their own country and against their army and people are traitors, quite simply, regardless of their names, and that is our evaluation of the groups that work for the Americans in Syria." This is clearly a reference to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been received aid from the United States—although to fight ISIS, and definitely not the Assad regime. The core group in the SDF, the Kurdish YPG militia, has intermittently clashed with the regime.

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.

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