The US Congress this week finalized a 2018 budget that maintains aid to Colombia at its 2017 level, $391 million—despite efforts by President Donald Trump to slash the amount. The package includes large sums for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. Continuance of this level of aid is "a huge support to peace accord implementation," according to Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The budget passed both House and Senate this week. Despite a previous veto threat, Trump signed the budget bill March 23, just in time to avoid yet another government shutdown. There have already been two brief shutdowns during the protracted fight over the budget. This budget authorizes spending through September. The Republican-controlled Congress firmly rejected not only Trump’s proposal to slash aid to Colombia, but his overall foreign policy goal of dramatically reducing aid throughout Latin America and the world, and significantly cutting the international diplomacy budget of the State Department.
After three years of investigation, Bolivia's Public Ministry reached a decision on March 15 not to bring criminal charges against Adolfo Chávez, the former leader of the Confederation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Oriente (CIDOB), and 21 others who were linked to a corruption scandal in a case many saw as politically motivated. Chávez and the others were accused of misappropriating monies made available through the government's Development Fund for Original Indigenous Peoples and Campesino Communities (FONDIOC). But he claimed he was targeted for his opposition to the government's development plans for the Isiboro Secure Inidgenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), in the eastern rainforest.
Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels announced March 18 that they have seized "full control" of Afrin, following a two-month offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in the northern Syrian town and surrounding enclave. One of the three "cantons" that make up the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava has now been lost. The statement announcing the seizure of the enclave was published on the Twitter page of "Operation Olive Branch," as the offensive was officially dubbed. Once "Olive Branch" forces actually penetrated Afrin town, the YPG apparently withdraw to prevent the civilian population from being caught in the fighting. In the prelude to the town's fall, residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish air-strikes. The "Nothern Brigade" of the Free Syrian Army was named as the key ground force taking control of the enclave under Turkish direction and protection. (NYT, Syria Direct) Turkey's official Anadolu Agency also names Syrian Turkmen militia forces as involved in taking the enclave, and explicitly appeals to ethnic resentment, stating: "Arab tribes welcome liberation of Afrin."
Turkish air-strikes killed four civilians camping in a rural area of northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains as part of a gathering celebrating the traditional Kurdish spring festival, Nowruz. The March 22 air raid on the Choman district of Iraq's Kurdistan Region was ostensibly aimed at positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But local residents told Kurdistan 24 the young men killed in the strikes, at a site known as Dali Baliani, were all civilians.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report (PDF) March 12 detailing human rights violations in the aftermath of the 2017 Honduran presidential election. The report documents violence committed by the security forces against protestors and civilians in the period between election night on Nov. 26 and inauguration day on Jan. 27. According to the report, at least 1,351 people were detained under a curfew put in place early December. It was also reported that civilians were detained in illegal house raids. In addition, 23 were killed and 60 injured in post-election protests, including 16 victims shot to death by security forces. There were no charges pressed for the killings.
In Episode Five of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg makes the case that despite the official ideology of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and the revival of rhetoric and imagery from the Mao era, media commentators are off base in their comparison of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong. The new personalistic dictatorship of Xi is appropriating the outward forms of Maoism, but whereas the Great Helmsman used totalitarian methods to advance socialism (at least in terms of his own intentions) Xi is doing so to further entrench China's savage capitalist system. As a part of the same constitutional changes that have installed Xi as the new "paramount leader," the Chinese Communist Party is imposing further market liberalization and "supply-side" economic reform. The New Cold War between the US and China is simply a rivalry between capitalist powers. But in the global divide-and-conquer game, the leaders of oppressed nationalties within China such as the Tibetans and Uighurs look to the US and the West as allies, while left-populist governments in Latin America such as Venezuela and Bolivia similalry look to China. How can we respond to these developments in a way that builds solidarity between peasants, workers and indigenous peoples across the geopolitical divide? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the killing of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco. A human rights defender known for her outspokenness against police brutality, Franco, 38, was shot dead in an ambush on her vehicle March 14, in what appears to be a targeted assassination. Amnesty's Brazil director, Jurema Werneck, cited the shooting as "yet another example of the dangers that human rights defenders face in Brazil," and stated that the "Brazilian authorities must ensure a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into this tragic killing."
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) last week issued a pressingly important report, "The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment." It refreshingly called out "red-brown populist collaboration"—documenting the growing convergence between figures on the supposed "left" and the radical, even fascist right, both in the US and in Europe. Playing a critical role is the Russo-nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, who is bringing together supposed peaceniks and neo-fascists around supporting despots like Putin and Assad in the name of a "multi-polar" world. But, depressingly, at the first howls of protest from this very Red-Brown alliance, SPLC folded like punks, removing the report from their website and issuing a pusillanimous apology.