Saudi Arabia won applause around the world last year when women were finally allowed to drive in the conservative kingdom. But now, just as this reform is about to take effect, some of the activists who campaigned for it have been arrested—and may face the death penalty. A Saudi government statement said that the seven activists had been detained for "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric." The statement also accused them of working together in "an organized manner to violate religious and national values," without actually naming the detainees. Rights groups have named six of them as Eman al-Nafjan, Lujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea. Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on May 20, shortly after the arrests, that they may face the death penalty. An online "smear campaign" has also been launched against them, wth social media posts portraying them are "traitors." Most prominent among the detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, well known for her work campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested at her home on the evening of May 15. (Middle East Eye, May 21; Amnesty International, May 19)
In Episode 10 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the re-emergence in the news of three figures associated with the drama that played out over revolutionary Nicaragua in the 1980s. Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua then, is again today, and just faced massive protests calling for his ouster. Oliver North, who headed the Reagan White House covert operation to destabilize Nicaragua's Sandinista regime back then, was just named as head of the National Rifle Association. And Luis Posada Carriles, the right-wing Cuban terrorist who was part of North's private spy network back then, just died. Historical ironies abound. North, who supported a counter-revolutionary terrorist network in Nicaragua (the "contras"), now baits nonviolent gun-control activists as "terrorists." Ortega, whose government distributed land to the campesinos in the '80s, is now seizing land from campesinos for his monstrous inter-oceanic canal plan. And the conspiracy theory popular among the NRA's white heartland base about the government preparing to disarm the populace and detain resisters in military camps has its roots in the actual FEMA martial law plan drawn up by Oliver North, to be implemented in the event of a US invasion of Nicaragua—with Central American refugees to be detained in military camps. A final irony is the NRA-Russia connection, which comes as Nicaragua is cooperating with a resurgent Russian military presence in the Caribbean. Vladimir Putin recently became the first Russian (or Soviet) leader to visit Nicaragua. So is it possible that we are today so far through the proverbial looking glass that Oliver North and Daniel Ortega are now on the same side? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Ex-CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles, wanted by Cuba and Venezuela for deadly armed attacks, died a fee man in Miami on May 23 at the age of 90. In the news reports of his passing, he was called a "militant" by the Miami Herald, more forthrightly (and predictably) a "terrorist" by TeleSur, and, with extreme perversity, an "actvist" by the BBC. Exiled from his native Cuba after the 1959 Revolution, Posada Carriles dedicated his life to armed counter-revolutionary activity. He was wanted by Cuba for a string of bombings of Havana hotels, and by Venezuela for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 were killed. The US refused to extradite, and he had been for years living openly in the Miami area. In 2014, he was given a medal by the Cuban History Academy at Miami Dade College. He did face some legal trouble when he was accused of lying to immigration officers about how he got into the US before applying for asylum in 2005, but was acquitted in 2011 and spent his remaining years in a comfortable South Florida existence. In the 1980s, he worked with the CIA in covert resupply operations for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Four retired senior members of the Guatemalan military—including two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas—were convicted May 23 of involvement in crimes against humanity. Three of the officials received a sentence of 58 years in prison, while one was sentenced to 33 years. The former officials faced charges arising from the illegal detention, torture and sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen, as well as separate charges for aggravated sexual assault. Three of the officials also faced charges for the enforced disappearance of Emma’s 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio in 1981. The five officials were detained in January 2016, and in March 2017, the preliminary judge determined that there was sufficient evidence to send them to trial. The public trial started in Guatemala City's High Risk Court C, on March 1 of this year.
The Assad regime is now said to be in full control of the Damascus area for the first time since 2012, with the fall of Yarmouk, the long-besieged Palestinian refugee camp outside the capital. Under another "surrender deal," resistance fighters were allowed to flee to rebel-held Idlib governorate in the north, although those apparently affiliated with ISIS were provided transportation to unspecified locations in Syria's eastern desert. It is clear that many of the camp's civilian residents are also choosing to evacuate, fearing reprisals from the regime. Some 7,000 have been displaced from camp, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some of these had already fled to pockets of rebel control around the Damascus area which have since also fallen to regime forces, and their fates remain uncertain. Reports are already emerging of looting and pillaging of abandoned properties by regime troops and their militia allies. (MEM, Al Bawaba, Madamasr.com, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria)
Protesters marched in Libya's capital Tripoli on May 21 demanding that renegade general Khalifa Haftar lift his siege of the eastern city of Derna. Demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the UN mission in Libya to demand an international response. Libyan High State Council member Abdelfattah al-Shilwy spoke there, charging: "The United Nations support mission in Libya has let us down. We are calling on the international community to help stop the war on Derna, lift the devastating siege, and form a neutral committee to investigate the situation here." Protesters demanded UN pressure on Haftar to open a corridor at Derna to allow evacuation of the wounded and ill. Derna has been under siege for nearly two years, but the situation has worsened since Haftar launched a new offensive this month against the Islamist factions that control the city. The protest was led by a group calling itself that Council of Elders of Tripoli. (Al Jazeera, Libya Observer)
CounterVortex editor and chief blogger Bill Weinberg will speak at the Left Forum in New York City on June 2, at the panel "Has 'the Left' Accommodated Trump (and Putin)? A Debate." Tens of millions of Americans and people around the world have regarded Trump and Trumpism as exceptional threats that must be resisted tooth-and-nail. But some voices on the "left" have argued that anti-Trumpism is itself a problem, that concerns about Trumpism are a distraction from struggles against neoliberalism and imperialism, and/or that the left should reach out to Trump's anti-establishment and populist base. Who are the deluded ones here?
The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on May 18 to send an independent commission of inquiry to investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory." The Council "condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including in the context of peaceful protests, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and called for an immediate cessation of all attacks, incitement and violence against civilians throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem."