President Donald Trump on Feb. 15 announced a state of emergency to obtain $8 billion for a border wall between the US and Mexico. A significant amount of the funds are expected to come from the Department of Defense budget, but Trump was not clear regarding funding or spending plans. The declaration was announced in a statement to the press that included information about trade negotiations with China and various other unrelated concerns. Trump gave this speech moments after he signed a spending bill passed by Congress, which prevents another government shutdown. The bill included about $1.4 billion in funding to assist with border security, which is far lower than the $5.7 billion demanded by Trump for his wall during the government shutdown.
The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference that opens today in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: "Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project." (Ma'an) The meeting was first announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his anti-Iran speech in Cairo, and is widely perceived as an effort to rally world powers behind Washington's drive against Tehran. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to be among the speakers. Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting, underscoring its commitment to the nuclear deal that the US has now disavowed. But as Warsaw's former ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera: "[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia." The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian ski resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, officiallty to discuss the situation in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops there. (EuroNews)
We've already noted the strange bedfellows in the Rojava Kurds' political push to forestalll a US withdrawal from northern Syria, which would be a green light for Turkey to attack their autonomous zone. Well, they just got a little stranger with the arrival in Washington last month of Ilham Ahmed, co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, civilian wing of the Kurdish-led US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. She and her delegation actually met with Trump at the Trump International Hotel after they touched down Jan. 29. The prez reportedly told the group "I love the Kurds," and promised that they are "not going to be killed" by Turkish forces. (Al Monitor) Making it even more surreal, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, best friend of fascist dictator Bashar Assad on Capitol Hill, brought Ahmed to the State of the Union address on Feb. 5 as her special guest. Gabbard tweeted about it, and the Turkish newspaper Takvim ran a photo of Ahmed standing beside Trump at the SOTU. We wonder if Ahmed, who represents a radical-left Kurdish revolutionary movement that is influenced by anarchism, is aware that the presidential bid of her host Gabbard has been endorsed by David Duke—who shares Tulsi's fondness for Assad.
As in the Venezuela crisis, Donald Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, is making a cynical pretense of concern for democracy in Iran. Fortunately, his latest bit of exploitation of the Iranian protesters has blown up in his face. Noting the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he issued a tweet yesterday featuring a meme with an image of a student protester from the 2017 anti-austerity uprising and the words: "40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future." He also tweeted the same message in the Persian language. Today, the courageous photographer who snapped the image at the University of Tehran in December 2017, Yalda Moayeri, comes forward to express her outrage at its co-optation by Trump, telling the New York Times: "I felt cheated and abused, it causes me great sorrow to see the man who is inflicting so much pain upon me and my compatriots to use my image for his own agenda. I did not take this risk to have someone using it to pressure us Iranians even further." She added: "His sanctions are devastating our lives. Our money became worthless. People are becoming poor. Because of his travel ban, many Iranians cannot visit their family members in the United States. My father lives there and I can't go either. I just don't want to be any part of his agenda against Iran."
The US scored a propaganda coup against besieged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro last week, sending planeloads of "humanitarian aid" to Colombia, where it was dispatched in a "caravan" toward the border. The aid was welcomed by the US-backed pretender to the presidency, Juan Guaidó, but rejected by Maduro, who thundered that Venezuelans are "not beggars." Maduro was put in the no-win situation of either having to turn away aid at a time of deprivation or accept assistance sent by a government that does not recognize him but recognizes his opposition. He opted for the prior, mobilizing troops to the border and blocking the three lanes of the international bridge between the two countries with a fuel tanker and shipping containers. The caravan is currently stalled at Cúcuta, the nearest city on the Colombia side. (The Guardian, AP) While the affair has occasioned much media bloviation either against Maduro for blocking the caravan or against Trump for politicizing aid, there has been an alarming paucity of information about who actually organized the caravan...
Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)
Thousands of Haitians filled the streets of Port-au-Prince and several provincial cities to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise on Feb, 7—anniversary of the 1986 ouster of long-ruling dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Demonstrators also called for the arrest of officials responsible for the plundering of monies from the Venezuela-provided PetroCaribe fund over the past 10 years. At least two were reported dead in the protests, with vehicles burned, a police station attacked, some 40 arrested, and many wounded, including 14 police officers. Haiti faces a fast-deepening crisis, with hunger, unemployment and inflation all growing. The cost of food and other necessities is increasing daily as the national currency depreciates. In 1986, the gourde was fixed at five to one dollar. Now 83 gourdes buys a dollar, up from 65 when Jovenel Moïse came to power two years ago. (Haiti Liberté)
Lizardo Cauper, president of Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, has issued an urgent call for authorities to open dialogue with indigenous communities in the northern region of Loreto rather than militarizing the area in response to mounting social conflicts and attacks on the North Peruvian Pipeline. Noting that the aging pipeline is in chronic disrepair, with repeated spills contaminating the rainforest waterways, Cauper said: "We have made a call that, in place of militarization, they put in place a new pipeline. But it is not enough to have a new pipeline, but to respond to the demands of the people who are living around these oil activities." On Feb. 7, just a week after Cauper's comments, Loreto regional authorities called upon Lima to declare a state of emergency in response to paralysis of the pipeline, which delivers crude from rainforest oilfields over the Andes to the coast.