CounterVortex Resisting the Downward Spiral Fri, 09 Oct 2020 04:59:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 CounterVortex 32 32 ANARCHIST COMMUNE MANCHURIA Fri, 09 Oct 2020 03:44:52 +0000 Francesco Dalessandro explores this critical episode for the anarchist journal Fifth Estate.]]> by Francesco Dalessandro, Fifth Estate

By the official version of history, World War II started in Poland in 1939, but cases can also be made that it really began in Austria in 1938, Spain in 1936, Abyssinia in 1935—or Manchuria in 1931. All of these harbingers of the coming storm are well known to students of the era.

However, it is nearly forgotten that the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria that year was partially aimed at crushing a self-governing anarchist “autonomous prefecture” that had been established in the region by exiles from Korea, which had already been occupied and annexed by the Japanese Empire. This critical episode demands more attention from historians.

Manchuria as anarchist refuge
Manchuria is nestled in the northeast corner of China, bordering Russia and (North) Korea, with a limited access to the Yellow Sea. It is as large as France and Germany together and, in the 1920s, was home to 30 million people. Its native people, the Manchus, had long lived peacefully with immigrants and exiles from Korea, Russia, Japan, and elsewhere in China and Asia. By the ’20s, in Manchuria’s Shinmin Prefecture (today Mudanjiang prefecture, Heilongjiang province) there lived 600,000 Koreans who had been forced to abandon the Korean Peninsula following the Japanese invasion and annexation of their country in 1910. Among these were numerous anarchists.

The second half of the 19th century had seen large popular uprisings in Korea that, for a while, had been able to abolish the feudal system of land ownership. Under Japanese rule, some 2 million Koreans, including many intellectuals and revolutionaries as well as poor peasants and laborers, were forced to leave their country, with many emigrating to Manchuria and Japan. At the same time, 1 million Japanese settled in Korea. The goal of Imperial Japan was to depopulate the country of its original farmers and peasants and to allow poor farmers and peasants from Japan to move in as colonizers.

Anarchist ideals emerged in Manchuria’s Korean community under the influence of a prominent exiled militant and thinker, Lee Hwae-Yeong. Between 1910 and 1925, the Korean exiles joined with local Han Chinese and Manchu workers and peasants to establish three “autonomous prefectures” within Manchura: Jeongen, Chanren and finally Shinmin, near the Russian border.

Shinmin Prefecture was inhabitated by 2 million people, nearly half of whom were Korean immigrants and exiles.

These prefectures were left alone to develop autonomously due to a combination of factors, including the weakness of the Chinese state and the ruggedness of the mountain territory. Their isolation even allowed for the formation of a self-defense force, the Korean Independence Army, or Army of the North. This was under the command of the anarchist-sympathizer general Kim Jao-jin (or Kim Jwa-Jin), who has been named the “Korean Makhno.”

In October 1920, at the battle of Ch’ing-Shan, 400 troops of the Army of the North defeated a brigade of the Japanese Imperial Army, which kept a force in Manchuria to protect Japanese economic interests. This was an incredible feat that contributed to keeping Manchuria free of Japanese control and would eventually allow the flourishing of the anarchist project.

Anarchism and the Korean national struggle
Several months earlier, on March 1, 1919, the Japanese army attacked a peaceful demonstration in Seoul of Koreans who were demanding independence. More than 2,000 demonstrators were killed and some 20,000 more arrested. This event inspired a widespread revolt in Korea known as the “3.1 Movement.”

In the same period, many Korean nationalists moved toward more defined anarchist positions. In 1923, the influent journalist Shin Chae-Ho joined with the anarchist Yu Cha-myoung to write the “Korean Revolutionary Manifesto for the Band of Heroes.” The Band of Heroes was a group of anarchists and nationalists that conducted a series of bombings in the early 1920s in an effort to drive out the Japanese.

The Manifesto was essentially an anarchist document that linked the national liberation struggle to the more general social struggle of the popular classes. It became a founding document for the Korean Anarchist Federation, established in 1924. The KAF organized groups of militants in the Korean cities, as well as in Manchuria and Japan.

Facing Japanese repression in Korea, some KAF militants looked to remote Manchuria as territory where liberated zones could be established. Groups including the Korean Anarcho-Communist Federation and Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria began to take hold across the region.

Creation and rise of the commune
In March 1925, Shinmin Prefecture was established in the name of a “New Popular Society” movement, by guerrilla units led by Kim Jwa-jin, Kim Hyok, No Ho Choi Jung-so and others. The commune was inspired by the ideas of the anarchist Kim Jon-Jun, an active KAF militant and a relative of Kim Jwa-jin. The program emphasized the autonomous formation of an agrarian system based on the internal cooperation of the different productive units. In 1927, it issued a “Plan to Organize and Train the Korean People,” viewing the liberated zone in Shinmin as a model and staging ground for the eventual liberation of Korea itself.

In 1929, Shinmin’s self-governance system was renamed as the Korean People’s Association in Manchuria (KPAM). The system of self-governance was based on delegates from each area and district organized around eight departments: self-defense, agriculture, education, finance, propaganda, youth, public health and general affairs. The delegates at all levels were ordinary peasants and workers, who did not acquire any new privilege while serving in the administrative structures.

The Korean anarchist historian Ha Ki-Rak writes that the system was based on the principle of “from each in accord to his/her capacity and to each in accord to his/her needs.”

In the following years, the commune expanded to the Heilong Jiang, or Black Dragon River, today known as the Amur, which forms the border between China and Russia. It came to enclose a triangular area bounded by the Amur on the east, the Sungchangho River to the west and the Harbin-Hunchun highway to the south. It comprised 35,000 square kilometers—three times the size of the area controlled by the Makhnovtchina in the south of Ukraine from 1918 to 1921.

Decline and fall of the commune
The commune started coming under pressure when the Japanese massively invaded Manchuria in 1931 and installed a puppet government, ruling in the name of a nominally independent state, Manchukuo. Simultaneously, the Communist Party of Korea, directed from Moscow, started a program of infiltration of the commune and systematic assassination of its leaders. Kim Jwa-jin was assassinated while repairing a rice mill in January 1930. It remains unclear if the assassin was an agent of Imperial Japan or the Korean Communists.

The commune was soon enroached upon militarily on all sides—by the Soviet Red Army on the east, the Imperial Japanese Army on the south, the Chinese Nationalist Army on the west.

By the end of 1931, the weakened commune was overrun by the Japanese Army. The anarchists who survived went into hiding and continued to wage guerrilla warfare against the Japanese occupation well into World War II.

Emilio Crisi, author of Revolución Anarquista Coreana en Manchuria (1929-1932), remarks that much more historical research is necessary to understand this “forgotten revolution.” However, it clearly should be seen as an essential milestone of the anarchist movement, and possibly of the world liberation struggle—similar to the Spanish Revolution of 1936, the Makhnovtchina of 1918 in Ukraine, or the Magonista revolution of Baja California in 1911.

Knowing more about such histories can help us imagine new ways of resisting the global elites still trying to carve the world and our minds into their spheres of influence.


Emilio Crisi, Revolución Anarquista Coreana en Manchuria (1929-1932), Editorial Libros de Anarres, Argentina, 2015

Ha Ki-Rak, A History of Korean Anarchist Movement, Anarchist Publishing Committee, Seoul, 1986

Dongyoun Hwang, Anarchism in Korea, SUNY press, New York, 2016

Michael Scmidt: In the Shadow of a Hurricane: Global Anarchist Ideological and Organizational Lineages (publication forthcoming)


A shorter version of this story appears in the fall 2020 edition of Fifth Estate.

Image of founding members of the KPAM via Wikipedia

Other resources:

The Story of the Korean Anarchists and the Anarchist Revolution in Manchuria, 1929-1931
Zabalaza, South Africa, Jan. 22, 2014

Weird History: Korean Anarchist Commune in Manchuria
The Woodstock, YouTube, April 1, 2018


Podcast: the politics of separatism in China
CounterVortex, Sept. 2, 2019

Podcast: paradoxes of anarchism and nationalism
CounterVortex, April 28, 2019

From our Daily Report:

China’s rulers fear balkanization —with reason?
CounterVortex, July 25, 2019

Tiananmen spectacle, historical revisionism
CounterVortex, Sept. 6, 2015

CounterVortex visits Yasukuni shrine
CounterVortex, Aug. 7, 2007

See also:

Questioning US Support for Tokyo’s National Security Moves
by Craig Martin, Jurist
CounterVortex, September 2015

North Korea & Cuba Face the Post-Petrol Future
by Dale Jiajun Wen, Yes! Magazine
CounterVortex, July 2006


Reprinted by CounterVortex, Oct. 9, 2020

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TWO FACES OF FASCISM Tue, 15 Sep 2020 03:23:55 +0000 Bill Weinberg explores the twin threats of a totalitarian order that the United States faces at this history-making moment: Trump-fascism, perhaps to be lubricated by a “Reichstag Fire” scenario ahead of the November election, and a post-pandemic “new normality” of complete surveillance and social control. Eerily predictive of these twin dystopias are two works of “future fiction” from the 20th century—It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis and The Machine Stops by EM Forster. With the Black Lives Matter uprising deepening the ugly backlash from the Trump camp and a COVID-19 “second wave” looming, the US is poised on a razor’s edge between long-overdue leaps of social progress and descent into some kind of updated American variant of fascism.]]> Both the COVID-19 ‘New Normal’ and Trump Exploitation of the Backlash Pose Grave Threats to Freedom

by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate

Around Lower Manhattan, storefronts have been boarded up with plywood since the looting of early June. The plywood has now all been covered with murals and graffiti art on the theme of Black Lives Matter. Throughout June, angry protests were a daily affair, as in cities across the country, and continue intermittently as I write.

There is a sense that the United States is poised at a razor’s edge. The moment is ripe with potential for long overdue leaps of social progress—perhaps even a truly revolutionary situation. Anarchist ideas like abolishing the police are entering mainstream discourse with astonishing rapidity.

But as with gains for anarchist forces in Italy in the early 1920s, there is also the potential for a ultra-reactionary backlash—a descent into some kind of updated American variant of fascism.

The events surrounding Juneteenth were instructive. Trump planned his big rally, on the day that celebrates Black Emancipation from slavery, for Tulsa—the scene in 1921 of a generalized massacre of the African American community by white supremacist mobs and militias. It was clearly an intentional provocation by a president bent on fomenting a national crisis ahead of the November election.

Before the rally, Trump tweeted an open challenge: “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!” (Actually, the NYPD have even driven their patrol cars into crowds of protesters here in New York.)

But at the 11th hour, Trump blinked and pushed the date back by one day—apparently heeding words of warning within his own circle. It is actually the Pentagon that appears to be having a restraining effect, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper explicitly disavowing use military troops for domestic enforcement after the June 1 outrage in DC’s Lafayette Park. This is almost certainly due to fears of mutiny within the ranks and troops refusing to obey orders for repression.

Still, the threat persists of an imminent state of exception in the US, with basic rights completely abrogated—and, perhaps, the election postponed, suspended or cancelled. In short, the establishment of the dictatorship that Trump has clearly been dreaming of since 2016.

And there is another, more insidious threat waiting in the wings, brought to us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even a post-pandemic return to “normality” will be concomitant with the imposition of a totalizing surveillance state and unprecedentedly intimate social control. All plans by the National Institutes of Health and international equivalents foresee a ubiquitous tracking of the population through our cellphones, with those found to have come into contact with a virus carrier to be placed in “social quarantine” enforced by GPS tracking. This is already being imposed in China, and is under study in Europe. Even liberal democracies like New Zealand are creating new special police corps to monitor the social contacts of the entire populace, with draconian powers to carry out warrantless raids of suspected quarantine offenders.

Another aspect of this “new normal” is the relegation of virtually all human activity to cyberspace, with the meat world and the street world—that is, real life—essentially abolished. All spheres of life will be mediated through digital technology—which of course means absolute surveillance.

And resisting this dystopia is a particularly tricky proposition—because the virus actually is a threat. Contrary to what Trump’s radical-right followers apparently believe, it is not a hoax or creation of the liberal media—it’s a real threat. And this second dystopia could be instated under a liberal democracy—such as the US under Joe Biden.

How it Could Happen Here
Two works of future fiction from the last century crystalize these twin threats with an almost preternatural clarity, eerily prescient in their portrayals of the world we now actually see unfolding.

One, predictive of Trump-fascism, is It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel about what it could look like in the United States if a figure like Hitler or Mussolini came to power.

The fascist who is elected president in this grim vision is amusingly named Buzz Windrip, and was inspired by Huey Long, the populist demagogue governor of Louisiana. But the parallels to Trump are extraordinary, with some of the rhetoric matching verbatim—for instance, the appeal to the “forgotten men.”

Although a Democratic senator from an unnamed Midwestern state, rather than a Republican New York billionaire who had never held public office, Windrip shares Trump’s amalgam of populism and racism. (Remember, Huey Long was a Democrat too; the current party postures were just beginning to take shape in the ’30s.) A part of Windrip’s platform is to instate Jim Crow at the federal level, with the best jobs put aside for white men, and Blacks (Jews too) officially disenfranchised of the vote. Today, we have “voter suppression” laws and strategies—seen most notoriously in the recent Georgia primary. And Trump, who rose to power by blaming perceived undeserving minorities for the decline of the white middle class, is playing to vicious racism more blatantly than ever.

Here’s the part that really is really worrisome at this moment. Windrip’s Reichstag Fire, so to speak, came on the day of his inauguration. Blacks gathered in Washington to protest, there was violence (possibly staged by provocateurs), and finally a massacre as troops fired on the demonstrators. This set the stage for Buzz to push through his legislative package establishing a dictatorship immediately upon taking office.

There are some important differences with the current situation, comfortingly. Four years into the Trump presidency, there has been no such metaphorical Reichstag Fire, and the formal rudiments of bourgeois democracy are in place—however precariously. This is partially due to incompetence, and partially to resistance from the “deep state”—those elements of the federal bureaucracy not coopted by Trump’s fascist agenda. And, again, probably warnings from the military brass, motivated by fears of mutiny, that they do not have Trump’s back.

And this brings us to another difference. Windrip already built his paramilitary force before being elected—akin to Hitler’s Brown Shirts or Mussolini’s Black Shirts, but patriotically named the Minute Men (another prescient touch). Right-wing militias are only coming to the fore now, and are a much more significant force than they were in 2016. They’ve been especially mobilized by white middle-class discontent with the COVID-19 lockdown measures. An armed movement is congealing now, loyal to Trump if not yet under any effective means of command.

We’ve already seen unaccountable right-wing militias, sometimes acting under color of law, attacking protesters from coast to coast. One particularly alarming case was in Albuquerqueon June 15, where protesters were fired upon by a gunman apparently associated with an outfit calling itself the New Mexico Civil Guard—a completely irregular force unanswerable to anybody. One protester was wounded, and assault charges against the arrested gunman have been dropped.

So there will, alas, be plenty of opportunities for a Trumpian paramilitary force to foment a Reichstag Fire between now and November. Or, as we nearly saw at Lafayette Park and Tulsa, the official security forces playing this role.

Rage Against the Machine —in 1909
But let’s turn back to that other dystopia that will still face us, even if we are lucky enough to make it past the election without being plunged into total disaster. Amazingly, it’s the book written earlier—way back in 1909—that predicted this second, more futuristic and high-tech dystopia.

The Machine Stops by EM Forster is exactingly predictive of a cybernetic totalitarianism in a post-pandemic normality. More than a century ago, Forster foresaw not only the Internet but “social distancing” and “distance learning,” and the eclipse of the meat world.

The novella takes place in a more distant future, after some unnamed disaster has forced the human race indoors. Everybody lives below ground in isolated cells which they rarely leave. Society is governed by the Machine—a vast network that connects all these individual cells all over the world. They can communicate to each other through the Machine, so they never have to actually see, or have any physical contact with, each other. Does this sound familiar?

The protagonist, Kuno, experiences a crisis of discontent, and plans to make an excursion to the Earth’s surface, leaving the underground artificial reality controlled by the Machine—which is considered completely taboo. Driven by a premonition that the Machine is going to start malfunctioning and eventually collapse, he makes his forbidden journey—and finds that there are still pockets of humans living on the surface. He returns to the Machine-mediated world, and his premonition is vindicated—the Machine stops, and because everyone was dependent on it for all their needs, society collapses amid mass death. The one note of hope is that those small communities of surface-dwellers will survive and start over.

In expressing his alienation from the Machine, Kuno states: “We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops—but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds—but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.”

Predicting the kind of video-telephony today ubiquitous, Forster writes; “It only gave a general idea of people—an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes… Something ‘good enough’ had long since been accepted by our race.”

This is the approaching reality—students will never go to campuses or sit in classrooms again; political meetings, lectures, cultural events, musical performances—all will be done remotely. That’s going to be “good enough,” and people will forget in another generation what the real world was actually like.

This is, to stretch the definition, another face of fascism—or, at least, of totalitarian social control. It is not fascism on the classical model of Hitler and Mussolini, which Trump is now approaching. It isn’t motivated by ugly nationalism and ethnic hatred, but by concern with public health and security. It is what has been called “friendly fascism,” consistent (a least in its inception) with liberal democracy. But the mechanisms of control under this model, while less brutal, could be more complete—and could pose an even greater longterm threat to human freedom.

Moreover, these models are not mutually exclusive. Trump has thus far been playing to the backlash against social isolation, and downplaying the threat of the virus. That, however, could change in a minute. If his attempts to foment a national crisis fail, he could exploit the virus as the crisis, and use the pandemic as a pretext for imposing his more classically fascist order.

The Human Resistance
So whether we manage to avoid Trump-fascism or not, we’re still going to have to face the challenge of keeping alive some kind of human future in the high-tech post-pandemic dystopia.

Since New York City went into lockdown in March, some local activists have been rising to the occasion. Local “mutual aid” groups have sprung up in neighborhoods around the city, providing resources to meet local needs. Esneider Huasipungo of New York’s legendary Latin anarcho-punk band Huasipungo, is working with one such group—Centro Corona Mutual Aid, serving the extremely multicultural Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.

“When the pandemic hit, we decided to do this, because we knew a lot of people were gonna lose their jobs, not be able to leave home,” Huasipungo says. “How are we gonna respond?”

The mutual aid group emerged from the Centro Corona, which was launched five years ago, dong art classes and workshops, tutoring, and movie nights for local youth. It expanded to legal consultation for the area’s many immigrants—Colombian, Ecuadoran, Mexican, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi. It is now operating from a former taqueria, primarily as a food distribution point.

“We send out some 200 boxes a week,” Huasipungo says. “Veggies, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, beans, pasta, sugar, coffee. Also Tylenol, cough medicine, thermometers, diapers, baby food.” And while other such efforts send out packages indiscriminately, the Centro Corona prepares each one for a particular household. “Each box is labeled with the name of the family and its dietary needs.”

This is social solidarity that still maintains the necessary “social distancing,” as it is called. Delivery is direct to homes, usually by volunteers on bicycles. “There are no crowds at all,” says Huasipungo, who has done deliveries himself, as well as picking up foodstuffs at the Hunts Point wholesale market in the Bronx.

“Each weekend, deliveries are made, and we make sure everyone has a mask and keeps distance. Delivery teams are not allowed in the space, everything is set up for pick-up outside on the sidewalk.”

There are volunteers who speak such local languages as Dari and Urdu as well as Spanish, to learn the needs of each household. Money is raised through Venmo and Paypal, and there have been some donations from GrowNYC, the nonprofit that coordinates the city’s greenmarkets.

But Huasipungo emphasizes, “There are no strings attached. We’re not gonna be colonized by the nonprofits. We’re not gonna say ‘thanks to Citibank.'”

“We want people to realize they don’t have to depend on the politicians and nonprofits,” Huasipungo concludes. “And you don’t have to just look out for number one. You can look out for everybody.”

Such small efforts, in communities across the country, may help determine which way a society poised at the razor’s edge goes—and keep a sense of human spirit alive in a future that sure looks like it’s going to need it.


A shorter version of this story appears in the fall 2020 edition of Fifth Estate.

Image: Lacey Timberland Library


Podcast: two faces of fascism
CounterVortex, June 20, 2020

From our Daily Report:

Trump broaches postponement of election
CounterVortex, Aug. 1, 2020

Lawsuits as feds detain Portland protesters
CounterVortex, July 19, 2020

Biological police state preparations advance
CounterVortex, May 18, 2020

Global COVID-19 police state consolidates
CounterVortex, April 15, 2020

See also:

Explaining Canada’s Determination
by Shaurya Shukla, Jurist
CounterVortex, August 2020

by Vincent Kolo,
CounterVortex, June 2020

The Heavy Toll COVID-19 Takes on Undocumented Immigrants
by Allyssa M.G. Scheyer, Jurist
CounterVortex, March 2020

by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate
CounterVortex, July 2018


Reprinted by CounterVortex, Sept. 14, 2020

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TRUMP’S AMERICA: NO LONGER SAFE FOR REFUGEES Thu, 13 Aug 2020 00:27:53 +0000 Shaurya Shukla discusses the decision for Jurist, and explores its implications for the United States' standing under international law.]]> Explaining Canada’s Determination

by Shaurya Shukla, Jurist

Recently a Canadian court threw out the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the USA, finding that the detention centers in the United States violate the human rights of refugees. This pact compels refugees seeking asylum in Canada through the US-Canadian border to first seek asylum in the USA. The pact was challenged last year by Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches. A lawyer for the refugees stated that the USA does not qualify as a “Safe Third Country” under the administration of Donald Trump, as refugees are subjected to family separation and illegal pushbacks. The judge in the case, Ann Marie McDonald, pronounced that the STCA violates the Canadian Constitution guarantees of life, liberty, and security.

In the ruling, McDonald cited the ordeal of a female migrant from Ethiopia named Nedira Mustefa, who she was isolated in a US detention center for one week after being sent back by the Canadian authorities. McDonald suspended the decision of the court for six months to give parliament a chance to respond. This ruling can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and Canada’s Supreme Court.

The STCA is a smart border action plan. This agreement was signed between the USA and Canada on December 5, 2002, and it came into effect on December 29, 2004. It was signed to maintain the refugee system in both countries, as this agreement forces refugees to seek asylum in the first country they arrive unless they qualify for an exception. This agreement has four kinds of exceptions.

First is the “family member exception,” which applies if the family member of a refugee is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada or has a work or study permit in Canada. Second is the “unaccompanied minor exception,” applying to refugees under the age of 18 who are not accompanied by their mother, father, or legal guardian and don’t have any parent or legal guardian in Canada and the USA. The third is the “document holder exception,” applying to those who hold a valid Canadian visa, or work or study permit. The fourth is the “public interest exception,” applying to any person who is convicted of an offense which could subject that person to the death penalty in the US or in a third country.

Section 102 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) permits the designation of safe third countries for the purpose of sharing the responsibility for refugee claims. To be considered as a safe country under section 102 (2) of IRPA, a country must be a party to the Refugee Convention and Convention Against Torture. Additionally, its policies must follow the rules and regulations mentioned in these conventions. The country must hold a good track record in the precinct of human rights, and it should be a party to the agreement with the government of Canada for sharing responsibilities with respect to claims of refugee protection.

In the past, the US has denied asylum to refugees. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has also reported that the US has violated the right of refugees to seek asylum as well as their right to life, liberty, and security of the person. But the immigration policies rolled out by the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018 have brutally transgressed American as well as international law, and these policies are moving toward destruction of the US asylum system. These policies have included illegal pushbacks at the borders.

These policies have led to illegal family separations. In one of many miserable instances, a mother was told that she doesn’t possess any rights in America, not even the right to stay with his son. Many asylum seekers were subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention, where they were treated in an inhumane and degrading way. Such policies that obliterate the basic human rights of refugees deter the persecuted from seeking asylum in the USA, which is against section 102 (2) of IRPA. The Canadian court ruled that the USA is no longer a safe country for refugees under the administration of Donald Trump in the light of such violations.

Such draconian policies of the Trump administration, which promote illegal pushbacks and illegal family separations, violate basic human rights and refugee rights guaranteed under US and international law. Article 27 of American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and article 22 (7) of American Convention on Human Rights guarantee that every person has right to asylum in foreign territory in accordance with the laws of each country and with international agreements. Making such policies to create a sense of trepidation in the minds of asylum-seekers is a gross violation of the right to asylum guaranteed by above statutes.

Other international law obligations were also violated by the USA through these pushbacks, family separations, and inhumane treatment of refugees at detention centers. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that no one should be subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. On account of the statement of an Ethiopian female immigrant, Nedira Jemal Mustefa, it can be easily apprehended how this basic human right is violated in the detention facilities of USA. Article 14 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, and that if a country persecutes refugees then it cannot be considered safe.

One more essential condition imparted in Section 102 (2) of IRPA is that for a country to be considered a “Safe Third Country,” it must be a party to the Refugee Convention of 1951 and Convention Against Torture of 1984 and it should also follow the rules and regulations of these conventions while forming its policies. Trump’s USA has also failed on this ground. Article 23 of Refugee Convention states that all the parties to the convention must afford refugees within their borders the same fundamental rights as their own nationals. This regulation is violated in a ferocious way when refugees are forced to live away from their family members and kin in detention centers amid torment and inhumane treatment. Article 3 (1) of Convention Against Torture states that no party to the covenant shall send a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she will be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment.

The current situation of the human rights and refugee rights in the US makes clear why the Canadian court decided to issue such a ruling. This type of situation brings great disrepute to the image of a country that is considered to be a superpower in world politics. The US government must win back the trust of people across the world by passing strict legislation which explicitly bans illegal pushbacks and illegal family separations of refugees. America should upholds international standards of human rights in its detention centers. An independent central agency must be formed, charged with looking into matters of basic human rights for refugees and empowered to initiate criminal investigations of the people who are involved in such practices.

The USA should also ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the United States signed in 1995 and is the only country in the world which has not adopted it yet. Article 22 of this convention says that signatory states shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child (whether accompanied by parents or not) who is seeking refugee status after following the due procedure in accordance with applicable international or domestic law shall “receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties.” The parties to this convention must undertake all efforts to reunite a child with his or her parents and to avoid illegal family separations.


Shaurya Shukla is a second-year law student at Chanakya National Law University in Patna, India

This story first appeared Aug. 11 in Jurist.

Photo: Asylum-seekers queue for a meal at El Barretal shelter in Tijuana, Mexico
Credit: UNHCR/Daniel Dreifuss via UN News


Canada court rules ‘Safe Third Country’ pact with US invalid, cites detention risk
Reuters, July 22, 2020

From our Daily Report:

Trump signs immigration suspension order
CounterVortex, April 23, 2020

Demand detainee release amid COVID-19 outbreak
CounterVortex, March 25, 2020

SCOTUS lets stand ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy
CounterVortex, March 15, 2020

Mexico: crisis, militarization on both borders
CounterVortex, March 3, 2020

Canada rules US not safe for refugees
CounterVortex, Dec. 4, 2007

See also:

The Heavy Toll COVID-19 Takes on Undocumented Immigrants
by Allyssa M.G. Scheyer, Jurist
CounterVortex, March 2020


Reprinted by CounterVortex, Aug. 12, 2020

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THE MONUMENTAL DILEMMA Thu, 16 Jul 2020 03:54:59 +0000 Bill Weinberg explores the dilemma for Lower Manhattan's new online newspaper, The Village Sun.]]> by Bill Weinberg, The Village Sun

The sight of statues of Confederate generals and slavocrat politicians coming down in several states across the country is a long-overdue correction. There is no ambiguity on what those monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, John Calhoun represented. These men stood in life for the most oppressive white supremacy, and their images were raised after their deaths as proud signifiers that the fundamentals of white supremacy remained intact despite the Civil War and Reconstruction. These monuments were raised as ritual intimidation and humiliation of African Americans.

Now, things are being taken to the next level, with statues targeted for removal that have racist content or historical associations but are not of figures who fought for slavery or the Confederacy, and were not raised as an intentionally threatening message to Blacks. And the question has reached New York City.

Memorializing mass murderers, celebrating slavers
I was certainly happy to learn that the equestrian statue of Teddy Roosevelt that stands outside the American Museum of Natural History is to be removed. Whenever I went to the museum as a kid, passing that statue annoyed me—the Great White Father mounted on a horse, while the African (whose people had been enslaved) and the Native American (whose lands were stolen) walk semi-clad on either side, slightly to his rear, their heads level with his rump. An unambiguous testament to America’s racial hierarchy. (And that was before I knew of TR’s campaign of massacre in the Philippines.)

There is also a push to remove the Thomas Jefferson statue from City Hall. Jefferson expressed anguish about slavery in his “Notes on Virginia,” which may have been genuine—but he was still the “owner” of more than 600 human beings over his lifetime. As governor of Virginia during the War of Independence, he also dispatched a militia force to attack the Shawnee indigenous people in the “Northwest” (present-day Kentucky and Ohio).

The statue of George Washington on the arch in Washington Square was pelted with red paint this week. Washington, of course, was also a major slave-holder. Ironically, while never grand-standing against slavery in life as Jefferson did, he did free his human “property” in his will—again, unlike Jefferson. In a little-known sideshow to the War of Independence, he also waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Iroquois Confederacy on New York state’s western frontier. His troops burned so many villages that the Iroquois dubbed Washington “Town Destroyer.” Sullivan St., which runs into Washington Square on the south, is named for the leader of this brutal campaign, Gen. John Sullivan.

Lower East Side Democratic district leader Paul Newell is likewise calling for a purge of monuments to Peter Stuyvesant—noting that he was “New Amsterdam’s largest slave owner.”

And, inevitably, there are calls to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus that towers over the circle that bears his name at the southwest corner of Central Park. This is meeting equally inevitable resistance from leaders of the city’s Italian-American community. And here is where things start to get complicated.

Contested Columbus
Columbus has become a symbol of conquest and genocide. His rule in Hispaniola was one of enslavement and massacre of the island’s Taino indigenous people. It is for good reason that dozens of cities and states—including Vermont, Minnesota, Oregon and Alaska—have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.

But the statue at Columbus Circle was not raised as a conscious denigration of Native Americans. On the contrary, it was raised as a symbol of dignity for Italian Americans—or, viewed more cynically, of their aspiration to become “white” at a time when they were still stigmatized by white society.

In 1891, the year before the statue was raised, 11 Sicilian immigrants who had been acquitted of murdering the police chief were lynched in New Orleans—one of the largest mass lynchings in the country’s history. (Teddy Roosevelt in a private letter referred to the lynchings “rather a good thing.”)

The following year, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landfall, New York’s Italian community raised money for the statue and petitioned to have it raised. Columbus became the icon of Italian-American social ascendance—despite the fact that he never reached the shores of what is now the US, and he sailed for Spain not Italy (which did not even exist as a nation-state then). The raising of Columbus monuments at this time was bitterly opposed by the Ku Klux Klan, who were (of course) the very last to accept the Italians as “white.”

The urge to purge: uses and abuses
Acknowledging the cultural complexities around some of these contentious statues is not a defense of the statues per se. There is a part of me—a survival from my hot-headed anarchist youth—that wants to see all statues overturned, because they represent the Cult of Great Men, the “shadow of dead generations that weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

Another statue that I took great glee in hating as a young (and naive) rad was the one of Poland’s medieval King Jagiello in Central Park. I thought it repulsive that there should be a statue of a feudal monarch in a modern city. It was only years later that I became aware of the anti-fascist symbolism of that statue—Jagiello had fought the Teutonic Knights, and his monument was raised in 1939, when Poland was invaded by another German aggressor, the Nazis.

It was also only later that I learned of the pathological extremes to which the urge to purge images of an oppressive past were taken in China’s Cultural Revolution, in which numberless Buddhist artifacts were smashed.

Abetting revisionism?
I felt signals of misgiving with the news that a statue of Ulysses Grant had been torn down in San Francisco on Juneteenth. Not that this was necessarily unjustifiable. Grant (from free-soil Ohio) married into a slave-holding Missouri family, and it is an irony that he was the last US president to “own” an enslaved human being. But I do hope that the protesters who tore down his statue understood that that this is, in fact, an irony. For those who know the history, there is an inherent paradox to tearing down a statue of Grant on Juneteenth.

As president, Grant also continued the project of subduing the Native Americans and usurping their lands, launching the Great Sioux War (whose most reviled general was George Armstrong Custer), and the Modoc War in Northern California. He also appointed the first Native American as Indian Commissioner—Ely S. Parker, a Seneca (one of the Iroquois nations) from upstate New York, who struggled as best he could to restrain prosecution of the Indian Wars.

There have been other such paradoxical statue attacks. Days before Juneteenth, a statue of poet John Greenleaf Whittier in the California town that bears his name was scrawled with “BLM” and “FUCK SLAVE OWNERS”—despite the fact that he had been a prominent Abolitionist, not a slave “owner.”

And days after Juneteenth, protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, toppled a statue of Hans Christian Heg—a Norwegian immigrant who was an ardent anti-slavery activist, and who died in battle as a Union colonel in the Civil War.

So there’s a part of me shares the nihilist imperative to destroy an oppressive society’s self-congratulatory (at best) monuments to itself. But there is another part of me that heeds alarm bells about a rewriting of history that may play into the hands of our worst enemies.

Racist reactionaries now fly the Confederate flag in places like Wisconsin and Michigan and upstate New York. Are they actually ignorant that their own states had been on the Union side? Do they buy (or pretend to buy) the Southern revisionist line of “heritage not hate,” the deluded notion that the Civil War was not about slavery but “states’ rights”? In either case, there may be some on our side who abet (if unwittingly) this ignorance or revisionism, by portraying the Civil War in morally neutral terms. Because—however much the Northern industrialists were its ultimate beneficiaries, and however much the advances of Emancipation and Reconstruction were reversed after the withdrawal of Union troops from the South in 1877—the Civil War was by no means morally neutral.

Patronizing presentation
Then there are at least two statues of Abraham Lincoln himself that protesters are demanding be removed—the Emancipation Memorial in Washington DC and its replica in Boston. What is at issue here isn’t Lincoln himself, but the position of the freed Black portrayed in these monuments—literally on bent knee, fawning in gratitude (and, again, semi-clad).

Defenders of the statue point out that it was actually erected by emancipated Blacks, with money they raised themselves, and Frederick Douglass officiated at its unveiling in 1876 (with President Grant in attendance). And it is a fact that the image of a chained, kneeling and semi-clad Black man was a symbol of the Abolitionist movement—generally accompanied by the phrase “Am I not a man and a brother?” It is also true that Douglass, in his comments that day, acknowledged Lincoln’s own conflicted legacy—he had fought the Civil War, first and foremost, to preserve the Union, not to end slavery.

There is a monument in New York that shares this identical problem of presentation—the statue in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza of Henry Ward Beecher, the famous Abolitionist preacher. The white savior is literally on a pedestal while Blacks literally fawn at his feet, below the pedestal. Beecher, the pastor of Brooklyn Heights’ Plymouth Church, was a favorable historical figure. But obviously the statue, raised in 1891, betrays an ugly, patronizing racism. If it hasn’t yet drawn the ire of the protesters, it certainly will.

So, what do we do with this statue? Do we tear it down as a racist artifact? Do we leave it up, but add some interpretive material noting that it reflected the backward values of the time it was raised? Or do we just leave it alone, and accept that most people are smart enough to view it in historical context?

Or, do we counterbalance these monuments with new, more dignified ones, to the icons of Black self-emancipation: Frederick Douglass (who now stands at the side entrance to the New York Historical Society on 77th St., second place to Lincoln at the front entrance on Central Park West), Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, the Black regiments in the Union army, even (dare we imagine it?) Nat Turner?

The final dilemma
And a final dilemma—what do we do with the statues, even of the most egregious Confederates and slavocrats, after they come down? Do we destroy them, as the statues of King George III were destroyed in New York and Philadelphia in 1776, and those of Lenin and Stalin were destroyed in East Berlin and Budapest in 1989?

Or do we put them in museums, as cultural artifacts? We don’t have statues of Hitler in public places, but we do have a Holocaust Memorial Museum where his legacy is documented for posterity. Maybe the monuments to white supremacy should be placed in the National Museum of African American History & Culture—or a new Museum of American Slavery & the Middle Passage.

But there is a danger here too—that even in such a context, the statues could become sites of veneration for white supremacists. After Taiwan’s democratic transition in the 1990s, the ubiquitous statues of the late dictator Chiang Kai-shek around the country were relocated to the park where his mausoleum stands—now a site of perverse pilgrimage by his nostalgic devotees.

The long-delayed reckoning with the legacy of American racism inevitably raises quandaries and contradictions. The more seriously we grapple with these, the more profound and meaningful the reckoning will be.


This story first appeared July 2 in The Village Sun.

Photo: The Village Sun

From our Daily Report:

African countries call on UN to investigate racism in US
CounterVortex, June 18, 2020

UN panel censures US for ‘racial terrorism’
CounterVortex, Oct. 1, 2016

Palestinian solidarity with Iroquois land struggle
CounterVortex, March 7, 2007


Reprinted by CounterVortex, July 15, 2020

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HAS COVID-19 STRENGTHENED XI JINPING? Wed, 24 Jun 2020 02:43:59 +0000 Vincent Kolo of cuts through Beijing's propaganda of "victory" over the pandemic.]]> by Vincent Kolo,

On June 15, the National Bureau of Statistics cancelled its press conference in Beijing. It was due to present May’s economic data, showing that China’s economy continues to “gain momentum” following the shocking crash of the first quarter.

The cancellation was forced by the new wave of coronavirus infections in Beijing, which caused authorities to sharply reverse plans to fully re-open the city. Schools, which only re-opened the previous week, were again closed and 40 percent of flights from the capital’s two airports were cancelled. Over 90,000 residents near the outbreak’s center were put under strict lockdown with armed police cordoning off the area.

The new outbreak, with almost 200 confirmed cases in one week, is linked to the city’s biggest wholesale food market at Xinfandi. It came like a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky. Beijing had not reported a single new case of COVID-19 for 55 days. That this has happened in the capital, the Chinese dictatorship’s seat of power, is both chilling and embarrassing for Xi Jinping following months of propaganda claiming China’s “victory” over the pandemic.

It underlines a bigger global problem: That much is still unknown and unpredictable about COVID-19 and governments that are everywhere rushing to re-start profit-making economic activities are still cutting corners where public health is concerned. The World Health Organization warns that a second wave of the pandemic is “a very real risk.”

Unprecedented crisis
The pandemic and the global economic crisis are bringing fundamental and historic changes. Global capitalism as a whole including China’s authoritarian state-guided capitalism have decisively failed this test. Humanity faces a period of economic depression, record unemployment and sharply deteriorating international relations.

Xi’s regime has attempted to shield itself from a massive global blowback. Rival capitalist governments, most notably Trump in the US, want to place the whole blame on China for the health and economic crisis, while of course hiding their own crimes. Above all the CCP is concerned about public opinion at home—more than its global reputation. Favorable reports in global media or praise from foreign governments mainly have value for the CCP in showing Chinese people the regime is respected. With unemployment soaring in China and the economy in a worse plight than at any time in the past 40 years, Xi’s regime is desperate to generate “positive news” while tightening its crackdown on dissenting voices from whichever direction.

Since March, to improve its image, Beijing has engaged in global “mask diplomacy,” selling or donating over 4 billion facemasks worldwide. The shocking incompetence of the US government’s response, which pushed it to the number one spot for COVID-19 infections and deaths, enormously helped the CCP’s propaganda campaign.

But despite this the regime is facing a storm like no other, certainly the most serious since the mass anti-authoritarian struggle of 1989.

In fact, a leaked internal report of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a think-tank affiliated to the Ministry of State Security, warned that the rising global tide of anti-China sentiment in the wake of COVID-19 is the worst since the Tiananmen massacre of June 1989. The leak itself, published by Reuters in May, could be connected to the intensifying power struggle within the Chinese regime.

It is clear that a growing wing of the CCP regime are increasingly disquieted by the aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy which has become the new normal for China’s foreign diplomats in 2020. This flows from Xi’s increasing dependence on ever more nationalistic policies (on the pandemic, the South China Sea, the US-China conflict, Hong Kong and Taiwan) in order to drum up domestic support and divert attention from the crippled economy.

This is a dangerous dynamic as underlined by the conflict on the border with India in the high reaches of the Himalayas (Ladakh region), where Chinese and Indian troops have clashed repeatedly since early May. In June this conflict escalated with 20 Indian soldiers killed, while China has refused to reveal its own casualties. While the two sides have clashed before, these were the first fatalities for 45 years.

Both governments—almost like a mirror image of each other—rely heavily on nationalism to shore up their rule, something the pandemic has accentuated. Both sides have recently strengthened their defenses and infrastructure on each side of the disputed border. The recent conflict is an attempt by both sides to increase pressure on each other before eventual negotiations, as took place in Wuhan in 2018. Neither Delhi or Beijing are looking to go to war, but both sides’ actions are infecting old wounds.

This is one front in the sharpening power struggle inside the CCP, with Xi’s hardline foreign policy seen by some as increasingly counterproductive, alienating and pushing foreign governments into the US camp in the burgeoning Cold War. A layer would prefer a return to the CCP’s traditional pragmatism and a more tactful approach. China’s diplomats were once known for being “well-trained, colorless, and cautious,” says US-based commentator Minxin Pei. He bemoans the rise of such figures as Zhao Lijian, deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department, a prominent representative of the “wolf warrior” class.

The new strident tone, amplified by the pandemic, has caused a deepening backlash in Australia, Southeast Asia, several African countries and the EU, pushing some of these governments closer to the US position of military containment and economic decoupling from China. Of course this is not just about “tone” and clumsy diplomacy, but the fear among the capitalists in other countries that this crisis tilts global power in China’s favor. Xi’s unilateral abolition of Hong Kong’s limited political autonomy, a move designed to bolster his domestic strongman image, has only reinforced these fears. Even the Philippines, which under Duterte has moved much closer to China, recently reversed its decision to end a military pact with the US.

Desperate economic situation
Foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy. That Xi’s regime is flexing its muscles from the Indian border to the South China Sea is a reflection of its insecurity in the face of the deepening global and domestic crisis.

China’s recent economic data is rather contradictory. The monthly data for May, which the NBS had intended to present at its cancelled Beijing press conference, shows a further rebound in industrial production, up 4.4 percent from a year earlier, and within this a 5.2 percent increase in manufacturing output. But while these figures suggest China’s industry is “recovering,” the bigger question is where will it sell its goods?

“Supply is significantly exceeding demand,” stated Larry Hu Weijun, chief China economic expert at the Macquarie Group (Australia). The problem is underscored by May’s retail sales figures showing a fall of 2.8 percent. This follows contractions of 7.5 percent in April and 15.8 percent in March. If the capitalists cannot sell their goods due to depressed demand at home and in overseas markets, then they won’t invest in increased production no matter what tax incentives and credit easing measures are offered. For the first five months of 2020 investment in the manufacturing sector declined by 14.8 percent. It is hard to envisage a worse performance in the “world’s factory.”

At the National People’s Congress in May, Beijing shifted its focus from chasing a GDP target to employment: staunching the collapse of the job market. Some regime economists still believe the economy can achieve 2-3 percent growth in 2020, while the IMF in April forecast only 1.2 percent.

China’s official unemployment figure is 6 percent, but few believe this. Even based on this low-end estimate, which only covers the urban (wealthier) half of the population, 26 million are currently unemployed. Yet less than one in ten (2.3 million) are receiving unemployment assistance, with the average per capita payout just 1,350 yuan (US$190) per month based on Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security data for March.

While this is bad enough, the real picture is much worse. No official figures are provided for unemployment among China’s 290 million migrant workers (classified as “rural” under hukourules), who make up 36 percent of the workforce. In March, as the lockdowns and travel bans were being lifted, only 129 million—less than half—of these workers had returned to employment.

By April, according to the National Statistics Bureau, the number of migrant workers who had returned to their cities of employment was at 90 percent of levels in previous years, indicating that almost 30 million had still not returned. Independent studies indicate a much lower return to work.

“In late April, only about half of those rural workers who were working last year were [still] working,” said Scott Rozelle, an economist who led a study by researchers at Stanford University and Renmin University in Beijing based on samples with nearly 700,000 villagers from seven Chinese provinces. The crisis has “so dramatically reduced migrant workers’ incomes that most have been forced to buy less food,” this study found. (NPR, June 8)

In many cases, migrants found the new jobs awaiting them in the industrial provinces were on lower pay than before the pandemic, with wage reductions of around 50 percent reported from the Pearl River Delta. Factories could only offer a standard workweek without overtime, but migrants have never been able to survive on their basic pay without long hours of overtime.

Some unofficial but credible estimates say that China’s real unemployment rate could now be around 20 percent, with up to 80 million migrants unable to find jobs and returning to their villages because the wages offered do not support life in the cities where costs are high.

Still poor
In May, at the press conference that always follows the annual NPC session, Premier Li Keqiang dropped a political bombshell. He remarked that China has 600 million people (43 percent of its population) with a monthly income not more than 1,000 yuan (US$140).

“It’s not even enough to rent a room in a medium Chinese city,” the Premier said, shocking many listeners whose perception was that such extreme hardship no longer exists in China, not on such a colossal scale. Li’s moment of honesty demolished at one stroke the CCP’s keynote propaganda claim that China will by next year become a “moderately prosperous society” (by doubling 2010 per capita GDP).

In the following days, Premier Li also gave his personal endorsement to the creation of a “stall economy” as a means to generate employment in the current crisis. Overnight, “stall economy” became a major trending topic on social media and there was even a buying boom for shares in companies linked to this idea. Li praised Chengdu’s city government for allegedly creating 100,000 jobs by opening facilities to support street vendors. It was reported that 27 other cities are promoting similar policies.

This changed dramatically, however, with the Beijing municipal government, which is factionally allied with Xi Jinping, denouncing the stall economy concept as “unhygienic and uncivilized.” This marked a sudden policy swing, and within days the “stall economy” policy was largely expurgated from official media.

Neither Li’s promotion of the “stall economy,” or the pushback seemingly coming from Xi’s camp, represent policies in the interests of the working class. Eking out a living by peddling on the streets is no alternative for real jobs and shuttered factories. But the campaign to block Li’s policy is not grounded in offering alternative support for the poor and jobless masses. It reflects the CCP’s elitist contempt, especially in major cities like Beijing, towards the “low-end population” who in many cases have been uprooted and driven out of these cities in mass expulsion campaigns over recent years. The CCP’s urbanization strategy increasingly resembles segregation and a form of Chinese apartheid to reserve the major cities for “civilized” sections of the population.

Power struggle
At the same time this policy dispute reflects a more fundamental process: the reopening of the fierce power struggle within the CCP which we were told belonged to the past. With Xi succeeding in abolishing presidential term limits in a 2018 constitutional change, he had allegedly fully consolidated his hold on the regime and was moving unchallenged towards a third term in power. This no longer looks so certain.

Li Keqiang’s recent role, and sympathy for him among a section of the masses on the basis of a more “populist,” humble, and man-of-the-people image, suggests the band-aid that had been placed over the internal factional struggle has been ripped off. Not since Xi ascended to power has such a public and personalised conflict erupted within the regime—and this centred on its two most prominent figures.

The reaction from state-controlled media (under the CCP’s Propaganda Department, which is controlled by Xi Jinping’s camp) has been immediate and overwhelming, going far beyond clamping down on the “stall economy” issue. Speeches and articles by Li Keqiang are now being deleted or changed. The last time this happened to a Chinese Premier, formally the second-ranking official in the state hierarchy, was against Zhou Enlai during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

Li represents the tuan pai (so-called Young Communist League) faction within the CCP, which has been pushed back and driven from many of its positions during eight years of Xi Jinping rule. But Xi’s hardline power struggle tactics and increasingly serious policy setbacks at home and internationally, could see new factional combinations come to the fore, whether or not Premier Li is their standard bearer, to challenge Xi’s position in the next period.

For socialists, the shifting of tectonic plates within the Chinese regime is an important portent of the social and political upheavals that lay ahead. Revolution, as the saying goes, starts at the top. We do not place any confidence in any wing of the thoroughly bourgeois, thoroughly authoritarian CCP apparatus. We stand for independent working class struggle in China and globally around the program of socialism and a genuine working class government.


This story first appeared June 21 in


From our Daily Report:

Himalayan border conflicts escalate
CounterVortex, June 15, 2020

US-China brinkmanship over Taiwan
CounterVortex, June 13, 2020

Hongkongers defy police on Tiananmen anniversary
CounterVortex, June 4, 2020

Wuhan death toll massively under-counted?
CounterVortex, April 15, 2020

China: internal resistance to bio-police state
CounterVortex, Feb. 15, 2020

Xi proves: capitalism, totalitarianism no contradiction
CounterVortex, March 12, 2018

China: changing of the guard —amid same old repression
CounterVortex, Nov. 15, 2012

See also:

Disbarment, Suspension and Harassment
by Patrick Poon, Jurist
CounterVortex, May 2018

by Vincent Kolo,
CounterVortex, June 2017

China’s Third Plenum Signals New ‘Paramount Leader’
CounterVortex, November 2013

The Heavy Toll COVID-19 Takes on Undocumented Immigrants
by Allyssa M.G. Scheyer, Jurist
CounterVortex, April 2020


Reprinted by CounterVortex, June 23, 2020

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SHADOW WAR ON THE BORDERLANDS Sat, 09 May 2020 00:42:17 +0000 Joshua Collins reports for The New Humanitarian.]]> Guerrillas, Smugglers and Militarization on Colombia-Venezuela Frontier

by Joshua Collins, The New Humanitarian

Even against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, a war is being waged along the vast and porous Venezuela-Colombia border, across which people, narcotics, black-market gasoline, food, and medicine are smuggled, and where criminals and guerrillas find refuge.

The low-intensity conflict has been simmering for years, but border closures have had a habit of driving up the violence. In 2019, when the frontier was closed for three months on the Venezuelan side, violence, kidnappings, forced recruitment by armed groups, and disappearances of migrants fleeing Venezuela spiked.

On March 14, the more than 2,219 kilometer-long border was again closed, this time by the Colombian authorities as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and just as thousands of Venezuelan migrants tried to make their way home.

Several local people contacted independently by The New Humanitarian by telephone from May 1-4 described a string of recent killings on the trochas, the smuggling routes that criss-cross the border and where rival gangs fight for control.

Local press in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, as well as Venezuelan officials, have also reported displaced residents fleeing borderland battles between armed groups in and around the town of Boca de Grita, just inside Venezuela.

The broader conflict involves an array of different armed criminal groups and paramilitaries, as well as government forces from both countries. It threatens residents on the frontier and migrants alike, not to mention Colombia’s increasingly shaky peace accord.

As criminal groups battle one another—and state forces—on either side of the border, territory can switch hands so fast that local residents often don’t know who is in charge, and fall victim to gangs that weren’t present only weeks before.

“It’s worse for residents when a region is contested than when it is controlled by one of these armed groups,” Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Andes director for the human rights group WOLA, explained. “It means even more chaos. Nobody knows what rules to follow and aggressive criminals commit violence to mark territory.”

One 49-year-old woman, who earns a living smuggling gasoline across the border from Venezuela to Colombia, was willing to talk to TNH, but asked that her real name not be used for fear of reprisal from armed groups.

“There was a fierce firefight [near Cúcuta] immediately after the border closure that left local paraco leaders dead,” she said, using the slang term for paramilitary gunmen. “Since then, I avoid the trochas near Cúcuta.”

The woman said she now sends her black-market wares north through an intermediary who crosses the border by canoe before continuing via trochas near the Colombian town of Puerto Santander, where things are calmer.

Reliable data on the recent activity of armed groups is non-existent on the Venezuelan side, and difficult even to obtain for Colombia as government reports and those of monitoring groups are only released annually. However, according to official police statistics, there were 2,795 homicides across Colombia during the first three months of 2020—an increase of almost 40 percent over the same period in 2019. Four out of five had links to narco-trafficking or armed groups.

Trapped on the border
In recent years, the Colombia-Venezuela borderlands, especially around the migration hub of Cúcuta, have witnessed a mass exodus of millions of Venezuelans fleeing their homeland amid the rapid disintegration of its once oil-rich economy.

Since mid-March, despite the border closure, the traffic has been more two-way as tens of thousands of Venezuelans have headed home from Colombia and other Latin American countries due to lockdown restrictions forcing hardship and drying up opportunities.

Nicola Rodríguez, an unreserved 24-year-old musician from Táchira, the Venezuelan province just across the frontier from Cúcuta, smiled constantly and made dark jokes about the reports of violence on the frontier.

He had returned to Cúcuta recently with his wife and children from the Colombian capital of Bogotá, where the lockdown measures had left him unemployed. “We want to return to Venezuela,” he told TNH. “I can no longer support my family in Colombia. But now, after travelling here with nothing, we find ourselves trapped.”

Venezuelan and Colombian officials have opened a “humanitarian corridor” between the two countries near Cúcuta, allowing roughly 200 crossings daily for people trapped on either side to repatriate.

But 40,000-50,000 people crossed daily before the closure at the seven official checkpoints and—although traffic has dropped due to both lockdown measures and severe gasoline shortages within Venezuela—the trochas remain very active. Those left without recourse to cross legally often find themselves preyed upon.

Rodríguez said he feared using the smuggling routes to cross with his young daughters, aged three and one. “Lately, the situation has been difficult,” he said. “Four people have been killed in the trochas since we arrived. We’re staying [In Cúcuta] for now until things calm down.”

Due to the quarantine measures, even imposed in Cúcuta, Rodríguez can no longer perform in the streets for food money. “I’m not sure what we’re going to eat tomorrow when the last of our food runs out,” he said, trying not to look worried.

Both the migrants leaving Venezuela and those seeking to return—members of either group may be unfamiliar with the region—can find themselves caught in the crossfire, robbed, or even forcibly recruited.

Human Rights Watch described the situation in Arauca, just south of Cúcuta, in a January report. “Armed groups use violence to control people’s daily lives,” it stated. “They impose their own rules, and to enforce compliance they threaten civilians… [T]hose who do not obey face punishments ranging from fines to forced labour to killings. Residents live in fear.”

Just before the frontier’s closure in March, eight bodies were discovered in Juan Frío, a border village near Cúcuta: a result of ongoing conflict between the National Liberation Army (ELN by their Spanish acronym), a leftist Colombian guerrilla group, and a narco gang known as the Rastrojos.

“This region has always been at war,” Juan Maldonado, a social worker in the nearby Colombian border town of La Parada, told TNH dismissively when asked about the gruesome discovery. “The people here barely even register a [massacre] like that. It only made the local news because they found the bodies on the Colombian side.”

Local officials and human rights groups say the number of killings has always been higher than official Colombian government statistics, as many people are afraid to report incidents for fear of reprisals.

On the eastern front of a war that never ended
Most armed groups operate in rural areas where there’s little state presence, and their territories stretch along the border all the way from Amazonia in the south to the northern peninsula of Guajira, which is heavily populated by indigenous groups.

“The Colombian conflict is incredibly complicated,” said Sánchez-Garzoli of WOLA. Most groups date back to the Colombian civil war, and “they are fighting for territory for smuggling, illegal mining, and cocaine production. Lately, the ELN has been trying to expand its territory.”

When the 50-year civil war officially ended with a controversial peace accord in 2016, the central leadership of the main guerrilla group, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, agreed to lay down its weapons and join the political process.

But some FARC factions splintered off following the accord, becoming known as “the dissidents,” and the ELN, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla outfit, used the opportunity to expand into the power vacuum.

Right-wing paramilitary groups that had battled the ELN and the FARC—committing atrocities of their own—competed with the fracturing guerrilla groups for territory and resources. By the end of the civil war, all these groups used drug-trafficking to finance their operations, putting them at odds with narco-groups in Colombia too.

Decades of violence combined with a lack of official law enforcement and economic marginalization by successive Colombian governments has created large territories where the only law is the one imposed by the armed groups.

In 2018, according to a report by the public ombudsman’s office, armed groups were active in 178 municipalities and in 22 of the country’s 32 districts, with the ELN the most prominent. Right-wing “self-defense forces,” or paracos from the term “Colombian paramilitary”—followed in second place.

TNH conducted a survey of reports from various NGOs, independent think tanks, the Colombian media, and government studies, and found that since the peace accord was implemented in 2017, there have been credible reports of activity by armed groups in every one of Colombia’s 32 provinces or departments. And their presence appears to be growing.

The result is that the Venezuelan border—a hotspot for conflict throughout the civil war—has become even more dangerous.

“Armed groups use the border as a shield,” said Oney Bedoya, an international security consultant and Colombian army veteran. “When they are pursued by the military from one side, they merely cross to the other. And there are areas neither government will enter.”

Both the ELN and the FARC have held territory on the Venezuelan side of the border since the 1990s. Insight Crime, a non-profit that studies the impact of criminality on human rights, has reported that both FARC dissident groups and the ELN have expanded their territory in Venezuela considerably since the Colombian civil war officially ended.

A threatened peace accord
As part of the 2016 deal, the government promised to develop infrastructure in former rebel-controlled areas, but the process has been slow and Colombian President Iván Duque—who won the 2018 election partly on promises to dismantle aspects of the agreement—has slowed down its implementation even further through legislative tactics.

Since the election, Duque’s administration has continued its heavy-handed approach, as well as a controversial aerial coca fumigation program, even under national lockdown measures.

“The government isn’t living up to its [peace deal] promises,” Sánchez-Garzoli told TNH. “Their response isn’t to invest in conflict areas, but rather to deploy the military and focus on [coca] crop eradication. Government hardline tactics have only increased the presence and attacks of armed groups.”

But Sánchez-Garzoli said the blame isn’t completely on one side, stressing that the ELN has to listen to the communities it operates in and fulfill promises not to attack civilians. “Since the accord, the ELN has upped recruitment and expanded territory,” she said. “Vulnerable indigenous communities are among those threatened, and [the ELN] no longer respect[s] international accords.”

The ELN offered the government a unilateral month-long ceasefire due to the coronavirus crisis. The agreement expired April 30, but the group has since announced it will form “no attack plans, only defensive plans.” Even during the ceasefire, however, the ELN was fighting other armed groups, and it continues to be one of many actors threatening and assaulting local and indigenous communities.

The 2016 peace accord was strongly opposed by many in Colombia, failing a popular referendum by a razor-thin margin of less than one percent. Some here are still bitter over the decades of violence and a compromise they feel lets the guerrillas off too easily.

“No one is happy with a good deal,” Shauna Gillooly, a peacebuilding and conflict researcher for University of California-Irvine who is based in Colombia, told TNH. “Peace accords by nature are slow, messy processes. But the government needs to live up to its obligations. The only other choice is a return to war.”

Meanwhile, violence is increasing: a record 120 social activists were killed in 2019, drug production is at record levels, and armed groups are growing more powerful. Many Colombians who live in the main conflict zones have lost confidence in both the government’s ability and its will to address the problem.

Rodríguez, still trapped in Cúcuta due to the violence and coronavirus quarantine measures, wasn’t much concerned with the bigger picture. As he strummed his guitar, he just wanted the immediate consequences of the conflict to end.

“I have faith we will find a way to come out of this ahead,” he said, referring to his family’s situation. “I have faith. I have to have faith, because I have almost nothing else.”

Additional reporting from a Venezuelan journalist who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.


Joshua Collins is a freelance journalist, based in Bogotá, focused on migration and violence

This story first appeared May 5 in The New Humanitarian.

Photo: Colombian police in the border town of La Parada block the Simón Bolívar International Bridge to Venezuela.
​Credit: Joshua Collina

From our Daily Report:

Colombia: ELN ends COVID-19 ceasefire
CounterVortex, May 4, 2020

Poor persecuted in COVID-19 police state (on plight of Venezuelan migrants)
CounterVortex, May 3, 2020

Colombia: UN protests slaying of rights activists
CounterVortex, Jan. 21, 2020

Who is behind Venezuela aid caravan?
CounterVortex, Feb. 12, 2019

Colombia to resume aerial spraying, join NATO
CounterVortex, July 7, 2018

See also:

Mega-Dam Project Now a Site of Heightened Conflict in Post-War Colombia
by Jeff Abbott, Toward Freedom
CounterVortex, December 2017

by Robin Llewellyn, Colombia Reports
World War 4 Report, November 2014

What the Boliviarian Revolution Owes the Yukpa and Bari
by Sybila Tabra and Jorge Agurto, Servindi
CounterVortex, March 2013

Far-Right Militias Survive ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Para-Politics’ Scandal
by Memo Montevino, World War 4 Report,
World War 4 Report, July 2007


Reprinted by CounterVortex, May 8, 2020

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WE ARE KILLING THEM Thu, 23 Apr 2020 21:14:41 +0000 Allyssa M.G. Scheyer writes for Jurist.]]> The Heavy Toll COVID-19 Takes on Undocumented Immigrants

by Allyssa M.G. Scheyer, Jurist

By now, the effects of COVID-19 on American life and society are widespread and deeply felt, almost regardless of one’s socioeconomic status. However, for undocumented immigrants in the United States, the COVID-19 crisis compounds issues that have existed for years, exposing immigrants to a barrage of political, social, and economic storm fronts that have disastrously collided at once. News outlets have reported on the real consequences of the near-national shutdown across the country. However, many recent news articles that cover the effects of COVID-19 on immigrants run the risk of understating the uniquely devastating effects that the virus has on undocumented immigrants and their families.

The COVID-19 Crisis is Adding Pressures to an Already Overburdened System

COVID-19 is creating additional chaos for immigrants in detention or who work frontline jobs. Over the past three and a half years, the Trump administration has increased its efforts to detain as many undocumented immigrants as possible, eschewing the Obama-era approach to targeting only those accused of violent crimes. Additionally, undocumented immigrants and low-income immigrants historically have worked in a variety of important jobs, ranging from field farmworker to retail clerk to registered nurse. These jobs, many of which now don the “essential” label that allows businesses to continue operating, disproportionately employ low-income and undocumented individuals, exposing them to COVID-19 on a daily basis.

Immigrants in Detention

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, advocates and lawmakers expressed grave concerns about the availability and adequacy of the healthcare provided in detention centers, which hold anywhere from 40-50,000 immigrants nationally. Though Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs & Border Protection (CBP) generally delay or outright refuse to give responses to questions about healthcare and immigrant deaths in custody, in March, media sources were able to determine that 10 immigrants had died in ICE custody since October 2019, before the COVID-19 crisis even arrived in the United States.

Detention center conditions, including overcrowding and the lack of adequate healthcare, create a tinderbox scenario for detained immigrants, who often wait days or weeks, or even months, in small, packed cells. Detainees almost always share toilets, sleeping mats, clothing, and food amongst themselves, and sleep on bunkbeds no larger than eight by ten feet. Current ICE detention guidelines allow COVID-19 to spread rapidly throughout its detainees, at times literally preventing any type of recommenced social distancing measures. Civil confinement should never result in the death of the individual, yet in ICE detention centers, death via COVID-19 will inevitably arrive.

Overcrowding is not the only problem immigrants face in ICE detention; access to adequate healthcare in ICE detention is spotty at best. Survivors of ICE detention have revealed ICE’s cruel and inhumane practices—such as ignoring a pregnant woman’s pleas for help during birth, and failing to transport ailing immigrants to offsite hospitals in a timely manner. More recent experiences of detained immigrants, including an allegation that guards used pepper spray on detainees asking for masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at Otay Mesa Detention Center in California, are evidence that ICE detention centers care little about the health of its occupants. There are already over 200 detainees who have contracted COVID-19 at ICE facilities nationwide. This number is sure to increase as the virus spreads rapidly through crowded cells and common eating areas.

In ICE detention centers, overcrowding and poor quality of healthcare are not the only problems detained immigrants face. ICE and CBP are blatantly opaque agencies that refuse to give an inch when protecting the secrecy of agency practices and rules from legal advocates. Battles for even the smallest amounts of information related to detention center conditions are frequently fought between government attorneys and immigrant advocates, resulting in surreal arguments that stretch the imagination (see ICE trial attorney Sarah Fabian arguing that soap and blankets are not necessary for “safe and sanitary” detention conditions).

Congressional oversight of these agencies is insufficient—not because Congress members have no interest, but because ICE and CBP refuse to answer most questions posed to them. Senators, including recent presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, have sent multiple letters to ICE, asking for more information about their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and pleading for the release of many detained immigrants. These letters have not been answered by the Department of Homeland Security. Lawsuits inevitably illuminate some information regarding detention conditions, but this information is generally limited in scope, as judges hesitate to give outsiders access to documents that could undermine “national security.” The lack of transparency within ICE and CBP prevents advocates from ensuring that rights of undocumented immigrants are respected.

Immigrants Working on the Frontline of the COVID-19 Crisis

Detained immigrants are obviously vulnerable to the transmission of COVID-19 due to inadequate healthcare and extreme overcrowding. However, undocumented, un-detained immigrants are also uniquely vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. One estimate places about six million undocumented workers at the frontlines of the crisis, acting as farm employees, grocery store clerks, and delivery truck drivers, and more. These workers, deemed “essential” in many cases, work long hours and are in contact with many other individuals often unable to implement the recommended social distancing practices. Undocumented frontline workers have so far received no financial support from the federal government. Some states, such as California, have created special funds dedicated to supporting undocumented immigrants during the COVID-19 crisis, but most states have not. Undocumented workers, like other low-income workers across the United States, must weigh the possibility of COVID-19 transmission against empty refrigerators and mounting utility bills every single day.

Protections for low-income frontline workers are minimal at best, and are often absent in places where personal protective equipment (PPE) is most needed. Undocumented immigrants are less likely to have access to healthcare benefits and social safety nets than other low-income Americans, and are more likely to work in sectors where furloughs and layoffs have occurred at exponential rates. Whether Americans realize it or not, labor from undocumented immigrants supports nearly all sectors of modern life. Failing to protect these frontline workers from COVID-19 and its economic repercussions will have devastating effects across the nation.

The Consequences of COVID-19 Will Be Deadly for Many Immigrants

People across the United States are dying from COVID-19 at a rapid rate, despite steps taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. However, undocumented immigrants (approximately 11 million strong) remain uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. We continue to hold people, the majority of whom have never convicted of a crime, in overcrowded civil detention in a time where crowds almost certainly mean illness and death. Due process rights are seemingly falling by the wayside when detained immigrants need them most, another casualty of COVID-19. Immigrants who have the ability to pay bond, and leave overcrowded detention cells behind, are unable to have hearings when judges close courtrooms. Bond hearings are abruptly canceled or indefinitely postponed, because immigration judges refuse to endanger themselves and court staff by holding proceedings in confined courtrooms. Detainees are so desperate for any semblance of protection from COVID-19 that some have begun hunger strikes to protest the inhumane, dangerous conditions inside detention centers.

Social safety nets, ranging from existing Medicare programs to newer COVID-19-specific relief, is often unavailable to undocumented immigrants, leaving this vulnerable population even more at risk of economic disaster than other low-income groups. Despite widespread government and community criticism, many employers of frontline laborers continue to fail to provide PPE, or even hand soap on site. Undocumented immigrants fear COVID-19, but also ICE and CBP, who are certainly not slowing their operations to track and apprehend undocumented immigrants during this crisis. Some undocumented immigrants describe an intense fear of seeking healthcare for COVID-19, noting that ICE has detained immigrants at doctors’ offices and emergency rooms around the country. Congressional calls for the rapid, widescale release of immigrants from detention centers have been largely ignored, although in recent days, reports of limited releases from detention centers have begun to surface.

It is certainly, then, possible to release immigrants from detention. It is also morally and ethically imperative to release individuals accused of civil violations from the overcrowded detention centers where COVID-19 outbreaks will certainly erupt. It is only a matter of time, and a short one at that, until ICE reluctantly admits that detained immigrants have died from COVID-19. Individual lawsuits that result in the release of handfuls of immigrants at a time are a piecemeal solution that will save few lives. The exact number of immigrants who died preventable deaths from COVID-19 in ICE custody will likely be exponential unless immediate action is taken to release detainees.


Allyssa M.G. Scheyer is a third-year law student at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and a graduate of Occidental College. She is a future immigration attorney.

This story first appeared April 22 on Jurist.

Photo: Homeland Security’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, San Diego.
Credit: BBC World Service via Flickr

From our Daily Report:

Demand detainee release amid COVID-19 outbreak
CounterVortex, March 25, 2020

ICE detainees in Newark on hunger strike
CounterVortex, March 19, 2020

See also:

by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, April 2020

Africans Caught in US-Mexico Migration Limbo
by Melisa Valenzuela, The New Humanitarian
CounterVortex, October 2019

by Kristy Siegfried, IRIN
CounterVortex, November 2016


Reprinted by CounterVortex, April 23, 2020

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CAN NEWSPAPERS SURVIVE COVID-19? Sun, 12 Apr 2020 23:32:16 +0000 Nava Thakuria reports from Guwahati, northeast India.]]> by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex

As an unprecedented lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues across India, the country’s newspaper groups face an uphill battle to maintain their devoted readership. The complete shutdown, to last at least through April 14, instantly prevented deliveries of morning papers to readers’ doorsteps, and rumors spread that a paper itself could carry the novel coronavirus. Many publishers have been forced to drastically reduce their circulation figure.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown in a televised address to the billion-plus nation on March 24. The death toll from COVID-19 in India now stands at 275.

For newspapers, the first impacts were felt in Mumbai where the vendors refused to work because of COVID-19 menace. Management of all the city’s print media houses resolved to suspend publication after a meeting with leaders of the Brihanmumbai Vruttapatra Vikreta Sangh (BVVS), the newspaper vendors’ union. The decision was shortly followed by publishers in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bhopal, Thane, Pune, Nagpur and other cities.

However, management of The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Mid-Day, and other newspapers have made it clear that even though no physical editions would hit the stands, content would continue to be available on the internet.

Many media houses started sharing the PDF version of the complete newspaper free of cost.

Magazines have also been hit. Acclaimed news magazine Outlook, Hindu-nationalist mouthpiece Organiser, sports magazine Sportstar, Karnataka’s weekly Taranga, Assam’s popular magazine Prantik, and others have suspended their print editions. Most of them vowed to continue their digital versions for the readers. The voice of ethnic Indians in the USA, Gopal Raju’s 50-year-old weekly India Abroad, also faced the same fate on March 29.

The closures have especially hit Guwahati, Imphal, Agartala and Aizawl in northeast India. The region with a population of over 60 million supports over 50 morning dailies in different languages including Assamese, Bengali, Boro, Meitei, Karbi, Khasi, Mizo, Nagamese and Nepali, as well as English and Hindi.

A few viral posts on social media identifying newspapers as a potential coronavirus carrier created panic for hundreds of newspaper agents and hawkers, along with other media employees. Residents collectively prevented the vendors from delivering newspapers in some localities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its Q&A page on COVID-19, however, states: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.” This text is quoted on the website of the New York Times, which continues to publish a print edition.

Nonetheless, the fear is taking a toll on newspapers worldwide. From Sylhet in Bangladesh to Colombo in Sri Lanka, from Rabat to Rome to American cities like Pittsburgh and Seattle, daily and weekly newspapers have announced the temporary suspension of print editions.

India, the largest democracy in the world, today supports over 82,000 registered newspapers with a cumulative daily circulation of 11 crores (110 million), estimated to be a Rs 32,000 crore (US$5 billion) industry. As India has been improving its literacy rate, now estimated at 75%, more citizens develop the capacity and resources to access newspapers and digital platforms. As more middle-class Indian families start using the internet, advertisement revenues for traditional media have slowly shifted to digital platforms. This shift is of course now dramatically accelerating.

However, internet access has now been harshly limited in Jammu & Kashmir for eight months in response to the political crisis there—the longest such shut-down on the planet.

It also need not to be reminded that a newspaper in India is sold in the market at a lower price than its actual cost. The deficit is made up by commercial advertisers. Moreover, traditional advertisers from sectors like the automobile industry, construction, home appliances, private education, travel, hospitality, etc. have themselves faced the shutdown and consequent restriction on their resources.

Newspapers may have to significantly depend on government advertisements in the post-corona period. This situation has clear political implications, and is particularly alarming for regional newspapers like those published from Guwahati, Imphal, Agartala and Aizawl, which may not be seen as a priority by the central government.

A host of media houses in India’s northeast—including Asomiya Pratidin, The Assam Tribune, Dainik Janambhumi, Niyomiya Barta, Dainik Asom, Amar Asom, Purvanchal Prahari, Sadin, The North East Times, The Meghalaya Guardian and others—have issued a collective statement stressing that there is no scientific proof for newspapers carrying the coronavirus to readers.

The world will eventually return to some kind of normality after the ravages of COVID-19 pass. But whether newspapers, and especially regional ones in places like northeast India, will be able to revive in the post-corona era is an open and difficult question.


Nava Thakuria is a wirter and media activist based in Guwahati, northeast India.

A different version of this story appears in Indian Printer & Publisher.

Photo by the author.

See also:

by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, December 2019

by L. Ali Khan, Jurist
CounterVortex, August 2019

by Bill Weinberg
CounterVortex, February 2015


Special to CounterVortex, April  12, 2020
Reprinting permissible with attribution

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STALIN’S CAUCASUS CRIMES Mon, 24 Feb 2020 04:59:23 +0000 James Oliver explores for Euromaidan Press.]]> That Putin Wants You to Forget

by James Oliver, Euromaidan Press

On February 23, the Chechen and Ingush peoples of Russia’s North Caucasus commemorated a tragedy in their history—the start of the Soviet deportation in 1944. Initiated by Stalin and supervised by his intelligence chief Lavrentiy Beria, it was carried out by a force of approximately 120,000 NKVD officers that would round up and expel 478,479 people. Today, Vladimir Putin is trying to suppress this history.

Exploring the Caucasus is akin to exploring a mini-continent with its many diverse ethnic groups and cultures all contained within a small geographic region. Here the historical forces of East, North and South collide.

To the Northeast we have Kalmykia, the only majority Buddhist region in the whole of Europe. Like the Tatars, the Kalmyks were swept along from their far-east homeland to their present-day location by the might of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire. To the Northwest we have the Kuban. Formerly a majority Ukrainian area, the Kuban region has since been thoroughly Russified, its Ukrainian identity practically all but stamped out. Much of this is the result of the Holodomor as well as the policies of the Kremlin since. To the South we have Georgia, the birthplace of Stalin himself. According to one survey in 2013, half of all Georgians still possess “a positive attitude towards Stalin.” However, if you believe this BBC report, younger generations of Georgians are not as enthusiastic about the tyrant as their parents and grandparents. Surveys also show that the vast majority of Georgians want to join NATO and the EU, not surprising given what Putin did to Georgia in 2008.

North of Georgia we have the Russian-controlled Caucasus, home to many ethnic groups, including the Chechens, the Ingush, the Balkars, the Circassians. It is here that the legacy of Stalin’s policies loom large still today.

The Caucasus were one of the main focal points of the clashes between the Russian Empire and its great rival, the Ottoman Empire. The result was a cultural legacy of Islam among the aforementioned ethnic groups as well a continuing cultural sense of unease. Token resistance to the Russian annexations of the North Caucasus areas previously controlled by the Ottomans resulted in the Circassian genocide of 1854-56. General Nikolai Evdokimov, who led the Russian forces that conducted the genocide, described his actions as “ochishchenie.” This was perhaps the first instance where the term “cleansing” was used as a euphemism for genocide. In this genocide, an estimated 600,000 people succumbed to shooting, starvation and forced emigration—three quarters of the Circassian population. Under Stalin, things would not be any better for the peoples of the North Caucasus.

Between 1942-44 the North Caucasus once again played host to a clash of two empires—Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. What attracted the Germans to this part of the world was the allure of oil. Ninety percent of the oil supply for the Soviet Union came from the Caucasus, significantly Azerbaijan, whose capture would severely choke the Soviet war effort. Hitler considered the Caucasus to be of such high priority that he told his generals on June 1, 1942, “If I do not get the oil of Maikop and Grozny, then I must end this war.” Although in the end he failed to capture Grozny, the Chechen capital, he continued the war. The reason for his failure is often attributed to Hitler splitting his forces in the name of capturing a city on a map he had noticed by chance. That city was called “Stalingrad.”

Other than the distraction of Stalingrad, the plans for capturing the Caucasus entailed a deep thrust to Grozny, which needed local collaborators. To this end, the Nazis printed numerous propaganda posters for a hearts-and-minds campaign waged to try and convince locals to join.

Simultaneously but unrelated to the German advance into Russia, an anti-communist insurgency erupted across the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. To be sure, the Germans would come to learn about it, and try to convince the Chechen rebels to join their side, but to little effect. But, as we have seen before, to Stalin the details mattered little; bogus pretexts for targeting entire ethnic groups, however, did. And to Lavrentiy Beria, the man who would personally oversee the punishing of the Chechen and Ingush peoples, they were all tantamount to “German saboteurs.”

This, together with their “anti-communism,” formed the pretextual basis for their deportation, which began on February 23, 1944. Beria and his NKVD officers rounded up and expelled 478,479 people from their homes and sent them to Kazakhstan and the Asiatic steppes. “Because no Chechens or Ingush were to be left behind, people who could not be moved were shot. Villages were burned to the ground everywhere; in some places, barns full of people were burned as well,” wrote historian Timothy Snyder.

This pretext was a recurring theme in Stalin’s deportations. On December 28, 1943, Supreme Soviet Presidium chairman Mikhail Kalinin signed a decree ordering wholesale deportation of the Kalmyks, another North Caucasus people, based on the assumption that “many Kalmyks [had] betrayed their Motherland” by assisting the Germans. Between 1943 and 1944 more than 120,000 Kalmyks were to be forced out of their homes. When the Soviets came to deport the Crimean Tatars in May 1944, they again used the same pretext, and expelled 200,000 Tatars.

Despite claims that USSR embraced “internationalism,” in reality nationality and ethnicity always mattered. It didn’t matter that many Kalmyks, Tatars or Chechens had fought in the Red Army too. In the words of historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Stalin “certainly carried all the traditional Georgian prejudices against the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus whom he was to deport.” And that’s not only true for the peoples of the Caucasus. Throughout his reign as ruler of the USSR, Stalin absorbed Russian nationalism, and by doing so absorbed all the traditional hatreds and prejudices against other peoples that went along with it.


The deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples was part of Stalin’s great deportation plan of ethnic minorities in the USSR:

900,000 Soviet Germans, 89,000 Finns deported in 1941 & 1942
69,267 Karachais deported to Central Asia 19 Nov 1943
91,919 Kalmyks deported to Siberia 28–29 Dec 1943
478,479 Chechen and Ingush peoples deported to Siberia on 23 Feb 1944
37,107 Balkars deported to Kazakstan on 8–9 Mar 1944
180,014 Crimean Tatars deported to Uzbekistan on 18–20 Mar 1944
91,095 Meshketian Turks deported from Soviet Georgia later in 1944
(Figures via Timothy Snyder).

These crimes against humanity form yet another stain against the former USSR and its predecessor, the Tsarist Russian Empire—both of which today’s Russian leader Vladimir Putin expressly admires. Against this background, it is unsurprising, then, that Putin has continued the legacy of repressive measures regarding any attempt at commemorating these historic events. This was evident in 2014, when Crimean Tatars were not allowed to mark the 70th Anniversary of the 1944 deportations. It was also evident when Putin banned a motion picture about the Chechen deportations on the grounds it was “historically false.”

It is precisely for these reasons, that the stories of Russia’s ethnic deportations are worth telling.


This story first appeared Feb. 26, 2015 on Euromaidan Press.

From our Daily Report:

Russia upholds Chechen-Ingush border agreement
CounterVortex, Dec. 16, 2018

Eid terror in Ingushetia (with background on North Caucasus deportations)
CounterVortex, Aug. 20, 2012

Circassians call for boycott of Sochi Olympics
CounterVortex, Feb. 1, 2014

Exiled Crimean Tatar TV threatened with silence
CounterVortex, Jan. 26, 2020

See also:

by Terry Burke
CounterVortex, June 2019

The View from the East Village
by Bill Weinberg, The Villager
CounterVortex, September 2016

The Chechnya War and the Right Not to Kill
from War Resisters International
CounterVortex, February 2007

Stalin’s Shadow Looms Over Trans-Caucasus Pipeline
by Rene Wadlow
CounterVortex, February 2007


Reprinted by CounterVortex, Feb, 23, 2020

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SQUAT CALABRIA Mon, 30 Dec 2019 02:37:36 +0000 Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account for the Brooklyn Rail.]]> by Bill Weinberg, The Brooklyn Rail

The abandoned Hotel Centrale in downtown Cosenza, Italy, is a relic of ghastly 1970s-style retro-futuristic architecture, starkly at odds with the stately if decrepit medieval buildings of the city’s historic center, which begins just a few blocks away. But the Centrale has clearly been reclaimed by oppositional cultural forces.

The flag of Syria’s revolutionary Kurds flies from the roof. A multiculti congregation of scruffy youth hang out in the lobby—some Italian kids with dyed hair and a punk aesthetic, some young migrants from Africa and the Middle East. A hand-scrawled sign at the entrance reads “Hotel Centrale Occupato”—with the O in occupato slashed with a lightning bolt, making the squatter symbol. Below, it reads, “Mangia, riposa… e lotta!” Eat, rest… and fight!

The Centrale is one of six buildings in the provincial city that are under occupation by the local squatter network, Prendocasa Cosenza—literally, Taking House Cosenza. The group began reclaiming abandoned properties around Cosenza in 2011, especially opening housing for the migrants and refugees that began entering Italy and Europe in large numbers around this time. In addition to the Centrale, still technically under private ownership, two of the properties are owned by the Catholic church and the remaining three by either the municipal government or the regional government of Calabria—in the extreme south of Italy’s mainland, the proverbial toe of the boot, a traditionally marginalized part of the country.

Some 300 people are living in these reclaimed properties, and only one squat has been evicted by the police since the movement was launched. The municipal and regional governments tolerate the squatters, and the municipality is actually paying the church for use of its buildings by the migrants and their activist allies.

It remains to be seen how long this arrangement will last, given the recent political changes in Italy. The country’s far-right interior minister (and de facto ruler) Matteo Salvini was just removed from power in September as his coalition fractured and a new government was formed. But last November, he pushed through his draconian Decreto Salvini—explicitly aimed at two broadly overlapping groups: immigrants and squatters. In addition to restricting the rights of migrants and refugees to asylum and government aid, it imposes a five-year prison term for squatting.

The first squat eviction under the law sparked street-fighting in Turin, up at the other end of the country, in February. The squatters of Cosenza are waiting uneasily to see if Salvini’s fall will be a reprieve for them.


Pride in ‘Meticcia’
Across some overgrown train tracks from the Hotel Centrale is the Rialzo social center, in a squatted abandoned rail station. It was established in 2007 as a centro politico occupato autogestito (self-managed occupied political center, or CPOA), and brings together cultures of the many lands now disgorging their disenfranchised and usurped to Italy and Europe.

Rialzo mosque

A part of the Rialzo has been established as a makeshift mosque for migrants from Muslim lands—the only mosque in Cosenza. In the spring, Rialzo hosted a Nowruz celebration in solidarity with the rebel Kurds of Syria’s Rojava region. On the night I attended a squatter soirée there, a class in traditional West African drumming and dance was being led by a young teacher from Ivory Coast.


Some of the young Calabrese squatters at Rialzo recalled Salvini’s past as leader of the Northern League, who rose to prominence in the ‘90s by stigmatizing Italy’s South as an economic drain. The Northern League actually sought secession from Italy for the industrialized Po Valley. Having dropped its separatist pretensions and now renamed simply the League in a bid for national power, it today demonizes immigrants rather than Southerners. Prima gli Italiani—Italians First—was Salvini’s new slogan.

cozenza meticcia

But the kids at Rialzo have not forgotten his (recent) past. “Salvini is racist against African people but also racist against people from the South,” a young squatter named Roberto tells me. He points to a door painted brightly with the words “Cosenza Meticcia”—mixed, akin to the Spanish word mestizo. “Calabria is multicultural,” he says. “So many peoples passed through over the centuries—Greeks, Romans, Saracens [Arabs], Normans, Spanish, Arbresh [Albanians].” Going back to ancient times, he recalls that the Bruzzi or Bruttians, the local Italic tribe, resisted Rome. “We in Cosenza inherited that mentality,” he says wryly.

Rialzo mural

Battling the bureaucracy of detention
One of the murals at Rialzo depicts the local protests against the CIE—the Center for Identification and Expulsion, a prison-like camp for intercepted undocumented migrants, across the mountains to the west in the coastal city of Lamezia. It was closed in 2006 after a four-year protest campaign. A second CIE in Calabria, at Crotone, across the mountains to the east on the Ionian coast, was closed after an uprising at the camp in 2013. But there are still 10 such camps around Italy—including three in Sicily. They have recently been renamed CPRs, or Centers of Detention for Repatriation. The detained can be held at the CPRs for up to 18 months, usually followed by forced deportation.

The Italian government maintains a bureaucratic alphabet soup of agencies for every stage of processing migrants. Those deemed to have a credible case for asylum are held in a Reception Center for Asylum Seekers, or CARA. Once an asylum bid is filed and pending, the detainees are transferred to an Extraordinary Reception Center, or CAS. There are several of both in Calabria and Sicily. Those cleared as legitimate asylum applicants are released to the Protection System for Applicants, or SPRAR, with local branches often overseen by nonprofits. Those in the SPRAR system have freedom of movement and can apply for citizenship after five years.

A registered SPRAR facility in Cosenza is the Kasbah, which began as a community center in an occupied empty school building in 2001. It entered the SPRAR system in 2005, under contract to the Cosenza municipal government, with Interior Ministry oversight. The Kasbah’s Emilia Corea says the center has processed hundreds of asylum applicants, helping them to find housing and providing them with counseling and other aid. Most passed through Libya, a key transit point for migrants.

Corea works with the Kasbah’s multidisciplinary team for torture victims. “The big majority of those who were detained in Libya experienced torture, and that usually means sexual violence as well,” she says. “And they were already fleeing violence in their home countries. In Libya, human beings are business and are tortured for extortion,” Corea relates. “If they have no money, they are forced to work or sold.”

Many of those who have passed through the Kasbah were from Syria or Afghanistan, as well as conflicted or repressive African countries, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

And Corea says many of these people have been further traumatized in detention in Italy. Even at the CARA and CAS facilities, which are nowhere near as harsh as the CPRs, asylum seekers live in container housing within compounds heavily policed by the Carabinieri. “It’s very hard for someone who has been tortured by soldiers, coming from war-torn countries, and then experienced more violence in transit,” she says.

Worse, this system for aiding asylum seekers is to be phased out under the Salvini Decree. After the law took effect, several families were expelled onto the street from the CARA facility in Crotone—with winter approaching. “Subsidiary protection” and “humanitarian protection”—EU-recognized status afforded those who do not meet the criteria of refugee, but still have credible fear for their safety if deported to their homelands—are also to be phased out by the Salvini Decree. And under the new law, refugee status can be revoked for any crime.

Other means of legal immigration have been closing. Under the 2002 Bossi-Fini law, immigrants from outside the EU can enter only with an employment contract arranged through their embassies. Later, the Decreto Flussi (Flow Decree) imposed strict quotas on how many can enter from each country, of the kind that were imposed in the United States by the 1924 immigration law, and overturned in 1965 as a racist embarrassment.

The Interior Ministry officially provides each individual in the asylum system some 35 euros a day—but only some three euros go directly to them as pocket money. The rest goes to pay for provisioning and administration of the facility where they are being held. And Corea believes much of that is siphoned off into corruption networks. “The ‘Ndrangheta operates at every level of society,” she says, referring to Calabria’s notorious crime machine.

Nonetheless, Salvini and the right-wing press portray the asylum-seekers as an economic drain, and competitors for jobs. “Unemployment is a problem,” Corea says. “But it’s not migrants who are responsible for this, but politicians. The propaganda of the media is used to create a racist climate against migrants.”

Hotel occupato

From Ghana to Libya to Calabria
Translating for me in my interviews with the Prendo Casa folks is Omar Hossin, a clean-cut, reserved young man from Ghana with a pending asylum claim, now living at the Villa Savoia, one of the government buildings in Cosenza under squatter occupation. Hossin’s harrowing story, related without emotion as we hang out on the Corso Mazzini, the city’s pedestrian mall, is probably all too typical.

Ghana is seen as one of the more stable countries of West Africa, but even here there are numerous agrarian conflicts that win virtually no outside media coverage. Hossin relates that in 2013, when he was 16 years old, his father was killed on the orders of what he calls a local “king.” He is circumspect on the details, but apparently a land dispute was involved. There may have also been an ethnic dimension, as Hossin is of the Kotokoli people while the king (or traditional chieftain) was Ashanti—although he is not, he makes clear, speaking of the overall king of the Ashanti people in Ghana, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, but some lesser figure.

In any event, Hossin was sure that he was next and that he had to flee. “I felt they could find me anywhere in Ghana, and I had to get out of the country,” he says. He had saved some money working as a motorcycle mechanic, and made arrangements to cross the Sahara with people-smugglers, headed for Libya, where he was told he could find work. Ten days after leaving Ghana, he arrived in Tripoli, passing through the desert as a virtual captive of the armed smugglers.

Hossin found construction work in Tripoli, and lived in an unfinished building, allowed to stay in exchange for his labor. But the sound of gunfire often kept him awake at night. This was one of the periods when rival militias were fighting for control of the city. “I was running for my life in Ghana and now there was fighting again,” he says.

In July 2014, he decided to cross the Mediterranean, getting on an overcrowded boat with a group of fellow migrants and refugees—three-days passage in an uncovered outboard-motor craft not designed for the open sea. On the third day, things started to look bad. “The boat was about to sink, the motor was getting tired,” Hossin recalls.

They were rescued by the Italian navy and taken to Licata, Sicily, where they were given showers and medical attention at a reception center, presumably one of the CARA facilities since closed under the Salvini Decree. “I was happy to be there with no loss of life,” Hossin says.

After being screened, he was put on a chartered flight to Rome, where he was held in a camp, presumably a CAS. There were seven to a room, among some 30 at the facility. There were Italian classes, and during the day he had freedom of movement around the city. With the €2.50 daily pocket money he was given (sometimes delayed for weeks), he saved up enough to get a phone. On social media, he made a friend in Cosenza. He relocated there after his release from the camp in 2015.

With his asylum claim pending, he has been given a UN-issued passport. If his claim is accepted, he’ll be able to apply for Italian citizenship in five years, based on his employment prospects. Meanwhile, he has been working on local farms, doing housework, and squatting at the Villa Savoia in a room with a gas stove but no heat or hot water.

Squatting technically puts him afoul of the Salvini Decree, which could theoretically forfeit his asylum claim. Still, he is accepting of his circumstances. “It’s better than my time in Libya,” he says. “I’m not afraid someone will kill me.” He is sporadically in touch by phone with his mother, who is in hiding in Ghana.

prendocasa cosenza

Meet the New Boss?
Emilia Corea is only guardedly optimistic about the new regime in Italy, which brings together Salvini’s former coalition partners, the fuzzy populists of the Five Star Movement, with the center-left Democratic Party. “Salvini is no longer the interior minister, and this is the only good news,” she says. “The party that has ruled Italy with him until a month ago is still there. And more, it is going to rule the country with a party that in the past caused serious problems for people.”

She recalls that it was the Democratic Party’s Marco Minniti, as interior minister in 2017, who began the crackdown on NGOs operating vessels to save migrants imperiled on the Mediterranean crossing—a policy later pursued more aggressively by Salvini. It was also under the Democratic Party government that year that Italy began aiding the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrant boats, leading to a big drop in the number able to flee North Africa for Italian shores—from 180,000 in 2016 to just 23,000 last year. This policy was protested by Amnesty International as making Italy and its EU partners in the program “complicit” in the horrific abuses migrants face in Libya.

Corea sees a historical irony in the anti-immigrant atmosphere, which will clearly survive Salvini. “People don’t understand that in the past Italians were in the same position as migrants today,” she says. “100,000 Italians came to America because they could not live in Italy. They were subject in America to the same racist attitudes that migrants now face in Italy. But they have forgotten everything.”


Bill Weinberg is an award-winning 30-year veteran journalist in the fields of human rights, indigenous peoples, drug policy, ecology and war. He is the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2002), among other books. He is currently at work on a sequel about indigenous struggles in the Andean nations. He blogs daily on global politics from an anarchist perspective at

This story first appeared in the November 2019 edition of The Brooklyn Rail.

Photos by the author.


The EU’s Complicity in Migrant Abuse in Libya
Amnesty International, Dec. 18, 2017

La Kasbah

Prendocasa Cosenza

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Reprinted by CounterVortex, Dec, 29, 2019

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