The Andes
duque

UN expresses alarm over Colombia repression

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at a new outburst of police violence against protesters in the Colombian city of Cali. This violence comes after more than a week of protests that have resulted in 14 deaths across Colombia. The protests began in response to a proposed tax reform law aimed at shoring up the country’s finances following a year of COVID-19 stagnation. Among the proposed reforms are deeply unpopular sales taxes on food and utilities, as well as cutbacks in social services. In the face of rapidly expanding protests across the country, President Iván Duque requested that the draft bill be withdrawn from Congress. But he also called the protesters “vandals and terrorists,” and has threatened to mobilize army troops in the cities. (Photo: Colombia Reports)

The Andes
castillo

Peru: electoral upset portends polarization

Peru seems poised for polarization following surprise results in first-round presidential elections that saw a previously unknown leftist candidate, Pedro Castillo, taking 19% of the vote in a very crowded field—more than any of his rivals. In a June run-off, he will face his runner-up—hard-right candidate Keiko Fujimori, who took 13%. The two candidates represent the extremes of Peru’s electoral spectrum. Fujimori is the daughter of imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori—and had herself been imprisoned as corruption charges were pending against her last year. Her Fuerza Popular party is the paradoxical populist vehicle of the most reactionary sectors of the country’s elites, and has actually been assailed as a “mafia organization.” Castillo, in vivid contrast, is a former school-teacher and trade unionist of campesino background from the poor and rural Andean region of Cajamarca. His successful grassroots campaign is seen an upsurge from such forgotten parts of the country, in rejection of the Lima-based political class. (Photo of Pedro Castillo in Lima via Twitter)

Southern Cone
paraguay

March revolution in Paraguay?

Paraguay is witnessing an explosion of mass protest over government mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. With hospitals overwhelmed and infections soaring, teachers refused orders for a mandatory return to classes. The following day, nurses, doctors, patients and their families demonstrated outside the main hospital in the capital Asunción to protest the lack of vaccines, protective equipment and basic medications. Finally, widespread protests escalated to clashes with the riot police, leaving one demonstrator dead and several injured. President Mario Abdo Benítez of the conservative Colorado Party offered dialogue and forced the resignation of several cabinet members, including the health minister. But protesters continue to mobilize, demanding the resignation of Abdo himself and his entire government, under the slogan !Que se vayan todos! (Throw them all out!) (Photo via Twitter)

Planet Watch
Mars probe

Podcast: US robo-imperialism hands off Mars!

In Episode 64 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the maddening and telling irony that while we’re all supposed to be ga-ga with triumphalism over NASA’s latest Mars probe, it has received practicailly no attention that Afro-Brazilian peasant communities are being forcibly removed from their traditional lands to make way for a US-backed expansion of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center in impoverished MaranhĂŁo state. This juxtaposition of news stories is paradigmatic of the whole global struggle—sustainable, Earth-rooted cultures against a hypertrophing technosphere that is now colonizing the very heavens. Meanwhile, there are already so many satellites in orbit that near-Earth space is experiencing a fast-growing “space junk” problem. And economic austerity down here on terra firma is compounding the agonizing impacts of the pandemic. Whatever useful knowledge may be gleaned from the Mars probe, accounts don’t note that Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. We recall Gil Scott Heron’s wry reaction to the 1969 Moon landing (“Whitey on the Moon“), and say with Marvin Gaye: “Spend it on the have-nots!” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image adapted from NASA photo)

The Andes
yaku

Indigenous candidate upsets Ecuador elections

Ecuador is heading to a run-off presidential race in April after leftist candidate Andrés Arauzof the Union of Hope (UNES) coalition won a first-round victory, following years of economic austerity made more painful by the pandemic. However, in a surprise development, his rival leftist Yaku Pérez Guartambel of the indigenous-based Pachakutik party emerged neck-to-neck with conservative banker Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing Creating Opportunities (CREO) party. The vote is still too close to call which challenger Arauz will face in the April run-off. Pérez portrays UNES and CREO alike as parties of the right that have embraced an economic model based on resource extraction. (Photo: Revista Crisis)

Greater Middle East
tripoli

Anti-lockdown protests rock Lebanon

Frustration over a strict COVID-19 lockdown and a collapsing economy exploded into protests in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, where a government building was set aflame, and several days of clashes between security forces and demonstrators left one person dead and more than 100 injured. Lebanon is in the midst of a 24-hour curfew, with even supermarkets closed—a measure that authorities defended as necessary given a surge of coronavirus cases that has left the healthcare system struggling to cope. But crippling poverty is on the rise in Lebanon—thanks to an ongoing financial crisis, compounded by the global pandemic and an August explosion at the Beirut port—and some argue that the strict containment rules go too far. Some local aid groups say they have been denied permission to bring help, including much-needed food, to vulnerable families. (Photo via Twitter)

North Africa
Tunisia

Youth revolt rocks Tunisia

The army has been ordered into the streets in Tunisia following days of angry protests by disaffected youth that led to hundreds of arrests. Enraged over widespread unemployment, youth have erected roadblocks of burning tires, clashed with police, ransacked shops and banks, and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at government buildings. The protests began in poor districts of Tunis, but quickly spread to other cities. At the more organized demonstrations, marchers carry placards reading “Employment is a right.” The new revolt comes on the ten-year anniversary of the overthrow of long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first regime change of the Arab Revolution. (Image via Twitter)

Iraq
Nasiriyah

Iraq explodes into protest —again

Two protesters were killed and several injured in Iraq, as security forces attempted to put down angry demonstrations in the southern city of Nasiriyah. A police officer was also reportedly killed in street clashes. Anti-government protesters had earlier re-occupied Haboubi Square, demanding the release of their comrades arrested in recent weeks. A protest encampment had been in place in the square for over a year until November 2020, when the camp was attacked by followers of Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, with several killed. Witnesses said that in the new violence, security forces opened fire to disperse protesters from the square. (Photo via Twitter)

Iraq
Iraq pipeline

Crisis-hit Iraq mortgages oil to China

Iraq has won an up-front $2 billion infusion from a state-owned Chinese oil company, as it continues to struggle amid the pandemic-triggered collapse in energy prices. After numerous bids to Iraq’s State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO), the deal was clinched by ZhenHua Oil Co, subsidiary of China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco). The deal marks the first in which Iraq has offered a pre-payment for crude, with oil effectively used as security for a loan. According to Bloomberg, SOMO is to supply some 130,000 barrels a day of crude for five years. Norinco is primarily a defense company, with investments in oil and minerals in several countries. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)

Planet Watch
poverty

COVID-19 could deepen global poverty: UNDP

Severe long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 207 million people into extreme poverty, bringing the total to over 1 billion by 2030, according to a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The “Baseline COVID” scenario, based on current mortality rates and the most recent growth projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), would result in 44 million more people living in extreme poverty by 2030 compared to the development trajectory the world was on before the pandemic. Under a “High Damage” scenario, where the recovery is protracted, COVID-19 is likely to push an additional 207 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, compared to that baseline. (Photo of youth in Uganda: Dazzle Jam via Photos for Class)

The Andes
Ica

Farmworker protests paralyze southern Peru

Hundreds of striking farmworkers are blocking the Panamerican highway through southern Peru, demanding revocation of a decree extending an anti-labor agricultural reform law that was supposed to sunset this year. The protests have prompted the central government to send a dialogue team from Lima to Ica region, but the farmworkers have refused dismantle the roadblocks, insisting on a face-to-face meeting with Agriculture Minister Federico Tenorio. At issue is the Law for Agrarian Promotion—dubbed the Chlimper Law for its author, José Chlimper, who served as agriculture minister under the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. (Photo via Expreso)

South Asia
Chalo Delhi

Farmers march on Delhi amid general strike

Thousands of farmers from across India’s north marched on Delhi despite efforts by police to block them with road barricades, tear-gas and baton charges. The cross-country march, which converged from Punjab and Haryana states, entered the capital one day after several Indian states were shut down by a general strike in support of the farmers’ demands. This was called by a newly formed Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions bringing together 10 of the country’s major organized labor federations. Leaders claimed 25 crore (250 million) workers participated in the strike. The “Chalo Delhi” (Go to Delhi) mobilization was called to protest a package of agricultural reform laws passed in September that lifts requirements for government purchases of grain at guaranteed prices. (Photo via @FightAnand)