Venezuelan army troops reportedly opened fire on indigenous protesters who were blocking a road near the Brazilian border Feb. 23, leaving several dead. Opposition lawmaker Américo de Grazia, from the southern state of Bolívar, announced on his Twitter feed that morning that soliders opened fire as protesters, including many from the local Pemón indigenous group, contended with troops attempting to bar the passage of trucks filled with aid coming in from Brazilian territory. The first victim was said to be a Pemón woman who was on the scene as a food vendor. A second Pemón was slain shortly later, and another 14 wounded, de Grazia said. He added that several troops, including the commander on the scene, were subsequently taken captive by Pemón warriors and are being held at the nearby indigenous community of Kumarakapay. De Grazia tweeted later in the day that the 14 Pemón who had been taken to a nearby hospital after being shot also succumbed to their wounds.
The US scored a propaganda coup against besieged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro last week, sending planeloads of "humanitarian aid" to Colombia, where it was dispatched in a "caravan" toward the border. The aid was welcomed by the US-backed pretender to the presidency, Juan Guaidó, but rejected by Maduro, who thundered that Venezuelans are "not beggars." Maduro was put in the no-win situation of either having to turn away aid at a time of deprivation or accept assistance sent by a government that does not recognize him but recognizes his opposition. He opted for the prior, mobilizing troops to the border and blocking the three lanes of the international bridge between the two countries with a fuel tanker and shipping containers. The caravan is currently stalled at Cúcuta, the nearest city on the Colombia side. (The Guardian, AP) While the affair has occasioned much media bloviation either against Maduro for blocking the caravan or against Trump for politicizing aid, there has been an alarming paucity of information about who actually organized the caravan...
Thousands of Haitians filled the streets of Port-au-Prince and several provincial cities to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise on Feb, 7—anniversary of the 1986 ouster of long-ruling dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Demonstrators also called for the arrest of officials responsible for the plundering of monies from the Venezuela-provided PetroCaribe fund over the past 10 years. At least two were reported dead in the protests, with vehicles burned, a police station attacked, some 40 arrested, and many wounded, including 14 police officers. Haiti faces a fast-deepening crisis, with hunger, unemployment and inflation all growing. The cost of food and other necessities is increasing daily as the national currency depreciates. In 1986, the gourde was fixed at five to one dollar. Now 83 gourdes buys a dollar, up from 65 when Jovenel Moïse came to power two years ago. (Haiti Liberté)
US senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bob Menéndez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced a resolution calling on Bolivia's President Evo Morales not to stand for re-election this October. Cruz said Bolivia is going in a "very dangerous direction, aligning itself with illegal and illegitimate regimes, including that of [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela. It is important that all parties respect the constitution of Bolivia, which includes term limits." (Peru21, Feb. 1) Bolivia saw a wave of strikes and protests after a December ruling by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election.
In Episode 26 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes contradictions and complexities in two world crises depicted in polarized terms by left, right and center alike. The indigenous Tatar people of Crimea, their autonomy and rights abrogated by the illegal Russian occupation, have been drawn into an alliance with Ukraine's ultra-nationalist Right Sector based on their mutual opposition to Putin's annexation of the peninsula. Ukrainian anarchists are meanwhile facing repression for their opposition to Right Sector. Putin, who is cracking down on Russian anarchists who oppose his own ultra-nationalist imperial agenda, has just sent a detachment of Cossack mercenaries to Venezuela to serve as a Praetorian Guard for the embattled Nicolás Maduro. In addition to being opposed by the right-wing pretender Juan Guaidó, Maduro faces a challenge from an independent left that rejects his undemocratic rule as well as US imperial designs on Venezuela. Indigenous peoples such as the Pemón of the Orinoco Basin are also mounting resistance to extractive designs on their territory—regardless of who holds power in Caracas. Can anarchists and the independent left in Ukraine, Russia and Venezuela unite with indigenous peoples such as the Tatars and Pemón to defend freedom and autonomy, and repudiate reactionaries and imperialists on all sides? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to help back up the besieged government of President Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 military contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times quotes Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that the mercenaries were flown to Havana on two chartered aircraft, where they were transfered to commerical flights to Caracas. Shabayev said Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. The Russian news site Lenta.ru cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people."
In an egregious and all too revealing faux pas, Amy Goodman appears to have put a mouthpiece of the German far right on Democracy Now as a "former UN expert" to discuss Venezuela. This is one Alfred de Zayas, who is given Goodman's typical sycophantic treatment—all softballs, no adversarial questions. We are treated to the accurate enough if not at all challenging or surprising line about how the US is attempting a coup with the complicity of the corporate media. Far more interesting than what he says is de Zayas himself. His Twitter page identifies him as a "Former @UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a #Democratic & Equitable #International Order," and this is confirmed by his bio page on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. Further digging reveals that he is on the board of the Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung, a Berlin-based foundation established last year as the intellectual and policy arm of Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right party that has tapped anti-immigrant sentiment to win an alarming 94 seats in Germany's Bundestag.
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)